Proverbs 11:23-27 forms a unit that addresses the theme of generosity and selfishness. Amid this inclusio, Proverbs 11:24-25 features parallel proverbs that laud being generous including detailing the blessings that flow from benevolence. The King James Version reads:
The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself. (Proverbs 11:25 KJV)This translation uses a more traditional definition of liberal: “tending to give freely; generous”. The word is typically rendered in some form of the words “liberal” (ASV, KJV, RSV), “generous”(CEV, HCSB NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV), or “(one who brings) blessing” (ESV, MSG). The latter is truest to the Hebrew (b@rakah) which means “blessing”. R.N. Whybray (1923-1997) explains that the proverb’s subject is:
literally, ‘person of blessing’. This phrase could equally mean ‘a person who has received divine favour’. (Whybray, The Book of Proverbs (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the Old Testament), 69)The English Standard Version conveys this interpretation:
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. (Proverbs 11:25 ESV)Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) explains:
A “soul of blessing” (nepeš berakah) is a person who bestows blessings on others. (Thus the Vulgate: anima quae benedicit “a soul that blesses.”) “Blessing” here means material gifts, as in Genesis 33:11; Joshua 15:19; I Samuel 25:27; and II Kings 5:15...In conjunction with Proverbs 11:24, this verse reinterprets Proverbs11:24a (in spite of Proverbs 11:24b) by identifying the one who “scatters” as one who is generous to others. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible), 543)Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) add:
This suggests an allusion to the verse in Psalm 23:5...usually translated “You have anointed my head with oil. My cup runs over.”...According to Rashi, the words nefesh b’rachah (literally, “the soul of blessing”) refers to a person who is generous with money, and the word marveh refers to a person who satisfies the needs of the poor. The verse continues the argument being made by the author of Proverbs: Virtue has a pragmatic purpose. Doing good will result in getting good. The notion of disinterested virtue in the history of ethics evolved much later than the period of time in which the Book of Proverbs was written. (Kravitz and Olitzky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 114)As noted, the proverb not only encourages generosity but claims that one’s largesse will be rewarded. Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) summarizes:
This saying, in synthetic parallelism, develops the topic of generosity from Proverbs 11:24 through the example of food and drink. Those who feed others will themselves be fed...“Soul” (nepeš) is the throat area, the core of the body or self. A literal translation is “the throat of blessing will grow fat.” One who gives food and drink to others will be given food and drink and will thrive. See Luke 6:38. (Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 125)Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) justifies:
The naming of positive consequences for generosity shows that Proverbs is not above naming self-interest for the motivation of good behavior. Both individual and community interest are encompassed in this teaching, since both the self and the other are said to derive good from a person’s giving nature. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 263)This rationale was a part of Israel’s collective worldview. Claus Westermann (1909-2000) posits:
This group of proverbs [e.g., Proverbs 11:25, 19:17, 22, 22:9] is especially important for the spirit of the community, from which these sayings emanate. Israel experienced its God again and again as the one who looked on the needs and had compassion for his own. It is a response to this work of God that is reflected in those who, by looking to him, minister compassion to others whom they encounter along their way. (Westermann, Roots of Wisdom: The Oldest Proverbs of Israel and Other Peoples, 47-48)Do you bless others materially? Have you ever witnessed someone being unexpectedly repaid for an altruistic act? Should self interest be a motivating factor in benevolence? Does one always receive blessing in response to generosity?
Many have seen an underlying principle at work in the aphorism. Kenneth T. Aitken (b. 1947) comments:
The paradox highlighted in Proverbs 11:24 rings true: the tight-fisted man ends up the poorer and the open-handed man the richer (cf. Proverbs 11:25). The saying has in mind meanness and generosity with money, and looks toward the poor in society. Speaking about Christian giving, Paul puts it this way: “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (II Corinthians 9:6). The underlying principle is applicable to life and human relationships in general: as we sometimes say, we get out only what we put in. (Aitken, Proverbs (Old Testament Daily Study Bible Series), 128)Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) agrees:
It is axiomatic that greedy and selfish people, epitomized in Western literature as Mr. Scrooge, are hated by the populace at large while generous people gain love and respect. What the hoarder fails to recognize, however, is that in the economy of God the greedy ultimately lose even the material things they try so hard to keep while the benevolent only prosper more and more. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 127)Cecil Murphey (b. 1933) argues that the proverb touches on a component of divine design:
God has built an important principle in the universe, and one that too many people never understand: Givers receive even more than they give. Jesus stated the principle this way: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back: (Luke 6:28). (Murphey, Simply Living: Modern Wisdom from the Ancient Book of Proverbs, 149)With what are you most stingy? With what are you most generous? Would you characterize yourself as a “generous” person? Is the universe designed so that benevolence is rewarded?
“Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.” - Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)
Disclaimer: No offense or political affiliation is intended by using Fred Freesqueeze’s image of Michael Moore (b. 1954). Amazingly, if you perform a Google image search of “fat liberal” the results are predominantly images of Moore and by definition, he does embody both adjectives.