Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. (Proverbs 19:2 ESV)
This Proverb really struck me today, firstly because its meaning isn’t as obvious as other Proverbs (it isn’t for me, anyway). In other translations the Hebrew word for “desire” is instead rendered “soul.” After looking more closely, I noticed that the Hebrew word is actually nephesh, which is one of the most basic words in the Hebrew vocabulary and often used to define the total summation of an individual’s will, desires, appetites–everything within them that drives and leads a person to be who he is and make the decisions that he makes. To give a little context, this is the same word used in Genesis where the creation of man is described: “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7 ESV) The word “creature” here is also translated from nephesh. Interestingly, the KJV version translates nephesh as “soul.” English translations seem to differ in their conclusions about whether nephesh should translate to “soul” or “creature,” depending on the context. Either way, nephesh is clearly used to describe the will and desires that motivate living things to do the things they do. So if you asked me, what is my nephesh, I would describe to you my beliefs, hopes, dreams, appetites, preferences, and desires. Then after hearing my description, you would be able to predict, at least in part, the kinds of things I might do. Perhaps no better illustration of this truth is the famous verse in Deuteronomy 6:5,
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV)
I highlight “soul” here because that is the same Hebrew word nephesh which is also used in the Proverbs and Genesis verses. But the Deuteronomy passage is even more emphatic because there is a common prepositional phrase there (b-col) which is translated “in (or with) all.” “Heart” means “innermost being” and “might” means “abundantly and exceedingly.” So the literal translation of this verse is “… love the LORD your God with absolutely everything in your innermost being and absolutely everything that defines who you are, your will, and your desires, and do this exceedingly, abundantly, and mightily.” Understanding the verse this way is deeply convicting to me. It is very unfortunate that this verse has lost so much of its force in English due to the cheapening definitions of “heart” and “soul” in our language today. But to the Hebrews, this passage would have been unquestionably clear to them that God desired the complete and total submission to Him of every thought, word, and deed.
So in linking nephesh back to the verse in Proverbs, I think the author is saying that if one’s nephesh is not influenced and shaped by knowledge, then in his haste to accomplish his goal, he will fail. It’s like someone who has strong ambitions to be a surgeon but doesn’t want to learn the knowledge required to be successful in that role, then as a result causes harm to his patients. Or it’s like a child who has a strong desire to ride a bicycle but stubbornly refuses the knowledge and instruction of his parents, then promptly proceeds to crash into the wall. Or maybe it’s like when I was about eight or nine years old, after being amazed by Olympic gymnasts on television, I promptly attempted a back handspring and nearly broke my neck. Hastily exercised desire without knowledge was certainly a painful experience for me on that day, and for the rest of the week!