The last few weeks we’ve been exploring the idea of “random organization” in the Proverbs of Solomon. We’ve seen large-scale evidence of organizational patterns within these seemingly random strings of proverbs, and small-scale evidence such as catchwords and common themes.
For the last part of this series we’ll look briefly at two more pieces of evidence: chiasms and alliteration (paronomasia). A chiasm is when the text is shaped like an X with its matching elements. Sometimes several verses work together to form a chiasm, demonstrating that someone along the line purposefully placed them together.
A good example of this is Proverbs 21:1-2 – 1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. 2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. (ESV) Notice how the two verses use the same words to form a chiasm:
“heart” / “the LORD” – 1a
“cal” (transl. “wherever”) – 1b
“cal” (transl. “every”) – 2a
“heart” / “the LORD” – 2b
There is plenty of other evidence like this. I’ll show you one more. Though this one is not a chiasm, it still gives evidence of purposeful structure. I found this one in Waltke’s commentary (Proverbs 15-31), pg. 407, which gives credit to Finkbeiner, “An Analysis of Proverbs 28-29,” for the analysis. It looks at Proverbs 28:2-11. The italicized words represent the Hebrew words used in each verse:
A. understanding/mebin (vs 2)
B. poor/dal (vs 3)
C. law/torah (vs 4)
D. evil/rah (vs 5)
E. rich/hasir (vs 6)
A. understanding/mebin (vs 7)
B. poor/dal (vs 8)
C. law/torah (vs 9)
D. evil/rah (vs 10)
E. rich/hasir (vs 11)
Alliteration—also called “sound play” or “paronomasia”—is another way seemingly random proverbs can be organized. This one only works in Hebrew, as it is usually impossible to bring the same sound play forward into English that replicates what the original text does.
Andrew Steinmann in his commentary on Proverbs (pg. 249-250) notes 14:19-22 as one example of paronomasia. Verses 19 and 22 use the Hebrew word rah, translated “evil,” whereas verses 20-21 use the similar-sounding word re-ah, translated “neighbor.” This would also constitute a chiasm through these words!
Taken collectively, these various evidences demonstrate that there is purposeful arrangement even within the “random” sections of Proverbs. God had a plan when He put this book together. It can be read topically, collecting proverbs that speak on similar subjects, but there is also great benefit to reading it sequentially.