Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.XXI.
(1) As the rivers of water.—Channels for irrigation (comp. Psalm 1:3). He turns the heart of the king, whose favour is as the latter rain (Proverbs 16:15) and dew (Proverbs 19:12), now towards one suppliant and now towards another, as He thinks fit, for “the hearts of kings are in His rule and governance.”
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.(2) Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.—See above, on Proverbs 16:2.
To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.(3) To do justice and judgment, &c—See above on Proverbs 10:2.
Is more acceptable than sacrifice.—See above on 15:8.
An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.(4) The plowing of the wicked.—i.e., their work, all they do; for it is not done to please God but themselves; nor carried on in His strength, but in reliance upon their own, and therefore it is “sin,” not pleasing to Him. For the word here translated “plowing,” see above on Proverbs 13:23, where it is rendered “tillage.” It may also signify “lamp” (see above on 13:9).
The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.(5) The thoughts of every one that is hasty tend only to want.—This proverb is met with on all sides: “More haste, worse speed”; “Festina lente”; “Eile mit Weile.”
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.(6) Is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.—Rather, is (as) the driven (fleeting) breath of those who are seeking death. They are seeking in reality not riches, but death, and these riches will vanish like their own breath. (Comp. Wisdom Of Solomon 5:14; Psalm 68:2).
The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; because they refuse to do judgment.(7) The robbery of the wicked.—Or, their violence. See above on Proverbs 1:19. (Comp. Psalm 9:15.)
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.—The words may also mean “Tortuous is the way of a man who is laden with sin.” (Comp. Proverbs 2:15.)
It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.(9) It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop.—Though there exposed to all the storms of heaven. The flat tops of houses were, in the East, used for exercise (2Samuel 11:2), sleeping, (1Samuel 9:26), devotion (Acts 10:9), and various domestic purposes (Joshua 2:6).
The soul of the wicked desireth evil: his neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes.(10) His neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes.—The wicked must have whatever he has set his heart upon, however much trouble and sorrow he may cause to his neighbour thereby.
When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.(11) When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise.—See above on Proverbs 19:25.
The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked: but God overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness.(12) The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked.—Rather, A Righteous one (God) marks the house of the wicked and overthroweth the wicked for (their) destruction. He watches the evil to see whether they will repent (Luke 13:8), and if they will not, at last overthrows them when their iniquity has become full (Genesis 15:16).
Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.(13) He also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.—Because he showed no mercy. (Comp. Matthew 5:7; Matthew 18:30; James 2:13.)
A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.(14) A gift in secret.—Comp. Abigail and David (1Samuel 25:18).
It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.(15) But destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.—This may also mean, “It is a terror to the workers of iniquity (to do right).” They are afraid to trust such promises as Matthew 6:33. They think they will be ruined if they do not cheat their neighbours when they have an opportunity.
The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.(16) Shall remain in the congregation of the dead.—Described in Isaiah 14:9; he shall not take part in the resurrection of Isaiah 26:19. A prophecy of retribution after death.
He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.(17) Wine and oil.—The accompaniments of a feast. The oil, or precious unguents, were poured over the head (comp. Psalm 23:5). It was the excessive love and gratitude of the two Marys (Luke 7:38; John 12:3) which prompted them to anoint the Lord’s feet. These perfumes were sometimes of great value, the “pound of ointment of spikenard” (John 12:3) was worth “more than three hundred pence” (£10 12s. 6d.), the wages of a day labourer (Matthew 20:2) for nearly a year.
The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.(18) The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous.—The righteous is “delivered out of trouble (Proverbs 11:8; comp. Isaiah 57:1), and the wicked cometh in his stead” to receive upon his own head God’s descending punishment. So it was with Mordecai and Haman.
He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.(21) Righteousness and mercy.—He who endeavours to give God and man their due (see above on 10:2), and to shew love to them (Proverbs 3:3), will gain for himself length of days (Proverbs 3:16) power to live more and more uprightly, and present honour from God and man for so doing. In a higher sense he will gain life eternal now and hereafter (John 17:3), righteousness, or the forgiveness of sins (Romans 2:13), and honour (Romans 8:30) at the last day, when he will be acknowledged as a true son of God (Romans 8:19).
Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.(23) Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue, &c—See above on Proverbs 12:13.
Proud and haughty scorner is his name, who dealeth in proud wrath.(24) Proud and haughty scorner is his name.—See above on Proverbs 1:22.
The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour.(25) The desire of the slothful killeth them.—Their love for sloth and pleasure ruins them in soul and body and fortune.
He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not.(26) He coveteth greedily all the day long, that he may “consume it on his lusts” (James 4:3), while the righteous (Proverbs 21:21) gives to all who need, remembering that he is a steward (Luke 16:9), not an owner, and that blessing will attend upon him for so doing (Acts 20:35).
The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?(27) How much more when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?—Plotting at the same time future wickedness, or thinking to make God, by the sacrifice, overlook his sin, and so become, as it were, his confederate.
A false witness shall perish: but the man that heareth speaketh constantly.(28) But the man that heareth (carefully, and repeats accurately) speaketh constantly (his testimony will live).—Comp., “he being dead yet speaketh,” Hebrews 11:4.
A wicked man hardeneth his face: but as for the upright, he directeth his way.(29) A wicked man hardeneth his face.—Is insensible to rebuke, and will not confess himself in the wrong, but “the upright directeth his way,” as God would have him, or, as the margin implies, “looks well” to it, sees that it is in accordance with His commandments.
There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD.(30) There is no wisdom . . . against the Lord—Comp. 1Corinthians 3:19; Isaiah 54:17; Psalm 2:4.
The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.(31) The horse is prepared against the day of battle.—These had been imported largely from Egypt in Solomon’s time, though this was in direct contravention of the Law (1Kings 4:26, and Deuteronomy 17:16).