Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Religion and ethics (Proverbs 15:8–9)

Posted by jac/cdc on January 22, 2007

(Prov 15:8–9) זֶבַח רְשָׁעִים תֹּועֲבַת יְהוָה וּתְפִלַּת יְשָׁרִים רְצֹונֹו׃
תֹּועֲבַת יְהוָה דֶּרֶךְ רָשָׁע וּמְרַדֵּף צְדָקָה יֶאֱהָב׃

ze-vach-r’-sha-EEM to-a-vat-a-do-NEYE u-t’-fi-lat-y’-sha-REEM r’-tso-NO to-a-vat-a-do-NEYE de-rech-ra-SHA u-m’-ra-DAYF ts’-da-KA ye-e-HAV

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Yahweh, but the prayer of the upright is his delight. An abomination to Yahweh is the way of the wicked, but whoever pursues righteousness he loves.

These two proverbs are held together primarily by the repeated “abomination to Yahweh” but also by the characters in each verse (“wicked” is poetically varied as plural in vs. 8 and sg. in vs. 9). “Abomination” versus “delight” is a common comparison in Proverbs (e.g., 11:20). Since the contrast involves the “wicked” and the “upright,” we should not read too much into the pairing of “sacrifice” and “prayer.” There is no condemnation of sacrifice versus prayer here. Here is condemnation is of the character of the worshiper, not the act of worship. This is confirmed by the second proverb in this pair, which forms an elaboration to the first proverb: it is the conduct (ethical and moral) of the wicked that lies at the heart of God’s rejection of their cultic performances. The wisdom movement is concerned with right conduct, and here it intersects with the prophetic condemnation of the disconnect between cultic worship and ethical behavior (e.g., Isa 1:10–17; Amos 5:20–24). Disconnect between religious devotion and ethics is nothing new, nor is God’s condemnation of it!


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