Monthly Archives: February 2014

‘When He made firm the skies above’? – Proverbs 8:28

Introduction

According to many versions, Proverbs 8:28 speaks of a ‘firm sky.’ For instance, both the NASB and the NRSV read: “When He made firm the skies above…” What basis is there for this rendering? On the other hand, at least as many interpreters have translated šĕḥāqîm — the Hebrew word translated as ‘sky’ above — as clouds, not as sky. If šĕḥāqîm indicates ‘clouds’ here, it would mean this verse makes no reference to a firmament at all. But the somewhat ambiguous nature of this word means we cannot lean to heavily on it alone, which brings the context and other considerations to the fore. What then of this ‘made firm’ business? Well once again we find that many other versions have given a different rendering of the Hebrew verb here, ʾmṣ, such as: “when he established the (clouds / sky) above.” So which one is it? We will see that in fact the literal sense of the verb, ʾmṣ, is simply to be or make strong. We will analyze this word in depth below. We must also come to a right understanding of the second clause of this verse, as it is clearly parallel to the first.

The purpose of this article is to analyze this passage in detail, and in particular to: a) review the way current scholarship and the versions have dealt with it, b) offer a detailed analysis of the Hebrew, giving special attention to the parallel verbs in each clause, and c) explore the larger context of 8:22-30. The conclusion I reach is that many of the interpretations went off course when they interpreted this strengthening language in a highly concrete manner, even though both verbs show little (to no) precedent for those kinds of renderings. Even more important is the context, which shows, I would say beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this ‘strengthening’ language was speaking of abundant waters. This is what the clouds above and the springs of the deep were ‘strengthened’ with, life-giving waters at creation. As such this passage, besides having quite a different meaning than so many have given it, has nothing at all to do with a firmament.

When He made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep … (NRSV)

When He made firm the skies above …” (NASB)

(When He) set Sky firmly in place … (and) built the vast vault of Heaven … (Message)

בְּאַמְּצוֹ שְׁחָקִים מִמָּעַל בַּעֲזוֹז עִינוֹת תְּהוֹם

Proverbs 8:28

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