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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 21

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


The Proverbs of Solomon:


Here begin the PROVERBS proper, the “nucleus of the book.” What has preceded is the introductory discourse or lecture. There is no difficulty in regarding the first nine chapters as one composition. If actually read, it would not be too long for one occasion, and the various parts are about as well connected as in the most of our modern lectures. Indeed, the unities are well preserved. It is possible that the first six verses of chapter first, which contain the title and preface, may have been prefixed subsequently to the composition of that admirable introductory discourse, and of the whole work. The remainder of the book is of a different character and form, especially from Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16. We have no longer a train of continued thought running on from verse to verse, but nearly every verse is independent of that which precedes and of that which succeeds. They might in general be inverted and transposed at pleasure, without any material injury to the sense, or diminution of the effect of the whole. They were divinely intended to form the Hebrew character to prudence and integrity by the principles of universal morality, and so are suitable for all times and peoples.

It, is not probable that all these Proverbs were original with Solomon. Many of them were, doubtless, the results of his own observation and experience; but others, perhaps long in use, were gathered from other sources; being, however, such as his judgment approved, he gave them a place in his collection.

It is the opinion of some critics that Solomon did not write, but spoke the proverbs, and that they were taken down in writing by others, at different times; that from the various collections thus made by different scribes of the three thousand proverbs which he spake, (compare 1 Kings 4:32,) those contained in this book are what were deemed worthy of preservation for after ages. They seem to have been arranged, by Solomon or others, chiefly according to their form, in two separate volumes, rolls, or memoranda, one of which extends from chapter x to chapter xv, inclusive, and which consists almost exclusively of antithetic parallelisms; the other, from chapter 16 to Proverbs 22:16, which consists chiefly of synthetic parallelisms. Every verse, in both parts, makes a complete sentence. There is rarely even a similarity of subject in two successive verses. Even the two parts of the same verse seldom so run into each other as to form a compound sentence, in which one number is dependent on the other. There are a few exceptions to this in the 20th chapter. This is altogether different from the method of the first nine chapters, and is not so rigidly observed in what follows Proverbs 22:16.

1. A wise son… glad father Gladdens his father.

A foolish son כסיל , ( kesil.) The radical idea is that of dullness, stiffness, grossness, rudeness; when applied to the mind, as here, it is the opposite of that refinement, culture, and intelligence, or the capability of them, which חכם , ( hhakham,) wise, implies. It has been suggested that the idea lies half concealed in the verse, that a father, in general, is better qualified to appreciate the mental qualities of a good and wise son, and the mother is more affected by the grossness and rudeness of an evil and foolish one.

This is not wholly improbable, yet too much stress is not to be laid on these niceties, which seem to overlook the nature of the Hebrew parallelism. Comp. Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 15:20; Proverbs 17:0; Proverbs 25:23-24. For the expression heaviness, compare Proverbs 14:13; Proverbs 17:21; Psalms 119:22.

Verse 1

1. King’s heart… hand of the Lord A ruler is an official and representative person in an eminent degree. What he does affects others directly and indirectly. Providence oft times overrules his thoughts, tastes, passions, purposes, etc., to subserve His own ends, and often works out results altogether foreign to the intention or expectation of the ruler.

As the rivers of water פלגי מים , ( palge mayim,) divisions of waters, (compare Psalms 1:3,) such as the rivulets or channels of water in an irrigated garden or field. In these the water was turned on or off, or conducted to any part, at pleasure. “As irrigation is practised for the purpose of refreshing and rendering fruitful, so the implication seems to be, that Jehovah will direct the heart of the king to purposes of good.” Stuart.

Verse 2

2. Pondereth Weighs or proves.

The hearts Compare Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:2; Proverbs 16:25. “The trier of hearts is Jehovah.” Conant.

Verse 3

3. More acceptable Is chosen, is preferred. “This maxim was a bold saying then; it is a bold saying still; but it well unites the wisdom of Solomon with that of his father David, in the Fifty-first Psalm, and with the inspiration of the prophets.” Dean Stanley. Compare Proverbs 15:8; 1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6; Micah 4:7-8; Psalms 51:16-17; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7, etc.

Verse 4

4. Ploughing of the wicked The versions and critics differ on the word rendered “ploughing.” The balance is in favour of rendering נר , ( nir,) a lamp or light, the emblem of prosperity, joy, splendour, etc. Stuart renders thus: “Softness of look and pride of heart, the light of the wicked, is sin.” So, substantially, Conant. The Speaker’s Commentary prefers the old reading. Miller, “Elation of eyes and dilation of heart, the very light of the wicked, is the sin offering.” On the whole, the reading of the Authorized Version may be permitted to stand. Comp. Proverbs 6:17. The Septuagint, Vulgate, etc., read lamp instead of ploughing. “A hautie loke, and a proude hart, which is the light of the wicked, is sinne.” Geneva Bible.

Verse 5

5. Thoughts Plans or purposes.

Diligent Or energetic.

Hasty Inconsiderate, rash, or in haste to be rich, catching eagerly at every seeming advantage, which often proves to be a disadvantage.

Verse 6

6. Getting of treasures This is a difficult verse. I suggest this reading: The acquiring of treasure by a lying tongue is as transient vapour. They (who thus acquire) are seeking death; or, they (the treasures) are death. Instead of מבקשׁי , ( mebhakske,) the seekers, or, they are seeking, several manuscripts and ancient editions read מקשׁי , ( mokshe,) snares. Should this reading be thought preferable, the last clause would run: They (treasures thus gotten) are snares of death deadly snares. Compare Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 13:11.

Verse 7

7. Robbery Rapacity or violence.

Shall destroy them Sweep them sway; shall be the occasion of their destruction. Compare Proverbs 24:21. Refuse to do judgment That which is just and right between man and man. The idea in the first clause is, that the violence they practised upon others shall fall upon themselves. “His violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.” Psalms 7:16. The incendiary shall be consumed in the fire which he kindles. Comp. Proverbs 1:18-19; Psalms 34:21.

Verse 8

8. Froward, etc. Better, winding, crooked. Stuart says, guilty. Zockler renders: “Crooked is the way of the guilty,” etc. It might be translated: “Unsteady is the way of a man laden with guilt, but, as to the pure, his work is straight.” We cannot leave this somewhat uncertain proverb without giving Conant’s rendering: “A man of crooked way turns aside: but the pure, his work is straight.”

Verse 9

9. Corner of the housetop A slight structure on the roof. See case of prophet’s chamber “on the wall.” 2 Kings 4:10. Brawling woman Hebrew, woman of contentions; a contentious, quarrelsome woman.

A wide house Margin, “A house of society,” or families. בית חבר , ( beth hhabher,) a house in common; that is, in company with such a woman. The point of the proverb is, that a man had better endure all the winds, rains, and storms on the housetop rather than the tempest within. Speaker’s Commentary. Compare Proverbs 19:23; Proverbs 27:15; Proverbs 21:19, below; Proverbs 25:24.

Verse 10

10. Wicked desireth Or wishes, evil to others.

Neighbour Or friend. Some render: “He will even wrong his friend.” Comp. Proverbs 17:5-11. Findeth no favour Or compassion. It will be impossible to please or satisfy such a man.

Verse 11

11. Scorner… punished A “scorner” a hopeless offender is to be punished, etc., solely for the benefit of others; a man of less guilt, and recoverable, in a milder way, as discipline for himself. Stuart says: “A simpleton needs the fear of punishment; the wise, only admonition.” Miller is pungent: “Punishment is never wasted. The wicked may be thrust lower by the evil, (Proverbs 14:32;) but some saint receives the lesson.”

Instructed May be rendered prospered. Some, as Zockler, understand the teaching to be, that the “simple” uninstructed ones learn both from the punishment of the wicked and the prosperity of the wise.

Wise… receiveth knowledge Comp, Proverbs 19:25. Some understand this statement of the simple, untutored one of the first clause; others, of the wise man of the latter clause. The Speaker’s Commentary renders the proverb as treating, like Proverbs 19:25, of the final causes of punishment.

Verse 12

12. The righteous Either the “righteous” man, as our version, or the “righteous” God, as others interpret the passage. There is nothing in the original to determine the reading. “The Just One.” Conant. Patrick understands it of magistrates. There is a general consent of the critics on the sense thus: “The Righteous One considers the house of the wicked.” The Judge of all the earth is not unmindful of the evil doers.

Verse 13

13. Whoso stoppeth his ears Refuseth to listen to entreaty.

Shall not be heard His “cry” shall not be answered. It is implied that this shall happen because of his stopping his ears. Compare Matthew 18:23-35; Matthew 25:41, et seq.

Verse 14

14. A gift… pacifieth Subdues, allays, or diverts. The proverb only states a fact, without approving or condemning. It is presumed to refer to lawful presents, not to bribes. Compare Proverbs 17:8; Proverbs 17:23; Proverbs 18:16; Proverbs 19:6. The Septuagint reads the latter clause: “But he that forbears to give, stirs up strong wrath.”

Verse 15

15. Joy… to do judgment The proper administration of justice is a “joy,” or satisfaction, to the upright.

Destruction The workers of iniquity shall be visited with terror.

Verse 16

16. In the congregation of the dead בקכל רפאים , ( bikhal rephaim,) in the congregation or assembly of the rephaim, ghosts, shades, whose dwellingplace is sheol, the underworld, or infernal regions. The righteous expect to be delivered out of sheol, but of these “wanderers,” the proverb says they shall remain or abide there. On first clause compare Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 4:14, et seq.: on second clause, Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 19:18.

Verse 17

17. He that loveth pleasure “Pastime,” (Geneva,) enjoyment, particularly of the appetite.

A poor man Literally, a man of want, a needy man.

Wine and oil Olive and other oils were used as articles of diet, and also prepared with spices and perfumed as an unguent; hence, wine and oil became emblems of luxury and delicacy. The structure of the original might lead us to read it thus: “The needy man, who is fond of enjoyment, who loves wine and oil, (luxurious and expensive living,) shall not become rich” shall not lay up wealth. On the use of oil as an unguent, compare Psalms 23:5; Psalms 45:7; Deuteronomy 28:40; Ruth 3:3; Matthew 6:17; Mark 14:3; Luke 7:46, etc.

Verse 18

18. A ransom A propitiation, lustration, an atonement; that is, figuratively. The wicked bring on themselves the evil they intended for the righteous. Thus their destruction may be considered a ransom for the righteous: it saves them from the intended doom.

Transgressor The treacherous. Haman’s case is an illustration of the proverb. See Esther 7:10, etc.; Proverbs 11:8.

Verse 19

19. In… wilderness בארצ מדבר , ( beerets midhbar,) in the pasture lands, the uncultivated regions, those not occupied by the dwellings of man.

Angry woman A fretful, morose, or contentious woman. Compare Proverbs 21:9; Proverbs 19:13; Proverbs 27:15; Proverbs 25:26.

Verse 20

20. Treasure to be desired All desirable stores, including oil, the emblem of abundance and comfort.

Dwelling Abode or cottage. The word seems to imply comeliness, beauty.

Foolish man Or, fool of a man, as in Proverbs 15:20.

Spendeth it up Rather, swallows it down. The wise man uses prudently his stores, and has plenty; the fool lavishly devours them, and has nothing. In its spiritual application, compare the parable of the virgins, Matthew 25:1-13.

Verse 21

21. Followeth after Pursues constantly, practices.

Righteousness Justice. equity, including whatever is right in disposition, thought, word, and deed.

Mercy Not merely justice, but kindness, benevolence.

Findeth life, righteousness, and honour It is probable that the word צדקה , ( tsedhakah,) righteosness, in the latter clause, means something different from the same word in the former. It is sometimes used for the fruits or rewards of righteousness safety, prosperity, etc. He shall find all desirable good. He who practices righteousness as a matter of duty shall receive righteousness as a matter of reward; that is, righteous rewards. Compare Proverbs 8:18; Romans 3:28; Galatians 3:21; Gal 5:5 ; 1 Kings 3:11; Matthew 6:13.

Verse 22

22. The city of the mighty עיר , ( hir,) גברים ( gibborim.) It may mean a very strong city, or a city defended by mighty men, or both.

The strength of the confidence thereof Or, the bulwark of its confidence “its trusted strength.” He casts down the strong defences in which the defenders confided. The proverb means that wisdom is better than physical strength; skilful strategy more powerful than brute force: accomplishes more than force of arms. History is full of illustrations. Compare Ecclesiastes 9:14-16; Proverbs 24:5. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, the apostle uses the very words of the Septuagint here in respect to the “pulling down” of the spiritual strongholds. The heavenly wise men, who were “mighty” through God, overturned the strong towers of heathenism.

Verse 23

23. Keepeth his mouth Guards well his words. True! true! Comp. Proverbs 12:13; Proverbs 13:3; Proverbs 18:6; Proverbs 18:21.

Verse 24

24. Scorner… proud wrath He that acts with overflowing arrogance might be called a scoffer, an inflated and proud man. “A bold, and self-willed, and insolent man is called a pest; and he that remembers injuries is a transgressor.” Septuagint.

Verse 25

25. Desire… killeth him This is variously interpreted. Patrick says:

“His sloth moves him to make provision for his desires by robbing, or other unlawful ways, rather than by some honest but laborious calling.” “He desires to eat, and drink, and be clothed; but, as he does not labour, he dies with his desires in his heart.” Clarke. “The sluggard desires to enjoy a slothful repose, which will destroy him.” Stuart. Compare Proverbs 11:23; Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 19:24.

Verse 26

26. Coveteth greedily Literally, he desireth a desire; a common Hebrew idiom expressive of intensity. This verse is supposed to refer to the preceding, the subject of the verb being the “slothful” of Proverbs 21:25. All the day long Or, every day. The language seems to suggest that he is nothing and does nothing but desire. He spends his life in wishing and longing. The righteous is the opposite. He acts on his desires so effectually that he has enough for himself and some to spare for others. As he does not stop at wishing for himself, so he does not put others off with mere good wishes. On second clause compare Psalms 112:9.

Verse 27

27. The sacrifice of the wicked The ceremonial worship in general, (compare Proverbs 15:8,) which is performed without any purpose to amend their lives.

With a wicked mind When he has some evil design in the very act itself. Men sometimes join in worship to better their worldly fortunes, to secure trade or office, or for other selfish and even dishonest purposes. It is all “abomination.” Comp Proverbs 15:8; Psalms 50:9; Isaiah 66:3; Jeremiah 6:20; Amos 5:22. The latter clause would probably express the idea better thus: “Because he brings it with an evil purpose; a calculated purpose.” Miller.

Verse 28

28. A false witness A witness of lies; one who testifies falsely.

Shall perish יאבד , ( yobhedh.) It is possible that this verb is used here in its primitive sense, shall lose himself, namely, by wandering.

But the man that heareth Who has heard attentively the words spoken, and testified accordingly.

Speaketh Shall be allowed to speak freely, a privilege not conceded to the “false witness,” who, because of prevarications, is stopped. Compare Proverbs 12:17; Proverbs 19:5; Proverbs 19:9. “Human testimony is one of the chief agencies of society. Without it the social organization could not be sustained, nor its machinery kept in motion. Much of what must necessarily be known in conducting the affairs of life we owe to the veracity of witnesses. Hence the many precepts in this book respecting it, enforcing the obligation of a strict observance of the ninth commandment in the disclosure.” Conant. Compare Exodus 20:16.

Verse 29

29. Hardeneth his face Puts on a bold, impudent look.

Directeth Establishes, prepares, his way. “Beats firm.” Miller. What the other attempts to do by impudence he does by unassuming uprightness of character.

Verse 30

30. There is no wisdom, etc. The proverb is understood to teach that it is vain to hope for success in any enterprise, however well planned and well fortified by counsel, if its accomplishment is against the will of Jehovah; that is, unless he either wills it or permits it. Some understand it to mean, there is no wisdom, counsel, etc.; like that of Jehovah.

Against Some read, Before Jehovah; others, as Lange, prefer the rendering of the text. Compare Jeremiah 9:23.

Verse 31

31. The horse is prepared against… battle This verse connects with the preceding. Its import is, that no preparation for war, however great, however confided in, can be successful without God’s blessing. We find horses first in Egypt. Genesis 49:17; Exodus 9:3; Exodus 14:6-28. They are mentioned by Job, (Job 39:19.) Egypt was celebrated for its horses, 1 Kings 10:28; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 36:9; Ezekiel 17:5. Joshua encountered chariots and horsemen in the north of Palestine. Joshua 11:4-9. Anciently horses were generally used for war purposes: for the more peaceful avocations the ass was employed. Zechariah 9:9. Solomon first introduced the raising of horses among the Hebrews. The hundred reserved (2 Samuel 8:4; 1 Chronicles 18:4) were for the use of David himself, whose example was imitated by Absalom. 2 Samuel 15:1. God had expressly forbidden the ruler of the Jews to multiply horses, (Deuteronomy 17:16:) but Solomon seems to have paid no attention to this injunction, and after his time the Hebrews were never destitute of horses. They had both horsemen and chariots of war.

Safety is of the Lord The deliverance belongs to Jehovah. It is his to give victory. Compare 1 Samuel 17:47; Psalms 3:8; Psalms 33:17. Miller singularly enough translates the last clause, “and salvation against Jehovah!” that is, as he explains, Salvation is “prepared,” “made ready,” against the “day of Jehovah!”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/proverbs-21.html. 1874-1909.
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