Do you have a long or high spirit?

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?


Philippians 4:1-9

Philippians 4:1-9
Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, whom I long to see, my joy and my crown; stand firm in the Lord in this way my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to have the same mind in the Lord. Yes, I ask you, my true companion, to help them, because they contended in the Gospel with me and Clement and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice!

Let your gentleness be evident to all people—the Lord is near.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard all of your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything excellent in character, if there is anything praiseworthy, let your thoughts continually dwell on these things.

That which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me, put into practice.  And as a result the God of peace will be with you all.