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March 2014: Proverbs 3 by Doug

Proverbs 3:3 is one you would do well to read in multiple translations. Let’s look at why by comparing the opening line in the verse. No matter what you look at, you find an imperative here. Do not let (or allow) two characteristics to get away from you. What are they?

First, the NASB, which is my starting point: kindness and truth. Not bad. Let’s look further at the ESV: steadfast love and faithfulness. That’s a little different, true? How about NLT’s loyalty and kindness? Given that that the NLT isn’t a word-order stickler, it’s possible that they’ve just shifted NASB’s kindness to the second position, or they’ve translated both words differently.

The NIV uses love and faithfulness, and the KJV uses mercy and truth. If you use the HCSB, you’ll find loyalty and faithfulness. For my nerdfolk, the Latin uses misericordia et veritas, (generally mercy and truth) and the Greek elehmosunai and pisteis (pity/mercy and faith/trustworthiness).

You might be seeing the problem here, but I’ll spell it out. The Hebrew words underlying the translations address virtues, but the terms do not come clearly through into English. This is not uncommon—after all, we bind up many concepts in the same word (unless you love a sports team, a food, your spouse, and God in the same manner) as well. Let’s peel this back a touch:

The Hebrew words underneath the couplet are transliterated (made into English letter combos) as chesed (”c” optional) and emet. To see what Solomon is commending and commanding, we should look at these.

First is chesed (some leave off the c, but I first learned it with the c): This is a word that typically refers to loyalty among family when referring to human relationships. It is used of the relationship between Jacob and Joseph at Jacob’s death. It’s not just an obligatory loyalty, but one built on relationship.

Chesed is also used of the relationship of God to His people in the Old Testament. It’s word about more than feeling devoid of action, and more than action devoid of feeling.

Not allowing chesed to to leave you is to not forsake your committed love and loyalty for the people in your life. This is about standing firm in your relationships, about honoring your commitments. There is also a hinting here not to push it out of the people around you: you can drain by abuse the loving loyalty of the people around you. You can drive them to not have it for others. That’s sinful—and unwise to boot.

Then there’s emet. Emet is about trustworthiness, faithfulness. The main Hebrew Lexicon (HALOT) on my Logos suggests that constancy is also at work here. Emet is reliability put to work. There is less emotion bound up in the idea (generally), but it’s the stability here to follow through when the emotions go floppy.

Emet may not stir your heart, but it keeps you where you belong until your heart stirs again. I am seeing this as a good pairing: there are times we feel like doing what we should, and times we don’t. Chesed and emet (there’s a vav there to connect the two instead “and.” Sue me, Hebrew scholars) keep us on track no matter how we feel.

And emet remains a value that we celebrate today. That constancy, that willingness to keep going even if things are not as awesome as we would like. How do I know? The hero of the hit film, The Lego Movie?

His name’s Emmet.


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