Search Bible Outlines and commentaries


Paul Koptak: This outline points up an example of dove-tailing: Verses 1–9 include one non-Yahweh proverb about riches and “injustice” (loʾ mišpaṭ, v. 8), while verses 10–15 have one nonroyal proverb about Yahweh’s justice (mišpaṭ, v. 11 [NIV “honest”]).2 The key image of the “way” appears in all but one of the clusters (derek, vv. 9, 17, 25, 31).

Lindsay Wilson: Within chapter 16, verses 1 and 9 operate as a bracket, with both outlining that people plan but God determines the outcome. . .

Signs of thematic unity in verses 1–9 include the mention of the human heart in verses 1, 5 and 9.

A.  (:1-3) God’s Sovereign Control Takes Precedence over Human Plans

  1.   (:1)  God’s Sovereignty Trumps Human Initiative

The plans of the heart belong to man,

But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.

Paul Koptak: Humans act according to their intentions, but God is somehow at work in those acts of word and deed.

Lindsay Wilson: Human plans or arrangements (ma‘ărāk, v. 1) seek to bring about a person’s inner goals (lēb, the heart; ‘mind’, nrsv), but the one who says/decides what will happen (the answer of the tongue) is the Lord. This theme will be prominent in the second half of the Solomonic sayings (19:21; 20:24; 21:30–31).

Tremper Longman: Proverbs here, as often, parallels “heart” and a part of the body (tongue, lips, or the like) to signify internal processes and speech (see also 10:20; 16:23). This proverb makes it clear that, though humans can legitimately make plans, God’s will is definitive as to what will actually happen. One can strategize about the future, to be sure, but this wise observation would lead one to acknowledge that the future can only be determined by God. Such recognition would engender a proper humility and open one up to changes. As commentators frequently point out, this proverb is often understood to mean: “Man proposes, but God disposes.”  Whether or not “the response of the tongue” is referring to God’s ultimate disposal of a thing or to the need for God’s help to articulate the “plans of the heart” (so Whybray), the purpose of this proverb is not to discourage human planning, but rather to keep people aware that their plans will come to nothing without God’s concurrence.

Charles Bridges: [KJV: The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.]  The great question is decided here: Who is the first mover in the work of conversion?  Can man prepare his own heart for the grace of God?  This proverb teaches that the Lord takes the stone out of the heart so that it may feel; the Lord draws the heart, that it may follow; the Lord gives life to the heart, that it may live.  The Lord opens the heart, that he may stamp it with his own law and mold it in his own image.  This work begins with God.  It is not that we come first and then are taught.  We first of all learn, and then we come.  God’s grace both goes ahead of us and cooperates in our salvation.

Should we then idly wait until God works?  Far from it!  We must work, but in dependence on God.  God does not work without us but with us, through us, in us, and by us.  And we work in him.  Ours is to obey; his is the strength.  He gives life to our actions.  His commands do not imply our power to obey, but our dependence on him for the grace of obedience.  “The work, as it is a duty, is ours; but as a performance, it is God’s.  He gives what he requires, and his promises are the foundation of our performances” (Bishop Reynolds).  Our works are not the cause but the effect of his grace.  They could never come from us until God had first put them in us.

This habit of dependence must continue to the end of our lives.  We can no more prepare ourselves after we have received grace than we could before we received it. . .  Dependence is not the excuse for indolence but the spring of active energy.

Matthew Henry: The preparation of the heart is in man (he may contrive and design this and the other) but the answer of the tongue, not only the delivering of what he designed to speak, but the issue and success of what he designed to do, is of the Lord.

Richard Clifford: Interpretations of this enigmatic saying range from “Man proposes but God disposes” (Toy) to Delitzsch’s view that God’s answer comes in the moment of verbal expression. Neither is adequate. An important clue is the customary antithesis of heart and tongue (or mouth or lips) to express the totality of human activity. One dreams of projects, but their realization is not within one’s capacity.

  1. (:2) God’s Omniscience Extends to Human Motives

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight,

But the LORD weighs the motives.

Richard Clifford: God is the ultimate examiner and arbiter of human action.

Paul Koptak: Human assessments are limited and often distorted. The capacity for self-deception comes through in the image of one’s ways being “innocent” (zak, “pure”; cf. 21:8; 20:11) in one’s own eyes. “Motives” (ruḥot, “spirits”) are “weighed,” presumably by Yahweh (21:2; 24:12; cf. 1 Sam. 2:3). . .  The interaction of the two lines in this proverb suggests that Yahweh is better able to discern our motivations than we are, hence the need for wisdom and instruction in standards outside of ourselves.

Tremper Longman: The proverb speaks to our ability to deceive ourselves concerning our righteousness. Proverbs often denigrates those who are wise (or clean) “in their own eyes” (3:7; 12:15; 26:5, 12; 30:12). The observation invites profound reflection on our motives, since God is the final arbiter of whether a path is right or wrong.

Charles Bridges: Man judges by acts; God judges by principles.  God’s eye, therefore, sees a mass of corruption in us, while a man’s ways seem innocent to him.  In fact, man will never believe his real character until some subtle temptation exposes his own evil.  O God, place the blood of your beloved Son in the scale of your justice, and we will give to you the glory of your wonderful work of grace.

Allen Ross: Divine Omniscience –

The Lord alone can evaluate our behavior because he knows our motives. The proverb is arranged in antithetical parallelism to express the only true evaluation of moral behavior. People may seem “innocent” (zak) in their own estimation, but self-deception and rationalization make this estimation unreliable. The word zak (GK 2341) is used for pure oils, undiluted liquids; here it signifies unmixed actions. The proverb suggests that such a premature opinion of oneself is naive at best and smug at the worst.

The person may be far from pure when the Lord weighs the motives (tōkēn rûḥôt). The figure of “weighing” signifies evaluation (see Ex 5:8 [“require”]; 1Sa 2:3; Pr 21:2; 24:12; cf. 1Sa 16:7). There may be a faint allusion to the Egyptian belief of weighing the heart after death to determine righteousness. The word rûḥôt is a metonymy for the motives, as in Proverbs 21:2 and 24:12 (where it is parallel to “heart”). The conclusion of the matter is that we deceive ourselves so easily and therefore cannot fully evaluate ourselves. God, by his Spirit and through his Word, provides the penetrating evaluation.

Matthew Henry: The judgment of God concerning us, we are sure, is according to truth: He weighs the spirits in a just and unerring balance, knows what is in us, and passes a judgment upon us accordingly, writing Tekel upon that which passed our scale with approbation—weighed in the balance and found wanting; and by his judgment we must stand or fall. He not only sees men’s ways but tries their spirits, and we are as our spirits are.

  1. (:3) God’s Sovereignty Ratifies Human Plans

Commit your works to the LORD,

And your plans will be established.

Richard Clifford: The saying completes v. 1, which said the beginning of a project (“plans”) comes from a human being but its completion is from God. Here one may finish a task but must entrust it to Yahweh in order for it to endure.

Paul Koptak: Again intention and deed are juxtaposed (as in v. 1). Here deeds are (lit.) “rolled over” toward Yahweh in trust (cf. Ps. 22:8; 37:5). As a result, plans and intentions are “made solid” (Prov. 4:26; 12:3); so also Yahweh makes steps “firm” (16:9). Recognizing his presence in everyday affairs, we might paraphrase: “Plan, pray, then act.”

Tremper Longman: This proverb fits in with the teaching of the previous two verses. It reminds the sage that, as important as human planning is, the ultimate outcome (as in this verse) and the morality of it (as in 16:2) depend on Yahweh. All planning thus should be done in recognition that God can indeed overturn it. The thought is not that we simply pray for God to honor our plans and to establish them. Rather, it is the idea that we submit our entire life’s action to God, so that even if our human plans are subverted, we can recognize an even deeper plan at work in our lives. If the “acts” are already accomplished, then the idea is that even when a plan has reached fruition, we must still trust God for its success.

Schwab: Human beings plan their actions because they want to be successful. However, success is rooted in the Lord’s decision and not in human preparation. The Lord knows what the true intentions of people are and he acts according to this knowledge. So, instead of striving for success, people should leave that to the Lord and refrain from using whatever (even unethical) means in order to achieve their aims. Paradoxically, when someone is willing to let success go, then God will provide success.

Allen Ross: For our plans to succeed, we must depend on the Lord. This proverb of instruction includes the result for compliance. The verb “commit” is literally “roll” (gōl, from gālal, though the LXX and Targum assume gal, “reveal”). The figure of rolling, as in rolling one’s burdens onto the Lord, is found also in Psalms 22:8[9]; 37:5; 55:22. It portrays complete dependence on God. This is accomplished with a spirit of humility and by means of a diligent season of prayer, but the plan also must have God’s approval.

The syntax of the second clause shows that there is subordination: the waw on yikkōnû, coming after the imperative of the first clause, expresses that this clause states the purpose or result of the first. People should commit their plans to the Lord so that he may establish them. Not every plan we have is pleasing to him; but for those that are, this verse is a great comfort. Greenstone, 172, says, “True faith relieves much anxiety and smoothens many perplexities.”

Matthew Henry: The great concerns of our souls must be committed to the grace of God, with a dependence upon and submission to the conduct of that grace (2 Tim. 1:12); all our outward concerns must be committed to the providence of God, and to the sovereign, wise, and gracious disposal of that providence. Roll thy works upon the Lord (so the word is); roll the burden of thy care from thyself upon God. Lay the matter before him by prayer. Make known thy works unto the Lord (so some read it), not only the works of thy hand, but the workings of thy heart; and then leave it with him, by faith and dependence upon him, submission and resignation to him. The will of the Lord be done. We may then be easy when we resolve that whatever pleases God shall please us.

B.  (:4-6) God’s Sovereignty Encompasses Even the Wicked

  1. (:4) God Uses Even the Wicked to Accomplish His Purposes

The LORD has made everything for its own purpose,

Even the wicked for the day of evil.

Paul Koptak: Ultimately, Yahweh does what he purposes (or “answers”), even while there are those who seek to work out their purposes, purposes that are contrary to Yahweh’s.

Allen Ross: Whybray, 93–94, suggests this saying could have sprung up in answer to the question, “Why did God create the wicked?”

The line of poetry is arranged with synthetic parallelism; it affirms the truth and then expands it with the specific application about the wicked. The verb pāʿal means “to work out, bring about, accomplish”; it is naturally used of God’s sovereign control of life (see Nu 23:23; Isa 26:12; et al.). The interpretive difficulty concerns lammaʿanēhû; it has been taken to mean “for his purpose” or “for its answer.” The word is maʿaneh (“answer, response”) and is not from lemaʿan (“purpose”). So the suffix likely refers to kol (“everything”). The point is that God ensures that everyone’s actions and their consequences correspond—certainly the wicked for the day of calamity. In God’s order there is just retribution for every act, for every act includes its answer or consequence.

Tremper Longman: God is in control of the wicked acts of human beings and uses their evil for good. . .

God uses all things for his good purposes, even evil people and their wicked acts. In the NT, Peter proclaims that, though Jesus was put to death by wicked people, this was done by “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:22–24; quote is from 2:23 NIV). And the idea of this proverb also lies behind Paul’s reassurance that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 NIV).

The verse is not a statement that God authors evil. The teaching of the verse fits well with the general biblical idea that humans author their own wickedness. It is a statement of God’s control. God can use the very act of human rebellion and autonomy for his purposes.

Charles Bridges: Every workman has some purpose in his work.  God has the highest purpose in his work.  Everything was made by God and for God (Colossians 1:16).  This includes all the work of creation, all the events that take place in the nations, and all the dispensations of his providence.  They all reveal his glory to his intelligent creatures.

Even the wicked, whose existence might seem hardly reconcilable with divine perfection, the Lord includes in the great purpose of setting out his name.  “It is the greatest praise of his wisdom that he can turn the evil of men to his own glory” (Bishop Hall).  And when men sin by their own free will, he ordains them to be punished, as monuments to his power, his justice, and his patience.

Clearly God is not the author of sin.  He cannot impart what he has not and what is contrary to his nature.  Infinite perfection cannot impart imperfection.  Absolute holiness cannot be the cause of sin, although, like the law, it may be the innocent occasion of it.  If he foreknows with “infinite knowledge,” as Edwards profoundly observes, that “proves the necessity of the event foreknown; yet it may not be the thing that causes the necessity.”  The Lord can decree nothing but good.  If he permits evil, so far as not to hinder it, he nevertheless hates it as evil and permits it only for the greater good, and for the greatest good of all – the fuller manifestation of his own glory in it and out of it.  He will be glorified in, or on, all his creatures.

  1. (:5) Certain Retribution Awaits the Proud

Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD;

Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.

Richard Clifford: Lifting up one’s heart in pride, forgetting one is a fallible human being, is so profound an error that one cannot escape exposure and punishment.

Paul Koptak: The wicked meet disaster because they are proud of heart (cf. 15:25) and detestable (11:20–21). Once again, what has been hinted at earlier now comes to full light. The wicked do not undo God’s intentions for the world by opposing his intentions; rather, God opposes them because they are an abomination to him.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 5 does not specifically state that God will punish the arrogant, but the fact of their punishment (rather than the when and how) is stressed. The mention of the arrogant in heart draws attention to people being accountable before God for their thoughts and not only their actions (developed in vv. 18–19). Godless plans and thoughts are described in strong language as an abomination to the Lord, and will be punished. Since verse 5 should lead to self-examination, verse 6 provides the way forward.

Tremper Longman: Proverbs is consistent in its condemnation of pride. Pride, after all, promotes the self and also leads to a self-defensiveness that does not allow one to hear criticism, an indispensable part of the path to wisdom. The haughty will be punished, but how is not specified. Perhaps their punishment will be effected through their own foolish behavior, or perhaps God will intervene. In any case, they will not escape.

Matthew Henry:

1)  The pride of sinners sets God against them. He that, being high in estate is proud in heart, whose spirit is elevated with his condition, so that he becomes insolent in his conduct towards God and man, let him know that though he admires himself, and others caress him, yet he is an abomination to the Lord. The great God despises him; the holy God detest him.

2)  The power of sinners cannot secure them against God, though they strengthen themselves with body hands. Though they may strengthen one another with their confederacies and combinations, joining forces against God, they shall not escape his righteous judgment. Woe unto him that strives with his Maker, ch. 11:21; Isa. 45:9.

  1. (:6) Love, Faithfulness and the Fear of God Protect against Evil

By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for,

And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil.

Paul Koptak: “Love and faithfulness” are the classic pair that describe Yahweh’s relation to us. Both terms refer to steadfast love that does not forget to do kindness. It weathers hard times. It is a quality of human character in 3:3 and a reward in 14:22. Yet this quality always shows itself in action, in doing love and faithfulness to another (cf. Gen. 47:29; Josh. 2:14).

Lindsay Wilson: In terms familiar from chapters 1-9 (also 15:33), there is a commendation of the fear of the Lord, or the foundational and ongoing respecting God as God. This core idea of Proverbs surfaces in the theological kernel of the individual proverbs because it undergirds the observations made throughout the book. The references to steadfast love and faithfulness are representative of the changed character insisted on in chapters 1-9. Thus iniquity is atoned for (in parallel with turns away from evil), in the sense of helping to purge wrong thinking and doing from our lives.

C.  (:7-9) God’s Sovereignty Accomplishes His Agenda

  1. (:7) God’s Sovereignty Rules over Human Relationships

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD,

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

Paul Koptak: Friendship with Yahweh spills over into friendship with others. It is not stated whether this is an instance of cause and effect, as though peace with enemies is a reward, or whether the goodness of one’s ways works like the words of the wise, which create calm instead of turmoil. “Peace with God, peace with others” might be a paraphrase of the proverb that stands in the very center of the book (cf. 16:2).

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 7 describes the beneficial effect on relationships that flows from a life that seeks to please God, probably an alternative description of the reality set out in verse 6. Actions that are based on turning away from evil and pursuing committed love and faithfulness are ways that please the Lord. The picture of restored, wholesome relationships (the hifil of šlm, ‘to be at peace’) is described hyperbolically as including even one’s enemies. This is not a promise (it was not true of Jesus, for example), but a way of saying that a godly life will usually lead to healthier relationships with others.

Richard Clifford: God’s pleasure at one’s way of life blesses not only oneself but creates a surrounding peace that takes away the dangerous hostility of enemies. Interior peace is not enough. Examples of how enemies reconcile as a result of God’s favor are Gen. 26:26–31 (Abimelech and Isaac), Genesis 44–45 (Joseph and his brothers), and Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:50: “Forgive your people their sins and all the offenses they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of their captors, so that they may have compassion on them.”

  1. (:8) God’s Sovereignty Determines Sufficiency

Better is a little with righteousness

Than great income with injustice.

Paul Koptak: Because interests sometimes conflict, one should learn to choose righteousness and justice over profit—certainly because it is better but ultimately because it pleases Yahweh.

Charles Bridges: The love of gain is so blind that it looks only at its own selfish end and to the present moment.  It looks to things that can never bring true enjoyment or lasting security.  Retributive justice is at hand.

  1. (:9) God’s Sovereignty Trumps Human Initiative

The mind of man plans his way,

But the LORD directs his steps.

Charles Bridges: This is a good description of God’s sovereign rule.  It is an inscrutable mystery how God accomplishes his fixed purpose by free-willed agents.  Man without his free will is a machine.  God without his unchangeable purpose ceases to be God.  As rational agents we think, consult, act freely.  We are dependent agents, and the Lord exercises his own power in permitting, overruling, or furthering our actions.  Thus man proposes, and God disposes.  A man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.  God orders our will without infringing our liberty or stopping us from being responsible creatures.  For while we act as we please, we must be answerable.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 9, recalling verses 1–3, concludes with an observation that a person’s direction and actions in life are finally determined by God. This is not to deny human responsibility for our choices, but rather to remind us that God is still in charge of his world. As such, it is a fitting conclusion to this theological kernel.

Tremper Longman: This proverb is closest to 16:1. Van Leeuwen, representing the majority of commentators, states that vv. 1 and 9 thus “form an envelope around the theological themes of divine sovereignty and freedom in this passage.”   The idea is that human beings can plan, but plans do not get put into operation and do not find success unless Yahweh so decrees it. Understanding this diminishes human pride. The path indicates the course of a person’s life. Taking a “step” on the path refers to various life events.

Matthew Henry: Man is here represented to us,

  1. As a reasonable creature, that has the faculty of contriving for himself: His heart devises his way, designs an end, and projects ways and means leading to that end, which the inferior creatures, who are governed by sense and natural instinct, cannot do. The more shame for him if he do not devise the way how to please God and provide for his everlasting state.
  2. But as a depending creature, that is subject to the direction and dominion of his Maker. If men devise their way, so as to make God’s glory their end and his will their rule, they may expect that he will direct their steps by his Spirit and grace, so that they shall not miss their way nor come short of their end. But let men devise their worldly affairs ever so politely, and with ever so great a probability of success, yet God has the ordering of the event, and sometimes directs their steps to that which they least intended.


Charles Bridges: Here is a manual for kings.  It does not show them what they are but what God requires them to be.  They should be a blessing to their people and benefactors to the world.  Such a king, and this is the glory of royalty, will have no interest of his own apart from the public good.  He remembers that honest scales and balances are the Lord’s, and so he hands down even-handed justice.  He will not only refrain from wrongdoing but detests wickedness.  He is not only careful to remove all evil from himself, but he will surround himself with faithful counselors.

Lindsay Wilson: Verses 10–12 deal with justice and the king, while verses 13–15 concentrate on words before the king.

Richard Clifford: Verses 10–15 are a series of six sayings on the king and his God-given authority. In ancient Near Eastern thought the king was the representative and regent of the gods, ensuring the continuance of the order established at creation. Thus, it is not surprising that the section on the king follows immediately that on Yahweh (15:33–16:9). The sayings about the king are in three pairs: The first two sayings begin with identical noun patterns (qesem, “divination; inspired word,” and peles, “scale”); the next two begin, respectively, with “abomination” and “acceptance” (normally a fixed pair); and the last two are concerned with the effect on others of royal wealth and favor.

A.  (:10-11) Concern for Good Judgment and Justice

  1. (:10) Yahweh’s Concern for Good Judgment

A divine decision is in the lips of the king;

His mouth should not err in judgment.

Paul Koptak: The first of the royal proverbs is followed by a Yahweh saying. Just as one overlaps pieces of cloth before sewing a seam, so this section inserts one of the royal proverbs before concluding the series of Yahweh sayings in verses 1–11. Likewise, a Yahweh saying stands in this section of royal sayings. The overlap reflects the biblical view that kings discharged their duties as appointed representatives of God’s rule on earth. Lips and mouth are frequently paired; here they point to the king’s responsibility to speak judgments that enact “justice” (a play on two meanings of mišpaṭ; cf. 16:8).  In this context, the witness to God’s rule may be taken as an ideal picture of divine guidance (cf. 2 Sam. 14:17, 20; 1 Kings 3:9), and so the king’s decisions can rightly be called “inspired” (lit., an “oracle”).

Allen Ross: Here begins a series of proverbs about kings. This first one teaches that kings must speak righteously in their official capacities. The parallelism is loosely synonymous, perhaps forming a cause-effect arrangement. When the king speaks officially, it is as though it were “an oracle.” The word qesem (Gk 7877) is used throughout the Bible in the negative sense of “divination”; here it seems merely to mean words from an oracular sentence, as though the king speaks for God (see Nu 22:7; 23:23; for a popular opinion of such, see 2Sa 14:20). The effect of this is that his mouth “should not betray justice.” For a portrayal of the ideal king, see Psalm 72 and Isaiah 11:1–5.

Tremper Longman: Perhaps the issue of justice concerns a proper presentation of the oracular decision that would have come from God. It could further point to a legal context for such an oracular decision. The temptation might be for the king to hedge the decision in the interests of his own policies, and thus the statement of colon 2 could also be understood as a kind of warning or prohibition. The wise king will not pervert the legal verdict rendered by the divinely inspired lot.

  1. (:11) Yahweh’s Concern for Justice

A just balance and scales belong to the LORD;

All the weights of the bag are His concern.

Allen Ross: Honesty in Business

The Lord is the source of honesty and justice in all human enterprises. This proverb concerns weights and balances; the OT law prescribed that they be just (see Lev 19:36; Dt 25:13; Am 8:5; Mic 6:11). But shrewd people in OT times kept light and heavy weights to make dishonest transactions (as a modern individual might keep two sets of books). But the verse, using synonymous parallelism to stress the point, affirms that righteous and just measures are from the Lord.

Matthew Henry: The observance of justice in commerce between man and man is likewise a divine appointment. He taught men discretion to make scales and weights for the adjusting of right exactly between buyer and seller, that neither may be wronged; and all other useful inventions for the preserving of right are from him. He has also appointed by his law that they be just. It is therefore a great affront to him, and to his government, to falsify, and so to do wrong under colour and pretence of doing right, which is wickedness in the place of judgment.

B.  (:12-13) Priority of Righteousness

  1. (:12) Foundation for Secure Kingdom

It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness,

For a throne is established on righteousness.

Richard Clifford: The saying implies that it is in the king’s interest to get rid of malefactors, for the stability of his throne depends on justice.

Paul Koptak: Righteousness and justice are the only foundations for a stable government; a corrupt one will eventually fall.

Lindsay Wilson: Righteousness is a core biblical value that describes individuals fulfilling all the demands of their relationships. For rulers, it would imply building up the community, and a genuine concern for the well-being of those under them. This is godly leadership.

Matthew Henry: He that makes conscience of using his power aright shall find that to be the best security of his government, both as it will oblige people, make them easy, and keep them in the interest of it, and as it will obtain the blessing of God, which will be a firm basis to the throne and a strong guard about it.

  1. (:13) Fountain of Delight

Righteous lips are the delight of kings,

And he who speaks right is loved.

Paul Koptak: If the throne is established through righteousness, then kings will want to surround themselves with persons who speak that way. Just as kings detest the wrong, they love those who do right (12:2). Taken together, verses 12 and 13 hold up the virtues of speaking honestly.

C.  (:14-15) King’s Power over Life and Death

  1. (:14) Appease the King’s Anger – Leads to Death

The wrath of a king is as messengers of death,

But a wise man will appease it.

Charles Bridges: Life and death are in his hands.  His will is law.  The despot issues his order, and the executioner performs his warrant without delay or resistance.  No ordinary wisdom could appease his wrath.

Tremper Longman: This proverb appears to be addressed to those who have contact with the king. Obviously, ancient monarchs were powerful individuals, often making life-or-death decisions. If people anger a king, they run the risk of ending their own lives. The wise know how to anticipate the reaction of the king and say the right word and do the right thing to avoid bringing his anger onto them.

Matthew Henry: These two verses show the power of kings, which is every where great, but was especially so in those eastern countries, where they were absolute and arbitrary. Whom they would they slew and whom they would they kept alive. Their will was a law. We have reason to bless God for the happy constitution of the government we live under, which maintains the prerogative of the prince without any injury to the liberty of the subject. But here it is intimated,

  1. How formidable the wrath of a king is: It is as messengers of death; the wrath of Ahasuerus was so to Haman. An angry word from an incensed prince has been to many a messenger of death, and has struck so great a terror upon some as if a sentence of death had been pronounced upon them. He must be a very wise man that knows how to pacify the wrath of a king with a word fitly spoken, as Jonathan once pacified his father’s rage against David, 1 Sa. 19:6. A prudent subject may sometimes suggest that to an angry prince which will cool his resentments.
  2. How valuable and desirable the king’s favour is to those that have incurred his displeasure; it is life from the dead if the king be reconciled to them. To others it is as a cloud of the latter rain, very refreshing to the ground. Solomon put his subjects in mind of this, that they might not do any thing to incur his wrath, but be careful to recommend themselves to his favour. We ought by it to be put in mind how much we are concerned to escape the wrath and obtain the favour of the King of kings. His frowns are worse than death, and his favour is better than life; and therefore those are fools who to escape the wrath, and obtain the favour, of an earthly prince, will throw themselves out of God’s favour, and make themselves obnoxious to his wrath.
  1. (:15) Cultivate the King’s Favor – Leads to Life and Prosperity

In the light of a king’s face is life,

And his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain.

Tremper Longman: This proverb forms a contrasting pair with the previous. Verse 14 dealt with the king’s anger, and this one with his delight. The “light of his face” indicates a demeanor that reflects inner happiness. This royal disposition leads to life, which implies something more than existence: reward. The second colon provides a metaphor that illustrates the first statement. A cloud brings refreshing late rains. These rains are late in the agricultural cycle, coming in March and April and causing a growth spurt of the crops before harvest. Again, the metaphor not only indicates existence but also prosperity.

Allen Ross: Favor from a king is encouraging to his people. This proverb is the antithesis of v.14. By using two metaphors the saying describes the benefits of having a king who is pleased with his subjects. The king’s brightened face signifies his delight and thus means life for those around him (as opposed to his wrath). The favor this symbolizes is like the “rain cloud”—the latter rain or harvest rain, which is necessary for a successful harvest. Some of these ideas are similar to Psalm 72:15–17, which portrays the prosperity of the land as a blessing on account of the ideal king, whose righteous reign seems to ensure prosperity.