3. The Splendid Crown of Old Age through Righteousness (16:31–17:6)
31 Gray hair is a splendid crown;
it is found in the way of righteousness.
32 Better to be a patient person 1 than a mighty hero,
even one who rules over his spirit than one who captures a city.
33 Into the bosom the lot 2 is hurled;
17:1 Better a dry piece of bread with peace and quiet
than a house full of sacrifices with strife. 6
2 A prudent slave rules over a shameful son,
and receives the inheritance in the midst of the brothers.
3 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace for gold,
but the one who tests hearts is the LORD.
4 One who pays attention to a malevolent lip is an evildoer, 7
one who listens to a destructive tongue is a liar. 8
5 The one who mocks the poor person reproaches his Maker,
the one who rejoices over calamity 9 will not escape punishment.
6 The [splendid] crown of the aged is children’s children,
and the glorious [crown] of children is their fathers. 10
The catchword “way” paves the transition between the preceding unit and this one (vv. 29, 31). This unit on old age through righteousness is bounded by the inclusio “splendid crown” in 16:31 and 17:6. The frame, entailing an education proverb that introduces the unit, motivates youth to embrace the virtue of these proverbs to win the crown that gives them social splendor. Instead of viewing old age as the time of physical weakness and decline, when verility and fertility has ceased (Gen. 18:11f; 1 Kgs. 1:4; 2 Kgs. 4:14; Ruth 1:2) and when the aged must resign their authority and hand over power to the new generation, this unit views it as a time of authority, status and dignity symbolized by a crown. 16:31 ascribes this shining aurora to a person’s righteousness, and 17:6 escalates that splendor to future generations. If gray hair by itself crowns a person by displaying he has lived a righteous life (cf. Ps. 92:14 ; Prov. 20:29), how much more his children to the third and fourth generations, to whom he has successfully passed on the family’s testament and secured its heritage into the foreseeable future. The unit first lays the foundations of righteousness in spirituality and theology (16:32–17:3) and concludes with adding two unrighteous speakers under God’s judgment, the liar and mocker of the poor, to the catalogue of malevolent persons in 16:17–30.
31 The introductory saying implicitly admonishes the disciple both to respect the authority of gray hair and to win the magnificent crown of beauty, dignity and authority (31a) through serving others, not self (31b; cf. 23:22; Lev. 19:32; Gen. 47:7–10; Job 12:12; 15:10; Ps. 71:18; cf. Wisdom of Sol. 4:8–9). The twenty-two occurrences of gray hair (śębâ) in the Old Testament are associated with “old age” (20:29). It is often considered a blessing (Gen. 15:15; 25:8), but not always (Hos 7:9), and is treated with respect (Lev. 19:32). Here it is equated with a splendid crown (ʿaṭeret tipʾeret, see 4:9; cf. Isa. 3:5; 9:15), a magnificent adornment to enhance its wearer’s beauty and authority (see 4:9; cf. Isa. 3:5; 9:15). Of the twenty-three references to the “crown,” six intensify its beauty and glory by “splendor” (Isa. 62:3; Prov. 4:9; 16:31; Jer. 13:18; Ezek. 16:12; 23:42). It is found (see 3:13) in the way (derek, see 1:15) of righteousness (see I: 97) implies it is attainable for all who seek it a tri-dimensional sense. The proverb presents an essential truth but not the whole truth. Sometimes the righteous die prematurely (cf. Prov. 3:1–12; Isa. 57:1; Ps. 44:22), and old age brings with it infirmity (Eccl. 12:1–8; see p. I:108). In modern society the moral value of the gray head is further tarnished because it is often achieved through amoral and even immoral technology, not through virtue.
32 This “better than” proverb shifts from the exalted teacher, who is to be emulated, to the disciple, reminding him that the foundation of righteousness is his ability to rule his unruly spirit when provoked. “Without the disciplined, wise conquest of oneself, mastery of the external world and its problems—in any area and of every sort—is not possible.” 11 More specifically it admonishes him to overlook a wrong done to him because it is more beneficial to self and society than the hero who by his physical might conquers an enemy (see 19:11; cf. Judg. 8:1–3; 1 Sam. 25:23; Jas. 1:19, 20). (The proverb is not concerned whether the military hero is good or bad, cf. 21:22; 24:5; 30:30). Verset A asserts the superiority of the patient person to the hero, and verset B verset qualifies them as a ruler and a conqueror respectively. Better … than asserts the utilitarian benefits of spiritual virtue over physical gain without virtue (see 3:14; 8:11, 19; 15:16, 17; 16:8, 18, 19). A patient person (see 14:29), who is contrasted with the hot-head in 15:18; cf. 14:17; 29:22), does not retaliate to avenge a wrong. In the parallel he is defined as one who rules over (see 12:24) his spirit (see p. I:92). The spiritual ruler surpasses a hero (gibbôr; cf. 6:34; 8:14). Kosmala defines gibbôr as, “a particularly strong or mighty person who carries out, can carry out, or has carried out great deeds, and surpasses others in doing so.” 12 The parallel shows is a military hero is in view. He is one who captures by force against the opponent’s will (lōkēd, 5:22) a city with its defensive walls (see 1:21). Even assumes that verset B stands in apposition to verset A. The proverb entails a battle of inner self; it considers self control as the highest kind of human power (25:28). Aboth 4:1, commenting on this verse, says: “Who is strong? he who controls his passions.” “The taking of a city is child’s play, compared with this ‘wrestling with flesh and blood.’ That is only the battle of a day. This, the weary, unceasing conflict of life.” 13
33 Verse 33 adds a necessary caveat. Ultimately, the LORD, not the disciple’s self possession alone, rules his destiny, as illustrated by “the lot.” Verset A presents its secret handling by people, and verset B the divine judgment behind it. The proverb emphatically matches in the bosom (ḥęq, see 5:20) and “from the LORD” as the first phrases in the synthetic parallels. Heq here denotes the secret holding area in the fold of the garment above the belt where hands were placed and the lot remained covered and uninfluenced (cf. Prov. 17:23). 14 The lot (gôrāl, see 1:14) was a small stone used to reveal God’s selection of someone or something out of several possibilities where he kept people in the dark and desired their impartiality in the selection. 15 Is hurled (yűṭal) means to cast someone or something violently away from someone. 16 This unexpected verb contrasts to other texts that use neutral terms for the human manipulation of the lot. 17 The unexpected verb may suggest the selection of an offender is in view as the Targum and the Syriac perceived (see n. 4 ). However, the proverb should not be restricted to retribution. 18 The lot’s selection was final because it was ultimately “hurled down” by God (cf. 18:18). The conjunctive can be glossed by and or but because verset B both contrasts human and divine activity and combines them (see 16:1). From the LORD (see 16:1) trraces the mediated action of “hurling (down)” to Israel’s covenant keeping God. All underscores there are no exceptions. Its decisions (mišpāṭô, see I: 97) refers back to the masculine topic, gôrāl, not the LORD, because that would be tautologous. [Come] from the LORD (see 16:1) traces the mediated action of “hurling (down)” back to Israel’s covenant keeping God. Even when the pagan sailors used the lot, the Sovereign ruled through it (cf. Jon. 1:7; Est. 3:7; 9:1, 2). After the outpouring of the Spirit the practice of casting lots does not occur in the Church. The pagan use of the lot, however, may suggest its appropriate use by the State (e.g., in drafting its warriors) and other secular institutions (e.g., in selecting candidates for organ transplants).
17:1 This better … than proverb is paired with 16:32 (see 16:31–17:15). As inward control over one’s spirit has priority over external military might so spiritual peace and quiet within a household has priority over its physical feasting (cf. 12:9; 15:16f; 16:8). Its precise antithetic parallels contrasts a dinner party consisting of a dry bite of bread that had not been dipped into a dish of savory sauce of oil, vinegar or the like (cf. 19:24 (= 26:15), but nevertheless enjoyed in security, with an unlimited royal banquets but plagued with strife. The proverb escalates the two dinners of 15:17. Presumably its quiet harmony versus strife were engendered respectively by the love and hate of that proverb (cf. 10:12). Dry here denotes the lack of moisture and connotes an undesirable piece of bread (cf. Lev. 7:10). Piece of bread (pat, see Ru. 2:14) 19 stands as the exact opposite to “full of sacrifices” in its quantity (singular versus “full” + plural) and quality (dry bread versus juicy meat). With peace and quiet (see 1:22) infers that carefree security is warranted and that none was harmed. Household (see 11:29) is gapped in verset A. Full of signifies that a space is filled with as much of something as it can hold. Sacrifices (see 7:14) should be distinguished from ṭbḥ, which lacks cultic connotations (see 9:2). Bergman renders zebaḥ here “sacrificial meat with strife,” though recognizing some translate “feasting with strife,” and notes the meat was taken home (see 7:14). 20 With strife (rîb, see n. 6 ; 15:18) is both a metonomy associating the sacrifice with the conflict of the celebrants (cf. 1 Sam. 1:3–7) and ironic for a sacrifice was offered to the LORD in joy (cf. Deut. 12:7, 11, 12, 21; Jdg. 16:23; 1 Sam. 11:15; 20:6). “The picture is of a ‘religious,’ wealthy household in which public piety is married to internecine conflict—a topic taken up in the next verse.” 21 The proverb instructs the disciple in several ways: (1) to prefer a frugal meal with family concord, not a sumptuous one with discord; (2) to accept a modest lifestyle of having not even sufficient produce, and therefore a respect for the produce of others; and (3) to be ready to lower radically his economic expectations, and even his rights, to enjoy a feeling of well-being (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17–34).
2 This proverb, paired with 16:32b, by asserting a prudent (see p. I:94) slave (see 12:9) rules over (see 16:32) a shameful son (see 10:5) teaches that family leadership depends more on character than on natural birth. And (ű) introduces the reason for the slaves exalted position. In 10:5 the same juxtaposition of prudence verus shame pertained to diligence versus sloth. He receives (yaḥloq “has primarily the socially defined meaning, ‘(give or receive) the portion coming to one by law and custom.’ ” 22 An inheritance (see 3:35) in the midst of (see 5:14) the brothers (see 6:19; cf. 18:24) 23 validates the slave’s status as a legal heir of the patrimony. By law and custom the son of the household has every advantage over the menial slave and ordinarily it would be outrageous for a slave from outside the family to take possession o the family’s heritage that sustains its life and standing (19:10; Eccl. 10:7). The slave by contrast judicially has no control over his fortunes and no hope for his future (see 11:29). However, contrary to judicial law and custom, one’s virtue, not the privilege of birth, ultimately counts for more in social and economic standing. The death of the father is presupposed, because his heirs are spoken of as brothers, not as sons, and this infers a long range view of the contest between virtue and primogeniture rights. The law made no provision for this supplanting of a foolish son by a prudent slave, but it did provide for stoning a rebellious son (Deut. 21:18–21). 24
3 Verse 3 bases this truth on the omnicompetence of the Tester of character to reward virtue By the two images of a crucible to test the purity of silver and of a small melting oven to try the genuineness of gold (cf. 27:21), this emblematic parallelism teaches that God strips bare all pretensions and tests all human hearts to determine their genuineness and purity. In connection with the LORD’s knowing the human heart (15:3, 11; 16:2 and 21:2) he separates appearances and professions from reality. 25 The crucible (maṣrēph) occurs only here and in the repetition in 27:21a. Ṣārap denotes the process of cuppellation, the melting of precious metals to refine and purify them by a technical process (Isa. 1:25; 48:10; Jer. 6:29; Zech. 13:9; Dan. 11:35; Zech. 13:9) and/or “to try/test” them (Pss. 17:3; 26:2; 66:10) and so sometimes “to prove” their purity and value (Ps. 18:30  (= 2 Sam. 22:31; Prov. 30:5); 105:19; 119:140). Here its parallel bḥn shows that with for silver (lakkesep, see 2:4) it means to try and test it, not to refine it (cf. Pss. 11:4–5; 17:3; 26:2; 66:10; and especially Zech. 13:9). The same is true of and the furnace, a small melting oven, 26 for gold (see 11:22). The melting point of gold is 1063 degrees Celsius, and of silver, 961 degrees. Some types of smelting furnaces were made of clay, with two small openings at the bottom, one for blowing and fanning the flame, the other for letting off the molten lead at the end of the process. The pure metal was retrieved by breaking the clay. Human beings can design instruments to tests the purity of silver and gold but the one who tests (bōḥēn) the hearts (see p. I:90), none excluded, is only the LORD (see 17:1). Bhn with God as subject and a human being as object denotes divine examination and divine knowledge and usually does not connect his acquisition of knowledge with any normal activity (cf. 27:21). Both it and ṣārap in half of their occurrences “give the impression that one attains knowledge purely intellectually or intuitively.” 27 Although outward actions and behavior betray the heart, people also conceal their hearts from others (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7) and even from themselves (Jer. 17:9). The proverb consoles and sobers the disciple with the implicit truth that the omnicompetent Sovereign deals with each person justly according to his ethical purity (cf. Job 23:10; 1 Cor. 4:3–5; 1 Pet. 1:7). It also encourages him to join the psalmist in asking God to expose his heart to himself so that he might see his offensive way and, repenting, he might be led in the everlasting way (Ps 139:23–24).
4 Like the preceding unit that concluded with four malevolent speakers, so also this one concludes with two malevolent communicators: the liar (verse 4), whose speech unleashes misery upon the community, and the mocker of the poor, who blasphemes God (verse 5). The omnicompetent LORD will punish them (v. 5) and presumably those who are crowned with old age shun them. The synonymous parallelism of verse 4 underscores the startling truth that the one who listens to lies is himself a liar. The topic is the one who pays attention (see 1:24; 2:2) to a malevolent (ʾāwen, see 6:12) lip (see 16:27), which is a precise parallel to the one who listen to a destructive (II hawwôt; cf. I hawwâ in 10:3) tongue (see 10:20/21; 31/32, 12:19). II hawwâ denotes here destructive forces that bring ruin. 28 The destructive forces, always plural in this use, are usually evil speech (Ps. 38:12 , which in many instances is associated with lies and treachery (cf. Pss. 5:9; 52:2 ; 7 , 59:11 ; 55:11; 57:1 ; 94:20; Job 6:30). The person who gives his ear to such evil is himself an evil doer (mēraʿ, see 3:7), more precisely a liar (šeqer, see 6:27). How one uses his lips and tongue is inseparably connected to what he inclines his ears. Both the liar and his willing audience have no taste for truth. “Evil words die without a welcome; and the welcome gives us away.” 29
5 The unit concludes climatically before the frame with implicitly censoring the one who derides (lōʿēg) the poor person (see 10:4), such as the one who survives on a dry scrap of bread in 17:1. Lāʿag occurs twelve times and means, to assail and treat another with ridicule, contempt, and derision as an enemy (cf. 1:26; 2 Kgs. 19:21 [= Isa. 37:22]; Pss. 2:4; 59:8 ; 80:7; Job 9:23; 11:3 22:19). Its parallels include bűz “to despise” and śḥq “to laugh at” (cf. 1:26). Here its parallel, the one who rejoices (see 2:14) at disaster (see 1:26, 27), often used for the fate of the wicked, defines the manner of and the reason for the derision. The arrogant rich person having no sympathy for the poor person’s unfortunate situation of being without friends and financial security, regards him as an enemy he vanquished and treats his economic ruin with contempt. His derisive words and mocking gestures, however, reproaches his (i.e., the poor person’s) Maker (see 14:31). Because he poured contempt upon the King’s image and committed treason against his Sovereign he will not escape punishment (see 6:29), probably a divine passive. The Sovereign made the poor and called him existence as his image bearer (see also 14:31; cf. Gen. 9:6; Mark 12:16f.) and appointed him his lowly station, but the haughty mocker supplants God’s sovereign control with his superiority over his victims. The Sovereign will treat the one who discredits the pitiful as his enemy and will punish him for his arrogant cruelty. Other proverbs that warn against oppressing the destitute and/or admonish treating them kindly include: 14:21; 15:25; 22:16, 22–23, 28; 23:10–11; 30:14. The LXX addition at the end of the verse captures the proverb’s intention: “but he that has compassion shall find mercy.” Job did not even gloat over the misfortune of those who set themselves up as his enemies (Job 31:29; cf. Prov. 25:21f). Christians rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).
6 Verse 6 by the metaphor of the “splendid crown old age” completes the frame (see 6:31–7:6). Its complementary parallels motivate youth to be righteous (e.g., modest, v. 1; industrious, v. 2; genuine, v. 3; truthful, v. 4; compassionate, v. 5). In the old age bestowed by righteousness they and their children to the third and fourth generations will shine an aurora of glory upon each other (cf. 20:29). The crown of the aged (zeqanim), which is “the most common and general term for someone old” 30 and certifies the meaning of śębâ in the parallel of 16:31, is children’s children (see 13:22), representing the potential limit of living descendants. The proverb pictures them gathered around the aged parent like a crowning diadem. And complements the splendor of parents through children with the splendor of children through parents. The glorious [crown] of children (see 4:1) is their fathers, not excluding mothers (see 1:8) of each generation (see 4:1–9). The proverb assumes the righteousness of its parallel in 16:31, otherwise the generations would not be compared to glorious crowns. Godless families collapse (17:1) and godless children bring their parents shame (cf. 10:5; 17:2; 19:26). This complementary splendor proves the family heritage is ancient, enduring, and true. Israel boasted in their renowned father, Abraham (Matt 3:9; John 8:33). Ancient Israel regarded children as a mark of divine blessing and reckoned them among the things that gave a man weight and influence in the community (Pss. 127:3–5; 128:3–4; 144:12–15), while childlessness was a curse (Jer. 22:30). By contrast, in the New Covenant dispensation, Jesus Christ, who had no biological children, blessed the Church to reproduce spiritually, not physically (see Matt. 28:18f; Luke 24:50f; John 20:22; cf. 15:5–8; 1 Cor. 7:8–9, 25–35).
1 The abstract noun “patience” has a concrete meaning when balanced by a concrete noun (M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101–150 [AB; Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1970], p. 411).
2 Yűṭal ʾet haggôrāl is construed an ergative construction (IBHS, p. 178, p. 10.3c).
3 Or, “but” (see 16:1).
4 The LXX paraphrases the verse: “all [evils] come upon the ungodly into their bellies; but all righteous things come of the Lord.” The Targ. and the Syr. add “oppressor” [ʿntʾ] before “is cast”: “Into the lap of the oppressor falls the lot, but from God goes forth his judgement.”
5 The preposition entails a verb of motion (IBHS, p. 224, p. 11.4.3d).
6 Lit. ‘sacrifices of strife,” meaning the participants wage war against each other even as šaʿarę ṣedeq (“gates of righteousness,” Ps. 118:19) means the gates through which the righteous enter and ziphe-sedeq (“right sacrifices,” Ps. 4:5 ) means sacrifices offered by the righteous. Targ. takes it as an attributive gen.: “quarrelsome feasts.” M. Dahood (Proverbs and Northwest Semitic Philology [Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1963], p. 37) cites Cassuto for the analogy in Ugaritic dbḥ dnt, “a banquet of contention.”
7 Or, “an evil doer pays attention to a malevolent lip; a liar listens to a destructive tongue.” Normally, yntax, mēraʿ is the predicate stating what the subject is like (IBHS, pp. 132–34, p. 8.4.2).
9 “Perishing” (apōllumenǭ) of the LXX is generally thought to represent leʿōbēd (“perishing,” cf. 31:6, Fichtner [BHS]) or to interpret the abstract noun for the concrete (Gemser, Sprüche, p. 73). However, as with the addition in the Targ., “of his neighbor,” “his calamity” may be a paraphrase of the Hebrew. The LXX adds an explanatory addition to the end of the verse. Driver (“Problems in the Hebrew Text of Proverbs,” Bib 32  182) thinks ʾęd is a ptcp. of ʾwd, which, according to an Arabic cognate, means: “to be burdensome; to be burdened (with trouble).” Hebrew parallelism, however, is not so precise to demand investing a usual and sensible word with an unattested meaning to form a concrete equivalent to rāš.
11 R. Van Leeuwen, The Book of Proverbs (NIB 5; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 162.
15 For example: (1) the distribution of goods or booty (cf. Ps. 22:18 ; Nah. 3:10; Job 6:27; cf. Matt. 27:35; Prov. 1:14); (2) the order of the priests and their duties (1 Chron. 24:5–19; 26:13–16; Neh. 10:34; cf. Acts 1:26); (3) Saul as king (1 Sam. 10:20–21); (4) the families who had to relocate to give a proper distribution of the populace (Neh. 11:1); (5) warriors for battle where only a percentage was required (Judg. 20:9); (6) the time for action (Est. 3:7), and (7) the offender out of several (Josh. 7:14–18; 1 Sam. 14:40–42; Jon. 1:7). Sometimes the phrase “before the LORD” was added in particularly sacred matters: (8) the allocation of the holy land (Josh. 18–20 (e.g. 18:6), and (9) the selection of the scape goat (Lev. 16:8). (The use of the Urim and Thummim should be discussed separately, cf. Exod 28:30; Lev 8:8).
16 The other thirteen uses of the verb occur in situations involving hostility and/or judgment: of Saul’s lethal spear against David (1 Sam. 18:11; 20:13); of the LORD hurling Shebna (Isa. 22:17) and Israel out of the land (Jer. 16:13; 22:18, 26; Ezek. 32:4), of a person being overwhelmed by Leviathan (Job 41:9 ; of a saint stumbling but not being cast down (Ps. 37:24), of the LORD hurling a storm against the sea (Jon. 1:4), and of the sailor’s hurling first the cargo into it not only to lighten the ship but also to appease their Sea-god (1:5) and then Jonah to appease the LORD (1:12, 15; see J. Sassoon, Jonah [AB; New York, London, Toronto Sydney, Auckland: Doubleday, 1990], p. 94).
17 The other verbs are: yāṣaʾ “to come out” (Num. 33:54; Josh 18:11; 19:1, 17, 24; etc.), ʿālâ “to come up” (Lev. 6:10; Josh. 18:11; 19:10), šlk (Hi) “cast” (Josh. 18:8, 10; Mic. 2:5), ydd “cast” (Joel 3:3 [4:3] (Hi?); Nah. 3:10; Ob. 11; and npl “fall”: in Hi. (Isa. 34:17; Ps, 22:19; Prov. 1:14; Neh. 10:35; 11:1; 1 Chron. 24:31; 25:8; 2:13; 26:14) and in Qal (Ezek. 24:6; Jon. 1:7; Est. 3:7; 9:24).
18 The lot was used for the selection of an offender after it was decided a wrong had been committed. It was never used to decide right and wrong, nor to determine the guilt and innocence of an individual (cf. Num 5:11–31); pace, Baumgartner, Critique, p. 159 and Aitken, Proverbs, p. 210).
24 A slave could inherit the estate of a childless man, and if a slave married daughter of a free man who lacked a son he became head of the household (1 Chron. 2:35). However, no or historical incident precisely matches the proverb. Joseph managed a significant rise from being a slave to becoming a ruler in the households of his owners (cf. 37:26; 39:4, 16; 41:12, 45), and Jeroboam supplanted Solomon’s son as rule over the Israel (1 Kgs. 11:28–39). In the New Testament faithful Gentiles, who were without hope, replaced faithless Israel, who was a natural son (cf. Rom 11:11–21). The sages, however, normally treated with contempt the elevation of a slave above a prince (19:10; 30:22, 32; Eccl. 10:7).