Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

The Lord’s blessing (Proverbs 10:22)

Posted by jac/cdc on April 2, 2007

בִּרְכַּת יְהוָה הִיא תַעֲשִׁיר וְלֹא־יֹוסִף עֶצֶב עִמָּהּ׃

bir-KAT a-do-NEYE HEE ta-a-SHEER v’-lo-yo-SEEF E-tsef i-MA

The blessing of the Lord—it enriches, and toil cannot add to it.

This proverb is not directly—either verbally or topically—related to the surrounding proverbs, though it relates to earlier evaluations of wealth (vs. 15) and diligent work (vs. 16). The most notable connection to the context is between this proverb and 10:4b: וְיַד חָרוּצִים תַּעֲשִׁיר׃. Bridges in his commentary notes of the two, “Both are consistent. The one marks the primary, the other the instrumental and subordinate, cause. Neither will be effective without the other. The sluggard looks for prosperity without diligence; the practical atheist from diligence alone.”

From the earliest ancient versions onward, there have been differences of opinion on the second part of this proverb, hinging on the interpretation of עֶצֶב: ‘toil’ or ‘pain, sorrow’? The interpretation reflected in my translation here seems least banal (but of course God’s blessing would not come with sorrow or pain as an additional component of it!) and most consonant with other wisdom teachings: Qoheleth condemns both laziness (4:5) and endless striving after wealth (4:6–8); wealth hastily obtained is condemned by the sages (Prov 20:21; 28:22); and the instruction of Ptah-hotep describes well the interaction between human diligence and divine blessing: “It is their [the gods’] law for him whom they love: his gain, he gathered it himself; it is the god who makes him worthy and protects him while he sleeps” (ll. 180–81; AEL 1.66; cf. Ps 127:1–2).

If excessive striving and laboring for wealth is seen as vanity and evil, what does all this say about our modern western society of work-a-holics—both those who work endless hours in search of monetary security and those who set themselves to the endless pursuit of academic prestige?


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