Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

The Greedy or Proud? (Proverbs 28:25)

Posted by jac/cdc on January 23, 2007

(Prov 28:25) רְחַב־נֶפֶשׁ יְגָרֶה מָדֹון וּבֹוטֵחַ עַל־יְהוָה יְדֻשָּׁן׃

r’-chav-NE-fesh y’-ga-RE ma-DON u-vo-TAY-ach al-a-do-NEYE y’-du-SHAN

The greedy/proud stirs up strife, but one who trusts in Yahweh will prosper.

The phrase רְחַב־נֶפֶשׁ is usually translated as ‘greedy’, but this is the only occurrence in the Bible. In Mishna Avot 5:19 the adjectival form of the expression occurs, but it is unclear how it should be translated in that context, which contrasts three character traits of disciples of Abraham—a good eye, and a lowly spirit, and a humble soul (עין טובה, ורוח נמוכה, ונפשׁ שׁפלה)—with the character traits of the disciples of “the wicked Balaam”—an evil eye, a lofty spirit, and a proud(?) soul (עין רעה, ורוח גבוהה, ונפשׁ רחבה). ‘Proud’ contrasts well with ונפשׁ שׁפלה, but it is unclear what the difference is between ונפשׁ שׁפלה and ורוח נמוכה. The contrast in this proverb with ‘prosper’ seems to tip the scale towards ‘greedy’ here.

Regardless of whether the character here is greedy or proud, they set themselves up as self-reliant, in contrast to the one who trusts Yahweh to care for them. This position of trust is fundamental to the understanding of the ‘poor’ and ‘needy’ in Psalms, and the sages attribute it to the person who would be wise and prosperous. Here we reach one of the central teachings in the Hebrew Bible: success does not lie in one’s own hands, but in a recognition of utter dependency on Yahweh, who precisely because of one’s dependence on him will come to their aid.

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