Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 16

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-33

2. Admonition to a walk in the fear of God and obedience

Proverbs 16:1 to Proverbs 22:16

α) Admonition to trust in God as the wise Ruler and Governor of the world

Chap. 16

1          Man’s are the counsels of the heart,

but the answer of the tongue is Jehovah’s.

2     All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,

but Jehovah weigheth the spirits.

3     Commit thy works to Jehovah,

so will thy plans be established.

4     Jehovah hath made every thing for its end,

even the wicked for the day of evil.

5     An abomination to Jehovah is every one who is proud in heart,

assuredly he will not go unpunished.

6     By mercy and truth is iniquity atoned,

and through the fear of Jehovah one departeth from evil.

7     If Jehovah hath pleasure in the ways of a man,

he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.

8     Better is a little with righteousness,

than great revenues without right.

9     Man’s heart deviseth his way,

but Jehovah directeth his steps.

10     Decision belongeth to the lips of the king,

in judgment his mouth speaketh not wickedly.

11     The scale and just balances belong to Jehovah,

His work are all the weights of the bag.

12     It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness,

for by righteousness is the throne established.

13     A delight to kings are righteous lips,

and he that speaketh uprightly is loved.

14     The wrath of a king (is as) messengers of death,

but a wise man appeaseth it.

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

and his favor is as a cloud of the latter rain.

16     To gain wisdom—how much better is it than gold!

and to attain understanding to be preferred to silver!

17     The path of the upright departeth from evil;

he preserveth his soul that giveth heed to his way.

18     Before destruction cometh pride,

and before a fall a haughty spirit.

19     Better is it to be humble with the lowly,

than to divide spoil with the proud.

20     He that giveth heed to the word findeth good,

and he who trusteth Jehovah, blessed is he!

21     The wise in heart shall be called prudent,

and grace on the lips increaseth learning.

22     Understanding is a fountain of life to him that hath it,

but the correction of fools is folly.

23     The heart of the wise maketh his mouth wise,

and increaseth learning upon his lips.

24     As honey of the comb are pleasant words,

sweet to the soul and health to the bones.

25     There is a way that seemeth right to man,

but its end are ways of death.

26     The spirit of the laborer laboreth for him,

for his mouth urgeth him on.

27     A worthless man searcheth after evil,

and on his lips is as it were scorching fire.

28     A perverse man sendeth abroad strife,

and a backbiter separateth friends.

29     A violent man enticeth his neighbor,

and leadeth him in a way that is not good.

30     Shutting his eyes to devise mischief,

biting his lips, he bringeth evil to pass.

31     A crown of glory is the hoary head;

in the way of righteousness it shall be found.

32     He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty,

and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

33     The lot is cast into the lap,

but from Jehovah is all its decision.


Proverbs 16:1.—In מֵיְהוָֹה the מִן stands as simply synonymous with the ל auctoris of the first clause.

Proverbs 16:3.—[A masc. verb agreeing with the fem., subject מַחְשְׁבֹתֶיךָ, which is less unnatural where the verb precedes; see Bött., § 936, a.—A.]

Proverbs 16:4.—[לַמַּעֲנֵהוּ distinguished by the article and the daghesh as the noun מַעֲנֶה with preposition and suffix, and not the comp. preposition לְמַעָן with a suffix. See Green, Heb. Gram., § 246, 2, a.—A.]

Proverbs 16:7.—[יַשְׁלִם, Hiph. Imperf. written defective. Bött. suggests the proper reading as יַשְׁלֵם “absimilated” from the following אִ. See § 1013.—A.]

Proverbs 16:13.—[Ordinarily feminine forms of adjectives are employed in Hebrew to supply the lack of neuter and abstract forms. Occasionally as in יְשָׁרִים masc. forms are used in elevated Style. See Bött., § 707, 2.—A.]

Proverbs 16:16.—[Both the masc. and fem., forms of the Infin. constr. are here used, קְנֹה and קְנוֹת, but with a masc. predicate, the Niph. part. נִבְחָר, which has here the meaning of the Latin part. in dus. Bött., § 990, 3, ß, and 997, 2, c.—A.] For examples of the form קְנֹה comp. Proverbs 21:3; Proverbs 31:4.

Proverbs 16:19.—שְׁפַל in שְׁפָל־רוּחַ is here probably not to be regarded as the adjective, as in Proverbs 29:23; Isaiah 57:15 (so Bertheau, Elster, and others regard it), but an Infinitive, which is therefore equivalent to humiliari (Vulgate, comp. Ewald, Umbreit, Hitzig, etc.) For in the second clause an Infin. is the corresponding term: חַלֵּק שָׁלָל, “to divide spoil;” comp. with this Isaiah 53:12. [Fuerst, however (Lex., sub verbo), pronounces decidedly in favor of the adjective construction. Bött. regards it as an Infin., § 987, 5, a.—A.]

Proverbs 16:20.—הִשְׁכִּיל appears in Nehemiah 8:13 construed with אֶל instead of עַל; compare, however, for this interchange of אל and על chaps. Proverbs 29:5; Jeremiah 6:10; Jeremiah 6:19, etc.

Proverbs 16:27.—[שְׂפָתיוֹ is one of the few instances in which in the Masoretic punctuation a dual or plural form is disregarded in the vocalization of the suffix. Cases of the opposite kind are not rare. Bött., § 886, c. The LXX conform to the K’thibh.—A.]

Proverbs 16:28.—נִרְגְּן (ψίθυρος, Sir 5:14), is cognate with נָרָג, a verb which in the Arabic means susurro, to whisper.

Proverbs 16:30.—עָצָה, related to עָצַם, clausit, is found only here in the Old Testament. [It is a gesture accompanying and expressive of crafty scheming; Fuerst, s. v.]

Proverbs 16:33.—For the impersonal use of the passive יוּטַל with the accusative, comp. Genesis 4:18; Genesis 17:6; Joshua 7:15; Psalms 72:15, etc.


1.Proverbs 16:1-3. Of God as the wise disposer and controller of all things in general.—Man’s are the counsels of the heart, but the answer of the tongue is Jehovah’s.—The “answer of the tongue” might indeed of itself signify the answer corresponding to the tongue, i.e., the supplicating tongue, and so denote “the granting of man’s request” (Elster, comp. Umbreit, Bertheau, etc.) But since the heart with its hidden plans and counsels (lit., “arrangements:” מַעַרָכִים equivalent to the more common fem. מַעַרָכות), is here plainly contrasted with the tongue as the instrument in the disclosure of such plans (comp. Proverbs 10:8; Proverbs 14:20, and numerous exx.), therefore the “answer of the tongue” must here be “the movement and utterance of the tongue,” and Jehovah comes into the account as the giver of right words, from which health and life go forth, as the dispenser of the wholesome “word in due season” (Proverbs 15:23); comp. Matthew 10:19-20; also Rom 8:26; 2 Corinthians 3:5. Luther therefore renders correctly “But from the Lord cometh what the tongue shall speak;” in general Hitzig is also right, except that he would unnecessarily read “to” Jehovah לַי׀ instead of מֵי׀, and so thinks too exclusively of Jehovah merely as the judge of the utterances of man’s tongue. The idea “Man proposes, God disposes” (der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt), forms moreover quite as naturally the proper subject of discourse in the verse before us, as below in Proverbs 16:9; Proverbs 16:33. [Our English version sacrifices entirely the antithetic nature and force of the verse.—A.]

Proverbs 16:2. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, i.e., according to his own judgment, comp. Proverbs 12:15. Lit., “something clean;” comp. Ewald, Lehrb., § 307, c.But Jehovah weigheth the spirits, i.e., he tries them, not literally ponderable, with reference to their moral weight; he wishes to test their moral competence. The “ways” and the “spirits” here stand contrasted as the outward action and the inward disposition; comp. 1 Samuel 16:7. In the parallel passage, Proverbs 21:2, “hearts” (לִבּוֹת) occurs instead of “spirits” (רוּחוֹת) (compare also Proverbs 21:12) and “right” (יָשָׁר) instead of “clean” (זַךְ).

Proverbs 16:3. Commit thy works to Jehovah.—For this phrase to “roll something on some one,” i.e., to commit and entrust it wholly to him, comp. Psalms 22:8 (9), also Psalms 37:5 (where עַל is used instead of אֶל, “upon” instead of “to”).—So will thy plans be established,i.e., thy thoughts and purposes, those according to which thou proposest to shape thy “works,” will then have a sure basis and result. Comp. Proverbs 19:21; Psalms 90:17.

2.Proverbs 16:4-9. God’s wise and righteous administration in respect to the rewarding of good and the punishment of evil.—Jehovah hath made everything for its end.—The noun מַעֲנֶה here signifies, not “answer,” as in Proverbs 16:1, or in Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 15:23; but in general that which corresponds with the thing, the end of the thing. The suffix refers back to the “all, all things.” The Vulgate renders “propter semet ipsum,” but this would have לְמַעֲנוֹ. [See critical notes. Bertheau, Kamph., De W., N., S., M., etc., agree with our author in the interpretation which is grammatically most defensible, and doctrinally least open to exception. An absolute Divine purpose and control in the creation and administration of the world is clearly announced, and also the strength of the bond that joins sin and misery.—A.]—Even the wicked for the day of evil, i.e., to experience the day of evil, and then to receive His well merited punishment. It is not specifically the day of final judgment that is directly intended (as though the doctrine here were that of a predestination of the ungodly to eternal damnation, as many of the older Reformed interpreters held), but any day of calamity whatsoever, which God has fixed for the ungodly, whether it may overtake him in this or in the future life. Comp. the “day of destruction,” Job 21:30; the “day of visitation,” Isaiah 10:3. [Holden’s rendering “even the wicked He daily sustains,” is suggested by his strong aversion to the doctrine of reprobation, but is not justified by the use of the Hebrew phrase, or by the slightest requirement or allowance in the parallelism. Liberal interpreters like Noyes find not the slightest reason for following him.—A.]

Proverbs 16:5. With clause a compare Proverbs 15:9; Proverbs 15:25-26; with b, Proverbs 11:21.—In regard to the two verses interpolated by the LXX (and Vulgate) after Proverbs 16:5, see Hitzig on this passage.

Proverbs 16:6. By mercy and truth is iniquity atoned.—“Mercy and truth” here unquestionably, as in Proverbs 3:3 (where see notes), describes a relation of man to his neighbor, and not to God, as Bertheau maintains (see in reply to his view especially Hoffmann’s Schriftbew., I., 518 sq.). [Nor is it God’s mercy and truth, as Holden suggests]. Loving and faithful conduct towards one’s neighbor is, however, plainly not in and of itself named as the ground of the expiation of sin, but only so far forth as it is a sign and necessary expression of a really penitent and believing disposition of heart, and so is a correlative to the fear of God, which is made prominent in the second clause; just as in the expression of Jesus with reference to the sinning woman; Luke 7:47; or as in Isaiah 58:7; Daniel 4:24, etc.One departeth from evil, lit., “there is remaining far from evil,” i.e., this is the result: so Proverbs 16:17.—“Evil” is here according to the parallelism moral evil (not misfortune, calamity, in conformity with Proverbs 16:4; Proverbs 16:27, as Hitzig holds). This is however mentioned here with an included reference to its necessary evil results and penalties; therefore, if one chooses, it is evil and calamity together; comp. Proverbs 16:17.—With Proverbs 16:7 compare Proverbs 25:21-22, where as means to the conciliation of enemies there is mentioned the personal loving disposition of the man involved, who here appears as an object of the divine complacency.—With Proverbs 16:8 comp. Proverbs 15:16; with clause b in particular, Proverbs 13:23.

Proverbs 16:9. Man’s heart deviseth his way. The Piel of the verb here denotes a laborious consideration, a reflecting on this side and that.—But Jehovah directeth his steps. He determines them, gives them their direction, guides them (comp. notes on Proverbs 16:1, b). Umbreit, Bertheau, Ewald, Elster, [Noyes, Stuart,] “he makes them sure.” But then another conjugation (Pilel, יְכוֹנֵן) would probably have been necessary, as in Psalms 37:23. For the Hiphil comp. moreover Jeremiah 10:23.

3.Proverbs 16:10-15. Of kings as intermediate agents or instruments in God’s wise administration of the world.—A divine decision belongeth to the lips of the king. קֶסֶם, oracular decision or prediction, here used in a good sense of a divine utterance (effatum divinum; comp. in the Vulg., divinatio). As representative of Jehovah, the supreme ruler and judge, a king, and especially the theocratic king of Israel, speaks words of divine validity and dignity (comp. Psalms 82:6; John 10:34), which give an absolutely certain decision, particularly in contested judicial questions. Therefore that continues true which the second clause asserts: In judgment his mouth doth not speak wickedly. “He deceives not, sins not” is not possibly, a wish (“his mouth should not err in judgment,” Umbreit, Bertheau), but “the passage rather lays down the principle: the King can do no wrong, in a narrower assertion of it, and with this difference, that it is here no political fiction, but a believing conviction. Righteousness at least in the final resort was under the theocratic monarchy of the Old Testament so absolute a demand of the idea, that one could not conceive it to be unrealized” (Hitzig). [We have here the theory of the king’s relations and obligations, and a clear statement of the presumptions of which he should, according to the divine order, have the benefit. These must be clearly overthrown by him, before the people are entitled to set them aside. Comp. Romans 13:1-2. Had this proverb been penned near the end, instead of near the beginning of the Jewish theocracy, it would have been difficult to avoid the suggestion that the ideal and the actual are often strangely, sharply at variance.—A.].

Proverbs 16:11. The scale and just balances belong to Jehovah. The proposition expresses the idea of an ownership in Jehovah as the first cause: for like agriculture (Sir 7:15) God instituted weights and measures, as an indispensable ordinance and instrument in just business intercourse.—His works are all the weights of the bag. His weights the oriental merchant (in Persia, e.g., even at the present day) is wont to carry in a bag; comp. Deuteronomy 25:13; Micah 6:11. Stones were in preference employed as weights because they do not wear away so easily, as iron, e.g., which from rusting easily changes its weight. Comp. Umbreit on this passage. Bertheau is quite too artificial. “His work is all of it stones of the bag,” i.e., is as sharply and accurately defined “as the smallest and finest weights (?).”

Proverbs 16:12-13. Two verses closely connected, expressing a single truth, which is brought out first negatively and then positively.—It is an abomination to kings to commit iniquity; i.e., injustice practised or at least attempted by their subjects is an abomination to them, representing, as they do, God and divine justice. Comp. Proverbs 16:10, and with clause b also especially Proverbs 25:5.—And he that speaketh uprightly is loved. For this use of the plur. masc. of יֶשֶׁר, upright, which is therefore “upright things, uprightness,” comp. Daniel 11:17; also Job 4:25.—The verb יֶאֱהָֽב is either to be taken with an indefinite subject, “him one loveth,” i.e., he is loved (Umbreit, Elster, etc.), or distributively, “him he loveth,” i.e., whoever is king for the time being.

Proverbs 16:14-15. Verses in like manner closely connected, and essentially expressing but one thought.—The wrath of the king (is as) messengers of death. This plural in the predicate of the sentence hints that when the king is enraged manifold means and instruments stand at his command for the immediate destruction of the object of his wrath. Remember the despotism and the capricious arbitrariness of Oriental sovereigns, and compare Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:2; Ecclesiastes 8:3-4.—In the light of the King’s countenance is life. The “friendly countenance,” lit. “light of the countenance,” as in Psalms 4:6 (7), is contrasted with the “wrath” Proverbs 16:14, a, as also are “life” and “ death.”—As a cloud of the latter rain. The harvest rain or latter rain (Vulg., imber serotinus) is a rain falling shortly before the harvest, in March or April, whose timely and abundant occurrence is indispensable to the success of Eastern harvests, especially so in Palestine; comp. Proverbs 11:14; Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 5:24; and particularly Job 29:23-24, which latter passage is here a general parallel. [See Thomson’s Land and Book, I. 130, II. 66].

Proverbs 16:16-26. Of God’s righteous administration in respect to the wise and the foolish.—To gain wisdom—how much better is it than gold, i.e., than the acquisition of gold; compare, for an example of this abbreviated comparison (comparatio decurtata) Job 28:8; Psalms 4:7 (8), etc. For the general sentiment of the ver. compare Proverbs 3:14; Proverbs 8:10-11; Proverbs 8:19.

Proverbs 16:17. The path (the raised, well-graded road מְסִלָּה) of the upright departeth from evil, lit. “is abiding far (to abide far) from evil,” as in Proverbs 16:6; comp. also Proverbs 10:17; Proverbs 11:5; Proverbs 11:20.—Hitzig expands the verse by four clauses which he introduces from the LXX, and in such an order that the second clause of the Masoretic text is separated from the first by three of the inserted clauses, and a sixth is appended as a final clause. Yet he fails to give satisfactory proof that this expanded form was the original, three verses being now represented by one.

Proverbs 16:18. Comp. Proverbs 15:25; Proverbs 15:33.—The word here rendered “fall” (כִּשָּׁלוֹן, tottering, downfall) is used only in this passage in the Old Testament.—With respect to the sentiment of the ver. compare also the Arabic proverb, “The nose is in the heavens, the seat in the mire ” (Nasus in cœlo est, nates in fimo), and the expression of Horace “… feriuntque summos fulgura montes (Odes, II. x. 11, 12).

[…… And ever, where
The mountain’s summit points in air,
Do bolted lightnings flash.’ ’

—Theo. Martin’s Translation.]

Proverbs 16:19. Better is it to live humbly with the lowly. עֲנִיִּים. (with which reading of the K’thibh the LXX agrees, while the K’ri reads עֲנָוִים) describes those who are bowed down by troubles, the sufferers, the lowly; comp. Zechariah 9:9.

Proverbs 16:20. He that giveth heed to the word frindeth good, i.e., naturally, to the word of God, the word par excellence; comp. Proverbs 13:13.—With the expression “findeth good, or prosperity,” comp. Proverbs 17:20; Proverbs 19:8. “Blessed is he!” (אַשְׁרָיו) comp. Proverbs 14:21.

Proverbs 16:21. The wise in heart shall be called prudent, understanding, knowing, a possessor of בִּינָה, discernment. Comp. Proverbs 14:33.—And grace on the lips (lit. “of lips”) increaseth learning, i.e., secures for learning an easy access in ever widening circles, comp. 23, b. The “grace” or literally the “sweetness” of the lips is here represented as a necessary attendant and helper of wisdom, as in Proverbs 15:2.

Proverbs 16:22. A fountain of life is understanding to him that hath it, lit. “is the wisdom of its possessor.” The thought is here in the first instance unquestionably of the blessing which comes directly to the possessor from his wisdom, and not of its life-dispensing, life-promoting influence on others, as Bertheau thinks. For this figure of a “fountain of life” compare Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 13:14; Proverbs 14:27.—But the correction of fools is folly. The subject, according to the antithetic parallelism, is “folly,” as “wisdom” is in clause a. The meaning can be no other than this: the folly of fools is for them a source of all possible disadvantages and adversities; the lack of reason is its own punishment (comp. Hitzig on this passage). [So N. and W., while H., M., and S. give to מוּסָר its active meaning, “the instruction of fools,” i.e., that which they give, “is folly.”—A.].

Proverbs 16:23. Comp. remarks on Proverbs 16:21.—And increaseth learning upon his lips. “Upon his lips,” so far forth as the word that comes from the heart rests on the lips, comp. Proverbs 16:27; Psalms 16:4; and also the expression “on the tongue,” Psalms 15:3 [where the original expresses more than mere instrumentality (with the tongue); “ who beareth not slander on his tongue” (Hupfeld, on the passage), etc.—A.].

Proverbs 16:24. As honey of the comb are pleasant words, lit. “words of loveliness,” as in Proverbs 15:26.—For a like reference to the “honey-comb” see Psalms 19:10 (11).—Sweet to the soul. The adj. מָתוֹק, for which we might expect the plural is to be regarded as a neuter used substantively; something sweet, sweetness; comp. Ezekiel 3:3, and also Proverbs 16:2 above.

Proverbs 16:25. Literally identical with Proverbs 14:12;—stricken out by Hitzig from the passage before us, because it is superfluous in the group (Proverbs 16:22-30) assumed to consist of eight only (?).—

Proverbs 16:26. The spirit of the laborer laboreth for him, i.e., supports him in his labor, impels him to greater perseverance and exertion to gain his daily bread. [Zöckler renders “the hunger,” etc. So Kamphausen. This seems to us unnecessary. נֶפֶשׁ is often the animal soul or spirit as distinguished from the higher intellectual, moral and religious nature. It is this spirit that feels the pressure of life’s necessities, and impels to effort for their relief; comp. Proverbs 10:3, etc.—A.].—For his mouth urgeth him on, i.e., as it longs for food. This verb (construed with עַל and the accus. of the person) denotes, according to Arabic analogies “to heap a load or burden on one” (comp. אֵכֶף, a weight, burden, Job 33:7) [E. V. “be heavy upon thee”]; and here specifically, to bind one, to drive and force him to do something” (Vulg., compulit).—With the general sentiment compare Ecclesiastes 6:7.

5.Proverbs 16:27-33. A new delineation of God’s justice in punishing the wicked and rewarding the pious. Proverbs 16:27-30 form here one connected description of the ungodly, nefarious conduct of the evil men on whom God’s judgment falls. Proverbs 16:31-32 contrast with these wicked men the upright and the gentle in spirit as the only happy men; Proverbs 16:33 is a general conclusion pointing us back to the beginning of the chapter.

Proverbs 16:27. A worthless man (“man of Belial”) searcheth after evil, literally “diggeth evil, shovels out evil for himself,” i.e., from the pit which he prepares for others, to destroy them (comp. Proverbs 26:27; Jeremiah 18:20 sq.). For this expression “man of Belial” compare Proverbs 6:12.—On his lips is as it were scorching fire (comp. Proverbs 16:23). The words of the worthless man are here on account of their desolating effects, compared to a blazing or scorching fire (comp. Ezekiel 21:3; Proverbs 26:23; Job 31:12; James 3:5 sq.).

Proverbs 16:28. With clause a compare Proverbs 6:14; Proverbs 6:19.—And a backbiter separateth friends, lit. “divideth off the friend.” The singular is not here used collectively, but in a certain sense distributively; “divideth a friend from his fellow.” So in Proverbs 17:9; comp. Proverbs 19:4.—For the use of נִרְגָּן, “backbiter” comp. Proverbs 18:8; Proverbs 26:20; Proverbs 26:22.

Proverbs 16:29. With clause a compare Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 1:10 sq. With b compare Psalms 36:4 (5); Isaiah 65:2.—[Rueetschi (as above cited, p. 145) thinks these verses (27–29) more expressive if in each the first words are regarded as the predicates, prefixed for emphasis and stronger contrast; “a worthless man is he, etc.;” “a perverse, contentious man is he, etc.,” “a backbiter is he, etc.;” “a man of violence is he, etc.;” although he may excuse his conduct as mere sport.—A.].

Proverbs 16:30 describes more precisely, by two participial clauses which belong to the “man of violence” in Proverbs 16:29, the way in which this wicked man executes the ruin which he devises.—Shutting his eyes to devise mischief, lit. “to meditate craftiness;” comp. Proverbs 2:12, Proverbs 6:14.—Biting his lips. With this description, “pressing in, pressing together his lips,” comp. Proverbs 6:13; Proverbs 10:10, where this verb is used of the corresponding action with the eyes.

Proverbs 16:31. With clause a comp. Proverbs 4:19; Proverbs 20:29; with b, Proverbs 4:10 sq., Proverbs 3:2.

Proverbs 16:32. With a compare Proverbs 14:29.—And he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. רוּחַ here not merely the spirit or the soul, but the temper, the passionate movement and excitement of the spirit. Comp. Pirke Aboth cap. Proverbs 4:1, where the question, Who is after all the true hero? is answered by a reference to the proverb of Solomon now before us. The Lord, moreover, in Matthew 5:5, promises to the meek that they shall inherit the earth.

Proverbs 16:33. The lot is cast into the lap. Hitzig: “In the bosom the lot is shaken,” a rendering which does indeed conform more closely to the import of חֵיק, “the bosom of the clothing,” but to us who are not Orientals gives a meaning easily misunderstood. For we are wont to call the doubled or folded front of the dress the “lap.”—But from Jehovah is (cometh) all its decision, the final judicial sense as it were, (“judgment,” comp. Numbers 27:21) in which the result of the lot is reached. Comp. Proverbs 18:18, where, however, the discourse is specifically limited to the settling of judicial disputes by lot, while here attention is evidently directed to lots in general (and therefore to cases like Joshua 7:19; 1 Samuel 14:37 sq., Numbers 16:8; Psalms 22:18 (19), etc.)


A course of thought running with any unity through the entire chapter it is here again impossible to detect. Only small groups of connected proverbs stand forth here and there from the general level; e.g., Proverbs 16:1-3, Proverbs 16:10-15, Proverbs 16:27-30 (comp. especially the remarks on Proverbs 16:27 sq.). Hitzig’s endeavor to develop here and in the two following chapters i.e., in general terms throughout the section Proverbs 15:33 to Proverbs 19:2), symmetrically constructed groups of eight verses each, is quite as unsuccessful as his similar assumptions in respect to the construction of the general division, chap. 10–22:16, on definite numerical principles (comp. above, remarks on Proverbs 10:1 sq.; and on Proverbs 13:1).

A decided pre-eminence belongs in the chapter, as it is now defined, to the idea that God controls the action of man altogether according to His own wise judgment and good pleasure. That “man proposes but God disposes,”—this truth which summons to humble confidence in God, and a childlike and unconditional surrender to the fatherly guidance of the Lord’s hand, stands at the head of the section as a whole (Proverbs 16:1), with a special emphasizing of the divine influence exerted over the manner and the results of human speech. It recurs again in Proverbs 16:10-15 before the connected delineation of the authority of human kings, as counterparts and representatives of the great King of heaven; and here there is special reference not to the speech but to the action of men (Proverbs 16:9). Finally it forms the conclusion of the chapter, and that in the form of a reference to the supreme control which God holds in His hand over the lot as any where employed by men (Proverbs 16:33). It is the doctrine of the divine government of the world (the gubernatio, with its four prominent forms or methods, permissio, impeditio, directio and determinatio); or again the doctrine of the divine co-operation with the free self-determined acts of men (the concursus as it exists tam ad bonas quam ad malas actiones hominum [with reference both to the good and to the evil actions of men]), that is asserted in these propositions and developed in various directions. Especially does the intermediate place which human kings and judges assume as representatives of the divine justice, and in a certain sense prophets of the divine will (Proverbs 16:10), also as typically gods on earth (Proverbs 16:13-15; comp. Psalms 82:6), in their relation to the destiny of individual men, stand out in a significant prominence; it thus affords instructive premonition of the exhortations of the New Testament to obedience to the magistrates who stand in God’s place,—such as are found in Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1 sq.; 1 Peter 2:17, etc. Compare what Melanchthon observes on Proverbs 16:10 sq.; “These words affirm that the whole political order, magistrates, laws, distinctions in authority, contracts, judgments, penalties are works ordained by the wisdom of God within the human race. Therefore since we know that political order is God’s work, let us love it, and seek to maintain it by our duty, and in modesty obey it for God’s sake, and let us render thanks to God the preserver, and let us know that the madness of devils and of men who disturb the political order is displeasing to God, etc.”

Other ethical truths to which a significant prominence is given are contained particularly in

Proverbs 16:6. A reference to the fear of God, and penitent and believing consecration to God as the only way to the development of genuine fruits of love and of righteousness (see notes on this passage).

Proverbs 16:20. Combined view of the two chief requisites to a really devout life; 1) obedience to the word of God, and 2) inspiring confidence in God.

Proverbs 16:21; Proverbs 16:23 (comp. also Proverbs 16:24). The stress laid on the great value of an eloquent mouth, as an appropriate organ for a wise heart exercising itself in the service of the Lord.

Proverbs 16:32. Reference to gentleness of spirit and the ruling of one’s own passions, as the best and surest means to the attainment of real power and greatness—an expressive Biblical testimony against all uncharitable advancement of self in the way of strife, and against the combative spirit of brawlers and duellists.

[Andrew Fuller: The doctrine of verse 7 stands in apparent contradiction with 2 Timothy 3:12. The truth seems to be that neither of the passages is to be taken universally. The peace possessed by those who please God does not extend so far as to exempt them from having enemies, and though all godly men must in some form or other be persecuted, yet none are persecuted at all times. The passage from Timothy may therefore refer to the native enmity which true godliness is certain to excite, and the proverb to the Divine control over it.]


Homily on the chapter as a whole; Of God’s wise and righteous government of the world, as it is exhibited 1) in the life of men in general (1–9); 2) in the action and administration of earthly rulers (10–15); 3) in the endeavors and results of human wisdom (16–26); 4) in the righteous retribution which awaits both, the good and the evil (27–33).—Stöcker: On God’s gracious care for men. 1) Proof that such a paternally upholding and governing providence of God over men exists, a) in general (Proverbs 16:1-9); b) through the government of the world in particular (10–15). 2) The duties of the pious in recognition of this paternal providence and government of God (Proverbs 16:16-33).—Wohlfarth:—On the providence and government of God, and man’s duty. Man proposes, God disposes,—usually otherwise than we devise and desire, but always more gloriously and better than we could do. Hence humility, prudence and trust in God are the chief duties of man in return.

Proverbs 16:1-3. Melanchthon:—It is well to consider that our resolves are a different thing from their success. That we may form successful and salutary resolutions we need God’s aid in two forms; in examining the different possible ways, and then in conforming our course to them. We must therefore at all times be of this firm purpose, to let our whole life be ruled by God’s word, and for all things to invoke God’s help.—Geier (on Proverbs 16:1): Teachers, preachers and rulers especially must call earnestly on God for the careful government and sanctification of their tongue, in order that in the fulfilment whether of their public or their private duties the right word may always stand at their command, and nothing unseemly or injurious may escape them.—(On Proverbs 16:3): The duties of our calling we must indeed fulfil with fidelity and diligence, but yet in all patience await from the Lord blessing and success.—Berleb. Bible: If one is not able without God to utter a word that one has already conceived, how much less will one be able to bring any thing to pass without God’s aid. And how much more will this be true within the sphere of the spiritual life, since man is wholly “insufficient of himself to think any thing as of himself” (2 Corinthians 3:5), but must receive all from the Lord, etc.—[Arnot (on Proverbs 16:2): The human heart is beyond conception cunning in making that appear right which is felt pleasant. The real motive power that keeps the wheels of life going round is this: men like the things that they do, and do the things that they like.]

Proverbs 16:4-9. Würt. Bible (on Proverbs 16:4): God’s providence extends over good and wicked men (Matthew 5:45); through His ordaining it comes to pass that the ungodly are punished in their time and as they deserve.—Von Gerlach (on Proverbs 16:4): The wicked man also fulfils God’s design, when the day of calamity comes upon him; all without exception must serve Him.—[Charnock (on Proverbs 16:4): If sin ends in any good, it is only from that Infinite transcendency of skill that can bring good out of evil, as well as light out of darkness.—Waterland (on Proverbs 16:4): God bridles the wicked by laws and government and by the incessant labors of good men; and yet more immediately by His secret power over their hearts and wills, and over all their faculties; as well as over all occurrences and all second causes through the whole universe; and if He still affords them compass enough to range in, yet notwithstanding He rules over them with so strong and steady a hand, that they cannot move a step but by His leave, nor do a single act but what shall be turned to good effect.—Beveridge (on Proverbs 16:4): God in His revelations hath told us nothing of the second causes which He hath established under Himself for the production of ordinary effects, that we may not perplex ourselves about them, but always look up to Him as the first cause, as working without them or by them as He sees good. But He hath told us plainly of the final cause or end of all things, that we may keep our eyes always fixed on that, and accordingly strive all we can to promote it.—Bp. Hall (on Proverbs 16:6): It is not an outward sacrifice that God regards in His remission of the punishment of our sin; but when He finds mercy to the poor, and uprightness of heart towards Himself and men, then He is graciously pleased to forbear His judgments; inasmuch as these graces, being wrought in us by His Spirit, cannot but proceed from a true faith whereby our sins are purged.—Bonar (on Proverbs 16:6): Forgiveness, ascertained forgiveness, conscious forgiveness, this is the beginning of all true fear. This expels a world of evil from the human heart and keeps it from re-entrance. It works itself out in such things as these—obedience, fellowship, love, zeal].—Starke (on Proverbs 16:6): Not of merit but of grace are the sins of the penitent forgiven for Christ’s sake. One of the chief fruits of justification is, however, the exhibition of fidelity and truth towards one’s neighbors (Ephesians 2:8-9; Ephesians 4:25).—(On Proverbs 16:7): Think not that thou wilt thyself subdue and overcome thine enemies, but only seek to have God for thy friend; He can of all thy foes make thee friends.—[Bates (on Proverbs 16:7): Many sins are committed for the fear of the anger of men, and presumption of the mercy of God; but it is often found that a religious constancy gains more friends than carnal obsequiousness.—Trapp (on Proverbs 16:7): When God is displeased, all His creatures are up in arms to fetch in His rebels, and to do execution. At peace with Him, at peace with the creature too, that gladly takes His part, and is at His beck and check].—Zeltner (on Proverbs 16:9): Be presumptuous in none of thy schemes, but thinking of thine own weakness put as the foundation of every undertaking “if the Lord will ” (James 4:15).—[Arnot (on Proverbs 16:9): The desires of human hearts and the efforts of human hands go into the processes of providence and constitute the material on which the Almighty works.]

Proverbs 16:10-15. Melanchthon; comp. Doctrinal and Ethical notes.—Starke (on Proverbs 16:10): For the right conduct of the office of ruler and judge it is not enough to understand well secular laws and rights; Divine wisdom is also absolutely essential.—(On Proverbs 16:12): Kings are not only not to do evil, or to let it be done by others with impunity; they are to hate and abhor it with all energy.—Von Gerlach (on Proverbs 16:11): Weight and measure as the invisible and spiritual means by which material possessions are estimated and determined for men according to their value, are holy to the Lord, a copy of His law in the outer world; taken up by Himself into His sanctuary, and therefore, as His work, to be regarded holy also by men.—(On Proverbs 16:14): Seasonable words of a wise man can easily avert the wrath of kings, destructive as that is. Therefore let each one mould himself into such a wise man, or find for himself such a one.

Proverbs 16:16-26. [Chalmers (on Proverbs 16:17): The reflex influence of the outward walk and way on the inner man.—Arnot (on Proverbs 16:17): Doctrine, although both true and Divine, is for us only a shadow, if it be not embodied in holiness.—Waterland (on Proverbs 16:18): Shame and contempt the end of pride, a) by natural tendency; b) because of God’s detestation and resolution to punish it.—Muffet (on Proverbs 16:19): It is a pleasant thing to be enriched with other men’s goods: it is a gainful thing to have part of the prey: it is a glorious thing to divide the spoil. It is better to be injured than to do injury; it is better to be patient than to be insolent; it is better with the afflicted people of God to be bruised in heart and low of port, than to enjoy the pleasures or treasures of sin or of this world for a season.—Trapp (on Proverbs 16:20): He that, in the use of lawful means resteth upon God for direction and success, though he fail of his design, yet he knows whom he hath trusted, and God will “know his soul in adversity ”].—Geier (on Proverbs 16:20): In doubtful cases to hold fast to God’s word and believingly hope in His help, ensures always a good issue.—Starke (on Proverbs 16:21-22): Eloquence combined with wisdom is to be regarded as an excellent gift of God, and produces so much the more edification and profit.—Lange (on Proverbs 16:21): One must first learn to think rightly before he can speak well.—Von Gerlach (on Proverbs 16:26): Since that which causes us labor and trouble becomes a means of our subsistence, it in turn helps us overcome labor and trouble, for this very thing, by virtue of God’s wise, regulating providence, becomes for us a spur to industry.—[Lawson (on Proverbs 16:26): Self-love is a damning sin where it reigns as the chief principle of action; but the want of self-love where it is required is no less criminal.]

Proverbs 16:27-33. Starke (on Proverbs 16:27 sq.): The lack of genuine love for one’s neighbor is the source of all deception, persecution and slander of the innocent.—Hypocrites can indeed by an assumed mien of holiness deceive men, but before the eyes of God all this is clear and open, to their shame.—(On Proverbs 16:32): The greatest heroes and conquerors of the world are often just the most miserable slaves of their lusts.—E. Lösch (on Proverbs 16:31—see Sonntagsfeier, 1841, No. 27): Age, its burdens, its dignities; means to the attainment of a happy old age.—Saurin (Sermon on Proverbs 16:32): On true heroism—what it Isaiah , 1) to be ruler of one’s spirit; 2) to gain cities and lands.—Von Gerlach (on Proverbs 16:33): Chance there is not, and man can never give more than the outward occasion for the decision, which lies wholly in the hand of the Lord.—[Trapp (on Proverbs 16:30): Wicked men are great students.… Their wits will better serve them to find out a hundred shifts or carnal arguments than to yield to one saving truth, though never so much cleared up to them.—Muffet (on Proverbs 16:31): Commendable old age leaneth upon two staves—the one the remembrance of a life well led, the other the hope of eternal life.—See Emmons’ Sermon on Proverbs 16:31.—J. Edwards (on Proverbs 16:32): The strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more than in steadfastly maintaining the holy, calm meekness, sweetness and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behaviour, and surprising acts and events, of this evil and unreasonable world.—Lawson (on Proverbs 16:32): The meek obtain the noblest victories and enjoy the happiest kind of authority.—South (on Proverbs 16:33): Sermon on “All contingencies under the direction of God’s providence.”]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 16". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.