(2) Wealth and Failed Companions (18:23–24)
23 The proverb turns from the intimate relationship of husband and wife to the polar relationships of rich and poor. In the Hebrew text the chiastic, antithetic parallels, marked by but place in their inner core the topics the undeservedly poor person (see 13:8) versus the materially, but spiritually poor, rich person (see 1:28; 10:15; 14:20; 15:28; 18:11). In the central position occur the complementary verbs speaks (see 2:12) and answers (1:28; 15:28; 16:1) and in the outer frame the antithetical adverbs pleadingly (taḥanűnîm) and brazenly (ʿazzôt). Taḥanűnîm derives from the root hnn, “to be gracious,” “show favor,” and means in essence “cries for favor.” “Taḥanűnîm are the expressions of a mind beset with terror which do not have established formulations.” 49 By contrast, ʿaz, which usually means, “strong, powerful, mightily,” can also mean, “fierce,” (or “insolent,” “impudent,” “shameless” (cf. Deut. 28:50; Dan 8:23). 50 The line between strong and shameless is often attenuated. In the former sense it may connote “unyielding” (Song 8:6). It is parallel to “cruel” (qšh) with anger (Gen. 49) both with reference to a king (Isa. 49:17) and to “ruthless” (ʿārîṣ) with reference to a nations (Isa. 25:3). Other proverbs condemned the rich person for making the wealth his “strong” city (10:15; 18:11); this one implicitly censors him for his “strong” (i.e., shameless, unyielding) response to the poor man’s cries and brushing him aside (see 14:20–21). These are not unrelated. Since the rich person’s own sense of security depends on his wealth, not on the LORD, he must defend “his city” against their cries. The poor have no choice but to speak pleadingly, but the rich have an option how to answer and so are accountable. A Jewish proverb says: “in order to chase away beggars one needs a rich person.” 51 By contrast, God hears the pleas of the needy (Pss. 28:2, 6; 34:6, 15; 116:1), and the New Testament teaches that only the merciful obtain mercy (Matt 5:7). Once again a proverb links poverty with innocence and prosperity with baseness (see I: 108).
24 The proverb now focuses on the relationship of companions. Its antithetical parallelism draws a line between the topics, companions (i.e., run-of-the-mill friends) versus a true friend, and their respective predicates “about to be shattered” versus “who sticks closer than a brother.” This last, imprecise antithesis implies the man of typical “friends” is about to be ruined because he lacks one true friend in adversity; and the man with one true friend is not about to be ruined. 52 Ecclesiasticus (6:10) puts the contrast this way: “There is a friend who is a table companion, but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.” A person who has unreliable companions glosses the unique expression ʾîš rēʿîm (lit., “a person of neighbors,” see 3:28). Rēaʿ and is glossed “neighbor,” “another,” or “companion” when it refers to a neutral or somewhat negative relationship and by “friend” when it refers to a positive relationship (17:17; 22:11; 27:9f., 14[?]). In 17:17; 22:11 “the friend” is qualified by ʾōhēb, (“a lover [i.e. a true friend]”). The absolute plural found here is used four other times: of superficial sexual partners (Jer. 3:1) versus true ones (Song 5:1), of companions attracted to wealth (19:4); and of falsely denounced neighbors (Job 17:5). Here also companions (i.e., partners who fail to come through in adversity) are in view. (1) With them one is on the verge of being shattered. (2) They are contrasted with the ʾōhēb (the singular true friend), cf. 17:17; 22:11. (3) The rēʿîm rabbîm in 19:4, 6, which also belong to this unit, are also pseudo for they rally to the rich and abandon the poor. (4) This interpretation admirably suits the next unit warning against the folly of hastening after money. The person who has these fair weather friends is a rich person according to 19:6, linking verse 24 to verse 23. The gloss about to be (or is soon) broken (lehitrōʿēaʿ see n. 6 ) is disputed. II r′ʿ in Qal is used of breaking iron and bronze (Jer. 15:12) and twice of shattering enemies (Ps. 2:9; Job 34:24) and in its other use in Hithpael, of the earth being rent asunder (Isa. 24:19). Thus the lemma connotes a being shattered, being broken into pieces, and, f the many synonyms for “to destroy, was probably chosen for its assonance with rēaʾ. 53 The infinitive construct with le signifies an event that is ready to happen (see 17:17). Proverbs 25:19 likens the fair-weather friend to an unreliable bad tooth and a lame foot, and 11:13; 25:9 shows that misplaced trust can be misused in gossip (11:13; 25:9). But (we) contrasts that situation with there is (see 3:28) a friend (see 14:20). One who sticks (dabeq) mixes both an essentially psychological stative notion of clinging with the activity of adhering tightly to someone or something (cf. Deut. 4:4), so closely that even death could not separate (Ruth 1:14–17). 54 The comparative closer than a brother (meʾah, see 18:19) uses the blood relative as a basis of comparison for sticking to someone through thick and thin but which the subject has to an even greater degree (see 17:17). 55 Economic survival was precarious in ancient Israel, and one needed the “insurance” of a true friend. One also needed such a friend in court. The similar proverb in 17:17 shares with this proverb three key words, “friend” (ʿōhēb and rēaʿ) and “brother” (ʿāḥ). A friend more loyal than a brother is needed because even a brother inwardly “hates” a poor relative (19:7). The friend in view is a wise person who belongs to the community of the faithful and/or possibly God. The significance of friends is found in their quality, not quantity. Thus, the proverb implicitly warns the disciple against pursuing wealth and having pseudo-friends, or of belonging to their company, but exhorts him to pursue wisdom and pick his friends among the wise (cf. 12:26; 13:20; 22:24; 28:7; 29:3). The friend whose loyalty transcends the solidarity of blood is realized in Jesus Christ (cf. John 15:12–15; Heb. 2:11, 14–18).
6 The Targ., Syr., Vulg. either misunderstood lhtrʿʿ or read lhtrʿôt from II rʿh (“to make oneself a companion,” see 22:24): “there are friends to be companions” (i.e., social fellows for sociable occasions). Vulg. rendered it by ad societam: vir amiculus ad societam magis amicus erit quam frater (“an amiable man will be a greater friend than a brother”), an obviously free paraphrase based on a misunderstanding of the verse. The Hexapla (Field, Orig. Hex. 2.349) reads anēr hetairion tou etaireusasthai (“a man of companionships [is a man] for getting companions”). KJV renders, “a man that hath friends must show himself friendly.” G. R. Driver (“Problems in the Hebrew Text of Proverbs,” Bib  183), to avoid altering the MT, derives the same meaning from the Hebr. rűaʿ (“to shout”) in the weakened sense of Syr. “chattering,” so that the clause may be glossed, “a man of (many) friends (is a friend only) for chattering together.” NRSV reads, “some friends play at friendship.” However, this is not the meaning of the Hithpolel of rʿʿ, the Aramaic equivalent of rṣṣ (“to be broken asunder,” see F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon. M. G. Easton, trans. [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, n.d.], p. 278; BDB, p. 950; s.v. II rʿʿ; HALOT 3.1270, s.v. II rʿʿ), probably in the sense of either “makes himself to be broken” by acting against himself or, more probably, “made to be broken” by an unspecified agent. The inf. cstr. with lamed probably has its immanent sense (IBHS, p. 610, p. 36.2.3g; GKC 114i).
52 In ʾîš rēʿîm lehitrōʿēaʿ weyēš ʿōhēb dābēq meʾâ note the assonance of /ē/ in six of its seven words; the loose sequence of gutturals ʿ, h, ʿ; and the alliteration between rēʿîm lehitrōʿēaʿ.
53 E.g., cf. The NIV Exhaustive Concordance, E. W. Goodrick and J. R., Kohlenberger III (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), s.v. “destroy.” Note the sequence of consonants /r ʿ/ in rʿ ym lhtrʿʿ.
54 IBHS, p. 369, p. 22.3k.
55 IBHS, p. 264, p. 14.4d.