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Verse 1 – Divine Sovereignty (over even the King)

The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD;

He turns it wherever He wishes.

Richard Clifford: It takes great skill and power to direct water, whether it is confining the cosmic waters at creation to their proper spheres or bringing water to fertilize arid land. Water by its nature is “chaotic”—powerful and elusive. It also takes great skill to direct the heart of a king, for the king’s mind is inscrutable and beyond human control. Yet God controls waters and the royal heart with ease.

Paul Koptak: Here the emphasis is on the greater purposes of God. Even the king is a subject of Yahweh, for the seat of human intentions, the heart, is in Yahweh’s hand. Just as water is directed to a good purpose by digging irrigation ditches and building dams, so the king’s heart will follow the directives of Yahweh to establish his purpose of justice.

Allen Ross: No human ruler is supreme; to put it another way, the Lord is truly the King of kings. Scripture offers many examples of the truth of this proverb (Ezr 7:21; Isa 10:6–7; 41:2–4; Da 2:21; Jn 19:11).

Tremper Longman: The modern equivalent to the image of a “canal of water” in the hand of Yahweh would be to say that the king is like “putty” in his hands.

Charles Bridges: Most people who reflect about life acknowledge that God is behind everything.  In inert matter he acts by physical force; in wild animals, by instinct and appetite; in intelligent beings, by motives suited to their faculties; in his redeemed people, by the influence of grace.  This proverb reminds us of one aspect of his providential care.  The general truth, previously stated that man is entirely dependent on God is illustrated by the king’s heart, which is under God’s sway.

George Mylne: The like influence has God upon the hearts of kings. He does not destroy their natural faculties, nor take from them the freedom of their wills; and, what is still more astonishing he leaves them for the most part under the power of those natural corruptions which dispose them to exalt themselves above God, and to oppose his will. Yet still he makes them the instruments of his pleasure, and the ministers of his providence.

Verse 2 – Divine Insight

Every man’s way is right in his own eyes,

But the LORD weighs the hearts.

Richard Clifford: Human beings may make judgments about the rightness of their actions, whether their “ways” have been “straight.” But Yahweh can scrutinize the heart and judge truly. Human judgment is partial and incomplete, but God’s is full and definitive.

Paul Koptak: Yahweh alone can determine what is known and what is hidden from a person’s own self-perceptions.

George Mylne: This is the same useful instruction which the wise man already gave us, and no admonition is more necessary to be inculcated than this: that men are too often flatterers of themselves, and ought to remember that they have an omniscient judge who will not be mocked nor imposed on but searches their hearts, to give to every man according to his ways, and the inward disposition of his heart. The inspired writers of both testaments insist greatly on this point, and our Lord in his sermons frequently warned men against the dangerous influence of self-deceit.

Verse 3 – Divine Standard

To do righteousness and justice

Is desired by the LORD rather than sacrifice.

Richard Clifford: The two qualities are the heart of biblical religion, summing up the proper attitude toward God. To live in accord with them is to make of one’s own life an offering pleasing to God; there is a sacred dimension to just action.

Paul Koptak: The comparison does not demean devotional practices but does observe that it is easier to have sacrifice without right living than it is to have right living without religious practice. Thankfully, believers do not have to choose. If we did, however, the proverb reminds us that Yahweh has had plenty of experience with people who believed that sacrifice was enough (21:27; Jer. 7:1–11). Perhaps this proverb parallels Proverbs 16:3, urging us to commit our work to Yahweh in righteousness.

Allen Ross: It does not teach that ritual acts of worship are to be avoided; rather, it stresses that religious acts are valueless without righteous living.

George Mylne: Sacrifices were appointed by God, they typified Christ, they were acceptable to God, as expressions of faith and obedience but they were detestable to him when they were valued on their own account, as if they had been instituted for their own sake, or to give men opportunity of pleasing God so much as to procure an allowance for the neglect of more important service.

Sacrifices were appointed for a single nation — judgment and justice are required from every nation, and from every man under Heaven. Sacrifices were required by a positive law, which depended on the sovereign will of God, not on the nature of God and the observation of them was dispensed with on many occasions. But the justice is founded in the nature of God, obliges all men at all times, and can never be dispensed with. The law of sacrifices is long ago abolished but the law of righteousness is an eternal statute. Sacrifices had no goodness in their own nature; and when men rested on them, they were abominable to God. Righteousness and justice are a part of the image of God in man, and have an everlasting excellency in their nature. Sacrifices typified Christ, and were set aside in consequence of his great atoning sacrifice but justice is not abolished by faith in Christ. Nay, it is established, and shall continue when Heaven and earth are no more.

Verse 4 – Sinfulness of Pride

Haughty eyes and a proud heart,

The lamp of the wicked, is sin.

George Mylne: That a haughty look is abominable to God, is no surprise to us for it is abominable even to men, and must be infinitely more abhorred by God. We do not wonder to hear that the proud heart is hateful to him, for he is the Searcher of hearts, and is jealous of his own honor, and cannot bear that men should exalt themselves into a rivalship with him.

Paul Koptak: The wicked take as their guiding light the conceit that they can judge what is right. Believing that what is right for them is all that matters, they do not care what is acceptable to Yahweh (cf. 21:3). Throughout Scripture, haughty eyes and arrogant kings will be brought low (Isa. 2:11, 17; 10:12), but kings who reject arrogance are promised a long dynasty (Deut. 17:20).

Tremper Longman: The enigma comes with the metaphor of the “lamp.” Perhaps the idea is that the eyes and heart (standing for the outer and inner person) are the lamp of the individual, which in the case of the wicked are perverted. In this understanding, there may be an intentional contrast with the “lamp of Yahweh” in 20:27.

Verse 5 – Diligence vs. Hasty Shortcuts

The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage,

But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.

Richard Clifford: The diligent will end up with earnings, for they take time to plan and reflect. Frenetic activity leads to waste.

Paul Koptak: Haste in general is disapproved throughout Proverbs (20:21; 29:20), but here the contrast of “poverty” with “profit” may point to a scheme designed to make a fast buck.

Allen Ross: Patience and planning lead to prosperity. By antithetical parallelism the verse exhorts industriousness. . .  The text here warns about the danger of hasty shortcuts (see also 10:4; 28:20).

Matthew Henry: Those that are hasty, that are rash and inconsiderate in their affairs, and will not take time to think, that are greedy of gain, by right or wrong, and make haste to be rich by unjust practices or unwise projects, are in the ready road to poverty. Their thoughts and contrivances, by which they hope to raise themselves, will ruin them.

Verse 6 – Ill-Gotten Gain Is Fleeting and Destructive

The getting of treasures by a lying tongue

Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.

Richard Clifford: Treasures acquired by deceitful words are not only ephemeral (“a fleeting breath”), but are dangerous (“deadly snares”) to those who possess them. Ill-gotten goods cry out to heaven for retribution.

Paul Koptak: This saying equates treasures obtained by deceit with things transitory and deadly.

Allen Ross: The point, then, is that ill-gotten gain is a fleeting pleasure and a crime for which punishment is prepared.

Tremper Longman: Proverbs is not against the acquisition of wealth, but it must be done with honesty and industry. Fraudulent pursuit of wealth is consistently condemned (22:16) along with any form of lying (6:16–19; 25:18). Here the proverb cuts to the reality of the situation. These people think they are going after material possessions, but what they will gain is a meaningless life and ultimately death.

Verse 7 – The Unjust Wicked Will Reap Their Own Violence

The violence of the wicked will drag them away,

Because they refuse to act with justice.

Paul Koptak: Actual physical violence is probably in view here. The irony that the wicked’s own violent behavior “will drag them away” creates the picture of a person caught and dragged like a fish in a net (Hab. 1:15) and extends the metaphor of the snare from Proverbs 21:6.

Allen Ross: The wicked will be destroyed in their own devices.

Verse 8 – Actions Reveal Character

The way of a guilty man is crooked,

But as for the pure, his conduct is upright.

Allen Ross: Righteous behavior reveals righteous character. The antithetical clause asserts that it is also true that sinful acts betray the wicked.

Verse 9 – Priority of Peaceful Simplicity

It is better to live in a corner of a roof,

Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.

Paul Koptak: Obviously someone took pleasure in creating new variations on the formula to intensify the comparisons. It is better to live in a leaky house (19:13; 27:15), no, better to live on the roof of the house (21:9=25:24), no, better to live in the desert and not even have a house (21:19), than to live with a quarrelsome wife. This woman is known for her ability to stir up conflict—a sign of folly also for a quarrelsome man (20:3).

Tremper Longman: While marriage and companionship are positive things in Proverbs, it is better to be alone than with a person who makes life unbearable. Though the roof of an ancient Israelite home was a living space, unlike most modern homes, the location would be an uncomfortable place to live and sleep. Van Leeuwen states well the point of the proverb: “One is better exposed to nature than to a wife’s ‘storms.’”  In its primary setting, this proverb, consistent with the whole book, is directly addressed to a male audience. Women who read it today must simply substitute “man/husband” into the proverb; it can apply with equal force in that direction. The principle is that it is difficult to live with those who are constantly looking for a fight. Similar proverbs may be found at 21:19; 25:24; 27:15–16.

Verse 10 – Propensity for Evil by the Wicked

The soul of the wicked desires evil;

His neighbor finds no favor in his eyes.

Richard Clifford: Colon A: the wicked (rāšā‘) are so obsessed by their desire for evil (‘) that (colon B) they totally neglect their neighbor (rē‘ēhû). In other words, the wicked are so absorbed by ‘ that they forget ‘. Absorption with evil kills one’s humanity.

Allen Ross: The person who lives to satisfy his craving for evil thinks only of himself. McKane, 556, observes that since humanity consists of reaching out to help others, “the man who cannot transcend his own self-assertiveness is in a prison and is dehumanized.” It is the propensity for evil that constitutes him as “wicked.”

Tremper Longman: This proverb helps us understand the psychology of the wicked. These are not people who occasionally do bad things; they habitually act in bad ways. Thus, the second colon is not surprising. They do not give their neighbors any slack. If their neighbors stand in the way of the fulfillment of their wickedness, to which they are addicted, then the neighbors will suffer.

George Mylne: Wicked men are not only doers of iniquity but their souls are fully inclined to it. With their souls they crave evil; and although their consciences frequently remonstrate against sin, and are a strong bridle upon the lusts of most unregenerate people yet sin dwells as a king in their inner man, and is not resisted with hatred like a tyrant but is allowed to possess the throne of the heart. This is a miserable disposition, for sin is the worst of all evils. No man expressly and directly desires misery and yet all who love sin desire the worst of misery in reality for sin is the sickness, the death, the ruin of the soul.

Verse 11 – Differing Responses to Discipline

When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise;

But when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.

Allen Ross: The wise person gains knowledge through “instruction,” which not only causes him to know but also gives insight into the issues of life. The wise person never stops learning. By contrast the “mocker” (lēṣ) is unteachable. Nevertheless he should be punished, because the “simple” (petî) will “gain wisdom” through seeing his punishment (see also 19:25).

Verse 12 – The Righteous Must Punish the Wicked

The righteous one considers the house of the wicked,

Turning the wicked to ruin.

Paul Koptak: The NIV text note shows that “the Righteous One” translates ṣaddiq here; that is, the One who brings ruin is Yahweh. Throughout the wisdom writings it is God who overthrows the wicked and frustrates the words of the unfaithful (cf. Job 12:19; Prov. 22:12).

Allen Ross: Righteousness will be satisfied when the wicked are punished. There are two different ways that this proverb can be taken.

  • The easiest interpretation is to take ṣaddîq to refer to God, “the Righteous One.” God observes the house of the wicked and then hurls them to ruin (see 22:12; Toy, 402; Plaut, 220; Kidner, 143). But Proverbs does not refer to God in this way.
  • The other interpretation takes ṣaddîq to refer to a “righteous man” (see NIV margin), presumably a judge or ruler, who, although he may be kindly disposed to the family of the wicked, is obliged to condemn him (Greenstone, 225).

Charles Bridges: The Righteous One takes note of the house of the wicked and brings the wicked to ruin.  The workings of providence are often puzzling.  The prosperity of the wicked is an affront to faith and brings about harsh thought about God (Psalm 73:2-14).  But when the man who trusts in the Lord looks with the eye of faith, he sees far beyond the dazzling glory of the present moment.  When you take note of the house of the wicked, you will not just observe its splendor but will reflect on how it will end.  Its prosperity will be short-lived, and its destruction is certain.  All this is understood by faith.

Matthew Henry:

  • As we read this verse, it shows why good men, when they come to understand things aright, will not envy the prosperity of evil-doers. When they see the house of the wicked, how full it is perhaps of all the good things of this life, they are tempted to envy; but when they wisely consider it, when they look upon it with an eye of faith, when they see God overthrowing the wicked for their wickedness, that there is a curse upon their habitation which will certainly be the ruin of it ere long, they see more reason to despise them, or pity them, than to fear or envy them.
  • Some give another sense of it: The righteous man (the judge or magistrate, that is entrusted with the execution of justice, and the preservation of public peace) examines the house of the wicked, searches it for arms or for stolen goods, makes a diligent enquiry concerning his family and the characters of those about him, that he may by his power overthrow the wicked for their wickedness and prevent their doing any further mischief, that he may fire the nests where the birds of prey are harboured or the unclean birds.

Verse 13 – No Mercy for the Merciless

He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor

Will also cry himself and not be answered.

Richard Clifford: It would be hard to imagine a more concise and challenging statement of the importance of the poor in God’s sight. One must hear the cry of the poor in order to be heard by God. Neglect them and you will be cut off from God. See also 14:31; 17:5; 19:17; 22:22–23; Ps. 41:2.

Allen Ross: Those who show no mercy will not obtain mercy. Measure for measure justice is expressed by this cause-and-effect statement. The one who shuts his ears from the cry of the poor (i.e., refuses to help) will not be listened to when he cries out for help. So talionic justice is meted out for the omission of a commandment as well as for evil acts. See Luke 16:19–31 for an example.

Tremper Longman: If people do not respond to calls for help, then when they are in trouble, no one will help them. This proverb is a call to be sensitive to requests from the needy. It fits in with others that show a concern for those in need (22:2; 28:27; 29:7, 14).

Verse 14 – Effectiveness of Bribes

A gift in secret subdues anger,

And a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.

Allen Ross: Bribes can effectively pacify an angry person. The two clauses are synonymous; the first uses the more neutral word mattān (“gift”) and the second the word šōḥad (“bribe”). Kidner, 143, notes that their parallelism in the proverb underscores how hard it often is to discern the difference. The verse does not condemn or condone; it merely observes the effectiveness of the practice.

Matthew Henry: A handsome present, prudently managed, will turn away some men’s wrath when it seemed implacable, and disarm the keenest and most passionate resentments. Covetousness is commonly a master-sin and has the command of other lusts. Pecuniae obediunt omnia — Money commands all things. Thus Jacob pacified Esau and Abigail David.

Tremper Longman: It may be a matter of the right time and right place for a bribe. Perhaps if the motive is good and it does not pervert justice, a bribe was considered the right thing to do. Indeed, one can imagine scenarios where a bribe might actually allow justice to prevail.

Verse 15 – Different Reactions to the Execution of Justice

The execution of justice is joy for the righteous,

But is terror to the workers of iniquity.

Lindsay Wilson: Reading these two proverbs [14 & 15] together is important. The effect of a bribe or gift is sometimes observed quite neutrally in Proverbs (e.g. 17:8; 18:16; 19:6b), but when it is given in secret or concealed (lit. ‘in the bosom’), it is linked to perverting justice (17:23). Thus, while verse 14 indicates that a bribe or gift can effectively turn aside the anger of another, verse 15 introduces the wider concept of justice that acts as an implied critique of this form of bribery. The doing of justice (v. 15) is an alternative to securing unwarranted favour by bribery, and when justice prevails, the righteous delight but wrongdoers are terrified or dismayed.

Richard Clifford: When justice is done, prosperity (“joy”) comes to the righteous, and ruin comes to the wicked. “Joy,” as in 10:28 and 21:17, means outward rejoicing, and suggests prosperity.

Allen Ross: How people respond to justice reveals their character. The occasion — “When justice is done” — can refer to a legal decision or to doing right in general. The point is that people who are law-abiding citizens are pleased with justice; those who are not are terrified by it, tend to ridicule it, and try to get around it in some way.

Verse 16 – Abandoning Wisdom Is Self Destructive

A man who wanders from the way of understanding

Will rest in the assembly of the dead.

Richard Clifford: Leaving the way of wisdom puts one on the way of the wicked, which has its own goal—death. The Rephaim are the shadowy inhabitants of Sheol (Ps. 88:11; Prov. 2:18; 9:18). The association of “way” and “path” with death is frequently made in Proverbs (5:5; 7:27; 12:28; 14:12; 16:25).

Allen Ross: Those who abandon the way of wisdom inevitably ruin their lives. The verse is a single sentence with the second part providing the predicate. The subject matter is one who wanders away from the “path of understanding” or prudence (haśkēl), i.e., one who does not live according to the knowledge, discipline, and insight of wisdom. Such a person “comes to rest” in the “company of the shades” (qehal repāʾîm; “dead,” NIV). The verb “rest” (nûaḥ, GK 5663) does not carry with it the comforting idea of repose but merely that of “dwell,” for to rest among the “shades” is to be numbered among the dead. Physical death is again presented as the punishment for folly, which is sin. Plaut, 221, remarks, “Errant man will destroy himself before his time”; he will follow the broad way that leads to destruction and find himself among the dead (Mt 7:13–14).

Verse 17 – High Cost of Self-Indulgent Pleasure

He who loves pleasure will become a poor man;

He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.

Richard Clifford: Those who seek primarily the enjoyment of wealth instead of the practice of virtue will not attain the first. Wealth is a gift of God given only to those who practice virtue.

Allen Ross: Living a life of self-indulgent pleasure leads to poverty. By two synonymous lines the sage makes his point that the unbridled love of the finest things of life is very costly. “Joy” (śimḥâ; “pleasure,” NIV; GK 8525) represents the effect of the good life; “wine and oil” represent the cause for joy (so the metonymies work together). “Oil” signifies the anointing that goes with the luxurious life (see Pss 23:5; 104:15; Am 6:6). There is nothing wrong with joy or with enjoying the finest things in life. The “love” that is here portrayed must be excessive or uncontrolled, because it brings one to poverty. Perhaps other responsibilities are being neglected or the people are trying to live above their means.

Verse 18 – Wicked Destined for Punishment

The wicked is a ransom for the righteous,

And the treacherous is in the place of the upright.

Tremper Longman: No matter how one cuts it, this proverb is difficult. The idea is clear enough. The wicked/treacherous are a ransom for the righteous/virtuous. That must mean that the first pays the penalty for the second. But if the punishment deserved by the righteous is paid by the wicked, where is the justice in that? Further, if the righteous need a ransom, are they really righteous? Perhaps the proverb is being sarcastic. The wicked will ultimately get all the punishment.

Allen Ross: If it is taken to mean that the wicked suffers the evil he has prepared for the righteous, then it harmonizes with Proverbs (e.g., 11:8). The saying is either a general statement or an ideal that in calamity the righteous escape but the wicked perish in their stead (e.g., Haman in the book of Esther).

Verse 19 – Anything Is Preferred to Living with a Nagging Wife

It is better to live in a desert land,

Than with a contentious and vexing woman.

Allen Ross: Being alone is preferable to enduring domestic strife. This verse reiterates the theme of v.9 (see also 25:24), with one change — “a desert,” which would be sparsely settled and quiet. These verses surely advise one to be careful in choosing a marriage partner and then to be diligent in cultivating the proper graces to make the marriage enjoyable.

George Mylne: Contention and anger commonly go together, and they kindle a flame that can scarcely be extinguished. The wise man has already told us, that it is better to dwell in an ill-thatched house, or even on a corner of the house-top, without any covering from the storm than with a contentious woman. But here he goes further, and says that it is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman. The wilderness would make a very bad habitation, because there are the lion’s dens, and the habitation of jackels so that a dweller in the desert would be not only destitute of every convenience but exposed to constant perils of his life.

Yet it would be a more desirable habitation, than a costly house with the company of a woman who was tormenting her husband with everlasting contentions. The contentious woman is a greater monster than the tiger of the desert, and her tongue is more noisome than the tongue of the viper!

Verse 20 – Wise Stewardship of Wealth vs. Squandering Riches

There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise,

But a foolish man swallows it up.

Richard Clifford: The antithesis is in the way the wise and the foolish handle wealth. One preserves it and the other consumes it.

Paul Koptak: This saying contrasts the wise one who practices moderation and foresight and the fool who swallows everything in gluttony and shortsightedness. Like 21:17, this proverb urges control of appetite and thrift as two cures for gluttony. However, read along with Ecclesiastes 2:18–19, the proverb could be a “somber comment on the ephemeral nature of wealth,” for one may gather goods only to leave them to a fool to squander.

Verse 21 – Rewards of Making Righteousness Your Priority

He who pursues righteousness and loyalty

Finds life, righteousness and honor.

Richard Clifford: The Hebrew verb “to pursue” is strong, conveying energy and determination, at times having the sense “to hunt down.” In this saying, the intense pursuit comes upon something other than the original object of the pursuit—long and vigorous life and honor. Life and honor come from the pursuit of virtue. First pursue virtue and other things will be given. “First seek the kingdom of God and its justice and all these things will be given to you” (Matt. 8:33).

Paul Koptak: In seeking these virtues, one also finds the three primary desires of the proverbs: life, prosperity, and honor (cf. 3:16; 22:4). One cannot do better than to find long life, wealth enough to share, and a good name in the community. By implication, this is the same “wise” person of 21:20 and 22.

Verse 22 – Wisdom Can Be More Effective than Strength

A wise man scales the city of the mighty,

And brings down the stronghold in which they trust.

Richard Clifford: “To go up” is a Hebrew idiom for mounting a military assault and “to bring down” is an idiom for defeating an enemy. This is one of several maxims in wisdom literature about the superiority of wisdom to strength in war. Cf. Qoh. 9:13–16; Prov. 16:32; 24:5.

Allen Ross: It is more effective to use wisdom than to rely on strength. This proverb uses a military scene to describe the superiority of wisdom; the lines are loosely synonymous. It tells how the wise can scale the walls of the city of the “mighty” (gibbōrîm) and pull down their trusted stronghold. In a war the victory is credited not so much to the infantry as to the tactician, the general who plans the attack. Brilliant strategy wins wars, even over apparently insuperable odds (see also 24:5–6; Ecc 9:13–16; 2Co 10:4, which explains that wisdom from above is necessary for spiritual victory).

George Mylne: If military wisdom is so much preferable to strength then how excellent is that pious wisdom so much commended in this book! This divine wisdom even in war has a vast superiority over the wisdom of generals and ministers of state, for it leads men to victory, because it teaches them to trust in the Lord Almighty. By this wisdom, Abraham conquered four kings when they were flushed with victory. By this wisdom, David the stripling, overcame lions, and bears, and giants. By this wisdom, many of the old believers waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens for they knew their God, and were strong, and did exploits. By this wisdom the weakest believer is victorious through the blood of the Lamb, and the word of his testimony over the dragon and his demons.

Verse 23 – Value of Controlled Speech

He who guards his mouth and his tongue,

Guards his soul from troubles.

Allen Ross: People who control what they say are more likely to avoid trouble than those who speak freely. The verse is a continuous sentence offering the consequences of an action—guarding the mouth and the tongue. The “calamity” (ṣārôt) may refer to social and legal difficulties into which careless talk might bring someone (see 13:3; 18:21); therefore, one should say only what is true, helpful, pleasant, and kind and avoid what is false, destructive, painful, and damaging to others.

George Mylne: As a high-spirited horse, if its fury is not curbed with a strong hand, will hurry its rider along, without regarding pits, or precipices, or deep waters, and expose him to extreme jeopardy of his life so an unbridled tongue will make a man hateful to God and men, plunge him into contentions and debates, and expose his estate, and life, and credit, to extreme danger.

Verse 24 – Condemnation of the Proud

“’Proud’ ‘Haughty,’ ‘Scoffer,’ are his names,

Who acts with insolent pride.

Allen Ross: This verse describes the nature (“name”) of the irreligious mocker as insolent and proud. He is a most unpleasant fellow, disliked even by his own family.

Tremper Longman: This proverb defines what makes a mocker a mocker: pride.  Pride causes people to look at others and make fun of them. Specifically, when they themselves are criticized, rather than taking an inward look and transforming for the better, they defend themselves by ridiculing those who are pointing out their weaknesses.

Verse 25 – Condemnation of the Sluggard

The desire of the sluggard puts him to death,

For his hands refuse to work;

Allen Ross: The lazy come to ruin because they desire the easy way out. The “sluggard’s desire [taʾawat; ‘craving,’ NIV]” must be coupled with “his hands refuse to work” to understand the point. Living in a world of wishful thinking and not working will bring ruin (temîtennû, “will be the death of him,” is probably used hyperbolically here). Plaut, 223, suggests that there may be more to this idea; the sluggard might set his goals too high, far out of reach, thus paralyzing himself and producing nothing. At any rate, the verse teaches that doing rather than desiring brings success.

Tremper Longman: It is interesting to read vv. 25 and 26 together, while not allowing the one to obscure the other. Verse 25 points out that longings are necessary for survival; v. 26 warns that uncontrolled longings are harmful.

George Mylne: Wicked men disappoint themselves by their sins, of that wished-for enjoyment, which they seek and hope to obtain by their iniquities. The sensualist deprives himself not only of pleasures but of necessities, by casting away that money that should procure them. The vain and proud bring infamy upon their name, by the very means they take to support their honor. And slothful men, while they seek rest and ease, endure much more fatigue than the diligent man, because they make themselves a prey to the restless workings of their own unbridled desires.

Verse 26 – Greed vs. Generosity

All day long he is craving,

While the righteous gives and does not hold back.

Paul Koptak: The picture of one who craves all day long (21:25) is contrasted with one who practices continual giving. This contrast between an appetite that cries for more and a person able to give without saying “that’s enough” may describe the wise one of 21:20. A righteous person like this does not shut his ear to the poor (21:13). We may go further and say that if the righteous give without sparing, the giving goes beyond what one has to spare.

Allen Ross: Consider the contrast between Abram and Lot in Genesis 13; Lot chooses the most desirable land for himself, and Abram gives Lot his preference. To be generous in that way requires walking by faith and not by sight.

Verse 27 – Rejected Worship of the Wicked

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination,

How much more when he brings it with evil intent!

Richard Clifford: The wicked in Proverbs deliberately choose the state of rebellion against God’s will; their offerings are by that fact unacceptable. The word zimmāh, “calculation,” in colon B suggests that the insincere sacrificer perverts the very means of being reconciled to God—a liturgical offering. Cf. 15:8.

Allen Ross: God abhors worship without righteousness. The verse affirms that the “sacrifice” (zebaḥ) of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord and then intensifies the idea (“how much more”) by referring to “evil intent” (zimmâ) with the sacrifice. Hypocritical worship is bad enough; worship with evil intent is deplorable. God does not want acts of worship without repentance; but he certainly detests them from someone still bent on wickedness, who thinks a sacrifice will buy continued acceptance with God. In popular religion people soon came to think that sacrifices could be given for any offense and without genuine submission to God. This happens with all religious acts. But God first requires of the worshiper true repentance and resolution to live righteously.

George Mylne: Nothing can be more detestable, than to cover vice with professions of religion. Some have the daring presumption to walk on in the ways of sin, and to practice the forms of duty that their character may be shrouded under the mask of piety. These are followers of the Scribes and Pharisees, against whom our Lord pronounced so many dreadful woes. They walk in the cursed way of Jezebel, who caused a feast to be proclaimed, that she might destroy an innocent man and yet keep up the forms of religion and law; and they are likely to perish in the gain-saying of Korah.

Verse 28 – Discredited vs. Credible Witnesses

A false witness will perish,

But the man who listens to the truth will speak forever.

Richard Clifford: Perhaps the simplest solution is to suppose that a lying witness quickly loses all credibility as a witness for the future. Accurate (lit., “hearing”) witnesses, on the other hand, will be called again and again because of their credibility. Their truthfulness brings a good reputation that endures, whereas a lie is only for the moment (12:19).

Allen Ross: False witnesses will be discredited and destroyed. The verse in Hebrew is obscure, though it does apparently contrast true and false witnesses. The first line affirms that the “false witness will perish”; that is, either his testimony will be destroyed or he will be punished.

The second line literally says, “A man who listens shall speak forever.” “The man who listens” contrasts to the false witness of the preceding line and probably describes a witness who knows and understands what the truth is (Kidner, 146). The NIV, following cognates, sees a homonym meaning “perish”—thus the translation “will be destroyed forever” instead of “speak forever.” Toy, 411, expected an idea such as “will be established” to contrast with “will perish.” McKane’s suggestion, 556, probably fits the best: The truthful witness “will speak to the end” without being put down or refuted (in cross-examination).

Verse 29 – False Bravado vs. Consistent Righteousness

A wicked man shows a bold face,

But as for the upright, he makes his way sure.

Richard Clifford: The possible meanings are two:

(1)  A wicked person is defiant (lit., “makes his face hard”), but an upright person considers his ways, that is, is willing to consider the counsel of others;

(2)  An evil person goes off in his own direction, but an upright person maintains a faithful course.

Paul Koptak: The last Hebrew word in each line carries the bite of the proverb. One attends to his face, the other to his way; one attends only to the self and its preservation, the other to the larger picture of life lived uprightly, in harmony with Yahweh’s creation and community.

Allen Ross: The verse contrasts the wicked person who puts up a “bold front” with the upright person who solidifies (yākîn, “gives thought”) righteous conduct. The image of the hardened face reflects a hardened heart (Plaut, 224); it portrays one who holds in contempt the opinions and views of others (see Isa 48:4; Jer 5:3; Eze 3:7).

George Mylne: The wicked man walks in a crooked path, where peace and happiness never were, nor shall ever be found. God calls upon him to leave this cursed way, and to turn into the straight way of life. He thunders in the curses of his law, and orders his ministers to lift up their voices like trumpets, to proclaim in his ears the dangers of his course. He deals with him by his providence, and makes him to feel some of the first fruits of that vengeance which is the fruit of sin. He sets before him the peace and pleasure to be found in the way of holiness, that he may be encouraged to leave the way of destruction but the perverse sinner disregards the voice and providence of the Lord. The ways of sin are so pleasant to him, that he will venture the consequences, rather than be turned out of them for the present. The wicked man has many devices to harden his face in his sinful course. He thinks that he only walks in the same paths as other men do, and many are much worse than himself. He thinks that he has time enough before him, to repent and serve God. He does many good things to overbalance his evil deeds, or he will make amends for all at once, by fleeing to the mercy of God at last. By such corrupt reasonings as these, he hardens himself in iniquity, and sets God at defiance, disregarding the terrors of his wrath, and trampling upon the grace and blood of the Redeemer, who came to turn ungodliness from Jacob. By degrees he contracts so powerful habits of sin, that his conversion is almost impossible; he casts off shame and fear, and sins without restraint, until he finds that there is justice and vengeance, as well as forbearance with God.

But the upright man directs and establishes his way. He may slip with his feet but he recovers himself by the aids of divine grace. If he turns aside, as a godly man may occasionally do he will not persist in sin, but, like Job, he confesses with self-abhorrence his vileness, and will proceed no farther in it. He endeavors, in the general course of his life, to keep at a distance from sin and temptation, and to order his conduct with such prudence, that he may not by surprise be ensnared in to sin, nor meet with any occasion of stumbling.

Verse 30 – Divine Wisdom Impervious to Attack

There is no wisdom and no understanding

And no counsel against the LORD.

Lindsay Wilson: The force of the sentence is that nothing can stand, prevail, succeed or happen against God and his purposes.

Tremper Longman: Wisdom flows from Yahweh, and therefore “wisdom” that speaks contra Yahweh is not really wisdom.

Verse 31 – Victory Belongs to the Lord

The horse is prepared for the day of battle,

But victory belongs to the LORD.

Paul Koptak: The war horse is both strong and constrained, a symbol of human power. Riders can harness a horse and even prepare it for battle, but victory belongs to Yahweh, not the one who pulls the reins (Ex. 15:1, 21; Deut. 20:1; Ps. 20:7; 33:17; 37:9; Jer. 51:2). Common to this proverb and the one before is the theme of human effectiveness—intellectual effort in preparing and planning and physical prowess. The two proverbs name different but related errors: The first and most obvious is to go against God; the second and more subtle, to forget to thank God for victory and trust in your own foresight and strength. The parallelism in both verses reminds the reader of the mysterious relationship between human initiative and divine purposes that have come to the forefront in this second half of the collected proverbs (Prov. 16:1–22:16).

Allen Ross: Ultimate success comes from God and not from human efforts. The contrast here is between the plans and efforts for the battle (“the horse is made ready for the day of battle”) and the true acknowledgment of the source of victory (“the LORD”; see Pss 20:7; 33:17).

Charles Bridges: The horse may legitimately be used as a means of defense.  But never let our confidence be in the material of warfare.  Use the means, but do not idolize them.  Those who put their trust in them will fall.  Those who remember that their safety is in the Lord will stand upright.  When it comes to spiritual warfare, it is even more important to exercise active faith and dependence on God.  Salvation comes from the Lord.  It is free, complete, and triumphant, an everlasting victory over all the powers of hell.