Thursday, March 21, 2013

Looking at Proverbs 20:21

Proverbs 20:21 says this:
Translation 1:

An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end. (NIV)
An inheritance obtained too early in life is not a blessing in the end. (NLT)
An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning Will not be blessed in the end. (NASB)
An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed. (KJV)
An inheritance gained prematurely will not be blessed ultimately. (HCSB)

Translation 2:

An inheritance gotten wrongly at first, Even its latter end is not blessed. (YLT)

Translation 3:

An inheritance hastily gotten [by greedy, unjust means] at the beginning, in the end it will not be blessed. (Amplified)
When the Lord appeared to me many years ago the word "inheritance" was written across my mind as an inner vision. And at that time He told me that when I am cut off from Him as an unbeliever I have lost a great inheritance. Thus, inheritance from the Lord has a special place in my heart, because that was what He told me at our first encounter. Over the past 10 yrs, I have always look at this verse from the viewpoint of translation 1. In fact, most bible versions (I did not list them all) say that an inheritance if gained too quickly in the beginning shall not be blessed in the end. I take that as the Lord saying that restoration to a believer needs time to realize for the best effect.

However, when I shared with friends a while back, two of them highlighted that the word "hasty" meant dishonest and greedy means. One of them refers to the Amplified bible. That leads me to realize that there are other variations to how this verse is translated. Why is this so?

For our study I will choose to use the NASB, which is about the best formal equivalence translation.
An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning Will not be blessed in the end.
If we look at the interlinear of the OT, we would see that there are certain words that is each represented by two Hebrew words. One Hebrew word will have a superscript K and one Hebrew word will have a superscript Q. K refers to Ketiv, which is the written consonantal text of the Hebrew bible. Q refers to Qere, and it refers to the Masoretic reading of the word and determines the orthography. When you have two Hebrew words referring to the same word it means the written text (Ketiv) defers from how the word should be read (Qere) as determined by the Masoretic scribes. See reference 1 for more information on Ketiv and Qere.

In our case, the word "gained hurriedly" contains both Ketiv and Qere version and each corresponds to a different Hebrew word (see reference 2). In the Ketiv the meaning of the word is "loathe" or "abhor" (Strong's 973), מְבֻחֶלֶת (mÿbukhelet). This word only appears another time in the bible in Zechariah 11:8. To most translators it does not make sense. How can someone loathe his inheritance? So most bible translations use the Qere, מְבֹהֶלֶת (mÿvohelet), which means "hastened". This makes sense to most translators, as many verses in Proverbs (Proverbs 28:20 and Proverbs 28:22) seem to support the verse if it is translated this way (see again Translation 1 above for the different bible versions, not exhaustive, that adopted this view). A few translators read the original Hebrew word and match it to an Arabic word and the Arabic word matched is bajila, "avarice", which means extreme greed for material things. This is the reason for the YLT and Amplified Bible's translations. This view can be supported by Proverbs 13:11 and Proverbs 20:17.

Personally I find it uncomfortable that we should translate a Hebrew word by matching it to an Arabic word (though both are Semitic languages and share many similar characteristics). For this verse, Keil and Delitzsch (see reference 3) pointed out that "avarice is a chronic disease" which isn't matched to an inheritance. The Proverbs verses that seem to  support this view also does not refer to an inheritance. How about adopting the Qere - "hastened"? Though Proverbs 28:20 and Proverbs 28:22 seem to support it, these two verses may not apply. This is because both verses refer to a man hurrying after riches. They do not refer to inheritance, which is different from riches. An inheritance can only be received from the father and only by means of one's position as a son. So strictly adopting the Qere and using the two Proverbs to support Proverbs 20:21 may not be it. I look up the word "inheritance" (Strong's 5159) in Proverbs 20:21 and it appears 223 times in the bible and is found in Proverbs 17:2 and Proverbs 19:14. However, both of these Proverbs have no reference to the receiver of the inheritance being in haste or being greedy.

We get a clue when we check the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament). The word "gained hastily" in NASB means "uncircumcised" (strong's 1986. epispaomai) in the Septuagint and appears only one other time in 1 Cor 7:18. This word "uncircumcised" refers to someone who is circumcised seeking to reverse it (see reference 4 for the Thayer's Greek Lexicon). In the old testament, a circumcised person is someone who is in covenant with God. As a child of God today, a believer, we inherit from God based on the covenant that He has with us (refer to Psalms 105:8-11). A circumcised person who seeks to be uncircumcised thus is someone under covenant who is ashamed of the covenant and wants to be seen as a commoner who is not in covenant with God. For such a person, can we say that he loathes or despises his inheritance? Suddenly, the Ketiv of "gained hurriedly" in Proverbs 20:21 which is "loathe", "abhor" becomes understandable. A person who loathes his inheritance is someone who wants his inheritance but won't acknowledge that it comes through receiving by just being a son to a father in a covenant. An inheritance is best obtained by just being a son and humbly received. Surely, such a person has taken the honor on the part of receiving an inheritance very lightly. In fact, we can go further by saying that perhaps the ketiv and the qere of the word "gained hurriedly" can be used in tandem. A person who loathes his inheritance is being hasty, and perhaps rash.

So the Proverbs 20:21 relying on the Ketiv (consonantal text) can be translated as
An inheritance abhorred in the beginning, shall not be blessed in the end.
See reference 5-7 for other commentaries on this verse.

I asked some friends why then would the verse contrast the beginning with the end? Why not just say that such a person is not blessed? A friend S explains to me that it is because such a person may look blessed in the beginning but his blessings will not last. So there is a contrast of the beginning and the end. I think that's a great point by S.

Are there any examples of people who loathe their inheritance in the bible? Yes, Esau, who sold his birth right to Jacob for a portion of food.  And the people of Israel who despite the Lord being clear that they should not worship other gods, continued to do so, and thus despised the promises of God who is in covenant to bless them if they keep His statues. What is God's reaction?  For Esau, in Malachi 1:3, God says He has hated Esau. For God's people who worship other God's, in Psalms 106:40 God says He abhors His inheritance in us (this is the only verse in the bible other than Proverbs 20:21 that has "loathe" and "inheritance" in the same sentence).

It looks like when we abhor our inheritance, God in turn abhors us. Wow. That can't be good. Any New Testament example? Yes. The prodigal son comes to mind. He asks for his inheritance so that he can take it and leave home and spend it alone, away from his family. But in the New Covenant what is God's reaction? This time God isn't angry and He is looking out to restore His returning son as fast as He could! What a great difference Jesus' work makes! No wonder we see this beautiful verse in 2 Cor 5:
But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18-19, WEB)
I don't think a believer today would loathe His inheritance in Christ. But if we should have made any mistake of this nature along the way, thank God by the work of Jesus there remains no more judgement, but a confident expectation of good. Praise the Lord!

1) Wiki on Qere and Ketiv -

2) Interlinear for Proverbs 20:21 (

3) Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (
 An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.
The partic. מבחל may, after Zechariah 11:8, cf. Syr. bhlaa', nauseans, mean "detested," but that affords here no sense; rather it might be interpreted after the Arab. bajila, to be avaricious, "gotten by avarice, niggardliness," with which, however, neither נחלה, inheritance, nor, since avarice is a chronic disease, בּראשׁונה agrees. On the contrary, the Kerı̂ מבהלת [hastened] perfectly agrees, both linguistically (vid., Proverbs 28:22; cf. Proverbs 13:11) and actually; for, as Hitzig remarks, the words following Proverbs 20:20 fully harmonize with the idea of an inheritance, into the possession of which one is put before it is rightly due to him; for a son such as that, the parents may live too long, and so he violently deprives them of the possession (cf. Proverbs 19:26); but on such a possession there rests no blessing. Since the Piel may mean to hasten, Esther 2:9, so מבהל may mean hastened equals speedy, Esther 8:14, as well as made in haste. All the old interpreters adopt the Kerı̂; the Aram. render it well by מסרהבא, from מסרהב, overturned; and Luther, like Jerome, haereditas ad quam festinatur.

4) Thayer's Greek Lexicon for Strong's 1986.

5) Brown-Driver-Briggs on Strong's 973 (
I. [בָּחֵל] verb feel loathing (compare Syriac **NöZAW xvii {1897}, 188 disproves Syriac , and adopts the view of GeiUrschrift 270 (בחל euphemism for a √ II. בעל = loathe, with בְּ, assumed (Thes Buhl) for Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 31:32; see below) (so in lexicons) nauseated (yet see GeiUrschrift, 270); NSyriac envy compare StoddardGram. 12, 57) —
Qal Perfect3feminine singular בָּֽחֲלָה Zechariah 11:8 וַתִּקְצַר נַפְשִׁי בָּהֶם וְגַם נַפְשָׁם בִי ׳בּ felt a loathing against me.
II. [בָּחֵל] verb (Arabic be avaricious); only
Pu`al Participle נַחֲלָה מְבֹחֶלֶת an inheritance gotten by greed Proverbs 20:21 Kt; < Qr Vrss מְבֹהֶלֶת ׳נ, see בהל.

6) John Gill's Exposition of the bible (
An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.
An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning,.... Of a man's setting out in the world in trade and business; and which sometimes is got lawfully, and this must be excepted from this proverb; but generally what is got hastily and in a short time is got unlawfully, and so does not prosper. Some Jewish interpreters, as Gersom, understand it of an inheritance which comes to persons from their friends, without any labour or industry of theirs; and which they are not careful to keep, but, as it lightly comes, it lightly goes: here is a various reading; our version follows the marginal reading, and which is followed by the Targum, Jarchi, and Gersom, and by the Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate Latin versions; but the written text is, "an inheritance loathsome" or "abominable"; an ill gotten one, so the word is used in Zechariah 11:8. Schultens, from the use of the word in the Arabic language, which signifies to be covetous, renders it "covetously got" or "possessed" (i); and so the Arabic version is, "an inheritance greedily desired", obtained through covetousness and illicit practices; but in his late commentary on this book he renders the passage, by the help of Arabism, "an inheritance smitten with the curse of sordidness", as being sordidly got and enjoyed;
but the end thereof shall not be blessed; it will not continue, it will be taken away from them, and put into some other hands. Jarchi illustrates it by the tribes of Gad and Reuben making haste to take their part on the other side Jordan before their brethren, and were the first that were carried captive.

7) Pulpit Commentary ( 21. - An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning - or, which in the beginning, is obtained in haste - but the end thereof shall not be blessed; or, its end shall not be blessed. The Khetib gives מְבֹהֶלֶת, which (comp. Zechariah 11:8) may mean "detested," but this gives no sense; it is better, with the Keri, to replace kheth with he, and read מְבֹהֶלֶת (meboheleth), "hastened," "hastily acquired" (see Proverbs 13:11, Septuagint). The maxim, taken in connection with the preceding verse, may apply to a bad son who thinks his parents live too long, and by violence robs them of their possessions; or to one who, like the prodigal in the parable, demands prematurely his portion of the paternal goods. But it may also be taken generally as denouncing the fate of those who make haste to be rich, being unscrupulous as to the means by which they gain wealth (see on Proverbs 23:11; 28:20, 22). A Greek gnome says roundly -
Οὐδεὶς ἐπλούτησεν ταχέως δίκαιος ὤν.
"No righteous man e'er grew rich suddenly."