Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 16

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1

Proverbs 16:1

"The plans of the heart belong to man; But the answer of the tongue is from Jehovah."

"A man may think what he will say, but at the moment the word comes to him from the Eternal."[1] "People make their plans, but it is the Lord who makes those things happen."[2] "This proverb is identical in meaning with Proverbs 16:9, and with our saying that, `man proposes; God disposes.'"[3]

Verse 2

"All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; But Jehovah weigheth the spirits."

Toy's paraphrase of this is: "Although a man's actions may seem right to him, ignorant and prejudiced though he is, yet the final judgment on his deeds comes from God."[4] This corresponds with Paul's declaration that, "I know nothing against myself; yet I am not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:4).

Verse 3

"Commit thy works unto Jehovah, And thy purposes shall be established."

"I consider that work as good as done, that trial as good as borne, which I have solemnly committed to God in prayer."[5] "Deo Volente" (God willing)should be understood as the invariable condition, whether stated or not, that finally determines any mortal achievement. See James 4:15.

Verse 4

"Jehovah hath made every thing for its own end; Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil."

Yes indeed, God needs even the wicked. A woman once asked Adam Clarke, "Why does not God just kill all the wicked people and allow us righteous to build a heaven right here on earth"? Clarke replied, "Lady, if God were to be so foolish as to do that, there would not be enough righteous people left to keep the lions and tigers from eating up the human race"!

Verse 5

"Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to Jehovah: Though hand join in hand he shall not be unpunished."

The first clause here is identical with that of Proverbs 11:20; and the second clause with that of Proverbs 11:21. This second clause means, "My hand on it," or "assuredly." Toy translated this: "The proud man is an abomination to Yahweh; he will assuredly not go unpunished."[6]

Verse 6

"By mercy and truth iniquity is atoned for; And by the fear of Jehovah men depart from evil."

"Mercy and truth, no matter how diligently practiced, cannot alone be the ground of salvation from sin, except in the sense that they might be a sign of true repentance and conversion to God's will."[7] "What can take away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus"! This rendition: "Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for."[8] This is correct with an expanded definition of `faithfulness.'

Verse 7

"When a man's ways please Jehovah, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him."

"When you please the Lord, you can make your enemies into friends."[9] "When a man's ways please the Eternal, he makes even his foes friends with him."[10] A genuine Christian is the most lovable personality in human life.

Verse 8

"Better is a little, with righteousness, Than great revenues, with injustice."

Many of the proverbs touch this admonition that men should be satisfied with `little,' and that they should restrain their greed for more. "Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content" (1 Timothy 6:8).

Verse 9

"A man's heart deviseth his way; But Jehovah directeth his steps."

This is parallel with Proverbs 16:1. See our comment there.

Verse 10

"A divine sentence is in the lips of the king; His mouth shall not transgress in judgment."

Many of the judgments pronounced by Solomon in the days prior to his apostasy were examples of what is written here. "The Israelites never thought of their kings as infallible; and this verse means merely that true judgment is the duty of kings."[11]

Verse 11

"A just balance and scales are Jehovah's; All the weights of the bag are his work."

This verse is the positive side of Proverbs 11:1. "The Lord wants weights and measures to be honest and every sale to be fair."[12] "God's stamp is on the standard weights and measures; any unfair practice in trade is against God's will."[13]

Verse 12

"It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness; For the throne is established by righteousness."

The first clause here means that any king who commits wickedness becomes an abomination to God; and the second clause is parallel with the New Testament teaching that reveals, "The powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1).

Verse 13

"Righteous lips are the delight of kings; And they love him that speaketh right."

This should be understood as applicable to good kings, or to an ideal king. "The ideal king takes pleasure in the truth and justice that his subjects display in their conversation."[14] As Kidner noted, "Of course, all this is true, upon the assumption that the king is in his fight mind."[15]

Alas, in the history of Israel, in the collective sense, their monarchs were as wicked and reprobate a parade of scoundrels as the world ever witnessed. There were four or five (maybe six) exceptions in their whole history. They more than lived up to the prophecy that Samuel gave concerning Israel's kings when the idea first was presented (1 Samuel 8:10-18).

Verse 14

"The wrath of a king is a messenger of death; But a wise man will pacify it."

Cook pointed out that Proverbs 16:13 speaks of a king as he should be; and this one presents a king as they actually were, "Reminding us of the terrible rapidity with which, in the despotic monarchies of the East, death followed the royal displeasure."[16] As the second clause indicates, it was the pinnacle of good judgment to avoid, at all costs, the displeasure of any king.

Verse 15

"In the light of the king's countenance is life And his favor is a cloud of the latter rain."

"If a king's look is benevolent, this portends life, and his favor is like a cloud promising spring rain."[17] With a wise and righteous man upon the throne such a situation as this would be tolerable; but the record of earthly kings has reduced the very idea of royalty to shame and contempt on the part of the vast majority of the human race. The great historian Edward Gibbon extolled the monarchy as the best form of government known to men;[18] but, even so, it still remains true that, "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."

Verse 16

"How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! Yea, to get understanding is rather to be chosen than silver." This truism is universally recognized as the truth; but, as DeHoff said, "It is practiced by very few."[19]

Verse 17

"The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: He that keepeth his way preserveth his soul."

"The paths of life turn aside from evil; and the ways of righteousness are length of life."[20] This promise that length of life is related to righteous living is reiterated in the New Testament (Ephesians 6:1:3). There must needs be exceptions, of course, due to many factors that serve as hindrances to the will of God.

Verse 18

"Pride goeth before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall."

This is another of the many proverbs denouncing human pride. "Pride brings shame (Proverbs 11:2); humility brings honor (Proverbs 15:33); pride and humility are contrasted (Proverbs 21:24; 22:4; and Proverbs 30:13)."[21]

Verse 19

"Better it is to be of a lowly spirit with the poor, Than to divide the spoil with the proud."

This verse also teaches with regard to the humble and the proud. This mention of the proud dividing the spoil identifies them as not merely proud but wicked also. "It is better to be humble and live with poor people than to share wealth with people who think they are better than other people."[22]

Verse 20

"He that giveth heed unto the word shall find good; And whoso trusteh in Jehovah, happy is he."

These clauses are parallel. The man that heeds the Word of God is exactly the same man that trusts in Jehovah. A man can do neither without doing both. "There can be no real blessedness in life without one's trusting in the Lord. Men are so constituted that if their souls are to find rest, they must trust the loving power and wisdom of that Being who is stronger and wiser than themselves."[23]

Verse 21

"The wise in heart shall be called prudent; And the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning."

The sweetness of the lips should be understood here as a compliment to the teacher who brings learning to another.

Verse 22

"Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it; But the correction of fools is their folly."

The thought here is that a person who follows the Word of God will avoid many pitfalls in life; but the fool will never learn except by experience. His only correction shall be when his own folly overthrows him.

Verse 23

"The heart of the wise instructeth his mouth, And addeth learning to his lips."

"The wise mind makes a meaning clear, and to be a master of words is a further advantage."[24] "Good sense makes men judicious in their talk; it adds persuasiveness to what they say."[25] This would be a good motto for salesmen.

Verse 24

"Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul, and health to the bones."

"Friendly conversation is agreeable and useful. It relaxes the mind, dispels anxiety, provides information, promotes mutual love and kindness, and enables us to return to life's business with renewed vigor."[26]

Verse 25

"There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, But the end thereof are the ways of death."

(See comment under Proverbs 14:12).

Verse 26

"The appetite of the laboring man laboreth for him;

For his mouth urgeth him thereto.

A worthless man deviseth mischief;

And in his lips there is a scorching fire."

"His mouth urgeth him thereto" (Proverbs 16:26). The need to earn a living inspires men to work.

"An ungodly man diggeth up evil; and in his lips there is a burning fire."[27] "The description of agitators in this through Proverbs 16:30 needs little comment."[28] In this verse, the mischief maker is a gossip. The burning fire in his words is designed to burn up the reputations of other people.

Verse 28

"A perverse man scattereth abroad strife; And a whisperer separateth chief friends."

"Troublemakers are always causing problems; and the person who spreads gossip causes trouble between close friends."[29]

Verse 29

"A man of violence enticeth his neighbor, And leadeth him in a way that is not good."

Behold here the wickedness of the violent man. He is the incarnation of Unbelief. "He robs God, takes life without paying for it, blasphemes the Maker on his throne, stares broadly at the truth when he hears it, and flouts it as if he never heard of it. Unbelief is violence."![30] "Such sons of the devil take pleasure in seducing the virtuous from the way of life. Just as there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, there is malicious joy in hell when such a seducer turns any one from the straight and narrow way."[31]

Verse 30

"He that shutteth his eyes, it is to devise perverse things: He that compresseth his lips bringeth evil to pass."

"One who winks his eye plans perverse things; one who compresses his lips brings evil to pass."[32] Frankenberg has this various reading, "He who fixes his eyes devises falsities, and marks out all evils with his lips. He is a furnace of wickedness."[33] As the passage stands in our version, the meaning is unclear.

Verse 31

"The hoary head is a crown of glory; It shall be found in the way of righteousness."

The meaning must most certainly be, IF it is gained in a righteous life.

Verse 32

"He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty And he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city"

The teaching here is simply that a person who can take charge of his own conduct, discipline and command his own behavior, having complete control of his appetites and passions - that man is greater than any world conqueror or military hero.

Verse 33

"The lot is cast into the lap; But the whole disposing thereof is of Jehovah"

Making decisions by the casting of lots was widely practiced in the Old Testament; and even in the early days of the New Testament, Matthias was chosen to the apostleship by the casting of lots. "Casting lots was an ancient practice, animated by faith in God's government of the world."[34]

"Following the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the apostles never resorted to casting lots; and the Christian Church has wisely repudiated the practice altogether."[35]

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 16". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.