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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 21

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-31

ζ) Admonition to integrity, patience, and obedient submission to God’s gracious guidance

Chap. 21

1          Like streams of water is the heart of a king in Jehovah’s hand;

he turneth it whithersoever he will.

2     Every way of man is right in his own eyes,

but Jehovah trieth hearts.

3     To do justice and judgment

is more acceptable to Jehovah than sacrifice.

4     Haughty eyes and a proud heart—

the light of the wicked is (nought but) sin.

5     The counsels of the diligent (tend) only to abundance;

but every one who is over hasty (cometh) only to want.

6     The getting of treasures by a lying tongue

is a fleeting breath of them that seek death.

7     The violence of the wicked sweepeth them away,

because they refuse to do justice.

8     Crooked is the way of the guilty man,

but the pure, his work is right (or, straight).

9     It is better to dwell in a corner of the house top,

than with a contentious woman in a thronged house.

10     The soul of the wicked desireth evil;

his neighbor findeth no mercy with him.

11     When the scorner is punished the simple is made wise,

and when the wise is prospered, he will gain knowledge.

12     The Righteous (God) marketh the house of the wicked;

He hurleth the wicked into destruction.

13     He that stoppeth his ear to the cry of the poor,

he also shall call and not be answered.

14     A gift in secret allayeth anger,

and a present in the bosom strong wrath.

15     It is a joy to the just to do justice,

but destruction to them that work iniquity.

16     A man who wandereth from the way of understanding,

shall dwell in the assembly of the dead.

17     He becometh a poor man who loveth pleasure;

he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.

18     The wicked becometh a ransom for the righteous,

and the faithless for the upright.

19     It is better to dwell in a desert land,

than to live with a contentious and fretful woman.

20     Precious treasure and oil are in the dwelling of the wise,

but a foolish man consumeth them.

21     He that followeth after righteousness and mercy

shall find life, righteousness, and honor.

22     A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty,

and casteth down the strength of its confidence.

23     He that keepeth his mouth and his tongue,

guardeth his soul from troubles.

24     A proud (and) arrogant (man)—scorner is his name;

he acteth in insolence of pride (overflowing of haughtiness).

25     The desire of the slothful killeth him,

for his hands refuse to labor.

26     He desireth intensely all the day long;

but the righteous giveth and spareth not.

27     The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;

how much more when it is brought for evil!

28     A false witness shall perish,

the man that heareth shall speak evermore.

29     The wicked putteth on a bold face,

but he that is upright establisheth his way.

30     No wisdom, no understanding,

no counsel (is there) against Jehovah.

31     The horse is made ready for the day of battle,

but from Jehovah is the victory.


Proverbs 21:3.—The Infinitive form עֲשׂה like קְנֹה in Proverbs 16:16.

Proverbs 21:4.—Hitzig writes נִב (= נִיב, sprout or shoot) instead of נִר and translates the second clause: “The fruit of the wicked [i.e., pride] bringeth to destruction”—an emendation plainly not less unfortunate than the corresponding one, נִיב for נִיר, which he proposed in Proverbs 13:23. Compare notes on this passage. [The shortening of the long vowel in נִיר is undoubtedly facilitated by the initial ר of the following word.]

Proverbs 21:6.—הֶבֶל cannot be stat. constr., for it would be separated from its genitive by the adjective נִדָּף.—Ewald, Bertheau etc., read with the LXX and Vulg.: מוֹקְשֶׁי instead of מְבַקְּשֶׁי and render “snares of death” instead of “seekers of death.” Hitzig, in addition, proposes רֹדֵף instead of נִדָּף, as well as in clause a פֹּעַל instead of פֹּעַל, so that he reaches the meaning (which corresponds pretty closely with the LXX and Vulg.): “He that getteth treasures by a lying tongue runneth after vanity into snares of death.”

Proverbs 21:7.—מֵאֲנוּ is one of Böttcher’s “relative” perfects; they have before this destruction, be it earlier or later, refused, etc.—See § 950, 1.—A.]

Proverbs 21:8.—הֲפַכְפַךְ, “winding, crooked” (as נֶהְפָךְ is elsewhere used, comp. Proverbs 17:20) is not stat. constr. (Bertheau, “one crooked in his way”), but a predicate for emphasis prefixed to its subject דֶּרֶךְ, as the parallelism shows.—וְזַךְ at the beginning of clause b seems to be purposely chosen to correspond with וָזָר at the end of clause a. Comp. זָךְ in Proverbs 20:11. [This וָזָר is one of the very few words in Hebrew in which an initial ו remains, not being weakened into י. It seems to be an ancient judicial term, and etymologically corresponds with the familiar Arabic word Vizier; comp. also Chargé d‘ Affaires. See Bött., Fuerst, etc.—A.]

Proverbs 21:9.—[טוֹב לָשֶׁבֶת a masculine predicative adjective notwithstanding the fem. form of the Infinitive. Bött., § 990, 3,b.—A.]

Proverbs 21:10.—[Bött. strongly maintains the existence of a Passive of the Kal. conj., and cites יֻחַן as one of the examples. See § 906, c. As is well known, it has usually been called a Hophal form; no Hiphil forms are in use, and this is in meaning an exact passive counterpart to the Kal.—A.]

Proverbs 21:14.—Instead of יִכְכֶּה (from מפה, a verb occurring only here, which must mean “to bend or beat down”), Hitzig proposes to road, with Symmachus, the Vulg. and Targ. יְכַבֶּה “extinguishes.”

Proverbs 21:22.—The ה in מִבְטֶחָה without Mappiq, on account of the distinctive accent; comp. Jeremiah 6:6; Isaiah 23:17-18; Isaiah 45:6, etc.—[עָלָה one of Böttcher’s “empirical Perfects;” it has been a matter of experience; see § 950, 3.—A.]

Proverbs 21:28.—Hitzig, partially following the LXX (changing לָנֶצַח to לִנְצֹר, and שֹׁמֵעַ to שׂמֵחַ), amends thus: The man that rejoiceth to deliver (! ?) shall speak.


1.Proverbs 21:1-3. Of God’s all directing providence and government.—Like streams of water is the heart of a king in Jehovah’s hand.—The tertium comp. is, according to the second member of the parallelism, the capability in the “streams of water” of being directed and guided at pleasure,—the allusion being to the canals and ditches constructed for the irrigation and fertilizing of meadows, gardens and fields. [See Hackett’s Illustrations of Scripture, and similar works; also Horace, Od. III., 1, 5–8.—A.] Since for the accomplishment of their object there must always be a number of them, the plural “streams” is used, although only one king’s heart is spoken of. Whether in the second line the pleasant, refreshing influence of the rivulets, dispensing blessing and increase, comes into account as a point in the comparison is uncertain (comp. Isaiah 32:2): this, however, is not improbable, inasmuch as the heart of a king may in fact become in an eminent degree a fountain of blessing for many thousands, and according to God’s design ought to be so. See also the comparison of royal favor with a “cloud of the harvest rain,” in Proverbs 16:15, and in the opposite direction comp. Proverbs 20:2; Proverbs 20:8; Proverbs 20:26.

Proverbs 21:2. Almost precisely like Proverbs 16:2; comp. also Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:25. [Fuerst, unlike most others, renders the verb of the second clause “determineth,” i.e., determines the direction,—instead of “weighing, trying,” or the old English term of our E. V., “pondereth.”—A.]

Proverbs 21:3. To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to Jehovah than sacrifice. Comp. Proverbs 15:8; Psalms 50:7 sq.; 1 Samuel 15:22; Micah 6:6-8.—For this combination of righteousness and justice comp. besides, e.g, 2 Samuel 8:15; Jeremiah 9:23. For the נִבְחַר “more acceptable,” lit., “chosen,” i.e., desired, well-pleasing, valuable, comp. Proverbs 22:1; and also Proverbs 8:10; Proverbs 8:19. [“This maxim of the Proverbs was a bold saying then,—it is a bold saying still; but it well unites the wisdom of Solomon with that of his father David in the 51st Psalm, and with the inspiration of the later prophets.” Stanley, Jewish Church, II., 257].

2.Proverbs 21:4-9. Against pride, avarice, deceit, violence, and vicious dispositions in general.—Haughty eyes and a proud heart; lit. “to be lofty of eyes and to be swollen of heart,” for רוּם and רְחַב are infinitives. “Swelling of heart” is however here and in Psalms 101:5, where it stands again in connection with “loftiness of eyes,” a proud, arrogant disposition chastened by no care; comp. also Isaiah 60:5; Psalms 119:32.—The light of the wicked is only sin. נִר רְשָׁעִים, which is plainly an appositive to “haughty eyes and a proud heart,” may be translated either by “the fallow, or newly ploughed land of the wicked” (comp. נִיר, Proverbs 13:23), and refer to “the very first fruits of a man’s activity (so Ewald, Elster, etc.), or, which is surely preferable, it may be taken as meaning the same as נֵר (comp. 1 Kings 11:36, where instead of נֵר we find נִיר in the sense of “light”), and in accordance with 20:37, it may be regarded as a figurative representation of the entire spirit of the wicked, i.e. their proud disposition, flaring and framing like a bright light. Thus the LXX (λαμπτήρ), Vulg., Schultens, Dathe, Bertheau—except that the latter interpret the “light” less pertinently of the brilliant prosperity of the wicked. In like manner Luther also, Geier, Döderlein, Ziegler, Umbreit, who, however, find in the last term not an appositive to the two preceding expressions, but a third subject co-ordinate with them. [To these who adopt “light” as their rendering, may be added, although with some diversity in the grammatical relation and the interpretation of the term, K., De W., H., S., M., N., and the E. V. in its marginal reading. The old English expositors generally follow the text of the E. V., “ploughing,” which is also preferred and defended by Wordsw., as suggesting an “evil execution” of the “proud aspirations and covetous ambition” of the wicked “in a deliberate action.”—A.].—The predicate of clause b is with no more propriety here than in Proverbs 10:16 to be explained by “ruin” (disaster, destruction),—which is contrary to the view of Umbreit, Hitzig, etc.,—but retains the meaning which is predominant in the Old Testament; for to trace back all proud conduct and action to sin is plainly the proper drift and import of the proverb before us; comp. Proverbs 21:24, below.

Proverbs 21:5. The counsels of the diligent (tend) only to abundance; but every one who is overhasty (cometh) only to want. “Abundance” and “want” stand contrasted here as in Proverbs 16:23. The “hasty,” however, in contrast with the “diligent,” the man who labors in substantial and continuous methods (comp. Proverbs 12:27), must be he who in the pursuit of gain is in excessive haste, the impatient, restless fortune-hunter, who besides is not above base and deceitful modes of acquiring, and for that very reason for a punishment is plunged into destitution and penury; comp. Proverbs 19:2; also Proverbs 20:21; Proverbs 28:20; and with respect to the general sentiment still further Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 13:11.—This explanation, which is as simple as it is congruous with the context, makes Hitzig’s conjecture superfluous (instead of אָצֵר ,אָץ, “the collector,” i.e. the niggard); comp. Proverbs 11:24. [Rueetschi, ubi supra, p. 152, defending the common rendering, expands somewhat the implied contrast between the plans according to which the diligent toils, and the impatient haste which cannot wait to plan.—A.].

Proverbs 21:6. The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting breath of them that seek death. The second member is literally rendered according to the text: “is fleeting breath, those seeking death,”—the latter phrase not to be regarded as a limiting genitive (see Critical Notes), but the two a hendiadys; the idea “fleeting breath of those seeking death” being resolved into the two co-ordinate ideas, “fleeting breath” and “seekers of death.” [Wordsw.: “vanity driven like chaff;”—“the work of the wicked and covetous man is chaff and his harvest is death.” Kamph., while favoring a simple emendation (that of Ewald, etc.; see Critical Notes), would refer the “seekers,” if the text is to be retained, to the treasures; “treasures unlawfully gained are not only themselves without substance, but also bring on destruction for their deceitful possessor.” H.: “a vanity agitated by them that seek death;” N.: “seattered breath of them,” etc.; S.: “a fleeting breath are they who seek death;” M.: “(like) a fleeting vapor to those who seek death.” The phrase plainly requires somewhat violent grammatical constructions, or an emendation. Our author’s hendiadys making the plural participle an apparent appositive of the singular noun is not the most forced.—A.] With reference to the phrase “seekers of death,” comp. Proverbs 8:36; Proverbs 17:19; with respect to the expression “a fleeting vanity,” Job 14:2; Job 13:25; and Pindar’s well-known phrase, σκιὰς ὄναρ ἄνθρωπος. It is hardly possible that we have here any suggestion of the mirage (Isaiah 35:7), the “tremulous mist of the desert, vanishing again in quick deception,”—for the noun הֶבֶל nowhere else occurs with this signification (this in opposition to Arnoldi, and to some extent Umbreit also).

Proverbs 21:7. The violence of the wicked sweepeth them away. The “violence” is not designed here to describe the destruction intended for the wicked (comp. Job 5:22; Isaiah 13:6), but is used in the active sense, of the rapacious or murderous violence practised by them (comp. Proverbs 24:2. So the Vulg., Luther, Umbreit, Hitzig.) The latter, to illustrate the idea, appropriately suggests the case in which an incendiary is consumed in the fire which he sets. But examples like Proverbs 1:18-19; Proverbs 7:23; serve also for illustration. With clause b compare (above) Proverbs 21:3, a.

Proverbs 21:8. Crooked is the way of the guilty man. “Burdened, laden” signifies, as the corresponding word in Arabic does, “the guilt-laden,” and so the vicious man, the malefactor, in contrast with the “pure or clean.”

3.Proverbs 21:9-18. Various warnings against foolish, hard-hearted, uncharitable, unrighteous conduct.—It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, and so on the one hand, solitary and forsaken (comp. Psalms 102:7 (8)), and on the other, exposed to all winds and weathers, in an exceedingly inconvenient, uncomfortable position. [See Hackett’s Illustrations of Scripture, and similar works].—Than with a contentious woman in a thronged house: lit., “than a woman of contentions (comp. Proverbs 19:13; Proverbs 27:15) and a house of companionship” (οἶκος κοινός, LXX),—an example of hendiadys, therefore like Proverbs 21:6.—On account of the correspondence of the idea with Proverbs 21:19, which certainly is remarkably close, Hitzig proposes to remove the “contentious woman” entirely from the text, for (freely following the LXX) he reads מִשְּׂאֵת instead of מֵאֵשֶׁת, and so from clause b gets the meaning: “than that strife arises and the house is common.”

Proverbs 21:10. For the expression in a comp. Proverbs 13:4.—His neighbor findeth no mercy with him, lit., “his neighbor is not compassionately treated by his eyes,” i.e., on account of his violent wickedness and selfishness even his friend experiences no sympathy from him.

Proverbs 21:11. With a comp. Proverbs 19:25.—And when the wise is prospered, he will gain knowledge, i.e. the simple, who must be the subject again in clause b, inasmuch as it can hardly be said of the wise that it is his prosperity that first helps him to knowledge. Usually, “and if one instruct the wise,” as if the verb הַשְׂכִיל were here transitive in the sense of “warning, instructing,” and thus stood for הוֹכִיחַ, Proverbs 19:25. But the wise man needs no longer such instruction as may for the first time give him understanding; and this verb is found, e.g also in Proverbs 17:8 (comp. Isaiah 52:13), used in the sense of “possessing or finding prosperity.” The whole proverb therefore demands that “the simple” be deterred by the punishment of the fool, as well as made intelligent and stimulated to good by the prosperity of the wise.

Proverbs 21:12. The Righteous marketh the house of the wicked. That by this righteous one God is meant, the supreme judge and rewarder, appears beyond all controversy from clause b, as well as from the parallel passage Proverbs 22:12 (comp. also Job 34:17). Rosen-mueller, Ewald, Bertheau, Elster take the correct view, while Hitzig here again endeavors to emend (substituting בֵּיתוֹ for בֵּית, and making, רֵשַׁע, “wickedness,” the subject of clause b); Umbreit, however, harshly and ungrammatically makes the “righteous” in a a righteous man, and then in b. supplies God as the subject of the predicative participle. [So the E. V., which is followed by Wordsw.; Noyes makes the righteous man the subject of both clauses,—while De., W, K., H., S. and M. more correctly refer both to God.—A.]

Proverbs 21:13. Comp. Matthew 18:23-35, a parable which fitly illustrates the meaning of this sentence, pronounced against hard-heartedness; see also Matthew 25:41 sq.; Luke 11:13.

Proverbs 21:14. Comp. Proverbs 17:8; Proverbs 18:16; Proverbs 19:6. As in these passages so in the one before us it is not prohibited presents or bribes that are spoken of, but lawful manifestations of liberality, though bestowed in all quietness (in secret), i.e. without attracting needless attention.—A present in the bosom, is the same as the “gift from the bosom” in Proverbs 17:23, a present brought concealed in the bosom (not a “present into the bosom,” as Rosenm., Bertheau, etc., would have it).

Proverbs 21:15. It is a joy to the just to do justice, but (it is) destruction only to them that work iniquity. “Confusion, terror” (comp. Proverbs 10:29) is all right action to evil doers, since they distinctly feel “that its consequences must condemn and punish their own course and conduct” (Elster.); for they practise their ungodly folly with pleasure and delight (Proverbs 10:23; Proverbs 15:21); they have a real satisfaction in their works of darkness (comp. Romans 1:32; John 3:19). [The E. V., followed by H., N., S., M. makes “destruction” the subject of clause b, and not a second predicate, as De W., K., etc., do, like our author. The latter construction best brings out the antithesis between a “joy” and a “terror.” The same course of conduct is thus differently viewed by and related to the contrasted classes.—A.]

Proverbs 21:16. With a compare Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 4:14 sq.; with b, Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 9:18.

Proverbs 21:17. He becometh a poor man who loveth pleasure (lit. “a man of want”). “Joy” is here specifically intoxicating delights, such as are to be found in luxurious banquets, where “wine and perfume,” these familiar symbols of social festivity (Psalms 104:15; Proverbs 27:9; comp. Amos 6:6), play their part. The Vulgate, therefore, if not with verbal accuracy renders by “qui diligit epulas.”

Proverbs 21:18. The Wicked becometh a ransom for the righteous, i.e. so far forth as the divine wrath turns from him who is comparatively righteous to fall upon the head of the evil doer; comp. Proverbs 11:8. Thus according to Isaiah 43:3 the heathen nations atone for the comparatively purer and more upright Israel (comp. Hitzig on this passage).

4.Proverbs 21:19-25. Admonitions of an import similar to that of the preceding series, directed especially against uncharitableness, folly and sloth.—With Proverbs 21:19 comp. Proverbs 21:9 above.—With a contentious, fretful woman, lit., “with a woman of contentions and of worry;” the genitives are naturally genitivi effectus.

Proverbs 21:20. Precious treasure and oil are in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man consumeth them, i.e. wastes whatever he possesses of valuable treasures and spices. “A fool of a man,” as in Proverbs 15:20. To “swallow up,” i.e. to waste, destroy and ruin, as in Ecclesiastes 10:12; Lamentations 2:2-8; Job 10:8, etc.—Hitzig in clause a changes וְשֶׁמֶן to יִשְׁכֹן and reads פֶּה instead of נְוֵה, and thus obtains the meaning, “Precious treasure is in a wise mouth, but a fool of a man swallows it down (?).”

Proverbs 21:21. He that followeth after righteousness and mercy shall find life, righteousness and honor. The second “righteousness,” although wanting in the LXX, is not for that reason to be regarded an error (in opposition to Ziegler, Elster). It denotes the judicial righteousness of the man who, on account of his striving after righteousness, is sanctified and blessed by God (just as in Proverbs 8:18; Job 33:26),—while in clause a the righteousness intended is a moral quality of the wise man who keeps the law. The relation is the same in the N. T. between δικαιοσύνη as a present possession of the believer (e.g. Romans 3:28; Galatians 3:21), and δικαιοσύνη; as an object of Christian hope; Galatians 5:5.—With this use of the terms “life” and “honor” comp. Proverbs 3:16.

Proverbs 21:22. A wise man scaleth a city of the mighty; i.e. even a fortress well defended by numerous and strong warriors does not long withstand the sagacious counsel of the wise; comp. Proverbs 24:5, and also Ecclesiastes 9:15,—where, in a reversed relation, one wise man successfully defends the city against a whole army.—For the expression, “the bulwark of its confidence,” in clause b, comp. Proverbs 14:26.

Proverbs 21:23. Comp. Proverbs 13:3; Proverbs 19:6.

Proverbs 21:24. A proud and arrogant (man)—scorner is his name; i.e. not, “he might reasonably be called scoffer,” but, “the universal moral judgment of men really calls him so, looks upon him as a scoffer, as an ‘infidel’ (Delitzsch; comp. Introd., § 3, N. 2), a man to whom there is nothing holy.” For יָהִיד, superbiens, “arrogant, conceited,” comp. Habakkuk 2:5.

Proverbs 21:25-26 form a continuous representation of the slothful, in contrast with the righteous and therefore diligent man, who, however, on account of his diligence is also beneficent.—The desire of the slothful killeth him, i.e. his desire for food and drink, his hunger, for the quieting, of which he is nevertheless unable to employ the proper means—labor in behalf of his physical sustenance. Comp. Proverbs 13:4; also Proverbs 19:24. [Stuart understands “his desire of slothful repose;” which is less easily reconciled with clause a of Proverbs 21:26. His desires are not so intense and consuming for repose, passivity rather than activity characterizing whatever is voluntary about him; his involuntary appetites, for which he neglects to provide, destroy him.—A.]—He desireth intensely all the day long; lit., “Every day he wisheth a wish,” i.e. he carries constantly the same intense longing for possession and enjoyment, but stops with this indolent wishing and dreaming, without passing over into energetic action. It is otherwise with the upright, who by his honorable industry is put in circumstances to distribute rich gifts among others also; comp. Proverbs 11:24 a.

5.Proverbs 21:27-31. Of God’s righteous judgment on the wicked and disobedient.—The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination (comp. Proverbs 15:8), how much more when it is offered for evil. בְּזִמָּה might mean “with transgression, with evil intent” (not “with deceit,” as Bertheau holds), comp. Psalms 26:10; Psalms 119:150. But it seems to be more appropriately taken here as a statement of the motive of the abhorred sacrifice, and therefore to be “for transgression,” for some iniquity wrought with evil intent, which is to be expiated by a sacrifice,—and by a sacrifice only, and not by true contrition and repentance (comp. Hitzig on this passage). Malachi 1:13 is therefore not so true a parallel as Sir 34:21-25.

Proverbs 21:28. With a comp. Proverbs 19:5; Proverbs 19:9.—The man that heareth shall speak evermore; i. e. the modest and teachable, who, instead of talking on heedlessly at random, gives thoughtful attention to all profitable teaching, and ponders quietly all that he has heard, that he may be able to give reliable testimony (comp. Solomon’s “hearing heart,” 1 Kings 3:9)—such a one will be constantly called forth anew to testify, and so become one “speaking evermore,” a testis sive orator perpetuus, a witness to the truth universally esteemed and much desired, in contrast with the heedless, gossiping, lying witness (comp. Proverbs 18:13 ). For this interpretation the parallel in Proverbs 12:19 is decisive, from which appears especially the inadmissibility of rendering לָנֶצַח secundum veritatem, according to truth (so e.g. Umbreit: “he who hears the truth”). [Rueetschi (as above, p. 152) brings out the antithetic force of the verse thus: “To hold to the truth is just what the lying witness fails to do; therefore must he cease to speak; his way perishes, Psalms 1:6. But the man that hearkens, etc., to the truth shall evermore speak ‘as a witness and otherwise, living happily shall always be able to speak, and shall be gladly heard’ (Ewald), and so by no means perish.”—A.]

Proverbs 21:29. The wicked putteth on a bold face, lit., “the man of wickedness maketh boldness with his face.” The predicate as in Proverbs 7:13, denotes the immovable fixedness of features behind which the shameless villain seeks to hide his criminal intentions and crafty dispositions. Whether we are here to think specifically of a false witness implicated in some criminal conspiracy (from the suggestion of 28, a), must remain doubtful from the indefiniteness of the expression (in opposition to Bertheau, Hitzig).—But he that is upright establisheth his way. Instead of יָכִין the K’ri, with which the LXX agree, proposes יָבִין, and some modern interpreters prefer this reading, e.g. Hitzig: “considereth his way.” But just as it may be said of God (Proverbs 16:9) so it might be said of a pious man, that he makes his way or his steps firm, i.e. sure and fixed (comp. Jotham’s example, 2 Chronicles 27:6); and the antithesis between a and b becomes decidedly stronger with the reading of the K’thibh. [The E. V., which is followed by H., N. and M. adopts a weakened and ambiguous rendering, “directeth,”—“considereth” being in the margin. S. and Wordsw. decidedly prefer the stronger rendering “establisheth,” W. bringing out the contrast between the wicked man’s hardening his face, and the good man’s hardening his way. As Rueetschi urges, both the verbs and their objects contribute to the completeness of the antithesis. “The wicked man looks only to the outside, the forms, the appearance and show, the transient result; but the good man aims at the real, the actually good; he therefore establishes his ways, his mode of life and action, his whole course.”—A.].

Proverbs 21:30. No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel is there against Jehovah. לְנֶגֶד is by no means merely “before God,” i.e., according to God’s judgment, as Umbreit, etc., say, but “over against, in opposition to.” The meaning is that a human wisdom which would assert itself in opposition to the divine, is not wisdom, but sheer folly (comp. 1 Corinthians 3:19), that in comparison with the divine wisdom that of man is altogether nought (comp. Isaiah 29:14).

Proverbs 21:31 continues the thought of the preceding verse. As human wisdom, so likewise is human strength and reliance on human aid and might nothing; comp. Psalms 20:7 (8); Psalms 33:17.—The horse is made ready for the day of battle. The participle expresses the permanence of the matter; therefore, lit. “stands prepared, is prepared” (Hitzig).—With b compare also David’s language to Goliath, 1 Samuel 17:47 : “The battle is Jehovah’s;” i.e., on Him depends the decision of the war, its favorable issue, its victorious result.


According to the introduction and conclusion of the chapter, its contents refer mainly to the all-directing providence of God, the ruler of the world, just as in chap. 16,—which furthermore in regard to several of the ethical precepts, or rules of virtue connected with these considerations about providence, stands in quite close relations to the admonitory substance of the section before us; comp. e.g. Proverbs 16:5 with Proverbs 21:4; Proverbs 21:24; Proverbs 16:10; Proverbs 16:12 with Proverbs 21:1; Proverbs 16:1 with Proverbs 21:6; Proverbs 16:6 with Proverbs 21:21; Proverbs 16:17; Proverbs 16:20 with Proverbs 21:23; Proverbs 16:32 with Proverbs 21:22; Proverbs 16:26 with Proverbs 21:25-26. Among the virtues the practice of which is commended as a chief means of putting one’s self in the right relations to the administrative and judicial government of God over the world, righteousness or obedience to God’s word, which is better than sacrifice (Proverbs 21:3; Proverbs 21:27; comp. Proverbs 21:8; Proverbs 21:12; Proverbs 21:15; Proverbs 21:18; Proverbs 21:21; Proverbs 21:28-29), is the most conspicuous. Side by side with this stands patience in the sense of the New Testament (comp. ὑπομονή, Luke 8:15; James 1:4), i.e., steadfast endurance in labor and in suffering, such as the service of the Lord brings with it (Proverbs 21:5; Proverbs 21:17; Proverbs 21:25-26). There are more isolated warnings against deception (Proverbs 21:6; Proverbs 21:28), hard-heartedness (Proverbs 21:10; Proverbs 21:13), luxurious extravagance (Proverbs 21:17; Proverbs 21:20), scoffing (Proverbs 21:11; Proverbs 21:24). Since however these without difficulty group themselves about the central idea of obedience to the divine command, this obedience may itself be considered in a general way as the controlling idea in the substance of the section, and accordingly some such theme as “the man who hearkens” (Proverbs 21:28; comp. 1 Kings 3:9), or again “obedience more acceptable to God than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3; comp. 1 Samuel 15:22), may be prefixed as a theme or motto to all the rest.

For a homily then on the chapter as a whole: God as ruler and judge over all the world, and man’s duty of obedience to Him, consisting in walking in righteousness, patience, love, and truth. Or more briefly: Obedience to God’s word as the sum of all human duties and virtues. Comp. Stöcker: Of God’s gracious and righteous government, as it shows itself in the good and the evil.—The Berleburg Bible puts it very well: God is to rule, not self-will.

Proverbs 21:1-3. Cramer (on Proverbs 21:1-2): God not only knows the thoughts of men, but also has their hearts in His hands, and turns and moulds them as the potter the clay. In matters of faith therefore we are not to proceed according to the fancy of our own hearts, but according to God’s command.—Geier: Pray God earnestly that He may not leave thine heart intent on any evil, but that he may draw it to Himself to walk steadfastly according to his word.—Wohlfarth: Not merely the plans of the lowly, but also the counsels and undertakings of the mighty depend on God, who as chief ruler of His world with wisdom that never deceives and power that never fails shapes all according to His design.—Starke(on Proverbs 21:3): All outward ceremonies of worship avail nothing, if there is lacking the true inward service of God, worshipping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).—[Lawson: Sacrifices had no goodness in their own nature; and when men rested on them they were abominable to God. Judgment and justice are a part of the image of God in man, and have an everlasting excellency in their nature].

Proverbs 21:4-8. Cramer (on Proverbs 21:5): A measure is good in all things; therefore hasten deliberately.—Geier: He is cruel against himself who heaps up riches unrighteously: he is gathering up his own ruin at the same time.—Calwer Handb. (on Proverbs 21:5-7): Industry and activity, not excess of haste, leads to good success; furthermore, not falsehood, or deceit, or robbing others.—Von Gerlach (on 7, 8): The desolation which the ungodly bring upon others at length sweeps them away; for no one, who persistently refuses to do right can stand, since right is precisely the stability, the order of things.—[Trapp (on Proverbs 21:6): Many a wretched worldling spins a fair thread to strangle himself both temporally and eternally].

Proverbs 21:9-18. [Chalmers (on Proverbs 21:10): The claims of friendship are overborne by the strength of that evil desire on the part of the wicked, which is bent on the objects of their own selfishness]—Starke (on Proverbs 21:10): We should not so often act contrary to the law of love to our neighbors, if we reflected always what we should desire in our neighbor’s place (Matthew 7:12).—(On Proverbs 21:13): An uncompassionate spirit toward the poor is punished by God with want of pity in return, according to the justice of an exact requital.—Hasius (on Proverbs 21:14): Even with trifles, with slight manifestations of love, one may frequently avert much evil, and soothe spirits.—Geier. (on Proverbs 21:15): Joy and peace of conscience follow a joyful obedience to God’s command; a scornful contempt and disobedience of it is followed by constant disquiet and fear.—[Lawson (on Proverbs 21:15): Many do judgment without taking pleasure in it; their consciences will not suffer them to do otherwise, but their hearts are on the side of sin; or they will do many good things with pleasure, because their constitutional and beloved sins are not affected by them; but there are other things at which they stop short, etc.—Trapp (on Proverbs 21:16): He that deviateth from the truth according to godliness cannot possibly wander so far as to miss of hell].—Cramer (on Proverbs 21:17): He who will consume more than his plough can yield must utterly perish (Ecclesiast. 19:32).—(On Proverbs 21:18): God often turns the leaf over so that the evil that was designed for the pious comes upon the ungodly.—Von Gerlach (on Proverbs 21:18): Every man deserves punishment here since none is guiltless. Since however the righteous acknowledges his guilt and walks in humility before the Lord, He remits his penalty, and before his eyes punishes the ungodly in full measure, that by the sight he may be made wise.

Proverbs 21:19-26. Hasius (on Proverbs 21:20): Where true wisdom is lacking in the administration of temporal things, there even with a regal or princely income destitution and want may enter.—Geier (on Proverbs 21:22): Let every Christian and especially every Christian teacher exert himself by virtue of heavenly wisdom to tear down the fortresses and bulwarks of the kingdom of hell.—Cramer (on Proverbs 21:22): Let no one trust in walls, castles or fortresses. What human hands have constructed human hands can pull down again.—(On Proverbs 21:23): God as the Creator of our human nature has set a double wall before the tongue,—the teeth and the lips,—to show that we should keep and guard the tongue with all carefulness.—[Bp. Hall: He that looketh carefully to his tongue takes a safe course for preserving his life, which is oft in danger by much and wild talking].—.Geier (on Proverbs 21:24): Vices hang together like a chain; from pride springs contempt, from contempt wrath, from wrath mockery and many insults.—Zeltner (on Proverbs 21:25-26): Lazy thieves of time are not worth their bread; he that worketh not, neither shall he eat, 2 Thessalonians 3:10.—[Muffet: Wishers and woulders are neither good householders nor yet long livers].

Proverbs 21:27-31. Zeltner (on Proverbs 21:28-29): To receive kind suggestions with thankfulness, and to reform, is no shame but an honor in the sight of God and men.—[Trapp (on Proverbs 21:30): Human wisdom while it strives for masteries is overmastered].—Melanchthon (on Proverbs 21:30-31): It is a wholesome rule for the whole of life, to fulfil the duties of one’s calling, and in connection with this trustfully to invoke God’s aid and succor. If we do this our works under God’s aid in blessing us succeed well. Unrighteous labors, those undertaken without any call from above, as well as without trust in and prayer to God, on the contrary undoubtedly fail, be they entered upon with ever so much shrewdness and cunning.—Saurin (sermon on Proverbs 21:30): On the futility of the means which human passions oppose to God,—viz. 1) earthly exaltation; 2) political prudence; 3) sensuality; 4) stoical endurance.—Berleburg Bible (on Proverbs 21:30-31): No beginning, devising, striving of ours can possibly oppose that which God purposes with us. Is it not then the best thing to commit ourselves wholly to His guidance, without giving ourselves much labor in vain? We indeed prepare all in accordance with our idea and understanding; but God gives success wholly according to His will. In everything then let the charge be left to Him!

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 21". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/proverbs-21.html. 1857-84.
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