Proverbs 21:1 “The King’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” Anciently kings were not mere figureheads of authority as they are today, but they held the absolute power of life and death, (Prov. 16:14-15), in their realm. But this verse shows that God exercises an even greater power, being able to, and actually exercising, the power to turn even the heart according to His will, as in Ezra 1:1-4 and Revelation 17:17. Mere human power can generally force man to comply outwardly with rules, but the heart might continue in rebellion against them. But God’s power changes even the heart. For other declarations of God’s power, see Psalms 103:19; 110:3; 115:3; Matthew 28:18 and Ephesians 1:11.
Proverbs 21:2 “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.” Proverbs 16:2, see comments there. This speaks of the natural self-righteousness and egotism of every son of Adam. The tendency to self-justification is always dangerous and unprofitable because, while we too often judge by our outward actions and ignore our inward motives, God looks upon the heart and judges the real thoughts and motivations for the deeds.
Proverbs 21:3 “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” The ritualist thinks that God, like himself, looks solely upon the outward performance of the worship and is pleased with it, but such is not the case. “Sacrifices were of divine institution, and were acceptable to God if they were offered in faith and with repentance, otherwise not, (Isa. 1:11), etc. But even then moral duties were preferred before them (1 Sam. 15:22),” [M. Henry]. No sacrifice was ever meant to be a substitute for morality, and to attempt to do so was to be guilty of hypocrisy (trying to appear pious while living ungodly).
Proverbs 21:4 “An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.” These are abominations to the Lord, (Prov. 6:17), for they are all sins, and while man may commit these with apparent impunity, yet there is coming a day of judgment, (Isa. 2:11-12). God’s Word determines what is sin, not calamities befalling men, and those who disbelieve the word and continue in sin only harden themselves more and more, and treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath, (Rom. 2:5-6). “Plowing” is a preparation for sowing which suggests that the wicked man’s preparations for evil doing are also sin.
Proverbs 21:5 “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.” The old human proverb that “haste makes waste” is true. It is an act of wisdom to think a matter through thoroughly before acting upon it, for rashness seldom works out for good, but is often costly. The Christian is indeed to “run” the race, yet it is to be done, not rashly, but with patience, (Heb. 12:1). We are to seek for glory, honor and immortality “by patient continuance in well doing,” (Rom. 2:7). But our thoughts must be on heavenly things for it to tend to our profit; worldly thoughts produce no good.
Proverbs 21:6 “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.” Some people are so hasty to gain material wealth, (v. 5), that they are unscrupulous as to how they do so, and so they resort to misrepresentation and fraud in business. But so far from this getting them treasures, it only brings death to them. “Vanity” means a vapor and so it suggests the emptiness of ill-gotten gain, and so there is not the satisfaction expected in that which is not gotten by honest and honorable means. They probably do not realize that they are seeking death, but this shall be their end.
Proverbs 21:7 “The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; because they refuse to do judgment.” Robbery is not someone stealing from the wicked, but rather the wicked’s stealing from others. He who is robbed loses only material things, but he who does the robbing loses spiritual things, yea, even his soul in many instances. “Judgment” here is in the sense of justice. Too many judge only by the scale of “How much will I be profited?” and so they pervert justice, and are often guilty of out-and-out robbery. But heir covetousness hurts themselves more than anyone else, for it destroys them spiritually, morally and sometimes even physically.
Proverbs 21:8 “The way of a man is froward and strange: but as for the pure his work is right.” Here the contrast is between such a man as in verse 7, and the pure man. What one does is a test of what he really is. “Froward” is a different word than usual for frowardness, here meaning crooked or perverse. The wicked man is always an opportunist, unscrupulously using circumstances only for personal gain. The pure do what is right without regard to personal loss or gain.
Proverbs 21:9 “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.” (vv. 19; 25:24; 27:15). “The flat roofs in Eastern houses are often used as places of retreat for meditation and prayer (Acts 10:9),” [Faussett]. The corner of the walled roof (Deut. 22:8 “battlement” = a wall to prevent one from falling off) would offer some shelter from the sun during the day, and shelter from the wind at night, but would not be an ideal shelter. Yet even this would be better than living in the finest mansion with a contentious woman. No one, man or woman, has ever been helped to a better condition by nagging and bickering. Criticism springs from a self-righteous spirit.
Proverbs 21:10 “The soul of the wicked desireth evil: his neighbor findeth no favor in his eyes.” The root of evil is shown to be in the soul. What a tragedy that the noblest part of man is so perverted from its original design as to delight in sin. This is why a total conversion is necessary before one can fulfill the purpose for his existence. Indwelling sin is also the reason for man’s innate selfishness, which causes even his neighbor to find no favor with him when the neighbor’s need conflicts with his own selfishness. God’s requirement is that we love our neighbor as ourselves, (Mark 12:31). If our neighbor does not find favor in our eyes, then we have not measured up to the law of love, and so we are sinners in God’s sight.
Proverbs 21:11 “When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.” (Prov. 19:25). Simple minded people are emboldened to do evil when they see others getting away with it, and so immediate, appropriate punishment must be meted out to evil doing. It has long been given as an objection against capital punishment that it does not deter crime, but no law deters crime if it is not enforced, and even delaying the execution for months and years takes away the fear of it. Immediate punishment does deter crime, though this is not the primary reason for it. It is: (1) For justice’s sake: life must go for life, (Lev. 24:17-21). (2) To cleanse the land of blood-guiltiness, (Num. 35:30-34). (3) To deter others, (Deut. 22:21-24; 24:7)(note final phrase in each verse). Wise men receive instruction, but fools must be restrained by fear. Hence immediate punishment for evil is necessary.
Proverbs 21:12 “The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked: but God overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness.” The house of the wicked, though it may appear flourishing, is not secure, for God will eventually overthrow it, and so the righteous man does well to wisely consider that riches, honor and fame matter little if one’s house is to be destroyed because it is wicked. Though God suffers long with evil, He must sooner or later deal with it in judgment. Sin must be punished.
Proverbs 21:13 “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” (James 2:12-13). Here is retribution in kind. He who shows no mercy, shall be shown no mercy. Jesus taught a parable to illustrate this, (Matthew 18:23-35). No one is saved by practicing the “golden rule,” but the rewards of the saved and the punishment of the unsaved are modified by practicing it. Concern for the poor is to be a characteristic of the saved, (1 John 3:16-19). Jesus’ teaching is that what you wish to be done to you, you are to do to others, (Luke 6:31). This is the “Golden Rule.”
Proverbs 21:14 “A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.” As strong as is the passion of anger, it will sometimes be overcome by the stronger passion of greed. It is sometimes in order to use a gift to pacify anger if no injustice is done thereby. But here, “in secret” implies that guilt is felt over this, and so it must be a bribe to pervert justice that is meant, as in Proverbs 17:23. In every age and country, bribery is practiced by unscrupulous persons to achieve their own ends, but there is a judgment to come at which every perversion of justice will be revealed and punished.
Proverbs 21:15 “It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.” Righteous people do not delight in bribes, but rather they delight to do justly in all their dealings. A bribe is a tacit confession that one either does not think his case will stand to be judged rightly, or else that the judge is not just and so will not bring in a favorable verdict unless bribed. Only those with faith in the Lord believe that justice will finally be done, and so that one can safely and profitably practice truth. The wicked have no faith in the prevalence of truth, and their unbelief will be their destruction. Law is only a terror to evil, (Rom. 13:3-4). Truth will prevail but not in the present world system.
Proverbs 21:16 “The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” That he wanders shows that he is not physically dead, but that he remains in the congregation of the dead suggests that he is spiritually dead. The language here sounds very much like that of Jude 11-12 and 2 Peter 2:20-22, which speaks of religious people who have known the truth, but have not submitted to it except outwardly, and so are not truly saved. All are in the congregation of the dead by nature and have to do nothing to remain spiritually dead except reject the truth which will lead them out of it. “‘The dead’ Hebrew rephaim: a term applied to the giant rebels against God in Genesis 6:4; Job 26:5-6; Isaiah 14:9,” [Faussett].
Proverbs 21:17 “He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man; he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.” Nowhere else is “pleasure” so rendered: more commonly it is rendered “gladness” or “rejoicing”. Taking the two phrases together we see that the one who gives himself over to the enjoyment of life through luxuries is meant. This deals with one’s attitude and outlook, for the Lord has given to His people “all things richly to enjoy,” (1 Tim. 6:17), but at the same time, He has warned us to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” (1 John 2;15), for these easily become snares to us. One shall never be rich either spiritually or materially who never practices self-denial.
Proverbs 21:18 “The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.” “The righteous are saved from impending destruction, and the wicked come in their room (Prov. 11:8),” [Faussett]. “Ransom” here means a covering: one is ransomed from death because his sins have been covered by the blood of Christ. A ransom was also a substitute for another; this is doubtless the sense here, for the wicked, by this willful refusal to submit to the Lord, goes on in the way of sin until he comes finally to perdition, from which the righteous has been delivered. However no one but Christ has ever suffered fro anyone’s sins but his own.
Proverbs 21:19 “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman.” (v. 9). “Unbridled passions embitter and spoil the comfort of all relations,” [M. Henry]. Movie star Roy Rogers was once asked if he and his wife, Dale Evans, had ever had arguments, and he answered, “Sure, but when we do, I just leave the house and go camp out for a while.” A house, though it be a grand mansion, is not a home unless there is love there, but the noblest palace is a house of horrors if the people therein fuss and argue all the time.
Proverbs 21:20 “There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise: but a foolish man spendeth it up.” “Treasure” is literally “that which is laid up,” and oil was one of the staples in ancient times, so that the thought here is that the wise person keeps a stock of necessary food on hand in his dwelling at all times so that he has a supply for emergencies, but the foolish person spends all that he has until he runs short even of daily food. Alas, how many people today spend every cent they earn on luxuries and live almost hand to mouth. While one should not make an idol of the pantry, yet it is wise to maintain a supply of extra food when God blesses with abundance. Convenience stores have gotten most people out of the habit of living from gardens. In a severe depression, many would starve in the midst of a plentiful garden because ignorant of how to store and can home-grown produce.
Proverbs 21:21 “He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honor.” This is man’s foremost duty, (Matthew 6:33), and it has a promise attached to it, for he that seeketh, findeth, (Matthew 5:6; 7:7), if he seeks it according to the Lord’s order, and for His glory. Perhaps our Lord has this verse in mind when He taught these things. Hosea 10:12 also speaks of seeking of righteousness and mercy. An acceptable righteousness never is found by nature in any man, (Isa. 57:12; 64:6). It comes only by grace, (Rom. 4 (entire chapter)). Eternal life, true righteousness and honor are all tied together. One cannot be had without the others.
Proverbs 21:22 “A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty, and casteth down the strength of the confidence thereof.” (Eccl. 7:19; 9:14-16). Wisdom is always better than might, for strength without wisdom becomes a detriment. Even very weak men may direct the strongest brutes because they have superior wisdom. Man’s strength comes from the flesh, but wisdom only comes from God, and it only comes to the submissive. The man who has so submitted himself to God’s will, has the ability to overcome the natural man who places confidence in fleshly abilities. “No confidence in the flesh,” (Phil. 3:3), must be our motto if we would succeed.
Proverbs 21:23 “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.” (Prov. 13:2-3; James 3:2). The language here is almost as if he were likening the soul to a city, and the mouth as the gates, except that the danger is not in letting inside one who will betray the city and destroy it, but in letting out one who will harm others, and so cause reproach upon the city by his evil. Jesus taught in Matthew 12:34-37 that words manifest the condition of the heart. A word is a two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12) which cuts two ways. When we cut someone down with our words, we do ourselves most harm, for we reveal to the world a bitter and hateful heart.
Proverbs 21:24 “Proud and haughty scorner is his name, who dealeth in proud wrath.” Originally, a name was given, not only to designate one from another, but also were descriptive of one’s character. All names originally had some meaning. Thus, Nabal’s name meant fool, (1 Sam. 25:25). To manifest proud wrath is to show one’s self to be a proud and haughty scorner. Most wrath is proud wrath: it comes because one is stung by a supposed slight. He feels he is not treated with the dignity due to his supposed exalted state.
Proverbs 21:25 “The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labor.” He is as fit to labor as anyone else, but he has no heart for the necessary labor; yet, his desire for good things is as strong as that of the laboring man, perhaps stronger. Such a situation will kill his self respect, others’ respect for him, his morals (if he tries to obtain things illegally without working for them) and may even kill him physically if he is caught committing a crime in an attempt to get these things without working for them. Covetousness, being idolatry, (Col. 3:5), will also kill one spiritually.
Proverbs 21:26 “He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not.” “So far is the righteous man from ‘greedily coveting’ the good of others, like the slothful, that by honest industry (Eph. 4:28), he has his moderate desires abundantly satisfied, and he giveth unsparingly to others of his own property (Ps. 37:25-26),” [Faussett]. Covetousness is a disease which cannot be satisfied: the more it is fed, the more it grows. The only cure for it is mortification (put it to death), (Col. 3:5a). This is done by crucifying the flesh and its lusts, (Gal. 5:24).
Proverbs 21:27 “The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?” The unsaved person cannot offset his wickedness by sacrifices, for his best religious exercises are hateful in the Lord’s eyes. Worse yet is when he brings his sacrifice with the idea that these are more valuable than the blood of Christ. “Sacrifices were of divine institution: and when they were offered in faith, and with repentance and reformation, God was well-pleased,” [M. Henry]. Mere ritualism never pleases the Lord, for it puts more value on man’s acts than on God’s grace, and is a form of rebellion against God’s call, (Isa. 66:3-4).
Proverbs 21:28 “A false witness shall perish: but the man that heareth speaketh constantly.” However things may appear hopeful for a time for the false witness, he shall ultimately perish, for God cannot tolerate those who resemble Satan by their lies, (John 8:44; Rev. 21:8, 27; 22:15). The false witness is one who lies under oath, and even more solemn sin than ordinary lying. “Heareth” perhaps means hears (with an understanding and obedient heart) what God says about not bearing false witness, (Ex. 20:16), and so speaks constantly.
Proverbs 21:29 “A wicked man hardeneth his face: but as for the upright, he directeth his way.” To harden one’s face is to rebel—a characteristic reaction of unsaved people—for he will have no one cross him. The saved person, on the contrary looks to the Lord’s direction of his way. No matter ought to be settled by “What do I want to do?” Every question ought to be settled by the question: “What would the Lord have me to do?”
Proverbs 21:30 “There is no wisdom, nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.” True, many take counsel against the Lord, and defy His purposes, (Ps. 2:1-3), but there is no wisdom, understanding nor counsel against the Lord that shall stand, (Isa. 8:9-10; Ps. 103:15; 115:5; Acts 4:27-28; 5:39; Eph. 1:11). To set one’s will against the Lord guarantees failure, frustration and final shame.
Proverbs 21:31 “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord.” Natural helps avail naught if the Lord does not help. Israel often looked to the wrong source for help, (Ps. 20:7; Isa. 31:1). “Safety and salvation are of the Lord; He can save without armies, but armies cannot save without Him,” [M. Henry].
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