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Is it referring to:

  • The calamity that comes upon the wicked

Or

  • The trouble that is brought upon us by the wicked?

Do not be afraid of sudden danger, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes. [NASB]

Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes [ESV]

NASB says we don't have to be afraid of the ruin that evil people bring upon us. While ESV says we don't have to be afraid of the ruin that comes upon the evil people. But what does the original text actually say?

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The ambiguity in this succinct (8 words in Hebrew) proverb of Prov 3:25 is summarized by Matthew Poole:

The desolation of the wicked; either,

  1. Actively, which they bring upon thee. Or, rather

  2. Passively, which befalls them, when the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, as it is expressed, Isaiah 26:21; and thou mayst be apt to fear lest thou shouldst be involved in the common calamity; but fear not, for God will then hide thee in his chambers, as he promised, Isaiah 26:20.

Similarly, the Pulpit commentary also recognizes the ambiguity:

The desolation of the wicked (shoath r'shaim) may be taken either

(1) as the desolation made by the violence of the wicked, the desolation or strum which they raise against the righteous (so the LXX., Vulgate, Mariana, Michaelis, Hitzig, and others); or

(2) the desolation which overtakes the wicked, the desolating vengeance executed upon them (so Doderlein, Lapide, Stuart, Muensch., Delitzsch, Wardlaw).

To sharpen this question still further, let me put the alternatives this way. Does the "ruin of the wicked" mean:

  • the sort of ruin that the wicked deserve that might come upon the righteous either by "collateral damage" or because of bad luck? or,
  • the ruin directly caused by the evil deeds of wicked directly against the righteous?

The grammar allows for either case. Let me suggest that both meanings are probably intended for the following reasons:

  • proverbs in all languages, especially Hebrew, are often deliberately ambiguous to encompass as much applicability as possible
  • quite often I have observed that when the Hebrew text is vague with two equally possible meanings, both meanings are very likely intended
  • trouble and ruin in this earthly life comes from at least two things: the general sinfulness of the world environment (germs are everywhere, people are forgetful despite the best intentions, things break unintentionally), and, some people simply wish the righteous harm either because they are jealous, have a guilty conscience, or are just evil and intend as much misery as possible.

Thus, I see no reason why Prov 3:25 cannot and should not have both meanings. Therefore, the force of Prov 3:21-26 is to record the benefits of "sound judgment and discernment" (V21) as these two Godly virtues helps to prevent all the troubles as documented in V21-26.

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  • "proverbs in all languages, especially Hebrew, are often deliberately ambiguous to encompass as much applicability as possible * quite often I have observed that when the Hebrew text is vague with two equally possible meanings, both meanings are very likely intended." That is a good observation and well put.
    – Sherrie
    May 22, 2022 at 1:14
  • But I think the evil directly caused by the wicked against the righteous can not and will not be stopped. The scripture is clear that believing in God does not prevent a person from hardship. So I think this proverb has only one meaning. i.e, Do not be afraid of the destiny of the wicked [for that is not yours.] Those who avoid evil also avoid the consequences of evil.
    – That Koko
    May 23, 2022 at 11:13
  • @Dottard. Also what do you mean by collateral damage? For real? Our God knows how to separate the chaff from the wheat
    – That Koko
    May 23, 2022 at 11:27
  • @ThatKoko - that is true but the righteous are not always protected from the schemes of the wicked. How many were killed in various wars as "collateral damage"? Many Christians were murdered by Hitler, many Christians were killed by ISIS, etc. About 50 million faithful Christians were tortured to death by the Spanish inquisition.
    – Dottard
    May 23, 2022 at 11:43
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    That's exactly what I said. Believing in God does not protect one from hardships. Proverb 3:25 simply means that we don't have to be afraid of the destiny of the wicked. By destiny I mean ,eternal damnation. Proverbs 3:25 does not mean we don't have to be afraid of the harm that evil people inflict upon us. That's inevitable.
    – That Koko
    May 23, 2022 at 11:57

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