Proverbs 21
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
1. rivers] Lit. streams, or channels of water is the heart of a king in the hand of Jehovah. The comparison is drawn from artificial irrigation. The irrigator has complete control over the water supply. He cuts his channels and directs his streams whithersoever and in whatever measure he pleases. Comp. Psalm 1:3.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.
2. Repeated almost exactly from Proverbs 16:2.

To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
3. Comp. 1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8.

An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.
4. the plowing] This, which is an admissible rendering, is virtually retained (the tillage) in R.V. marg. The haughty bearing, the proud look, the prosperous labours of the wicked are alike condemned as “sin.” But it is better to render lamp, instead of plowing or tillage, even the lamp of the wicked is sin. λαμπτήρ, LXX.; lucerna, Vulg.

The lamp burning brightly and steadily in the tent or house is the symbol of the prosperity of an individual (Proverbs 13:9; Job 18:6; and of a dynasty, 1 Kings 11:36; 1 Kings 15:4). But in the case of “the wicked,” instead of being accepted with humble thankfulness as lighted by Jehovah (Psalm 18:28), it finds expression in “an high look and a proud heart,” and therefore “is sin.”

The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.
5. but of every one] i.e. but the thoughts (supplied from the first clause) of every one. It is more literal, however, and at the same time avoids attributing “thoughts” to him whose fault is want of thought, to render with R.V.

But every one that is hasty hasteth only to want.

The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.
6. a vanity &c.] Lit. a vapour dispersed; seekers of death. Thus in the abrupt, sententious style of the wisdom of the East the end is described both of the treasures so sought, and of those who so seek them. “A vapour dispersed,” unsubstantial and vanishing away are the treasures gotten by a lying tongue; “seekers of death,” men whose pursuit will end in their own destruction, are those who so acquire them. By the change of a letter in the Heb. word the LXX., Vulgate, and R.V. marg. have snạres (instead of seekers) of death.

The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; because they refuse to do judgment.
7. robbery] Rather, violence.

destroy them] Rather, sweep them up, or catch them, as fishes, for example, in a net. Comp. Habakkuk 1:15, where the same Heb. word is used.

The way of man is froward and strange: but as for the pure, his work is right.
8. The way of man is froward and strange] Rather, very crooked is the way of a man laden with guilt; as was the way of David when he was laden with the guilt of adultery, 2 Samuel 11. The annals of crime in every land and age illustrate the proverb.

It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.
9. in a corner of the housetop] The LXX. render ἐπὶ γωνίας ὑπαίθρου, with no better hiding-place from the storms of heaven than the narrow corner in which the parapet walls of the flat roof meet (Deuteronomy 22:8).

a wide house] Lit. a house of society. This may mean, a house shared in common with her, R.V. marg., but it is better to understand it of a house large enough for the society of many people assembling there. Comp. Acts 12:12.

The soul of the wicked desireth evil: his neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes.
When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.
11. See Proverbs 19:25, note.

The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked: but God overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness.
12. God overthroweth] The difficulty of this proverb lies in the elliptical character of the second clause, which leaves a subject of necessity to be supplied. The A.V. makes man the subject of the first clause, and God of the second. But it is better to render, either with R.V. text:

The righteous man considereth the house of the wicked;

How the wicked are overthrown to their ruin;

or with Ewald and others, and R.V. marg., taking the Righteous One in the first clause to be God (Job 34:17), and retaining the same subject throughout.

One that is righteous considereth the house of the wicked;

He overthroweth the wicked to their ruin.

Both LXX. and Vulg., though differing from one another and from our present Heb. text, make “the righteous” the subject of both clauses.

Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.
A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.
14. pacifieth] The Heb. word occurs only here, and scholars, both ancient and modern, are divided between pacifieth (A.V. and R.V. text), turneth away, or bendeth (ἀνατρέπει, LXX.; frangit, Syr.; bendeth, R.V. marg.), and extinguisheth (extinguit, Vulg.); the word in this last case being regarded as synonymous with the similar word rendered quenched (of God’s anger), Jeremiah 7:20. Both renderings are admissible, but the former is to be preferred.

a reward] Rather, a present, R.V., as the same Heb. word is rendered in Proverbs 6:35, Proverbs 17:8, A.V.

in the bosom] brought in the folds of the garment from which it is drawn out stealthily and presented, see Proverbs 17:23.

It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.
15. destruction shall be] There is no necessity for inserting the words shall be. The subject may be continued from the preceding clause but it (sc. to do judgement) is a destruction to (in the estimation of) the workers of iniquity. It is the ruin, they think, of all their prospects. Comp. Proverbs 10:29.

The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.
16. remain] Rather, rest; find his resting-place, the end of his wanderings, among the dead (Heb. Rephaim. See Proverbs 9:18 note). ἐν συναγωγῇ γιγάντων ἀναπαύσεται, LXX.

He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.
17. wine and oil] “The costly adjuncts of a princely banquet. Among these the oil, or precious unguent, was always most conspicuous (Psalm 23:5; Psalm 45:7, and especially Wis 2:7). And when we consider its price, the 300 denarii of John 12:5, the 300 days’ wages of a field labourer, (Matthew 20:2), we can well understand how indulgence in such a luxury would become the type of all extravagance and excess.” Speaker’s Comm. ad loc.

The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.
18. a ransom] Comp. “I have given Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee … I will give men for thee and peoples for thy life,” Isaiah 43:3-4. Egypt was, so to speak, the price paid for the deliverance of Israel (Exodus 10:7; Exodus 12:29; Exodus 14:30).

The second member of the verse is better rendered, with R.V.,

And the treacherous cometh in the stead of the upright. Comp. Proverbs 11:8.

It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.
19. wilderness] regarded, as the parallel requires, not as a barren, but as a solitary place.

angry] Or, fretful, R.V. text; or, a contentious woman and vexation, R.V. marg. The LXX. introduce a third characteristic, chattering, γλωσσώδης.

There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.
20. spendeth] Lit. swalloweth, R.V. So LXX. καταπίονται; but Vulg. dissipabit.

He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.
21. righteousness] The proverb asserts the general law of God’s moral government, that they who seek good things shall find more than they sought for (1 Kings 3:11; Matthew 6:33); the pursuit of “righteousness and mercy” will end in the acquisition of “life, righteousness and honour.” But the proverb seems also to insist upon aiming at a perfect character in the pursuit of moral excellence. Not only should the sterner virtues, represented by righteousness, be cultivated, but their gentler fellows, which are summed up in “mercy.” They who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” should also be “the merciful” (Matthew 5:6-7). So shall the reward attained be that which was sought for, righteousness (used here perhaps in its widest sense of moral perfection, including mercy, the “righteous man” and the “good man” being one and the same person, Romans 5:7), and with it in rich companionship life and honour, which were not objects of direct pursuit.

A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty, and casteth down the strength of the confidence thereof.
22. While asserting the superiority of skill to force in actual warfare (comp. Joshua 8:3-29; Ecclesiastes 9:13-15), the proverb admits of higher applications. Comp. 2 Corinthians 10:4, where as Dean Plumptre (Speaker’s Comm.) suggests, πρὸς καθαίρεσιν ὀχυρωμάτων, may be a reminiscence of the LXX. rendering here, καθεῖλε τὸ ὀχύρωμα.

Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.
Proud and haughty scorner is his name, who dealeth in proud wrath.
24. Proud and haughty scorner] Rather with R.V., A proud and haughty man, scorner is his name; i.e. the name which aptly describes his character. θρασὺς καὶ αὐθάδης καὶ ἀλαζὼν λοιμὸς καλεῖται, LXX.

who dealeth &c.] Rather,

He worketh in the arrogance of pride, R.V.

The Heb. word here rendered arrogance is rendered over-flowings, Job 40:11, R.V., so that we might translate in unbridled pride.

The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour.
25. the desire of the slothful killeth him] This may mean either (a) his desire for slothful inaction brings him to want and starvation, because through its indulgence (as the 2nd clause of the verse explains) his hands refuse to do the work by which maintenance is to be obtained; or (b) his desire for the necessaries and comforts of life, or even for nobler things, wears him out with unsatisfied longings. Comp. Proverbs 21:26 below and Proverbs 13:4, Proverbs 19:24. “Idleness is ruin; the soul rusts away, like the sword in Hudibras, which

‘ate into itself for lack

Of something else to hew and hack.’ ” Horton.

He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not.
26. He coveteth] We may thus with A.V., Vulg., and others supply the subject of this clause from the preceding verse, or introduce a new subject, suggested perhaps by the preceding proverb and by contrast with the succeeding clause of this verse (ἀσεβὴς, LXX.), and so make the verse a complete proverb: There is that coveteth greedily &c.

giveth] Unlike the parched ground that covets ever, he resembles the perennial spring that gives forth unceasingly.

The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?
27. with a wicked mind] In any case the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, even when he brings it in a mere formal spirit, because of the moral character of the offerer (Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 1:13-15). But when he bringeth it with a wicked mind, or intent, to purchase immunity by it from the punishment of sin (to atone for wickedness, R.V. marg.) it is much more so. The sacrifice of Cain was an abomination, because he was wicked (Genesis 4:5; 1 John 3:12). How much more hateful would it have been, if he had brought it with the wicked intention of atoning by it for the murder of his brother? Comp. Sir 34:18-20.

A false witness shall perish: but the man that heareth speaketh constantly.
28. that heareth] Either (1) who listens to the voice of duty and of conscience (ἀνὴρ ὑπήκοος, LXX.; vir obediens, Vulg.); or (2) who simply states in evidence what he has heard, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” (qui non nisi quæ ipse audivit testatur Maurer). Comp. ὃ ἑωράκαμεν καὶ ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπαγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν, 1 John 1:3.

constantly] Lit. for ever, so as to endure, R.V. marg. He will live on to speak, in contrast to the false witness who will perish. This preserves the parallelism better than shall speak unchallenged, (R.V. text), i.e. shall speak on, without being interrupted by cross-questioning, or objection, because his testimony will carry conviction, and be listened to with respectful silence.

A wicked man hardeneth his face: but as for the upright, he directeth his way.
29. directeth] Or, ordereth, R.V. corrigit, Vulg. There is another reading, noticed in the marg. both of A.V. and R.V., considereth; συνίει, LXX.

There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD.
30. Even more forcible is the Hebrew: There is no wisdom and there is no understanding and there is no counsel against Jehovah.

The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.
31. safety] Rather, victory (A.V. marg. R.V. text), or deliverance (R.V. marg.). “Two companion proverbs (Proverbs 21:30-31). Nothing avails against, nothing without, God.” (Speaker’s Comm.)

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