Proverbs 16:1-33

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To “man” (the “earthling”) belong the “plans of the heart” or of the mental faculties, “and the answer of the tongue” is “from YHWH.” Before beginning to speak, a man may formulate the thoughts he wants to express, but thereafter the words that proceed from his mouth may not correspond to what he intended to say. To the speaker, the difference between his thoughts and the things he actually ends up saying makes it appear that he does not have full control over his tongue. The proverb indicates that YHWH does have this control, accounting for the “answer of the tongue” or the spoken word. (16:1; see the Notes section.)

“All the ways of a man” are “pure in his eyes.” In his own estimation, a man may regard his conduct as proper or right. His view, however, may be seriously flawed. YHWH is the one who “weighs the spirits,” perceiving the actual motivations and feelings that are not evident in the outward behavior. What may outwardly appear as pure, good, or right may actually be defiled by impure motivations and selfish inclinations. (16:2; see the Notes section.)

Rolling one’s “works on YHWH,” or entrusting one’s matters to him, includes giving consideration to his will and trusting in his help and blessing. When life is lived in humble submission to God’s will, one’s “plans will be established” or will succeed. (16:3; see the Notes section.)

YHWH has made “everything for its [or his] purpose, even the wicked one for a day of calamity.” Depending on whether the meaning is “its” or “his,” everything that exists has its purpose or serves YHWH’s purpose. He has permitted wicked persons to live, and they owe their existence to him. If they continue pursuing their corrupt conduct, YHWH has determined beforehand that they would face a day of reckoning. From this standpoint, he has made them for a day of calamity or a time when his condemnatory judgment will be expressed against them. (16:4; see the Notes section.)

All arrogant ones (literally, all those “proud of heart”) are an “abomination to YHWH.” He regards them as loathsome or disgusting. According to the Septuagint, every arrogant one (literally, “arrogant-hearted one”) is “unclean” or “impure” before God. The Hebrew expression “hand to hand” could relate to making an agreement by shaking hands. In this context, it may be used to indicate certainty (“you can depend on it”; “be assured”). In the Septuagint, the reference is to putting “hand to hand unjustly.” This could denote shaking hands with others to make an unjust or fraudulent agreement. Anyone who thus obligated himself to act unjustly would not be considered “innocent” but guilty of committing a lawless act that deserved to be punished. As indicated in the Hebrew text, one who acts arrogantly, choosing to live a corrupt life, will not remain unpunished. (16:5)

“By kindness and faithfulness [literally, “truth”], iniquity is atoned for.” The thought could be that God will take into consideration the kindness, compassionate concern for others, or loyalty, and faithfulness (or steadfastness in striving to do what is right) when expressing his judgment respecting an individual’s iniquity or error. Another possible meaning may be that God’s compassion or kindness and his faithful adherence to his promises moves him to extend forgiveness, thus providing atonement for iniquity. Although atonement for iniquity is YHWH’s loving provision, one should seek to avoid sin. It is the “fear of YHWH” (a reverential regard for him and a wholesome fear of acting in a manner he disapproves) that enables one to turn away from evil. (16:6; see the Notes section.)

“When YHWH is pleased with a man’s ways, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” As one who enjoys YHWH’s favor, the man would be shielded from being victimized and from the hostility to which hatred gives rise. His enemies would be at “peace” with him, for they would not be taking any action that would harm him. (16:7; see the Notes section.)

“Better” is a “little with righteousness” than an “abundance of products,” gains, or acquisitions “with injustice.” This suggests that it is preferable to have a little gain obtained with righteous or honest means than to acquire much through unjust or fraudulent means. (16:8; see the Notes section.)

The “heart of a man” (the mind of an earthling) “may plan his way, and YHWH directs his steps.” Although a man may plan for the future, this does not in itself assure that his plans will succeed. The implication is that the outcome to a man for the steps he takes depends on YHWH’s will. (16:9; see the Notes section.)

The kind of “decision” on the “lips of a king” should be as though it was an inspired expression or an “oracle” (LXX). His “mouth” should not be “unfaithful” or untrustworthy “in judgment. The monarch’s subjects should rightly expect just and wise words to come from his mouth. According to the Septuagint, the king’s “mouth will by no means” (an emphatic expression that renders two words for “not”) “err” or go astray “in judgment.” (16:10)

YHWH has a standard for honest dealings, including the use of accurate scales and weights. A “balance and scales of judgment” or justice are attributed to him, and “all weights in the bag” are designated as “his work.” He himself adheres to the highest standard of justice and requires that those whom he approves imitate his example. The Septuagint reading indicates that an accurate weight on the balance is “righteous” in the sight of the Lord, and that “his works” are “righteous weights” or measures. (16:11)

Kings should be just in the exercise of their authority. For them to practice or to tolerate evil is an “abomination” or something disgusting. It is injurious to their subjects and destructive to the stability of the realm. A “throne” (or the royal authority a monarch exercises [the “throne of rulership” [LXX]) is established by righteousness. (16:12)

A good king will find delight in “righteous lips” or in lips that are used to express what is right. Such lips are “acceptable” (LXX) to him. He “loves” or appreciates the person who is truthful or honest in his speaking. According to the Septuagint, a king “loves straight” or honest “words.” (16:13)

The “wrath of a king” is like “messengers of death,” for he could command the execution of persons who incurred his anger. A “wise man,” by his judicious response, can pacify the king’s anger. (16:14)

The “light of a king’s face” refers to his favor or friendly disposition that is reflected in his countenance. This “light” means “life,” for the individual enjoying the king’s favor would not be a person against whom the king’s wrath would be directed. The Septuagint says that the “light of life” is the “son of the king.” This could be understood to mean that the king would find great delight in his son. Royal favor or goodwill is also “like a cloud of a spring rain,” for the cloud indicated that crops would benefit from the rain that would be watering the ground. A king’s favor would likewise herald his bestowal of good things. According to the Septuagint rendering, persons who pleased the king were “like a cloud of late [rain].” (16:15)

To acquire “wisdom” (the capacity to use knowledge for good purposes) through diligent personal effort is much better than to procure precious “gold,” and to get “understanding” is to be preferred to obtaining silver. The possession of “wisdom” and “understanding” can give purposeful direction to one’s life and aid one to avoid conduct and practices that would prove to be harmful. No amount of gold or silver can produce these positive results. In the Septuagint, the reference is to “nests of wisdom” and “nests of understanding” as being more desirable. The expressions “nests of wisdom” and “nests of understanding” may apply to places or schools of learning. Another possibility is that the word “nests” refers to “dwelling places” or environments where wisdom and understanding exist. (16:16)

The “highway” of upright persons, or the course they follow, “turns aside from evil.” They avoid corrupt practices and are spared the misery to which such practices can lead. The Septuagint says that “paths of life turn away from evils.” These are paths to be followed, for they contribute to the preservation of life by shunning all forms of badness. (16:17; see the Notes section.)

A proud man commonly does not respond to correction and sound advice but insists on blindly following his own way. Therefore, “pride” comes before a downfall from a ruinous course of life. “Haughtiness of spirit” (“ill-mindedness,” “malice,” or “folly” [LXX]), or an arrogant and hateful disposition, precedes “stumbling” or a fall into calamity or misery. (16:18)

It is better to be “lowly in spirit” or to have a humble disposition in association with lowly or afflicted persons than to “divide spoil” or abundant booty with arrogant individuals. According to the Septuagint, a mild-mannered person “with humility” is better than the one dividing spoils with arrogant ones. (16:19)

The person who is perceptive “in a matter will find” or “acquire good” (“good things” [LXX]), with his insight leading to a good outcome. Happy or truly fortunate is the person who trusts in YHWH (“God” [LXX]), for that trust will never lead to disappointment. YHWH cares for and will aid all who rely on him in their time of need. The implication of the proverb may be that there is benefit from having perception but that even greater benefit results from trust in YHWH. (16:20; see the Notes section.)

To be “wise of heart” denotes to be wise in the use of one’s mental faculties and could also include the desire to gain knowledge and the willingness to expend the needed effort to do so. A man who could be called “wise of heart” would be known as a man of “understanding” or insight, one who uses his knowledge in a manner that benefits himself and others. The individual in possession of “sweetness of lips” would be one whose speech is pleasant or agreeable. Unlike a person whose harsh or abusive speech repels others, one whose speech is pleasant would commonly elicit a favorable response. (16:21; see the Notes section.)

To its possessors, “insight” is a “fountain of life.” They are in a position to provide beneficial knowledge to others and to benefit themselves by using good judgment in handling affairs of life and avoiding senseless actions and rash words. The “discipline” or chastisement of “fools” (or persons who choose to act in senseless ways) is “foolishness.” They are bound to experience the distressing consequences of their senselessness or foolish behavior. According to the Septuagint, “discipline” or instruction of “fools” is “evil.” When fools or corrupt individuals are the source of discipline, the result is bad for those who act in harmony with it. Also any effort to instruct fools would be “evil” or worthless, accomplishing nothing beneficial. (16:22)

The “heart” or the mental faculty of a wise man causes the expressions that come from his “mouth” to reflect prudence or insight. According to the Septuagint, the “heart of the wise one” would consider what comes out of “his own mouth.” The person would not speak rashly or thoughtlessly but would express himself sensibly. With his “heart” or mind guiding his speech, a wise man would benefit from added persuasive power. This persuasiveness is linked to the “lips,” for they fill a prominent role in speaking. In the Septuagint, the “lips” are represented as bearing “prudence” or understanding. (16:23)

Pleasant or kind words have a good effect on persons who hear them. These words are like “honeycomb, sweet to the soul” (to the person or to the taste) “and healing to the bones,” bringing refreshment and renewed strength to the body or to the whole organism of the one who is encouraged, comforted, commended, or taught. The Septuagint indicates that the “sweetness” is “healing for the soul” or the individual. (16:24)

“Before the face of a man” or in his sight, a “way” (plural in LXX) seems “straight” or right. It appears to be a course of life heading in the proper direction. The human judgment, however, is seriously flawed. In the end, the way that seemed right proves to be the “ways of death.” According to the Septuagint rendering, the “terminations” of the ways “look into the depth of Hades” or into the depth of the realm of the dead. (16:25; see the Notes section.)

The “soul [or appetite] of a laborer labors for him, for his mouth” impels him. In view of his need for food, the worker finds himself compelled to toil so that he is able to satisfy his hunger. (16:26; see the Notes section.)

A “man of belial” is a scoundrel or a worthless person. In the Septuagint, he is called a “senseless one.” According to the Hebrew text, he is represented as “digging evil.” This is commonly understood to mean that he plots what is bad. The Septuagint says that he “digs evils for himself,” suggesting that he brings miseries upon himself through his senselessness. (16:27)

A “perverse man” (a “crooked man” [LXX]) “spreads strife” (“spreads evils” [LXX]), creating conflict where there had been none, and a “slanderer” alienates acquaintances or friends. His malicious words misrepresent the individuals about whom he spreads his slanderous talk, causing those who believe him to view friends and acquaintances differently and to distance themselves from them. According to the Septuagint, a crooked or corrupt man “will kindle a fire for evils with a torch of treachery, and he parts friends.” (16:28)

A “man of violence” (a man given to violent actions) “will entice his fellow,” causing him to stray from the right course and to follow a “way that is not good” (or a way that is corrupt). According to the Septuagint, a “lawless man puts friends to a test,” or leads them into temptation, and takes them into paths that are “not good.” (16:29)

In this context, “squinting” with the eyes and “compressing” the lips constitute evidence of malicious intent. Translators have variously rendered the Hebrew text. “He [the violent or lawless man] closes his eyes while meditating deception; he purses his lips while deciding upon evil.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Whoever narrows his eyes to think up tricks and purses the lips has already done wrong.” (NJB) “When someone winks and grins behind your back, trouble is on the way.” (CEV) The Septuagint adds that the lawless man is a “furnace of evil.” (16:30)

When persons of advanced age have pursued a “way of righteousness” or a course of praiseworthy conduct, their “hoary head,” representative of age and experience, is a “crown of beauty” or “glory” (a “crown of boasting” [LXX]). (16:31)

One who is “slow to anger” or patient is better than a “mighty man” or warrior, for the patient person has the moral strength to restrain himself from acting rashly and to avoid committing deeds that he would later regret. The person who controls his “spirit” (“anger” [LXX]) or temper is better than one who “takes a city,” for ruling one’s temper is often more difficult than being victorious in warfare. (16:32)

In cases where people could not resolve conflicts or decide which course was right or better, they would cast lots. The outcome from the action of casting lots was regarded as the decision of YHWH. (16:33; see the Notes section.)

Notes

In the Septuagint, the words of verse 1 of the extant Hebrew text are missing.

The proverb of verse 2 in the Septuagint has little resemblance to the wording of the extant Hebrew text. “All the works of the lowly one are manifest to God, but the impious ones will perish in an evil day.” Nothing is hidden from God, and the lowly or humble who look to him can rest assured of his care and concern for them, but the ungodly are the ones who will perish when calamity strikes or judgment is expressed against them.

There is no corresponding wording in the Septuagint for the reading of verse 3 in the extant Hebrew text.

In the Septuagint, wording for the extant Hebrew text of verse 4 is found in verse 9, but the meaning of the proverb is not identical. “All the works of the Lord” are carried out “with righteousness, but the impious one is kept for an evil day.”

Corresponding wording in the Septuagint for verse 6 of the extant Hebrew text is not contained in this section of Proverbs. It is found after verse 27 of chapter 15. “By mercy” (plural in Greek [deeds of mercy or compassion]) “and faithfulness, sins are cleared away” or purged, “but by the fear of the Lord, everyone turns away from bad.” This rendering supports understanding mercy and faithfulness to apply to persons who may commit sin.

The Septuagint reading of verse 7 has no corresponding wording in the extant Hebrew text of this section. According to the Septuagint, the “beginning of a good way” is distinguished by doing “righteous things.” For one to do what is right or righteous is “more acceptable to God than to sacrifice sacrifices.” Outward forms of worship without the needed effort to live uprightly are unacceptable to YHWH. In the Septuagint, the basic thought of verse 7 in the Hebrew text is found in chapter 15 after verse 28. It says that the “ways of righteous men are acceptable to the Lord” and that “through them” (the righteous ways) even enemies become friends.”

The basic thought of verse 8 in the extant Hebrew text is found after verse 29 of chapter 15 in the Septuagint. “Better [is] a little return with righteousness than many products with unrighteousness” or “injustice.” The Septuagint wording of verse 8 does not have a parallel in the extant Hebrew text. “The one seeking the Lord will find knowledge with righteousness [the knowledge that will make it possible to live uprightly], and the ones seeking him aright will find peace” or well-being.

In the Septuagint, somewhat different wording for the Hebrew proverb in verse 9 is found after verse 29 in chapter 15. “Let the heart of a man consider righteous things so that his steps may be guided straight by God.” This wording indicates that the person must be focused on what is righteous or upright to benefit from God’s guidance.

After the initial phrase about the “paths of life,” the Septuagint text of verse 17 indicates that “ways of righteousness” lead to “length of life,” that the one accepting discipline “will be among the good” or will be “in good things” (or the recipient of good things), and that the one who “guards” or heeds reproofs “will be wise.” The Septuagint then concludes the verse with the words, “The one guarding his own ways preserves his own soul [or life], and the one loving his life will spare his mouth” (or use restraint when speaking).

In verse 20, the Hebrew word rendered “matter” may also mean “word.” A number of translations reflect this significance in their renderings. “Whoever listens closely to the word finds happiness.” (NJB) “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers.” (NIV)

The Septuagint rendering of verse 21 indicates that certain ones “call wise and intelligent persons worthless.” Those who are “sweet in word” (or pleasant in speech) “will be heard more” or will more readily meet with a favorable response to their words.

The extant Hebrew text of verse 25 is identical to that of verse 12 in chapter 14. In the Septuagint, the basic thought is the same in both verses but the wording is not identical.

According to the Septuagint rendering of verse 26, the man who “labors in labors for himself” drives out his ruin. The “crooked one, however, bears ruin in his own mouth.” This suggests that the words of a corrupt individual, when exposed as false or fraudulent, will prove to be his undoing.

In verse 33, the Septuagint makes no reference to casting lots. It indicates that unrighteous persons are the recipients of retribution. “All things come upon unrighteous ones into [their] bosoms, but all righteous things [are] from the Lord.”