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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 16

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.

The preparations [literally, the orderly disposings, as those of an army in array; or as the loaves of the showbread set in order. Leviticus 24:6-7 : from `aarak (H6186 ), to dispose] of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue (is) from the Lord. The balance of the parallel opposite clauses requires rather the translation, "The preparations" or 'disposings of the heart (are) in (or belonging to lª-) man; but the answer of the (praying) tongue (is) from the Lord.' Man may lay out his plans, but God alone can give them effect, in answer to the tongue of prayer (Proverbs 16:9; Proverbs 19:21; 2 Corinthians 3:5). (Maurer.) Mercer takes it, Often what you dispose in the aptest order in your heart, you cannot also express suitably with the tongue. What one aptly speaks is from God. Menochius takes it, Men often determine in heart to say something, but God, overrules their tongue so as to say something utterly different, as in Baalim's case. (Numbers 23:1-30.) So the Chaldaic, Syriac, and Vulgate. The English version is tenable. But the position of 'belonging to man,' at the beginning of the first clause, answers to "from the Lord," at the beginning of the second clause, and supports the translation, 'Belonging to each man [ lª'aadaam (H120)] (are) the disposings (or plans) of the heart; but from the Lord (is) the answer of the tongue.'

Verse 2

All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.

All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes (Proverbs 16:25 ; Proverbs 14:12 ): but the Lord weigheth the spirits.

He alone is the Judge whether a man's ways are as clean as the man himself thinks them (1 Corinthians 4:4-5). We are apt to be blind to our own faults, lynx-eyed to those of others. "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Numbers 16:22; Numbers 27:16) weighs in the exact balance of His judgment the inclinations, intentions, and abilities of men, so that many of men's ways, which look right to them, are not so in His holy eyes (Proverbs 5:21; Proverbs 21:2; Proverbs 24:12; 1 Samuel 16:7).

Verse 3

Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.

Commit thy works unto the Lord (Psalms 37:5 ; Psalms 55:22 : literally, roll as a burden devolved upon one stronger than thyself: Hebrew, gol), and thy thoughts shall be established. Many have no sense of the Burden of sin. They are so immersed in worldly things as to make no efforts at all as to eternal things. This proverb glances at both. Not the idle, but the worker - i:e., the diligent user of means is blessed. Others again, conscious of the difficulty, think to effect all by their own "works." The true way is, "Work, out your own salvation with fear and trembling." But remember at the same time, "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). So (mutatis mutandis) in all the other undertakings and duties of life.

Verse 4

The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

The Lord hath made all (things) for himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. So the Vulgate and Chaldaic similarly, 'All the works of God are for this purpose, that they may obey Him.' His own glory is the end of all God's doings in Providence and in grace. His goodness, wisdom, power, and justice are manifested alike in all His other works, as also even in His reserving the wicked for the day of final destruction. [ lama`aneehuw (H4617) is an unusual form to express "for himself:" for there is the vowel pathach in the first syllable, instead of the usual shªwa; and the affix would ordinarily be lemahanow. The reason of the change is for the sake of emphasis. The he hajediah, or demonstrative, is for this reason admitted, with affixes. The word lamahan, 'in order that,' or 'on account of,' is compounded of lª- and mahan, or mahaneh, 'for the business,' and with the affix here 'for His business.' Or else, 'for His answer:' to answer His design, The word is a noun with an affix; for there is a He demonstrative understood (as the pathach with dagesh forte shows), which is usually prefixed to nouns.

Also the affix hu with the preceding tzere is usual in this class of nouns. So Cocceius, from the root `aanah (H6030), to answer]. Even "the vessels of wrath fitted (by their own perversity, not by His desire or will) to destruction" (Romans 9:22) shall show forth the glory of God's justice on them, and the glory of His grace, in the case of the saved, by the contrast. 'They err greatly who allow God to do nothing but what they can see the justice of. We do not grudge kings their secrets, into which it would be wanton presumption for subjects to inquire. God, foreknowing this wanton presumption of men, adds a particle ('for Himself,' or, to answer His own purpose), that He might guard the truth the more strongly at the point where He foresaw it would be most violently assailed' (T. Cartwright). Glassius, Maurer, etc., take it less probably, 'The Lord hath made all things that they may answer their own end;' that the consequences may respectively correspond to their own antecedents-according to His just decree from the beginning-the evil of the punishment corresponding to the permitted evil of the fault.

Verse 5

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.

Every one (that is) proud in heart (is) an abomination to the Lord: (though) hand (join) in hand, he shall not be unpunished - (note, Proverbs 11:21.) Though pride may not appear outwardly in the "countenance" (Psalms 10:4), nor in the 'look' or 'eyes' (margin, Proverbs 6:17), yet if it be in the heart, the Lord abominates it. The heart is the primary seat of pride. Whatever resources, combinations, family connections, and supporters, the proud may have, he shall not escape punishment. Mercer takes it, 'From hand to hand expresses the consecutive connection of causes through which the Lord, works: though the proud escape one occasion of punishment, yet he is reserved for another, wherein he shall pay at once the penalty of all his sins.'

Verse 6

By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.

By mercy and truth iniquity is purged (Hebrew, yªkupar (H3722)) - 'is expiated' or 'atoned for.' By mercy on God's part, in devising and promising the atonement; and by His truth, in keeping His promise (Exodus 34:6; Ps. 85:19; Psalms 89:2-3). As the expression is general here, there is also meant, By mercy and truth on the part of men, flowing from faith in God's mercy and truth toward them, iniquity is shown to be purged. Also, God deals in mercy to them as they deal so to their fellow-men (Daniel 4:27; Proverbs 14:21-22).

And by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil. If the former clause be understood of mercy and truth on the part of men, then this clause declares the only principle from which mercy and truth must flow, so as to be acceptable to God-namely, true faith and filial fear toward God. If the former clause mean (as I prefer, because of the Hebrew kaapar (H3722)), By God's mercy and truth men's iniquity is purged through faith, then this clause expresses sanctification flowing from justification. God of His mere grace purges away our iniquity. Not that we may return to it, or wallow in sin, but that we may turn from it, and walk "in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life" (Luke 1:75).

Verse 7

When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him - so far as is for the glory of God, and for our true and eternal good. So Laban and Esau were constrained to be at peace with Jacob (Genesis 31:24; Genesis 31:29; Genesis 31:44-55; Genesis 27:41; Genesis 33:1-4).

Verse 8

Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right.

Better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues without right - (Proverbs 15:16.) "Better:" for the tranquility of conscience, for the present enjoyment of this life, and for the life to come. In Proverbs 15:16 we are warned against gain without religion ( "the fear of the Lord"): in Proverbs 15:17, against gain without love to our neighbour: here, against gain "without right."

Verse 9

A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.

A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps - (note, Proverbs 16:1; Jeremiah 10:23.) In contrast to man's anxious devising of his own way stands the Lord's sovereign disposal of his steps. Though in one sense man's will is free, yet in another he is overruled by God's all-ordering providence. Man proposes, God disposes. Nay, more; God has at his control our very thoughts (Exodus 34:24). Our wisdom is to "commit our way unto the Lord" when we set about anything (Psalms 37:5; Psalms 37:23).

Verse 10

A divine sentence is in the lips of the king: his mouth transgresseth not in judgment.

A divine sentence (is) in the lips of the king. What a just and wise king (one worthy by of the high name and office) saith in pronouncing judgment, is sound and veracious, like a divinely oracular sentence. God gives him a kind of heaven-taught sagacity, (see an example, 1 Kings 3:16, etc.) This ought to be the aim of a king, to be just, true, and firm in judgment, as it he were speaking oracularly.

Verse 11

A just weight and balance are the LORD's: all the weights of the bag are his work.

A just weight (rather, scale-literally, the upright iron in scales which the weigher holds in his hand, and in which the tongue moves) and balance are the Lord's: all the weights (literally, stones) of the bag are his work. Just weights are according to His will and ordinance. Merchants were wont to carry weights in a bag for weighing their wares, (Deuteronomy 25:13, etc.) As they are instituted by Him who implants the sense of justice in man, and the wisdom whereby men contrived this method of testing honesty, so they are approved by Him, end are pleasing to Him. So the pagan poet Hesiod says-`God gave justice to men' [anthroopois de edooke dikeen].

Verse 12

It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness.

(It is) an abomination to kings to commit wickedness - namely, to such kings as desire to do the duty of a king aright. Not only should a king not commit, as a matter of fact, but he should abominate wickedness on principle. This is the only safeguard against ultimate transgression.

Verse 13

Righteous lips are the delight of kings; and they love him that speaketh right.

Righteous lips (are) the delight of kings. Good kings delight in those who speak only what is "righteous." This is the duty of all in every station, but of kings especially, for the sake of their subjects as well as for their own. Their example acts powerfully on those under them.

Verse 14

The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: but a wise man will pacify it.

The wrath of a king is as messengers of death. The plural expresses manifold forms of death which are at the king's command. His wrath is fatal to him against whom he is incensed. It is all the same as if he denounced death against one.

But a wise man will pacify it - whereas the fool only exasperates it.

Verse 15

In the light of the king's countenance is life; and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain.

In the light of the king's countenance (is) life - as there is in the light of the sun beaming on the vegetable and animal world, in contrast to the "death" that is in his "wrath" (Proverbs 16:14). This is fully true only of the Sun of Righteousness (Psalms 4:6; Psalms 44:3; Malachi 4:2).

And his favour (is) as a cloud of the latter rain (Hebrew, malqowsh (H4456)) - which brings the vernal shower to the grain shortly before it ripens (Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Hosea 6:3). The former rain (yoreh) watered the grain after the sowing.

Verse 16

How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 17

The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul.

He that keepeth his way preserveth his soul. "Keepeth;" namely, jealously, and watchfully guarded against 'evil' (from the first clause of the verse).

Verse 18

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Pride goeth before destruction. In Proverbs 11:2 it is "When pride cometh, then cometh shame."

And an haughty spirit before a fall. The "haughty spirit" (exalting one's self above one's neighbours) in the latter clause is the fountain whence springs the "pride" (namely, the outward manifestation of pride in acts) mentioned in the former clause. The Hebrews observe that this verse stands exactly in the center of the whole book. It is a fitting keystone to the whole.

Verse 19

Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly (Proverbs 29:23 ; Isaiah 57:15 ), than to divide the spoil with the proud. Such a one is happier in having the favour of God and man, immunity from perils, and tranquility of conscience. Whereas the proud, who seek their own aggrandizement by oppressing their fellow-men, lose the favour of these as well as of God, are in danger of destruction at any moment, and have a guilty conscience whenever they dare to reflect.

Verse 20

He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he.

He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good; and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he. The Syriac, Chaldaic, and Vulgate translate, 'He who intelligently attends to the Word of God, not only to understand it, but also to obey it, as contrasted with profane rashness or negligence in, respect to it. Thus, "whoso trusteth in the Lord" is strictly parallel (cf. Proverbs 13:13; Nehemiah 8:13; Daniel 9:13). But the Septuagint and Arabic support the English version.

Moreover, it is more usual in Proverbs that each word in one clause should not have its exact counterpart in the parallel clause, but that it should be left to the shrewdness of the reader or hearer to supply one clause out of the other. Thus, "He that handleth a matter (i:e., his business) wisely" needs to be supplemented by the additional thought to be conjoined with it-namely, he must 'trust in the Lord,' not merely depend on his own sagacity, if he is both, "to find good" and be "happy." And vice versa, "whoso trusteth in the Lord" must not fold his hands in idleness, but 'handle wisely a matter' (i:e., his business) if he is to be "happy," and also to "find good."

Verse 21

The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.

The wise in heart shall be called prudent (intelligent; Hebrew, nabon): and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning - as well for himself (inasmuch as in teaching, one is taught one's self, and begins much more exactly to know the subject under discussion) as also for the hearer's good. 'The wise in heart shall be called intelligent,' when 'the sweetness of his lips increaseth the learning' of those around him. As he who is "wise in heart" gets great honour to himself, so "sweetness of the lips" brings great gain to the hearers. The end of facility in speech, whereby one speaketh each thing in its proper place and time (Proverbs 15:2) is not to glorify one's self, but to inform others of what is their interest to know. He who will be faithful in using the talent committed to him shall be counted worthy to receive more.

Verse 22

Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly.

Understanding is a well-spring of life unto him that hath it - "a well-spring," whence flow counsels, informations, consolations, tending to spiritual life.

But the instruction of fools is folly - "instruction" (Hebrew, musar); rather, discipline or castigation. As "understanding" or intelligence is its own reward to its possessors, so "folly" is its own punishment to fools. Or, taking the English version, All "the instruction (i:e., the wisdom) of fools is (nothing but) folly;" it is "a well-spring" of folly, and therefore of death (the opposite to "of life"). Water cannot rise above its level. Not only in serious concerns does the wise man's "understanding" well forth, but even in his moments of relaxation. The fool's wisdom, not only in ordinary concerns, but even in serious ones; as, for instance, his efforts by way of "instruction" betray his "folly."

Verse 23

The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.

The heart of the wise teacheth (Hebrew, maketh intelligent - i:e., gives power of expression to) his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips. Wisdom in the heart suggests to the mouth what, how, where, and when one ought to speak. Each one is eloquent enough in that which he understands. During speaking "the heart of the wise addeth learning to his lips" - i:e., suggests ever fresh conceptions and learned thoughts to be uttered by the lips.

Verse 24

Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.

Pleasant words (are as) an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. "Pleasant words" are "words of the pure" (Proverbs 15:26). The "honeycomb" was used for medicinal purposes, as well as for enjoyment. That honey which flows from the comb of its own accord, and not pressed out, is the most delicate, precious, and palatable. The bones are, as it were, the foundations of the body. The body and the mind sympathize. What is healthful to the soul does good to the body at the same time (Proverbs 12:4).

Verse 25

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof (are) the ways of death. The same maxim repeated from Proverbs 14:12, in a different connection (cf. Philippians 3:1). Here it is to warn us that not all words are truly "pleasant words" which seem so to us (Proverbs 16:24). We must therefore willingly give ear to the words of the wise, and not lean upon our own judgment.

Verse 26

He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.

He that laboureth, laboureth for himself - literally, 'The soul of him that laboureth, laboureth,' etc.

For his mouth craveth it of him - literally, 'is bowed,' or 'boweth itself unto him,' as a suppliant craving food for its wants. Or, more literally, 'boweth itself upon him' - i:e., imposes labour upon him. Solomon exhorts here to 'labour,' which is man's appointed portion (Genesis 3:17-19; Ecclesiastes 6:7, "All the labour of man is for his mouth"). Labour tends to the good of him that laboureth, and supplies his pressing needs (cf. Proverbs 9:12). So in our spiritual needs labour (i:e., diligence and earnestness) is the path to the heavenly rest. The spiritual appetite created by God the Holy Spirit 'craves' laborious diligence of the man, so as to obtain the free gift of the bread of life.

Verse 27

An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire.

An ungodly man diggeth up evil - i:e., diggeth a pit to entrap in evil his victim (Proverbs 26:27; Psalms 119:85; Job 6:27). The ungodly indeed 'labour' (Proverbs 16:26), but it is only for mischief.

And in his lips (there is) as a burning fire - malignant and calumnious speech wherewith to injure others.

Verse 28

A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.

A froward man soweth (Hebrew, sendeth in) strife; and a whisperer separateth chief friends. The Hebrew for "chief friends" [ 'aluwp (H441)] means a prince, a husband, a leading one among the most trusted intimate friends. A whisperer, if listened to, separates between people and prince, between husband and wife, between friend and friend.

Verse 29

A violent man enticeth his neighbour, and leadeth him into the way that is not good.

A violent man enticeth his neighbour, and leadeth him into the way (that is) not good. The violent man, when violence is not likely to succeed, resorts to enticement, and stitches the fox's skin on the lion's skin, in order to effect his violent purpose of destroying "his neighbour" (cf. Psalms 10:4-10). As Proverbs 16:28 spoke of pernicious separation, so this Proverbs 16:29 speaks of sinful unions.

Verse 30

He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things: moving his lips he bringeth evil to pass.

He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things. Shutting the eyes is the sign of profound meditation, the mind being drawn off from external objects to internal meditation. Others explain the Hebrew here, He winketh his eyes, to intimate to his accomplice a scheme for entrapping some innocent person present (Proverbs 6:13).

Moving his lips he bringeth evil to pass. "Moving his lips" - namely, in silent mental soliloquy as he plans his scheme. Maurer, after the Vulgate, takes it, biting - i:e., compressing his lips in inward meditation. So in sense the Syriac.

Verse 31

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.

The hoary head (is) a crown of glory, (if) it be found in the way of righteousness - rather, as the Proverbs generally consist of two parallel propositions, and there is no if in the Hebrew, "The hoary head is a crown of glory" (Proverbs 20:29) - namely, because age represents Him who is "The Ancient of days;" also, because of the mature experience which old men who have improved their opportunities possess. "It is found in the way of righteousness" (Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:22). The wicked often do not live out half their days. Of course, it is presupposed that "the hoary head" here (as the first clause needs to be supplied from the second clause) is one "found in the way of righteousness:" otherwise it, would be the badge of inveterate shame, not "a crown of glory."

Verse 32

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty - than a mighty here. The very reverse of the estimate formed by men of the slow to anger, and of mighty heroes respectively.

And he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. For the war is a more severe one which is waged with one's own passions than that which we wage with others. He who conquers himself is of use to himself, and injures none; whereas a mighty hero conquers with much bloodshed. The mighty hero conquers by the hand of others; he that is slow to anger conquers in himself, and by himself; and conquers not only men (as the mighty hero), but also "the rulers of the darkness of this world" (Ephesians 6:12).

Verse 33

The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.

The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing (literally, judgment) thereof is of the Lord. Whatever happens to man by allotment is not by chance, but by the Lord's appointment. The lots were cast into the cloak, cap, urn, or whatever else the judge or umpire bare in his lap, and then were drawn forth in order. They were used in dividing inheritances, in electing a king, and subsequently an apostle, in detecting the guilty one among a multitude, etc. (Numbers 26:55; Joshua 14:2; Acts 1:26; 1 Samuel 10:20; 1 Samuel 14:41-42.) The employment of the term 'judgment' implies that it was only in weightier cases that resort was had to judgment by lot; especially as God Himself was regarded as the Arbiter in the judgment by lot. Hence, it was entered upon with great solemnity: in Joshua 7:13, with a preparatory sanctification of the people. Eleazar used to preside on such occasions. Everything is a wheel of Providence. The unparalleled story of Joseph seems to be made up of nothing else but chances and little contingencies, all tending to mighty ends. The sleepless night of Ahasuerus (Esther 6:1) was overruled to save the Jews from extinction (cf. Bridges).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Proverbs 16". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/proverbs-16.html. 1871-8.
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