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"The king's heart is in the hand of Jehovah as the watercourses: He turneth it whithersoever he will."
Here again we have a statement concerning monarchs, the truth of which depends, absolutely, upon the character of the monarch. It is impossible to believe, for example, that God turned the heart of Solomon in the direction of building pagan temples for many of his scandalous collection of wives and concubines. Yet, it is also true that the power of God is sufficient to cause any king to follow strictly the will and purpose of God.
"Every way of a man is right in his own eyes; But Jehovah weigheth the hearts."
See my comment on Proverbs 16:2 with which this couplet is almost identical.
"To do righteousness and justice Is more acceptable to Jehovah than sacrifice." Both the Old Testament and the New Testament stress the truth stated here. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22). "Ye tithe mint, anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and truth" (Matthew 23:23).
"A high look, and a proud heart, Even the lamp of the wicked, is sin."
"Haughty eyes, and an ambitious mind - the tillage of the wicked is sin." "Haughty looks and a proud heart - these sins mark a wicked man." "Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin." "Because of their pride and arrogance, the vow of evil men is a sin." It is evident that the translators do not know exactly what this passage says. One thing is clear, God hates pride and arrogance. The uncertainty derives from the word translated `vow' in the Anchor Bible. "It means either `newly plowed land' or `a lamp.' `Vow' seems to be a guess.
"The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; But every one that is hasty hasteth only to want."
There is a diligent pursuit of that which one may consider his personal interests that is counter-productive. One may become so busy and so diligent in a selfish direction that he overlooks spiritual matters of far greater importance; and, it is that which seems to be referred to here. This seems to be the meaning: "The plans of the keen man show a profit, but all who are too hasty show a loss."
"The getting of treasures by a lying tongue Is a vapor driven to and fro by them that seek death."
"The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death." We appreciate this: "A man making money by fraud chases a bubble to his own doom."
"The violence of the wicked shall sweep them away, Because they refuse to do justice."
We may read this as an imperative for every intelligent society, after the manner of Genesis 9:6, where is recorded the Divine order for society to execute murderers. This verse states what ought to be, not that which actually is. It must be pointed out that a society which rejects this Divine injunction is writing its own death-warrant.
"The way of him that is laden with guilt is exceeding crooked. But as for the pure, his work is right."
The word `straight' is given as an alternative reading in the American Standard Version margin for the word `right.' It would, of course, make a more accurate contrast with the word `crooked' in the first line.
"It is better to live in the corner of the housetop, Than with a contentious woman in a wide house."
The meaning here is clear enough and needs no comment; but this rendition is an interesting variation: "It is better to dwell in an attic on the roof, than in a double bedroom with a nagging wife." In fairness, it should be stated that the corollary here is applicable also to a nagging husband.
"The soul of the wicked desireth evil; His neighbor findeth no favor in his eyes."
"This states an important truth about depravity, namely, that men sin not merely from weakness, but eagerly and ruthlessly." Their desire is to commit wickedness.
"When the scoffer is punished, the simple is made wise; And when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge."
This is parallel with Proverbs 21:19:25. See the comment there.
"The righteous man considereth the house of the wicked, How the wicked are overthrown to their ruin."
This proverb states that a wise man, living after God's commandments, may, by his own personal observation of what happens all around him, be able to see all the proof he needs that wickedness is a tragic disaster to all who adopt it as their life-style. This writer knows many instances in which once-powerful but wicked families have been totally ruined and devastated.
"Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, He also shall cry, and shall not be heard."
Life indeed has a way of repaying a man after the quality of his deeds. It is another way of saying, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). Apparent exceptions may be cited; but the sacred rule stands eternally unchallenged.
"A girl in secret pacifieth anger; And a present in the bosom, strong wrath."
Here is another proverb regarding bribery. The statement here corresponds with the others. "Bribery works"! But this should not be interpreted to mean that God approves of it. The word `pacifieth' is understood in the second line.
"It is joy to the righteous to do justice; But it is a destruction to the workers of iniquity."
"When justice triumphs, good men rejoice, but this spells ruin for evil-doers." "When justice is done, it is joy to the righteous, but dismay to evil-doers."
"The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding Shall rest in the assembly of the dead."
The man that wanders out of the way of understanding is the man who rejects his obligation to love and obey the Creator. The assembly of the dead is a reference, first of all, to that cessation of mortality to which all men are appointed; and, secondly, it is that ultimate assembly of that incorrigibly wicked company to which the King shall say, "Depart ... I never knew you." Another rendition: "The man who wanders from the path of wisdom will rest in the assembly of the Shades." "Every word of the second line here is charged with irony. The rebel who insists upon roaming anywhere he will is only hastening to lose his mobility (shall rest), his independence (in the assembly) and his life (of the dead)."
"He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: He that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich."
"The pleasure-lover strikes out for joy, but finds only poverty; but Proverbs 21:16 has just sounded the warning that more than pleasure is at stake." The stakes in the game of life on earth are very high indeed: Eternal Life or Eternal Death.
"The wicked is a ransom for the righteous; And the treacherous cometh instead of the upright."
This is not clear; but the teaching seems to be that in the providence of God his punishments of mankind fall rather upon the wicked than upon the righteous. Delitzsch cited Haman's execution rather than that of Mordecai as an example of this; and Deane pointed out that what happened in Egypt illustrates the second line. "The destroying angel spared the houses of the Israelites and executed the firstborn of the Egyptians." The Spanish Version reads: "El hombre falso y malvado Sufrira en lugar Del justo y honrado." ("The false and evil man will suffer in the place of the just and the honorable")
"It is better to dwell in a desert land, Than with a contentious and fretful woman."
This is parallel to Proverbs 21:9; and again we must say that the same thing is true of a contentious and fretful man. Illustration: This writer served for seventeen years as a member of the City of Houston Housing Board of Appeals. One night a German citizen appeared before the board requesting a license for the installation of a mobile home in the rear of his residence. Mount Termini, our chairman, asked how large was his residence. He said, "Fourteen rooms." When asked how many people lived there, he said, "My wife and me." Mount Termini said, "That does not come under our usual guidelines for issuing such a license." "But I absolutely have to have it," the applicant said. Mount Termini asked, "Why"? The man said, "My wife has got the talking disease and she talks day and night without intermission; and if I don't get out of that place, I'm going to do something terrible! I want to live in that mobile home"! We granted his request.
"There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise; But a foolish man swalloweth it up."
This is the common viewpoint of Proverbs that the wise are wealthy and the fool is in poverty. There is a limited sense in which this is true; "But in the spiritual warfare, earthly wisdom avails nothing at all (1Cor. 1:5-16,2 Corinthians 10:4)."
"He that followeth after righteousness and kindness findeth life, righteousness and honor."
What a happy promise indeed is this! If one would enjoy life, righteousness and honor, let him follow the teachings of the Saviour.
"A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty, And bringeth down the strength of the confidence thereof."
"This proverb extols the superiority of sagacity, or practical wisdom, over physical strength." Many a mighty stronghold has been overthrown by a wise and discerning assault. Such was the overthrow of Quebec in which the continent of North America was taken from the French and given to the English (Sept. 13,1759).
"Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles."
"Caution in speech has already been mentioned in Proverbs 21:13:3 and Proverbs 21:18:21 (See the comments there). The troubles referred to here are probably social and legal difficulties into which imprudent talk would bring one, especially where there were gossips and professional informers."
"The proud and haughty man, scoffer is his name; He worketh in the arrogance of pride."
This rendition might not be a translation, but it surely is true: "His names are "Brazen," "Insolent," "Impious," who acts in arrogant fury." "Show me a conceited person, and I will show you someone who is arrogant, proud and inconsiderate." Interesting as these renditions are, the following is much nearer the MT: "Scoffer is the name of the proud haughty man who acts with arrogant pride."
"The desire of the sluggard killeth him; For his hands refuse to labor."
The sluggard or the slothful are continually condemned in Proverbs; and we have frequently commented on the priority given the work ethic in Holy Scripture. "The sluggard wastes his strength and his life in longing for things for which he has not the energy to work. His grandiose wishes to do great or good things are of no value at all because of his laziness, which only adds to his misery and condemnation." This is a concise statement of what appears to be the meaning: "The sluggard's craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work."
"There is that coveteth greedily all the day long; But the righteous giveth and withholdeth not."
"A sinner is always selfish, but a good man gives without stint." The Christian who remembers the glorious adage of Our Lord that, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," will find unspeakable joy and satisfaction in doing so. All of us should remember that no hearse ever has a U-Haul trailer hitched on behind while on the way to the cemetery!
"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; How much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind."
The thought here is very similar to that of Proverbs 21:3. See the comment there. The Anchor Bible has it this way: "A sacrifice offered by wicked men is an abomination, all the more so if one bring it with a shameful purpose." Some of the shameful purposes that may prompt the wicked to offer a sacrifice are: (1) to receive approval and praise of men, (2) to deceive others with his hypocrisy, or (3) in the vain delusion that he can "buy God off."
"A false witness shall perish; But the man that heareth shall speak so as to endure."
What is contrasted here is the permanence of the true witness as compared with the ephemeral life and testimony of the false witness. "A dishonest witness will perish, but a truthful man will never be forgotten."
"A wicked man hardeneth his face; But as for the upright, he establisheth his ways."
Delitzsch translated thus: "A godless man showeth boldness in his mien; but one that is upright, he proveth his way." "For the godless man, his demeanor is the arrogant callousness of guilt; but for the upright it is the manifest integrity of his life." Sometimes the one can be mistaken for the other.
"There is no wisdom nor understanding Nor counsel against Jehovah."
"Intelligence, skill, strategy - none can avail against the Eternal."
Both the beginning and the end of this chapter feature two verses stressing the power of God. How foolish are men who vainly suppose that they may set their puny and partial wisdom against the intelligence of God Himself! The tragic story of Zedekiah, the last king to rule in Jerusalem, is a sufficient illustration of this.
"The horse is prepared against the day of battle; But victory is of Jehovah."
"Proverbs 21:30 warns men not to fight against God, and Proverbs 21:31 warns them not to fight without him." This does not forbid the use of earthly resources; but it condemns reliance upon them. It is God who gives the victory. "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong." (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
"Solomon here taught better than he practiced; because he provided 40,000 horses even though God had expressly forbidden the kings of Israel to multiply horses unto themselves, lest their hearts should be drawn away from the hope of Israel. This proverb verified the evil consequences of Solomon's change in the management of Israel's affairs, because Israel never again cut such a figure in war as they had done previously."
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 21". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17