"Spider" or "Lizard" in Proverbs 30:28?
"The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces." (Proverbs 30:28, KJV)
Modern translations such as the ESV and NIV translate "שׂממית (semamiyt)" as "lizard" instead of "spider". An objection to "spider" is that there is another Hebrew word for "spider", "עכּבישׁ (akabiysh)", found in Job 8:14 and Isaiah 59:5. A similar objection could be made with respect to "lizard" given that there is another Hebrew word, "לטאה (leta'ah)", for lizard in Leviticus 11:30 (ESV, NIV). It appears that Rabbinic opinion is divided on the meaning of the word. A Jewish commentary on Proverbs 30:28 states:
"spider. So Rashi. Modern scholars prefer to translate 'lizard.' So Targum Jonathan to Lev. xi. 30. The word has both meanings in Rabbinic Hebrew and either would suit the context" (Proverbs, The Soncino Books of the Bible: Hebrew Text & English Translation with an Introduction and Commentary, edited by Rabbi Abraham Cohen and revised by Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg (New York : Soncino Press, 1993), p. 207).
The Stone Edition Tanach, by the respected Mesorah Heritage Foundation, edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman and other Rabbis, translates Proverbs 30:28 as, "the spider seizes [its prey] with its handiwork, though it dwells in the king's palace." Aside from translating "שׂממית" as "spider", this translation is notable for translating "ידים (yadayim)" as "handiwork". This word usually translated as "hands" could be understood as referring to the things made by the hands. The KJV, as with the ESV and NIV, adopts this meaning in Psalm 19:1:
השׁמים מספרים כבוד־אל ומעשׂה ידיו מגיד הרקיע׃
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
John Gill implicitly adopts this interpretation of "ידים" in Proverbs 30:28, commenting that "hands" alludes to the "thread she spins" (the handiwork of a spider):
"The spider taketh hold with her hands,.... On the thread she spins, or on the flies and bees she catches in her web. This is a small creature, yet very wise; what a curious thread does she spin! what a fine web does she weave! with what exactness and proportion is it framed! as if she understood the rules of mathematics and architecture;" (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible)
The context of Proverbs 30:28 is about the resilience of creatures with seeming disadvantages. The ants overcome their weakness by planning well for the future (30:25), the conies overcome their feebleness by living in well protected areas (30:26), and the locusts overcome the lack of an order-giving leader by every individual carrying out its own responsibility (30:27). In this context, the spider, though small, overcomes its seeming insignificance by using its hands to make its home in kings' palaces.
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