I started doing some study for a teaching time on patience with the youth at my church this coming Saturday and came across this verse in Ecclesiastes: “Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8b, NAS). I looked up the verse in the Old Khmer Bible and found it to be pretty similar. But as I thought more about the verse, it didn’t really make sense to compare patience with pride outright…I mean, wouldn’t a comparison with patience and a quick temper or something be a better match?
So I looked the verse up in Hebrew and found something interesting – if you were to translate it literally it would read: “It is better to be long of spirit than to be high of spirit.” That kind of makes sense, but then again, it doesn’t really make any sense – only this: we see a play on words.
So part of the reason for the comparison is a play on words in the Hebrew language – and possibly it isn’t a comparison at all, just a bare fact.
Translation is really a hard task (it is part of what I do everyday here in Cambodia, so it is on my mind a lot) – how do you convey Solomon’s play on words in English, or Khmer for that matter? The NET Bible translation tries to capture it a bit: “patience is better than pride” (matching “p’s” to give some sense of unity). In Khmer I looked around a little bit to try and match the Hebrew. It turns out it can be matched pretty well, literally, “A small heart is better than a big heart” – a small heart meaning patience, and a big heart meaning pride («ចិត្តតិច នោះវិសេសជាងចិត្តធំ។» ឬ «ចិត្តធ្ងន់ នោះវិសេសជាងចិត្តធំ។»).
But in the end, the cool thing is that even though the play on words might not be able to be fully conveyed in a translation – the lack thereof doesn’t confuse the meaning, or the message of what God through Solomon was trying to say – for it is true, patience is better than pride! And that was his point.
So, do you have a long or a high spirit?