The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever He wishes.
Kings and other earthly authorities can be prone to pride as a result of their power. But they are not the sovereign of the world, and they must recognize that they only have the position because God has allowed it to happen (Romans 13:1). Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself on account of his kingdom, and God had to humble him severely (Daniel 4). God allows certain people to come to power, and He brings others low. He changes hearts of kings, and He hardens hearts of kings. The bottom line is that God is the ultimate King, and no power on earth can thwart that reality.
2 Every man’s way is right in his own eyes,
But the Lord weighs the hearts.
People are prone to rationalize sin, to self-justify, and to fail to see the reality of their sin before God. There is a way that seems right to a man, but, because it is sinful, it leads to death. The deceptive heart that man is born with needs to be reborn in Christ. God sees the true state of all hearts, and only those which are cleansed with Christ’s blood will be clean and pure and able to enter heaven. (see also Proverbs 14:12, 16:25)
3 To do righteousness and justice
Is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice.
Anybody can perform empty religious rituals and ceremonies, but God is interested in the state of the heart. He wants those who obey Him by faith and who lead lives devoted to righteousness and justice. Empty religion never saved anybody, but those who obey the commands of God demonstrate that they have hearts that have been reborn in Christ. King Saul disobeyed God by taking lambs as part of the spoil from the battle, and he tried to satisfy God by sacrificing them. But God wanted obedience rather than sacrifice and to listen to Him more than burnt offerings (1 Samuel 15:22). Obedience to God’s commands is how we prove our love for Him, not by vain rituals devoid of submission to God in the heart (John 14:15).
4 Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
The lamp of the wicked, is sin.
The wicked person is driven by a deceitful and wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9), and he is filled with pride and arrogance. He is a scoffer and a mocker, not having any fear of God in his heart. He looks down on others, and selfishness rules in his heart. His sin nature leads him to all kinds of sin. Only Jesus can change his heart and grant him newness of life.
5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage,
But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.
Planning, strategizing, and seeking godly counsel are all wise things to do. Those who make hasty, careless decisions without any forethought often will find that their decisions don’t end well.
6 The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue
Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.
It is not worth it to pursue money, wealth, and the world’s treasures by cheating, stealing, and conning. Much of the way people gain wealth in the world today is not honestly but by oppression, exploitation, deception, and through blackmail or favoritism. This lifestyle is evidence of a person who is on the fast track to hell because he loves himself and money more than his own soul or the welfare of others.
7 The violence of the wicked will drag them away,
Because they refuse to act with justice.
Violence and wickedness have a strong association throughout the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 13:21 says that adversity pursues sinners because they create needless harm and destruction for themselves by loving sin rather than what is good. Being unjust creates feelings of animosity, inability to trust one another, and lots of anger that leads to violence. Evildoers will likely be victims of their own evil and violence, and God will be sure to punish evil in eternity.
8 The way of a guilty man is crooked,
But as for the pure, his conduct is upright.
A guilty man has to continue to lie and cover up his wrong, and he must constantly live in fear and worry that he will one day be caught. Thus, his way veers all over the place, his answers change, and he is unreliable and untrustworthy. The pure in heart have nothing to hide, nothing to fear, and nothing to run from, and thus all that they do can be straightforward, honest, and above reproach.
9 It is better to live in a corner of a roof
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.
Solomon wants people to be careful who they marry because it could be more miserable than being holed up in an attic. Being unequally yoked by marrying somebody who doesn’t know how to submit to Christ and how to love others cannot end well. It might not always be this bad, but if the woman is never agreeable, always nit-picking, and always nagging and complaining, then it will be. (see also v. 19, Proverbs 25:24, and Proverbs 27:15).
10 The soul of the wicked desires evil;
His neighbor finds no favor in his eyes.
Wicked people crave evil in their souls because their hearts are evil, and evil is what drives them. Their evil nature causes them to be unable to love others, and they are unable to follow Christ’s command to love their neighbors as themselves. They look down on others and are ready and willing to do them harm if it would pose an advantage for them.
11 When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise;
But when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.
This verse parallels Proverbs 19:25. The idea is that a wise man learns from instruction, responds humbly to it, and is changed unto righteousness as he receives knowledge. A scoffer remains hardened by pride, and the only learning he receives is how to be shrewder in his sinful acts so as not to get punished again. The punishment is not something that he grows spiritually from, but it is something that makes him more devious. Thus, it all comes down to the state of a person’s heart, whether or not they are pliable, humble, and teachable. Discipline given should be in the context of understanding what is going on in the heart rather than trying just to render punishment for punishment’s sake.
12 The righteous one considers the house of the wicked,
Turning the wicked to ruin.
The ESV translates this verse, “The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked; he throws the wicked down to ruin.” God is paying attention to all that the wicked do, and He will one day pour out His wrath and judgment upon them. Eternal destruction will be their destiny, for the Righteous One will bring it to pass according to His perfect justice.
13 He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be answered.
God hates when people are cruel to the poor and when they neglect those in need when it is in their power to do something to help. Those who know the love of Christ should have compassion on the needy, and they should use their opportunity to give physical provisions as a chance to share the spiritual message of hope in the gospel of Christ. Those who neglect the cry of the poor demonstrate a hardness of heart and a selfish arrogance that is indicative not of those who walk humbly before God and have the privilege of answered prayer (John 15:7) but of those who regard iniquity in their heart such that the Lord cannot hear (Psalm 66:18). This would be expected of unbelievers, but even believers can be guilty of being greedy and lacking compassion, and God will not hear their prayers if they are harboring evil in their hearts.
14 A gift in secret subdues anger,
And a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.
A person can be bought off with money and gifts. Bribing is usually wrong because it perverts justice, but there may be a time when it is worth settling out of court, so to speak, to pay for one’s debts or to make up for one’s wrongs (Luke 12:58).
15 The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous,
But is terror to the workers of iniquity.
The righteous enjoy seeing justice meted out because they have nothing to fear, and justice is protection and vindication for them. Those who do evil and commit injustice will find that the enforcement of justice is frightening because they deserve to face the consequences. The righteous have hope and joyful anticipation for the day when Christ judges the world and renders to each according to his deeds (Revelation 22:20).
16 A man who wanders from the way of understanding
Will rest in the assembly of the dead.
A man who has heard the truth and even received it with excitement but whose profession of faith was never really possession of Christ in the heart will demonstrate the lack of genuineness regarding his conversion by eventually wandering away (Matthew 13:18-23). He will go out from the true assembly of believers because he was never really one to begin with (1 John 2:19). He will end up with others who enjoy sin, and their eternal destiny is eternal destruction. Believers who wander (1 Timothy 1:18-20) will not end up spiritually dead by losing their salvation, but they will find that being turned over to Satan by the church for the destruction of their flesh for the preservation of their souls is not pleasant (1 Corinthians 5:5). Sin’s passing pleasures always cause the soul to ache, to yearn, to be parched, and to suffer, particularly in comparison to knowing Christ and enjoying His good and perfect gifts. Though believers who harden their hearts in sin will still go to heaven, their rebellion could cost them their lives or, at the very least, their health (1 Corinthians 11:30).
17 He who loves pleasure will become a poor man;
He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.
Practically, the idea is that those who are addicted to spending lots of money on luxuries such as wine and oil and throwing money away on wasteful pleasurable pursuits will often find that they have no money left to keep wasting and spending (compare with the treasures of the wise who have saved diligently in v. 20). The prodigal son blew his entire inheritance on prostitutes and immoral living. Money can evaporate very quickly when spending it at a feverish pace or gambling it away in order to keep a sinful high going. What people need to understand is that sinful pleasures are like a giant black hole, sucking life and joy and likely even a person’s financial well-being until all is gone. Worse yet, a heart that lives for sin will find its eternal destiny in hell on account of its spiritual bankruptcy. If man would repent and put his faith in Christ, then He could have access to all the spiritual pleasures and riches that are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3, Psalm 16:11). After all, it is not pleasure or enjoyment which is of itself wrong as if God forbids happiness and exuberance. Doing things God’s way is actually the only hope of true ecstasy in this life and in the next. There are no hangovers or bad trips with a holy and God-honoring lifestyle, only new mercies each morning.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying life (Ecclesiastes 5:18, 9:9), but what is wrong is living life in the pursuit of selfish sinful pleasures. The lust for pleasure, wealth, and the high life (Ecclesiastes 10:19) is a lifestyle of idolatry, and it does not value God and His eternal priorities. People would be wise to enjoy life by honoring and thanking God for His good and perfect gifts such as food, drink, family, and the chance to work and serve Him. Whether rich or poor, joy can be full when choosing to seek first the kingdom of God.
18 The wicked is a ransom for the righteous,
And the treacherous is in the place of the upright.
Jesus Christ is the ransom for the righteous (Psalm 31:5) because He took upon Himself all the wickedness of man. He Who knew no sin became sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). He, being perfect, took on all the treachery of sinners so that God would punish Him and offer them the opportunity to have eternal life if only they would repent and seek forgiveness and salvation in Christ.
19 It is better to live in a desert land
Than with a contentious and vexing woman.
Solomon will say later that a contentious wife is like a dripping faucet (Proverbs 27:15), constantly making the husband feel worthless and unloved. Now he adds that a man would be better off wandering in a desert wilderness than being stuck under the same roof with a woman who loves to mock, insult, provoke, and vex. These character qualities are in line with the descriptors throughout the book of Proverbs regarding the fool. The fool likes fighting, anger, and the lack of peace. This is not the type of person to marry unless one enjoys being miserable. (see also v. 9 and Proverbs 25:24)
20 There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise,
But a foolish man swallows it up.
The righteous recognize that they are stewards of what God entrusts them with, and they save some things so that they can take care of their own and others in time of need. They use their resources and opportunities wisely, but the foolish man lives a life of greed, waste, and overly-indulgent spending (see v. 17) such that he has nothing saved for trying times or to be able to help others.
21 He who pursues righteousness and loyalty
Finds life, righteousness and honor.
Those who seek the truth will find it in Christ because the door will be opened to those who eagerly and humbly knock upon it (Matthew 7:7). Those who practice the truth will come to the Light (John 3:21), and their deeds will have seen in the end to have been wrought in God all along. No man seeks God of his own initiative (Romans 3:11), but God draws all people (John 12:32). Some respond by pursuing truth, righteousness, and loyalty, and they will find Jesus Who gives eternal life, Who makes men holy, and Who will honor them in eternity (Matthew 22:14). There is no such thing as righteousness apart from Christ and the gospel, for that is empty moralism that is filled with vain God-denying, self-exalting pride. Only the pursuit of Christ by faith can lead to righteousness and the benefits thereof.
22 A wise man scales the city of the mighty
And brings down the stronghold in which they trust.
It is good to have wisdom in military situations, but Solomon is likely after more than that here. There is a greater battle than any military conquest that has ever been fought, and that is the battle for souls based upon the proclamation of gospel truth. Wisdom reasons with the lost, shows them the error of their thinking, points out the sin of their ways, and shows them the legitimacy of Christ and the reliability of Scripture. Wisdom shows the mighty and worldly-wise that their assumptions are flawed and that their philosophical models are incomplete. Wisdom tears down their stronghold of pride by exposing error and exalting Christ. Paul did this admirably in Acts 17 by showing the Athenians the weakness of their philosophies and the glory of the risen Christ.
23 He who guards his mouth and his tongue,
Guards his soul from troubles.
Those who can control their tongue and speak wisely, graciously, and peaceably will keep from getting into a lot of the trouble that those who speak without thinking will get themselves into. Being able to control the tongue is a sign that God has control of the heart because no man can of his own will control the tongue (James 3:2). Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, something we are dependent upon God to learn and practice (Galatians 5:22-23). Thus, those who are able to guard their lips demonstrate fruit that they are indeed of God and that their souls have been redeemed (Matthew 7:20).
24 “Proud,” “Haughty,” “ Scoffer,” are his names,
Who acts with insolent pride.
God hates pride, for it is the ultimate offense to deny His deity, which is what pride does in effect. Pride refuses to acknowledge God, to thank God, to praise God, to glorify God, and to worship God, preferring to act instead as if self is due the glory, the credit, and the sufficiency. Only God is sufficient, and man must recognize His dependency upon God and the authority of God. Those who scoff at God and His Word, those who have an over-inflated view of themselves, and those who look down on others are highly offensive to God. These store up God’s wrath for themselves, and they need to learn the way of the righteous (Psalm 1).
25 The desire of the sluggard puts him to death,
For his hands refuse to work;
26 All day long he is craving,
While the righteous gives and does not hold back.
The lazy person is not motivated by the fear of God, to work hard, and to provide financially for himself and for his own. He chooses not to labor and to earn an honest living because he desires to do nothing. He should expect to be in need and to end up even in poverty, and he will have nothing to give to others in need. The righteous through honest labor earn money that they can use to feed themselves and care for their families and even have some left over to give to others who are in need. This doesn’t mean enabling laziness, but it means taking care of those who are unable to provide for themselves or their own. There is a great difference between choosing not to work when one is able and when work is available as compared to the person who is not able to work or who does not have any immediate option available to him (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
27 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination,
How much more when he brings it with evil intent!
God takes no pleasure in religious acts and rituals when the heart behind the act is far from Him. He sees all, and He sees down into the depths of the heart, dissecting motives, attitudes, and intents. The wicked person cannot please God or atone for himself with religious acts, for he needs to turn to God begging for forgiveness and cleansing in Christ. That is his only hope. God wants obedience more than sacrifice, and obedience is only possible as a result of a heart that has been reborn in Christ. The wicked have diabolical hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), and the evil intents of their hearts need to be changed. To think that one can atone for himself apart from Christ is actually an evil intent because it spurns the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
28 A false witness will perish,
But the man who listens to the truth will speak forever.
Those who are of the devil live to lie, but the righteous listen to the truth and respond obediently to it because of their love for Christ. They have eternal life in Him, and they will praise His name forever. The wicked will be cut off from God and sentenced to condemnation in hell.
29 A wicked man displays a bold face,
But as for the upright, he makes his way sure.
A wicked man might act confidently and feign boldness, but the righteous man seeks wisdom, trusts in the Lord for guidance and protection, and takes the necessary steps of planning and taking precautions as God enables and leads. The wicked person tries to act tough, but the righteous person has real strength and hope in the Lord. The wicked can only have confidence in themselves and their own abilities and provisions, but the righteous have the God of the universe on their side fighting for them (Deuteronomy 3:22). Thus, the confidence of the wicked is but their own personal opinion and a figment of their imagination (Proverbs 18:11), but the confidence of the righteous is boasting in He Who is strong even though they are weak (2 Corinthians 12:10).
30 There is no wisdom and no understanding
And no counsel against the Lord.
Since wisdom is found in Christ and since God is wisdom personified, there can be no wisdom that speaks against Him, His will, or His Word. His Word will endure forever, but no counsel that mocks Him or taunts Him will stand in the end. Truth will always win out because God will judge the world.
31 The horse is prepared for the day of battle,
But victory belongs to the Lord.
Planning and preparation are man’s responsibility, but ultimately nothing can be accomplished without the help of the Lord. He is sovereign over all the affairs of men. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.” (see also Proverbs 16:9, John 15:5)