Proverbs 21

Introduction

‘In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.’ Proverbs 21:1

Under God’s Control

The king needs to realise that he too, is under the control of God, Isaiah 10:6-7 / Isaiah 41:2-4 / Ezra 7:21 / Daniel 4:17 / 1 Timothy 2:1.

Clarke, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The Lord is the only ruler of princes. He alone can govern and direct their counsels. But there is an allusion here to the Eastern method of watering their lands. Several canals are dug from one stream; and by opening a particular sluice, the husbandman can direct a stream to whatever part he please: so the king’s heart, wherever it turns; i.e., to whomsoever he is disposed to show favour. As the land is enriched with the streams employed in irrigation; so is the favourite of the king, by the royal bounty: and God can induce the king to give that bounty to whomsoever he will.’

‘A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.’ Proverbs 21:2-3

We all do things because we think it is right at the time, but our motives are not always pure, Proverbs 16:2 / Matthew 23:23.

The good news is that God knows what our real motives are, 1 Samuel 15:22. Sacrifices are secondary to more essential qualities, Isaiah 1:11-31 / Luke 10:30-36.

‘Haughty eyes and a proud heart—the unploughed field of the wicked—produce sin.’ Proverbs 21:4

Solomon is saying that an attitude of this kind makes sacrifices unacceptable. God hates pride and arrogance, Proverbs 15:8.

Clarke, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The prosperity and posterity of the wicked; is sin-it is evil in the seed, and evil in the root, evil in the branch, and evil in the fruit. They are full of sin themselves, and what they do is sinful.’

‘The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.’ Proverbs 21:5

Sometimes it takes a while to complete our plans but if we take our time, it will be worth it in the end. The word ‘haste’ implies that we might think of some things as ‘quick fixes’.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘One may become so busy and so diligent in a selfish direction that he overlooks spiritual matters of far greater importance; and, it is that which seems to be referred to here.’

‘A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapour and a deadly snare. The violence of the wicked will drag them away, for they refuse to do what is right. The way of the guilty is devious, but the conduct of the innocent is upright. Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.’ Proverbs 21:6-9

Matthew Henry, in his commentary, says the following.

‘This shows the folly of those that hope to enrich themselves by dishonest practices, by oppressing and over-reaching those with whom they deal, by false-witness-bearing, or by fraudulent contracts, of those that make no scruples of lying when there is any thing to be got by it. They may perhaps heap up treasures by these means, that which they make their treasure; but,

1. They will not meet with the satisfaction they expect. It is a vanity tossed to and fro; it will be disappointment and vexation of spirit to them; they will not have the comfort of it, nor can they put any confidence in it, but will be perpetually uneasy. It will be tossed to and fro by their own consciences, and by the censures of men; let them expect to be in a constant hurry.

2. They will meet with destruction they do not expect. While they are seeking wealth by such unlawful practices, they are really seeking death; they lay themselves open to the envy and ill-will of men by the treasures they get, and to the wrath and curse of God, by the lying tongue wherewith they get them, which he will make to fall upon themselves and sink them to hell.

The wicked often use violence to get what they want, and they do it without any thought about what is right.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following, concerning verse 7.

‘We may read this as an imperative for every intelligent society, after the manner of Genesis 9:6, where is recorded the Divine order for society to execute murderers. This verse states what ought to be, not that which actually is. It must be pointed out that a society which rejects this Divine injunction is writing its own death-warrant.’

Matthew Henry, in his commentary, says the following, concerning verse 8.

This shows that as men are so is their way.

1. Evil men have evil ways. If the man be froward, his way also is strange; and this is the way of most men, such is the general corruption of mankind. They have all gone aside, Psalm 14:2-3; all flesh have perverted their way. But the froward man, the man of deceit, that acts by craft and trick in all he does, his way is strange, contrary to all the rules of honour and honesty. It is strange, for you know not where to find him nor when you have him; it is strange, for it is alienated from all good and estranges men from God and his favour. It is what he behold afar off, and so do all honest men.

2. Men that are pure are proved to be such by their work, for it is right, it is just and regular; and they are accepted of God and approved of men. The way of mankind in their apostasy is froward and strange; but as for the pure, those that by the grace of God are recovered out of that state, of which there is here and there one, their work is right, as Noah’s was in the old world, Genesis 7:1.

Sharing a home with a quarrelsome wife is not a well-equipped and comfortable house, Proverbs 12:4 / Proverbs 19:13-14 / Proverbs 18:22 / Proverbs 21:19.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The meaning here is clear enough and needs no comment; but this rendition is an interesting variation: ‘It is better to dwell in an attic on the roof, than in a double bedroom with a nagging wife.’ In fairness, it should be stated that the corollary here is applicable also to a nagging husband.’

‘The wicked crave evil; their neighbours get no mercy from them. When a mocker is punished, the simple gain wisdom; by paying attention to the wise they get knowledge. The Righteous One takes note of the house of the wicked and brings the wicked to ruin. Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.’ Proverbs 21:10-13

Matthew Henry, in his commentary, says the following.

See here the character of a very wicked man.

1. The strong inclination he has to do mischief. His very soul desires evil, desires that evil may be done and that he may have the pleasure, not only of seeing it, but of having a hand in it. The root of wickedness lies in the soul; the desire that men have to do evil, that is the lust which conceives and brings forth sin.

2. The strong aversion he has to do good: His neighbour, his friend, his nearest relation, finds no favour in his eyes, cannot gain from him the least kindness, though he be in the greatest need of it. And, when he is in the pursuit of the evil his heart is so much upon, he will spare no man that stands in his way; his next neighbour shall be used no better than a stranger, than an enemy.

There are two ways by which the simple may be made wise, Proverbs 19:25.

1. By the punishments that are inflicted on those that are incorrigibly wicked. Let the law be executed upon a scorner, and even he that is simple will be awakened and alarmed by it, and will discern, more than he did, the evil of sin, and will take warning by it and take heed.

2. By the instructions that are given to those that are wise and willing to be taught: When the wise is instructed by the preaching of the word he (not only the wise himself, but the simple that stands by) receives knowledge. It is no injustice at all to take a good lesson to ourselves which was designed for another.

Solomon is teaching that we must learn from the mistakes of others, Proverbs 21:12, and we must be willing to help those around us in need, 1 John 3:17.

Clarke, in his commentary, says the following.

‘See the conduct of the priest and Levite to the man who fell among thieves; and let every man learn from this, that he who shuts his ear against the cry of the poor, shall have the ear of God shut against his cry. The words are quite plain; there is no difficulty here.’

‘A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath.’ Proverbs 21:14

What does Solomon have in mind here? He’s saying that the wisdom teachers are not promoting pacifying all the time, but they know that occasionally this technique was necessary.

Matthew Henry, in his commentary, says the following.

1. The power that is commonly found to be in gifts. Nothing is more violent than anger. O the force of strong wrath! And yet a handsome present, prudently managed, will turn away some men’s wrath when it seemed implacable, and disarm the keenest and most passionate resentments. Covetousness is commonly a master-sin and has the command of other lusts. Thus, Jacob pacified Esau and Abigail David.

2. The policy that is commonly used in giving and receiving bribes. It must be a gift in secret and a reward in the bosom, for he that takes it would not be thought to covet it, nor known to receive it, nor would he willingly be beholden to him whom he has been offended with; but, if it be done privately, all is well. No man should be too open in giving any gift, nor boast of the presents he sends; but, if it be a bribe to pervert justice, that is so scandalous that those who are fond of it are ashamed of it.

‘When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. Whoever strays from the path of prudence comes to rest in the company of the dead. Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich. The wicked become a ransom for the righteous, and the unfaithful for the upright.’ Proverbs 21:15-18

Matthew Henry, in his commentary, says the following.

1. It is a pleasure and satisfaction to good men both to see justice administered by the government they live under, right taking place and iniquity suppressed, and also to practise it themselves, according as their sphere is. They not only do justice, but do it with pleasure, not only for fear of shame, but for love of virtue.

2. It is a terror to wicked men to see the laws put in execution against vice and profaneness. It is destruction to them; as it is also a vexation to them to be forced, either for the support of their credit or for fear of punishment, to do judgment themselves. Or, if we take it as we read it, the meaning is, there is true pleasure in the practice of religion, but certain destruction at the end of all vicious courses.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following, concerning verse 16-17.

‘The man that wanders out of the way of understanding is the man who rejects his obligation to love and obey the Creator. The assembly of the dead is a reference, first of all, to that cessation of mortality to which all men are appointed; and, secondly, it is that ultimate assembly of that incorrigibly wicked company to which the King shall say, ‘Depart … I never knew you.’ Matthew 7:21-23. Another rendition: ‘The man who wanders from the path of wisdom will rest in the assembly of the Shades.’ ‘Every word of the second line here is charged with irony. The rebel who insists upon roaming anywhere he will is only hastening to lose his mobility (shall rest), his independence (in the assembly) and his life (of the dead).’

‘The pleasure-lover strikes out for joy, but finds only poverty; but Proverbs 21:16 has just sounded the warning that more than pleasure is at stake.’ The stakes in the game of life on earth are very high indeed: Eternal Life or Eternal Death.’

Perhaps the meaning of verse 18, is that the wicked person gets into the trouble they had actually planned for the righteous, Proverbs 22:4.

‘Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife. The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.’ Proverbs 21:19-20

Here again, we’re reminded of having a quarrelsome, nagging wife, Proverbs 21:9, instead of a godly wife, Ephesians 5:22-24 / Colossians 3:18.

The wise man knows how to possess and preserve wealth. The rest of the verse deals with saving for the future. Saving is something that a lot of people don’t do and as a result, we’re living in a bankrupt society.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘This is the common viewpoint of Proverbs that the wise are wealthy and the fool is in poverty. There is a limited sense in which this is true; ‘But in the spiritual warfare, earthly wisdom avails nothing at all, 1 Corinthians 1:5-16 and 2 Corinthians 10:4.’

‘Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honour.’ Proverbs 21:21

Pursuing is an ongoing word, we must always pursue these things because this shows an energetic and urgent action, Matthew 5:6. When we pursue these things, we find life, prosperity and honour.

‘One who is wise can go up against the city of the mighty and pull down the stronghold in which they trust.’ Proverbs 21:22

Solomon is saying that wisdom, that is, intelligent action is better than military fortification, Proverbs 24:5-6 / Ephesians 6:10.

‘Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.’ Proverbs 21:23

Once again, we’re reminded of the dangers of our tongues. If we can control our tongue, we can have a good defence against trouble. Disciplined speech is necessary, Proverbs 13:3 / Proverbs 18:21 / James 3:5-12.

‘The proud and arrogant person—‘Mocker’ is his name—behaves with insolent fury. The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. All day long he craves for more, but the righteous give without sparing.’ Proverbs 21:24-26

Notice that the proud and arrogant are personified with the name ‘Mocker’, and everything about thier behaviour is against God and His will, Exodus 5:2.

It is desire that kills the mocker because they don’t possess the discipline to work to fulfil their desires.

Clarke, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Religious acts done with wrong intentions are hateful to God, along with pride, laziness and selfish desires.’

Solomon is saying that the wicked are constantly craving more, Ephesians 4:28, while the righteous are so blessed that they have enough for themselves, and some left over to bless others with.

‘The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable—how much more so when brought with evil intent! A false witness will perish, but a careful listener will testify successfully.’ Proverbs 21:27-28

In what way is the sacrifice wicked and detestable? Simply because they are trying to bribe God, 1 Samuel 15:22. How do people do that today? If God will help them out, they will commit more to Him and His ways.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The thought here is very similar to that of Proverbs 21:3. The Anchor Bible has it this way: ‘A sacrifice offered by wicked men is an abomination, all the more so if one bring it with a shameful purpose.’ Some of the shameful purposes that may prompt the wicked to offer a sacrifice are: (1) to receive approval and praise of men, (2) to deceive others with his hypocrisy, or (3) in the vain delusion that he can ‘buy God off.’

There are severe consequences for a false witness, Matthew 26:60, but a good listener is a good witness.

‘The wicked put up a bold front, but the upright give thought to their ways. There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.’ Proverbs 21:29-31

The wicked set their course in wickedness but the upright thinks about their plans first.

Matthew Henry, in his commentary, says the following.

1. The presumption and impudence of a wicked man: He hardens his face—brazens it, that he may not blush—steels it, that he may not tremble when he commits the greatest crimes; he bids defiance to the terrors of the law and the checks of his own conscience, the reproofs of the word and the rebukes of Providence; he will have his way and nothing shall hinder him, Isaiah 57:17.

2. The caution and circumspection of a good man: As for the upright, he does not say, What would I do? What have I a mind to? and that will I have; but, What should I do? What does God require of me? What is duty? What is prudence? What is for edification? And so he does not force his way, but direct his way by a safe and certain rule.’

The remaining verses seem to be addressed to the political and military confidence of men in positions of leadership who relied on their own planning.

As the horse is made ready for battle, an army must have a commanding officer, they must listen to and obey his every command, it takes his part and the Lord’s part. Working together for the victory.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Proverbs 21:30 warns men not to fight against God, and Proverbs 21:31 warns them not to fight without him.’ This does not forbid the use of earthly resources; but it condemns reliance upon them. It is God who gives the victory. ‘The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.’ Ecclesiastes 9:11.’

‘Solomon here taught better than he practiced; because he provided 40,000 horses even though God had expressly forbidden the kings of Israel to multiply horses unto themselves, lest their hearts should be drawn away from the hope of Israel. This proverb verified the evil consequences of Solomon’s change in the management of Israel’s affairs, because Israel never again cut such a figure in war as they had done previously.’

Clarke, in his commentary, says the following.

‘We often give the credit of a victory to man, when they who consider the circumstances see that it came from God.’

‘Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’ 2 Timothy 2:19

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