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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 16

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


Here begins, as some reckon, the second division of part second, consisting chiefly of synthetic parallelisms.

Verse 1

1. The preparations of the heart The weight of criticism is against this reading. There is unquestionably a sense in which the saying, as it stands, is true. But this does not seem to be the meaning here. The sense generally consented to is substantially this: the plans or arrangements of the heart appertain to man, but the utterance of the tongue is from Jehovah. It is somewhat similar to our English saying, “Man proposes, God disposes.” Jehovah is the giver of right words, from which health and life go forth.

But others understand “the answer of the tongue” to mean the answer to the tongue the answer to prayer. Comp. Matthew 10:19-20; Rom 8:26 ; 2 Corinthians 3:5, and verse nine of this chapter.

Verse 2

2. Are clean in his own eyes He may be so blind to his own faults. Comp. 12. 15. Weigheth the spirits That is, he proves or tests the purposes and intentions of the heart. The moral quality of an action resides in the intention and motive. Compare 1 Samuel 16:9; Proverbs 21:2.

Verse 3

3. Commit… to the Lord To Jehovah; or, as we say, “ Cast upon the Lord” thy works, undertakings, enterprises.

Thy thoughts (plans, purposes) shall be established This is the surest way to have honest designs accomplished. Compare Proverbs 19:21; Psalms 22:8; Psalms 37:5; Psalms 90:17.

Verse 4

4. Hath made all things for himself This text has been used in support of the Calvinistic theory of election and reprobation. Many modern Calvinists, however, abjure the old rendering and exegesis, and concur in the sense approved by non-Calvinists. So Stuart, Zockler, Conant, etc. The translation and note of the Speaker’s Commentary, which we can scarcely improve, is this: “ The Lord hath wrought every thing for its own end, that is, ‘ hath ordered all things well,’ and this includes the appointment of an ‘evil day’ for the wicked who deserve it. The Authorized Version, ‘for himself,’ is not justified by the Hebrew, and suggests an untrue view of the divine government.”

Verse 5

5. Proud in heart Of a haughty, insolent mind, disposed to treat the poor and weak contemptuously and oppressively.

Though hand join in hand Though he use both his own hands and all others at his command all his power and influence.

He (the proud in heart) shall not be unpunished Shall not be acquitted. Comp. on first clause Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 15:9; Proverbs 25:26; on second clause Proverbs 11:21.

Verse 6

6. By mercy and truth (compare Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 20:28) iniquity is purged Literally, covered. The expression has reference to those legal expiations and atonements of the old law by which sin was so far covered, as that every transgressor was, by virtue of his offering, saved from exclusion from the Jewish fold; and, when the obedience which induced the offering was accompanied by faith in that which the offering typified, a real atonement was effected for the wrong doer. This “mercy and truth” clearly refer to the man’s conduct, not towards God, but towards his fellow men. No future good conduct, as a mere morality, can secure forgiveness for past transgression. But “mercy and truth,” exercised by the repentant and pardoned man, constitute those good works which are not merely “evidence” of regeneration, but are truly pleasing to God, and contribute to banish with God and man the remembrance of a past wicked life. So, Ezekiel 33:14-15, if the wicked turn and prosecute a course of righteousness, “none of his sins which be hath committed shall be mentioned unto him.” Comp. Isaiah 57:7, et seq.; 1 Samuel 15:22; Micah 6:6-8; Psalms 50:13-14; Psalms 51:16-17. Some evangelical expositors, in their zeal to oppose erroneous Romish teaching, have unintentionally wrested this passage from its legitimate use, and attempted to apply it to the “mercy and truth” of God revealed in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ as the atoning sacrifice for sin. But the wise teacher was not speaking of the mercy and truth of God’s dealings with men: he was treating of the dealings of men with men. “Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have (I require) mercy, and not sacrifice:” that is, in preference to sacrifice. Matthew 9:13. “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” Proverbs 21:3. And by the fear of the Lord men depart (or, there is turning) from evil Comp. Proverbs 8:13. The fear of Jehovah is the most effectual way to turn from, avoid, or escape, evil moral evil and its consequences, that is, punishment.

Verse 7

7. A man’s ways, etc. A general truth, not to be rigidly interpreted. Good men are sometimes persecuted, and otherwise suffer; but even this shall work for their good, according to the promise contained in Romans 8:28.

Verse 8

8. Without right משׁפשׂ , ( mishpat,) rectitude. The word means what is just, lawful, conformable to law; and which is better than great incomes obtained unlawfully, unjustly. Comp. Proverbs 15:16; Psalms 37:16.

Verse 9

9. Directeth Or, makes firm, sure. This proverb contains substantially the same sentiments as Proverbs 16:1, which see. Compare Proverbs 20:24; Psalms 37:23; Jeremiah 10:23.

Verse 10

10. A divine sentence Or, decision. קסם , ( kesem,) an oracle.

The king מלךְ , ( melekh,) so often used in the following verses, means a sovereign ruler, by whatever name called, whether king, emperor, president, governor, judge, supreme commander, or any other title. The president of the United States, and the governors of the several States, are as truly melakhim, in the scriptural sense, as any sovereign or supreme ruler in the world. The idea implied in the root is that of sovereign authority or rulership. Wherever this is in civil affairs there is, in the Bible sense, a melekh. The word ruler would, indeed, more nearly express the sense of the original than “king,” which by usage is applied to the sovereign of a particular form of government a monarchy.

His mouth transgresseth not in judgment Does not swerve or decline from justice. This proverb is spoken of kings as they ought to be ideal representatives of Jehovah and is equivalent to saying, that such should be the word of a ruler that his mouth should not prevaricate or speak deceptively in his official acts. Much official lying is sometimes done in high places. All this is condemned. It is the opinion of some that kesem refers to what might be called supernatural sagacity, bestowed upon good rulers, by which they are able to detect fraud and false pretences, unravel the intricacies and difficulties of a case brought before them. “God,” says Bishop Patrick, “is present in a singular manner with a pious king, inspiring his mind to divine sagaciously in dubious and obscure things, that his resolutions and decrees may be received like oracles, and all causes may be decided by him so justly and exactly that no man may be wronged in his judgment which he passes.” Comp. 2Sa 14:17 ; 1 Kings 3:16-28; Psalms 82:6; Romans 13:12.

Verse 11

11. A just weight Substantially the same as Proverbs 11:1, but varying in terms. Some are of the opinion that פלס , ( peles,) weight, was something like a modern steelyard, and to be distinguished from מאזני , ( mozene,) the balances. So Stuart: “The steelyard and the balances.” The word may, however, mean the yard or arms of the scales, which ought to be equal or just, as well as the scales or basins themselves. The expression מאזני משׁפשׂ , ( mozene mishpat,) balances of justice, may imply such as are regulated by law, and may refer to the standard weights laid up in the sanctuary to which all others were to be conformed.

Weights of the bag Literally, stones of the bag, referring to the standard weights kept in the bag in the sanctuary, or those carried about by travelling merchants in bags. The sentiment of the text is, that the institution of just weights and measures is an ordinance of God, as is civil government; and that he requires just and exact dealings between man and man. Compare Proverbs 11:1; Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-15; Micah 6:11.

Verse 12

12. This verse may be understood in two ways either that the abomination consists in the wickedness which the king commits, or in that which is committed by others. Some understand it of both; they must neither do evil themselves nor permit others to do it.

For the throne is established by righteousness In the king and in his subjects. Comp. Proverbs 16:5. The second sense above is generally preferred. The doing of wickedness by others is an abomination to good rulers. Compare Proverbs 16:10; Proverbs 25:5.

Verse 13

13. Delight of kings All these things are said of rulers, as rulers ought to be; that is, righteous, just.

Verse 14

14. The wrath of a king is as messengers of death His wrath soon finds executioners. Under the despotic governments of the East there are frequently no forms of trial. A man may not know that he is condemned, or even accused, until the executioner, the “messenger of death,” comes to take his head off; perhaps in his own house, in the midst of his family, or wherever he meets him. The Hebrew is more emphatic than our version.

But a wise man will pacify it Cover or atone “the wrath.” It is the same word as in Proverbs 16:6 is rendered “purged.” The wise man may be the offender himself; but, knowing how, he skilfully reconciles his sovereign, or, it may be a virtuous and prudent courtier or counsellor who appeases the king’s anger. Illustrations of this proverb in the Bible are numerous. Comp. Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:2; 1 Kings 2:25, et seq.; Matthew 14:10. On second clause, see 1Sa 19:1-6 ; 1 Samuel 25:24, et seq.

Verse 15

15. Light of the king’s countenance When a man is pleased his countenance lights up. This stands opposed to the dark, frowning countenance of the preceding verse, which indicated the wrath of the king, and prognosticated death to the unhappy object of royal displeasure. The light of a king’s countenance, under such a government, insured life while the light lasted.

And his favour Or, good pleasure.

As a cloud of the latter rain That is, that brings the latter rain. These rains fall in March and April, just before the harvest, at once screening from the scorching sun, and bringing plenty and blessing. They were necessary to fill out and complete the crops, and hence were considered the very life of the inhabitants. (See Land and Book, vol. i, page 130; vol. ii, page 66.) They were a fitting type of the king’s favour in Oriental lands. Comp. Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 5:24; James 5:7.

Verse 16

16. To get In both members may be rendered possess. The word means either to acquire or possess. It might be read thus: To own wisdom how good! it is better than gold: and to possess understanding is to be chosen rather than silver! Does the wise man intend indirectly to compare this wisdom and understanding with the riches that flow from the favour of princes? Comp. Proverbs 3:14; Proverbs 8:10; Proverbs 11:19.

Verse 17

17. Highway of the upright This proverb would show the meaning better by a little transposition. Departing from evil is the highway of the upright the way on which they travel. It leads from evil. He that watches or guards his way, preserves his soul or life, that is, himself. Compare Proverbs 10:17.

Verse 18

18. Pride… destruction Better, Before breaking up, splendour! and before ruin, loftiness of spirit! The splendour, of course, is of the kind that may be called vain show, loftiness of spirit, ambition to shine in the higher circles of society. How forcible the proverb! How true to observation! It is particularly commended to business men. Compare Proverbs 11:2; Proverbs 15:25; Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 18:12. [N.B. The Masorites note this as the middle verse of the book.] 19. Humble spirit, etc. Rather, humility of mind with the lowly, than dividing of the spoil with the lofty. גאים , ( geim,) literally, high ones; metaphorically, the proud, haughty. It seems to imply here those who are elated with victory.

Verse 20

20. Handleth… wisely Good critics render this, He that gives heed to the word will find good. So Zockler, Conant, Noyes, Muenscher, etc. The term “word” is used in the sense of law. Comp. Psalms 2:12; Psalms 34:8; Psalms 84:12; Psalms 125:1; Proverbs 13:13; Proverbs 19:8; Isaiah 30:18; Jeremiah 17:7.

Verse 21

21. Prudent Or, intelligent.

Sweetness of the lips Persuasive eloquence. If a wise man can add the charm of eloquence, his wisdom will be more instructive. “Sweetness of the lips makes a lesson better taken.” Miller. Conant renders: “Learning adds sweetness to the lips.” Comp. Proverbs 15:2; Proverbs 16:23.

Verse 22

22. Unto him that hath Literally, to his owner; that is, to him possessing it.

The instruction (or, correction) of fools May be either what they give, or what they receive, if fools undertake to instruct, they can only teach folly; or, what is preferred as the sense, it is folly to correct fools. They will not profit by it. Folly is its own punishment. (Zockler.) Compare Proverbs 14:24. For the figure wellspring of life, comp. Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 13:14; Proverbs 14:27.

Verse 23

23. Teacheth his mouth Makes it prudent, skilful, wise.

Addeth learning, etc. Increases the instruction upon his lips; that is, makes his discourse more edifying.

Verse 24

24. Pleasant words Or, words of kindness. Comp. Proverbs 15:26. Honey-comb Comp. Psalms 19:10.

Bones The word “bones” stands for the whole body or person. It often happens that a few kind words do a man’s body good as well as his soul. In certain forms of disease they are better than any medicine.

Verse 25

25. Way that seemeth right Literally, There is a way straight before a man; but the ways of death are the end of it. It is as if the way branched out into many ways, each one leading to death. This is a repetition of Proverbs 14:12. Some think it is repeated here on account of what precedes concerning persuasive speech, or the power of the tongue; as much as to say, there is never more need of caution than when we are listening to a moving orator, for he makes many things seem innocent which in themselves and in their results are deadly and destructive.

Verse 26

26. Laboureth… for himself It is probable that the point and meaning of this proverb may be expressed thus: “The appetite of the labourer labours for him.” A good appetite spurs a man to work. He labours for the satisfying of his appetite, or the gratification of his desires. Stuart takes it differently, and renders: “The appetite of him that toils is toilsome to him, for his mouth urgeth him on,” and gives as the sentiment: A strong appetite is urgent and troublesome. Zockler reads: “The spirit of the labourer labours for him.” Comp. Ecclesiastes 6:7.

Verse 27

27. An ungodly man אישׁ בליעל , ( ish beliyya’hal,) a man of Belial, a bad, vile, or worthless man.

Diggeth up evil Labours hard to accomplish wickedness, and in or on his lips there is as a burning fire, bad, bitter, burning words, destructive to the reputation of his neighbours. Conant reads: “A vile man is he that devises mischief.” Comp. chap. Proverbs 26:23; James 3:5, et seq.

Verse 28

28. A froward man A perverter.

A whisperer Murmurer; a man who is always complaining. It also means a garrulous man, a great talker, tattler, or talebearer. Comp. Proverbs 6:14; Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 17:9; Proverbs 18:8; Proverbs 26:20-22; Proverbs 29:22.

Verse 29

29. Enticeth Persuades or seduces him to evil.

Leadeth him Causes him to go. On first clause comp. Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 1:10, et seq.; Matthew 12:34.

Verse 30

30. He shutteth his eyes Or, fixes his eyes.

To devise froward things Perversities. Compare Proverbs 2:12; Proverbs 6:14.

Moving his lips He bites his lips as a sign of malice, (Proverbs 6:13; Proverbs 10:10;) he bringeth evil to pass. The Hebrew is emphatic, the preter for the future, to indicate the certainty of that which is predicted: “he has accomplished evil.” Conant reads: “When he shuts his eyes he is devising perverseness; when he bites his lips, he has perfected mischief.”

Verse 31

31. A crown of glory A glorious, splendid, or beautiful crown.

Found… righteousness There is no conditional particle in the original; hence some read without the condition, as much as to say, to walk in the way of righteousness will secure a good old age long life. But it may, without violence to grammar, be rendered as in our version, or with Stuart, “should it be found,” etc. Patrick, as usual where there is any ambiguity, combines both senses. “Gray hairs, to be a crown of glory, must be found in the way of righteousness.” Miller.

Verse 32

32. Slow to anger, etc. The high moral tone of this maxim has caused it to be much repeated in various languages. Its beauty and good sense are a sufficient comment. Compare Matthew 5:5; Proverbs 15:1.

Verse 33

33. Lap Literally, bosom. It may mean the hollow part of a vase or urn. It is also applied to the receptacles formed by the mode of wearing the long loose garments peculiar to the East. The ancients used a portion of their garments, perhaps the bosom of the dress, as a container of the גורל , ( goral,) calculi, or small stones, which were used for the purpose of lot-casting.

The whole disposing thereof כל משׁפשׂו , ( kol-mishpato,) the whole judgment or decision of it, is of the Lord. The result was regarded in effect, as a divine decision. The decision by lot is very ancient. It still continues to this day, and probably will continue to the end of time. For in some respects it is the best and most satisfactory (or the least unsatisfactory) way in which a decision can be made. In those things wherein it is proper to employ the lot, men will submit to a decision made in this manner which they would hardly yield to if made in any other.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 16". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/proverbs-16.html. 1874-1909.
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