1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
Man can think what he is going to think, but it requires the grace of God to be able to speak something honoring to God. He ultimately deserves all the credit for how He works in and through His servants to do good. A man in his natural state will find that his wicked heart overtakes even the best laid plans and his most noble intentions. As God’s grace works in a humble heart that wants to practice the truth, God will reveal Himself through Christ to that heart (John 3:21). A man plans his way, but the Lord directs His steps (Proverbs 16:9). Ultimately, we are all needy creatures who are dependent upon our Creator for life, breath, strength, and doing good (John 15:5). By grace through faith in the finished work of Christ is how any enduring good happens.
2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight,
But the Lord weighs the motives.
Man in his natural state doesn’t realize how evil he is. He is prone to rationalize and self-justify, not realizing that he has broken, for example, all ten commandments when it comes to the thoughts and intentions of his heart. The Lord sees all including the motives of the heart. None of us will pass God’s test for holiness, for we have all sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23). We all need the grace of God manifested through the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).
3 Commit your works to the Lord
And your plans will be established.
We can plan all we want, but unless we are doing what God wants, we cannot expect His support and power behind what we are doing. Psalm 127:1 says that those who build labor in vain unless God is building the house. The idea is that we must submit to God’s will for our lives, acknowledge our insufficiency while casting ourselves on His sufficiency, and trust Him in all our ways. As we desire what He desires, we will do what He wants us to do (Psalm 37:4). We must always be willing to adjust our plans as God leads. But if he has made it clear that we need to do something, it will be sin for us if we do not do it (James 4:17). When we know we are doing God’s will, we must not let ourselves be swayed. Satan will definitely try to sway us, distract us, discourage us, deceive us, or throw us off course, but we must take advantage of the opportunities that God gives us.
4 The Lord has made everything for its own purpose,
Even the wicked for the day of evil.
God desires that none should perish and that all would come to receive His Son (2 Peter 3:9), but the reality is that a majority will not because they love darkness more than light (John 3:19). Still Jesus was willing to die and rise again so that those who would believe could be saved (Romans 11:32). The wicked will suffer in the day of the Lord’s wrath, but that is not God’s fault but their own. He will not force anyone to believe in Him. Neither will he force them not to believe. God does harden hearts, but it will be deservedly so. No man goes to hell for crimes he didn’t commit.
The Lord has a purpose and plan in all that He does, and given how much smarter He is than we are, our best strategy is not to make plans independent of Him but fully in consultation with His Word. Life is not random, and the world is not a product of chance and chaotic accidents. God is sovereign over all, and nothing happens without His oversight. God’s sovereignty is really more than our minds can fathom, but it should be our comfort because it means that Satan is not calling the shots and that God is always on the throne. We can rest in the fact that He causes all things to work for our good. That God is sovereign should be a fear factor for the unbeliever but a source of comfort for those who have submitted to His plans. Even each and every believer has specific good works that God prepared beforehand for them to do (Ephesians 2:10).
5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord;
Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.
Punishment is what happens to those who have stored up God’s wrath for themselves on account of their pride and arrogance. They will be brought low because one day all knees will bow before Jesus. Their pride will blind them from turning to Christ for salvation, and they will suffer the wrath of God in the day of judgment. As believers, we need to be mindful of the work of Christ so that we don’t start to put confidence in the flesh, a form of pride, thereby inviting the loving discipline of God. We need to be cognizant of our dependency on the sufficiency of Christ and of His strength despite our weakness. He is sovereign, He has planned everything with a purpose (v. 4), and He directs our steps (v. 9).
6 By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for,
And by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.
This verse is critical to understanding the gospel. Lovingkindness encapsulates God’s unchanging merciful and gracious nature and just how much He loves the world and desires them to repent. But because of His justice and holiness, He can’t just give people a free pass and let them into heaven. Then He wouldn’t be just any longer, and God Himself would have fallen, something that obviously never will happen. Thus, God must punish sinners. However, God did make a way for sinners to be saved through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. Though He never sinned, all of our sin was placed upon Him so that our sin debt could be repaid. So God demonstrated His mercy in sending Jesus to atone for our iniquity, and in so doing He also upheld truth, justice, and holiness. Furthermore, those who come to God for salvation have only one road through which they can enter, that of the shed blood of Christ. He is the truth, singular, and there is no other way for salvation. If people desire to have their sins wiped away, they must come believing in God’s merciful forgiveness through the truth of the necessary sacrifice of Christ which alone can appease God’s justice. Those who fear God and His power to justly cast into hell will turn from evil and seek out salvation through His Son. Those who do not fear God demonstrate that they hate truth, are not afraid of His holiness, and could care less for His mercy, even the very fact that He gave up His Son to die for sin. This pride and selfishness will not go unpunished.
7 When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord,
He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
The fullness of this truth applied to Israel in the Old Testament based upon the covenant of blessing or cursing in Deuteronomy 11:23, 26-27. God would drive out their enemies before them if they were obedient to His commands. But it is also true that God is a protector of His children. He is our Good Shepherd (Psalm 23:1), warding off threats and guarding the sheep. He hedges us in behind and before, and lays His hand on us (Psalm 139:5). Nothing can take us out of His hand, and we are told not to fear because He upholds us with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). The wicked have no offer or hope of divine protection, but God protects us in ways that we are not even aware of. He does give us favor with our enemies at times, just as He did with Joseph in a foreign country, and He does watch over His own. The best way to get along with people who would be our enemies is to be kind to them. Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the Lord will reward you.” People are much more likely to show kindness in return to a person who they genuinely believe is not a threat to them but a help. A wicked man will betray a trust and give reason for enemies to seek out ways to attack.
8 Better is a little with righteousness
Than great income with injustice.
Since wealth is temporary and subject to decay and since eternal rewards last forever and thus have far greater worth, we are wiser to pursue righteousness even if it will cost us the chance to get rich than to seek out lots of money by ways of corruption and injustice. (see also Proverbs 15:17)
9 The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.
Ultimately, God is sovereign and in total control, and His plans cannot be thwarted. Some rebel and go against His desires, but others seek out what He wants and submit to His desires. Being directed by God is a privilege and a protection (Romans 8:14), a chance for bearing spiritual fruit. To only have the hope of being smart and using human wisdom to make plans is a weak foundation, but to know that God is at work and to align ourselves with Him brings great comfort. (see also Proverbs 20:24)
10 A divine decision is in the lips of the king;
His mouth should not err in judgment.
The Bible does not teach that kings have divine right or the ability to speak for God or to be unaccountable for their decisions. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Kings of the world might think that they are all powerful, but they are ultimately subject to the sovereign will of God. They are very much accountable for the position which God has allowed them to have, and wisdom would acknowledge that reality and seek God for wisdom in rendering judgments and decisions. Governmental authorities should not err in their decision-making, for the consequences are far reaching. The kings of the earth are not the ultimate sovereign, but God does intervene and hold kings to account. Some intervention happens on earth (e.g. Daniel 4), while other consequences are left for eternity. Christians are called to pray for those in authority, including earthly political leaders, so that they will lead rightly and let people live in peace and according to godliness (1 Timothy 2:1-2, Proverbs 16:12).
11 A just balance and scales belong to the Lord;
All the weights of the bag are His concern.
God hates stealing, and He desires that business dealings are done in honesty and integrity. Just as He is just, we are to imitate Him by being equitable and fair in all aspects of life, including money.
12 It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts,
For a throne is established on righteousness.
Kings that act wickedly betray their throne and their people. A king that wishes to rule well and be loved by His people must act according to righteousness. Those who rule with an oppressive hand and who enjoy being cruel tyrants will not bring joy and blessing to their servants and to their people (Proverbs 29:2).
13 Righteous lips are the delight of kings,
And he who speaks right is loved.
Kings need people who are willing to be open and honest with them, and they will be more prone to get that if they are trustworthy, fair, and just in all of their dealings. People who subvert their rule and go behind their backs undermine a king’s rule, but those who are honest with him even if they disagree with him are a source of pleasantness for a king. People will not agree on everything, but if there is freedom to disagree and for there to be an open marketplace of ideas, peace can happen.
14 The fury of a king is like messengers of death,
But a wise man will appease it.
When a king gets angry, he has the power to deal with the person who angered him quickly and powerfully. A wise person will appease the king by admitting his error and showing good will of some kind if he has indeed done wrong. He will use his understanding to convince the king to take a different course of action. A fool will keep mocking the king, and he will encourage his own destruction.
15 In the light of a king’s face is life,
And his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain.
No one should seek to be on a king’s bad side unless he has been forced to anger the king on account of defying an unrighteous decree. It is good and a blessing to have the favor of the king on account of doing good and being a benefit and helper to the kingdom and to his rule. A king that loves justice and good will appreciate others who also love righteousness.
16 How much better it is to get wisdom than gold!
And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.
Gold and silver were commonly recognized as money and as having significant value, but wisdom and understanding make any of the world’s wealth pale in comparison. Wisdom leads to blessings that money cannot buy and to eternal blessings and benefits that only Christ can offer (Psalm 16:11, Ephesians 1:3).
17 The highway of the upright is to depart from evil;
He who watches his way preserves his life.
The righteous flee from evil and resist the devil so that he will flee. Rather than stumble and bumble along on the thorn-filled path of iniquity (Proverbs 15:19), they choose the highway of Christ and the freedom from enslavement to sin. They trust in the sufficiency of Christ and the Scripture to make their way straight (Proverbs 3:5-6) and to discern truth from Satan’s lies. Wisdom compels people to think through what they hear and what they are being told, for lies are everywhere. Wise people realize that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) and that sometimes wolves come dressed in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Wise people walk circumspectly (Ephesians 5:15), navigating the pitfalls of life according to the commands of Scripture.
18 Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before stumbling.
The arrogant and proud will be brought low because all people must bow before Christ when judgment time comes. They will pay for their evil deeds. Arrogance and self-sufficiency makes a person not depend on Jesus or bother to trust in Him because they think that they are strong, powerful, and able to sin without getting hurt. They think that they can be complete without Christ. They are wrong, and when they stumble, there will be no Savior to pick them up, strengthen them, and help them persevere. Only the righteous have the benefit of the God of the universe working on their behalf. They recognize their weakness and that He is their strength (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), and they make Him their boast. They humble themselves before Him, bow before Him, and tremble before His Word (Isaiah 66:2) knowing that in Him alone is life and life to the full.
19 It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly
Than to divide the spoil with the proud.
It profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul (Matthew 16:26). To have much but to be proud and foolish is useless in terms of eternity. Being humble leads to wisdom and honor even if it involves a life spent with those whom the world neglects, rejects, and despises. Paul knew that he was viewed by most of the world’s elite as the scum of the earth (1 Corinthians 4:13), but that didn’t bother him because he knew he was rich in Christ.
20 He who gives attention to the word will find good,
And blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
This is such a simple statement, but it is so powerful and profound. Those who pay attention to, listen to, and study God’s Word will find that good results from it. Their lives will still have difficulties (John 16:33), but they can rest assured that they will see God’s kindness, goodness, and mercy follow them all the days of their lives (Psalm 23:6), protecting them from doing dumb things, guarding their hearts from evil, sanctifying them (Romans 8:28-29), giving them good and perfect gifts (James 1:17), and looking out for their best interests. There is great blessing in trusting in the Lord, for He will honor those who honor Him, even though the fullest portion of that honor might have to wait until eternity.
21 The wise in heart will be called understanding,
And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
Though the world in its foolishness does not recognize the wisdom of God, wisdom is still the best way to live life and to interact with people, whether they realize and acknowledge it or not. Living with others in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7) is simply love in action. It is meeting them where they are at, or, as Paul said, being all things to all people in order to win some to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). That does not mean adopting sinful behavior, false doctrine, lying, or creating false pretenses. Rather, it means that wisdom is discernment and knowledge applied, being able to be gracious and truthful with people and to speak words of wisdom according to the needs of the hearer (Colossians 4:6). Wisdom is thus sympathetic (Hebrews 4:15), compassionate, understanding, and relevant. This is what makes speech sweet. It is actually the opposite of the salesman mentality of telling people whatever will close a deal or make a sale. That is not sweetness of speech but bitterness and ugliness (James 3:10-11). Paul said that believers should not rely upon persuasive words of human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:4), but they are rather to speak words of God’s wisdom and trust that any good that is accomplished will be accomplished by God. This allows faith to be built on a foundation of confidence in God, not some human sales pitch or methodology. We should reason with people and try to convince them of the truth (Acts 17:2, 18:19), and we should contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). This should be done with wisdom, understanding, and sweetness of speech, relying on God to open hearts, knowing that He is the ultimate best persuader. (see also v. 23)
22 Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly.
Understanding is a fountain of life because those who possess it are indwelt by the Spirit of God Who keeps teaching them according to the Scripture, Who keeps empowering them to live wisely by guiding them into all truth, and Who uses them to win souls. New life in Christ continues to transform the believer, and it overflows into their interactions with others with gospel testimony and proclamation. This love for others actually controls the believer by the power of Christ in him, and it is more effective against sinful lusts than the discipline of fools. Fools don’t even like discipline, and any hope of mere behavior modification changing a life that is ruled by a fallen heart is futile. Fools are instead guided by error, folly, and stupidity rather than the wisdom and instruction of God. Believers are led by the Spirit in them, and He keeps working to transform their lives according to His glory and likeness.
23 The heart of the wise instructs his mouth
And adds persuasiveness to his lips.
A wise person instructs his mouth by controlling what he says and when. He thinks through what he is going to say before he spews out something that would be foolish. He studies God’s Word so that when the opportunity arises to speak a good word, he is able to encourage others. He is able to learn not how to sell somebody something or trick them into believing something but how to persuade them that they should seek wisdom from God. There is persuasion that is the manipulation of man, and then there is reasoning with somebody according to the wisdom of God. The latter is what a righteous person should seek. (see also v. 21)
24 Pleasant words are a honeycomb,
Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
In order for speech to truly be healing, restoring, and edifying, it must be consistent with the truth of Scripture. There is no ultimate soul healing to be found in the power of positive thinking, contemplative prayer, or other forms of eastern meditation, for example. Meditation on God’s Word and hearing other people open up God’s truth to us is what is needed to encourage the soul. Believers can also encourage one another with a good word, reminding them of the promises of God and stimulating them toward good deeds with a godly example and consistent love.
25 There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
Man’s natural instincts because of his innate sin nature are flawed and wrong (Romans 3:23). Man’s heart is wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and he is prone to error and unable to change his own heart apart from trusting in the salvation provided through Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus changes hearts and desires, and He opens eyes to the truth and the way which is actually right. Sadly, many continue to be deceived by their sin and fallen hearts, and the consequences of sin is death and hell (Romans 6:23). Man must put his hope in the gift of God which is eternal life through Jesus Christ by surrendering to Him in humble faith and repentance. (see also Proverbs 14:12, 21:2)
26 A worker’s appetite works for him,
For his hunger urges him on.
The grumbles of an empty stomach have a way of motivating a person to earn money by working so that he can afford to buy food. This verse is not an excuse to create a sweat-shop or slave-driven type of work environment where people are going hungry and are abused. Rather, it means that God has given people an incentive to work, and that is to eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” Obviously, there are exceptions for those who are unable to work, but even these should be encouraged to be as productive as they can within reason.
27 A worthless man digs up evil,
While his words are like scorching fire.
A worthless person is a foolish person who rejects God’s wisdom and enjoys bringing division, destruction, and harm to others. His life adds no blessing or value to others because he only tries to promote evil, error, lies, and wickedness. His words bring only pain, shame, hurt, and an attitude that likes to stir up trouble. His life bears no spiritual fruit that would have eternal value, and he is like the fig tree that Christ cursed and made to wither up and die on account of its lack of fruit (Mark 11:21). He is kindling that deserves to be taken up and burned because nothing good is coming from his life, only evil (John 15:6).
28 A perverse man spreads strife,
And a slanderer separates intimate friends.
Those who delight in evil and destruction pursue not peace but strife. They seek division often by slandering and speaking ill of a person. Their desire is to separate close friends by coming up with something that will make them doubt one another or hate one another. Christians shouldn’t slander or gossip, but, if they have an issue with somebody, they need to go to that person and work it out (Matthew 18:15-18). The goal of the believer is peace and reconciliation, not speaking ill of others and spreading malicious lies. Christians should identify false teachers, and they should be willing to confront sin in a spirit of grace and humility. That should always to be done in compassion and love rather than in jealousy or anger which would only create tension and aggravate any relational issues.
29 A man of violence entices his neighbor
And leads him in a way that is not good.
Those who love violence seek people whom they can be violent towards, and they seek out people who like violence also. Violent people set traps for their neighbors and drag them into places and situations that are not for their good. They try to convince others that violence is fun and desirable, and these people must be avoided. God delights in peacemakers, not those who use, abuse, and harm. If we truly love others, we will always have their best interests in mind, even valuing their welfare above our own (Philippians 2:3-4).
30 He who winks his eyes does so to devise perverse things;
He who compresses his lips brings evil to pass.
Solomon speaks of people who deal in deceit and dishonesty, winking or using other hidden signals to plot someone’s exploitation or demise. God is honored when we are forthright and honest, but evil people lie as a way of life. It is who they are. Their inner perversity and the hidden machinations of their thinking lead to violence, hatred, and all sorts of evil. They are driven by rage, revenge, and the lust for violence, and even the subtleties of their countenance reveal their evil intent.
31 A gray head is a crown of glory;
It is found in the way of righteousness.
Gray hair should be a sign of wisdom gained over the course of life, but some who live to old age continue to live for themselves and to reject God. As Ecclesiastes 7:5 says, “I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness.” However, those who follow God’s commands will avoid the needless traps and travails that come from the consequences of sin. Thus, in that sense, they are more likely to make it to old age. For gray hair to truly be a crown of glory, one has to have grown in wisdom. There is nothing inherently noble in getting old or having gray hair unless it is accompanied by a growing and deepening relationship with God.
32 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
It takes a lot of military might and prowess to win battles or take over a city. But it is a sign of greater accomplishment in terms of eternal value to be able to have self-control, a fruit of the Spirit. Many have fought well in earthly battles, but they have not been able to keep their thoughts and intentions of the heart in line with God’s standards. This is because apart from Christ it is impossible. Only by faith in Him to save and change a heart can righteousness and self-control come into the life of any person. This is something of great and eternal value, and it is something worth seeking out. Victory over sin and death belongs to the believer in Christ Who leads His own in His victory procession as more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). Being strong in His might spiritually is what counts most of all (Ephesians 6:10). The battle for souls and for the righteousness which can only be found in Christ (Romans 1:16, 10:17) is more important than the battle for cities.
33 The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the Lord.
Christians should not cast lots or pick straws to determine the will of God, for we have the Holy Spirit to lead us (Romans 8:14) and the Word of God to teach us (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Casting lots was practiced in the Old Testament (Joshua 18:10, 1 Chronicles 25:8, Nehemiah 10:34) and even as the disciples were used to establish the church (Acts 1:26) as one of the “diverse ways” that God spoke to His people (Hebrews 1:1-2). Now that He has spoken to us in His Son and through His written Word, we do not need to cast lots. Those who did that in times past in faith recognized that God was in charge of the way the lots were cast and the results of the process. They submitted their will and way to the instruction and guidance of the Lord. We should have an attitude of humility to approach God’s Word in trembling and ultimate reverence, and we should submit ourselves to it (Isaiah 66:2). If we want our decisions to be from God and of God, we have no other choice than to align ourselves with the teaching of Scripture. That is where wisdom and direction are found.