Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

False boasting

Posted by jac/cdc on January 2, 2007

(Proverbs 25:14) נְשִׂיאִים וְרוּחַ וְגֶשֶׁם אָיִן אִישׁ מִתְהַלֵּל בְּמַתַּת־שָׁקֶר׃

n’-see-EEM v’-RU-akh v’-GE-shem A-yin ISH mit-ha-LAYL b’-ma-tat-SHA-ker

Clouds and wind but there is no rain; one who boasts in a false gift.

Proverbs is full of juxtaposed metaphors such as this. The meaning is quite plain: the one who boasts in a gift never given (lit., a gift of deception), is like the portents of clouds and wind followed by no rain. There is a reasonable expectation in both instances which is disappointed. The literary art of this proverb is more intriguing still. First, note that the operative word in each word picture comes at the end: clouds and-wind but-rain there-is-not; one who-boasts in-a-gift of-deception. Second, one may discern wordplays in the use of נְשִׂיאִים and רוּחַ: the word נְשִׂיא is not the usual one for ‘cloud’ (it occurs only three other times) but is similar in form to a verb נשׂא that means (in the Hifil) ‘to cheat, deceive’; רוּחַ can be understood not only as ‘wind’ but as referring the “blowhard” character of the false braggart.

This is an appropriate proverb (though Colin picked it more or less at random) to post right after gift-giving season and at the start of the year with its tradition of making resolutions. Generosity is extolled a number of times in Proverbs (e.g., 11:25; 22:9), and is universally admired and commended. It is a real temptation then to grasp for the good repute that comes from being generous without carrying through with the act itself, which means we are only full of hot air! At the same time, the proverb seems to warn us of rashness—of bragging about our generous intentions (sincere though they may be) without considering the consequent action that needs to follow.

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3 Responses to “False boasting”

  1. Welcome to the Blogosphere

  2. Hey John and Colin, great site, I’m looking forward to getting to the ANE stuff. Can people make suggestions? Some Sumerian proverbs that would be great.

  3. jac/cdc said

    Suggestions are always welcome, I just don’t make any promises on how soon we will fulfill them! I certainly want to include (eventually) a broad cross-section from the wisdom literature of the ANE, but I’m starting closer to home (my training is in Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitics).

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