It may make you cringe, but I’m putting on my English teacher hat tonight. I apologize in advance.
Every time I read Proverbs 30.21, I resist scribbling “rep” (the abbreviation for “repetitive”) in the margin. Because, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s a little redundancy going on:
She opens her arms to the poor and
extends her hands to the needy.
Is it really necessary to say virtually the same thing two times in a row? And in the very same sentence?
To my students, I would say, “of course not.”
But this isn’t just any sentence. It’s composed by the wisdom writer. Maybe it’s worth looking into.
Here’s an interesting fact: although some translations use them interchangeably, the Hebrew words for “extends” and “opens” are actually two different verbs. (Yes, I’m still wearing my teacher hat.)
The first, “paras,” means to spread out, to stretch, to break in pieces, to be scattered. According to the lexicon at blueletterbible.org, this word conveys the idea of being broken apart or dispersed. Like when a child in the lunchroom forgets his sandwich, and his buddy tears his own PBJ in half to share.
The second verb, “shalach,” has a bit of a different flavor. This word means to send away, to let go, to stretch out, or to extend—maybe even to shoot forth, like the branches on a tree. Like when a family decides to sponsor a child in an underdeveloped country by sending a monetary gift each month.
With “paras,” the gift doesn’t have to travel very far. Maybe because the need presents itself, up close and personal, so that there’s the chance for interaction, conversation, connection.
With “shalach,” there’s the sense that the gift begins in one spot but extends to another. Maybe because the giver searches for a need and decides to send resources to a more distant location. Perhaps the giver stays where he is. Or he might accompany the resources, immerse himself in the new location.
Could these ideas be the product of my overly active analytical tendencies? Absolutely.
But what if they are not?
What if the wisdom writer actually has a reason for the redundancy?
What if he knows we discover some needs when they show up at our doorstep. Or walking past our workspace. Or at the end of the exit ramp, holding a sign. We didn’t call them; they called us. Our job is to respond.
Other times, we have to go looking. Maybe next door, or across the border, or around the world. Because some needs won’t be known unless someone cares enough to seek them out.
To respond, we’ll probably have to extend ourselves a bit, send our resources elsewhere, possibly leave our comfort zone for a few minutes, a few days, or longer.
Even in the English, the two verbs have different connotations. It's one thing to extend your hands, but openings your arms is another thing altogether. Both actions convey generosity, yet they look and feel very different.
So I'm wondering: how do these ideas strike you? I’d love to know. And I promise not to correct your grammar if you leave a comment. J