“to a person.” The Hebrew text literally reads, “to a man’s face.” People in the biblical era paid close attention to the expression on a person’s face, and gleaned a lot of information from it. A person who thought the road he was traveling was upright would have a peaceful, contented, even joyful face; a face that reflected how he thought about his life. Also, however, “to the man’s face” can refer to being in front of, or “before” someone. So the proverb could be, “There is a road before a person that seems upright.” In any case, to say “seems upright to a man’s face” would not make sense in English because we do not well understand the custom and idiom involved, so it is clearer to say, “to a man,” which captures the essence of the verse.
“roads leading to death.” This verse is identical to Proverbs 16:25, and the fact that the verse is repeated twice shows that it is a very important warning. The Hebrew text reads, “the way of death” (or, “the road of death”). The NET text note correctly points out that this phrase is a genitive of destiny, and it refers to the “way,” or “road” (the Hebrew for “road” and “way” are the same) that leads to death. This verse is a stern warning to people who trust their own heart and ignore the clearly stated Word of God. The Devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and so he works aggressively to get people to trust themselves and not seek wise counsel from others or guidance from the Word of God. It is a common modern mantra to “trust your heart,” but the Bible says that the heart is deceitful and beyond cure (Jer. 17:9). There are times when we have to trust our instincts, our “gut feelings,” and our heart, because there is no clear guidance on something, but any time we can we should seek wise counsel and the wisdom of the Word.
The verse is progressive, and shows that people have time to repent and change their ways if they are wise. A person starts out doing that which seems right to him even if it is sin in the eyes of God. But continuing to walk through life without checking one’s path with the Word of God and getting wise counsel leads to being on a road that ends in death on the Day of Judgment. Proverbs 21:2 shows us that although we may do that which seems right to us, it is God who decides what is right and what is wrong (see commentary on Prov. 21:2).