Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Industriousness (Proverbs 10:4–5)

Posted by jac/cdc on March 7, 2007


רָאשׁ עֹשֶׂה כַף־רְמִיָּה וְיַד חָרוּצִים תַּעֲשִׁיר׃
אֹגֵר בַּקַּיִץ בֵּן מַשְׂכִּיל נִרְדָּם בַּקָּצִיר בֵּן מֵבִישׁ׃


RASH o-SE kaf-r’-mee-YA v’-yad-cha-ru-TSEEM ta-a-SHEER
o-GAYR ba-KA-yits bayn-mas-KEEL nir-DAM ba-ka-TSEER bayn-may-VEESH


Poverty a slack hand produces, and an industrious hand enriches.
Whoever gathers in summer is prudent, whoever sleeps at harvest is shameful.

Possible social contexts for these two proverbs are easy to imagine, and their moral message is quite universal: industriousness produces wealth and is characteristic of a wise person (lit., “a son of prudence”—not the Beatles’ Dear Prudence). Typical of the collection in chapters 10–22, both of these proverbs are antithetical, with the contrasting character described in the adjoining line: a slack hand (by metonomy = lazy person) and the one who sleeps at harvest time.

Yesterday I mentioned that the theme of wealth connects the preceding two proverbs (vss. 2 and 3) and these two (vss. 4 and 5), though the theme of righteousness and wickedness is absent from the latter pair. Reading these sayings within their literary context of the preceding two verses, however, lends a moral level to these proverbs by implicitly equating the righteous with the industrious and the wicked with the lazy.

In addition, the agency of the Lord in rewarding just desserts to the wicked and the righteous in vs. 3, implies that industriousness and laziness do not produce their own reward, but are rewarded justly by the Lord himself. In this case, even wealth produced hard work cannot lead to pride—the vice of the rich (see tomorrow on Aḥiqar 109)—but should be recognized as God’s just reward.

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