Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, that I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth...
-- Proverbs 22:20 (KJV)

In the KJV, the Hebrew word sholishim is translated as "excellent things". However, most other translations, as well as Strong's Concordance, defines that Hebrew word as "a threefold measure, a triple."

This seems to give the verse the meaning: "Have not I written to thee a threefold measure in counsels and knowledge."

So, what is this threefold measure, or triple?

  • Strong says, "excellent things [from the margin]", which I assume refers to KJV marginal notes. However, I can't locate a marginal note for this word. As far a I can tell the three-fold nature of the word is in regard to time past, e.g. three days ago.
    – enegue
    Apr 9 '18 at 23:22
  • @enegue see my answer below, I dedicated the final section of my answer to resolving your issue.
    – user22655
    Apr 13 '18 at 4:22
  • 1
    @רבותמחשבות I read the bit addressed to me first, then thanked you, then read the rest, then upvoted, then noticed you extra comment. LOL Never been praised for my timing.
    – enegue
    Apr 13 '18 at 4:37
  • @enegue thank you! +1 for that comment, lol.
    – user22655
    Apr 13 '18 at 4:40
  • Another possibility is the thirty chapters of the Instruction of Amenemope
    – mic
    Jun 29 '19 at 4:03

In terms of what this might refer to, we have a number of suggestions put forward by the commentaries (see the commentaries here for elaboration on the below suggestions). Here are some of the ones I saw that specifically relate these "excellent things" here to the number three (which is the translation found in the LXX and Vulgate, as well as many later translations):

Rashi (and many others) suggest that this refers to the Torah, Neviim and Ketuvim, or Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings.

Malbim suggests that this refers to the three parts of Proverbs, as he splits it into Chapters 1-10, 11-25, 25-29, (see 1 Kings 5:12).

Gill and Barnes note those who believe that it refers to Solomon's three written contributions to the Hebrew Bible, namely the Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.

Secondly (and more importantly to me), to establish the correct wording of the verse, and the source of the KJV's translation as "excellent things", the Hebrew text must be carefully analyzed. It reads:

הֲלֹ֤א כָתַ֣בְתִּֽי לְ֭ךָ [שָׁלִשִׁ֑ים] (שלשום) בְּמֹ֖עֵצ֣וֹת וָדָֽעַת׃

The Ketiv, or "written" word here is שלשום, whereas the Qere, or "read" word is שלשים. (See here for further explanation of Qere and Ketiv.)

While the root of both words is שלש, or three, both of them are used to mean very different things in the Bible.

שלשום (Strong's 8032) is found 24 other times throughout the Bible, is always grouped with תמול (Strong's 8543), and means the day before yesterday (which would be 3 days prior, counting inclusively, see comments here). Strong does count this as a 25th occurrence, and he adds the translation of "excellent things" under this entry, although, as noted above by enegue, he sources this to the KJV margin.

שלשים, if vowelized as it is here (Strong's 7991), can take a number of meanings:

  • third part
  • name of a measure
  • a musical instrument
  • maybe three-stringed, triangular shape, or three-barred
  • perhaps a sistrum or triangle
  • shield carrier, adjutant, officer, captain

Metzudat David understands this translation of "excellent things" to be related to the final definition of שלשים given above (as an excellent, honorable officer). He compares this to Proverbs 8:6:

שִׁ֭מְעוּ כִּֽי־נְגִידִ֣ים אֲדַבֵּ֑ר וּמִפְתַּ֥ח שְׂ֝פָתַ֗י מֵישָׁרִֽים׃

Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. (KJV)

As we can see, the KJV has "excellent things" here also, except that the Hebrew reads נגידים (Strong's 5057), which is another Hebrew word for officers.

Based on the above, the Qere of שלשים seems to be the likely motivation for the KJV translation of "excellent things".

For Enegue, but others as can read as well: See as well 1 Chronicles 11:11, which has a similar Qere and Ketiv. Strong (8675, added to that verse), notes the following:

Kethiv Readings

In the Hebrew Bible, the scribes did not alter any text they felt had been copied incorrectly. Rather they noted in the margin what they thought the written text should be. The written variationiscalled a kethiv and the marginal note is called the qere. Where the translators of the Authorised Version followed the qere reading rather than the kethiv, we indicate the kethiv reading by the number 08675. For example, in Ge 24:33 "was set" is coded as H7760 08675 H3455 . The translators used the qere reading that has Strong's number H7760 but the kethiv reading is Strong's number H3455 . Both words have the same meaning, "was set".

Thus, I would guess that "[from the margin]" simply indicates that the translation is based on the Qere rather than the Ketiv, rather than to a marginal note that we do not have.


What is the meaning of “excellent things” in Proverbs 22:20?

"Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, that I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth."(KJV).

Some other translations render the verse as follows:

Proverbs 22:20 (CJB)

20 "I have written you worthwhile things full of good counsel and knowledge,"

Proverbs 22:20 (ERV)

" I have written 30 sayings for you.[a] These are words of advice and wisdom."

Proverbs 22:20 (GW)

" Didn’t I write to you previously with advice and knowledge."

Excellent things in counsels:

In the Mosaic Law given to the Israelites by God , God gave them many excellent counselings , that modern science considers a must to avoid diseases and prevent infections. For example hand washing prevents transmission of diseases, quarantine of lepers and others for infectious diseases, and the proper disposal of excrement reduces diarrhea.

From Proclaim and Defend a Ministry of FBFI:

" Medical scientists have noticed the Pentateuch’s astoundingly modern outlook on health and hygiene. D. H. Trapnell, M.D., Consultant Radiologist at Westminster Hospital in London, observed:

One respect in which Jewish medicine was better than that of contemporary peoples was the remarkable sanitary code of the Israelites in Moses’ time. … The Jews, as a nation, might not have survived their time in the wilderness, or the many other vicissitudes through which they passed, without their sanitary “code.” It deals with public hygiene, water supply, sewage disposal, inspection and selection of food, and control of infectious disease. "

Dispose of your excrement-Dig a hole and cover it up.

Deuteronomy 23:12-13 (MEV)

12 "You must also have a place outside the camp where one may go outside. 13 You must have a spade among your equipment, and it must be, when you relieve yourself outside, you must dig there and turn and cover up your excrement."

Handling of dead bodies.

Numbers 19:14-16 (MEV)

14 "This is the law, when a man dies in a tent. Each person who comes into the tent and all that is in the tent will be unclean seven days. 15 Every open vessel which has no covering fastened on it is unclean."

16 "Whoever in the field touches one that is slain with a sword, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave will be unclean seven days."

Quarantine for leprosy until no longer contagious.

Leviticus 13:1-2 Modern English Version (MEV)

1" And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2 When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or spot, and it turns on the skin of his body like a mark of a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests." (read also verse 6-8)

Whoever touches a dead person or animal had to wash himself and his clothing.

27 "Whatever animal that walks on its paws, among all manner of animals that go on all fours, those are unclean to you. Whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean until the evening. 28 He who carries the carcass of these shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening; they are unclean to you."


@Christopher Pfeifer - Besides the good answer you received I would add only one further consideration. Inside the logical group of verses of which Pro 22:20 is part (that is verses 17-21), exists the possibility that verse 19 may be able to give light to the subsequent verse (20).

In fact, the speaker/writer specify (in the verse 19) that he is making known the trust in IEUE to the hearer/reader, 'today', or, 'this day' (E-IUM). Then (in the verse 20) the speaker/writer pinpoints that - anyway - he wrote about this argument to his hearer/reader 'heretofore' (ŠLŠUM [according the Ketib]), or 'until now'.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible: "Another reading of the Hebrew text gives 'Have I not written to thee long ago?' and this would form a natural antithesis to 'this day' of Pro 22:19".

Granted, this is only one of the various possibilities the text permits us to reach...

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