Cultural and Historical Notes, Proverbs 6


Heart, Breath, Throat, and Intestines: Ancient Hebrew Anthropology

ProverbsBiblical Hebrew, like English, uses parts of the body metaphorically to express personality, emotion or thought processes.  Hebrew however, does not always allude to the same organs as English to express these functions.  A verbatim translation of these terms would often be unintelligible in English, and thus even the most “literal” of translations must resort to paraphrase in order to communicate the intended point.  The English reader might have difficulty spotting where the Hebrew word for a body part occurs in the examples below:

  • The word leb (usually translated “heart”) can be used literally of the physical heart (e.g., Ex 28:29) or metaphorically for several aspects of the personality.  Often leb indicates the seat of particular emotions, such as fear, lament, regret, joy, comfort, love, anger, etc. (e.g., Ps 27:3; Pr 19:3).  It can also refer to thought functions, as the equivalent of “mind” in English (e.g., La 3:21).
  • Hebrew words for “breath” (ruah, neshamah) can refer to a person’s inner being (e.g., Job 32:8; Pr 20:27).  Thus, they are often translated into English as “spirit” or “soul.”  But an individual’s ruah may also experience emotional reactions (Ge 26:35) and consequently exhibit a particular behavior, such as stubbornness (DT 2:30).
  • There are several Hebrew words for neck or throat (e.g., garon or nephesh).  The throat is the means by which a person breathes, eats and thus, so to speak, takes in life.  Therefore, the word nephesh, although it concretely means “throat,” is generally translated “life,” “soul” or even “person.”  These words are often used to express the inner character of an individual.  As such, the neck or throat can be deceitful (Ps 5:9), display arrogance (Isa 3:16), express determination or stubbornness (Ps 75:5) and praise God (Ps 149:6).  The nephesh can be bitter or hot-tempered (Jdg 18:25; the KJV‘s “angry fellows” is actually “men of bitter nephesh“).  Literally, necks displayed precious metals and jewels (SS 1:10) as well as the yoke of slavery (Isa 10:27).  Figuratively, then, the neck or throat could be said to display what a person deemed valuable (Pr 6:21), as well as the consequences of an individual’s sins (La 1:14).
  • The words for stomach/belly or womb (e.g., beten) can indicate the seat of the emotions, such as titillation (Pr 18:8) and sexual desire (SS 5:4).  Other organs that Biblical Hebrew uses in this way are the liver, intestines, and kidneys.

Proverbs 6 illustrates the uage described above.  Verse 16 states literally that there are seven things that are detestable to the Lord’s nephesh (his very being).  Verse 30 notes that men do  not despise a thief who steals to fill his nephesh (throat or hunger), while verse 32 claims that the adulterer destroys his own nephesh (life or soul).  Verse 14 points out that the individual who plots evil has perversity in his leb (heart or mind), while verse 32 asserts that the adulterer lacks leb (good sense).

The teachings of the Hebrew sages are couched in terms that are sometimes alien to the modern English reader, but when understood on their own terms they create a compelling picture of a human being as a bundle of physical, emotional, and spiritual capacities and needs.  A man, woman, boy, or girl is an integral combination of body and soul; the emotional or intellectual aspects of life simply cannot be separated from the nature of the whole person.     

*archaeological Study Bible, Zondervan


Dangerous Promises

6 My son, if you become surety for your friend, If you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, 2 You are snared by the words of your mouth; You are taken by the words of your mouth. 3 So do this, my son, and deliver yourself; For you have come into the hand of your friend: Go and humble yourself; Plead with your friend. 4 Give no sleep to your eyes, Nor slumber to your eyelids. 5 Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, And like a bird from the hand of the fowler.[a]

The Folly of Indolence

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, 7 Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler, 8 Provides her supplies in the summer, And gathers her food in the harvest. 9 How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to sleep— 11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, And your need like an armed man.

The Wicked Man

12 A worthless person, a wicked man, Walks with a perverse mouth; 13 He winks with his eyes, He shuffles his feet, He points with his fingers; 14 Perversity is in his heart, He devises evil continually, He sows discord. 15 Therefore his calamity shall come suddenly; Suddenly he shall be broken without remedy.

16 These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

Beware of Adultery

20 My son, keep your father’s command, And do not forsake the law of your mother. 21 Bind them continually upon your heart; Tie them around your neck. 22 When you roam, they[b] will lead you; When you sleep, they will keep you; And when you awake, they will speak with you. 23 For the commandment is a lamp, And the law a light; Reproofs of instruction are the way of life, 24 To keep you from the evil woman, From the flattering tongue of a seductress. 25 Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, Nor let her allure you with her eyelids. 26 For by means of a harlot A man is reduced to a crust of bread; And an adulteress[c] will prey upon his precious life. 27 Can a man take fire to his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? 28 Can one walk on hot coals, And his feet not be seared? 29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; Whoever touches her shall not be innocent.

30 People do not despise a thief If he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving. 31 Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold; He may have to give up all the substance of his house. 32 Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul. 33 Wounds and dishonor he will get, And his reproach will not be wiped away. 34 For jealousy is a husband’s fury; Therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. 35 He will accept no recompense, Nor will he be appeased though you give many gifts.


One thought on “Cultural and Historical Notes, Proverbs 6

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s