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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 16

 

 

Verses 4-7

All Is In Accordance With YHWH’s Purposes, With The Consequence That The Proud Will Be Punished, Whilst Those Who Fear YHWH Will Depart From Evil And Find That Both YHWH And Their Enemies Are At Peace With Them (Proverbs 16:4-7).

In s specific YHWH subsection, we learn that YHWH has made everything for a purpose, even the unrighteous for the time of calamity (Proverbs 16:4); that the proud in heart are an abomination to Him and will be punished (Proverbs 16:5); that the iniquity of those who turn to Him is atoned for through His compassion and faithfulness (Proverbs 16:6 a); that by the fear of YHWH men will depart from evil (Proverbs 16:6 b); and that YHWH will make even the enemies of the righteous man to be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7).

The subsection is presented chiastically as follows:

A YHWH has made everything for its own end, yes, even the wicked for the day of evil (Proverbs 16:4).

B Every one who is proud in heart is an abomination to YHWH, though hand join in hand, he will not be unpunished (Proverbs 16:5).

B By covenant love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of YHWH men depart from evil (Proverbs 16:6).

A When a man’s ways please YHWH, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7)

Note that in A everything has been determined and brought about by YHWH with His determined purpose in view, including the disposition of the unrighteous, and in the parallel that includes the attitude of the enemy of the righteous to the truly righteous. In B the proud in heart are an abomination to YHWH, and will be punished, whilst in contrast in the parallel men depart from evil by the fear of YHWH, and will find atonement through His (or their) covenant love and faithfulness.

Proverbs 16:4

YHWH has made everything for its own end,

Yes, even the wicked for the day of evil.’

We are reminded in this bold statement that God has made everything for a purpose, for ‘its answer’. There are no loose ends or exceptions. All that is has God’s aims in view, and will at some time be brought into the reckoning. And this would especially so of what we ‘roll on YHWH’ of all that we do, which is why our purposes will be established (will come to accomplishment) (Proverbs 16:3). This is the kind of majestic statement that ties in Solomon’s vision of YHWH, when he says of Him, ‘even the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built’ (1 Kings 8:27). It is a description of the universality of YHWH’s sovereignty.

‘For its own end, for its appropriate end’ is literally ‘for its answer’ connecting up with Proverbs 16:1. In Proverbs 16:1 men devised their own schemes, but it was the answer of YHWH’s word (tongue) that decided issues. Here in the same way everything will be determined by YHWH’s ‘answer’, that is, by His word, as He brings all things into His reckoning, including the activities of both the righteous and the unrighteous.

Thus there is even a purpose for the unrighteous, who are also His creations, and that purpose is that they might face the evil day, the day of calamity (Proverbs 1:26-27; Proverbs 6:15). The indication would appear to be that in order for God’s purposes to be fulfilled the existence and punishment of the unrighteous was necessary.

Proverbs 16:5

‘Every one who is proud in heart is an abomination to YHWH,

Though hand join in hand, he will not be unpunished.’

And this included the ‘high of heart’ who are ‘an abomination to YHWH’. They see themselves as raised above others, as not having to take others into account, as superior beings. They are thus contrary to all that God, Who is a God of compassion Who lowers Himself in order to meet with man, is (see Genesis 11:1-9). His very nature revolts against them. Nothing could bring out more the situation of YHWH as Moral Governor of the Universe, not on the basis of some objective standard, but on the basis of what He is.

And they too were ‘made -- for the day of evil’ (Proverbs 16:4), the day when calamity comes on men. They ‘will not be unpunished’. This reference to the proud, the high of heart, is a repetition of the thought in Proverbs 6:16-19 where among those things which were an abomination to YHWH was ‘the proud (haughty) look’ (Proverbs 6:17), those who raised their heads or noses in order to express superiority. This indicates that God has no time for people who think themselves superior to others. As the writer will say elsewhere, ‘the rich and poor -- YHWH is the Maker of them all’ (Proverbs 22:2).

And whatever attempts such people might make in order to avoid their inevitable fate, even if they come to agreements among themselves, or join hands against YHWH, they will not go unpunished. For they have been made for the day of evil (Proverbs 16:4). Others, however, see ‘hand to hand’ as an expression of the writer as meaning ‘let us be sure of this’.

Proverbs 16:6

‘By covenant love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,

And by the fear of YHWH men depart from evil.’

The root for ‘atoned for’ is cpr. Some see this as the equivalent of the Arabic kafara = to cover up/over’. Others as derived from the Akkadian kuppuru = ‘to clear, to expiate, to wipe of, to ritually purify’. Even others see it as connected with koper = ransom. But whichever we choose its significance in Scripture appears to be to deal with sin in such a way that YHWH can be approached. The one who is ‘atoned for’ is put in the right with YHWH.

The next question is as to whose covenant love and faithfulness is in mind. Is it YHWH’s or man’s? The parallel with ‘the fear of YHWH’, which is the response of righteous men to YHWH, might at first sight suggest that ‘covenant love and faithfulness’ is the response of the righteous to God’s merciful covenant (compare Proverbs 3:3), just as the fear of YHWH is man’s response to the awesome otherness (that quality which makes Him wholly different and fills men with awe) of YHWH. The thought is then that they respond with covenant love and faithfulness to the requirements of His covenant, and therefore, through His mercy and compassion as revealed in that covenant, find atonement from iniquity. In other words, just as the sacrifice of the unrighteous is an abomination to YHWH (Proverbs 15:8), so the sacrifice of the righteous, those who respond to Him in love and faithfulness, makes atonement.

On the other hand we could equally argue from the parallel (and from the whole YHWH context), that we should paraphrase it as;

‘By the covenant love and faithfulness of YHWH iniquity is atoned for,

But by the fear of YHWH men depart from evil.’

This would then indicate that both YHWH’s covenant love and faithfulness, and YHWH’s awesomeness, have an effect on men, the first to make atonement for them, the second to make them depart from evil.

And this suggestion is supported by the general impression that the whole context could be seen as suggesting that it is rather YHWH’s covenant love and faithfulness which is in mind, for it is YHWH and His activity which is central in the subsection. It is He Who has made everything for its purpose (Proverbs 16:4). It is to Him that everyone who is proud is an abomination (Proverbs 16:5). It is He Who makes the righteous man’s enemies to be at peace with Him (Proverbs 16:7). Thus we would be justified in arguing that it is He Whose covenant love and faithfulness makes atonement for iniquity. Then the idea would be that it is His mercy and faithfulness, revealed through the covenant and the sacrificial system, that is the means by which iniquity is atoned for, by which He is made at peace with them.

Indeed with this in mind Proverbs 16:7-8 might be seen as a minor chiasmus:

A ‘By covenant love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,

B And by the fear of YHWH men depart from evil.

B When a man’s ways please YHWH,

A He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.’

This might then be seen as confirming that through His covenant love and faithfulness (as revealed through the covenant which provides a way of atonement) He makes Himself at peace with those who respond to Him, just as in the parallel He makes even their enemies to be at peace with them. As a consequence peace is seen to come to them from both Himself and from men. Departing from evil by the fear of YHWH then parallels a man’s ways being pleasing to YHWH.

But what we must not lose sight of in the end is the importance of both the covenant love and faithfulness of God, through which atonement is offered, and of the responsive covenant love and faithfulness of men, through which it is accepted.

Proverbs 16:7

‘When a man’s ways please YHWH,

He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.’

The central thought behind these words is that we should not allow outward circumstances to affect our loyalty to YHWH, that if we walk faithfully with Him we can look to Him to guard our ways. In other words, that pleasing YHWH should come before pleasing men. And as a consequence God’s promise is that if we do this, He Himself will ensure that our enemies are made to be at peace with us. For as we saw in Proverbs 3:17, the ways of wisdom were pleasantness and peace, and we can see that as partially fulfilled here. When a man’s ways please YHWH (when he walks in God’s wisdom) YHWH makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. He lives in tranquillity and peace because YHWH watches over his ways, and also, of course because he behaves wisely towards his enemies (Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 15:28).


Verses 8-12

YHWH Is Concerned About Injustice Whether At The Hands Of The King Or Of Men (Proverbs 16:8-12).

In this subsection men are urged to act justly and rightly in their business dealings, and kings are urged to act justly in their dealings with their people. In both cases we are assured that both men and kings are subject to His control. Proverbs 16:8 provides an important reminder that whilst those who follow wisdom are guaranteed future wellbeing, it does not necessarily come at once. There can be a time when the righteous only have ‘a little’. And in the same way, although the unrighteous will in the end lose their wealth, it does not necessarily happen quickly. For a time the unrighteous can be seen to prosper, and the righteous to have little.

The subsection is presented chiastically as follows:

A Better is a little, with righteousness, than great revenues with injustice (Proverbs 16:8).

B A man’s heart devises his way, but YHWH directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

B A divine sentence is in the lips of the king, his mouth will not transgress in judgment (Proverbs 16:10).

A A just balance and scales are YHWH’s, all the weights of the bag are his work (Proverbs 16:11).

Note that in A just dealings are more important than gaining great wealth, whilst in the parallel just weights and balances have YHWH’s approval. Centrally in B YHWH directs men in their steps, and in the parallel He direct kings in exercising judgment.

Proverbs 16:8

‘Better is a little, with righteousness,

Than great revenues with injustice.’

The point here is that just dealings are all important to YHWH. It is better to only gain a little while acting justly, than to gain great wealth by unjust means. And that can only be because such an attitude pleases YHWH, and it is more important to be acceptable in God’s eyes than it is to be wealthy. One reason that it is better is that YHWH will watch over the one who is pleasing to Him (compare Proverbs 16:7), whilst another is that he will also enjoy a good conscience and be able to sleep at nights, and have the confidence that no one is out to get him because of his behaviour. In contrast the unjust man is under the wrath of God, and must constantly watch his back.

Proverbs 16:9

‘A man’s heart devises his way,

But (and) YHWH directs his step.’

This may be seen in two ways. Firstly (translating as ‘and’) as indicating that the righteous man devises his way looking to YHWH to direct each step. Or secondly (translating as ‘but’) as indicating that whatever a man schemes to do, His ways are in the end in the hands of YHWH. Both are true and are reminder that in life, whether we want Him to be or not, YHWH is in overall control of our lives.

In the light of the context it is probably the first which is mainly in view, for the context is about men pondering their ways. Men are to ponder their business dealings, kings are to ponder the ways in which they act in judgment, and if they look to Him YHWH will direct their steps. On the other hand, the use of ‘man’s’ in general may point to the second, for what is said elsewhere makes quite clear that YHWH does not assist the unrighteous.

Proverbs 16:10

‘A divine sentence (or divine wisdom) is in the lips of the king,

His mouth will not transgress in judgment.’

In Proverbs 8:15-16 Wisdom assured us that, ‘by me kings reign, and princes decree justice, by me governors rule and nobles, even all the judges of the earth’. That is now turned into the expressed hope that a king, when acting as ‘a judge of the earth’, will do so recognising his responsibility before God. For that is why he has been made king. What is described as being in the mouth of the king is ‘divination’, the ability to speak as from a divine source. God’s wisdom will guide him (Proverbs 8:15).

Thus a king is to recognise that when pronouncing justice he is doing so in God’s Name, that ‘the powers that be are ordained of God’ (Romans 13:1), and if he does so recognise it he will be scrupulously fair and ensure that justice is done. He will not transgress in judgment, because YHWH will direct his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

This is not, of course, saying that whatever decision a king comes to will automatically have divine approval. That will depend very much on his motive. It is rather saying that when he seeks to judge rightly he will have divine assistance. God will give him wisdom. Indeed the way in which he should judge is explained in Deuteronomy 17:18-20. It is only in that light that he can make this supreme claim to have the mind of God.

Solomon himself had good cause to think like this. YHWH had promised him wisdom above the ordinary in his dealings (1 Kings 3:11-12). It is questionable if a later writer could have spoken with such confidence in view of some of the kings who followed Solomon. It would, however, one day be true of the Messiah (Isaiah 11:1-4).

This is the third reference to the king in the proverbs of Solomon (compare Proverbs 14:28; Proverbs 14:35) and it will be noted in each case that such a reference has always come in the context of a prominent mention of YHWH. The king’s authority is always seen in the light of YHWH’s authority (something made plain in this proverb).

Proverbs 16:11

A just balance and scales are YHWH’s,

All the weights of the bag are his work.’

The subsection closes with the thought that, whether used by kings or businessmen, the accurate balance and scales which ensure fair dealings are the only ones that have YHWH’s approval. They alone are His, and acknowledged by Him. Indeed, the very weights which the businessman keeps in a bag are His work if they are accurate and reliable. And if they are not then He repudiates them. They come under His disapproval. We can compare here Proverbs 11:1 where we read, ‘a false balance is an abomination to YHWH, but a just weight is His delight’. Among other things this is a vivid way of saying that God is with a king or businessman in his endeavours when he deals honestly, but rejects him when he does not. It is also an important indication of the emphasis that God puts on honest dealings.

Just scales, balances and weights were, of course, a requirement of the Torah, where they were also associated with true justice. ‘You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measuring stick, in weight or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah and a just hin shall you have’ (Leviticus 19:35-36; compare Deuteronomy 25:13-15; Micah 6:11). Whilst the idea of men being weighed in terms of justice is found in Job 31:6; Isaiah 26:7; Daniel 5:27.


Verses 12-15

The Responsibility And Authority Of A King (Proverbs 16:12-15).

It is no coincidence that this subsection with its fourfold mention of the king comes after a series of subsections in which YHWH and His jurisdiction has been prominent. In Proverbs the king is always seen as being in the shadow of YHWH. And the importance of righteousness, both in a king and to a king, are now emphasised. It is an abomination to a king to commit unrighteousness, whilst righteousness will establish his throne (Proverbs 16:12); and on the other hand the king delights in those who are righteous towards him (Proverbs 16:13). Righteousness is shown to be important in both king and subject.

However, the supreme importance of the king as YHWH’s representative was not to be overlooked, and the possibility of his wrath or favour is then stressed. These can lead either to death or to life. Because of that the wise man will pacify the first when it arises (by his righteous lips and speaking rightly) and will encourage the second. The thought is not that he will toady to him, but that he will make himself pleasing by his righteous words. Good kings always acknowledged honourable men.

So the subsection is presented in two pairs:

· It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness, for the throne is established by righteousness (Proverbs 16:12).

· Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him who speaks right (Proverbs 16:13).

In this pairing the righteousness which is required of the king is equally required of his subjects. Both are to be righteous.

· The wrath of a king is as messengers of death, but a wise man will pacify it (Proverbs 16:14).

· In the light of the king’s countenance is life, and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain (Proverbs 16:15).

In this pairing the wrath of the king which can bring death is contrasted with the favour of the king which in its turn brings life and favour. The one is to be avoided by wise words, the other is to be enjoyed by those who walk truly.

The subsection can also be presented chiastically as follows:

A It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness, for the throne is established by righteousness (Proverbs 16:12).

B Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him who speaks right (Proverbs 16:13).

B The wrath of a king is as messengers of death, but a wise man will pacify it (Proverbs 16:14).

A In the light of the king’s countenance is life, and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain (Proverbs 16:15).

In A YHWH requires kings to be righteous, in order that their thrones may be established, and He abominates wickedness in kings, and in the parallel the righteous king is seen as a source of life and favour, (especially on the righteous). His favour is like a cloud of latter rain (which brings YHWH’s provision on man when man is walking rightly before Him - Deuteronomy 11:13-15; Jeremiah 5:24; Hosea 6:1-3). In B righteous lips are a delight to kings, and they love him who speaks right, and in the parallel the wise man pacifies the king when his wrath is aroused, presumably by means of his righteous lips which speak right.

Proverbs 16:12

‘It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness,

For the throne is established by righteousness.’

The first clause may mean that it is an abomination to sensible kings, because otherwise their thrones will not be established; or that it is an abomination to wise men in general when kings commit wickedness, because it would indicate foolish kingship; or that it is an abomination to YHWH, because He allows kings to be appointed on the expectation that they will rule righteously (Romans 11:1-6). That this third option must be included is suggested by the context in which this subsection is found (an emphasis on YHWH and His ways), and by the fact that elsewhere ‘abomination’ is regularly connected with the name of YHWH (Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 11:20; Proverbs 12:22; Proverbs 15:8-9, Proverbs 15:26; Proverbs 16:5), but it is probable that it was also to be seen as an abomination to all sensible people (compare how abomination is used in Proverbs 13:19). Whichever way it is the point is that for a king to behave unrighteously is for him to go against all that is expected of a king. It is a denial of what a king should truly be. And this is especially so as ‘the throne is established by righteousness’. A righteous king will be approved of and supported by all who love good government. A righteous king results in a sound and solid nation. And that it was generally agreed that this was so, although sadly often flouted, comes out in the history of kingship. Kings did seek to be approved of by their people, and loved to be thought of as the fathers and shepherds of their people. The throne of the Pharaoh had the Egyptian equivalent of righteousness inscribed on its base, something which Solomon may have noted and copied.

The thought does not only apply to kings. It applies to all who are in positions of public authority. Once a person is put in a position of public authority he has a similar responsibility to a king. For him to commit unrighteousness is equally an abomination both to YHWH and to men. His position too will be established by righteousness. And the principle can even be applied to people in any position of authority.

Proverbs 16:13

Righteous lips are the delight of kings,

And they love him who speaks right.’

Kingship is not easy and two things that a good king treasures are wise advice which is not self-serving, and honest officials who can be trusted. Both are a delight to him. (We can consider here Nehemiah and Mordecai). Righteous lips are those which speak honestly and truthfully, and without having any axe to grind. Thus kings love those who speak what is right and true. They know that what they say can be trusted and it therefore enables them to rule in righteousness. It was the advice of those whose lips were not righteous which resulted in Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, losing a large part of his kingdom, whilst sadly he ignored those who spoke with righteous lips whose advice could have saved his kingdom (1 Kings 12:8).

Proverbs 16:14

‘The wrath of a king is as messengers of death,

But a wise man will pacify it.’

This does not mean that a wise man will seek to pacify the king only if the king’s wrath is directed against him, although that is undoubtedly true. It rather signifies that the wise man will seek to direct a king away from venting his anger by giving him wise counsel. An angry king was dangerous because he had the power of life and death. But the wise man gently reminds the king of his obligations, and draws his attention to any ameliorating circumstances, thus preventing him from acting unjustly (which is why he is seen as a wise man). That is why the king so treasures men of righteous lips who speak what is right (Proverbs 16:13). All kings had wise men around them in order to receive counsel from them. And a wise man could often prevent a king from acting foolishly by ‘pacifying’ him.

Proverbs 16:15

‘In the light of the king’s countenance is life,

And his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain.’

In contrast to the wrath of a king which is a messenger of death (Proverbs 16:14) is the light of the king’s countenance which is life. Apart from those who came to face judgment, only those who were in favour with the king would be allowed to look on his face and see ‘the light of his countenance’. This metaphor is found in Babylonian, Ugaritic and Egyptian texts, and is possibly a comparison with the sun whose face shines on the world. Thus to look on his face was to know that you would enjoy wellbeing. That you would enjoy the benefit of his favour. And that favour was like the cloud of the latter rain. The sun and the latter rain together were an essential to the maturing of the grain harvest. The latter rain referred to the welcome showers that arrived in April/early May finishing off the rainy season, and prior to the summer drought. They helped to mature the growing crops. The idea is thus that the king’s beneficent face and favour guaranteed fruitfulness and wellbeing.


Verses 16-21

Wisdom Is To Be Sought And Pride Must Be Avoided By The One Who Would Walk In The Right Way With Trust In YHWH (Proverbs 16:16-21).

In this subsection the envelopes of wisdom (Proverbs 16:16) - pride (Proverbs 16:18) - pride (Proverbs 16:19) - wisdom (Proverbs 16:21) surround the call to the reader to walk in the way of the upright and guard his way (Proverbs 16:17) and to give heed to the word and to trust in YHWH (Proverbs 16:20).

The subsection is presented chiastically as follows:

A How much better is it to obtain wisdom than gold! Yes, to obtain shrewdness (binah) is rather to be chosen than silver (Proverbs 16:16)

B The highway of the upright is to depart from evil, he who keeps his way preserves his life (Proverbs 16:17).

C Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

C Better it is to be of a lowly spirit with the poor, than to divide the spoil with the proud (Proverbs 16:19).

B He who gives heed to the word will find good, and whoever trusts in YHWH, happy is he (Proverbs 16:20).

A The wise in heart will be called shrewd (bin), and the sweetness of the lips increases learning (Proverbs 16:21).

Note that in A it is better to obtain wisdom than gold and to obtain shrewdness than silver, and in the parallel the wise in heart will be called shrewd and sweet lips increase learning. In B the upright departs from evil and preserves his life (thus enjoying good, wellbeing and happiness), and in the parallel the one who heeds the word (of wisdom) finds good, and whoever trusts in YHWH will be happy (filled with wellbeing). Centrally in C pride and haughtiness will result in judgment, and in the parallel it is better to be of lowly spirit and poor than to get involved with the proud.

Proverbs 16:16

‘How much better is it to obtain wisdom than gold!

Yes, to obtain shrewdness is rather to be chosen than silver.’

These words carry us back into the atmosphere of the Prologue. ‘My (Wisdom’s) fruit is better than gold, yes than fine gold, and my revenues than choice silver’ (Proverbs 8:19). Compare also Proverbs 3:13-14; Proverbs 8:10; Proverbs 2:4. Wisdom and shrewdness (understanding - binah) are regularly connected (Proverbs 1:2; Proverbs 2:2-3; Proverbs 4:5; Proverbs 4:7; Proverbs 7:4)

So to obtain wisdom and shrewdness is far better than the obtaining of silver and gold. It is to obtain a treasure beyond price, an inner treasure that nothing can take away. For they lead man into the highway of the upright, so that he walks uprightly, and enable him to keep his way and preserve his inner life (Proverbs 16:17). In Proverbs 16:21 wisdom produces shrewdness, whilst sweet lips increase learning. Thus the wise seek nuggets of wisdom, rather than the outward trappings of wealth. They seek shrewdness and learning rather than ill-gotten wealth, for they do not seek to ‘divide the spoil with the proud’ (Proverbs 16:19)

Proverbs 16:17

‘The highway of the upright is to depart from evil,

He who keeps his way preserves his inner life.’

Here the highway (beaten and smooth path) of the upright (the straight) into which wisdom leads men is defined as ‘to depart from evil’. So wisdom is highly moral. To depart from evil is an abomination to fools (Proverbs 13:19), but it is beloved by the wise. It is to choose the right way, the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14). It is to walk in the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 3:7; Proverbs 16:6). The world does not want this way, for to depart from evil (all that is not good) involves avoiding the illicit pleasures of the world. It involves avoiding self-seeking. But it is the wise way, for the one who so guards his way preserves his inner life, and ensures the building up of his spirit. He obtains something far better than gold (Proverbs 16:16).

In Solomon’s days ‘highways’ provided relatively smooth roads throughout the land, and bypassed cities. To enter a city you turned aside from the highway and took a by-path which led into the city (compare Judges 19:11; Jeremiah 41:5-7). Thus the one who walked in the highway of the upright ignored the distractions of the city, and continued on his upward way. He walked in the path of the righteous which is as the shining light of day, getting ever brighter and brighter (Proverbs 4:18). This picture of life as a way was common in the Prologue (Proverbs 2:13; Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 2:18-20; Proverbs 3:6; Proverbs 3:17; Proverbs 4:11; Proverbs 4:14; Proverbs 4:18-19; etc.).

Proverbs 16:18

‘Pride goes before destruction (before being broken),

And a haughty spirit before a fall.’

In contrast the one who walks in the way of pride and of a haughty spirit will face destruction rather than life, and will finally stumble and fall. It is best not to walk along the highway (Proverbs 16:17) with your nose in the air. For the way of pride and arrogance is one that God hates (Proverbs 8:13), and in Proverbs 6:17 ‘haughty eyes’ are described as being an abomination to YHWH. This is, of course, because of what pride results in. It was man’s pride and self-seeking which led to man’s fall in the first place, as man sought to experience what was forbidden to him, rather than to obey God (Genesis 3). Such pride results in contention (Proverbs 13:10), whilst the proud sweep the humble out of their paths (Psalms 10:2). They have no time for them. They see themselves as above them. In their pride they think that they can even thrust God aside (Psalms 10:4). In their self-confidence they ignore His warnings (Isaiah 9:9-10).

And in Proverbs 16:19 they are seen as those who ‘divide the spoil’. They are those who are ready to obtain wealth by any means, even if it means overriding the rights of others. In Proverbs 1:10-19 they were exemplified by the young man’s contemporaries, who in total disregard for the wellbeing of others, sought to entice him into evil ways, encouraging him to obtain wealth by false means (Proverbs 1:10-19). They are men who are too proud to heed the wise words of authority (Proverbs 1:8).

There is an interesting contrast between those who are ‘upright’ (straight), and those who are ‘haughty’, (the word indicates high and lofty, with their noses in the air). The former walk securely, seeing the way ahead, the latter stumble and fall because their eyes are off the highway. The fact that pride leads to ‘destruction’ is a reminder of the broad way spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14. That also led to destruction. The word for destruction means ‘broken’. The proud break others. They will themselves be broken.

Proverbs 16:19

‘Better it is to be of a humble spirit with the lowly,

Than to divide the spoil with the proud.’

The haughty spirit of Proverbs 16:18 is now compared with ‘a humble spirit’ (compare Isaiah 57:15). It is better to be among the lowly and have a humble spirit, and thus to know God (Isaiah 57:15), than to obtain ill-gotten wealth by consorting with the proud, who disregard God. We can compare Proverbs 16:8, ‘better a little with righteousness, than great revenues with injustice’.

The Scriptures lay great stress on lowliness of spirit, a genuine humility before God. The lowly in spirit are those who are aware of their own sinfulness, and who come to God seeking His forgiveness and compassion. They give careful heed to God’s wisdom (Proverbs 16:20). They are of a humble and contrite heart (Isaiah 57:15). They are those who have been blessed by God, and have entered under the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 5:3). They will obtain honour (Proverbs 29:23; Luke 1:52), for men will recognise their worth.

Proverbs 16:20

‘He who gives heed to the word will find good,

And whoever trusts in YHWH, happy is he.’

This proverb might be seen as a definition of the one who is humble in spirit (Proverbs 16:19). He is one who gives heed to ‘the word’ (the word of wisdom, compare Proverbs 19:8), and who trusts in YHWH. In Proverbs 13:13 ‘the word’ is paralleled with ‘the commandment’. Here is one who listens to the voice of God in order to obey Him. He walks in the highway of the upright (Proverbs 16:17). And the consequence is that he will ‘find good’. He will be blessed in spirit, he will prosper (compare Proverbs 3:16-18), he will preserve his inner life (Proverbs 16:17).

And especially the one who gives heed to the word of wisdom will trust in YHWH (compare Proverbs 3:5). He will look to God, and his dependence will be on God. He will not lean on his own understanding, but will know God in all his ways (compare Proverbs 3:6). And the consequence will be that he will be blessed. he will be happy in his heart. He will enjoy the blessednesses of the Psalmist in Psalms 1. He will experience joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8).

Proverbs 16:21

‘The wise in heart will be called shrewd,

And the sweetness (or ‘pleasantness’) of the lips increases learning (or ‘persuasiveness’).’

The subsection is summed up in these words. Those who are wise in heart, and have demonstrated it by their humbleness of spirit (Proverbs 16:19), by their heeding of the word (Proverbs 16:20), and by their trust in YHWH (Proverbs 16:20), will be called shrewd, that is, sensible, intelligent, men of understanding. They have received the wisdom that is better than gold, and the shrewdness which is better than silver (Proverbs 16:16).

And such men will be capable teachers. Unlike the proud and haughty (Proverbs 16:18) they will speak sweetly so that their words are persuasive (compare the use of ‘learning, fair speech’ in Proverbs 7:21). For the wise in heart, who know the wisdom of God, will always seek to pass that wisdom on to others. And they will do it with sweet words, for thereby they will obtain a hearing.


Verses 22-25

The Wise Pass On Their Wisdom Persuasively But Fools Have Nothing To Pass On But Their Folly (Proverbs 16:22-25).

In this subsection the reference in Proverbs 16:21 to the idea of possessing and sweetly passing on wisdom to others is now taken up and amplified. To its possessor understanding is a wellspring of life, both to himself and to others, whilst the only disciplinary instruction of fools is their folly. The wise allow their hearts to instruct their mouths, so that what they say is persuasive, and consequently their pleasant words are sweet to men’s taste, and thus to men’s inner man (their inner life and bones). In contrast the way of the fool might appear right to men, but its end are the ways of death.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A Understanding is a wellspring of life to him who has it, but the correction of fools is their folly (Proverbs 16:22).

B The heart of the wise instructs his mouth, and adds learning (or ‘persuasiveness’) to his lips (Proverbs 16:23).

B Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones (Proverbs 16:24).

A There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end of it are the ways of death (Proverbs 16:25).

Note that in A true understanding is a wellspring of life to its possessor, whilst in the parallel what seems right to men has as its end the ways of death. In B the lips of the wise are persuasive, whilst in the parallel pleasant words are sweet to the taste.

Proverbs 16:22

‘Understanding is a wellspring of life to him who has it,

But the correction of fools is their folly.’

The word translated ‘understanding’ is not the usual word, but indicates understanding, knowledge, wisdom. It is basically understanding about God and the things of God. And to those who have this understanding it is like a ‘wellspring of life’, a plentiful source of thirst-quenching and life-giving water which gives live to those who enjoy it. Furthermore it is a wellspring of life to all to whom they impart their understanding.

In Proverbs 10:11 it was ‘the mouth of the righteous’ which was a wellspring of life; in Proverbs 13:14 it was ‘the law of the wise’ which was a wellspring of life; and in Proverbs 14:27 it was ‘the fear of YHWH’ which was a wellspring of life; here it is true understanding which is the wellspring of life to the one who possesses it. The idea behind a wellspring was of an abundant water source which satisfied the thirst continually and was a continual source of life for vegetation. Thus wisdom and understanding in the things of God, which were based on the fear of YHWH, will satisfy men’s spiritual thirst and give them life. And as Jesus Christ made clear, He is the wellspring supreme. ‘He who drinks of this water (from the wellspring of Jacob) will thirst again, but he who drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst, for the water that I shall give him will be in him a wellspring of water, springing up to eternal life’ (John 4:13-14).

In stark contrast is the fool. In order to parallel it we could paraphrase the second clause as ‘folly is the disciplinary instruction of fools’. For the wise, understanding. For the fool, folly. The fool’s way may seem right to a man, but the end of it is the ways of death (Proverbs 16:25).

Proverbs 16:23

‘The heart of the wise instructs his mouth,

And adds learning (or ‘persuasiveness’) to his lips.’

The one who has understanding, the truly wise, will also speak truly. His heart will instruct his mouth so that what he says is acceptable, instructive and persuasive. He will woo people by his wisdom. Indeed, the assumption in Proverbs is that the wise will seek to pass on their wisdom, so that others too might enjoy the wellspring of life (Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 10:21; Proverbs 10:31; Proverbs 13:17; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 15:2; Proverbs 15:4; Proverbs 15:7). And the assumption is that when he does so his heart (will, mind and emotions) will instruct his mouth, enabling him to speak with clarity. It will add persuasiveness to his lips. It will give him teaching as to what to say, both with regard to his own ways and with regard to the knowledge of God.

Proverbs 16:24

‘Pleasant words are as a honeycomb,

Sweet to the inner life, and health to the bones.’

Indeed, the wise remembers that pleasant words are like a honeycomb. They are the source of sweetness, healing and life. They are pure (Proverbs 15:26). Honey was thought of as life-reviving (1 Samuel 14:27) and as having healing properties. So what they impart gives sweetness to a man’s inner life (his nephesh), and health to the whole man (his bones). In Israel the whole man was thought of in terms of ‘breath’ (nephesh) and bones (compare Ezekiel 37:4-7).

So wisdom is not to be presented as some harsh requirement on behalf of God, but with pleasantness and sweetness so that it will attract the hearer. Men are to be wooed into truth, not battered into it. Although they are warned of what the consequences will be of refusing it (Proverbs 1:24-31; Proverbs 6:15).

Proverbs 16:25

‘There is a way which seems right to a man,

But the end of it are the ways of death.’

We have here a repetition of the proverb in Proverbs 14:12. The proverb is repeated here so as to act as a suitable end to the subsection. True understanding is a wellspring of life, but men’s ideas about their own way (which are not true understanding) end in the ways of death. Note the plural. There is only one way to life, through true understanding, but there are many ways to death. This is why men need to be wooed with persuasive and pleasant words.


Verses 26-29

The Hard-Working Person, The Worthless Man, the Perverse Man And The Man Of Violence (Proverbs 16:26-29).

This subsection is based on the idea of ‘a man’ (ish) which is repeated in each proverb apart from the first, and connects back to the use of ‘a man’ in Proverbs 16:25. In each case the ish is a worldly, godless man. In contrast we have the ‘person’ (nephesh) of the hardworking, righteous man. So the ‘person (nephesh) of the hard worker’ is contrasted with the ‘man of worthlessness’ (Proverbs 6:12), the ‘man of perverseness’ (Proverbs 2:12; Proverbs 2:14; Proverbs 6:14) and the ‘man of violence’ (Proverbs 3:31; compare Proverbs 1:10-19), the contrast possibly bringing out a similar contrast to that of spirit and flesh in the New Testament. The spiritual man (nephesh) contrasts with the fleshly men (ish).

The ‘person’ of the hard-worker, who satisfies his own cravings by hard work, and is self-contained, especially parallels and contrasts strongly with the ‘man’ of violence who, because he does not want to work hard, chooses easier ways of satisfying his cravings by highway robbery, and draws others into it (Proverbs 1:10-19).

Notice how all are involved in words. The hardworker’s mouth urges him to work harder. In stark contrast the worthless man’s lips are like a scorching fire, the perverse man’s lips produce strife and division, and the violent man entices men into his own ways. There is a further interesting contrast in that the hardworking person ‘labours’, the worthless man ‘digs (usually a pit or a well)’, the perverse man ‘sows’, all verbs indicating hard work, whilst the violent man ‘entices’. Not for him the stigma of labour.

The subsection is presented chiastically as follows:

A The person (‘appetite’) of the hardworking man labours for him, for his mouth urges him to it (Proverbs 16:26).

B A worthless man devises (digs up) mischief, and in his lips there is as a scorching fire (Proverbs 16:27).

B A perverse man scatters abroad (sows) strife, and a whisperer (or ‘talebearer’) separates chief friends (Proverbs 16:28).

A A man of violence entices his neighbour, and leads him in a way that is not good (Proverbs 16:29).

In A we have the person who works hard for himself and satisfies his own appetites, whilst in the contrasting parallel we have the violent and enticing man (Proverbs 1:10-19), who shuns hard work, and takes the easy way out, drawing others into his schemes. Centrally in B we have the worthless man whose lips are a scorching fire, who compares with the perverse man whose lips sow discord.

Proverbs 16:26

‘The person (or ‘appetite’) of the hardworking man labours for him,

For his mouth urges him to it.’

There is probably a double significance to the use of nephesh (person, appetite) here. In the first place it contrasts with ish and indicates the worthy man, even the spiritual man, for the nephesh was what God breathed into man in Genesis 2:7, making him distinct from the animals, and therefore in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This ties in with the nearby reference to the nephesh in Proverbs 16:24 where pleasant words are sweet to the inward man (nephesh). See also Proverbs 16:17.

In the second place it can signify ‘appetite’ and therefore as paralleling the mouth which urges him to work hard so that it can be satisfied. He is thus both spiritual and yet very much down to earth. But it would be degrading its use here to make the second the dominant thought, and would lose the deliberate contrast between nephesh and ish. Indeed the mouth here can rather be seen as contrasted with the lips in Proverbs 16:27 in which is a scorching fire; with the whisperer/talebearer in Proverbs 16:28; and with the enticing words of the violent man in Proverbs 16:29. In contrast to these the mouth of the hardworking man urges him to hard work.

In Proverbs the hardworking man, in contrast to the sluggard (Proverbs 6:6), is seen as the righteous man, the wise man, the man whom wisdom rewards with wealth and status (Proverbs 10:4-5; Proverbs 12:24). As here, he contrasts will all other men, with the man who wrongly thinks that his way is right (Proverbs 16:25), and with the worthless, the perverse, the talebearer and the violent (Proverbs 16:27-29).

Proverbs 16:27

‘A worthless man devises mischief,

And in his lips there is as a scorching fire.’

The worthless man (compare Proverbs 6:12) is also hardworking. He ‘digs up’ mischief. He constantly schemes and plans evil. But his lips, rather than encouraging him to hard work (Proverbs 16:26), are used to scorch others. Metaphorically he gives them multiple burns. As we learn in Proverbs 6:12-19 he has a perverse (crooked) mouth, he perjures himself and he sows discord among brothers.

Proverbs 16:28

‘A perverse man scatters abroad strife,

And a whisperer separates chief friends.’

The perverse man (Proverbs 2:12; Proverbs 2:14-15; Proverbs 6:14), the one who is at loggerheads with wisdom, is also busy. He also sows, but he ‘sows’ strife, scattering it to all sides and causing division and disharmony. With his whispered lies and distorted tales he even separates close friends. No one is more dangerous than the whisperer.

Proverbs 16:29

‘A man of violence entices his neighbour,

And leads him in a way that is not good.’

The last of the false trio, all taken from the Prologue, is the man of forceful character (violent character. Compare Proverbs 10:6). He is not to be envied, and his ways are not to be chosen (Proverbs 3:31). He entices his neighbour into ways that are not good. He is well illustrated in Proverbs 1:10-19. He draws him into the way which is right in his own eyes, but which ends in death (Proverbs 16:25).


Verse 30

Solomon Contrasts The Behaviour Of The Perverse And Worthless Man With The Life and Attitudes Of The Man Grown Old In Righteousness, Who Is An Exemplar Of All The Righteous (Proverbs 16:30 to Proverbs 17:7).

The subsection begins with a contrast between the perverse and worthless man who closes his eyes and purses his lips (compare Proverbs 6:12-13 a) in preparation for planning perverse things and bringing about evil (Proverbs 16:30), and the one whose hoary head is a crown of glory, as he walks in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31). Perhaps included in this is the thought that as men grow older they grow wiser, but the main aim is to contrast folly with righteousness and wisdom. The old man personifies the wise. He is crowned with glory (compare Proverbs 4:9; Proverbs 1:9). It may also be an underlining of the fact that it is to the wise that long life is promised (Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:10; Proverbs 9:11; Proverbs 10:27).

In the same way, it is the old, rather than hot-headed young men, who tend to be slow to anger and learn to rule their spirits, a task more difficult than conquering a city (Proverbs 16:32). Such men have learned that all is in YHWH’s hand and that they can safely leave it with Him (Proverbs 16:33). They pay less heed to lies and gossip (Proverbs 17:4), and live to see their grandchildren who glory in them (Proverbs 17:6). But again they are examples to all the righteous.

In contrast are the unrighteous. They devise perverse things, and bring evil (mischief) about (compare Proverbs 16:27). They may be strong and take cities, but they cannot rule themselves (Proverbs 16:32). They bring shame on sacrifices, quarrelling over them (Proverbs 17:1). They listen to rumours and lies (Proverbs 17:4). They mock the poor and celebrate the coming of calamity on others (Proverbs 17:5). Their talk is low level and they have lying lips (Proverbs 17:7). YHWH tries their hearts and they will not go unpunished (Proverbs 17:3; Proverbs 17:5).

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A He who shuts his eyes, it is to devise perverse things, he who compresses his lips brings evil about (Proverbs 16:30).

B The hoary head is a crown of glory, it will be found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31).

C He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).

D The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing of it is of YHWH (Proverbs 16:32).

E Better is a dry bit of food, and quietness with it, than a house full of quarrelsome sacrifices (Proverbs 17:1).

E A servant who deals wisely will have rule over a son who causes shame, and will have part in the inheritance among the brothers (Proverbs 17:2).

D The refining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold, but YHWH tries the hearts (Proverbs 17:3).

C An evildoer pays heed to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue. Whoever mocks the poor reproaches his Maker, and he who is glad at calamity will not be unpunished (Proverbs 17:4-5).

B Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children are their fathers (Proverbs 17:6).

A Excellent speech is not suitable for a fool, much less are lying lips to a prince (Proverbs 17:7).

Note that in A the one who compresses his lips bring evil about, whilst in the parallel lying lips are not suitable for a prince. In B the hoary head is a crown of glory, and in the parallel a man’s grandchildren are his crown, while he is a glory to them. In C the one who is slow to anger and rules his spirit (conquers himself) is better than the conqueror of a city, whilst in the parallel in contrast the evildoer and liar allow themselves to be aroused, and they mock the poor, and are glad at calamity (at cities being conquered). In D YHWH decides the disposing of the lot, thus deciding the future for men, and in the parallel He tests out their hearts, also determining their futures. Centrally in E a dry bit of food with quietness is better than shameful quarrelling over sacrificial food, whilst in the parallel being a servant is better than being a shameful son.

Proverbs 16:30

‘He who closes (‘atsah) his eyes, it is to devise perverse things,

He who compresses his lips brings evil about.’

The verb ‘atsah is found only here but in Arabic means ‘to close’. Thus the idea may be of closing the eyes as an indication that he will not listen to advice, and then the pursing of the lips might indicate an unwillingness to say anything because he knows it would be unwelcome. (Compare Proverbs 17:7, ‘excellent words are not suitable for a fool’). In other words he is obstinate in evil. He ignores what others have to say. Or it may refer to winking the eye as in Proverbs 6:13 indicating that he is not to be trusted (but in that case why not use the same verb?), and in that case the pursing of the lips may have in mind the ‘perverse mouth’ of Proverbs 6:12. So either he is obstinate, or he is deceitful and perverse.

And the reason that he is so is because he is scheming to do perverse things, and is intending to bring ‘evil’ about. ‘Evil’ may indicate calamities (such as conquering a city (Proverbs 16:32), or may simply signify morally evil things. He is so worthless and foolish that he closes himself off by unspoken signs from considering the concerns of people.

Proverbs 16:31

‘The hoary head is a crown of glory,

It will be found in the way of righteousness.’

In contras to this obstinate and perverse man is the old, grey-haired, righteous man. His hair is to him like a crown of glory, the crown given by wisdom to those who heed her (compare Proverbs 4:9; Proverbs 1:9). For such a man is found in the way of righteousness. Not for him the closing of the eyes and the pursing of the lips. He is open and honest with all. He plans what is good, he does not devise what is perverse. He does not bring evil about. Rather his children are a credit to him, and they glory in him (Proverbs 17:6).

Proverbs 16:32

‘Better is he who is slow to anger than the mighty,

And he who rules his spirit, than he who takes a city.’

This may simply be saying that the one who is slow to anger and who is able to rule his spirit, in other words who conquers his emotions, shows such strength that he is more to be admired than a mighty warrior, or the conqueror of a city. He is able to be patient in the face of all that may come at him. He never acts in anger. Or it may be saying that he is morally superior. He has taken the better road. Indeed Solomon may in recent memory have been faced with just such a dilemma. Either way the sacking of the city may possibly be seen as one of the evils in the mind of the one who purses his lips (Proverbs 16:30). The grey-haired man of wisdom is seen to be a peacemaker who makes wise decisions, whilst the perverse man is seen to be a war-monger who is simply after spoil.

Proverbs 16:33

‘The lot is cast into the lap,

But the whole disposing of it is of YHWH.’

Both men in Proverbs 16:32 could have been seen as ‘tempting fate’, unsure of what the outcome would be. But the writer assures us that it was not so for it is YHWH Who determines all things. (Shall evil be in a city and YHWH has not done it?’ - Amos 3:6). The implication may be that the grey-haired man was aware of this, which explains why he was so wise. He was prepared to leave things in the hands of YHWH ‘who tries the hearts’ (Proverbs 17:3). Note the parallel. YHWH disposes of the lot as He wills, YHWH tries the hearts. All is in His hands.

In general the proverb is an indication that nothing happens by chance. Even when a lot is cast, what it reveals is determined by YHWH. For YHWH is in control of all things. He determines how the lot falls. He determines our destinies. (But it does not guarantee that God will reveal His will in this way. This is not an indication that this is a useful way of discovering God’s will. It is rather seen in Proverbs 18:18 as a way of settling a dispute where there is little to choose between options or where all have to be agreed about a decision. While being used by the Apostles before the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:24-26) and only then after they had come down to a final choice between two, it was never so used afterwards).

The ‘lot’ would probably be a small stone, or a piece of wood, or a number of them, tossed into the lap in order to ‘determine YHWH’s will’. They may have had markings on them to assist the decision. For example Urim and Thummim in the High Priest’s breastpouch may have been ‘lots’. But they were only used on solemn occasions. Examples of their use may b given in Joshua 7:16-19; 1 Samuel 14:41-42; 1 Samuel 23:9-13; 2 Samuel 2:1. But we have no details of how they were used.

Proverbs 17:1

‘Better is a dry bit of bread, and quietness with it,

Than a house full of quarrelsome sacrifices.’

For this proverb we can compare Proverbs 15:17, ‘better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a sacrificed ox and hatred with it’. But here there is a closer connection between the quarrelsomeness and the sacrifice. To partake of peace offerings, which would be slain at the Temple with their meat then being brought home for a sacrificial meal, and to do it while engaging in a family quarrel, was a contradiction in terms. It demonstrated a total disregard for YHWH. Far better then to have a bit of bread which had not been dipped in any kind of sauce (and was therefore dry), and be at peace, which would be more likely what was eaten by the servants. To them sauce would have been a luxury.

Note the deliberate contrast between the dry bit of bread, and a houseful of sacrificial meat. But in a quarrelsome household someone would be better off eating among the servants than shaming their family by quarrelling while partaking of a peace offering. The comparison of peace with strife connects this proverb to Proverbs 16:32 where the one who rules his spirit (and is thus at peace) is contrasted with one who takes a city (and is thus engaging in a quarrel).

Proverbs 17:2

‘A servant who deals wisely will have rule over a son who causes shame,

And will have part in the inheritance among the brothers.’

The quarrelsome sacrifices of the previous proverb explain the ‘son who causes shame’. Indeed, all who had participated in the sacrifices in a quarrelsome mood had brought shame on the family, while it may well have been the servants who had to be satisfied with undipped bread. And yet such a servant would have been better off religiously because he did so at peace.

This then leads on to the idea that the servant, who is clearly of the wise for ‘he deals wisely’, will have rule over the one who causes shame, either by his irreligious and foolish behaviour, or by any other means. The wise will triumph over the fool. And what is more, he may well so prosper that he will be adopted by the father of the family and have his part in the family inheritance along with the brothers. Solomon may well have had some example in mind. He would certainly know of cases where a wise, and therefore beloved servant, had been adopted as a son as a consequence of his ‘wise dealing’ (compare Genesis 15:2-4).

Proverbs 17:3

‘The refining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold,

But YHWH tries the hearts.

The testing, and if necessary, refining, of silver and gold was carried out in special smelting pots or ovens, heated by furnaces. The pots or ovens would be heated up, with bellows often being used to intensify the heat. Smaller ones would be made of clay. A smelting oven would have one or more openings through which to use the bellows to fan the flames and another opening or openings through which the impurities could be siphoned off. In exceptional cases such furnaces could be large enough to hold three men (Daniel 4:19-25). The metals would be heated up and melted, releasing their impurities which would be siphoned off leaving the purified silver or gold.

The idea is used metaphorically for God’s activities in testing and trying men and women through circumstances (see Psalms 66:10; Isaiah 1:25; Isaiah 48:10; Jeremiah 6:29; Jeremiah 9:7; Zechariah 13:9; 1 Corinthians 3:13). It is through such chastening that men learn wisdom (Proverbs 3:11-12). Here YHWH is figuratively depicted as so testing the hearts of men. ‘Nor is there any creature which is not manifest in His sight, but all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13). It is a reminder that God constantly tests the hearts of men, including our own.

The testing of the silver and gold parallels the ‘testing’ of the servant of the previous proverb who had proved himself worthy to be a son (the verdict from the testing was that he ‘dealt wisely’). But in this case the testing is of all men, and YHWH is the tester. This parallels the casting of the lot which tested options, and came out as YHWH determined.

Proverbs 17:4-5

‘An evildoer pays heed to wicked lips,

And a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.’

‘Whoever mocks the poor reproaches his Maker,

And he who is glad at calamity will not be unpunished.’

In Proverbs 16:32 we learned of the one who was slow to anger and who ruled his spirit, controlled and thoughtful in all that he did. Now we have described those who reveal the opposite traits. They do not control themselves. They hear and react unwisely. They listen to unrighteous lips and do evil, because they are evildoers. (The righteous man would not have done it). They listen to mischievous gossip and slander, and, with some relish, pass on the lies, thereby revealing themselves as themselves liars. They see a man’s poverty and deride him, not realising that thereby they are reproaching the One Who made him. They see calamity coming on men and are even glad at it, revealing themselves as callous and uncaring. But none of them will be unpunished, for in each case what they are doing is reproaching the One Who made their victims, and the One Who tries the hearts (Proverbs 17:3) will see and will repay.

And this is especially so in the case of their derision of the poor. YHWH made all men, both rich and poor (Proverbs 22:2). They were made in His image. And so to deride the poor is to deride YHWH. It may be that their poverty is due to their own slothfulness and refusal to listen to advice (Proverbs 6:11; Proverbs 10:4), for it is in parallel with calamity, which comes on those who refuse to hear wisdom (Proverbs 1:26-27; Proverbs 6:15). Thus both may be getting their deserts. But that is no reason why others deride them for it or be glad at what comes on them. For YHWH is the Maker of all men, and especially of the poor, and we should weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Proverbs 17:6

‘Children’s children are the crown of old men,

And the glory of children are their fathers.’

In stark contrast with the evildoers and liars are the children of the righteous. Just as the grey head was a crown of splendour, found in the way of righteousness, so will his children’s children be righteous, for they too will be a crown to him. They too will be found in the way of righteousness. They too will be slow to anger and rule their spirits (Proverbs 16:32). They too will rely wholly on YHWH and His sovereignty (Proverbs 16:33). They too will love quietness and peace (Proverbs 17:1). They too will deal wisely (Proverbs 17:2). When their hearts are tested they will come out as pure gold (Proverbs 17:3). They will not pay heed to unrighteous lips, or mischievous tongues (Proverbs 17:4), nor will they mock the poor or be glad at the sufferings of others (Proverbs 17:5).

And in turn their splendour lies in their fathers. It is to their fathers that they owe the upbringing and disciplinary instruction that has made them what they are (Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 4:1-9). And any credit that they have is due to him. The whole family reveal their splendour, and the splendour of each generation. And all stems from the righteous grandfather.

Proverbs 17:7

‘Excellent speech is not suitable for a fool,

Much less are lying lips to a ruler.’

The subsection commenced with ‘he who purses his lips brings evil about’ (Proverbs 16:30), and it now closes with two clauses referring to the speech of fools and rulers (nobles, those in authority). ‘Excellent speech’ probably refers to wise and sensible words. The idea is that fools, and wise and sensible words, do not go together. Nor do lying words and a prince (someone in authority). Indeed, the opposite should be the case. We would expect wise and sensible words from one in authority, and lying lips from a fool.

This word for ‘fool’ (nabal occurs only here and in Proverbs 16:21 in the Solomon section, but also occurs in the words of Agur in Proverbs 30:22, where the verbal form is also found (Proverbs 30:32). It is the word used in Psalms 14:1. Here the nabal lacks wise and sensible speech, in Proverbs 16:21 his father has no joy in him, and there the nabal is the equivalent of the kesil (the normal word for ‘fool’ in Proverbs). But we can gather its emphasis from elsewhere.

We should expect nothing agreeable from a fool (nabal). He says in his heart that there is no God (Psalms 14:1), and he behaves in that way. He disapproves of God all day long (Psalms 74:22); he deals corruptly with God and is not one of His children (Deuteronomy 32:6); he obtains wealth dishonestly (Jeremiah 17:11); and if a woman she is sexually immoral (2 Samuel 13:13). Because he is bullheaded he behaves foolishly and with ingratitude (1 Samuel 25:25). These are the things that we expect of a nabal. But of someone in authority we expect much better. For they judge others, and should therefore live as those who will be judged (Matthew 7:2). And this is especially so with regard to truth and honesty. An untruthful man does not make a good ruler.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 16:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/proverbs-16.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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