Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Weighing on the mind (Proverbs 15:13)

Posted by jac/cdc on February 1, 2007

לֵב שָׂמֵחַ יֵיטִב פָּנִים וּבְעַצְּבַת־לֵב רוּחַ נְכֵאָה׃

LAYV sa-MAY-ach yay-TEEV pa-NEEM u-v’-a-ts’-vat-LAYV RU-ach n’-chay-A

A glad heart makes lifts countenances, but a troubled heart crushes a spririt.

Lit., a glad heart ‘does countenances well’. It may also be that לֵב, signifying the seat of the intellect (versus English ‘heart’), is better translated ‘mind’ in this context.

In contrast to the concrete imagery of the similar proverb in 17:22, לֵב מֵחַ יֵיטִב גֵּהָה וְרוּחַ נְכֵאָה תְּיַבֶּשׁ־גָּרֶם׃ A glad heart improves healing, but a crushed spirit dries up the bone, this proverb joins a concrete image (‘countenance’) with a more psychological one (‘spirit’). It is only natural that one’s mental disposition affects one’s demeanor; indeed, 17:22 notes that it affects one’s health for good or for ill. But the second part of the verse seems almost tautological, given that לֵב and רוּחַ are sometimes treated as synonymous word pairs. A ‘troubled heart’ can be interpreted as a ‘worried mind’, which may alleviate the tautology somewhat: one’s mental state influences one’s general “spirits.”

I, for one, have a tendency to compartmentalize life and disallow one portion to affect the other. I (regrettably) used to lack patience for my students in the Philippines who were distracted by their personal or family troubles. This proverb acknowledges that our lives are not compartmentalized: our countenance is a meter of our mind.

At the same time, the more religiously minded wisdom in Proverbs 1–9 implies a solution for the troubled mind (3:5–8): Trust in the Lord with your whole mind (לֵב). The promise that follows echoes ideas from 17:22: it (i.e., fear of Yhwh) will be healing for your body and refreshment for your bones.

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