A friend recently asked a question about Proverbs 13:12. Here are a few thoughts I’d like to share here, also. …remember that I am a counselor, so those passages that talk about depression, hope, despair, and recovery stand out to us.
About Proverbs 13:12… the first thing I see is that this is an example of Hebrew poetry.
In this verse, the first half of the verse makes a statement, then the second half states the opposite in order to paint a full picture of an idea. Proverbs 13 has many such examples of this poetry.
1. Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
2. But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
The Hebrew word for hope seems to be a word that means “expectation” and it parallels the words in the second half of the verse, “desire” fulfilled. The sickness of the heart (first half) that comes from the disappointment of hope deferred is the opposite of the pleasure of the tree of life (second half). Let me add that this expectation seems, at least to this reader, to refer more to the daily purposes we have, and the things we want to accomplish in this life. It doesn’t exclude eternal life issues, but I believe the main focus of this expectation is our daily journey, and the spot of the horizon we pick for our aim.
This verse can have several applications. Here are my initial thoughts, though it is not a complete list. Please add more to the list.
• I need hope (healthy expectations and desires) to keep my heart healthy.
• I should understand, and make good choices about, the wants that I live for. They make up a good part of who I am, and whom I will become.
• “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23
• “Listen, my child, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way.” Proverbs 23:19
• One source of depression is the neglect, or laying aside, of hope.
• My hopes should be centered in the seeking of the Will of God.
• The gifts and calling God has given me are meant to be lived out and put to work.
• “Desire realized is sweet to the soul,
But it is an abomination to fools to turn away from evil.” Proverbs 13:19
The verse does not directly instruct me to do so, but nevertheless I find myself challenged to inspect what it is that I want. In his book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith speaks a warning to us about our “unconscious loves”. (p. 32) He tells of a film by Andrei Tarkovsky, Stalker, in which the main characters are invited to enter a place known as The Room. When on enters The Room, they get what they most deeply want. But, the characters get cold feet. What if what they most deeply want isn’t what they think they want, or what if it is not what they wish that others will learn about what they want. (p. 27ff)
Smith asks a great question about what we truly and deeply want….. Early in the morning we read our Bible and pray. Later that day, we go to Home Depot or the Mall. Where do we worship most deeply?
Next in my study…
I did a word study on the word translated as “deferred”, and found some interesting information.
It is the Hebrew word מָשַׁךְ mashak ; a primitive. root; to draw, drag:—
• NASB – away(1), bore(1), continue(1), deferred(1), delayed(2), deployed(1), drag(1), drag me away(1), drags(1), draw(3), drawn(2), draws(1), drew(2), extend(1), follow(1), go(1), led(1), long blast(2), make a long blast(1), march(1), prolong(1), prolonged(1), pulled(3), sounds a long blast(1), sows(1), stimulate(1), stretched(1), tall(2), wield(1). [The numbers refer to how often the word appears with a particular translation in the New American Standard Bible.] —Brown-Driver-Briggs (Old Testament Hebrew-English Lexicon)
A primitive root; to draw, used in a great variety of applications (including to sow, to sound, to prolong, to develop, to march, to remove, to delay, to be tall, etc.):—draw (along, out), continue, defer, extend, forbear, X give, handle, make (pro-, sound) long, X sow, scatter, stretch out.
[ The use of this word translated as “sow” is a depiction of the action of casting seed by a sweeping motion of the arm.]
AV – draw 15, draw out 3, prolonged 3, scattered 2, draw along 1, draw away 1, continue 1, deferred 1, misc 9; 36 [The numbers refer to how often the word appears with a particular translation in the King James Version.]
Here are other places where this Hebrew word appears.
Along, Judges 20:37. Away, Psalms 28:3. Continue, Psalms 36:10. Deferred, Proverbs 13:12. Draw, Judges 4:6, 7. Job 21:33. Song of Songs 1:4. Isaiah 5:18; 66:19. Ezekiel 32:20. Draweth, Job 24:22. Psalms 10:9. Drawn, Deuteronomy 21:3. Jeremiah 31:3.
Drew, Genesis 37:28. 1 Kings 22:34. 2 Chronicles 18:33. Hosea 11:4. Extend, Psalms 109:12. Forbear, Nehemiah 9:30. Give, Ecclesiastes 2:3. Handle, Judges 5:14. Long, Exodus 19:13. Joshua 6:5. Out, Exodus 12:21. Job 41:1. Psalms 85:5. Hosea 7:5. Prolonged, Isaiah 13:22. Ezekiel 12:25, 28. Scattered, Isaiah 18:2, 7. Soweth, Amos 9:13. Up, Jeremiah 38:13.
—Exhaustive Concordance (KJV Translation Frequency & Location)
Back to the word that we usually translate as “deferred”. Many Hebrew verbs are word pictures about actions.
In this one, the picture is about casting to the side, scattering, or otherwise neglecting hope.
Here is this proverb’s big punch…….
It is not hope that is taken away from us by another person or by circumstances. Rather, it is hope that is deferred by our own lack of attention or self-discipline.
We are responsible for the care and feeding of our expectations. We are responsible for choosing wisely, as we put together our hopes and desires. We may not be able to change another person’s mind, but by that same truth, they cannot change ours either. Even if our family was dysfunctional, we can say, “For myself, I am taking a different road, and no one can keep me from independent choices, without my permission. I won’t neglect the care and feeding of the hope I have, nor will I assign my tasks to someone else. I won’t cast my hope over to the side.”
For this reason we are challenged, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23