Truth or Faithfulness?

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Proverbs 3:3 (ESV)

Emet is most commonly translated “truth” (though not always–and appropriately so, given its relationship to faith/faithfulness – “emun/emunah“), so I’ve been noodling all day on why it is rendered “loyalty” or “faithfulness” in so many English translations of Proverbs 3:3. The parallelism with chesed is an obvious possible motive, but what is the significance?

The HCSB actually renders חסד ואמת (chesed v’emet) as “loyalty and faithfulness,” thus, in my opinion, conflating the two words rather than emphasizing their correspondence.

This detailed particularity is highlighted by the fact that verses 1 – 4 are a quatrain set up in a larger parallelism of v1:v3, v2:v4. With this in mind, “teaching/torah” and “commandments/mitzvot” are compared to “chesed/steadfast love” and “emet/truth.” While “long life” and “peace” are equated with “favor” and “good success.”

I suspect the intended suggestion is that in the inspired balance of God’s instruction and character we find that the potentially fleeting aspects of love are stabilized by truth, while the potential harshness of truth is tempered by lovingkindness.

Finally, the word chesed itself has the sense of faithfulness/steadfast/loyalty built into it, so it would make the use of emet as faithfulness redundant rather than expansive in this passage, if we were to render it anything other than “truth.” …or at least that’s what I’m thinking.

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