Proverbs 21
Matthew Poole's Commentary
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
The king’s heart; his very inward purposes and inclinations, which seem to be most in a man’s own power, and out of the reach of all others, and much more his tongue and hand, and all his outward actions. He names kings not to exclude other men, but because they are more arbitrary and uncontrollable than other men.

As the rivers of water; which husbandmen or gardeners can draw by little channels into the adjacent grounds as they please, and as their occasions require.

He turneth it; directeth and boweth, partly by suggesting those things to their minds which have a commanding influence upon their wills; and partly by a direct and immediate motion of their wills and affections, which being God’s creatures must needs be as subject to his power and pleasure as either men’s minds or bodies are, and which he moves sweetly and suitably to their own nature, though strongly and effectually.

Withersoever he will; so as they shall fulfil his counsels and designs, either of mercy or of correction to themselves, or to their people.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.
This was said Proverbs 16:2, where it is explained, and is here repeated, either for the great importance and usefulness of it, or because he perceived that the Israelites were very prone to self-deceit.

To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
Justice and judgment; the conscientious performance of all our duties to men.

Than sacrifice; than the most costly outward services offered to God, joined with the neglect of our moral duties to God or men. The same thing is affirmed 1 Samuel 15:22 Hosea 6:6 Micah 6:7.

An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.
An high look; one gesture or sign of pride put for all the rest, Proverbs 6:17.

A proud heart; pride lurking and reigning in the heart, though it do not discover itself to men by outward actions, but be disguised with a show of humility, it is frequently.

The ploughing; either,

1. Strictly and properly so called: even their civil or natural actions, which in themselves are lawful and good, are made sinful, as they are managed by ungodly men, without any regard to the service and glory of God, which ought to be the great end of all our actions, 1 Corinthians 10:31, and with a design of serving their own wicked lusts by it. Or,

2. Metaphorically, their designs and endeavours, which are said to be sin, because they are wholly and fully set upon sin, and they make sin their trade or business, which is called ploughing wickedness, Job 4:8. But all the ancient interpreters, and divers others, render the word the lamp or light, as this Hebrew word, even thus pointed, is rendered, 1 Kings 11:36 15:4 2 Kings 8:19 2 Chronicles 21:7; and the lamp of the wicked is a phrase used in this book, Proverbs 13:9 24:20, as also Job 21:17; whereas the ploughing of the wicked is a phrase not elsewhere used. And this seems best to agree with the context, for by their lamp he seems to understand all their pomp and glory, that worldly greatness and prosperity, which is the fuel of their pride, and therefore is most fitly joined with it. Is sin; it is by them turned into sin, and made the occasion of much wickedness. The whole verse may be thus rendered, An high look and a proud heart, which is the light or glory of the wicked, (i.e. wherein they glory, esteeming it magnanimity or gallantry of spirit,) is sin, i.e. is a great and grievous sin. And in this manner the learned Mercer renders the verse, save only that he translates the Hebrew word nir, the ploughing.

The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.
The diligent, who carefully and industriously prosecutes what he hath wisely contrived and resolved.

That is hasty; who manageth his affairs rashly, without due consideration.

Only to want; is likely to bring himself to poverty.

The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.
By a lying tongue; by false witness-hearing, or by any other false or deceitful words or actions, whereby many men get riches.

Is a vanity tossed to and fro; is like the chaff or smoke driven away by the wind; it is neither satisfactory nor durable, but quickly vanisheth away, as hath been frequently observed of estates ill gotten.

That seek death; not designedly, but eventually, that take those courses which will bring death or destruction upon them or theirs.

The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; because they refuse to do judgment.
The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; the injury which they do to others shall either by God or men be returned upon their own heads. They refuse to do judgment; they wilfully and obstinately give up themselves to unrighteous practices.

The way of man is froward and strange: but as for the pure, his work is right.
The way of man; the course of his life. Of man; of every man; of man by nature and in his corrupt estate; of a wicked or impure man, to whom the pure is opposed in the next clause.

Strange; estranged from God and from man’s primitive integrity, and from the rule of his actions, reason and Scripture; in which respects wicked men are called strangers, Psalm 54:3 Ezekiel 44:7, and elsewhere.

But as for the pure, his work is right; but he whose heart is pure and upright, his conversation is agreeable to it.

It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.
To dwell, to wit, alone in quietness, as appears from the opposite clause.

Of the house-top; of the roof of the house, which in those countries was flat and plain, and habitable, but was exposed to all the injuries of the weather. In a

wide house; or, in a common house; or, a house of society, where husband and wife live together, or which is capable of many friends or companies.

The soul of the wicked desireth evil: his neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes.
The soul of the wicked desireth evil; his heart is fully and earnestly set in him, as it is expressed, Ecclesiastes 8:11, to do evil, to work wickedness, to do mischief to others, to satisfy his own lusts, though it be with injury of others.

His neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes, if he either dissuade him from his wickedness, or stand in the way of his lusts. He spares neither friend nor foe.

When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.
The simple; the honest or plain-hearted man, as Proverbs 19:25, where this whole verse for the substance of it is contained and explained.

Instructed; or, prospers, as this word is used, Proverbs 17:8, and elsewhere. So the sense of the verse is, The simple learn wisdom, both from the punishment of wicked men, and from the prosperity of good men.

The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked: but God overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness.
Wisely considereth the house of the wicked; he looketh through its present power and glory (which dazzleth the eyes of others) unto that ruin to which it is designed. But, or now, or that, this being the thing which he wisely considereth,

God overthroweth, or will overthrow in his due time, though for a season he bear with them.

Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.
Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, when they cry out by reason of oppression or want, and beg relief from him, he also shall cry himself unto God or men, in his straits which God will bring upon him.

A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.
A gift, to a person offended and angry with us, as the following words show.

In secret; which makes it more acceptable; for gifts openly given savour of ostentation in the giver, and cause some shame or contempt to the receiver.

In the bosom; secretly conveyed into his bosom. See Poole "Proverbs 17:8", See Poole "Proverbs 18:16".

It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.
It is joy to the just: the sense is either,

1. He is highly pleased and delighted with it. Or,

2. He reapeth much comfort and benefit by it, which is opposed to the following destruction: joy is put for matter or cause of joy.

To do judgment; to do what is just or good, for this is opposed to working of iniquity.

Destruction; or, as others render it, terror or horror, opposite to joy.

The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.
The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding; that forsaketh the rule of God’s word, and walketh after his own lusts;

shall remain in the congregation of the dead; shall, without repentance, be condemned to eternal death or damnation.

He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.
He that loveth pleasure, that gives up himself to the pursuit and enjoyment of sensual and immoderate pleasures,

shall be a poor man; takes the ready course to poverty.

Wine and oil are put for all delicious fare and luxurious feasting; for wine and oil were much used in feasts in those parts.

The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.
The wicked shall be brought into those troubles which were either threatened by God or designed by wicked men against the righteous, and by that means, as by a ransom, the righteous shall be delivered. Thus Achan was a ransom for Israel, Joshua 7:26, and Haman for Mordecai.

It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.
Than, understand, in a wide house, as it is expressed above, Proverbs 21:9, and as the opposition here requires.

There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.
Wise men lay up all necessary and desirable treasures for their own use, and for their children and families.

Oil is particularly mentioned, partly because that was a considerable part of their wealth and treasures in those countries, of which see Deu 7:13 28:40,51 Jud 9:9 Micah 5:15, &c.; and partly to show that his providence reached not only to necessaries, but even to matters of just and lawful delight.

He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.
That followeth after; that fervently desires, and diligently and constantly endeavours, to attain to them, for such shall and will certainly obtain them.

Righteousness and mercy; living in the constant exercise of these virtues.

Findeth; shall obtain from God what is right and due to him; either from God, by virtue of his gracious promise; or from men, whose hearts God will dispose to deal justly and kindly with him.

A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty, and casteth down the strength of the confidence thereof.
A wise man sealeth the city of the mighty; wisdom and policy is ofttimes more considerable and powerful than strength.

The strength of the confidence thereof; the strongest forts, to which the citizens trust most for their defence.

Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.
Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue from offensive and provoking speeches, keepeth his soul, his person, from troubles; which a licentious and abusive tongue frequently brings upon a man.

Proud and haughty scorner is his name, who dealeth in proud wrath.
Proud and haughty scorner is his name; instead of that respect and glory which he seeks by such courses, he shall be branded with the title and imputation of an arrogant and scornful person, which is most contemptible and hateful to mankind.

Who dealeth in proud wrath; who in the conduct of his affairs and dealings in the world is not governed by reason and justice, but by his own pride and passions.

The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour.
Killeth him; either,

1. Tormenteth him almost to death, whilst he passionately desires that which he sees he shall not enjoy, and will not take pains to procure. Or,

2. Exposeth him to extreme want, and so to death, or to such wicked courses, for the supply of his wants, as bring him to an untimely death.

He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not.
He coveteth; the slothful man, mentioned in the last verse. But because the verses in this book are for the most part independent one upon another, this clause is and may be otherwise rendered, There is that coveteth, &c.; or, the wicked (which may be understood from the opposition of the righteous in the next clause) coveteth, &c.

All the day long; spends his whole time in vain and lazy desires, but will not labour to get any thing, either to use himself, or to give to others.

The righteous giveth and spareth not; by God’s blessing upon his industry he procures enough, not only for his own support, but also for the liberal relief of others.

The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?
The sacrifice; all the most glorious and costly services which they offer to God.

Is abomination; God rejects and abhors them, because they are offered by such men and in such manner as God justly abhors.

When; or, because, as all the ancient translators render it, the Hebrew particle aph being expletive; or, even because; so the following clause gives the reason of the former proposition.

With a wicked mind; with a hypocritical and impenitent heart, or with a bad design, not in obedience to God’s command, and with respect to his honour and service; but either to cover, or countenance, or promote some wicked intention or course, which notwithstanding all his professions of religion he is resolved to prosecute.

A false witness shall perish: but the man that heareth speaketh constantly.
A false witness, Heb. a witness of lies; one who is forward to swear or speak false things, or such things as he hath not heard nor learned from others, nor seen, but devised in his own heart.

Shall perish; shall be severely punished, either by God or men, and shall be confounded and silenced, because none will for the future regard or credit his testimony. The man that heareth; he who hears before he speaks, and witnesseth nothing but what he hath heard or seen, and knows to be true.

Speaketh constantly; doth not contradict himself, but always affirmeth the same thing. Or, as most other interpreters render the words, speaketh (or, may speak, dare speak freely and boldly) for ever; when liars are cut off, he lives, and is in a capacity of speaking and bearing witness again and again, as occasion requires, as long as he lives, and his testimony will be received.

A wicked man hardeneth his face: but as for the upright, he directeth his way.
Hardeneth his face; continueth in evil courses with obstinacy and impudence, in spite of all the commands of God, or counsels of men.

He directeth his way; he ordereth his steps aright; and if at any time, he goeth awry, he doth not add rebellion to his sin, nor persist in his error, but considereth his ways, and turneth his feet to God’s testimonies, as David did, Psalm 119:59. Or, considereth his way, remembering with grief and shame what he hath done, and taking better heed to himself for the future.

There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD.
Which can prevail against the counsel and will of God.

The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.
The horse; under which particular all warlike provisions are comprehended.

Safety is of the Lord; the success of the battle depends not upon any human strength or art, but merely upon God’s providence, who gives the victory when and to whom he pleaseth, and ofttimes to those that have least reason to expect it. Compare Ecclesiastes 9:11.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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