Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 21

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-31


Proverbs 21:1

The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water. We are to think of the little channels used for irrigation. As these are altogether under the gardener's control, so the heart of the king, who might seem to have no superior, is directed by God. He turneth it whithersoever he will. By hidden influences and providential arrangements God disposes the monarch to order his government so as to carry out his designs, to spread around joy and plenty. The system of irrigation signified in this passage is still to be seen in Eastern lands. "Flower beds and gardens of herbs are always made at a little lower level than the surrounding ground, and are divided into small squares, a slight edging of earth banking the whole round on each side. Water is then let in, and floods the entire surface till the soil is thoroughly saturated; after which the moisture is turned off to another bed, by simply closing the opening in the one under water, by a turn of the bare foot of the gardener, and making another in the same way with the foot, in the next bed, and thus the whole garden is in due course watered ….Only, in this case, the hand is supposed to make the gap in the clay bank of the streamlet, and divert the current" (Geikie, 'Holy Land and Bible,' 1.9). So in Virgil we find ('Ecl.,' 3.111)—

"Claudite jam rivos, pueri; sat prata biberunt."

"Now close the cuts; enough the meads have drunk."

Proverbs 21:2

This is similar to Proverbs 16:2 (where see note. Comp. also Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 20:24). See here a warning against self-deception and that silly self-complacency which thinks its own ways the best. Septuagint, "Every man appears to himself righteous, but the Lord directs the hearts."

Proverbs 21:3

To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. The superiority of moral obedience to ceremonial worship is often inculcated (see note on Proverbs 15:8, and below, Proverbs 15:27; and comp. Micah 6:6-8 and Matthew 12:7). "Justice" and "judgment" (tsedakah and mishpat) are combined in Genesis 18:19; 2 Samuel 8:15; Job 37:23; Isaiah 56:1, etc. They imply equity and justice proceeding, not from bare regard to law, but from the principle of love. Septuagint, "To do justify and to speak the truth are more pleasing to God than the blood of sacrifices."

Proverbs 21:4

An high look and a proud heart; Vulgate, exaltatio oculorum est dilatatio cordis, "The lifting up of the eyes is a swelling of the heart." But it is best to make the whole verse one idea, as in the Authorized Version. The lifting of the eyes is a term implying pride, as shown in supercilious looks, as if other people were of inferior clay and not worthy of notice. So we have "haughty eyes" in Proverbs 6:17 (where see note); and in Proverbs 30:13 we read, "There is a generation, oh how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up." "The enlargement of the heart" is the cause of the proud look, for it signifies the evil affections and concupiscence of the will, wholly filled up with self, and controlling the actions and expression of the body. Septuagint, "A high-minded man (κεηαλόφρων) is stout-hearted in his pride." And the ploughing of the wicked is sin. The Authorized Version takes the reading נִר (nir), which means "tillage' (Proverbs 13:23), or, as Delitzsch supposes, "land ploughed for the first time" (novale). The proverb, taken thus, will mean, "high look, proud heart, even all the field which the godless cultivate, all that they do, is sin." "Pride," says the Talmud, "is worse than sin." But another pointing gives a different and very appropriate (comp. Proverbs 13:9; Proverbs 24:20) meaning. נֵר (ner) signifies "a lamp." Thus the Vulgate, Lucerna impiorum peccatum, "The lamp of the wicked is sin;" and the Septuagint, Λαμπτὴρ δὲ ἀσεβῶν ἁμαρτία "Lamp" is, as often, a metaphor for prosperity and happiness; and it is here said that the sinner's outward prosperity and joyousness, springing from no good source, being founded in self, and not resting on virtue and godliness, are in themselves sinful and displeasing to God.

Proverbs 21:5

The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness. Patient industry is rewarded by a certain increase (comp. Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 13:11; Proverbs 14:23). Says an English maxim, "Diligence is a fair for tune, and industry a good estate," The Greek gnomists have said tersely—

Απαντα τὰ καλὰ τοῦ πονοῦντος γίγνεται
Τῷ γὰρ πονοῦντι καὶ Θεὸς συλλαμβάνει

"To him who labours all good things accrue
The man who labours God himself assists."

But of every one that is hasty only to want. Diligence is contrasted with hastiness. The hasting to be rich by any, even nefarious, means (Proverbs 20:21; Proverbs 28:20) will bring a man to poverty. There are numerous proverbs warning against precipitancy, which will occur to everyone: Festina lente; "More haste, less speed;" "Eile mit Weile."

Προπέτεια σολλοῖς ἐστὶν αἰτία κακῶν.

(See a long dissertation on Festinatio praepropera in Erasmus's 'Adagia.') This verse is omitted in the chief manuscripts of the Septuagint.

Proverbs 21:6

The getting of treasures by a lying tongue—the acquisition of wealth by fraud and falsehood—is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death. The latter clause is variously rendered and interpreted. The Hebrew is literally, a fleeting breath, those seeking death. The Revised Version makes the last words a separate proposition, "They that seek them seek death." But this seems unnecessary, and somewhat opposed to the gnomic style, which often combines two predicates in one construction; and there is no reason why we should not render the words, as in the Authorized Version, "of seekers of death." Such a mode of obtaining wealth is as evanescent and unstable as the very breath, and ends in death, which is practically the result of their quest. Thus Wis. 5:14, "The hope of the ungodly is like dust that is blown away with the wind; like a thin froth that is driven away with the storm; like as the smoke which is dispersed here and there with the tempest, and passeth away. as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day." Some think that the comparison regards the mirage of the desert, which deceives travellers with the phantasms of cool waters and refreshing shade. Such an allusion is found in Isaiah 35:7. The Talmud enjoins, "Speak no word that accords not with the truth, that thy honour may not vanish as the waters of a brook." The Septuagint and Vulgate have followed a different reading (מוק שׁי־מות), and render thus: Vulgate, Vanus et excors est, et impingetur ad laqueos mortis, "He is vain and foolish, and will be taken in the snares of death;" Septuagint, "pursues vain things unto the snares of death (ἐπὶ παγίδας)" (Proverbs 13:14; Proverbs 14:27). So St. Paul says (1 Timothy 6:9), "They that desire to be rich fall into a into a temptation and a snare (παγίδα), and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition."

Proverbs 21:7

The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; Vulgate, rapinae impiorum detrahenteos; Revised Version, "The violence of the wicked shall sweep them away," like chaff before the wind. The violence with which they treat others shall rebound on themselves, shall bring its own punishment; they shall sink in the pit that they made, and their foot shall be taken in the net which they hid (Psalms 9:15; comp. Proverbs 1:18, Proverbs 1:19). Septuagint, "Destruction shall sojourn as guest (ἐπιξενωθήσεται) with the ungodly." The reason of this fate is given in the concluding hemistich: Because they refuse to do judgment. This is a judicial retribution on them for wilfully declining (Proverbs 21:25) to do what is right.

Proverbs 21:8

The way of man is froward and strange; Vulgate, Perversa via viri, aliens est. Both this and the Authorized Version miss the antithesis between the guilty and the pure man, which is intended. In וזר, translated "and strange" (which seems to mean "alien from what is right"), the vav is not the copulative, but part of the word, which is an adjective signifying "laden with guilt;" so that the clause ought to be rendered, "Crooked is the way of a guilty man" (see note on Proverbs 2:15, where, however, the word is different, though the idea is analogous). An evil man's way of life is not open and straightforward, simple and uniform, but stealthy, crooked, perverse, whither his evil inclinations lead him. Septuagint, "To the crooked (σκολιοὺς) God sendeth crooked ways;" which recalls Psalms 18:26, "With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the perverse thou wilt show thyself froward." God allows the wicked to punish themselves by falling into mischief. As for the pure, his work is right; or, straight (Proverbs 20:11). The pure in heart will be right in action; he follows his conscience and God's law, and goes direct on his course without turning or hesitation. The LXX. refers the clause to God: "for pure and right are his ways."

Proverbs 21:9

It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop. One is to think of the flat roof of an Eastern house, which was used as an apartment for many purposes: e,g. for sleeping and conference (1 Samuel 9:25, 1 Samuel 9:26), for exercise (2 Samuel 11:2), for domestic matters (Joshua 2:6), for retirement and prayer (Psalms 102:7; Acts 10:9). This, though exposed to the inclemency of the weather, would be not an uncomfortable situation during a great part of the year. But the proverb implies a position abnormally inconvenient as an alternative preferable to a residence inside. Hence, perhaps, it is advisable to render, with Delitzsch, "Better to sit on the pinhole of a house roof." Septuagint, "It is better to dwell in a corner of a place open to the sky (ὑπαίθρου)." Than with a brawling (contentious) woman in a wide house; literally, a house of society; i.e. a house in common (comp. Proverbs 21:19 and Proverbs 25:24). A solitary corner, replete with inconveniences, is to be preferred to house shared with woman, wife or other female relation, of a quarrelsome and vexatious temper. The LXX. puts the matter forcibly, "than in cieled rooms with unrighteousness and in a common house." So the Latin proverb, "Non quam late, sed quam laete habites, refert." The Scotch have a proverb to the same effect: "A house wi' a reek and a wife wi' a reerd (scold) will sune mak' a man run to the door." "I had rather dwell," says the Son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 25:16), "with a lion and a dragon, than to keep house with a wicked woman."

Proverbs 21:10

The soul of the wicked desireth veil. A wicked man cannot rest without planning and wishing for some new evil thing. Nothing is safe from his malignant activity (comp. Proverbs 4:16; Proverbs 10:23). His neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes (Isaiah 13:18; Isaiah 26:10). He does not look with pity on friend or neighbour, if they stand in the way of the gratification of his desires; he will sacrifice any one, however closely connected, so that he may work his will. Nothing makes a man more atrociously selfish and hard-hearted than vice (see Proverbs 12:10, and the note there). The LXX. takes the sentence in a passive sense, "The soul of the ungodly shall not be pitied by any one." They who have no pity for others shall meet with no pity themselves; while, on the other hand, the Lord says, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7).

Proverbs 21:11

When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise. We had the same thought at Proverbs 19:25 (where see note). The simple (parvulus, Vulgate) profit by the punishment of the incorrigibly evil But the wise need not chastisement for their improvement. When the wise is instructed (Psalms 32:6), he (the wise) receiveth knowledge. The wise man uses every opportunity, takes advantage of every circumstance and event, to increase his knowledge and experience. The Vulgate carries on the subject, "And if he (the simple) follow the wise man, he shall attain knowledge." Septuagint, "When the intemperate man is punished, the simple is made cleverer; and a wise man understanding will receive knowledge." "For it often happens," says St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 18.38). "that the mind of the weak is the more unsteadied from the hearing of the truth, as it sees the despisers of the truth flourishing; but when just vengeance takes away the unjust, it keeps others away from wickedness."

Proverbs 21:12

The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked: but God overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness. The Authorized Version introduces the words "but God" in order to eke out the sense desired; the Revised Version, for the same reason, has, "how the wicked are overthrown;" and both versions signify that the good man contemplates the fortunes and seeming prosperity of the wicked, and, looking to the end of these men, sees how hollow is their success and what a fatal issue awaits them. The Vulgate refers the passage to the zeal of the righteous for the salvation of sinners—a thought quite foreign to the present subject—thus: Excogitat justus de domo impii, ut detrahat impios a malo, "The righteous man reflects concerning the house of the wicked how he may deliver them from evil." The Hebrew is literally, A righteous one looketh on the house of the wicked: he precipitates the wicked to destruction. There is no change of subject in the two clauses, and "a righteous One" (tsaddik) is God, put indeterminately to excite the greater awe (comp. Job 34:17). The Lord keeps the sinners under his eye, that he may punish them at the fit moment (comp. Proverbs 22:12; Job 12:19). The notion of God's moral government of the universe prevails most strongly in every pronouncement of the writer. The LXX. interprets "the house" as heart and conscience, and renders, "A righteous man understands the hearts of the godless, and despises the impious in their wickednesses;" he sees through their outward felicity, knows well its unreality, and despises them for the low aims and pursuits which satisfy them.

Proverbs 21:13

Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor. A twofold retribution is threatened on the unmerciful man. He also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. He himself shall tall into distress, and shall appeal to his neighbours for help in vain. "With the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again" (Luke 6:38). This is true also in spiritual matters and in the final judgment (see on Proverbs 14:21 and Proverbs 19:17; and comp. Matthew 18:28, etc.; Matthew 25:41, etc.; James 2:13).

Proverbs 21:14

A gift in secret pacifieth anger. We have had above various maxims about bribes and presents; e.g. Proverbs 17:8, Proverbs 17:23; Proverbs 18:16. The word translated "pacifieth" is from the ἅπαξ λεγόμενον verb כֵפָה, "to turn away," "avert." Septuagint, ἀνατρέπει; Vulgate, extinguit; Venetian, κάμψει. A gift offered secretly to one incensed, whether personal enemy, judge, or prince, averts the consequences of the offence. The next hemistich is parallel in meaning. And a reward (present) in the bosom strong wrath. A present kept handy in the bosom of the petitioner's garment, ready to be transferred at a fitting moment, as experience proves, calms the most violent wrath. Septuagint, "He that is sparing of gifts amuses strong wrath."

Proverbs 21:15

It is joy to the just to do judgment. The righteous feel real pleasure in doing what is right; they have the answer of a good conscience, and the feeling that they are, as far as they can, making God's will their will, and this brings deep comfort and stable joy (see some contrary experiences, Proverbs 21:10 and Proverbs 10:23; Proverbs 15:21). But destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity. The Authorized Version, by inserting "shall be," and making this clause a separate assertion, obscures the force of the original, which, as in Proverbs 10:29 (where see note), contrasts the effect of right-doing on the good and the evil. It is a joy to the former, "but destruction [or, 'terror'] to them that work iniquity." Et pavor operantibus iniquitatem, Vulgate. They cannot trust themselves to do rightly without fear; they cannot commit the result to God, as the righteous do; if ever they do act uprightly, it is against their inclination, and such action will, as they fear, bring them to ruin. Septuagint, "It is the joy of the righteous to do judgment; but a holy man is abominable (ἀκάθαρτος) among evil doers." So Wis. 2:15, "He [the rightous] is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men's, his ways are of another fashion … he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness (ἀκαθαρσιῶν)."

Proverbs 21:16

The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding. (For הַשְׂכֵּל, "understanding," see note on Proverbs 1:3.) He who forsakes the way of wisdom, the path of virtue, the religious life, and thus becomes in proverbial language "a fool," he shall remain (rest, dwell) in the congregation of the dead; in coetu gigantum commorabitur. "The dead" is, in the Hebrew, rephaim, for which see note on Proverbs 2:18. The denunciation means primarily that the sinner shall soon be with the shades of the dead, shall meet with a speedy death. Wordsworth considers that the writer is saying in bitter irony that the evil man shall rest as a guest at a banquet, shall lie down and be regaled, but it will be in the company of the dead. The contrast seems to lie between the wandering and the rest, and this rest is regarded as penal; so that one must needs see here an intimation of retribution after death; and setup, Proverbs 24:14, Proverbs 24:20. The Fathers regarded the Rephaim, "the giants," as the descendants of the rebel angels, in accordance with their interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4. Thus St. Gregory writes ('Moral.' 17:30), quoting our passage, "For whosoever forsakes the way of righteousness, to whose number does he join himself, saving to the number of the proud spirits?"

Proverbs 21:17

He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man; qui diligit epulas, Vulgate; for feasts are chiefly, though not exclusively, intended. He shall become "a man of want" (machesor) as Proverbs 11:24. He that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich. "Wine and oil" were the usual adjuncts of banquets (Psalms 23:5; Psalms 104:15). Some unguents used for anointing honoured guests were very costly. The pound of spikenard expended by Mary of Bethany was worth mere than three hundred pence—the wages of a labourer for nearly a whole year (see John 12:3; Matthew 20:2). Indulgence in such luxuries would be a token of prodigality and extravagance, which are the sure precursors of ruin; while, on the other hand, according to the trite proverb, Magnum vectigal est parsimonia. That fulness of meat and luxurious habits tend to spiritual poverty and the loss of grace, need not be insisted on. Septuagint, "A man in want (ἐνδεὴς) loveth mirth, loving wine and oil unto wealth (εἰς πλοῦτον)." Some translate the last words, "in abundance," as if the meaning was that the poor endeavours to mitigate the severity of his lot by getting all the pleasure he can from creature comforts however procured. Others think that a negative has fallen out of the Greek, which should be, "not unto wealth," i.e. he shall not be enriched thereby.

Proverbs 21:18

The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous. The same thought occurs in Proverbs 11:8 (where see note). כֹּפֶר (kopher), "price of atonement," means of reconciliation. Delitzsch instances that the great movement which gathered the nations together for the destruction of Babylon put an end to Israel's exile; and that Cyrus, the scourge of so many heathen peoples, was the liberator of the Jews (comp. Isaiah 44:28). And the transgressor for the upright. The faithless takes the place of the upright; the stroke passes over the latter, to fall on the former, as in Egypt the destroying angel spared the houses of the Israelites, and poured his wrath on the Egyptians. Septuagint, "A transgressor is the offscouring (περικάθαρμα, perhaps equivalent to 'ransom') of a righteous man."

Proverbs 21:19

A variant of Proverbs 21:9. Here, instead of the "corner of the roof," we have a wilderness, a desert land, as the refuge to which the persecuted man must flee. Than with a contentious and an angry (fretful) woman. So the Vulgate. But it seems better, with many modern commentators, to take וָכָעַם, not as another epithet, but as equivalent to "and vexation," i.e. a quarrelsome wife, and the vexation that accompanies such an infliction. The LXX. adds a word to the text, as being at the root of the matter, "Than with a quarrelsome, talkative, and passionate woman."

Proverbs 21:20

There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise. Precious treasure and store of provision and rich unguents (Proverbs 21:17) are collected in the house of the wise man, by which he may fare sumptuously, exercise hospitality, and lay up for the future (comp. Proverbs 24:4). But a foolish man spendeth it up. "A fool of a man" (Proverbs 15:20) soon swallows, runs through and exhausts, all that has been accumulated (Proverbs 21:17). Septuagint, "A desirable ἐπιθυμητὸς treasure will rest on the mouth of the wise, but foolish men will swallow it up." It is obvious to apply the maxim to spiritual things, seeing in it the truth that the really wise man stores up treasures of Divine love and the oil of God's grace, while the foolish man wastes his opportunities, squanders his powers, and drives the Holy Spirit from him.

Proverbs 21:21

He that followeth after righteousness and mercy. "Righteousness" (tsedakah), in the first hemistich, signifies the virtue which renders to all, God and man, their due, which is the characteristic of the righteous man (see on Proverbs 15:9). "Mercy" (chesed) is the conduct towards others, animated by love and sympathy (see note on Proverbs 3:3). Findeth life, righteoushess, and honor. "Righteousness" here is the gift of God to his faithful servants, grace to live a holy life. This becomes habit, and forms the righteous character (Job 29:14; Job 33:26). "Life" is a long and prosperous life in the world (Proverbs 3:16); "honour" is respect and reverence among fellow men, and glory in another world. "Whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Rom 8:1-39 :80). "Life and honour" stand together in Proverbs 22:4. "The fear of the Lord," says Siracides, "is honour, and glory, and gladness, and a crown of rejoicing … maketh a merry heart … and giveth long life "(Ecclesiastes 1:11, etc.). The LXX. omits the second "righteousness" by mistake: "The way of righteousness and mercy will find life and glory" (Matthew 6:33).

Proverbs 21:22

A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty. The courage and strength of valiant men cannot defend a city against the skilful counsel of a wise strategist. And he casteth down the strength of the confidence thereof. He lays low the strength in which the defenders trusted; he not only takes the fortress, but also demolishes it. Wisdom is stronger than bodily might (Proverbs 20:1-30.Proverbs 20:18. See the apologue, Ecclesiastes 9:14, etc.). Septuagint, "A wise man cometh upon strong cities, and casteth down the stronghold (καθεῖλε τὸ ὀχύρωμα) in which the ungodly trusted." Thus St. Paul, speaking of the weapons which God gives us to fight withal in the spiritual battle, says (2 Corinthians 10:4) that they are "mighty before him to the casting down of strongholds (πρὸς καθαίρεσιν οχυρωμάτων)."

Proverbs 21:23

We have had similar maxims before (Proverbs 13:8 and Proverbs 18:21, where see notes). He keepeth his mouth, who knows when to speak and when to be silent; and he keepeth his tongue, who says only what is to the purpose. We have all heard the proverb, "Speech is silver, silence is gold." One who thus takes heed of his words, keepeth his soul from troubles. The troubles (angores, Vulgate) are such as these—remorse for the evil occasioned, distress of conscience, vexation and strife with offended neighbours, danger of liberty and life, and, above all, the anger of God, and retribution in the judgment.

Proverbs 21:24

Proud and haughty scorner is his name, who dealeth in proud wrath. (For "scorner" (לץ), the esprit fort, the freethinking sceptic of Solomon's day, see notes on Proverbs 1:22 and Proverbs 14:6.) The verse is better translated, A proud, arrogant man, scoffer is his name, who worketh in superfluity of pride. עֶבְרָה (ebrah), translated "wrath," denotes also want of moderation, excess, presumption (see note on Proverbs 11:23). The proverb explains the meaning of the name, letz, given to these rationalists; their contempt of revealed religion proceeds from pride of intellect, which refuses instruction, and blinds the eyes to the truth. The warning comes home to us in these times, when the "higher criticism" too often runs into gross scepticism and infidelity. Septuagint, "A bold and self-willed and insolent man is called a pest (λοιμὸς), and he that remembers injuries is a transgressor."

Proverbs 21:25

The desire of the slothful killeth him. The craving for ease and rest, and the consequent disinclination for labour, prove fatal to the slothful man. Or, it may be, the mere wish, combined with no active exertion to secure its accomplishment, is fatal to soul, body, and fortune (comp. Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 19:24). Lesetre quotes Bossuet, "Le paresseux spirituel s'expose aussi a la mort eternelle; car les bone desirs ne suffisient pas pour le salut; il faut encore les oeuvres" (see Matthew 7:21; Romans 2:13).

Proverbs 21:26

St. Jerome and many commentators connect this verse with the preceding, considering the two to form a tetrastich, thus: The desire of the slothful … he coveteth greedily all the day long, but the righteous giveth and spareth not. But in this division of our book there are only pure distichs; and, as Delitzsch observes, to make the contrast, one requires in the first hemistich an expression like, "and hath nothing" (Proverbs 13:4; comp. Proverbs 20:4). So it is correct to consider this distich independent, and to translate, There is that (or one) desireth greedily always, but the righteous giveth and withholdeth not. There are claims made on all sides, demands for help, importunate prayers, such as one would think no man could satisfy; but the righteous has means enough and to spare, he is generous and charitable, he is industrious, and uses his stewardship well (Luke 16:9), and so arranges his expenditure that he has to give to him that needeth (Ephesians 4:28). Septuagint, "An ungodly man devises evil devices all the day long, but the righteous pitieth and showeth compassion unsparingly."

Proverbs 21:27

The first hemistich occurs in Proverbs 15:8 (where see note). How much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind! rather, for evil, equivalent to "in order to atone for wickedness." The sacrifice of the sinner is abominable, as offered formally without repentance and faith; much more abominable, when he brings his offering to win, as it were, God's connivance in the sin which he commits and has no intention of renouncing,—brings it as a kited of bribe and recompense to compensate or his transgression. Such an outrage on God's purity and justice may well be called an abomination. Septuagint, "The sacrifices of the ungodly are abomination unto the Lord, for they. offer them wickedly (παρανόμως)." The notion of propitiating the Deity by sharing with him the proceeds of sin is expressed in proverbial language. We have the homely saw, "Steal the goose, and give the giblets in alms;" and the Spaniards say, "Huerto el puerco, y dar los pies por Dios," "Steal the pig, and give away the pettitoes for God's sake" (Kelly). (See Ecclesiasticus 31:18, etc.)

Proverbs 21:28

(For the first hemistich, see Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 19:5, Proverbs 19:9.) Shall perish. His testimony is worthless, and both he and it come to nothing. The man that heareth speaketh constantly; Vulgate, vir obediens; Septuagint, Ἀνὴρ ὑπήκοος φυλασσόμενος λαλήσει, "An obedient man will speak guardedly." "The man that heareth" is one who is attentive, who listens before he speaks, and reports only what he has heard. Such a one will speak "for continuance," so that what he says is never falsified, or silenced, or refuted. Vulgate, loquetur victoriam. And so Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus, εἰς νίκος. Revised Version, unchallenged. The expression thus rendered is lanetsach, which means, in Hebrew at any rate, in perpetuum, "for continuance." But St. Jerome's rendering has been much used by the Fathers, who have drawn therefrom lessons of obedience. Thus St. Augustine, 'In Psalm.,' 70; "Sola obedientia tenet palmam, sola inobedientia invenit poenam.' St. Gregory, ' Moral,' 35.28, "An obedient man in truth speaketh of victories, because, when we humbly submit ourselves to the voice of another, we overcome ourselves in our heart" (Oxford transl.). See a long dissertation on obedience in the note of Corn. a Lapide on this passage of Proverbs.

Proverbs 21:29

A wicked man hardeneth his face; is shameless (as Proverbs 7:13), and is insensible to rebuke or any soft feeling. This obduracy he shows with his countenance. Septuagint, "An ungodly man shamelessly withstands with his face." But as for the upright, he directeth his way. He gives it the right direction (2 Chronicles 27:6). This is the reading of the Khetib, יָכִין but, though generally adopted by the versions, it does not make a suitable antithesis to the rash stubbornness of the wicked. Hence modern commentators prefer the reading of the Keri, יָבִין, "he considereth, proveth," his way; he acts only after due thought, giving proper weight to all circumstance. Septuagint, "But the upright man himself understands (συνιεῖ) his ways." The contrast lies in the audacious self-confidence of the unprincipled man, and the calm circumspection and prudence of the saint.

Proverbs 21:30

There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord; i.e. in opposition to him, which can be compared with his, or which can avail against him (comp. Job 5:13; Psalms 33:10, Psalms 33:11; Isa 29:14; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 3:19). Septuagint, "There is no wisdom, there is no courage (ἀνδρεία), there is no counsel, in respect of the ungodly;" πρὸς τὸν ἀσεβῆ, neged Jahve, being taken as "that which is against Jahve," equivalent to "impious." Wordsworth quotes Horace, 'Carm.,' 3.6. 5, etc.—

"Dis te minorem quod geris, imperus:

Hino omne principium, huc refer exitum."

The following verse carries on and applies the import of this one: As men's wisdom is nothing worth, equally vain is all trust in external means and appliances.

Proverbs 21:31

The horse is prepared against the clay of battle. The horse is an emblem of military power and activity. To the earlier Jews, who were unaccustomed to its use, and indeed forbidden to employ it (Deuteronomy 17:16), the horse and horse-drawn chariots were objects of extreme terror (Joshua 17:16; Judges 4:3), and though Solomon had largely imported them from Egypt (1 Kings 4:26; 1 Kings 10:26, etc.), these animals were used exclusively for war, and, at this time, their services were never applied to agricultural purposes. The proverb asserts that, though all preparations are made for the battle, and material forces are of the best and strongest description, but safety (victory) is of the Lord (see Psalms 20:7; Psalms 33:16, etc.). Septuagint, "But from the Lord is the help (ἡ βοήθεια)." The great truth here taught may be applied to spiritual matters. The only safety against spiritual enemies is the grace of God; we can cry, with St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:57), "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." "By the name 'horse,'" says St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 31.43), "is understood the preparation of right intention, as it is written, 'The horse is prepared,' etc.; because the mind prepares itself indeed against temptation, but contends not healthfully unless it be assisted from above."


Proverbs 21:5

Patient industry

The contrast between diligence and haste suggests the idea that there must be an element of patience and perseverance in the former if it is to be crowned with success. This may be very different from the Herculean efforts of genius, which astonish the world with spasms of effort and then sink into indifference. It is a quiet, constant, persistent activity. We are to see how much this is superior to the more flashy performances which are not seconded by diligence.

I. PATIENT INDUSTRY IN COMMERCE. This is the direct opposite of the gambler's method. The terrible evil of gambling has not been sufficiently weighed. Its awful temptations, its widespread influence, the frightful moral havoc it is making in all classes of society, are not yet appreciated; for if those evils were duly considered, all who are concerned about the welfare of England would start up in horror at the sight of a stupendous cause of ruin that is rampant in our midst. One of our leading judges has pronounced gambling to be the greatest national evil of England. Now, the spirit of gambling is seen in trade, and the Stock Exchange is with many no better than a huge betting saloon. The greedy race for wealth makes men reckless. But experience shows that it is highly dangerous. The solid success of business men is not attained in this way. The lives of such men as George Moore and Samuel Morley show that honourable industry is a better road to wealth. Even when riches are not acquired—and but a few can ever win the prizes—it is the road of safety and peace. This means self-denial, hard work, patient waiting, courage under adverse circumstances. In these respects the difference between success and failure depends on our character and effort. When a man is in calm earnest his very thoughts are fertile.

II. PATIENT INDUSTRY IN LEARNING. There is a temptation for beginners to seek some royal road to knowledge; but it has never yet been found. The true student must "scorn delights, and live laborious days." Genius may be more than an unlimited capacity for hard work; but assuredly the highest genius will fail of its best fruits if it be swathed in indolence. The lives of great men are nearly always lives of hard-working men. Old-fashioned scholarship may appear less tempting than a short cut to popularity over the flowery fields of literary smartness. But the notoriety that is won so easily is an empty bubble that vanishes at a touch. Study, thought, intellectual industry, will always secure more solid and enduring rewards.

III. PATIENT INDUSTRY IN CHRISTIAN WORK. The modern temptation is to snatch at superficial success. An empty popular style and light attractive methods seem to secure results that are denied to more serious conscientious labours. But such a success is a rotten fruit, worthless, and soon ending in shame and bitterness. It is the duty of all who undertake Christian work to adapt it to the people. It is useless to preach if none will come to hear. The preacher ought to try to interest and win his congregation. There is no merit in dulness. The diligent must have his "thoughts." St. Paul was too wise to waste his efforts in "beating the air" (1 Corinthians 9:26). But the main efforts must be serious, persistent, persevering. If the seed is sown deeply, it will be slow to show itself; but it will be safely buried in the soil. In the mission field patient industry succeeds, while more exciting and hasty efforts only end in an ultimate collapse.

Proverbs 21:10

Desiring evil

I. MEN'S DESIRES ARE DETERMINED BY THEIR NATURES. Good men have good desires, and bad men bad desires. No doubt natural desires may spring up in an innocent heart under circumstances which forbid the satisfaction of them without sin. Only so can one be tempted as Christ was tempted, i.e. without sin. Some indeed have maintained that even Christ, in becoming a partaker of "sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3), actually took upon him a sinful nature, which be purged and redeemed. But we have no scriptural or historical evidence of any such transactions in the Person of Christ.

1. We must distinguish, therefore, between desires suggested and desires encouraged. The first may be brought by the tempter to the innocent. It is in the case of the second that the desires become signs of sin.

2. Many desires are in themselves sinful. Such desires find no place in a pure heart. The very fact that they exist is an evidence of indwelling sin.


1. It is possible to be surprised into sin without having previously cherished any desire for it. It is a darker thing to sin deliberately, after nursing the vile project and waiting long for an opportunity to carry it out.

2. Or it may be that the desire is for some definite object which is thought to be attractive on its own account. Then there is no wish to sin, on the contrary, the fact that there is no reaching the goal without transgressing the law of righteousness may be regarded with regret. The desire is gratified in spite of its sinfulness, not because of its sinfulness.

3. The worst state is that of desiring the sin, loving evil, finding a fascination in it—of two paths choosing the downward just because it descends. This is diabolic wickedness.

III. EVIL DESIRES ARE SINFUL. This is the clear teaching of Christ (Matthew 5:28).

1. They are sinful as indicating a wicked heart. The bad fruit condemns the bad tree. The world may not detect the hidden fires of suppressed desire; but they are known to the All-seeing.

2. They are sinful as showing the exercise of sin; i.e. if they are entertained. When we resist and seek to crush evil desires, this second stage of sinfulness is not reached. But brooding over them and giving them good room to lira and grow in the heart add to their guilt.

3. They are sinful as leading to wicked deeds. Evil desires are seeds buried in the soul. Left to themselves and unchecked, they are sure to grow up and reveal their badness in wicked conduct.

IV. EVIL DESIRES SHOULD BE CHECKED AT ONCE. The above considerations should show us that it would be wrong to wait until the desires had reached the outer door of action in the world. They should be checked for various reasons.

1. Because they are already evil. Even if we were sure that we could always keep them secret and inoperative, their natural and present Wickedness makes it incumbent on us to destroy them. The snake should be destroyed, though it lurks hidden in the thicket.

2. Because they can be most readily destroyed in an early stage. It is easier to kill the young brood in the nest than to slay the monsters when they have grown to full size.

3. Because they will be beyond our control when they have issued in actions. Deeds are irrevocable; but desires can be suppressed. Therefore men need the grace of Christ before they have fallen into actual sin. The best form of redemption is for the heart to be cleansed from its evil desires.

Proverbs 21:13

Ignoring the cry of the poor


1. The cry of the poor is exceedingly bitter. It may not be clamorous, but it is grievous. There is no more pressing problem for society in the present day than the question how to deal with the wretched, overcrowded, poverty-stricken quarters of our great cities.

(1) The evil is widespread. It concerns the misery of tens of thousands of people.

(2) It is intense. No one who has not inquired into the subject can conceive of the depth of misery that it represents—pale children crying for bread, weary women heartsick with despair, strong men enfeebled with hunger and embittered with the sight of wealth that seems to mock their misery. The wonder is that the poor bear their hard lot so patiently that the world of wealth scarcely heeds it.

(3) It is moral. Overcrowding, ignorance, and despair, lead to gross moral degradation, drunkenness, reckless animalism, brutality, hatred, and outrage.

2. It is our duty to bear this bitter cry. The very poor are our fellow men—our brothers and sisters. Only the Caius among us can dare to ask, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Christ has hidden us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and in the parable of the good Samaritan he has shown who is our neighbour. We cannot pass by on the other side without guilt in the sight of God.

3. The neglect of this bitter cry is wilful. The sin is that of a man who "stoppeth his ears." It is true ha does not now hear the cry. But he is not the less guilty, for he refuses to hear it. There is a culpable ignorance. Well-to do people may say that they do not know of the miserable condition of their brethren. It is the more shameful that they are thus ignorant. It is their duty to inquire into it. If the West End luxuriates in pleasures while the East End toils and starves in misery, the more fortunate section of society has ample means of ascertaining the condition of the unhappy portion. Heedless indifference is cruel selfishness.

II. THE PUNISHMENT. "He also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard."

1. His own circumstances may bring him into distress. We see strange reverses of fortune. Some of the most wretched denizens of the lowest quarters were once in affluent circumstances. The breaking of a bank, the failure of a mine, the losses of speculation, the ruin of gambling, may bring a wealthy man down to destitution. Then if he has encouraged the neglect of the poor by his conduct in more fortunate days, he will suffer from the bad social custom that he has helped to foster.

2. A social revolution may bring fearful punishment on the scornful who now neglect the cry of their brethren. So it was in France a hundred years ago. There are not wanting signs that the whole civilization of Europe may be endangered by a huge social upheaval. The scandalous inequality of lots is glaringly apparent to all, and the privileges of the few may be ruthlessly torn from them in the interest of the many. If the volcano, overflows there will be little respect for vested interests, abstract rights, or personal claims. But if we dread a violent revolution which might shatter the whole fabric of civilization, we must attend to the cry of poverty. To disregard this is to sit on the safety valve while we wait for the coming explosion.

3. In the future world the cry of the cruel and negligent will be unheeded. Dives in torment cries in vain for Lazarus to cool his burning tongue. He is the very type of those who stop their cars against the cry of the root. His punishment is to suffer from a similar neglect.

Proverbs 21:17

The love of pleasure

The love of pleasure is here described as a cause of poverty. No doubt this was meant to refer to physical destitution. But we cannot fail to see many other forms of poverty resulting from the same foolish infatuation.

I. IT IMPOVERISHES A MAN'S PURSE. This direct meaning of the text is not without its valise. No man desires to come down in the social scale and to lose the comforts of life. But least of all will the pleasure lover welcome such a prospect. High minded, unselfish, unworldly men submit to the loss of all things, and "count them but dung" for the sake of some noble cud. The pleasure lover is not of this category. To him earthly loss must be a terrible infliction. Therefore, while the text may be of use for all, it is a direct argumentum ad hominem for such a person, Now, experience proves the truth of it.

1. For pleasure a man neglects his business. In the present day of hard competition such folly is fatal.

2. Many pleasures are costly. Thy cannot be had without great expenditure, and the passion for them leads to reckless extravagance.

3. Some pleasures destroy the business powers of a man. They are literally dissipations. Brain and nerves are weakened, and the degraded slave of self-indulgence becomes a wreck, unable to fight the stern battle of life. The drunkard is incompetent. The dissolute man is lacking in business promptness and energy. Other men will not trust the pleasure seeker, and so business forsakes him.

4. There are pleasures the, directly impoverish. Gambling—now so fearfully prevalent—is a direct road to poverty.

II. IT IMPOVERISHES A MAN'S INTELLECT. Even though the pleasure seeker be prudent enough to preserve his fortune from shipwreck, or so exceedingly wealthy that he cannot easily squander all iris possessions, lie may and he will impoverish himself. Though he may always have money in his purse, his own mind will be emptied of all worthy possessions. The love of pleasure directly weakens the intellect. The physical effect of dissipation impoverishes the brain. The exciting distractions of a life of gayety destroy the powers of deep, continuous thinking. The mind is thus wasted away in frivolity. The pleasure seeker will not have patience to study solid literature, to think out great truths, to discuss with serious men grave questions of life and death. Exciting novels and plays will be his staple intellectual food, and the result will be mental ruin.

III. IT IMPOVERISHES A MAN'S HEART. The pleasure seeker is often supposed to he a good-natured man because he is a genial companion. No doubt in any loose-living, self-indulgent men have shown great generosity to their friends. But that is because they are not given up to pure pleasure seeking. In itself pleasure seeking is selfish, hard, cruel. The Romans of the old empire made a fine art of the cultivation of pleasure, and they became monsters of cruelty. The tortures of the amphitheatre furnish, d them with the most exquisite delights. Pleasure-loving Roman ladies treated their poor slave girls with heartless cruelty. It is a gross mistake to suppose that kindliness goes with pleasure seeking, and that its opposite is a sour, ill-natured Puritanism.

IV. IT IMPOVERISHES A MAN'S SOUL. The greatest loss is not that of money, nor even that of thought or heart. The chief treasure which the pleasure lover loses is the pearl of great price—the kingdom of heaven. He may gain the whole world, but he loses his own soul. Pleasure seeking destroys the spiritual faculties. It is not required that the Christian should be an ascetic, denying himself innocent delights, nor is it to be supposed that all pleasures are evil. The evil is the love of pleasure. Even the love of pleasures that are innocent in themselves may be the rock on which a soul is ruined, if this be the supreme passion of that soul, eclipsing the love of God.

Proverbs 21:31

National defence

The Jews were repeatedly warned against keeping cavalry. Cavalry were for pitched battles, and could only be used on the plains. But the old successful Jewish warfare was among the hills. As a question of military tactics, the advice meant that it was better for the Jews to act on the defensive in their impregnable strongholds than to descend into the field for open warfare. A deeper thought was that, while defensive warfare might sometimes be required, the Jews were not to embroil themselves m the affairs of their neighbours. This was especially desirable for a little state wedged in between the two great empires of Egypt and Assyria, like Afghanistan between Russia and India. A still deeper and more momentous thought has yet to be reached. The Jews were to learn that their true defence was not in armies, not in military prowess, not in naturally strong fortresses. God was their Rock and Tower of strength, Now, we have no reason to consider that the idea which was brought out in the history of Israel with magnificent emphasis applies to that little ancient race alone. It is true of every nation that will recognize God, that "safety is of the Lord." We undergo periodical panics concerning our national dangers. It would be well if we could rise to the position urged upon Israel by the teachers of Old Testament days.


1. By a providential control of events. God delivered Israel from Egypt by opening a path through the Red Sea. He saved Jerusalem from Sennacherib by the sword of the destroying angel. He protected England from the Spanish Armada by the tempest that strewed the coast of Norway with the wrecks of Spanish galleons. When no such marked events occur, God can save his people by the quiet, unseen control of the course of history.

2. By a Divine influence exerted over the minds of men. God is in the secret counsels of the most astute statesmen. He can suggest and direct their thoughts and plans. He can awaken conscience in the reckless invader, and allay the passions of the enraged enemy. Thus God saved Jacob from Esau.

3. By help given to the attacked in the hour of danger. God's interference may be so as to guide and strengthen those who trust in him, and so to lead them on to safety. There is much to be done through wise counsels, righteous decisions, and brave, true actions. These God can inspire.

4. By final deliverance from all trouble.

(1) After death. God's people may be killed; yet he will save them and take them home to himself.

(2) On earth. National deliverance may come after national calamity. It may be just and right and necessary that a fearful defeat should come. Yet God may bring ultimate salvation—a missing up of the fallen from their shame and distress.

II. CONSIDER, HOW SAFETY MAY BE OBTAINED FROM GOD. We have no right to believe ourselves to be privileged people whom God will favor in preference to Russia, or France, or Germany. All the nations are cared for by God, and no nation can be assured of his protection without pursuing the right means to find it. We have no right to pray that God will scatter our enemies, if they are in the right, and ours are the "knavish tricks." How, then, is safety to be found in God?

1. By acting justly towards our neighbours. God will never protect us when we are wronging another nation.

2. By living at peace with God. If our conduct at home is inimical to God, we cannot expect him to defend us in the field. Godlessness in peace will bring God desertion in war. National sin will alienate the protection of God. The first step must be national repentance.

3. By trusting God. If we are reconciled to God, and seeking to do the right, we can pray for his help, and believe we shall have it, with our armies if they must be called out; but, better far, without them, in maintaining peace.


Proverbs 21:1-3

The providence and government of God

I. THE DIVINE CONTROL OF HUMAN PURPOSES. (Proverbs 21:1.) As the streams of water are led by canals and trenches through the land, that it may be refreshed and fructified, so are the thoughts and counsels of the ruler, if wise and true, a means of strength and blessing to the people. And all such wise counsels are of God. He forms and turns the purposes of the heart, as the potter with the clay. To Cyrus he says, "I have called thee by name, have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me" (Isaiah 45:4. See Dr. Bushnell's fine sermon on this text in 'The New Life').

II. ALL HUMAN ACTIONS ARE WEIGHED IN THE SCALES OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. (Proverbs 21:2.) We can say little about motives; we may be blind to our own, but God is not. Hence the duty of pondering (notice the original meaning of the word) our own doings and plans, weighing them, that is, in the scales of a judgment enlightened by his holy Word.

III. THE TRUE DIVINE SERVICE. (Proverbs 21:3.) There is an outward and an inward side of the religious life. The outward, viz. ritual and moral conduct, is only of value as it is an expression of true desires in the heart. The inward worship of God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) must precede and accompany the outward worship, or the latter is nothing worth (Proverbs 15:8; Psalms 1:1-6.7, sqq.; 1 Samuel 15:22; Micah 6:6-8).—J.

Proverbs 21:4-9

A family of vices

There is a kinship between all vices as between all virtues. All sins spring from a disturbance of our true relations to God, as all virtues rest upon the deep consciousness of that relation.

I. THE SIN OF PRIDE. (Proverbs 21:4.) Its aspect—the lofty eyes, the haughty glance—and its principle in the heart are struck by the Divine rebuke. The meaning of the second clause is not quite clear; probably it is, "The light of the wicked is only sin," i.e. his haughty and overweening temper is compared to a flaming or a lurid light, contrasted with the mild serene ray that seems to stream from a good man's life.

II. THE VICE OF COVETOUSNESS. (Proverbs 21:5.) Shown by an eager and selfish haste to obtain the wealth which Providence has apportioned only as the reward of painstaking toil. Religion teaches us moderation, measure in all things. "Unhasting, unresting," expresses the measure of diligence in all our life business.

III. THE USE OF DISHONEST MEATS. (Proverbs 21:6.) This can never lead to aught but a seeming success (see the exegesis of this passage). "Man is a shadow's dream," said Pindar. "What shadows we are! and what shadows we pursue!" said a great Englishman. But of none is the word more true than of him who seeks gain at the expense of inner truth, profit by the loss of the soul!

IV. VIOLENT DEEDS. (Proverbs 21:7.) All violence recoils upon the perpetrator. The desolation which godless men bring upon others finally carries away themselves. No one who persistently sets himself against right can stand, can abide, for right is the very foundation and constitution of things in the order of God. And so of criminality or impurity in general (Proverbs 21:8). It is a crooked way, a twisted web. Perplexities, miserable intricacies of doubt, are generally to be traced to the fault of the will; and the straightforward man is he who walks by the light of a pure heart.

V. THE CONTENTIOUS TEMPER. (Proverbs 21:9.) It unfits for society. It makes the home intolerable. The vexing, captious, irritable temper makes a solitude around it, and calls it peace. The very idea of the Christian household is peace. Wherever struggle may be necessary, it is certainly out of place there. Let us seek the "things that make for peace"—these first and foremost. Every wife, mother, daughter, should be in reality, if not in name, a "Salome!" ("a peaceful one").—J.

Proverbs 21:10-13

Lessons and warnings from life experience

I. THE MERCILESSNESS OF EVIL DESIRE. (Proverbs 21:10.) There is nothing more cruel than unbridled appetite of any kind. All bad desires are perversions of self-love, and men thus became "hateful and hating one another." It is the grace of God which converts the selfish imagination, ever fixed on one narrow object, to the all-embracing imagination which is necessary to the fulfilment of the "golden rule" (Matthew 7:12)

II. THE LESSONS OF PUNISHMENT AND OF REWARD. (Proverbs 21:11, Proverbs 21:12.) Daily life is full of this contrast, will we but heed its warnings. When the evil meet their just doom, let us say with the psalmist, "Thou puttest away the wicked of the earth like dross; therefore I love thy testimonies" (Psalms 119:119). And not less when the wise and good are made happy (this is the sense of the next clause) let us own the hand of him who pronounces concerning every good deed, "It shall in no wise lose its reward."

III. RETRIBUTION ON THE HARD HEART. (Proverbs 21:13.) The pitiless man closes the door of pity against himself in the time of need. If the cries of the poor are not heard by us, they will be heard against us (Exodus 22:23; Matthew 18:30-34). The parable of the unmerciful servant is the best commentary on this text.—J.

Proverbs 21:14-17

Lights and shades of the earthly scene

I. THE POWER OF GIFTS. (Proverbs 21:14.) They are neither good nor evil in themselves, but may be employed for good or evil ends. Let us make a good use of this text. We learn that gifts should be quiet, unobtrusive, unobserved; and the same is true of all acts of kindness which are real gilts from the heart. They should neither irritate pride nor depress independence. By such little attentions and marks at love, how much evil may be warded off, how many asperities of temper or circumstance may be soothed!

II. DELIGHT IN OR DISGUST FOR RIGHT CONDUCT. (Proverbs 21:15). There is no joy in the world to be compared for depth and purity to that of the good conscience; no exercise that brings so much health and pleasure as acting rightly and doing good. But the corrupt mind of evil men can take no delight in looking at goodness, in contemplating pure and noble conduct. For the consequences can only be the judgment and punishment of their own iniquity.

III. THE END OF ALL MORAL OBSERVATIONS. (Proverbs 21:16.) One of the most solemn passages of the Bible. Taken literally or figuratively, of the present or of the future, they contain a statement, a prophecy, a fact. The wicked and unrepentant pass into a night without the hope of a sunrise to follow.

IV. THE END OF IDLE AND FRIVOLOUS MIRTH. (Proverbs 21:17.) He that will squander more than his plough can earn must utterly waste (Sirach 8:32). Magnum vectigal est parsimonia, or "Economy is income;" "Waste not, want not." "Better than merry Nineveh" is recorded as an old proverb (see Zephaniah 2:15).—J.

Proverbs 21:18-20

Alternatives presented to choice

I. THE JUST AND UPRIGHT, THE FAITHLESS AND WICKED LIFE. (Proverbs 21:18.) It occurs in many cases that the Divine wrath in judgment turns aside from the just man to roll upon the head of the sinner. See this in a natural light in Isaiah 43:3, and in the great Christian light of redemption (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18). Christ became as sin, or in the place of the sinner, for us. We must not, however, confuse the evident meaning of the text, which is that in critical moments of calamity the faithful minority appear to escape unscathed; and the lesson that righteousness alone is safe.

II. SOLITUDE OR UNPLEASANT SOCIETY. (Isaiah 43:19; see on Isaiah 43:9.)

III. WISE STORING OR FOOLISH SQUANDERING. (Isaiah 43:20.) Thrift and economy give meetness to every home enjoyment they purchase. Waste is without zest, and brings positive dishonor.—J.

Proverbs 21:21-23

The wise and the loving life

I. IT IS AN ARDENT ENTHUSIASTIC LIFE. (Proverbs 21:21.) Literally, he who hunts after justice and love will find life, righteousness, and honour. So in other figures—of hungering and thirsting, of digging eagerly for hid treasures, etc.—the earnest enthusiasm of the true life is depicted.

II. IT IS A LIFE OF PRESENT POSSESSION AND ENJOYMENT. So in the New Testament (Romans 3:26; Galatians 3:21).

III. THE RESISTLESS POWER OF WISDOM. (Proverbs 21:22.) The like penetrative power to that which we ascribe to the subtlest forces of nature—heat, magnetism, etc.—is possessed, but in a higher degree, by the intelligence add the will of man. The barriers of time and space seem to fall before him who knows and him who loves. Let none rely on walls and fastnesses. What man's hands have raised man's hands can break to pieces. We are truly strong only by means of the arts and works at intelligence and love.

IV. THE SAFETY OF THE PRUDENT TONGUE. (Proverbs 21:2.Proverbs 21:9.) As one quaintly says, "God, as the Creator, has placed a double wail before the mouth—the teeth and lips, to show that we ought to use and guard the tongue with all care." "He that hath a satirical vein, as he maketh others afraid of his wit, so he had need to he afraid of others' memory." "Discretion of speech is more than eloquence; and to speak agreeably with him with whom we deal is more than to speak in good words or in good order" (Bacon).—J.

Proverbs 21:24-26

The process of vice

I. VICES HANG TOGETHER LIKE THE LINKS OF A CHAIN. (Proverbs 21:24.) Contempt is born of pride, wrath of contempt, and from wrath scoffing and manifold injuries.

II. IDLENESS LIES IN CLOSE AFFINITY TO MANY VICES. (Proverbs 21:25, Proverbs 21:26). We have here a brief anatomy of idleness. It is wishing without corresponding exertion. The idle man would rather sit still and starve than set his hand or head to painful toil. He would live by wishing. The effort to rise from the easychair, to take the hand from the bosom, is too great for him; hence he is consumed with vain desires. The hope of enjoyment is out of reach, though not out of sight, for want of exertion. In religion mere wishes, idle prayers, will not bring us good. The knocking and seeking must go with the asking. And again (Proverbs 21:26), in this analysis we are reminded of the selfishness which is at the root of this indolence. In contrast to a habit of coveting for self, we have the hand of the righteous man, who "gives and spares not." Willing labour, surrender of time and thought for others' good,—this, indeed, enriches the soul, and the man who waters others waters himself, and is a "blessing in the land."—J.

Proverbs 21:27-31

The just judgments of the Eternal

I. ON RELIGIOUS ACTS. (Proverbs 21:27; Proverbs 15:8.) The hypocrisy of devotion, the play acting of religion, is as hideous a sight as true worship is beautiful. All the conditions of genuine worship are wanting in the bad man; there is no heart, no way of access, no faith (Bridges). We have scriptural examples in Balaam (Numbers 23:1-30), Saul (1 Samuel 13:1-23), Absalom (2 Samuel 15:1-37), Jezebel, the Pharisees. Compare the terrible invective of Isaiah (1) against those who come with hands full of blood to worship and offer vain oblations.

II. ON FALSEHOOD. (Verse 28.) Compare the ninth commandment. "The essence of a lie is the intention to deceive." But exaggeration, the vice of those who perpetually talk for talking's sake, seems also pointed at. The second clause describes the quality of the trustworthy witness. To hear before we speak; and witness to nothing but what we have heard and seen and known to be true. It is more from carelessness about truth than unintentional falsehood, that there is so much untruth in the world (Dr. Johnson).

III. ON INSOLENCE AND PRESUMPTION. (Verse 29.) Effrontery, which assumes the brazen brow upon guilt. There was nothing among the heathen which was thought more to expose a man to the wrath of Heaven than presumption. The picture of the opposite temper is given as a willing docitity to rebuke, anxiety for improvement, which brings honour in the sight of God and of man. Insolent presumption would force its will and way in spite of God; true humility would seek direction in its way by the will of God. Verse 30 reminds us of the folly and presumption of vain human creatures to lift themselves up in rivalry to heaven. Earthly greatness, state policy, pride, stoical firmness, avail nothing against the Divine wisdom and the eternal will. Entire obedience and resignation are our duty and our safety. May all (up doings be begun, continued, and ended in God! There is no success without God (verse 31). The horse may be ready for the battle, the "powder may be dry," but all is vain unless his blessing has been sought and gained; and this cannot be unless our enterprise is just. Never act without dependence on God, nor without attention to the appropriate means of success.—J.

Proverbs 21:1

Human power and Divine direction

The course of human affairs impresses, we might perhaps say oppresses, us with the thought—

I. HOW MUCH POWER IS IN ONE MAN'S HAND. We shall always have kings amongst us—of one kind or another. They may not bear that name; they may not occupy the precise social position indicated by the word; but there will always be men who will exercise such distinguished power and hold such eminent position that they will be "as kings," if they are not so called by their fellows. God endows us very differently, and he puts it in the power of a few to wield commanding influence, to rise to high rank, to sway a wide and powerful control over their countrymen. And it has often been a matter for serious concern that, to a very large extent indeed, the prosperity and well being of an entire people has rested with the decision of, has been held in the balance by, a single hand. Then we naturally think that—

II. HOW HIS HAND WILL MOVE DEPENDS UPON HIS HEART. As the heart feels the hand directs. Behaviour is the outcome of character. Given a stern, insensitive heart, and we count on a hard and cruel policy; but given a kind and considerate heart, and we reckon on a just and humane career. A country has therefore the deepest interest in the character of its rulers, as it has in the moral and spiritual condition of its leaders in any and every sphere of thought and action. We therefore gladly remember that—

III. THE HEART OF THE POWERFUL IS IN THE HAND OF GOD. "As rivers of water be turneth it," etc. In the formation of this globe, in the arrangement of land and water, in the upbuilding of the great mountains, in the cutting of the fruitful plains, in the tracing of the fertilizing streams, we recognize the hand of God. He has used a great variety of agencies to bring about all these and all such results; but everything on the surface of the globe bears the impress of his wise hand. The rivers do not run where they list—they flow along the watercourses which his wisdom has arranged. And so with the hearts of the great and the strong, of the king and the counsellor, of the warrior and the minister. God has access to them; he can as easily touch and affect them in their thoughts and judgments as he can determine the channels in which the springs shall run. He can arrest them in their purpose; he can change or even reverse their course. Our human minds, as well as all material objects, are subject to his sway, and own the touch of his controlling hand. Therefore we conclude that—

IV. WE NEVER NEED DESPAIR, BUT SHOULD ALWAYS HOPE. For in the darkest hour we know that we have one resource; When we can touch no other human or earthly springs, we can make our appeal to God. We can sock to "move the hand which Droves the universe," and which "turneth the hearts of kings whithersoever he will." We are sure that:

1. God is never regardless of, or indifferent to, the course which his strong sons are taking.

2. He is ruling the world in the interest of righteousness.

3. He is willing, and indeed wishful, to be sought by those who love and trust him. Let the people of God, therefore, cherish hope in the midst of dire trouble and impending evil; and let the enemies of God beware. One touch of the Divine finger, and their fine fabric of oppression falls instantly to the ground.—C.

Proverbs 21:2

(See homily on Proverbs 16:2.)—C.

Proverbs 21:3

Devotion and duty

It is certainly noticeable that this truth should be expressed by Solomon. For the one great work of his life was the erection of the temple wherein sacrifice should be offered to the Lord. He might have been excused if his leaning had been toward the ceremonial rather than the moral. But he was not the first Hebrew thinker to give utterance to the idea. It is interesting to trace—


1. Samuel holding this view, and declaring it in firm and powerful language (1 Samuel 15:22).

2. David filled with a deep sense of it as he humbled his soul before God (Psalms 51:10, Psalms 51:15-19).

3. Asaph powerfully affected by it as he wrote his sacred song (Psalms 50:8-15).

4. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah insisting upon this truth in strong and fervent words (Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:22, Jeremiah 7:23; Micah 6:6-8).

5. John the Baptist making nothing of ceremonial religion, and making everything of a true and genuine repentance.

6. Our Lord himself; by his teaching and his attitude, preferring the penitent publican and harlot to the much-sacrificing but hard-hearted Pharisee; while by his own sacrificial death he removed forever the need of any further offering on any altar whatsoever.

7. His inspired apostles declaring the needlessness of any sacrifice except those which are of a spiritual order (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 13:15, Hebrews 13:16).

II. ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO OURSELVES. We naturally ask—What is the relation of devotion to duty or righteousness? and we answer:

1. No measure of devotion can make up for moral laxity. We might be worshipping in the house of the Lord day and night; but if we were false, or cruel, or dishonest, or impure in our daily practice, we should certainly incur his righteous anger.

2. Moral probity by itself will not take the place of the direct approach of our hearts to God. It is much that a man should be just in all his dealings, kind in his various relationships, blameless in his bearing and behaviour—very much. But it is not everything; it, leaves out one essential thing. God desires and demands of us that we ourselves come into close and living union and communion with himself, that we look to him and address him, and trust and love him as our Divine Father and Redeemer. And no propriety of behaviour, no excellency of life, will take the place of this.

3. Devotion and duty must coexist, and will sustain one another.

(1) We should so worship God that we shall be stronger to obey his commandments in the home and in the school and in the shop—everywhere. We may safely conclude that our sacrifice on the sabbath is altogether imperfect and unsatisfactory if it does not lead to a worthier life in the week.

(2) And we should so act in all the various paths of life that" with clean hands and a pure heart" we can go up to the house of the Lord, and render acceptable service of prayer and praise as we bow before him in the sanctuary. They are complementary one to the other; and no wise man will disregard or disparage either.—C.

Proverbs 21:5

(See homily on Proverbs 27:23.)—C.

Proverbs 21:6-8

Marks of sin

Here we have four marks of that many-sided evil which God condemns as sin.

I. ITS MANIFOLDNESS OF FORM. Of its varied developments we have four forms here specified.

1. Falsehood, with a view to temporal enrichment, or the sin of cheating—a crime which has dishonoured the markets and counting houses of every land.

2. Violence, with the same end in view—the breaking into the neighbour's treasury, or the assault committed on his person.

3. Injustice, or the sin of withholding from our neighbour that which we know is his due; whether it be a weekly wage (James 5:4), or whether it be the appointment to which he is entitled by his merit, or the honour he has gained by his services.

4. Perversity, or frowardness—the attitude of wanton and determined rebelliousness against God's rule, or insubmission to his claim, or disobedience of his particular commandment.

II. THE UNSUBSTANTIAL NATURE OF ITS SUCCESS. Enrichment by falsehood is "a vanity [or, 'a vapour'] tossed to and fro." It is proverbial that wealth that is ill-gotten is quickly lost; this is to be accounted for by the action of God's righteous punitive laws apart from the doctrine that sin commands his condemnation. Independently of this, it is certain that the satisfaction which comes from sin is short-lived and continually declines. Sin allures its victims with fine promises, but it breaks every one of them; its bread may be sweet for a moment, hut "afterwards the mouth is filled with gravel" (Proverbs 20:17). The hope of the sinner is very fair, but soon comes the strong wind of penal law, and its castle is on the ground; it is "swept away" (Proverbs 21:7, Revised Version).

III. ITS SUICIDAL CHARACTER. These guilty ones are "of them that seek death." "Death is the wages of sin," and those who consciously live in sin and those (more especially) who know that this is so may be fitly spoken of as "seeking death." Suicide is not confined to those who deliberately take away their life with the pistol shot, or the cup of poison, or the fatal plunge. It is a folly and a crime that is being committed day by day at the hearth and at the table, in the office and in the study. Men are transgressing those known laws of God on the observance of which life as well as health depends. They who live in conscious wrong doing are determinately travelling toward death, and are guiltily "seeking" it.

IV. ITS DEEP AND WIDE DEPARTURE FROM THE HOLY PURPOSE OF GOD. The way of (the) man (of whom we are speaking) is "strange" (Proverbs 21:8). It is quite foreign to the thought and contrary to the will of God. He is saying, "Go not along this path; turn from it, and pass away." It is sin which has cut this path for the feet of the human traveller, and it is one which lies quite outside the King's highway. So strange is it to him, so alien to his purpose, so far from his l)resent desire, that he is ever saying to his erring children, "Return, return!" And he has made, in the gospel of his Son, a way of return and restoration. Indeed, it is his Son Jesus Christ who is "the Way." To know him and to love and serve him is to have our feet planted in "the path of life."—C.

Proverbs 21:13

Sowing and reaping

It is true, indeed, that as we sow we reap. It is not only true that God will in some way or other cause iniquity to suffer and righteousness to be recompensed, but we find that sin meets with its appropriate penalty, and worth with its appropriate reward. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." We have an illustration of this in the text, as we find many others elsewhere.

I. INHUMANITY AND PITY. "Whoso stoppeth his ears," etc. Men will have no mercy on the merciless. Let a man be known to be hard-hearted, selfishly and cruelly indifferent to the distress of his neighbours, and when the time of his calamity comes he will discover that there is no eye to pity and no hand to help him. On the contrary, his misfortune will give a secret if not an open satisfaction. But let a man be pitiful and generous in the day of his prosperity, then when adversity overtakes him the hearts and the hands of many will open to sympathize and succour. The same principle, is applicable to an evil which is similar though not quite so serious, and to its corresponding virtue, viz.—

II. SEVERITY AND LENIENCY. Our fellow men will be sure to treat us with the same severity we impose on them. Austerity constantly begets austerity; it is not long before it hears the echo of its own harshness. Be down with rigid particularity on every offence you detect in your child, or your servant, or your neighbour, and you may reckon confidently on having the same unbending rigorousness of judgment applied to any deviation that can be discovered in yourself. But leniency brings forth leniency; charity is the beautiful mother of charity. Make every kind and just allowance as you judge your brother, and you shall have every extenuation granted you when your infirmity leads you into error. We have the same thing showing itself, the appropriateness and correspondence of the penalty or the reward to the offence or the virtue in—

III. GROSSNESS AND PURITY. "He that soweth to the flesh, of the flesh reaps corruption; and he that soweth to the Spirit, of the Spirit reaps life everlasting" (Galatians 6:8). Bodily indulgence means bodily degeneration; spiritual culture means spiritual enlargement.

IV. GODLESNESS AND GODLINESS. The man who lives without God has to do without God in life and at the end of life as well as he can. He has to dispense with all the comfort and support of the consciousness of God's favour and that Divine indwelling which only comes with faith and love. But he who walks with God and lives unto him enjoys all the unspeakable and inestimable advantages of the near presence, the gracious power, the continual comfort and succour of the Divine Spirit. As he sows, he reaps.—C.

Proverbs 21:21

The successful search

What a lamentable history might be written of human lives that would be correctly described as unsuccessful searches! Who, save the Omniscient One, can tell how many have lived and toiled, have struggled and suffered, in search of a goal which they never reached?—it may have been in business, or in the domain of the affections, or in the pursuit of art or of science, or in politics, or in exploration on land or sea. It is a thought of relief and comfort that no human life need be a failure—none, at least, on which the light of Divine truth has shone. It is also pleasant to think that the higher we aim the likelier we are to reach our mark. He who seeks satisfaction on the lower and grosser levels is most likely to fail; but he whose aspiration is toward wisdom and worth, toward goodness and God, is a seeker that will find—

I. THE TRUE QUEST OF A HUMAN HEART. Solomon speaks of "following after righteousness and mercy." These two words may be taken as covering the entire field of rectitude and love, being just in all our relations, and being animated by the spirit of kindness toward all with whom we have to do. Thus understood, they point to the endeavour of the human soul to find:

1. Acceptance with the living God; for there is no happy sense of rightness or rectitude until his favour has been secured, and we feel that we stand before him as those that are true and loyal, his faithful subjects, his reconciled children.

2. Purity of heart and life—deliverance from the power and bondage of sin, of the evil forces which stir within and which play around the soul.

3. A course of honesty and equity in the sight of man; such a regulation of conduct as will result in doing to others as we would that they should do to us, walking, along the path which brings no regrets and no reproaches.

4. A heart of kindness; nourishing within ourselves the prevailing feeling of considerateness for others; the blessed faculty of forgetting our own personal tastes and preferences and passing interests in order to remember the wants and well-being of our friends and our fellow men; the mental and spiritual habit of sympathizing with sorrow and succouring need with an open and a willing hand.

II. THE WAY TO THE GOAL. We who have learnt of Christ need not miss our way; we may, and (if we are in earnest) we shall, find all that we seek. We shall attain to:

1. Righteousness.

(1) Acceptance with God, being right with him by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, Romans 5:2; Romans 8:1).

(2) The growth within us of those virtues and graces which come with the service of the holy Lord, with the study and the love of the sinless Friend, with prayer for the sanctifying influences of the indwelling Spirit.

2. Life; for he that lives thus unto God, who is becoming daily like God, who is rejoicing in the friendship of God, does live indeed. This is life—life spiritual, Divine, eternal.

3. Honour. No small share of the honour which comes from those whose esteem is worth possessing; and in the end the honor which will come from the appraising and approving Lord, when he says, "Well done!" to his faithful servants.—C.

Proverbs 21:22

(See homily on Proverbs 21:29-31.)—C,

Proverbs 21:27

(See homily on Proverbs 15:8.)—C.

Proverbs 21:29-31

(with Proverbs 21:22)

The achievements and limitations of wisdom

There is great virtue in wisdom; Solomon never wearies of praising it. Here he adds another commendation, but he calls attention to a boundary beyond which it may not pass.

I. THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF WISDOM. "A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty," etc. (Proverbs 21:22). How often have men stood behind their strong ramparts—not of stone or rock only—and looked down with complacent contempt upon the despised adversaries outside and below them; but when the shock of the battle came they found, to their dismay, that wisdom is stronger than all defences that could be raised, and that it can cast down the confidence of the proud! It is not only the city which is built of brick or stone which is at the command of the truly wise; it is also the city of falsehood and of error; it is the city of oppression and of wrong; it. is also the city of knowledge and of truth. However hard to win may be its walls, the wise man—who is the man of rectitude, of unselfishness, of purity, of diligence, of earnestness, of patience, of devotion—will strive and toil until he stands within the citadel.

II. ONE OF ITS CHIEF CHARACTERISTICS. On the one hand, a wicked (who is an unwise) man "hardeneth his face." He may be proved to be in the wrong; he may be suffering seriously for his folly; but he will not change his course. He is obstinate, perverse, proud; he will go on his way, come what will. But, on the other hand, the upright (who is the wise) man directeth (or rather, considereth) his way. Even when he is right, and things are profitable and promising with him, he is often pondering his path, looking to his chart, carefully considering whether he is moving on in the right direction. But when he has been induced to wander into some byway, and when he is admonished either by God's providence or by man's fidelity, then he seriously considers his way, and, if he finds that he has erred, he immediately retraces his steps, until he is found again in the King's highway. The habit of considering is one of the clearest marks of wisdom.


1. It cannot succeed against God (Proverbs 21:30). Good men and true, who are within the kingdom of Christ, may put forth all their mental powers and moral energies to bring about that which God has condemned; they have watched and thought and striven for the cause which has not been, as they imagined, the cause of Christ, and they have hopelessly failed. History will supply abundant illustrations.

2. It cannot succeed without God (Proverbs 21:31). Equip your cavalry, arm your infantry, and collect your artillery for the day of battle; bring forth your most experienced general, who will be ready with his most brilliant tactics; still the issue will not be determined thus. There may arise a sudden unaccountable panic; there may be a movement made by the enemy's captain wholly unexpected and practically irresistible; there are forces at work on the great battlefield of the world against which no military skill can provide. God is present there. He can act upon the mind of one man or of many men in such wise that the battle will not be to the strong, the victory not be to the seasoned troops and the confident commander. Without God's consent, without his blessing, any battle on any field whatever, military or moral, must be lost.—C.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 21". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.