23 Abundant food may come from the field of the poor,[a] but it is swept away by injustice.[b]
Proverbs 13:23tnHeb “abundance of food, fallow ground of רָאשִׁים (raʾshim).” The line has several difficulties. The word רָאשִׁים is spelled as if from ראֹשׁ (roʾsh, “head”) meaning a tribal head, leader, chief (HALOT 1166 s.v.). It is usually assumed however that it is a participle from רוּשׁ (rush) meaning “to be poor” (HALOT 1209 s.v.). The lack of a verb also poses a problem. Some translations assume that the food is in the field or the field produces the food (NASB, KJV, BBE, NIV , Holman), but this runs counter to the notion of fallow ground. If it is full of crops, it isn’t fallow (if indeed נִיר [nir] means prepared unplanted soil). Other translations are modal, stating that the field “may” or “would” produce much food (NIV , ESV, NLT, NRSV). Perhaps it is fallow after a harvest; or perhaps the saying is about presuming the crops before they are actually there (like counting your chickens before they are hatched). BDB proposes the possibility: “abundant food [yields] the fallow ground of poor men” (BDB 644 s.v. נִיר). If food leads to fallow ground, it may imply not seeing a need to plant all the fields, which later results in poverty. Any of these options seems equally speculative.
Proverbs 13:23tc The MT reads “there is what is swept away without justice” (וְיֵשׁ נִסְפֶּה בְּלֹא מִשְׁפָּט, veyesh nispeh beloʾ mishpat). The LXX reads “the great enjoy wealth many years, but some men perish little by little.” The Syriac reads “those who have no habitation waste wealth many years, and some waste it completely.” Tg. Prov 13:23 reads “the great man devours the land of the poor, and some men are taken away unjustly.” The Vulgate has “there is much food in the fresh land of the fathers, and for others it is collected without judgment.” C. H. Toy says that the text is corrupt (Proverbs [ICC], 277). Nevertheless, the MT makes sense: The ground could produce enough food for people if there were no injustice in the land.
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