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Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 16

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verse 1


Proverbs 16:1. Nearly all commentators agree in reading this verse, “To man belong the preparations of the heart, but the answer of the tongue is from, the Lord.” Preparations, lit. “arrangements,” “orderly disposings,” as those of an army in array, or as the loaves of the shewbread set in order.



I The human heart needs preparation.

1. It needs to be prepared for the reception of moral truth. When the earth was “without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep,” it was not in a condition to receive seed into its bosom. There was a need of preparation before it was fit to receive seed which would produce “herb after its kind.” Light must play upon its surface, heat and moisture must penetrate the soil. And man’s heart, in his present fallen condition, is like the earth before the “Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” It needs some preparation before it can receive the truth of God so as to be benefited by it—before it is that “good ground” into which, when the “good seed” falls, it “brings forth fruit, some an hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold” (Matthew 13:3-8). As the plough must break the clods before the seed can be sown with any hope of harvest, so the “fallow-ground” of the heart must be broken up—must undergo some preparation before it can be a profitable receiver of moral truth (Hosea 10:12). Our Lord, in the parable of the sower, teaches most distinctly the truth that the good which is derived from hearing Divine truth depends upon the state of heart of him who hears.

2. It needs to be prepared to yield moral truth. All the preparation of the earth is to the end—not that it should be a receiver, but a giver. The seed is sown not that it should remain in the soil, but that the earth shouldbring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater” (Isaiah 55:10). So it is with the human soul. It takes in the thoughts of God, that it may translate them into holy words and deeds. The “preparation of the heart” is but a means to “the answer of the tongue.” Out of the “good treasure of the heart” good things are expected to issue (Matthew 12:35). But unless there is preparation to receive there can be no giving out of anything that is worth the giving. The quality of the water that comes to the lip of the drinker depends upon the quality of the spring that fills the well. As we have often before remarked, the “tree” must be first “good,” and then the “fruit will be good” (Matthew 12:33). He whose heart is prepared by Divine influence to receive the Divine Word will not be at a loss for such an “answer of the tongue” as will bring glory to God, honour to himself, and blessings to others.

II. The preparation of the heart, and, therefore, the answer of the tongue, depends upon God. In nature laws are constantly at work to bring to pass certain facts and results, and man works with these laws, and in obedience to them. But behind the laws there must be a law-giver—behind the working there must be a worker—and this worker and law-giver is God. The preparation of the earth is the work of man; yet both the preparation of the earth and the answer of the earth to that preparation is from God. There would be no harvest if the husbandman did not toil; but there would be no harvest if behind him and his toil there was not the Life-Giver. God is the spring of all activities, not only in the sower of the seed, but in the seed which is sown and in the earth in which it germinates. So in the preparation of the heart, and the right use of the tongue. Man’s freedom and responsibility in these matters are insisted upon in the oracles of God. He and he alone is to be blamed if his heart is not prepared to receive the words of God. He is commanded as we saw just now to “break up his fallow ground” (Jeremiah 4:3)—to prepare his spirit for the reception of Divine truth. Yet if a man’s heart is thus prepared, and if by preparation of heart his tongue is able to speak good words, he is not the sole producer of the result. Behind the springs of thinking—behind the means used by the man himself—God is working “both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” God claims to be the Author of all good, whether in the bud of thought or in the fruit of action. From Him “all good counsels and all just works do proceed.” This is the teaching of this verse as it stands in our English Bible, but many commentators translate the verse differently. (See Critical Notes.) The thought as thus translated is similar to that in Proverbs 16:9, upon which see Homiletics.


The great doctrine of all Scripture is, that heart religion is true religion. In nothing is Christianity more distinguished from all other systems of religion than in the moral purity which it inculcates and which it provides the means of producing. Other religions multiply articles of faith and ritual observances, and pompous ceremonials: this alone fixes upon the internal character of the worshipper and the actual state of the heart before God. God first gives grace, and then owns and honours the grace which He gives. “The preparations of the heart are of the Lord;” “The prayer of the upright is His delight” (chap. Proverbs 15:8). This was discovered long before Solomon’s time. It was from the very first the primary design of the religion of the Bible. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (Hebrews 11:4).… It is God’s prerogative to prepare the heart for Himself, and he does this especially, by establishing the principles of grace and holiness in the mind, and then actuating the habits of grace which His own spirit has implanted. We need preparation—

1. For spiritual worship. The worship of God, as it necessarily includes all the devout affections, is the most spiritual act in which we are engaged. In prayer, in reading and hearing God’s word, and in approaching the sacramental table, we have especially to do with God, in the gracious relations in which He stands to us. And as these exercises raise us above the ordinary level of the world, and are foreign to our ordinary habits of thought and emotion as the creatures of dust and time, we need especial assistance to fix our attention, to purify our motives, and to realise the presence of the Master of assemblies. We need “grace whereby to serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28). This preparation of the heart is God’s gift, it is God’s promise, it is the Church’s hope, and it has been realised in the experience of God’s faithful people in the ordinances of His appointment.

2. For active service. Christians have much to do for God in the world, in the family, in the Church, in the disposal of their ordinary business, etc. In all these things wisdom is needed to direct, and wisdom should be sought from him.

3. For patient suffering. It is a great thing to have a heart prepared for suffering. One important requisite is, to anticipate its approach, that that day may not come upon us unawares, that trial may not entangle us in temptation, but may, like the overflowings of the Nile, leave the means of fertility behind. Another requisite is that we should expect to meet with God in affliction. When God announces a long succession of national judgments, He says, “And because I will do this, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel” (Amos 4:12). This text is usually applied to death and judgment, but it really relates to worldly disasters, and teaches that God would have us prepare to meet Him in the distressing changes of human life.

4. For enjoyment. If there is much to be suffered there is also much to be enjoyed. But a time of prosperity needs heart preparation, lest a time of ease be a time of danger. “It is the bright day brings out the adder, and that craves wary walking.” It was when Noah had escaped the deluge, and had gathered in his first vintage from the grapes he had planted, that he drank of the wine and was drunken. David, safe in the wilderness, was entangled in fatal snares when walking on the roof of his palace. (Note. Though heart preparation is from God, it is not given as a premium to sloth, but in proportion to the earnestness with which we seek the grace. The following passage from a letter of Colonel Gardiner tells how that man of God sought preparation from God for the Lord’s Supper. “I took a walk on the hills and mountains over against Ireland. And could I give you a description of what passed there, you would agree that I had much better reason to remember my God from the hills of Port P—than David from the Hermonites, the land of Jordan, and the hill Mizar. In short, I wrestled with the Angel of the Covenant some hours, and made supplication to Him with strong crying and tears until I had almost expired, but He strengthened me till I had power with God. You will be able to judge by what you have felt upon like occasions, after such a preparatory work, how blessed the Lord’s Supper was to me.”)—S. Thodey.

Man may lay out his plans, but God alone can give them effect in answer to the tongue of prayer (Proverbs 16:9; chap. Proverbs 19:21; 2 Corinthians 3:5).—Maurer.

Often what you dispose in the aptest order in your heart you cannot also express suitably with the tongue. What one aptly speaks is from God.—Mercer.

Men often determine in heart to say something, but God overrules their tongue so as to say something utterly different, as in Balaam’s case (Numbers 23:0).—Menochius.

God takes the stone out of the heart that it may feel (Ezekiel 36:26); draws it that it may follow; quickens it that it may live. He opens the heart that He may imprint His own law, and mould it into His own image (Acts 16:14; Jeremiah 31:33). He works, not merely by moral suasion or by the bare proposal of means of uncertain power, but by invisible Almighty agency. The work then begins with God. It is not that we first come, and then are taught; but first we learn, then we come (John 6:45).… Shall we then wait indolently till He works? Far from it. We must work, but in dependence upon Him. He works not without us, but with us, through us, in us, by us, and we work in Him (Philippians 2:13; Job 11:13). Ours is the duty, His is the strength; ours the agency, His the quickening grace. “The work, as it is a duty, is ours; but as a performance it is God’s” (Bishop Reynolds).—Bridges.

Undoubtedly we arrange and plan. That is a matter of consciousness. But these are but the tools of the designer. He uses our plannings to shape the last word to His mind.… The “arrangings of the heart” are, indeed, as much God’s as the final “decree,” because, in brief, everything is. He destines everything; but not in the same sense in which they are consciously man’s. They precede the end, and are present. They cannot determine the end, that is future. I cannot determine now what I will say the next moment. God can. I can and do arrange. But at any convenient point, at any interval, even the very least, God can swing me round. What I shall say is a part of His providence. I cannot ordain to say it in such a way as that it shall be said. In the smallest interval that follows God may tempt Pharaoh, and he may have new views as to letting the children of Israel go. God cannot tempt me to evil; but He can govern by the privation of good. And, therefore, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water. He turneth it whithersoever He will.” This, of course, implicates God, to our weak seeming, in the sins of the wicked. The next verse discharges Him from any such accountability. (See Miller’s rendering of Proverbs 16:2, in his comments.)—Miller.

Though a man have never so exactly marshalled his matter in hand, as it were, in battle array, as the Hebrew imports, though he have set down with himself both what and how to speak, yet he shall never be able to bring forth his conceptions without the help of God.… Digressions are not always unuseful. God’s spirit sometimes draws aside the doctrine to satisfy some soul which the preacher knows not. But though God may force it, yet man may not frame it.—Trapp.

This is a matter of experience to which the preacher, the public speaker, the author, and every man to whom his calling or circumstances present a weighty difficult theme, can attest. As the thoughts pursue one another in the mind, attempts are made and again abandoned; the state of the heart is somewhat like that of chaos before the creation. But when, finally, the right thought and the right utterance for it are found, that which is found appears to us, not as if self-discovered, but as a gift; we regard it with the feeling that a higher power has influenced our thoughts and imaginings; the confession by us “our sufficiency is of God” (2 Corinthians 3:5) in so far as we believe in a living God, is inevitable.—Delitzsch.

Man doth not carry himself one-half of the way, and then as one wearied is carried the rest by God. But it is God who supporteth him in the heart as well as in the tongue: it is He that supporteth man in the preparations of the heart, and well as in the subsequent proceedings of the man. He is a God of the valleys as well as of the hills; and it is He that worketh as well in the lowest degree of goodness as in the highest. His praise reacheth from the root of the heart to the tip of the tongue, and all man’s goodness is from His grace.—Jermin.

Verses 2-3


Proverbs 16:2. Miller translates this verse very differently. See comments on the verse.

Proverbs 16:3. Commit, rather roll. Thoughts, or “plans.”



I. One man has many ways. The text speaks of “all the ways of a man,” implying they are numerous and varied. Man is a compound creature—the animal and the spiritual—mind and matter—both go to make up a man, and from this union of different elements come many different wants and wishes, hopes and desires, and from these many wants come many ways—many and diversified efforts to satisfy his cravings. He finds himself having many bodily wants, and he seeks many different ways of supplying them. He is generally conscious of intellectual desires, and he seeks ways of satisfaction for them. If he listens to the voice within him, he feels that he has moral needs, and he tries to satisfy them also.

II. As a rule men generally look with approbation upon their own ways or methods of life. A man does this because they are his ways. What is our own generally looks well to us because it is ours. This is especially the case if it is ours by choice—if we have been the main instrument in its becoming ours. The builder looks with partial eyes upon the house that he has planned, the poet upon the poem that he has composed, the painter upon the picture that he has painted, the statesman upon the law that he has introduced. Most men are disposed to judge partially of their own deeds; ungodly men always regard their “own ways” as “clean.” The sinner has a way of life which he has chosen for himself, and because it is his way he thinks it is a good way to walk in.

III. There is therefore need of an impartial Judge to pass sentence upon men’s ways. Those who look upon us and our ways are generally better judges of us and of them than we are ourselves. They are good judges in proportion as they are wise and disinterested, and have a sincere desire to do us good. From them, if we are not given over to our own conceit and self-will, we may gain much very important truth about our ways. God is a judge who must be perfectly unbiassed, and He can have no object in view except our good, therefore when He passes judgment upon our ways, we must accept it as truth. He declares that a man’s ways, though clean in his own eyes, are not clean in His; we must not question the decision of absolute goodness and wisdom, and by refusing to have our ways condemned and to accept “His ways” (Isaiah 55:6-8), shut out from ourselves all hope of bettering our lives.

IV. However one man’s ways may deceive another, there is no danger of mistake on the part of God. “The Lord weigheth the spirits.” A man may deceive himself as to the goodness of his ways. Saul of Tarsus certainly did. When he “persecuted unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4), his ways were “clean in his own eyes.” But God weighed his spirit and found him wanting. And a man may deceive others. His outer garment may be so spotless that his fellows may not suspect what is hidden beneath. But there is an eye that can go beneath the surface—“discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart;” there is One whose glory it is that “He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears,” and whose judgment, therefore, is “righteousness” and “equity” (Isaiah 11:3-4).


As to all the ways of a man, pure in His own eyes, while yet he weighs out spirits, is Jehovah.” This change is very bold, and yet, really, not so bold as the old readings. It explains why “pure” if found to be in the singular. The common version, besides that disagreement of number, is strained, is sense, materially. There are instances of like thought (Proverbs 30:12), and, in one case, great similarity of language (chap. Proverbs 12:15); but the emphasis, in the present instance, seems stronger than in any of the rest, and would make us pause. It is not altogether true, the “all the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes.” Moreover, the case most like it (chap. Proverbs 21:2), and which might seem irrefragably to establish it in its sense, we shall find habited in the same way.… And while our common version would jump needlessly into another subject, the one I give fits most perfectly. God moves man as He lists (Proverbs 16:1), and yet, as to the ways of a man, He is right in His own eyes while “He weighs out spirits.” He weighs out to all that which determines them, and that is, gifts according to the measure that He ordained in the Redeemer. He “weighs out” in the sense of taking strict account.—Miller.

Weighing them, as goldsmiths do their plate and coins, finding them light and counterfeit oftentimes.—Muffet.

His “weighing the spirits” implies that here the moral good or the moral evil really lies. The mere action is in itself incapable of either, independently of what it indicates in the agent. When we speak of a moral action, we mean the action of a moral agent. A dog and a man may do the same action—may carry off, for instance, for their own use respectively, what is the property of another. We never think of calling it a moral action in a dog, but we condemn the man for the commission of a crime against his neighbour, and a sin against his God. An action may even in its effects be beneficial, which in regard to the doer of it is inexcusably bad: it may be good in its results, but bad in its principles.—Wardlaw.

They that were born in hell know no other heaven; neither goes any man to hell but he has some excuse for it. As covetousness, so most other sins go cloaked and coloured. All is not gold that glitters. A thing that I see in the night may shine, and that shining proceed from nothing but rottenness.… But God turns up the bottom of the bag as Joseph’s stewards did, and then come out all our thefts and misdoings that had so long lain latent.—Trapp.

The important doctrine deducible from this text is that conscience (simply as conscience) is no safe guide, but requires to be informed and regulated by God’s will and word, and that a right intention is not sufficient to make a good action.—Wordsworth.

How unclean are man’s eyes, in whose eyes all his ways are clean. Certainly whatever a man’s sentence may be of himself, there is something in him that gives another judgment. There is a spirit in man whose eyes, though dazzled much, cannot be put out. That seeth and coudemneth much uncleanness, which man’s wilful blindness and seeing darkness will needs have to be purity. There is a conscience in man which, though enslaved much, yet in many ways goeth contrary to man’s perverseness, and condemneth those ways which man approveth. But God is greater than man’s heart, and by the exact weights of His omniscience discerning the errors of the conscience He pronounceth all a man’s ways to be unclean.—Jermin.



I. There is an intimate connection between a man’s works and a man’s thoughts. Where there is no thinking there can certainly be no profitable work. The skilful workman has the plan of his work in his mind before he begins to use his fingers to execute it, and throughout its progress his thought is as busy as his hand. A work undertaken and carried through without thought is generally a useless work; indeed, it, is impossible for working to be entirely independent of thinking.

II. For the establishment of work there must first be the establishment of the thoughts. When a ship is under the guidance of one master-mind, and this mind is self-possessed and thoughtful, all the crew under his rule move with the regularity of clock-work. Order reigns in the leader, and therefore order rules the subordinates. He is the head and they are the hands, and because the one moves in obedience to a fixed purpose, the others do also. His thoughts are established, and therefore the work is done. Every man’s thoughts ought to be the guide of his work, and if his thoughts and his intentions are fixed, or established, by being in harmony with the righteous law of God, his works will partake of the same character. The orderliness of his outward life will be the effect of an order which reigns within.

III. If the thoughts are to be established, our undertakings must be committed to God. The learner tells the master what work he intends to undertake—he unfolds to him the plan of the machine he is going to construct, or shows him the design of the house he hopes to build, or the picture which he intends to paint, that he may be strengthened and encouraged in his undertaking, and that he may find out whether he has the approval of one who is much wiser than himself. If his master approves of his plan his mind is more fully made up, he is strengthened in his determination, his thoughts are established. Before he might have wavered, but now that he has submitted all his plans to one in whom he has full confidence and has obtained his approval, he sets to work with a goodwill which is an earnest of success. If in all our undertakings in life we lay our plans before the Lord, and if we find, upon consulting His word, that they are not in any way contrary to His will, but appear to be in conformity with it, our minds have rest, our hopes of success grow stronger, and our energy is quickened to go forward. The establishment of our thought tends to the establishment of our work.


I consider that work as good as done, that trial as good as borne, which I have solemnly committed to God in prayer.—Flavel.

This counsel implies—

1. That all our purposes and doings should be in accordance with God’s will. How is it possible to commit them to God otherwise?… We ought not to form or pursue any purpose unless we can, with confidence, acknowledge God in it. The maxim by which, as Christians, we should be regulated, is to be found in the words—“Whatsoever is not of faith”—whatsoever does not proceed from a full conviction of right—“is sin” (Romans 14:23).

2. That none of our works can prosper without God. This is a lesson of which the Divine word is full (Psalms 127:1; Daniel 5:23; James 4:13-16), etc.

3. That it is, therefore, the obvious and imperative duty of intelligent creatures to own their dependence.… This is a counsel to which, despite all the theories and speculations of infidelity, natural conscience gives its sanction.

4. That what is our duty is at the same time our interest. The act of committing all things into the hands of God to be regulated as He may see fit, preserves the spirit from corroding anxiety.

5. God will graciously smile on the efforts, and accomplish the purposes and wishes of him who seeks His blessing. God will second and prosper, and fulfil the purposes he forms, and the desires he cherishes, crowning his endeavours with success.—Wardlaw.

Roll thy doings in the direction of Jehovah; and they shall have success according to thy plans. “Roll,” not exactly commit. “In the direction of” the preposition towards. Trust, therefore, is less implied than an attitude of service. Roll forward thy work in the direction of Jehovah; that is, with an eye to Him; in a harmony with Him, recognising His plans (Proverbs 16:4): and what will be the result? Why, God means to have His way at any rate. Our works will “have success,” one or the other fashion, in His scheme of Providence. He works in the work even of Beelzebub. But if we act “in the direction of” His will, they will have success as we planned them. That seems to be the meaning. We might read, “thy plans shall have success.” … The whole would then mean, “thy doings” shall “have success” (literally, be made to stand), as thy plans, or in the shape thy plans gave them. Or, in other words, God, having an express purpose for all you do (Proverbs 16:4), will give success to your work at any rate. He has the exact niche for all you work at. But, if you turn it in His direction, and aim with it at His will, He will aim at yours; that is, He will give a success after your plan; if not in its actual letter, still, in what is far the best, in the way best suited to your peculiar interest.—Miller.

Never is the heart at rest till it repose in God; till then it flickers up and down, as Noah’s dove did upon the face of the flood, and found no footing till she returned to the ark. Perfect trust is blessed with a perfect peace. A famous instance of this we have in our Saviour, “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour, but for this cause came I to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name” (John 12:27). All the while the eye of His humanity was fixed upon deliverance from the hour of His temptation; there was no peace nor rest in His soul, because there He found not only uncertainty, but impossibility. But when he could wait on, acquiesce in, and resign to the will of His Father, we never hear of any more objection, fear, or trouble.—Trapp.

The word commit most properly signifieth cast, or tumble thy works unto the Lord. Now, in casting or tumbling, there are three things. First, a regardlessness of any merit in them, for such things are usually tumbled as are little cared for. Secondly, a speediness, for commonly things are tumbled to make the greater haste. Thirdly, there is a weakness and lightness in the things tumbled, for things of weight and strength are not so easily removed. Now, plainly, such are the works of man: there is little solidity or stability in them; tumble them, therefore, upon the Lord—commit them into His hands. And do it speedily; do not defer it until thou seest no farther help in man, but at first betake thyself unto Him, for that will best show the confidence thou hast in Him. And do not fret and vex thyself with care, but tumble and cast thy care upon God. The less thou carest in that manner the more He will care for thee. So that by Him thy works shall be established which of themselves are frail and uncertain; by Him no time shall be lost for the well ordering of them, if thou lose no time in the committing of them to Him. Or else we may take the meaning of the words thus, Put over thy works unto the Lord, and whatsoever thou doest well let Him have the praise of it—let Him have thanks for it.… To this purpose Chrysostom borroweth a similitude from the play at ball, saying, “We must cast back and return our works unto God, even as in the play of tennis, the one tosseth, the other tosseth back the ball, and so long the sport handsomely continueth, as the ball tossed and tossed back again between the hands of both doth not fall down.” The comfort of that which we have received from God is so long happily continued to us as we return God thanks for it.—Jermin.

Proverbs 16:2-3. The first of these verses tells us how a man goes wrong, and the second how he may be set right again. He is led into error by doing what pleases himself; the rule for recovery is to commit the works to the Lord, and see that they are such as will please Him. When we weigh our thoughts and actions in the balances of our own desires we shall inevitably go astray. When we lay them before God, and submit to His pleasure, we shall be guided into truth and righteousnesss … It is a common and sound advice to ask counsel of the Lord before undertaking any work. Here we have the counterpart equally precious—commit the work to the Lord after it is done. The Hebrew idiom gives peculiar emphasis to the precept—roll it over on Jehovah. Mark the beautiful reciprocity of the two, and how they constitute a circle between them. While the act is yet in embryo as a purpose in your mind, ask counsel of the Lord, that it may be crushed in the birth, or embodied in righteousness. When it is embodied bring the work back to the Lord, and give it over into His hand as the fruit of the thought you besought Him to inspire.… These two rules following each other in a circle, would make the outspread field of a Christian’s life sunny, and green, and fruitful, as the circling of the solar system brightens and fertilises the earth.… Perhaps most professing Christians find it easier to go to God beforehand, asking what they should do, than to return to Him afterwards, to place their work in His hands. This may, in part, account for the want of answer to prayer—at least the want of a knowledge that prayer has been answered. If you do not complete the circle your message by telegraph will never reach its destination, and no answer will return. We send in earnest prayer for direction. Thereafter we go into the world of action. But if we do not bring the action back to God the circle of supplication is not completed.—Arnot.

Verse 4


Proverbs 16:4. For Himself. Many read “for its own purpose, or end.” There is much in favour, however, of the reading of the authorised text.



I. There is one Person in the universe who knows the history of all things. Jehovah knows all things because He made all things. Some men know the history of their nation and the history of many nations. Others know the history of the philosophies of the world, can tell when and by whom certain ideas were first promulgated and certain methods adopted. There are other men who are acquainted with the history of natural objects, and whose knowledge is so extensive that it embraces the heavens above and the waters under the earth. But there is only One Being who can claim a knowledge of all things and all persons, and that is the Maker of all things. The smith who has beaten a ploughshare out of rough iron can give us the history of the share because he made it. The sculptor who calls into shape and form a beautiful statue knows the day and hour when that statue ceased to be a thing of the imagination only by the first application of his chisel. And he can give the history of its progress from that day until this because he is the author of its existence. So God, having called all things into being at first, and having upheld them ever since by the word of His power, has a perfect knowledge of their history. But He goes farther. No human worker knows anything of the essential nature of the material out of which he fashions his work—he finds that ready to his hand, and can tell us but little about it. But God is the Creator of matter; He called it into being at first, and therefore knows not only the history of the formation of things as we see them but the essential qualities of the material out of which they are formed.

II. Creation is the work of One Being. Most things made by man need co-operation. Although they are but inanimate objects they cannot be made by the unaided efforts of one creature. He must have the skill and strength of others to help him, either in the actual work itself, or in the preparation of the material, or the tools which he uses. A palace can be built only by the united effort of many hundreds of intelligent creatures, and when they have finished it they have only made a lifeless thing. A ship when in full sail is as much “like a thing of life” as any work of man, yet the movement that makes it look so life-like is not in itself but comes from an external power. Yet inanimate though it is, how many a man gave his toil and his strength to bring into existence this new thing. One thing made by man requires the strength and skill of many, and when made is without life; but the One God is the maker of all things that we see around us, many of which are full of life.

III. The world is not co-eternal with God. Matter is one of the “all things” which He has made. This being the case it is not as old as God. He was before the material was out of which “in the beginning He created the heavens and the earth.”

IV. The One God is the absolute Lord of all His creatures. This is the thought which must be expressed in the second clause of this verse. In considering it we must remember—

1. That the infinitely good God can do no wrong. In proportion as men are good, certain acts are impossible to them. There are human beings whom we feel are incapable of certain immoral acts. In proportion as men approach in their characters to the character of God it becomes a moral impossibility for them to do wrong to any creature. It is, therefore, conceivable that if we could find a man who was perfectly true and good we should find a being who could do no wrong. We cannot find such an absolute being among fallen men, but we have such a Being in God. He is absolute goodness and righteousness and truth—as to His character, “He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” It is, therefore, impossible for Him in any way to be the author of sin. Being absolute goodness, He cannot make a wicked man. He hates sin, and cannot increase it by creating wickedness. It is an impossibility for him to be the author of wrong in any way.

2. That all His plans and purposes are manifestly directed to making men good. If any person were to declare that God delighted or purposed that His creatures should live in darkness, we should point to the sun in the heavens as a direct refutation of such a statement. To any who declare that God is indifferent as to whether men live in sin or not, we point to the Bible and to the incarnation and death of His Son as the most emphatic denial of such an assertion. And if, in the face of such facts, it is impossible to believe that God is indifferent as to human character, it is a thousand times more impossible to conceive the possibility of His creating a “wicked man.”

3. Therefore no man can be brought to aday of evil” except by his own consent. No man can be brought to perform an evil deed except by his own consent, and consequently he cannot be brought to the consequences of evil without the exercise of his own free-will. The human tempter cannot destroy the virtue of his victim unless he first gain his consent, and whatever evil day comes as the consequence, the sinner feels that it is the fruit of his own act. The sting would be removed if he felt that it had come upon him without any deed of his own. Satan certainly believes that he can bring no man to a day of evil without that man’s consent. Consequently his great work is that of a tempter—a persuader—his great aim is to win the will of every man as he won that of our first parents. Nor can God bring a man to a day of evil unless that man consent. He has made man free, and His nature forbids Him to tempt His creatures to evil (James 1:13), much more it makes it impossible that he should coerce their will to the committal of sin, which is the sole cause of all the evil that is found in the universe. The declaration of the text therefore is:

1. That all men exist by the will of God, who desires them to use their present life, so as to be fitted for a higher one.
2. That if a man crosses God’s desires and purposes in this matter, he will come to a day of evil.
3. God will use the actions of those who oppose His will against themselves, and for the furtherance of His own purpose. God was the Author of Pharaoh’s existence, and if he had yielded to the Divine will he would by obedience have been raised to a higher condition of life. But when he opposed the will of God, and put away from him the opportunities of Divine enlightenment, then it might be said that “God created him for the day of evil”—then God over-ruled His opposition to His glory and to Pharaoh’s destruction. And so he deals with all who exalt themselves against His will, refusing to fall in with His purpose of mercy towards them.


Even the wicked for the day of evil,” i.e., to experience the day of evil, and then to receive His wellmerited punishment. It is not specifically the day of final judgment that is directly intended (as though the doctrine here were that of a predestination of the ungodly to eternal damnation), but any day of calamity whatsoever which God has fixed for the ungodly, whether it may overtake him in this or in a future life. Comp. the “day of destruction” (Job 21:30), the “day of visitation” (Isaiah 10:3).—Lange’s Commentary.

The day of evil is generally understood, and I have myself been accustomed so to explain it, of the day of final visitation and suffering to the wicked themselves. But I am now inclined to doubt whether “the day of evil” has here this meaning at all. There is another, of which it is alike susceptible, and which, in Scripture, it frequently bears—namely, the day of primitive visitation, in the infliction of judicial vengeance, in the course of God’s providential administration. I question if the suffering of the wicked be intended, and am disposed to refer the phrase to the instrumental agency of the wicked. “The Lord hath made all things for Himself” will thus mean that He employs all as instruments in effecting His purposes, and that thus He makes the wicked as a part of His agency: employing them, without at all interfering with their freedom and their responsibility, as the executioners of wrath, “when He cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,” thus rendering their very passions the means of accomplishing His designs, making “the wrath of man to praise Him, and restraining the remainder of wrath.”—Wardlaw.

If by God’s making all things for Himself be meant that He aimed at and intended the manifestation of His wisdom, and power, and goodness in the creation of the world, ’tis most true that in this sense He made all things for Himself; but if we understand it so, as if the goodness of His nature did not constrain Him thereto, but He had some design to serve ends and necessities of His own upon His creatures, this is far from Him. But it is very probable that neither of these is the meaning of this text, which may be rendered with much better sense, and nearer to the Hebrew, thus, “God hath ordained everything to that which is fit for it, and the wicked hath He ordained for the day of evil;” that is, the wisdom of God hath fitted one thing for another, punishment to sin, the evil day to the evil-doer.—Tillotson.

God made things without life and reason to serve Him passively and subjectively, by administering occasion to man to admire and adore his Maker; but man was made to worship Him actively and affectionately, as sensible of, and affected with, that Divine wisdom, power, and goodness which appear in them. As all things are of Him as the efficient cause, so all things must necessarily be for Him as the final cause. But man is in an especial manner predestinated and elected for this purpose. “Thou art mine; I have created him for my glory; I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:1-7).—Swinnock.

God, in His revelations, hath told us nothing of the second causes which He hath established under Himself for the production of ordinary effects, that we not perplex ourselves about them, but always look up to Him as the first cause, as working without them, or by them, as He sees good. But he hath told us plainly of the final cause, or end of all things, that we may keep our eyes always fixed on that, and accordingly strive all we can to promote it.—Beveridge.

Verse 5


Proverbs 16:5. Though hand join in hand, literally “hand to hand,” as in chap. Proverbs 11:21. This phrase is variously understood. Stuart renders it “Should hand be added to hand,” i.e., although a haughty man should employ all his powers of resistance, “he shall not go unpunished.” Delitzsch and Zöckler render it “assuredly,” as in chap. Proverbs 11:21. See also the comments on the verse.



I. That which may be hidden from all others is ever manifest to One Being. There is coin in the world that is not money nor money’s worth, although it often passes through the hands of many before its worthlessness is detected. But there are eyes which could tell at once that it was not genuine, and hands which if it came into their possession would soon reduce it to its true level among the baser metals. So there is in the world a feigned humility, which has so much the appearance of the genuine article that no earthly creature suspects that it is the covering of a heart big with pride. But when God judges whether a man is proud or humble He looks through the words and actions at the heart. “Everyone that is proud in heart,” etc.

II. God abhors pride.

1. It is entirely contrary to His own nature. God is entirely without pride. His condescension is one of His most remarkable attributes. God manifest in flesh abased Himself beyond the possibility of any finite creature. “Being in the form of God He made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 3:7-8). We always find that in proportion as men are holy and god-like they are destitute of pride. The proudest men are always those who have least to be proud of. Therefore pride can have no place in the character of the holy and ever-blessed God.

2. It is opposed to the possessor’s well-being. God not only abhors pride because He is Himself supremely good, but He holds it in abomination because He desires men’s good. Whatever is opposed to God’s nature must be opposed to man’s interest. He who desires the salvation of all His creatures hates pride because it holds men tied and bound in fetters which hinder their approach to Him; because it makes men akin to the fallen angels. (On this subject see also on chapters Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 13:10, page 305, etc.)

III. Union is no guarantee against punishment. “Though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.” When that which is an abomination to God is the foundation of a confederation, it must be overthrown by the power of the stronger arm. And it contains within itself an element of overthrow. A house may have an appearance of compactness which may lead a casual onlooker to think it is destined to stand for many a century. But its foundation is in the sand, and its fall is only the work of time, even if storms and tempests never beat upon its walls. So there may be an appearance of strength where pride is the basis of union, but it can be only an appearance. Pride is a dividing force and not a binding one, and all confederations against God being based upon it, they rest only upon a foundation of sand. (See also on chap. Proverbs 11:21.)


(1.) If God has made everthing for His purpose (Proverbs 16:4), how foolish the man who arrogantly forgets Him!

(2.) If God has besought us to work under His plans (Proverbs 16:3), how wicked the man who proudly mutinies. If God works even in kings (chap. Proverbs 21:1), how absurd the man who would work away from Him. How can it work well? “Hand to hand,” i.e., in close quarters (chap. Proverbs 11:21), as we shall come all of us at the last, how can the workers outside of the Almighty possibly “go unpunished?”—Miller.

How many sins are in this sinful world, and yet, as Solomon saith of the good wife (Proverbs 31:29), “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou surmountest them all.” So I may say of pride, many sins have done wickedly, but thou surmountest them all; for the wrathful man, the prodigal man, the lascivious man, the surfeiting man, the slothful man, is rather an enemy to himself than to God; the envious man, the covetous man, the deceitful man, the ungrateful man, is rather an enemy to men than to God; but the proud man sets himself against God, because he doth against His laws, he maketh himself equal with God, because he doth all without God, and craves no help of Him; he exalteth himself above God, because he will have his own will, though it be contrary to God’s will. As the humble man saith, “Not unto us, Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give the glory” (Psalms 115:1); so the proud man saith, “Not unto Him, not unto Him, but unto us give glory.”.… Therefore God is specially said to resist the proud, because the proud resist Him. Here is heaven against earth, the Creator against the creature, the Father against the Son, the Prince against the subject—who is like to win the field?.… It had been too heavy for them, if he had said the Lord doth not care for them; for God’s care preserveth us, and our own care doth but trouble us; but to say that the Lord doth resist them, is as if Michael should denounce war with the dragon till he hath cast him into the pit.—Henry Smith, 1590.

Some make “hand in hand” to be no more than “out of hand,” “immediately,” or “with ease,” for nothing is sooner or with more ease done than to fold one hand in another. God “shall spread forth His hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim, and He shall bring down their pride together with the spoil of their hands” (Isaiah 25:11). The motion in swimming is easy, not strong; for strong strokes in the water would rather sink than support. God, with greatest facility, can subdue His stoutest adversary when once it comes to handy-gripes—when once his hands join to the proud man’s hand—so some sense this text—so that they do manus conserere, then shall it appear that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:31).—Trapp.

From hand to hand expresses the consecutive connection of causes through which the Lord works; though the proud escape one occasion of His punishment, yet he is reserved for another.—Mercer.

Verse 6


Proverbs 16:6. Purged. Heb., kaphar, “expiated,” or “covered.”



I. There is in the human heart and in human life that which is not conducive to human happiness, viz., iniquity. Iniquity is inequality, or injustice, and a sinner is an unjust man.

1. He is unjust to himself. He is bound to render to himself what is due to his own nature—to care for his own real and highest interests—but this no ungodly man does.

2. He practises iniquity towards his neighbour. This follows from the first as a necessary consequence. Shakespeare thus admonishes us—

“To thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

But if a man is not true to himself, it follows as certainly that he will not be true to any other man—will not in its real and broad sense be a just man in his relations to others.

3. He practises iniquity towards God. He does not render to God that which is His just due, and this is indeed the foundation of his iniquity towards himself and his fellow-men.

II. Human nature cannot find within itself a remedy for its own iniquity. The man who is smitten with fever cannot find a remedy for his disease in his own diseased body—he must look somewhere else for a cure. There are remedies powerful in curing his disease, but they must be administered from without, they are not resident within him. So there is a cure for human iniquity, and that cure is to be found in contact with mercy and truth, but neither of these is to be found in fallen human nature, or, if some traces exist among men, the mercy is not abundant enough, and the truth is not unalloyed enough to effect the cure.

III. There is enough mercy and truth in God to do away with human iniquity. He has devised a plan by which His abundant mercy and His unsullied truth shall be brought into contact with sinful men in such a manner as to cure them of their sin. Mercy without truth could not meet the need, neither could truth without mercy. Mercy is needed to do away with the guilt of sin—to give remission for past transgressions, but it is equally needful that some standard of truth and righteousness should be also given, lest men “sin that grace may abound.” Mercy frees the sinner from the penalty of sin, but truth is brought into contact with his soul to free him from the power of sin. Being “made free from sin” men must “become servants of God,” and “have fruit unto holiness.” (Romans 6:22.) And to obtain this end there must be a reception into the human soul of Divine truth to transform it—to regenerate it. Hence when tie “Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and men “beheld His glory, it was a glory “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). For Homiletics on the second clause of this verse, see on chap Proverbs 14:15 (page 364).


Loving and faithful conduct towards one’s neighbour is not in and of itself named as the ground of the expiation of sin, but only so far forth as it is a sign and necessary expression of a really penitent and believing disposition of heart, and so is a correlative to the fear of God, which is made prominent in the second clause; just as in the expression of Jesus with reference to the sinning woman (Luke 7:47), or as in Isaiah 58:7; Daniel 4:34, etc.—Zöckler.

The purging of iniquity seems here to direct us to expiation, and considering that Divine mercy and truth are frequently exhibited in connection with this invaluable blessing, the analogy of faith appears to link it here with these combined perfections which kiss in Christ the Mediator (Psalms 85:10), and with that covenant of grace in which they shine so brightly. Should this view be thought not to cohere with the general tenor of this book, which deals more with practical points and matters of common life than with the deeper articles of faith, it may be observed that, when some of its pages are so fully illuminated by evangelical sunshine (chap. Proverbs 8:9), we might naturally expect—besides this connected splendour—occasional rays of doctrinal light to rest upon this system of Christian morals.… God purges iniquity by sacrifice, not nullifying the sanctions of the law by a simple deed of mercy, but combining the manifestations of His truth by fulfilling these sanctions upon the Surety which mercy provided (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21).… So gloriously do these two attributes harmonise. We inquire not to which we owe the deepest obligation. Mercy engages, truth fulfils the engagements. Mercy provides—truth accepts—the ransom. Both sat together in the Eternal council. Both made their public entrance together into the world. Both, like the two pillars of the temple (1 Kings 7:21), combine to support the Christian’s confidence.… The exercise of forgiveness is to implant a conservative principle. “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” The supposition of pardon for a sinner continuing impenitent would be to unite the two contraries of reconciliation and enmity.—Bridges.

The gospel in

(1) Justification and

(2) Sanctification is here as beautiully announced as by any of the apostles. Justification makes its appearance as a covering of iniquity by mercy and truth. “Mercy and truth” is the sum of holiness. How does holiness, therefore, which is “mercy and truth,” cover sin? Undoubtedly by the gospel method.… But then there is to be a turning from evil. This is Sanctification. How is it to be accomplished? By ourselves, as the indispensable instrument. Mercy and truth win for us the Spirit; and then, under this outfit, we are to set out upon the journey. The man in the temple must lift forth his hand (Matthew 12:10). But how are we to begin? This book tells us again and again. “The fear of Jehovah” is the beginning of wisdom (chap. Proverbs 9:10). The turning is by an access of fear. But how are we to continue? The turning is to be kept up. It is more like a departing. Sin, being slow to wear out, the turning has to go on; and it becomes a journey; and we travel each day, just as we set out.… And the very last of the journey, like the very beginning, is by “the fear of Jehovah.” The actual fear of Jehovah, tempered by love, is a thing of “discipline” (see on chap. Proverbs 15:33), which drives the Christian away from his iniquity.—Miller.

To fear the Lord and to depart from evil, are phrases which the Scriptures use in very great latitude to express to us the sum of religion and the whole of our duty.

1. It is very usual in Scripture to express the whole of religion by some eminent principle or part of it. The great principles of religion are knowledge, faith, remembrance, love, and fear. And religion is called the “knowledge of the holy” (Proverbs 30:3), and the “remembrance of God” (Ecclesiastes 12:1), and the love of God (Romans 8:28, etc.), and here and elsewhere the “fear of the Lord” (Malachi 3:16, etc.). So likewise the sum of all religion is often expressed by some eminent part of it, as it is here expressed by departing from evil. It is described by seeking God (Hebrews 11:6) and by calling on His name (Acts 2:21), etc., etc.

2. The fitness of these two phrases to describe religion. The fitness of the first will appear if we consider how great an influence the fear of God hath upon men to make them religious. Fear is a passion that is most deeply rooted in our natures, and flows immediately from that principle of self-preservation which God hath planted in every man. Everyone desires his own preservation and happiness, therefore everyone has a natural dread of anything that can destroy them. And the greatest danger is from the greatest power, and that is omnipotency. So that the fear of God is an inward acknowledgment of a holy and just being, who is armed with an almighty and irresistible power; God having hid in every man’s conscience a secret awe and dread of His infinite power and eternal justice. Now fear, being so intimate to our nature, is the strongest bond of laws, and the great security of our duty.… For though we have lost in a great measure the gust and relish of true happiness, yet we still retain a quick sense of pain and misery. So that fear relies upon a natural love of ourselves, and is complicated with a necessary desire of our own preservation. And therefore religion usually makes its entrance into us by this passion; hence, perhaps, it is that Solomon more than once calls it the “beginning of wisdom.” As for the second phrase, the fitness of it will appear if we consider the necessary connection that there is between the negative and positive part of our duty. He that is careful to avoid all sin will sincerely endeavour to perform his duty. For the soul of man is an active principle, and will be employed one way or other, it will be doing some thing; if a man abstain from evil he will do good. “Virtue begins in the forsaking of vice; and the first part of wisdom is not to be a fool.” … The law of God, contained in the Ten Commandments, consists mostly of prohibitions which yet include obedience likewise to the positive precepts contained in those prohibitions.—Tillotson.

No object can well be more dull and meaningless than the stained window of an ancient church, as long as you stand without and look upon a dark interior; but when you stand within the temple, and look through that window upon the light from heaven, the still, sweet, solemn forms that lie in it start into life and loveliness. The beauty was all conceived by the mind, and wrought by the hand of the ancient artist whose bones now lie mouldering in the surrounding churchyard; but the beauty lies hid until two requisites come together—a seeing eye within, and a shining light without. We often meet with a verse upon the page of the Old Testament Scriptures very like those ancient works of art. The beauty of holiness is in it—put into it by the Spirit from the first, and yet its meaning was not fully known until the Sun of Righteousness arose, and the Israel of God, no longer kept in the outer court, entered through the rent veil, and from the Holy of Holies, looked through the ancient record on an illuminated heaven. Many hidden beauties burst into view upon the pages of the Bible, when Faith’s open eye looks through it on the face of Jesus. One of these texts is now before us.… The first clause tells how the guilt of sin is forgiven; the second, how the power of sin is subdued. Solomon unites the two constituent elements of the sinner’s deliverance in the same order in which his father experienced them: “I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments” (Psalms 119:166). It is when iniquity is purged by free grace that men practically depart from evil.… Mercy and truth meet in the Mediator. In Christ the fire meets the water without drying it up: the water meets the fire without quenching it out.—Arnot.

By iniquity God and man are severed, and never can iniquity be pardoned until God and man meet again. To procure this meeting there must be a meeting of mercy and truth, of mercy in God and truth in man. And these do call the one for the other. The mercy of God being ready to forgive iniquity, calleth for truth in man to confess iniquity; the truth of man being ready to confess his iniquity calleth for the mercy of God to pardon his iniquity. Now these two readily concurring, God and man are rejoined, and by their reunion iniquity is purged. But then there must follow a departing from iniquity … For iniquity, forgiven and not forsaken, doubleth the iniquity both in man’s guilt and God’s wrath. Wherefore, let the mercy of the Lord breed a fear in thee, and let the truth of thy repentance appear, as well in shunning iniquity as in forsaking of it.—Jermin.

Verses 7-8



I. There are times when men’s ways do not please the Lord. The ways of the ungodly do not at any time please the Lord. Because they have no sympathy with His laws, and are at variance with His character. “God is not in all their thoughts” (Psalms 10:4), and it is impossible for God to be pleased with the ways of them who do not think Him worth thinking about. A man must forsake his own ways and come into God’s ways before his ways can please the Lord. The ways of good men do not at all times please the Lord. They sometimes stray from the royal road—the highway of righteousness—and get into bye-paths, and thus bring down upon themselves the displeasure of their God. David, though in the main a “man after God’s own heart,” more than once walked in paths that were displeasing to the Lord, and several incidents in his life teach us plainly that some ways of a godly man may be very contrary to the Divine mind.

II. But God can be pleased by a man’s ways. Those who strive to conform to our desires—who are in sympathy with our minds—naturally yield us pleasure. And a good man’s main desire is to conform his ways to the will of God—he is in sympathy with the mind of God, and his life is the outcome of that sympathy. Therefore he can yield pleasure to the Eternal. If the Creator, in looking upon the inanimate works of His hands, pronounces them “good” (Genesis 1:31) when He sees them fulfilling the design of their creation, how much more good in His sight is it when a moral and responsible creature who has power to turn out of the path ordained for him seeks patiently to continue in well-doing notwithstanding all the temptations he has to encounter.

III. The consequence upon men’s minds of thus giving pleasure to the Divine mind. The way of pleasing the Lord promotes “favour and a good understanding in the sight of God and man” (chap. Proverbs 3:4). He whose aim is to please God will desire and strive to live at peace with men. And in cases where his godliness provokes the enmity of the ungodly, God, by His overruling Providence, often directly interferes on his behalf. He did so in the case of Jacob and Laban, in that of Joseph and his brethren, etc.


The doctrine of this verse stands in apparent contradiction to 2 Timothy 3:12. The truth seems to be that neither of the passages is to be taken universally. The peace possessed by those who please God does not extend so far as to exempt them from having enemies, and though all godly men must be persecuted, yet none are persecuted at all times. The passage from Timothy may, therefore, refer to the native enmity which true godliness is certain to excite, and the proverb to the Divine control over it.—A. Fuller.

There would be more sunlight in the believer’s life if he could leave the dull negative fear of judgment far behind as a motive of action, and bound forward into the glad positive, a hopeful effort to please God.… This is one of two principles that stand together in the word, and act together in the Divine administration. Its counterpart and complement is, “If any man would live godly in Christ Jesus, he must suffer persecution.” … Both are best; neither could be wanted. If the principle that goodness exposes to persecution prevailed everywhere and always, the spirit would fail before Him and the souls that He has made. Again, if the principle that goodness conciliates the favour of the world prevailed everywhere and always, no discipline would be done, and the service of God would degenerate into mercenary self-interest.… A beautiful balance of opposites is employed to produce one grand result.… A Christian in the world is like a human body in the sea—there is a tendency to sink and a tendency to swim. A very small force in either direction will turn the scale. Our Father in heaven holds the elements of nature and the passions of men at His own disposal. His children need not fear, for He keeps the balance in His own hands.—Arnot.

If it is manifest that God makes Himself known, bestowing blessings on a man, there lies in this a power of conviction which disarms his most bitter opponents, excepting only those who have in selfishness hardened themselves.—Delitzsch.

Whatsoever a man’s ways are, it is part of every man’s intention to please howsoever; it is the object that maketh the difference. All men strive to please, but some to please themselves, some to please other men, and some few to please the Lord.… The last is—

1. A duty whereunto we stand bound by many obligations. He is our Master, our Captain, our Father, our King. He is no honest servant that will not strive to please his master. And he is no generous soldier who will not strive to please his general. And that son hath neither grace nor good nature in him that will not strive to please his father, and he is no loyal subject that will not strive to please his lawful sovereign. And yet there may be a time when all those obligations may cease, for if it be their pleasure that we should do something that lawfully we may not, we must disobey, though we displease. But we can have no colour of plea for refusing to do the pleasure of our heavenly Lord and Master, in anything whatsoever; inasmuch as we are sure nothing will please Him but what is just and right. With what a forehead, then, can any of us challenge from Him either wages as servants, or stipends as soldiers, or provision as sons, or protection as subjects, if we be not careful in every respect to frame ourselves so as to please Him?

2. It is our wisdom, too: in respect of the great benefits we shall reap thereby. There is one great benefit expressed in the text, and the scope of those words is to instruct us, that the fairest and likeliest way to procure peace with men is to order our ways so as to please the Lord.… The favour of God and the favour of men are often joined together in the Scriptures as if the one were consequent of the other. See Luke 2:52; Proverbs 3:3-4; Romans 14:18, etc.… But it may be objected that sundry times when a man’s ways are right, and therefore pleasing to God, his enemies are nothing less, if not perhaps much more, enraged against him than formerly.… Sundry considerations may be of use to us in the difficulty, as, first, if God have not yet made our enemies to be at peace with us, yet it may be He will do it hereafter. Neither is it unlikely that we do not walk with an even foot, and by a straight line, but tread awry in something or other which displeaseth God, and for which He suffereth their enmity to continue.… Or if He do not presently make our enemies to be at peace with us, yet if He teach us to profit by their enmity, in exercising our faith and patience, in quickening us unto prayer, etc., is it not in every way, and incomparably better? Will any wise man tax Him with a breach of promise, who, having promised a pound of silver, giveth a talent of gold? Or who can truly say that that man is not as good as his word who is apparently much better than his word?—Bp. Sanderson.

It is our peace with God that maketh Him to make our enemies to be at peace with us, and it is our enmity against God’s enemies that maketh God to be at peace with us. Now, the enemies of God are the sins of men, and if we be in a continual war with those, then do our ways please God. Then it is that He is ready to please us, when our ways please Him. Neither is He hard to please—a willingness, a desire to please, is accepted by Him. He looks not—He requireth not—that we should do exactly all that is contained in His commandments, but if we go about to please Him—if we put ourselves carefully in the way—then do our ways please Him. And then will He give us that glorious victory over our enemies which is above all others. For to subdue our enemies is but to make ourselves happy in their misery; but to make our enemies at peace with us is a victory for God’s hand, and giveth man a double triumph, as well over the hatred as the power of our enemies.—Jermin.

The subject of Proverbs 16:8 is substantially the same as that of chap Proverbs 15:6; Proverbs 15:17. See Homiletics on page 405, etc.


“Better,” for the tranquillity of conscience, for the present enjoyment of this life, and for the life to come. In chap. Proverbs 15:16, we are warned against gain without religion, in chap. Proverbs 15:17, against gain without love to our neighbour: here, against gain without right.—Fausset.

Abraham would not take to himself of the spoils of Sodom so much as the value of a shoe-latchet, that it might never be said in after times that the king of Sodom had made Abraham rich; so neither will any godly man that hath learned the art of contentation, suffer a penny of the gain of ungodliness to mingle with the rest of his estate, that the devil may not be able to upbraid him with it afterwards to his shame, as if he had contributed something towards the increasing thereof.—Bishop Sanderson.

A little that is a man’s own is better than a great deal that is another body’s. Now that which a man hath with righteousness is his own, for there can be no better title than that which righteousness maketh. But that which thou hast without right cannot be thine, howsoever thou mayest account it, or others may call it. Possession may be a great point in human laws, but it is nothing in God’s law: the want of right overthroweth whatsoever else may be said. Tis true, thou mayest have quiet possession on earth, but there be adversaries that do implead the unrighteous at God’s judgment bar, where they are sure last to be cast, and where themselves will give the verdict which the wise man here doth.—Jermin.

Verse 9


Proverbs 16:9. Deviseth. The form of the verb denotes anxious consideration.



I. This is a fact of national and individual history. In both inspired and uninspired records we meet with abundant confirmations of this truth. There is no more striking illustration of it than in the life of Joseph. He leaves his father’s house, as he supposes, for a few days, little dreaming that he is traversing a path by which he will never return. He only purposes to find his brethren, and “see if it is well with them, and bring his father word again.” But God is then directing his steps into a far-off land—into slavery, to a prison, and through both to a throne. So the shepherd boy of Bethlehem sets out with the unambitious intention of carrying supplies to his brethren, and of seeing how the battle is likely to go, and becomes himself the central figure in the camp, and the hero of his nation. And David’s predecessor goes in search of his father’s asses, and finds a crown and a kingdom at the end of his journey. Cromwell, despairing of enjoying liberty in England, planned to make a home in America, and, it is said, actually went on board a vessel which was about to sail. But God, using as an instrument the man to whose throne he was to succeed, directed his steps in another direction, and being forbidden to quit the country, he becomes not only England’s deliverer, but a great and powerful ruler, whose influence was felt throughout Europe. Clive went out to India as a clerk, because he had no prospects of getting a living at home, and lays the foundation of our Indian empire. And there is hardly a man living who, if he reflects upon his past life, cannot remember passages in his own history which confirm the truth of the text. He makes certain plans, and purposes to accomplish certain designs, and the result of his doings is quite different from his intentions, or leads him to a place, or a position, or into relationships which were entirely out of his calculation when he “devised his way.”

II. This is a law which must be in operation till the end of time. Unexpected events must be the outcome of man’s plans and purpose, because he is finite and very short-sighted, and there is an Infinite and Omniscient Ruler of the universe, who comprehends in His plan of the universe all the plans of His creatures, and in His plan concerning every man all that man’s devices and deeds. “God professes in His word,” says Dr. Bushnell, “to have purposes pre-arranged for all events; to govern by a plan which is from eternity even, and which, in some proper sense, comprehends everything. And what is this but another way of conceiving that God has a definite place and plan adjusted for every human being? And without such a plan, He could not even govern the world intelligently, or make a proper universe of the created system; for it becomes a universe only in the grand unity of reason which includes it, otherwise it were only a jumble of fortuities without counsel, end, or law.” This being so, a man can rejoice in the truth that “The Lord directs his steps”—that the events of his life are not the outcome of chance, but are all under the control of a supremely wise and benevolent King and Father. Not that God’s foreknowledge is the cause of man’s actions, but that seeing He must know what shall come to pass nothing takes Him by surprise, and therefore nothing finds Him unprepared to arrange all a man’s affairs after the counsel of His own will. Nothing happens without His permission; no good thing comes to a man’s life without His instigation and co-operation, and, if a man is willing to yield himself to His guidance, He will not only direct his steps, but direct them so as to further that man’s true wellbeing—will make “all things work together for good” to him (Romans 8:28). The fact here declared will redound to a man’s eternal gain or loss according to the attitude which he takes towards God. “There is then, I conclude, a definite and proper end, or issue, for every man’s existence; an end which to the heart of God is the good intended for him, or for which he was intended; that which he is privileged to become; called to become, ought to become; that which God will assist him to become, save by his own fault. Every human soul has a complete and perfect plan cherished for it in the heart of God—a Divine biography marked out which it enters into life to live. This life, rightly unfolded, will be a complete and beautiful whole, an experience led on by God and unfolded by his secret nurture, as the trees and the flowers, by the secret nurture of the world; a drama cast in the mould of a perfect art, with no part wanting; a Divine study for the man himself, and for others; a study that shall for ever unfold, in wondrous beauty, the love and faithfulness of God; great in its conception, great in the Divine skill by which it is shaped; above all, great in the momentous and glorious issues it prepares. What a thought is this for every human being to cherish! What dignity does it add to life! What support does it bring to the trials of life! What instigations does it add to send us onward in everything that constitutes our excellence! We live in the Divine thought. We fill a place in the great everlasting plan of God’s intelligence. We never sink below His care—never drop out of His counsel. But there is, I must add, a single and very important qualification. Things all serve their uses, and never break out of their place. They have no power to do it. Not so with us. We are able, as free beings, to refuse the place and the duties God appoints; which, if we do, then we sink into something lower and less worthy of us. That highest and best condition for which God designed us is no more possible.… And yet, as that was the best thing possible for us in the reach of God’s original counsel, so there is a place designed for us now, which is the next best possible. God calls us now to the best thing left, and will do so till all good possibility is narrowed down and spent. And then, when He cannot use us any more for our own good, He will use us for the good of others—an example of the misery and horrible desperation to which any soul must come when all the good ends, and all the holy callings of God’s friendly and fatherly purpose are exhausted. Or it may be now, that, remitting all other plans and purposes in our behalf, He will henceforth use us—wholly against our will—to be the demonstration of His justice and avenging power before the eyes of mankind, saying over us, as He did over Pharaoh in the day of His judgments, “Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.” Doubtless He had other and more general plans to serve in this bad man, if only he could have accepted such; but, knowing his certain rejection of these, God turned His mighty counsel in him wholly on the use to be made of him as a reprobate. How many Pharaohs in common life refuse every other use God will make of them, choosing only to figure, in their small way, as reprobates, and descending, in that manner, to a fate that painfully mimics his”—(Bushnell).


The thought of the first verse, coming to be repeated, this versatile sentencemaker calls it back with different scenery. “The answer” or “decree of a tongue” (Proverbs 16:1) is one pregnant act, the “step” of a foot is another. Both may make a man or ruin him, for this world, or that which is to come. The critical thing, in either case, is controlled by the Almighty.… “Heart,” more intellectual than the English heart. “Devises” too intellectual for our emotional nature. It means studies, or deeply meditates. The sinner really reflects upon his future! wisdoms. Alas! they are too future! And when the future come, he “plants,” “sets firm, his step” quite differently from what he had decreed.—Miller.

The doctrine of Providence is not like the doctrine of the Trinity—to be received by faith. Experience gives a demonstrable stamp of evidence—even in all the minutiæ of circumstances, which form the parts and pieces of the Divine plan.—Bridges.

It must be so. If there is a God at all it cannot be otherwise. It were the height of irrationality as well as impiety for a moment to question it—to imagine the contrary possible. How otherwise could God govern the world? Were not all human schemes under supreme and irresistible control, what would become of the certainty of the Divine?—Wardlaw.

When it is said that a man’s heart deviseth his way but the Lord directeth his steps, we must not think that the purpose of the creature is condemned as an impertinence. It is an essential element of the plan. Neither human purposes, the material on which God exercises His sovereign control, nor the control which He exercises on that material could be wanted. If there were no room for the devices of men’s hearts, providence would disappear, and grim hate, the leaden creed that crushes Eastern nations in the dust, would come in its stead. If, on the other hand, these devices are left to fight against each other for their objects without being subjected all to the will of a Living One, faith flees from the earth and the reign of Atheism begins. The desires of human hearts, and the efforts of human hands, do go into the processes of providence, and constitute the material upon which the Almighty works. When God made man in His own image, a new era was inaugurated and a new work begun. Hitherto, in the government of this world, the Creator had no other elements to deal with than matter and the instincts of brutes; but the moment that man took his place on creation, a new and higher element was introduced into its government. The sphere was enlarged and the principle elevated. There was more room for the display of wisdom and power. The will of intelligent moral beings being left free, and yet as completely controlled as matter and laws, makes the Divine government much more glorious than the mere management of a material universe. For God’s glory man was created, and that purpose will stand; a glory to God man will be, willing or unwilling, fallen or restored, throughout the course of time, and at its close. The doctrine of Scripture regarding Providence neither degrades man, nor inflates him. It does not make him a mere thing on the one hand, nor a god on the other. It neither takes from him the attributes of humanity, nor ascribes to him the attributes of Deity. It permits him freely to propose, but leaves the ultimate disposal in a mightier hand.—Arnot.

The doctrine of the text—I. Should correct immoderate care about the future events of our life. What means this mighty bustle and stir—this restless perturbation of thought and care—as if all the issues of futurity rested wholly on thy conduct? Something depends upon thyself, and there is reason, therefore, for acting thy part with prudence and attention. But upon a hand unseen it depends, either to overturn thy projects, or to crown them with success, therefore thine attention should never run into immoderate care. II. Should enforce moderation of mind in every state. How little ground the real situation of the most prosperous man affords for the vain elation of mind, for he is dependent every moment on the pleasure of a superior. III. Places the vanity and folly of sinful plans in a very strong light. The sinner has against him, first, the general uncertainty which belongs to all the designs of men. And he hath also engaged against himself one certain and formidable enemy. IV. That an interest in God’s favour is far more important than all the wisdom and ability of man. In a world so full of uncertainty, let us take pains to secure to ourselves one resting place, one habitation that cannot be moved.—Blair.

God having made man lord of the earth, He hath made him lord also of the ways of the earth. He is not tied to this way or that way, but as his heart deviseth, so he may go. And herein is the dignity of a man above a beast. For that way must a beast go which he is driven: but man, not driven by fate, or constellation, or any other necessity, as master of himself, chooseth his own courses wherein to walk. Notwithstanding, man is not without an overseer, a ruler, by whom his steps are directed. The wicked chooseth an evil way, but God directeth it to a good end. The good chooseth a good way, but it is by God brought to a good issue.—Jermin.

Verses 10-16


Proverbs 16:10. A Divine sentence, literally “divination,” i.e., “an oracle” or “a decision.” “His mouth transgresseth not.” Stuart and Delitzsch read, “In judgment his mouth should not prevaricate, or err.”

Proverbs 16:11. A just weight, literally “the scale” “the upright iron in scales which the weigher holds in his hand” (Fausset). Weights, literally “stones” which were anciently used as weights.

Proverbs 16:13. “They love him,” etc., rather “he who speaketh right, or uprightly, is loved,”



It is obvious that some of these proverbs as they stand in our authorised version, do not admit of universal application in relation to human monarchs. History and experience both contradict the assertion that a “Divine sentence” is always, or has been generally, in the lips of a human king, but if we understand the verse, as Miller does (see his comment) as an application of the truth set forth in the preceding verse and in Proverbs 16:1, that God is behind and above all the decrees of earthly potentates, we can at once admit the fact and rejoice in it. Again, it cannot, alas! be said that as a rule “righteous lips are the delight of kings,” or that “in the light of the king’s countenance is life.” Many kings have been themselves incarnations of iniquity, and have bestowed all their favour upon men like themselves, and persecuted often to the death those who have dared to tell them the truth. If this proverb admitted of universal application, Ahab would not have sought to slay Elijah, Jeremiah would not have been imprisoned by Zedekiah, and Herod would not have put to death John the Baptist. And the favour of most of the men who have sat upon the thrones of the world would have had no life in it for some of their subjects. There has been a faithful few in all ages of the world to whom the favour of their wicked rulers would have been very unlike “a cloud of the latter rain.” But the truths taught here are:—

I. That a king ought to be God’s prophet and vicegerent upon the earth. All painters have an ideal in their minds to which they desire to attain in their handiwork. They must place before them the highest model, if they would rise to anything like excellence. And Solomon, as a great theoretic moralist, is here setting before himself, and before all rulers, an ideal king. Kingship among men ought to be a type and symbol of Divine kingship. The loyal obedience which the majority of men have always been ready to yield to those whom they have regarded as their appointed rulers, has its root deep down in the constitution of human nature—it is a prophecy of a need which is only fully met in the rule of the true and perfect King of men—that King whose right it is to reign, and who can do no wrong to any of His subjects. “That was not an inconsiderable moment,” says Carlyle, “when wild armed men first raised their strongest aloft on the buckler-throne, and, with clanging armour and hearts said solemnly, Be thou our acknowledged strongest (well named King, Kön-ning, Canning, or Man that was Able), what a symbol shone now for them—significant with the destinies of the world! A symbol of true guidance in return for loving obedience; properly, if he knew it, the prime want of man. A symbol which might be called sacred, for is there not, in reverence for what is better than we, an indestructible sacredness?” And when a king realises what idea he embodies, and strives to fulfil worthily the duties of his high calling, and in proportion as he does so, he is a representative of God to men. Then he will have a Divine sentence in his mouth because he will be a truth-speaker. His lips will be a reflection of his character. Being a man of truth, he cannot do other than speak the truth. He will be able in a limited sense to use the words of His Divine Ideal, and say, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness of the truth” (John 18:37). And as all truth and justice is from God (Proverbs 16:11), he who is a truth-speaker—he from whose lips come only just decisions, utters a “Divine sentence”—is a representative of Him whose “is a just weight and balance,” whose “work are all the weights of the bag.” To such an one it will be “an abomination to commit wickedness”—any kind of iniquity will be detested by him. He will not—he cannot—be a sinless man; the desires and intentions of every good man are always beyond his deeds—he can always say, “To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18), but he will not commit sin because he loves it. Such a king will be a real benefactor to his nation by exalting the true and the good, and so blessing all. It is a blessing for all men—whether they be good or bad—when the best men in the nation are in the fore-front—when the righteous fill the highest positions in the State. And a true king will gladly avail himself of the service of men of “righteous lips,” and so will be a source of blessing to all his people. The “latter rain” which refreshes the thirsty earth after a long season of drought lets its life-giving drops fall upon the parched leaves of the humblest weed as well as upon the stately oak. And the influence of a wise and godly monarch is beneficial to all classes of his subjects from the highest to the lowest. All such are types—dim fore shadowings—of that “king who reigns in righteousness and who is as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:1-2).

II. That the stability of a throne is in proportion to the moral excellence of him who sits upon it. The power that men have over other men is lasting in proportion as it has its origin in character. The father’s kingship over his children is immutable in proportion to his goodness. If his rule has its foundation only in his position, his children will not be slow to shake it off as they reach manhood; but if it is founded upon his godliness, they will be compelled to acknowledge it to the day of his death and even beyond it. His throne in his family is “established by righteousness,” the consciences of his children consent to his right to reign among them and over them. The throne of the universe is established by righteousness. “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Psalms 45:6-7). This King of Righteousness is now enthroned in the affections and consciences of myriads of His subjects, and He who rules men’s hearts has set his throne upon a firm foundation. And there will come a day when every creature will be compelled by his conscience to yield to “Him that sitteth upon the throne,” the right to reign over them for ever (Revelation 5:13), because they will feel that all his ways are and ever have been “just and true” (Revelation 15:3). If we read the history of the past or look around us now, we find this truth abundantly illustrated. Thrones which have been backed up by mighty armies, and whose occupants have for a few short years been the arbiters of the destinies of millions, have been overturned in a few weeks. And we have but to look at the steps by which such men came to power to find a reason for their fall. None can doubt from the experience of past ages, and from the very constitution of men, that the thrones of the present are founded upon a rock or upon sand, in proportion as those who sit upon them take as their model the king who “judges His people with righteousness and the poor with judgment” (Psalms 72:2).


Proverbs 16:10. “A Divine sentence” may be understood either as to its character, or as to its authoritative effect. If taken in the former sense, it means a sentence according to perfect equity; if in the latter, the idea is, that as every judgment or “sentence” of God is decisive and effectual, so that the execution of it cannot be evaded or resisted, such, in measure, is the case with the sentence of kings among men, and in the general idea of a Divine sentence may fairly be included both character and efficiency—both equity and power. When understood of equity, the latter part of the verse, according to the principle of Hebrew parallelisms, will be a kind of counterpart or echo to the former, and when understood of power, the verse might be rendered—“A Divine sentence is in the lips of the king; let not his mouth transgress in judgment.” In proportion to the authoritative and efficacious nature of his sentence, ought he to see to it that the sentence be right. He should weigh well his decision ere he pronounces it, seeing it involves consequences so certain, immediate, and important. And the principle of this lesson applies to all in situations of authority and influence, whether more private or more public.—Wardlaw.

The glaring fact of what Solomon avows in Proverbs 16:9 can be seen in the instance of “a king.” The word of a king can ruin France, and change the whole system of the world. How, possibly, could God govern, unless He could a king? Eternal ages will not get over the edict of a prince, and the banded universe will feel its differences. Must not God control that word? Our passage answers that He does. He may be George III. of the low forehead; his speech is shaped omnisciently. He may be as treacherous as Charles; he does not betray by a hair the counsel of the Almighty. This is a grand thought. A poor princeling may be governed by a girl, and yet, though his utterance might move the globe, we need have no fear. There is “a divination,” i.e., “an oracle,” behind “his lips.” He says what God pleases. And though “his mouth” may have the very treachery of the cup, it has no treachery—even to a grain—to the plans of the All Wise.—Miller.

It cannot be denied but that there is a nearer reference between God and His immediate deputies, the kings of the earth, than any other persons. He that maketh them kings maketh Himself to be their counsel. But then they must make Him the president of their council.—Jermin.

For Homiletics on Proverbs 16:11, considered by itself, see on chap. Proverbs 11:1, page 190.

Proverbs 16:11. The proposition expresses an ownership in Jehovah as the first cause, for, like agriculture (Ecclesiastes 7:15), God instituted weights and measures, as an indispensable ordinance and instrument in just business intercourse.—Zöckler.

Weight and measure, as the invisible and spiritual means by which material possessions are estimated and determined for men, according to their value, are holy unto the Lord, a copy of His law in the outer world, taken up by Himself into His sanctuary; and, therefore, as His work, to be regarded as holy also by men.—Von Gerlach.

The heathen poet Hesiod says, “God gave justice to men.”—Fausset.

He is not only just, but justice belongs to Him. He is not only partly just, but “His work” (and we see at a glance that God’s work is the total universe) is in its very self considered, “all the stones of the bag.” Stones, better weights than iron, because not altering by rust. Bag, in which the stone weights were carried, in the peripatetic barter of the old trades-people. No difficulty should be had in understanding all of which the sentence is capable. God’s work is justice, and justice is His work. The very ideas of equity sprang out of the Eternal Mind. If all this were not so how could God govern the creation, for “It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness, etc. (Proverbs 16:12).—Miller.

The Jews are said to have kept their standard weights and measures in the sanctuary. The fact might arise from the particularity of the law, and might operate as a remembrancer of the righteousness of Him by whom the law was given, and the weights and measures fixed.… All adulteration of them was therefore a sacrilege. It was not cheating men merely, but defrauding Jehovah, changing what He had fixed.… And from the connection in which the words are here introduced they lead us to observe that while kings are called up to “do justly” themselves in their whole administration and in every department of it, it is, at the same time, a most important part of their official duty to promote among their subjects, to the utmost of their power, the principles and the practice of equity between man and man.—Wardlaw.

Proverbs 16:12. This is true of earthly monarchies. “A throne,” without some equity in it, could not last an instant. If it were unmitigatedly bad, it would be swept out of existence. A king must be just to his people, or else to his soldiers, who support him against his people. His strength is justice, somewhere. The strength of a bad throne is precisely that part of it that is just. But if this be true of a world’s throne, where it has been seen that God governs as well as the king, how not of a Divine throne, that rests solely on its Maker? It is impossible to conceive of a universe without justice, or of anything so complicated being eternally possible without every sort of harmony, and especially that sort which is highest and best. Hence many of the expressions in the eighth chapter (Proverbs 16:22; Proverbs 16:30, etc.), the personage being personified Wisdom, which is holiness or moral light, and which includes all the attributes of justice.—Miller.

The greater men be, the more grievous their faults are when they fall into sin. For—

1. The more bountiful God hath been to them, the more grateful they ought to be to Him, and as He hath increased their wages, so they ought to mend their work; large pay doth duly challenge large pains, and therefore, contrariwise, their great offences must needs deserve the greater punishment.
2. Their sins are very pernicious and pestilent, they bring evil into request, and men by their example will practise it for credit’s sake. When Jeroboam is mentioned, he is usually described by this, that he made Israel to sin.

3. They draw down the plagues and judgments upon the places and people that are under them, as David did. And the strokes which the fearful sins of Manasseh, Jehoiakim, and others brought upon the city and inhabitants of Jerusalem were very lamentable in those days, and very memorable still in these times.… The goodness and justice of men in authority doth better uphold their estate than greatness and riches. “The throne is established by righteousness,” for—
(1) There, and nowhere else, is stability and assurance, where God is a refuge and defence; they stand all firm whom He protecteth, and down they must whom He neglecteth. And whom doth He prefer but the righteous? And what righteous man was ever forsaken?
(2) Equal and upright administration of justice doth knit the hearts of a people to their governors, and the love of the subjects is a strong foot and a mighty munition for the safety of the ruler.
(3) When the magistrate doth right to all and wrong to none, every good and indifferent man will reverence him, and stand in the greater awe of his laws, so that none but such as are desperately rebellious will dare to attempt anything against him.—Dod.

Proverbs 16:13. There never was a kingdom so corrupt that its courts of justice were not used, in the main, against wickedness. There never was a Nero, or a Borgia, who, on the very account of his own crimes, did not find crime sore, and a trouble to him, in those about him. It is one of the strangest miracles of Omnipotence that a universe can take in transgression and yet last. And, while God has made even the wicked “for his decree” (Proverbs 16:4), yet “a pleasure to kings are lips of righteousness, and he who speaks right is loved.”—Miller.

We have here in this passage Solomon’s king, and in these words the delight of his king. For, whereas, many are, and well may be, the delights of kings, this one it is, the delight of righteousness, which sweetens all the rest unto them. This is a royal delight indeed, which makes the king of righteousness to delight in them. And surely needful it is that a king’s lips should delight in righteousness. For fear may compel others, but delight must carry him unto it. Needful is it that righteous lips should be a king’s delight, because it is in kings’ courts that there is too much lying. We read of one who said that he would be a lying prophet in the mouths of all Ahab’s prophets (1 Kings 22:22), to which the answer of God is, Thou shalt go and prevail. Upon which the note of Cajetan is, “God manifested the efficacy of this means—namely, of lying in the Court.” It is needful, therefore, that the king should delight in lips of righteousness, for he that doth himself delight in them will also love others that speak right; yea, will therefore love them that they also may delight in it. For then is righteousness best spoken when delight openeth the door of the lips.—Jermin.

Proverbs 16:14. The report of one may be a mistake, but the relation of many carrieth more force with it. The wrath, therefore, of a king is as messengers of death, enough to pull down the stoutest heart; and if his moved spirit send down this message to any, it is sufficient to tell them and to assure them, that they had need to look unto themselves. But well it is that the wrath of a king is as the messengers of death, and not the executioners of it. For so it ought to be, that himself may have time either to alter or recall his message, and they may have time to whom it is sent to answer for themselves. St. Peter was hasty in wrath when he cut off the ear of Malchus, whereupon Tertullian saith, “The patience of God was wounded in Malchus.” And surely the mercy of God is often wounded in the hasty wrath of a king. Plutarch saith well, that as bodies through a cloud, so through anger things seem greater than they are. To put therefore wrath to a journey, is a good way to moderate, if by nothing else, by wearying the hasty fierceness of it. And let a wise man have respite to meet with it, he will with gentle blasts of cool air easily mitigate the violent force of it. Let him be told of a king’s wrath against him, he need not be told that he take care to prevent it. But, though great be the wrath of heaven against careless sinners, and though many be the messengers that He sendeth to them, yet they all cry, “Who hath believed our report?” Did they hear one word of an earthly king’s anger against them, it would more move them than the whole word of God doth, wherein the message of His anger is so often repeated. The answer which they send back to the message of God’s wrath, is obstinate rebellion in their sinful courses.—Jermin.


Executions in the East are often very prompt and arbitrary. In many cases the suspicion is no sooner entertained, or the cause of offence given, than the fatal order is issued. The messenger of death hurries to the unsuspecting victim, shows his warrant, and executes his orders that instant, in silence and solitude. Instances of this kind are continually occurring in the Turkish and Persian histories. Such executions were not uncommon among the Jews under the government of their kings. Solomon sent Benaiah as his capidgi, or executioner, to put to death Adonijah, a prince of his own family, and Joab, the commander-in-chief of the forces during the reign of his father. A capidgi likewise beheaded John the Baptist, and carried his head to the court of Herod. To such silent and hasty executioners the royal Preacher seems to refer in the proverb. From the dreadful promptitude with which Benaiah executed the commands of Solomon on Adonijah and Joab, it may be concluded that the executioner of the court was as little ceremonious, and the ancient Jews nearly as passive, as the Turks or Persians. The prophet Elisha is the only person on the inspired record who ventured to resist the bloody mandate of the sovereign (2 Kings 6:32). But if such mandates had not been too common among the Jews, and in general submitted to without resistance, Jehoram had scarcely ventured to despatch a single messenger to take away the life of so eminent a person as Elisha.—Paxton’s Illustrations.


Proverbs 16:15. As the wise man before teacheth subjects to fear the king’s wrath, and to seek his favour, so here he teacheth kings to join the light of mercy, the softness of clemency, unto the hardness and severity of wrath. Or else we may thus meditate upon the words—the true favour of a king is not only to shine with a cheerful countenance upon them whom he affecteth, but sometimes to look through a thick cloud upon them. For as the light of the sun giveth life to the fruits of the earth, but the cloud of latter rain giveth bigness and fulness unto them, so the light of the king’s countenance giveth life to the fruits of earthly honour, but it is the dewy cloud of his wise displeasure, when things are amiss, that giveth fulness of worth unto them whom his favour honoureth. The latter rain many times does them more good and sheweth in the king greater favour to them than his former sunshining countenance. But to apply the verse unto a fuller profit. The light of the countenance of the King of heaven is Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the brightness of His glory; and in this light there is life indeed. For as He is light and in Him is no darkness, so He is life, and in Him is no death. It was in the latter time that He was clouded with the veil of our flesh, and that He became a heavenly cloud of the latter rain unto us, pouring out the glorious dew of His precious blood for us, that so, we being watered therewith might even swell in grace, and grow to a fulness of glory in heaven.… In Judea usually about harvest time there are evening clouds which, yielding a sweet rain, do much increase the largeness of the fruits; and in the evening of the world, when the harvest was great, this heavenly cloud was sent unto us, whereby the fruit of God’s Church, confined before to Judea, was enlarged throughout the world.—Jermin.

For Homiletics on Proverbs 16:16, see chap. Proverbs 8:10-11, page 107.


Not wisdom, but “to get wisdom.” Wisdom itself is glorious. Wisdom in God is above all praise. It will be the gem of Paradise. It will be the grand opulence of the family of the skies. But what the great Preacher would confine us to in the language of the text is, our getting wisdom as the evangelical condition; our getting it, moreover, in time, like “the latter rain,” so as to be in season for the crop; for, as a former sentence urges (chap. Proverbs 4:7), “As the chiefest thing in wisdom, get wisdom.” Because, “what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, if God is his “King,” and “the wrath of the King” makes all His providences but as messengers of gloom (Proverbs 16:14).—Miller.

Let us call to mind in word-outline the scene on a spring morning in the city of David, when David’s son was “king in Jerusalem.” Before the portico of the fragrant cedar-house of Solomon, the royal guards, Cherithites and Pelethites, executioners and messengers of the king’s behests, waited their master’s coming. Impatient steeds from Arabia, or the far-off banks of the Nile, pawed the highway, and shook with pride their plumes and costly accoutrements. Soldiers, with silken standards blazoned with the sacred Name, and throwing back the sunlight from their targets and shields of beaten gold, kept their ranks firm and close, as if the foe were at hand, and the silver trumpets waited but to sound the battle charge. Veterans, grown grey in David’s service, and wearing the laurels of many a hard-fought field, were driven all along the line in their chariots of State, and the grim faces of these old warriors gleamed with satisfaction as they looked about them on the evidences of their nation’s military strength.… But now the trumpets sound, and the echoing shout of welcome rises on the morning air. Solomon, arrayed in all his glory, appears, and the cry, “God save the king!” is heard on every side. Children chanting their sweet hosannahs to David’s son and David’s heir strew the path with the lilies of the field, or the roses of Sharon, and the boughs of palms. Others throw their garments upon the dusty highway as the long procession moves to the soft music of Eastern minstrelsy along the narrow streets, and out upon the broader pathway leading to the royal gardens, or the cool retreats of Olivet, each beaming face by the wayside, or peering from latticed balcony, each welcome shout and song from the daughters of Jerusalem, or the trained singers of the temple choirs, attest the affection of a grateful people, and make of the monarch’s morning progress a triumphal ovation. Such was Solomon in all his glory; such the popular acclaim, and we might go on to tell until the tale were tiresome to tell how “Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth,” in riches, splendour, fame. But was this the principal thing? Had Solomon in getting all this glory, and in winning all this praise, gained that with which his soul was satisfied, and the cravings of his nobler self appeased. Years before.… “Give me wisdom and knowledge,” was his prayer … Even in the wishes of one so lately invested with royal power, wisdom in its relation to his Maker, knowledge so far as it concerned his fellow-men, seemed the principal thing. And that prayer was heard in heaven … He to whom God gave such gifts may well direct us to the possession of this principal thing. We need not ask for an earthly teacher with higher qualifications.—Bishop Perry.

Gold is the crown of metals, wisdom is the crown of knowledge. Silver beareth the image of an earthly king, understanding beareth the image of the King of heaven. Gold is the treasure of the purse, wisdom the treasure of the soul. Silver is the price of outward commodities, understanding is the price of inward virtues; by that sought, by that bought. Wherefore by how much knowledge is better than metal, virtue than worldly commodities, the image of God than the image of man; by so much wisdom and knowledge are better than silver and gold. But they are not wisdom and understanding that are here compared with them, there being no comparison between them. But the very getting of wisdom and understanding, the very pains taken in procuring of them, the very honour of being a possessor of them, is better than all the gold and silver in the world.—Jermin.

The question only is written in the book; the learner is expected to work out the answer. We, of this mercantile community, are expert in the arithmetic of time. Here is an example to test our skill in casting up the accounts of eternity. Deeper interests are at stake; greater care should be taken to avoid an error, more labour willingly expended in making the balance true.… The question is strictly one of degree. It is not, whether wisdom or gold is the more precious portion for a soul. That question was settled long ago by common consent. All who in any sense make a profession of faith in God, confess that wisdom is better than gold; and this teacher plies them with another problem, How much better? Two classes of persons have experience in this matter—those who have chosen the meaner portion, and those who have chosen the nobler; but only the latter class are capable of calculating the difference suggested by the text. Those who give their heart to money understand only the value of their own portion; those who possess treasures in heaven have tasted both kinds, and can appreciate the difference between them.… As the man born blind cannot tell how much better light is than his native darkness—as the slave born under the yoke of his master cannot tell how much better liberty is than his life-long bondage—so he who has despised treasures at God’s right hand cannot conceive how much more precious they are to a man in his extremity than the riches that perish in the use.… But even these cannot compute the difference. Eye hath not seen it, ear hath not heard it. Wisdom from above, like the love of God, passeth knowledge.… How much better is wisdom than gold? Better by all the worth of a soul—by all the blessedness of heaven—by all the length of eternity. But all these expressions are only tiny lines that children fling into the ocean to measure its depth withal.… In a time of war between two great maritime nations, a ship belonging to one of them is captured upon the high seas by a ship belonging to the other. The captain, with a few attendants, goes on board his prize, and directs the native crew to steer for the nearest point of his country’s shore. The prize is very rich. The victors occupy themselves wholly in collecting and counting the treasure, and arranging their several shares, abandoning the care of the ship to her original owners. These, content with being permitted to handle the helm, allow their rivals to handle the treasure unmolested. After a long night, with a steady breeze, the captured mariners quietly, at dawn, run the ship into a harbour on their own shores. The conquerers are in turn made captives. They lose all the gold which they grasped too eagerly, and their liberty besides. In that case it was much better to have hold of the helm which directed the ship, than of the money which the ship contained. Those who seized the money, and neglected the helm, lost even the money which was in their hands. Those who neglected the money and held the helm, obtained the money which they neglected and liberty too. They arrived at home, and all their wealth with them. Thus they who make money their aim suffer a double loss, and they who seek the wisdom from above secure a double gain. The gold with which men are occupied will profit little, if the voyage of life be not pointed home. If themselves are lost, their possessions are worthless.—Arnot.

Verse 17



I. The main object of an upright man’s care—his soul. Every human creature is possessed of an instinct to preserve his bodily life and well-being. An upright man has also a spiritual instinct which leads him to guard carefully his spiritual life—his soul. He is desirous of keeping a conscience purged from dead works—free from bruise or moral taint.

1. He seeks to preserve his soul because of the value he places upon its powers. We are wont to value material things according to the power they possess to fulfil certain ends. A skilful workman values a piece of mechanism in proportion to the complicated and various movements which it can execute. And in proportion to the value set upon it will be the care taken to preserve it. Human life is valued according to its abilities to do things which cannot be done by many. The life of a great statesman, of a skilful physician, is of more value to the race than the lives of a hundred ordinary men, because their power to minister to the welfare and health of their fellow-creatures so far surpasses the power of ordinary men. And the upright man values his soul because of its mighty and almost infinite capabilities and powers. In its present undeveloped condition it can suffer much and can enjoy much, it can become a partaker of the “Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4.), and he knows that its powers will be mightily increased and multiplied after the death of the body.

2. He seeks to preserve it because of the value God sets upon it. If we come into possession of a precious gem and desire to know its value, we take it to one whom we are certain is qualified to judge in such matters, and our estimate of it is increased or lessened in proportion to his opinion. He who wants to know the value of his soul must go to the only Being in the universe who is certain not to err in the price he sets upon it. Jesus Christ Himself has given to men His estimate of the worth of the human soul, both in His word and in His deeds. He who is fully acquainted with all its powers and possibilities for good and evil—of suffering and of joy—has said, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). And He has gone beyond words. To save men’s souls He, “being in the form of God, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6). The wise man values his soul according to the estimate of Gethsemane and Calvary, and therefore he counts it the chief business of his life to guard it.

II. There can be no preservation of the soul except by departure from evil. The human nature of even the best men in this world is duplex. The ruling power in a godly man is good, but there are also evil tendencies within him still. He subscribes to the apostolic confession, “evil is present with me” (Romans 8:21). But there must be a constant departure from evil by a constant effort to do good. The strengthening of holy affections will most effectually check the power of sinful desires. The dominion of sin will be weakened by the formation of holy habits. In other words, keeping the highway of the upright is in itself a departure from evil—“following after righteousness is fleeing from sin” (1 Timothy 6:11).


The highway,” a way cast up. Such ways were convenient in the East;—first, for being found; second, for being travelled. “Departing from evil” is a way that opens itself as we press on. One evil cured, like the big coal lump in the digging, clears the way to another. So much

(1) for its being found; then
(2) as to its being travelled. Conceive of how a man could get to heaven except on such a “highway.” We cannot move nearer except on some sort of way. There is no sort of “way” except the discipline of wisdom. There is no discipline of wisdom except “the departing from evil.” The only thing a soul can do for itself under the grace of the Spirit is to exercise itself unto godliness (Numbers 4:7). And therefore the last clause is important, which intimates the fact that we cannot “guard our souls” directly,—that we watch our souls by watching our way—and that the plan to fit a lost spirit for Paradise is, under the grace of the Redeemer, to observe its steps—to see that one by one they are taken so as to depart from evil.—Miller.

The highway of the upright is to depart from evil. That is his road, his desire and endeavour, his general purpose, though sometimes (by mistake, or by the violence of temptation), he step out of the way, and turn aside to sin, yet there is no “way of wickedness in him” (Psalms 139:24). He that keepeth his way preserveth his soul. As if a man be out of God’s precincts he is out of His protection. “He shall keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalms 91:11), not in all thine outstrays. He that leaves the highway, and takes to byeways, travelling at unseasonable hours, etc., if he fall into foul hands, may go look his remedy, the law allows him none.—Trapp.

I should say that this last clause is a notabile; and the lesson that I should read and give forth from it is: “the reflex influence of the outward walk upon the inner man.—Chalmers.

Our English word highway doth well express the force of the original. And as we call it the highway, either because it is the king’s way, who is the highest, or else because it is made higher than the rest, for the more clearness of it, so the way of the upright is a highway, because it is the way of the King of Heaven; and because it is higher, and so cleaner from the dust of the world.… There is hardly any so perpetual follower of wickedness as that he doth not sometimes depart from evil. And this it is which many other times doth embolden him in the embracing of it. For if a wicked man once do well he conceiveth it so great a matter as that he imagineth that God ought to pardon his doing ill many times for it. But to depart from evil is the way of the upright. It is their common and ordinary course, wherein they go as frequently as passengers do go along the highway of the earth. All may see what they do, they care not who looks on, for their way being to depart from evil they walk as in the highway, where everyone may view them. And there they walk the rather that others also may follow them, and departing from evil may be joined to them in the highway to heaven.—Jermin.

Every man has a highway of his own. It is formed, as our forefathers formed their roads, simply by walking often on it and without a pre-determined plan. Foresight and wisdom might improve the moral path, as much as they have in our day improved the material. The highway of the covetous is to depart from poverty and make for riches with all his might. In his eagerness to take the shortest cut he often falls over a precipice, or loses his way in a wood. The highway of the vain is to depart from seriousness, and follow mirth on the trail of fools. The highway of the ambitious is a toilsome scramble up a mountain’s side towards its summit, which seems in the distance to be a paradise basking in sunlight above the clouds; but when attained is found to be colder and barer than the plain below. The upright has a highway too, and it is to “depart from evil.” The upright is not an unfallen angel, but a restored man. He has been in the miry pit, and the marks of the fall are upon him still.… The power of evil within him is not entirely subdued, the stain of evil is not entirely wiped away. He hates sin now in his heart, but he feels the yoke of it in his flesh still. His back is turned to the bondage that he loathes, his face to the liberty which he loves.… The preserving of your soul depends upon the keeping of your way.… It is in the way, the conduct, the life, that the breach occurs whereby a soul is lost that seemed to bid fair for a better land. It is probable that with nine people out of ten in this favoured land the enemy finds it easier to inject actual impurity into the life than speculative error into the creed. A shaken faith leads a life astray; but also a life going astray makes shipwreck of faith. I do not teach that any righteousness done by the fallen can either please God or justify a man; but I do teach on the authority of the Bible that a slipping from the way of righteousness and purity in actual life is the mainstay of Satan’s kingdom—the chief destroyer of souls.… The miners in the gold-fields of Australia, when they have gathered a large quantity of the dust, make for the city with the treasure. The mine is far in the interior. The country is wild: the bush is infested with robbers. The miners keep the road and the daylight. They march in company, and close to the guard sent to protect them. They do not stray from the path among the woods, for they bear with them a treasure which they value, and they are determined to run no risks. Do likewise, brother, for your treasure is of greater value—your enemies of greater power. Keep the way, lest you lose your soul.—Arnot.

Verses 18-19


Proverbs 16:18. “The Hebrews observe that this verse stands exactly in the centre of the whole book” (Fausset).

Proverbs 16:19. Lowly, or the “afflicted

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 16:18-19


I. Pride has a present place and power in the world. All human history bears witness to the existence of pride in the human heart, and to the mighty influence it has always exerted upon the destinies of men. And it is in the full exercise of its power to-day; in various forms, and under various modifications, it still holds its place in the nation, in the social circle, and in the individual heart. Would that we could speak of it as an existence of the past, and had only to mourn over the mischief that it has wrought in bygone ages. But we cannot speak of it as a mighty tyrant who once held sway over men to their destruction, but whose dominion has long ceased to exist. To-day, as in the days of old, we must use the present tense and say, “Pride goeth.” Pride is not like some monster who lived in pre-historic times, of whose life and deeds we know nothing but what we can infer from the skeleton dug up by the geologist, and which we now gaze upon as a curiosity, but which is a thing only, and not a living power in the world. Pride is living and active. Like the mighty being to whom it owes its origin, it is ever “going to and fro in the world, and walking up and down in it.” Without doubt, while it rules some men, it only exists under protest in others, but the most godly man upon earth is not altogether free from its blighting influence. It lived in ages past in the souls of prophets and apostles, and to-day it has a place and power in the Church, as well as in the world.

II. Pride is always a forerunner of evil to its possessor. Wherever and whenever found, the mischief that it brings in its train is always proportionate to the rule which it has been allowed to exercise. It is like the officer who comes to the condemned criminal to announce the hour of execution—after him comes destruction; or like the advanced guard of a destroying army, the pledge and promise of the ruin that is on its way. Where pride enters there destruction of some kind—humiliation and sorrow in some form or other—is sure to follow sooner or later. Pride was the forerunner of the deepest humiliation—of the most entire destruction—of Belshazzar when he drank wine out of the vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple at Jerusalem (Daniel 5:0), and a “haughty spirit” was the forerunner of a terrible fall to Peter when it led him to utter the boast “Though all shall be offended, yet will not I” (Mark 14:29). It therefore follows—

III. That fellowship with poverty and humility is better than fellowship with wealth and pride.

1. When a man is in the society of the proud he is in danger of becoming proud himself. We are all moulded unconsciously by those by whom we are surrounded; our own moral health depends very much upon the moral atmosphere we breathe, and therefore fellowship with the proud is injurious to a man’s spiritual well-being. But fellowship with those who are “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) may make us like-minded. Intercourse with the lowly in heart is likely to have a blessed influence upon our own hearts, and to help us also not to estimate ourselves too highly. This holds good whether the proud man be rich or poor, and whether the lowly man be high or low in station, for pride and wealth have no necessary connection with each other any more than poverty and humility have. But when pride and riches are found united in one person, fellowship with them is more to be avoided, inasmuch as we may not only be influenced to become as proud as they are, but may be tempted to over-value their external possessions, and, perhaps, to envy the possessor. But in the society of the poor we are free from both dangers, and intercourse with those who are poor in this world’s goods as well as poor in spirit, will be a good lesson in the science of true happiness.

2. But such fellowship is not only better for a man’s spirit, it may also be better for his material warfare. Seeing that every proud man must experience the destruction of that upon which his pride has fed, and that every haughty spirit will have a fall, association with such may involve a participation in their misfortune. To divide spoil with the proud may make us partakers of the penalty which follows the proud. (See also on chap. Proverbs 11:2).


Proverbs 16:18. Shame and contempt the end of pride.

1. By natural tendency.
2. Because of God’s detestation and resolution to punish it.—Waterland.

The danger of pride is plain from every history of the great transactions that have come to pass in heaven and earth. The prophets describe the destructive consequences of this sin with all the strength of their Divine eloquence, and all the sublimity of the prophetic style (Isaiah 14:0; Ezekiel 29:21). The history of the evangelists shows us what amazing humiliation was necessary to expiate the guilt contracted by the pride of man. And the tendency of the preaching and writings of the apostles was to cast down every high imagination of men, that no flesh might glory but in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:29). Might not this loathsome disease become a cure for itself? Can anything afford us greater cause of humiliation, than to find ourselves guilty of a sin so exceedingly unreasonable and presumptuous as pride? Shall a worm swell itself into an equality with the huge leviathan? What is man that he should be great in his own eyes? or, what is the son of man, that he should magnify himself as if he were some being greater than an angel? Was the Son of God humbled for us that we might not perish for ever, and shall pride be suffered to reign in our souls?—Lawson.

Before, in the presence of, in a confronting local sense. “Before ruin is pride;” that is, when its terrror-fit as come, “pride” is to appear as the wretched cause of it.—Miller.

“God resisteth the proud;” and good reason, for the proud resisteth God. Other sins divert a man from God, only pride brings him against God, and brings God against him. There is nothing in this world worth our pride, but that moss will grow to a stone.—T. Adams.

The haughty spirit carries the head high. The man looks upward, instead of to his steps. What wonder, therefore, if, not seeing what is before him, he falls? He loves to climb. The enemy is always at hand to assist him (Matthew 4:5-6); and the greater the height, the more dreadful the fall.—Bridges.

It is the nature of pride that it seeketh to go before, and to take place, and so God hath placed it. He hath appointed it to go before, but it is before destruction, and before a fall. It is the quality of a haughty spirit to love to be waited on, and God hath appointed attendants for it, but they are the attendants of ruin and confusion. No doubt as the pride of a haughty spirit disdaineth them that follow him, so it disdaineth to hear of either falling or destruction, notwithstanding they shall pursue and overtake him also. He that sees pride go before may quickly tell what will follow after: he that heareth the major proposition of an angry spirit may easily infer the conclusion of a certain destruction. Indeed it is but one falling that goeth before another; and, as St. Augustine speaketh, the falling which is within, and whereby the heart falleth from Him than whom there is nothing higher, this hidden falling, whilst it is not thought to be a falling, goeth before the outward and manifest falling of destruction.—Jermin.

Proverbs 16:19. It is a pleasant thing to be enriched with other men’s goods; it is a gainful thing to have part of the prey; it is a glorious thing to divide the spoil. But what are all outward possessions to the inward virtues of the mind? What will goods ill-gotten profit the possessors thereof? Finally, what is the end of a proud person but to have a fall? Surely it is better to be injured than to do injury; it is better to be patient than to be insolent; it is better with the afflicted people of God to be bruised in heart and low of port than to enjoy the pleasures or treasures of sin or of this world for a season.—Muffet.

Such an one is happier in having the favour of God and man, immunity from perils, and tranquillity of conscience. Whereas the proud, who seek their own aggrandisement by oppressing their fellow-men, lose the favour of these as well as of God, are in danger of destruction at any moment, and have a guilty conscience whenever they dare to reflect.—Fausset.

Although pride were not followed by destruction, and humility were attended with the most afflicting circumstances, yet humility is to be infinitely preferred to pride. The word here rendered humble might, by an inconsiderable variation, be rendered afflicted. Humility and affliction are often in Scripture expressed by the same word, and described as parts of the same character. Low and afflicted circumstances are often useful, by promoting humiliation of spirit. The reverse sometimes takes place, but it is an evidence of a very intractable spirit if we cry not when God bindeth us, and continue unhumbled under humbling providences. The cottager that has his little Babylon of straw is less excusable than the mighty Nebuchadnezzar walking in his pride through the splendid chambers of his stupendous palace.—Lawson.

There are main gates to the city of peace; there is a little postern besides, that is, humility: for of all vices, pride is a stranger to peace. The proud man is too guilty to come in by innocence, too surly to come in by patience; he hath no mind to come in by benefaction, and he scorns to come in by satisfaction. All these portcullises be shut against him; there is no way left but the postern for him; he must stoop or never be admitted to peace. Heaven is a high city, yet hath but a low gate … Men may behold glory in humility, they shall never find peace in ambition. The safest way to keep fire is to rake it up in embers; the best means to preserve peace is in humbleness. The tall cedars feel the fury of tempests which blow over the humble shrubs in the low valleys.—T. Adams.

Better is it to be conquered by God than to be conqueror of the whole world. For if God conquer thee, the devil is conquered by thee; if pride be driven from thee, meekness is triumphant in thee, and where thou art so spoiled thou hast gotten the spoil of thy spiritual enemies, the love of God, the comfort of His spirit, the expectation of glory which they hadst gotten from thee, and which the earth cannot value, much less be an equal value unto them. But then thou must be not only of a humble look, or of a humble speech, but of a humble spirit.—Jermin.

I. The one is rich in his soul by the endowments and force of the spirit, and the other hath a beggarly mind and impotent heart. II. The one is acceptable to God and amiable to good men, whereas the Lord doth abhor the other, and good men shun his society. III. The one is rising and growing to a better state, and the other is coming down and falling into misery.—Dod.

Verses 20-21


Proverbs 16:20. Delitzsch and Zöckler translate the first clause “He that giveth heed to the Word findeth good.” Stuart and others, “He that is prudent respecting any matter.” Miller says, “Literally, wise about a word.”

Proverbs 16:21. Sweetness, or “grace,” Learning, or “instruction

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 16:20-21


I. There can be no real blessedness in life unless there is trust in the Lord. Men are so constituted that, if they are to have soul-rest, they must confide in the power and wisdom and love of a Being who is stronger and wiser and better than they are. Let a man be ever so great intellectually or morally, there will be times in his life when he will feel the absolute need he has of the guidance of One who is far wiser than he is, of the help of One who far exceeds him in ability and in goodness. If he has not such a helper and guide to whom he can turn, he will be a stranger to that calmness of soul which alone makes a man truly blessed.

1. A trust of this kind must rest upon a knowledge of the Divine character. If a man is following a guide in some difficult and dangerous path, it is necessary to his peace of mind that he should know enough about his guide to be assured that he will lead him aright. If he does not know enough about him to know this, he may be haunted by underlying doubts and fears which will banish all comfort from his mind. When a ship’s crew have so little knowledge of their captain’s character and ability as to be uncertain whether he is able or whether he intends to bring the ship safely to her destined port, they will be possessed by a spirit of uneasiness. But if they know that all his powers will be directed to that end, and that his ability is equal to the task, they will sail through the deep in comparative rest and peace. So no human soul can possess a confidence in God which will keep it calm and restful amid the waves of life’s sea, unless he has made himself acquainted with the character of God—unless he knows so much about Him as to feel assured that His ways and works are perfectly wise and good.

2. God has given men means of acquiring this knowledge. He has no motive for holding back from His creatures a knowledge of what He is and what His purposes are concerning them. Those who endeavour to conceal what they are and what their intentions are in relation to their fellow-men, do so from a consciousness that if they revealed them they would not be trusted. But God has no such motive for concealing His character and intentions, and He has therefore revealed to men what He is and what He desires to do for them as fully as they are able to receive it, and with clearness and certainty enough to be the basis of an unwavering trust. This is indeed the end of all revelation of Himself—to lead men to “know the only true God and Jesus Christ” (John 17:2), so that they may have faith in both the Divine Father and the Divine Son,—that a trust may be begotten of the knowledge that will make them truly blessed.

II. An intelligent trust in the Lord is true wisdom. Wisdom has been often defined as the application of knowledge to practice, and a man whose knowledge of God has begotten within him a trust in the Lord, is the only man who is capable of “handling wisely” either matters connected with his own life or with the lives of others. When Adam lost his trust in God he gave evidence of his folly—when his confidence in the Divine character became unsettled, he lost his ability to do the best with his own existence as a whole, or with any particular matter connected with it. It is a mark of the truest wisdom to handle all matters whether they are more immediately connected with our spiritual or material welfare, in a spirit of trust in the perfect wisdom and love of God, and it is a mark of the highest folly to endeavour to do it without dependence upon Him. He who, in all his ways, rests upon a Divine guide, is the only man who deserves the name of a “prudent” man (Proverbs 16:21). If a child comes into possession of vast estates—of large revenues—he is quite unable by reason of his undeveloped capacities and of his limited experience to use what he possesses to the best advantage. Unless his inheritance is to suffer from misuse, there must be the help of a higher intelligence and a more extended experience than he possesses: and many men possess a great inheritance of intellectual endowments, or of wealth and position, but because they fail to apply to the Highest Wisdom for help to use it rightly, they are neither blessed themselves in the possession, nor do they bless others by the possession.

III. Such a wise and prudent man finds good and does good.

1. He will get good to himself. He will get a godly character, for trust in the Lord is not only the foundation of all true soul-rest, but of godliness of heart and life. “He shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8). Here the prophet teaches that he who possesses within him a constant well of spiritual happiness from confidence in God will manifest it in godly deeds, and thus will become the possessor of the greatest good in God’s universe—a holy character.

2. He will do good to others by his wise and holy conversation. “The sweetness of the lips increaseth learning,” and the speech of a man who trusts in the Lord will be of so attractive and winning a nature as to lead others to know God and to trust in Him.


Proverbs 16:20. Combined view of the two chief requisites to a really devout life;

(1) Obedience to the Word of God.
(2) Inspiring confidence in God.—Lange’s Commentary.

In doubtful cases to hold fast to God’s word, and believingly hope in His help, ensures always a good issue.—Geier.

Wise about a word. (See Critical Notes.) By usage, “wise about a thing,” hence “shrewd, though it be but in one transaction.” How often in London might mansions be pointed out of men opulent at a stroke! Such a stroke is faith! See the same marvel in chap. Proverbs 18:21. What a wonder is it that a man can win palaces of light by “one act” of casting himself upon the sacrifice. “Act,” literally, word. But men acted so by the word in that country, that it grew to mean affair. (Genesis 20:8.) The very name of Christ (John 1:1) seems to be coloured by this Eastern usage. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made” (Psalms 33:6). “Blessed in every sense whatever. What other “affair” ever produced as much as the affair of faith? (Mark 9:23).—Miller.

The obvious sense is that thorough understanding of business and prudent management of it tend to insure a prosperous issue, And if the business is another’s, the intelligent, cautious, successful conducting of it, will procure benefit by the favour it conciliates, and the character it establishes. One business well conducted brings a man another. This is the way to get forward in the world. And in proportion as the entrusted transaction is difficult and delicate, will the “handling of it wisely” prove advantageous. Still there is no amount of human understanding and discretion that can render success in any transaction certain. The result rests with God. Hence a very natural connection of the latter clause of the verse with the former. Here is the true secret of happiness—the union in all things of prudence and diligence, with trust in God. Trust must be associated with effort.… Let it be further observed that “handling a matter wisely” does not mean handling it cunningly with artifice and what the apostle calls “fleshly wisdom”—the policy of this world; but with a wisdom and prudence in harmony with the most rigid and straightforward integrity. Double dealing may be misnamed wisdom, the arts of a tortuous cunning may be dignified with the designation of prudence; but when such wisdom, such prudence has been employed, even the greatest amount of success can impart little that deserves the name of happiness. And no man who is using the arts of a crooked policy can exercise trust in God. The two things are incompatible. Who can unite obedience and confidence? How could David trust in God for the success of his plan against Uriah the Hittite? There was art in it, but there was not wisdom.—Wardlaw.

This is in all cases true wisdom—to make man the excitement to diligence, God the object of trust.… “I have had many things,” said Luther, “in my hands, and have lost them all. But whatever I have been able to trust in God’s I still possess.” … “I will therefore,” says Bishop Hall, “trust Him on His bare word, with hope, beside hope, above hope, against hope, for small matters of this life. For how shall I hope to trust Him in impossibilities if I may not in likelihoods. This simple habit of faith enables us fearlessly to look an extremity in the face. Thus holding on, it is His honour to put his own seal to His word. (Psalms 2:12; Jeremiah 17:7-8).—Bridges.

Many meddle with more matters than they do well quit themselves of; and many a time a good matter is made ill by the ill handling of it. And he that handleth a matter wisely shall find good, although the matter be ill; and well doth he acquit himself, although the matter may not succeed well.… To put our trust in God, and not to use a wise care, is to deceive ourselves; to use a wise care, and not to trust in God, is to dishonour God.—Jermin.

Proverbs 16:21. Piety is sure to be discovered; but many a pious man has less influence for want of courtesy. The suaviter may be really stronger than the fortiter. The last word is literally a taking, from the verb to take. This noun is often learning. A taking may very legitimately be “a lesson.” The idea is, that sweet lips increase the taking, i.e., make more wisdom to be taken by the men around. The duty, therefore, is evolved, of being kind in speech that our good may not be evil spoken of (Romans 14:16).—Miller.

If the “wise in heart” be understood of the truly, spiritually, divinely wise, then the phrase “shall be called prudent” must be interpreted, according to a common Hebrew idiom, as meaning “is prudent”—deserves to be so called. The sentiment will thus be the oft-repeated one, that true religion is the only genuine prudence. And is it not so? we ask anew. Take as a standard the ordinary maxims of prudence among men. Is it the part of prudence to be considerate? to look forward? to anticipate, as far as possible, the contingencies of the future? to provide against evil? to make sure of lasting good? Then is true religion the very perfection of prudence.—Wardlaw.

That our wisdom may be useful, we should endeavour to produce it to advantage by a graceful and engaging manner of expression. It is not uncommon with bad men to set off their corrupt sentiments by dressing them in all the beauties of language, and by this means multitudes are seduced into error and folly. Is not wisdom far better entitled to this recommendation than folly?—Lawson.

There is no sweetness that entereth into the lips to be compared to the sweetness that cometh from the lips. The fig-tree must leave her sweetness, and all the trees of delight their pleasantness, when the fruit of the lips is mentioned among them. And most fitly is eloquence styled the sweetness of the lips. How daintily doth it sweeten all matters of knowledge! What a delicate relish doth it give unto them! With what pleasure doth it make them to slip into the ears of men! How doth it mollify the hardness and sharpness of reproof! How doth it qualify the bitterness of sorrows! How doth it warm the dull coldness of apprehension and attention! And therefore, though wisdom in the heart is of the chiefest worth, yet eloquence of the lips is an addition to it. St. Augustine, speaking of himself, saith, that when he heard St. Ambrose preaching, “I stood by as one careless of the matter he spake, and a contemner of it, and I was delighted with the sweetness of his words; but together with the words which I respected, the matter came into my heart which I neglected, and while I opened my heart to receive how eloquently he spake, it entered also into my heart how truly he spake.”—Jermin.

Verses 22-25


Proverbs 16:22. Instruction, rather “discipline,” “correction.”

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 16:22-24


I. Moral intelligence is its own reward. A healthy state of body is its own reward. It is a well-spring whence men may draw much bodily comfort—it adds much to the joy of existence. Moral intelligence—a good understanding—is a condition of moral health, it is a state of soul in which the moral capabilities of a man are well-developed, and it is a constant source of satisfaction to the possessor. “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him, a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).

II. It is also a means of giving spiritual life and comfort to others. A well is a place where weary men find refreshment and consolation. And no morally wise man lives for himself alone; his “heart maketh his mouth wise,” and his “pleasant words” strengthen and comfort weary wayfarers on the journey of life. No man who is himself acquainted with God can fail to speak words which will help and comfort others. He who drinks of the water which Christ gives will be a fountain-head whence “shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

III. A moral fool may be in the seat of instruction. “The correction,” rather “the instruction of fools is folly” (Proverbs 16:22). A man is not necessarily a wise man, either intellectually or morally, because he assumes the position which ought only to be held by a wise man. Many fools are found sitting as instructors of others. The Scribes and Pharisees in the days of our Lord were destitute of moral wisdom, and yet they were found “in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 22:2). And in all ages of the Church men have been found speaking in the name of God who have been entirely ignorant of Divine truth—“watchmen” who have been “blind,” …shepherds that could not understand” (Isaiah 56:10-11). Men of such a character are like wells of poisoned water, their teachings are not simply unsatisfying and powerless to bless, but they are positively injurious to those who imbibe their doctrines. All who come under their influence will by their own lack of moral strength show that “the instruction of fools is folly.”


Proverbs 16:22. This spiritual understanding is not a work on the surface; not a mere forced impulse; not the summer stream, but a deep-flowing fountain. If it be not always bubbling, there is always a supply at the bottom-spring.—Bridges.

Two things are necessary to the opening and flow of well-springs—deep rendings beneath the earth’s surface, and lofty risings above it. There must be deep veins and high mountains. The mountains draw the drops from heaven; the rents receive, retain, and give forth the supply. There must be corresponding heights and depths in the life of a man ere he be charged as a well-spring of life from above. Upward to God and downward into himself the exercises of his soul must alternately penetrate. You must lift up yourself in the prayer of faith, and rend your heart in the work of repentance; you must ascend into heaven to bring the blessing down, and descend into the depths to draw it up. Extremes meet in a lively Christian. He is at once very high and very lowly. God puts all His treasures in the power of a soul that rises to reach the upper springs, as the Andes intercept water from the sky sufficient to fertilise a continent. And when the spirit has so descended like floods of water, the secret places of a broken heart afford room for his indwelling, so that the grace which came at first from God rises within the man like a springing well, satisfying himself and refreshing his neighbours.—Arnot.

Proverbs 16:23.

1. That which a wise man utters is in itself good—instructive, edifying, “profitable to direct.” The streams bear analogy to the fountain.

2. The wise man uses the understanding imparted to him for the benefit of others. The wisdom that is in his heart passes to his lips.
3. His self-knowledge, his experience of his own heart, his incessant self-inspection, … his knowledge both of the “old man” and of the “new man” in their respective principles and influences as they exist and contend within himself, all qualify him for wisely and judiciously counselling others, according to their characters and situations.
4. The truly wise man will, in his wisdom, accommodate the manner of his instructions and counsels to the varying characters and tempers of his fellowmen. A vast deal depends on this. The end is often lost, not for want of wisdom in the lesson itself, but for lack of discretion in the mode of imparting it. A thorough knowledge of anatomy is necessary to a judicious and successful practice in the operations of surgery. Ere he venture to make his incision, the surgeon ought to understand all about the region where it is to be made—what arteries, veins, glands, nerves, lie in the way of his instrument; and should be fully aware of the peculiarities of the case under his treatment. In like manner an intimate acquaintance with the anatomy of the heart is necessary to discriminative and successful dealing with moral cases—to the suitable communication of instruction and advice. Without the surgical knowledge mentioned, a practitioner may inflict a worse evil than the one he means to cure. And so, through ignorance of moral anatomy, may the injudicious adviser, who treats all cases alike, and makes no account of the peculiarities of character and situation with which he has to do.—Wardlaw.

Who does not know the difference between one who speaks of what he has read or heard, and one who speaks of what he has felt and tasted? The one has the knowledge of the gospel—dry and spiritless. The other has the savour of this knowledge (2 Corinthians 2:14)—fragrant and invigorating. The theorist may exceed in the quantum (for Satan—as an angel of light—is a fearful proof how much knowledge may be consistent with ungodliness); but the real difference applies, not to the extent, but to the character of knowledge; not to the matter known, but to the mode of knowing it.… It is not, therefore, the intellectual knowledge of Divine truth that makes the divine. The only true divine is he who knows holy things in a holy manner; because he only is gifted with a spiritual taste and relish for them.… And this experimental knowledge gives a rich unction to his communications. Divinity is not said by rote. The heart teacheth the mouth.—Bridges.

Every wise man is both a master and scholar, and that unto himself; as a master he sitteth in the chair of his heart, and giveth thence lessons to his several scholars, that are within the school of his own person, of his own life. His hands he teacheth what to do, and how to work; his feet he teacheth whither to go, and how to walk; his ears what to hear, and how to listen; his eyes what to see, and how to look; his mouth what to say, and how to speak. And that being an unruly scholar, and like a wild youth, much care he hath, and much pains he taketh to instruct it well and to keep it in good order.—Jermin.

Proverbs 16:24. The words express the twofold idea of pleasantness and of benefit. Many things have the one quality which have not the other. Many a poison is like honey, sweet to the taste; but instead of being health to the bones, it is laden with death. So it may be in regard to their present effect, and their ultimate influence with words. Harshness and severity never afford pleasure, and seldom yield profit. If they were, in any case, requisite to the latter, we should be under the necessity of giving it the preference, for profit must ever take precedence of mere pleasure. But it will be usually found that both are united. Pleasant words, however, must be distinguished from flattering words. The latter may be at times palatable, but they can never be otherwise than injurious; for they are not words of truth.—Wardlaw.

Proverbs 16:25 is a repetition of chap. Proverbs 14:12, for which see Homiletics.


These words concern not so much the course of the open sinner as of the mistaken and self-deceived man.… The practice of sin seems expedient, seems pleasant, seems unavoidable, but it does not seem right. Those who live in the open practice of it are in the ways of death, and they know it. They are blinded, infatuated, intoxicated, if you will, but they are not mistaken. There is, however, a very different class of persons, to whom the text directly applies, and to whom the warning is very solemn; persons whose course lies just short of that degree of divergence from right where the conscience begins to protest, and yet is sure, as every divergence must if followed, to lead very far from it at last.… It is this sort of travellers wherewith, in our day, the downward road is lavishly crowded; men who walk not with the sinful multitude, but on convenient embankments so contrived as to make the great broad road appear immensely distant and precipitous beneath, and the narrow path comfortably near and accessible above.… It does not say of these apparently right ways that they are themselves ways of death, but that they end in ways of death. And this is important; for nothing is so common as for the man, when warned, to vindicate himself by endeavouring to show, and often by successfully showing, that there is nothing destructive in his present course.… The ways are mainly of two kinds—errors in practice and errors in doctrine.… There is

(1) A life not led under the influence of practical religion.… Improbable as it may seem that this correct man, this blameless and upright liver, should perish at last, it is but a necessary consequence from his having rejected the only remedy which God has provided for the universal taint of our nature.

(2) Those believing from the heart yet notoriously and confessedly wanting in some of the main elements of the gospel. Or,

(3) Those who, while professing zeal for religion in general, nourish some one known sin or prohibited indulgence.… And regarding errors of doctrine, there is nothing in life for which we are so deeply and solemnly accountable as the formation of our belief. It is the compass which guides our way, which, if it vary ever so little from the truth, is sure to cause a fatal divergence in the end.—Alford.

Verse 26


Proverbs 16:26. He that laboureth, laboureth for himself, etc. Zöckler translates “The spirit of the labourer laboureth for him, for his mouth urgeth him on.” Stuart—“The appetite of him who toils is toilsome to him (i.e., make him exert himself) for his mouth urgeth him on.” Delitzsch—“The hunger of the labourer laboureth for him,” etc. Miller—“The labouring soul labours for it, for its mouth imposeth it upon him. (See his comment.)



I. God intends every man to be a labourer. Adam in Paradise was required to dress and keep the Garden of Eden, so that the labourer’s patent of nobility dates from before the fall. The Son of God, in human flesh, laboured with His own hands for the supply of His daily wants, and thus for ever sanctified the ordinary toil of life. (On the profitableness of labour, see on chap. Proverbs 14:23.)

II. God has taken means to ensure the continuance of labour. He has so created man that if the majority do not labour neither can they eat, nor can those eat who do not labour. There must be always a large proportion of workers in the great hive of human creatures, or both they and the drones would starve. It is hunger that keeps the world in motion, and it is the craving of man’s mouth that builds our cities and our ships, that stimulates invention, and sends men abroad in quest of fresh fields of industry. It is this necessity to eat that keeps all the members of the human family in a state of ceaseless activity, and prevents them from sinking into a state of mental stagnation and bodily disease. It is a noteworthy fact that those nations who have to work hard to supply their physical wants are more intellectually and spiritually healthy than those who live in lands where the needs of life are satisfied with little labour. God has promised that “while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22); but He has also, by the constitution of man, ordained that he must be unceasingly active if he is to reap the fruits of the earth—if, indeed, he is to continue to exist upon the face of the earth; and He has so ordained because of the many blessings which flow from this necessity.


Since that which causes us to labour and trouble becomes a means of our subsistence, it in turn helps us to overcome labour and trouble, for this very thing, by virtue of God’s wise regulating providence, becomes for us a spur to industry.—Von, Gerlach.

A man’s industry in his calling is no sure sign of virtue, for although it is a duty commanded by God, and necessary to be practised, yet profit and necessity may constrain a man to labour, who has no regard either to God or man. But this proves that idleness is a most inexcusable sin. It is not only condemned in the Scripture, but it is a sign that a man wants common reason as well as piety, when he can neither be drawn by interest, nor driven by necessity, to work. Self-love is a damning sin where it reigns as the chief principle of action; but the want of self-love where it is required is no less criminal.—Lawson.

To labour is man’s punishment, and that man laboureth for himself is God’s mercy. For as it is painful to labour, so it is made more painful when another reapeth the fruit thereof; but when ourselves are comforted with the fruit thereof, the labour is much eased in the gathering of it. God himself does not look for any benefit from our labour, it is all for ourselves, whatever we do. And therefore as God doth command labour, so the mouth of our benefit doth call for it.—Jermin.

Verses 27-30


Proverbs 16:28. A whisperer, i.e., “a backbiter.”

Proverbs 16:30. Moving, or compressing, indicating resolution, or biting, indicative of scorn and malice.



I. Human depravity manifests itself in a variety of forms.—There may be many lawless children in a family, but they may not all sin against the same law—they may all rebel against what is true and good, but some may be preeminent transgressors in one way and some in another. One son may be a notorious liar and another may be a slave to ungovernable passion, while a third may be addicted to another and different vice. It is so in the great human family—all unregenerate men are transgressors against God’s good and righteous law, but their transgressions may take different forms.

II. But all ungodliness is subversive of human happiness.—If a man sets at nought the law of God, he will be a curse to those around him. There are many such men who seem to delight in increasing the misery of mankind, they make it their business to “dig up evil,” they work diligently to bring to light that which it is most desirable should be hidden and forgotten, and so they are like a scorching, consuming fire to the peace of many of their fellow creatures. And if they are not so openly and manifestly bad, if they are untruthful men, they must sow around them seeds of suspicion and discord which hinder men from being bound together in bonds of friendship or break such bonds when they have been formed.


Proverbs 16:27. “A worthless man.” This is the farthest an impenitent moralist will go in condemning himself. He may be a worthless man (a man of Belial, i.e., of no profit), but he is not a harmful man.… Solomon calls this mild gracelessness a digging up of evil. Recurring to the potency of the tongue, he says, “The lips of such men, sweet as they may seem, fairly scorch and burn.”—Miller.

In the expression “diggeth up evil” two ideas may be included:—

1. Taking pains to devise it. We dig or search for treasure in a mine, or where we fancy it lies concealed: thus the wicked man does in regard to evil. It is his treasure—that on which he sets his heart; and for it, as for treasure, he “digs” and “searches”—ay, often deep and long. His very happiness seems to depend on his reaching and finding it. He is specially laborious and persevering when anyone chances to have become the object of his pique or malice. Marvellous is the assiduity with which he then strains every nerve to produce mischief,—plodding and plotting for it,—mining and undermining,—exploring in every direction, often where no one could think of but himself,—and with savage delight exulting in the discovery of aught that can be made available for his diabolic purpose.

2. Taking pains to revive it after it has been buried and forgotten. He goes down into the very graves of old quarrels; brings them up afresh; puts new life into them; wakes up grudges that had long slept; and sets people by the ears again who had abandoned their enmities, and had been for years in reconciliation and peace. As to “evil,” whether old and new, “the son of Belial” is like one in quest of some mine of coal, or of precious metal. He examines his ground, and wherever he discovers any hopeful symptoms on the surface he proceeds to drill, and bore, and excavate. The slightest probability of success will be enough for his encouragement to toil and harass himself night and day until he can make something of it. The persevering pains of such men would be incredible were they not sadly attested by facts:—“They search, out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep” (Psalms 64:1-6).—Wardlaw.

Whisperers are like the wind that creeps in by the chinks and crevices of a wall, or the cracks in a window, that commonly proves more dangerous than a storm that meets a man in the face upon the plain.—Trapp.

Proverbs 16:28. The idea is, sin cannot keep silence. In its quiet hour it speaks, rolling out (literally) articulate influences. The very idea is terrible. It separates friends. That is, the world being knit together by the law of love, the impenitent separate it asunder. They separate man from his race, and destroy that highest friendship that he might have with the Almighty.—Miller.

Proverbs 16:29. Yet though a wicked man be never so violent, he cannot compel thee to his ways, he can but entice thee, he can but lead thee; it is still in thine own power whether thou wilt follow him or no. Wherefore though it agree to his violence to lead, let it be thy care to keep back from his ways.—Jermin.

Unbelief can hardly be libelled, and Solomon’s very thought is to show how violent it is! It is the match even of hell, for it derides it! It is the robber even of God, for it thieves from Him. It takes life without paying for it. It assaults the Maker upon His throne. It stares broadly at the truth each Sunday when it listens, and flouts it as though never heard. Unbelief is “violence;” and yet, as though it were the most seductive charm it “seduces” (entices) one’s neighbour.—Miller.

These sons of Belial are also tempters of others. A fearful employment—a fearful delight! Yet the employment would not be followed were there not pleasure in it. The pleasure is fiendish—laying plans and putting every vile art into practice, to seduce the virtuous and unsuspecting youth from the way of rectitude!… As there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, so is there a malicious joy in hell when such tempters succeed in turning any from the right to the wrong, from the narrow to the broad way. This is the joy of fiends, the other of angels.—Wardlaw.

Proverbs 16:30. Wicked men are great students; they beat their brains and close their eyes that they may revolve and excogitate mischief with more freedom of mind. They search the devil’s skull for new devices, and are very intentive to invent that which may do hurt; their wits will better serve them to find out a hundred shifts or carnal arguments, than to yield to one saving truth.—Trapp.

Verse 31



I. Hoary heads may be found which are not in the way of righteousness. A hoary head in the way of ungodliness is one of the saddest sights that a thoughtful mind can look upon.

1. Because in such a man the tendency towards evil has been strengthened by the habits of a long life. In childhood there is a condition of comparative innocency to start with, and there is hope that this freedom from actual transgression may develop into a tried virtue in the passage from youth to old age. But when childhood has passed away, the condition of comparative innocence has passed away too, and if the evil tendencies of human nature are not resisted they grow stronger as the man grows in years, and old age finds him more under the dominion of sinful habit than any former period of his life. An ungodly man is more ungodly when he is old than he has ever been before, and is therefore a sadder object of contemplation then than he was in his youth or in his prime. Such a hoary-headed sinner often wishes that it was now as easy to do right as it was in his youth, but he finds that it is not so. “To will” may be “present” with him (Romans 7:18), but he finds that by reason of his long indulgence in sinful habits it is less easy now to perform that which he wills than it was when his locks were black and his form unbent. The man whose limbs are palsied by age finds that they do not move in obedience to his will so readily as they did in the days of his health, and the aged man finds also that his moral actions are not so easily controlled as they were when he was young—the vessel does not answer to her helm so quickly as it did then. It is always sad to look upon a slave, even upon one who is only a slave in body. But it is far sadder to see a man who is in spiritual bondage—one who is “taken captive by the devil at his will” (2 Timothy 2:26), and we look upon such an one whenever we look upon a hoary head in the way of ungodliness.

2. Because such a man is growing old in soul as well as in body. When he was a child the seeds of perpetual youth were implanted within him; if he had then given himself up to holy influences old age would have found him as young in heart as when he was a boy, because although the outer man of all men perishes daily, the inner man of the godly is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). But ungodliness deprives a man of the blessedness of being for ever young—of retaining to the latest hour of life the freshness of feeling which characterises the young, and of leaving the world with a certainty that all his mental and spiritual powers will be renewed throughout eternity. His soul sympathises with his body, and the weakness and decay of the shell is a symbol of what is going on within.

3. Because he is nearing the mysterious exodus from this world which must be accomplished by all without being prepared for it. All men are near to death—men of all ages are uncertain whether they will be here on the morrow, but the old man knows certainly that his race is almost run—that he must shortly put off this tabernacle. And there is nothing more depressing to a man than to feel that he is utterly unprepared to meet the demands of a great crisis in his life which is near—that he has soon to meet a person who holds his destinies in his hand and that he has nothing to hope, but everything to fear from him—that he has to embark on a voyage to a distant land without any knowledge of what shall befall him when he arrives there. And if a long course of ungodliness has blunted his capability of seeing his own true position, it is clear to thoughtful onlookers, and the sight fills them with sadness.

II. But a hoary head in the way of righteousness is a kingly head. There is nothing kingly in old age considered in itself. An old man’s body is not such a kingly object to look upon as a young man’s—it does not give us the idea of so much power and capability. And an ungodly old man—as we have seen—is not a king but a slave—a slave to sinful habits, to the infirmities of age, and to the fear of death. But the hoary head of a righteous man—

1. Tells a tale of conquest. It speaks of many temptations met, and wrestled with, and overcome. His passions are not his masters, but his servants—he has learned to bring into subjection even his thoughts; he reigns as king over himself, and so his hoary hairs are a symbol of his kingship.

2. It is a sign of spiritual maturity. In all the works of God we expect the best and the most perfect results at the last. There is a glory and a beauty in the field covered with the green blades of early spring, but the period of its perfection is not in the spring, but in the autumn, when the full corn in the ear stands ready for the sickle. The mind of the youthful philosopher may be mighty in its power, but its capabilities are greater when he has spent a long life in developing them. It is in harmony with all the methods of God’s working that all that is of real worth in a man should be nearer perfection the longer he lives, and it is so with all those who are willing to bring their lives into harmony with the Divine will. If an old man is a godly man, he is more like God in his character and disposition in his old age than he ever was before, and this spiritual maturity invests him with a kingly dignity.

3. It is an earnest of a brighter crown which is awaiting him. To him death is not an unwelcome visitor, and God is a Being in whose presence he expects to realise “fulness of joy” (Psalms 16:11), and the country beyond the grave a place to which he often longs to depart. All such hoary-headed servants of God can adopt the language of the aged Paul, and say, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). To all such it is especially fit that kingly honours should be paid. “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man” (Leviticus 19:32).


We honour them whose heads have been encircled with crowns by the hands of men, and will we refuse honour to those whom God himself hath crowned with silver hairs?—Lawson.

The word if is a supplement. The verse may be read, “The hoary head is a crown of glory: it shall be found in the way of righteousness.” Two things are implied:—The conduciveness of righteousness to the attainment of old age, and its conduciveness to the respectability and honour of old age.—Wardlaw.

The hoary head is the old man’s glory and claim for reverence. God solemnly links the honour of it with His own fear (Leviticus 19:32). “The ancient” are numbered with “the honourable” (Isaiah 9:15). The sin of despising them is marked (Isaiah 3:5), and, when shown towards His own prophet, was awfully punished (2 Kings 2:23-24). Wisdom and experience may be supposed to belong to them (Job 12:12), and the contempt of this wisdom was the destruction of a kingdom (1 Kings 12:13-20). But the diamond in the crown is, when it is found in the way of righteousness. Even a heathen monarch did homage to it (Genesis 47:7-10); an ungodly nation and king paid to it the deepest respect (1 Samuel 25:1; 2 Kings 13:14). The fathers of the Old and New Testament reflected its glory. The one died in faith, waiting the Lord’s salvation; the other was ready to “depart in peace” at the joyous sight of it (Luke 2:28-29). Zacharias and Elizabeth walked in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless; Anna, “a widow indeed,” in the faith and hope of the Gospel; Polycarp, with his fourscore and six years, in his Master’s service. Crowns of glory were their hoary heads, shining with all the splendour of royalty. Earnestly does the holy Psalmist plead this crown for usefulness to the Church (Psalms 71:18); the Apostle, for the cause of his converted slave (Philippians 2:0).—Bridges.

The old age is to be reverenced most which is white, not with gray hairs only, but with heavenly graces. Commendable old age leaneth upon two staves—the one a remembrance of a life well led, the other a hope of eternal life. Take away these two staves, and old age cannot stand with comfort; pluck out the gray hairs of virtues, and the gray head cannot shine with any bright glory.… The gray head is a glorious ornament, for, first, hoary hairs do wonderfully become the ancient person, whom they make to look the more grave, and to carry the greater authority in his countenance; secondly, they are a garland or diadem, which not the art of man, but the finger of God, hath fashioned and set on the head.—Muffet.

Hoariness is only honourable when found in a way of righteousness. A white head, accompanied with a holy heart, makes a man truly honourable. There are two glorious sights in the world: the one is a young man walking in his uprightness, and the other is an old man walking in ways of righteousness. It was Abraham’s honour that he went to his grave in a good old age, or rather, as the Hebrew hath it, with a good grey head (Genesis 25:8). Many there be that go to their graves with a grey head, but this was Abraham’s crown, that he went to his grave with a good grey head. Had Abraham’s head been never so grey, if it had not been good it would have been no honour to him.… When the head is as white as snow, and the soul is as black as hell, God usually gives up such to scorn and contempt.… But God usually reveals Himself most to old disciples, to old saints: “With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding” (Job 12:12). God usually manifests most of Himself to aged saints. They usually pray most and pay most, they labour most and long most after the choicest manifestations of Himself and of His grace, and therefore He opens His bosom most to them, and makes them of His cabinet council. “And the Lord said, shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do,” etc. (Genesis 18:17-19). Abraham was an old friend, and therefore God makes him both of His court and council. We usually open our hearts most freely, fully, and familiarly, to old friends. So doth God to His ancient friends.—Brooks.

Age is not all decay; it is the ripening, the swelling of the fresh life within that withers and bursts the husk.—George Macdonald.

Aged piety is peculiarly honourable.

1. It hath long continued. When it is said “If it be found,” etc., intimates that such a one has been long walking in that way.

2. It is founded on knowledge and experience. They are well acquainted with the suitableness and sufficiency of the Redeemer. They have made many useful observations on the methods of providence towards themselves, their families, and the Church of God. They know much of the evil of sin, of the nature of temptations, and of the many devices of Satan.
3. It is proved and steadfast. The aged Christian is “rooted in the faith,” grounded and settled, his habits of piety are become quite natural.
4. It is attended with much usefulness. The piety of an aged Christian is much to the glory of God, as it shows especially the Gospel’s power to bear the Christian on through difficulties and temptations. And aged saints are very useful to mankind. Their steadfast piety puts to silence the ignorance of foolish men who complain of the restraints of religion as unreasonable and intolerable, and of the Redeemer’s laws as impracticable. They are living witnesses to mankind of the kindness of God’s providence and the riches of His grace.—Job Orton.

Verse 32



I. A man who takes a city may do a good work. When Soloman says that the man who rules his spirit does a better work than he who takes a city, he by no means implies that the taking of a city is a wrong action. In the records of God’s dealings with the nations of old, we find that He sometimes laid it as a duty upon His chosen servants to take a city. The overthrow of a city is sometimes necessary for the preservation of the morality of the human race, and it is as indispensable for its well-being as the amputation of a diseased limb is for the health of the individual man. Large cities are favourable to the development and increase of crime, and sometimes become such moral pest-houses that God, out of regard for His human family, causes them to be wiped from off the earth, and sometimes uses His own servants to do the work. It was he who commanded Joshua to take the city of Jericho and the other cities of Canaan, and they were destroyed because of the sin of those who dwelt in them. Or the overthrow of a city may be the downfall of a tyrant, and the deliverance of the oppressed, and then also we know that it is well-pleasing to God. The Bible has in it many songs of praise to God for His overthrow of those who held their fellow-men in bondage—songs which were not only acceptable to Him, but which were the fruit of the inspiration of His Spirit, and therefore we know that the taking of a city which was followed by such a result might in itself be a righteous and praiseworthy act.

II. A man may do a good work in taking a city, and yet be under the dominion of sinful habits. Many a man has acquired vast power over others without ever learning how to master his own evil passions—many a city has been taken by him, and good may have been the outcome of some of his conquests, and yet he has been ever an abject bondslave to his own evil impulses. Many a conqueror of cities has been himself brought more and more into captivity to the vices of the mind as his conquests advanced, and though God may have used him to further His wise and beneficent purposes to the race, he may, by his inability to rule himself, have lived and died a miserable victim of sin—in greater bondage to himself than any of those whom he conquered could ever be to him.

III. Self-rule is nobler than the possession of rule over others.

1. This conquest is over spirit and the other may only be over flesh. We cannot rule the whole of our fellow-man by physical force; if circumstances make us masters over his body, there is a spiritual part of him which we cannot enslave without his consent. A “city” and a man’s “spirit” belong to entirely different regions, and the latter cannot be ruled by the same weapons as the other. But “spirit” is far higher than matter, and when a man has learned to rule his own inner man he has made a conquest which is far more difficult, and therefore nobler, than he who “takes a city.” The man who can check a lawless thought or desire, must be as much greater than he who can only subdue men’s bodies, as mind is greater than matter, and he must do a more glorious work because he lessens the power of sin in the universe. It may sometimes be a necessary and good thing to drive the sinner out of the world, but it is infinitely better to kill sin, and this is what he who rules himself is always doing.

2. It requires the exercise of greater skill and is a more complete victory. If there is a spiritual part of a man which cannot be subdued to our will without his consent, this consent can only be obtained by the exercise of weapons which require more skilful handling than the sword of steel. God never attempts to conquer the human spirit by physical force; He has created it to bow only to spiritual forces, and it is by these that He brings men into obedience to His will. A city may be surprised into submission, but dominion over the soul must be gained step by step. And the man who rules his own spirit uses these spiritual weapons, and achieves his conquest little by little. But if the weapons are more difficult to wield, and if the victory is more slowly won, the conquest is much more complete. For when the spirit is ruled the entire man is ruled.

3. The battle is fought and the victory won in silence and in secret. When men take a city they are conscious that the eyes of many are upon them, and that the news of their victory will be spread throughout half the world, and that thus they will acquire great renown among their fellow-creatures. And this nerves them to the conflict. But the man who fights upon the battle-ground of his own heart fights in secret, and his victories bring him none of that renown which falls to him who takes a city. No eye looks on but the omniscient eye of God, and although Divine approval is infinitely beyond the praise of a world of finite creatures, yet it has not always such a conscious influence as that of our fellow-men.

4. The conflict and victory works nothing but good. Even when the taking of a city ends in the good of the majority, there must be suffering for some who are innocent. But the bringing of the spirit under dominion to that which is good and true brings blessings on the man who wins the victory, and works no ill to anyone, but is a source of good to many.

5. The glory of self-rule will last much longer than the glory of any material conquest. Alexander of Macedon took many cities, but the glory that once shed a halo around his name has died away as the world has grown older. And even if the fame of an earthly warrior could last to the end of time, it would last no longer if it rested only on his military achievements. But the glory of self-rule is the glory of goodness which will never grow dim, but shine with increasing brightness as the ages roll.


Now the Lord has made so glorious a conquest over those proud enemies that rose up against you, I beseech you consider, of all conquests the conquest of enemies within is the most honourable and the most noble conquest; for in conquering those enemies that be within, you make a conquest over the devil and hell itself. The word that is rendered “ruleth,” signifies to “conquer,” to “overcome.” It is this conquest that lifts a man up above all other men in the world. And as this is the most noble conquest, so it is the most necessary conquest. You must be the death of your sins, or they will be the death of your souls. Sin is a viper that does always kill where it is not killed. There is nothing gained by making peace with sin but repentance here and hell hereafter. Every yielding to sin is a welcoming of Satan into our very bosoms. Valentine the emperor said upon his deathbed, that among all his victories, one only comforted him; and being asked what that was, he answered, “I have overcome my worst enemy, mine own naughty heart.” Ah, when you shall lie upon a dying bed, then no conquest will thoroughly comfort, but the conquest of your own sinful hearts. None were to triumph in Rome that had not got five victories; and he shall never triumph in heaven that subdueth not his five senses, saith Isidorus. Ah, souls! what mercy is it to be delivered from an enemy without, and to be eternally destroyed by an enemy within?—Brooks.

To follow the bent and tendency of our nature requires no struggle, and being common to all, involves no distinction. But to keep the passions in check—to bridle and deny them; instead of letting loose our rage against an enemy, to subdue him by kindness—this is one of the severest efforts of a virtuous or of a gracious principle. The most contemptible fool on earth may send a challenge, and draw a trigger, but “not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good,” demands a vigour of mind and decision of character, far more difficult of acquiring than the thoughtless courage that can stand the fire of an adversary.—Wardlaw.

The taking of a city is only the battle of a day. The other is the weary, unceasing conflict of a life … But the magnifying of the conflict exalts the glory of the triumph. Gideon’s rule over his spirit was better than his victory over the Midianites (Judges 8:1; Judges 8:3). David’s similar conquest was better than could have been the spoils of Nabal’s house. (1 Samuel 25:33). Not less glorious was that decisive and conscious mastery over his spirit when he refused to drink the water of Bethlehem, obtained at the hazard of his bravest men; thus condemning the inordinate appetite that had desired the refreshment at so unreasonable a cost (2 Samuel 23:17).… To rule one’s spirit is to subdue an enemy that has vanquished conquerors.… Meanwhile victory is declared, before the conquest begins. Let every day then be a day of triumph. The promises are to present victory (Revelation 2:7, etc.). With such stirring, stimulating hopes, thou shall surely have rule if thou darest to have it.—Bridges.

It may be harder to keep from toppling over a precipice, than to lift, by sheer strength, our body over a wall. The reason is obvious. A feather might keep our balance, so we could lean and be safe; but the difficulty is where to get it. We have strength enough if we only had wherewithal it could be applied. The difficulty of ruling our spirits is, that they are ourselves. The difficulty of an inebriate in resisting a desire, is—that it is his desire. What can he resist it with? It might be far slighter, and yet, if there be nothing to oppose, like the slight weight that topples one upon the Alps, it is as sure to ruin him as a thousand tons.—Miller.

Such an one is more excellent than he that is strong of body; for he can bear reproaches, which are more intolerable burdens than any that are wont to be laid upon the backs of the strongest.—Muffet.

Therein stands the office of a king,

His honour, virtue, merit, and chief praise,
That for the public all this weight he bears;
Yet he who reigns within himself, and rules
Passions, desires, and fears, is more a king;
Which every wise and virtuous man attain;
And who attains not, ill aspires to rule
Cities of men, or headstrong multitudes,
Subject himself to anarchy within,
Or lawless passions in him which he serves.


Verse 33



I. There is a special Providence of God in the midst of His universal government. In nature there is a manifestation of a universal Providence ruling over all God’s creatures. But the individual is not lost in the multitude—each bird of the air and every blade of grass in the field is under the special supervision of its Creator. And God is Ruler in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, but He does not deal with either angels or men in the mass as human rulers must do, but knows, and cares for, and guides the destinies of the individual man—the disposal of the lot of each one is from the Lord.

II. The special Providence of God works through human instrumentality. Reference is here doubtless made to the ancient custom of casting lots to ascertain the Divine will. This was done at the division of the land of Canaan among the children of Israel, on the occasion of the election of their first king, and in choosing the apostle who took the place of Judas among the twelve. In all these cases it was recognised that there was no chance in the disposal of the lot—that the decision in each case was from the Lord Himself—but in each case human instrumentality was used by Him to make known His will. This linking of human instrumentality with Divine sovereignty is found in all God’s dealings with men. He has promised that seedtime and harvest shall not cease while the earth continues, but he requires men to sow the grain to bring about the harvest. The “casting of the lot” is symbolic of the part that human effort takes in the government of the world—although God is above and behind it, he does not work without it.


One general principle regarding the employment of the “lot” is sufficiently manifest, namely, that it should never be introduced except in cases where reason and evidence are incompetent to decide. And we may, I think, safely go so far as to affirm that in cases of importance and of extremity—that is, where other means of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion or a harmonious agreement have failed—there does not appear to be anything in Scripture by which such an appeal can be considered as interdicted.… Still, if there is nothing interdictory of the use of it, there is nothing that makes it obligatory in any specified circumstances; and it is clear that, if used at all, it should be used seriously and sparingly. It is very wrong, and the reverse of truth, to speak of any matter whatever as being in this way referred to chance. There is no such thing. Chance is nothing—an absolute nonentity. It is a mere term for expressing our ignorance. Every turn of the dice in the box is regulated by certain physical laws, so that, if we knew all the turns, we could infallibly tell what number would cast up. Besides, in no case is there a more thorough disavowal of chance than in the use of the lot. It is the strongest and most direct recognition that can be made of a particular providence—of the constant and minute superintendence of an omniscient, overruling mind.—Wardlaw.

Everything is a wheel of Providence. Who directed the Ishmaelites on their journey to Egypt at the very moment that Joseph was cast into the pit? Who guided Pharaoh’s daughter to the stream just when the ark, with its precious deposit, was committed to the waters? What gave Ahasuerus a sleepless night, that he might be amused with the records of his kingdom?—Bridges.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/proverbs-16.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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