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Go to Bible: Proverbs 16
“plans of the heart.” This is one of the Proverbs that is not universally applicable, but is applicable to people who living a godly lifestyle, or it can be considered an “ideal” proverb, setting forth the ideal situation, not the situation that always happens here on earth. There are a number of proverbs like this in Proverbs (cp. Prov. 11:31; 13:25; 15:6; 16:3, 7, 10; 18:3; 20:8; 21:1; 22:6).
The Hebrew word “plans” is maarak (#04633 מַעֲרָךְ), and it refers to an arrangement, plan, preparation. In this context, it conveys placing things in careful order or setting them next to each other for comparison, as we do when making plans. The “plans of the heart” are a person’s internal thoughts and intentions, which are devised according to the person’s will and desires.
The plans “of the heart” that people make eventually come out in what they say (Matt. 12:34; 15:18; Mark 7:14-23; Luke 6:45), but godly people want and intend to say things that are godly and agree with the written Word and God’s heart for mankind. Given that, the “answer of the tongue” they are seeking ultimately comes from God. This Proverb does not imply that a person’s response is outside of the speakers free will as if what the person said was somehow controlled by God; rather it is saying that a proper answer can only be found in the wisdom that God gives. The proverb does not discourage human planning but cautions that a person should not be self-reliant or overly-confident in their own understanding and abilities but plan and speak in a way that reflects the wisdom of God (cp. Prov. 3:5-7). Doing that requires seeking wisdom and making the effort to be godly in thought and action. This proverb invites the willing reader to actively seek God in how he might devise godly plans and how to speak in such a way that those plans are articulated in a loving and godly way so they will eventually come to fruition and be put into action.
“of the heart.” Biblically, the “heart” can refer to the mind, the thinking, of the core of one’s inner life, and much more. Here it means the plans a person forms in his mind or the depths of his mind, or in the core of his inner self. [For more on “heart,” see commentary on Prov. 16:21, “sense”].
“tongue.” The use of “tongue” is the figure of speech synecdoche of the part, putting the part for the whole, where the part, the tongue, is put for the whole, i.e., the whole person. The answer the person gives is from Yahweh because wisdom and godliness are from Yahweh.(top)
“person.” The Hebrew text literally reads, “man,” iysh (#0376 אִישׁ pronounced “eesh”), which most literally refers to a man, a male in contrast to woman, a husband, or a man opposed to an animal or God. However, iysh can also refer more generally to a person or human being, inclusive of both men and women. [For more on the meaning of iysh, see commentary on Proverbs 2:12, “the one”].
“motives.” The Hebrew text reads “spirits,” and this is one of the good examples of when “spirit” can mean thoughts, attitudes, or emotions. The NASB has “motives,” which is certainly one of the meanings, but it is important that the student of the Bible learn about the flexible use of “spirit” and begin to think of it that way, because Yahweh also weighs whether a person has holy spirit or demon spirits that work in him.(top)
“plans.” The Hebrew word is machashabah (#04284 מַחֲשָׁבָה), and it can refer to a person’s thoughts, or what he thinks about, that is “plans.” In this context, it seems “plans” fits best, as also most modern versions say as well.
“will be established.” This is one of the “ideal” verses in the Bible that is often true but not always true. This promise would be fulfilled here on earth today if we lived in a godly world with godly people, but we do not. The Devil is the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19), and there are many evil people, so the plans of godly people are often foiled. This promise will only be fully fulfilled in the future. [For more on promises like this, see commentary on Prov. 19:5].(top)
“Yahweh made everything with an answer to it.” The Hebrew word translated “answer” is ma’aneh (#04617 מַעֲנֶה), and in this context it means “an answer, a response.” Here in Proverbs 16:4, “answer” is continuing the line of thinking that occurred three verses earlier in Proverbs 16:1, which says that ultimately, “answers” come from God. In some contexts, the Hebrew word ma’aneh can mean “purpose,” which is why some translations read “purpose” (cp. HCSB; ESV; NASB), but based on the flow of context from Proverbs 16:1 we do not believe ma’aneh should be translated as “purpose” here in Proverbs 16:4. Also, God’s “answer” does not refer to a response to a question, but rather describes His planned course of action to deal justly with the words and deeds of His created beings.
God designed everything in such a manner that His ultimate plans and purposes for His creation will be fulfilled. Part of God’s plan and purpose was that His created beings were to be righteous and loving to both Him and to each other. However, the only way to do that was to give people, as well as angels and demons, free will so that they could make the choice to either love Him or reject Him. One way that God balanced His own plans and purposes with people’s freewill decisions to obey or disobey Him was that He built both the principle of justice and a Day of Judgment into His plans. Thus, God has indeed designed a proper “answer” for everything in creation, be it good or evil. Bruce Waltke summed up the situation when he wrote, “The LORD brings every word and deed to its appropriate “answer” at the time of Judgment” (Proverbs 15-31. p. 12).
Many theologians and translators are Calvinistic in their thinking, and so while they assert that God creates all things for His own plans and purposes, they do not include genuine free will as part of God’s plans and purposes. Instead, they believe that God makes both good and evil; good people so He can bless them and wicked people so He can destroy them. Furthermore, that belief is then imbedded into many English translations. That is why many English translations say that God made the wicked “for” a day of disaster. But God did not make the wicked for a day of disaster, instead God planned that the wicked would be “answered” for their wickedness by disaster, i.e., people who choose to be wicked will experience disaster as the consequence of their wicked thoughts and actions.
We assert that Proverbs 16:4 is not propounding divine causality. It is not saying that God makes everything on earth—both good and evil—for His purpose, including making evil things just so he can destroy them, as if He was a child who constructs a castle of building-blocks just so he can knock them down. Rather, Proverbs 16:4 fits into the general scope of Scripture in portraying God as a loving, righteous God, who allows people to make their own freewill decisions while stating that He has an answer for whatever choice people make.
So people can love God or hate God, but He has woven into His plans a Day of Judgment when all creation will receive His “answer” for their words and deeds, including an “answer” that will be given to the wicked. Then, after all has been answered on the Day of Judgment, God’s creation in the new heavens and earth (Rev. 21-22) will be righteous and obedient. It is also important to note that the answer each being gets on Judgment Day should not be an unexpected surprise to them because God has stated the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience in His Word. [For more on why Calvinism and predestination are not biblical, see Appendix 8, “On Calvinism and Predestination”].
“a day of evil.” The word we translate “evil” is the common Hebrew word for “evil,” which is ra (#07451 רַע), which means “evil,” but has a range of meanings that also includes calamity, disaster, injury, misfortune, distress, and misery. The phrase “a day of evil” can refer to any day of disaster or calamity. In fact, Proverbs primarily addresses the present life of the reader in the sense that there is a retribution and justice to be expected for wickedness now—even though often no truly righteous retribution seems to occur in this life. But Proverbs 16:4 certainly also has an ultimate reference to the Day of Judgment as the day of disaster, injury, and misery for the wicked.
The Day of Judgment is not “evil,” in the sense that it is bad or wrong. Instead, it is an evil day for the wicked, because God’s judgment will be disastrous for them with much distress and misery. The Lord Jesus said there would be “sobbing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 24:51). In summary, Proverbs 16:4 says that God has made sure that there is a godly answer for everything that people do, and even wicked people, who sometimes seem to get away with doing so much evil on earth, will receive an answer from God.(top)
“be assured, he will not go unpunished.” The Hebrew text uses a custom that would not clearly communicate the meaning of the verse. It more literally reads, “hand to hand he will not go unpunished.” This phrase illustrates the ancient custom of striking hands or shaking hands to seal an agreement (cp. Prov. 11:15, 21). In the USA today a “gentleman’s agreement” is still sealed with just a handshake. The point of the proverb is that even if evil, arrogant people agree to support each other and shake hands on it, they will not avoid being punished. They will suffer the consequences of their actions in this life or the next life, and even perhaps both.(top)
|Pro 16:6||- (top)|
“person’s.” The word “person’s” is iysh (#0376 אִישׁ ), which most literally refers to a man. Nevertheless, it can also be used to refer to men and women, and it makes sense to translate it in a gender-neutral way in this context (see commentary on Prov. 2:12).(top)
“Better is a little.” What is conspicuous about this verse is what it does not say. The world is so upside down that the righteous can live without being blessed by God with abundance, while Yahweh allows the unjust to get and enjoy great revenue. Although Yahweh seems to be absent, we can rest assured He will eventually bring justice and equity to earth.(top)
“but Yahweh prepares his steps.” This proverb is very similar to Proverbs 16:1 in that it is an “ideal proverb,” expressing what happens in the life of a truly godly person. It is not a universal proverb in that it is not what happens in the life of ungodly people who reject God. There are a number of “ideal proverbs” like this in Proverbs (cp. Prov. 11:31; 13:25; 15:6; 16:1, 3, 7, 10; 18:3; 20:8; 21:1; 22:6). The book of Proverbs has many different kinds of proverbs, and some are universal and apply to everyone, while others, such as Proverbs 16:1 and 16:9, are written with the godly, humble, and obedient people in mind, to help them understand what happens in their life.
The godly person “devises” or plans what he will do in life, but he is working to please God and live a godly life, so God is directing and guiding him in what he is planning, which is why Yahweh can “prepare his steps.” Yahweh does not control the person, but the godly person actively seeks the wisdom and guidance of God in living his life, so God is actively preparing the person’s steps.
Yahweh prepares the steps of the godly person in many different ways: for one thing, the godly person makes a diligent effort to think and act in a godly manner; a manner that conforms to God’s Word and His character, such as the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). God also prepares a person’s steps by direct guidance and by bringing wise counselors into the person’s life. Also, God works behind the scenes such that the person who is seeking to be godly learns from examples in the world around him. In the end, the godly person will find that he makes plans concerning the life he desires to live, but he finds as he lives day to day that God has prepared that road for him. [For more on how we plan but God helps us, see commentary on Prov. 16:1].
Although the REV translation says “steps,” the Hebrew is singular, “step.” However, it is a collective noun, so we would say “steps” in English.(top)
One could wonder how this verse got to be a proverb, because kings and rulers are so often wrong. It, like many other verses in the Bible, anticipates the Messiah.(top)
“weights.” The Hebrew is literally “stones.” For most of history, the weights used by merchants for their scales were stones. Metal was too rare or expensive. The merchants most often had a sack of some kind to carry the stones in. Occasionally they would carry them, if their weight and number were small, in the folds of their garment.(top)
“It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness.” The Hebrew preposition before “kings” can be “to” or “for.” This is where the Hebrew is much better than the English. It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, because the throne will never be established. The king will never win the support of the people. This is what happened to Rehoboam, and his kingdom fell apart (1 Kings 12:1-24). However, it is also an abomination to kings when people in the kingdom are wicked, because God will not bless a wicked nation. The verse could have been expanded in English to read, “It is an abomination to, and for, kings to commit wickedness.”(top)
“with integrity.” The Hebrew word can also mean the one who speaks “upright things.”(top)
“person.” The word “person” is iysh (#0376 אִישׁ), which most literally refers to a man, but it can also be used to refer to men and women, and it makes sense to translate it in a gender-neutral way in this context (see commentary on Prov. 2:12, “the one”).
“pacify the anger.” The Hebrew reads, “pacify it,” but then “it” might be ambiguous to some; in Hebrew it can only refer to the anger.(top)
“spring rain.” The “former rain” (sometimes called the “early rain”) is the rain that falls in October and November, after the dry months of May-September and it softens the ground for plowing and planting, and waters the seed as it starts growing. The planting of grains is done in what is autumn and early winter to us (similar to our “winter wheat”). The grains grow slowly over the winter months, and as the ground warms up in March and April the spring rains, or “latter” rains fall (sometimes called the “later” or “late” rains), watering the crops and bringing them into full fruit. The former and latter rains are mentioned in many verses (Deut. 11:14; Job 29:23; Jer. 3:3; Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23; Zech. 10:1). Having the favor of the king is a great blessing, resulting in fruit in one’s life, just as the spring rain, or “latter rain,” brings fruit to the farmer. [For more on the latter rains, see commentary on James 5:7].(top)
|Pro 16:16||- (top)|
“life.” The Hebrew is nephesh (#05315 נֶפֶשׁ), usually translated “soul.” Nephesh, “soul,” has a broad range of meanings, including the person himself and his life, the physical life force of humans and animals, our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions, and more. In this verse, “life,” or “soul” refers to our physical life, but also to our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.
When we carefully guard the road we take, that is, the way of life we live, we are watching over both our physical life and our emotional life, and ensuring our being blessed and successful in this life and also having everlasting life and rewards from God in our next life. There are many pressures and pleasures that tempt us to leave our godly way of life, the godly road we are walking on, and turn aside to sin. But although sin and ungodliness may seem “good,” “joyful” or somehow “profitable” at first, they always have a bitter end, and Proverbs has a lot of verses stating that (for example: Prov. 1:32; 2:18-19, 22; 3:33; 5:4-5, 22; 6:15, 29; 8:36; 10:13-18; 11:5).
There is another reason that guarding our “road” keeps watch over our life. The way we live and the habits we form as we engage in godly activities day after day, keep watch over our “soul,” our physical and mental life. The wise person guards his road, his way of life and the good habits he has formed, because they help keep watch over him. Often in times of personal distress it is the “road” one has carefully guarded and the habits one has carefully developed that almost take over and help safeguard one’s life and keep it from spinning out of control.
The wise person jealously guards his godly way of life because he knows it leads to God’s blessings and helps him stay godly in difficult times. [For more on the uses of “soul” nephesh, see Appendix 7, “Usages of Soul”].(top)
“spirit.” This is a good example of the word “spirit” referring to a person’s attitude.
“stumbling.” The Hebrew literally reads, “stumbling,” but this is an example of the figure of speech tapeinosis, or “belittling,” where something is purposely made lesser in impact to catch our attention. The person does not just “stumble,” there is a calamity, a disaster, but the word “stumbling” grabs our attention and forces us to say, “Is that all?” Then we realize the true impact of the verse: a puffed-up spirit, an arrogant attitude, goes before disaster.
“poor.” Many times in the Bible, the word “poor” means “humble,” but the second stanza of the verse shows that in this case it means to not have much in the way of money or material things.(top)
A humble truth-seeker will pay attention to and comprehend the words (Hebrew reads “a word”) of the prophets and sages, and thus be led to the God who inspired those words. He will then come to trust God, and be blessed. The first stanza of this proverb can also, but less likely, be translated, “He who is prudent in speech finds good.” However, the more natural parallel between the first stanza and the second places “comprehends” parallel with “trusts.”(top)
“with a wise heart.” The Hebrew is literally, “wise of heart.”(top)
“but the teaching of fools is foolishness.” The Hebrew word for “fools” here is evil (#0191 אֱוִיל). The term evil generally refers to a person who is foolish because they are unreasonable and stuck in foolishness, as Proverbs 27:22 (NASB) indicate: “Though you pound a fool [evil] in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, Yet his folly will not depart from him.
To best understand Proverbs, it is important to know that there are five different Hebrew words that are translated “fool” in different English versions, yet there are some distinct differences between them and it is usually worth differentiating them. There is the naïve person [pethe #06612 פְּתִי], which is often translated as “simple,” “naïve,” or “inexperienced.” There is the evil, and the kecil [#03684 כְּסִיל], and these have so much in common that most scholars simply treat them as synonyms (although one teacher has distinguished them as the “unreasonable fool” and the “stubborn fool,” cp. Kingdom Zoology by Joel Freeman). There is the lutz [#03887 לוּץ], the mocking fool, or more simply, “mocker,” and there is the nabal [#05036) נָבָל], the “godless fool” or sometimes the “committed fool.” It is the nabal who says in his heart there is no God (Ps. 14:1), and so we have generally translated it “godless person” in the REV version. Here in Proverbs 16:22, the subject is the evil, the unreasonable or stubborn fool.
One can tell from reading the wide variety of ways that Proverbs 16:22 has been translated that scholars are not in agreement as to the primary meaning of the verse. Many scholars believe that the sense of the stanza is that it is foolishness to try to instruct a fool, because he or she has no desire to learn. That certainly seems to be supported by many verses that use the term evil for “fool” (cp. Ps. 107:17; Prov. 1:7; 12:15; 14:3, 9; 15:5; 20:3; 24:7; 27:22; 29:9; Isa. 35:8; Hos. 9:7).
Another interpretation is that the verse is saying that instruction that comes to a fool does so through his own folly. That interpretation agrees with our common modern saying, “A person learns from his mistakes.” Although that may be true of the simple or naïve fool, the pethi, that does not seem to be the case with the unreasonable fools, the fools designated by the term evil.
Other scholars believe that the verse is saying that when fools instruct or discipline others, what they teach is foolishness. That is certainly true, and we see that in our schools and colleges today. For example, many atheist teachers teach that God does not exist, which is certainly foolish teaching. However, the scholars who argue against that interpretation of this verse say that when the context is fools, the Hebrew word “instruction,” (or “discipline” #04148, muwcar) always refers to the instruction that is given to them, not the instruction they give to others (Prov. 1:7; 15:5). But that argument is not as watertight as it may seem, because there are only two examples and the context of both is very clear, not like Proverbs 16:22 which can mean a couple different things. Also, it is sometimes the case in Proverbs, as in the rest of the Bible, that a word or phrase will have a different meaning in one verse than it does elsewhere, and therefore the context, scope, and applicability are more important final determiners of meaning than the other uses of a word.
Actually, there is no reason to limit the meaning of this verse to just one interpretation. We believe that this verse is an amphibologia, that is, a single statement that has more than one true meaning. We believe this verse is one of the riddles of the wise (Prov. 1:6). It seems that the thought of the whole verse is that a person who has good judgment (which in Proverbs comes from God) has a source of guidance and strength that brings to him “life” in all its fullness, while fools do not have good judgment, so they pour out folly as “instruction.” Furthermore, trying to teach them good judgment doesn’t work because they have no heart to learn; in fact, they don’t even learn from their own mistakes—they just go on having poor judgment.
Part of the failure of our educational system today is failure to acknowledge the different kinds of fools in the world and admit that some people are unreasonable, stubborn, or godless fools who simply refuse to learn. Those people are allowed to stay in class and disrupt learning for everyone else instead of being disciplined in some effective way that stops them from keeping the other students from learning.(top)
|Pro 16:23||- (top)|
“Pleasant words” (ōmer nō’am) literally means “delightful speech,” which refers to words that are favorable, agreeable, and kind. Such “pleasant words” are said to be a “honeycomb.” The Hebrew words translated “honeycomb” (tsūp debash) more literally mean simply “liquid honey.” They refer to honey in it’s raw, natural form with its delicious palatable taste and medicinal value. This metaphor draws a vivid image of words or speech that are agreeable and satisfying to the hearer. However, the idea of “pleasant words” is not to be taken in the sense of someone performing lip-service to feed someone’s ego or to flatter them, but rather it refers to words that bring nourishment and soothing to the individual.
The exact nature of the words is not specified but their effects are described as being “sweet to the soul” and “healing to the bones.” This double predicate indicates two distinct effects that “pleasant words” have upon the hearer. “Soul” (nephesh) refers to the person’s mind, emotions, and life. “Bones” is put as a synecdoche of the part (the part put for the whole) for either the person’s innermost being or their whole being. Thus, the effect of “pleasant words” is that they are like the drippings of the honeycomb, enlivening the soul and uplifting the entire person.
This proverb might bring to mind the record in 1 Samuel 14:27 when Jonathan dipped his staff into the honeycomb and tasted the sweetness of the honey. At once he became refreshed and it says “his eyes brightened,” meaning he was invigorated with a renewed energy. It is this sort of effect that the proverb is describing that “pleasant words” deliver to those who hear them.
“healing to the bones.” The Bible has a lot to say about how what we hear and what we think affects our body and can heal it. See commentary on Proverbs 17:22.(top)
“There is a road.” This proverb is identical to Proverbs 14:12. For more information, see commentary on Proverbs 14:12.(top)
“appetite.” The Hebrew word is nephesh (#05315 נָ֫פֶשׁ), which has many meanings. The basic meaning is soul, the life of the person or animal. It is used as “soul,” or “person,” or the products of the soul such as appetites, emotions, passions, or desires. A good Hebrew lexicon will give a full meaning of nephesh. [For more on “soul”, see Appendix 6, “Usages of Soul”.]
“labors…urges.” The Hebrew has both of these verbs in the past tense. The idea is that the appetite has, and continues to, urge people on to work.
“mouth.” The word “mouth” here is a metonymy for “hunger,” but “mouth” makes the point very graphically.(top)
“A man of Belial.” The Hebrew for “Belial” is beliya`al (#01100 בְּלִיַּ֫עַל), and for an explanation, see commentary on 1 Samuel 2:12.
“digs up evil.” The Hebrew reads “digs evil,” but we would say, “digs up evil.” Some have suggested that this refers to digging a pit for others to fall into, but that meaning does not fit the second stanza of the verse well. Although people of Belial certainly dig traps to catch people, the idea of the verse more clearly seems to be that those wicked people “dig up” stuff on people, using “dig” for “search for” as in Job 3:21, and then they spread it around and their words burn and destroy like fire.(top)
|Pro 16:28||- (top)|
|Pro 16:29||- (top)|
“The one who winks his eyes devises perversions; the one who purses his lips brings evil to pass.” This is a common understanding of what this Proverb is saying, and it refers to evil people who signal to others in ways that are not obvious, and the silent communication helps them bring evil to pass. We feel that this is most likely what the verse is saying, because evil people have always used silent signals to communicate to others. Although righteous people sometimes use silent signals, righteous people can generally say what they need to say openly; there is no need for secrecy. In contrast, evil people need to keep their motives and actions hidden and so they need the silent signals.
However, the meaning of the text is not obvious, because the word translated “winks” means “to shut,” and the word translated “purses” means to squeeze or pinch the lips as well as to purse them as if making a silent kiss. Thus, some scholars prefer a translation that is like, “He closes his eyes to plot evil; he bites his lips to bring evil to pass.” That translation would reflect the determination of the evil person, who closes his eyes to focus on his evil plan and bites his lip in determination to bring it to pass.(top)
|Pro 16:31||- (top)|
“slow to get angry.” The Hebrew is more literally, “long of nose.” This idiom also occurs in Proverbs 14:29 (see commentary on Prov. 14:29). The opposite, a person who is quick to anger is said to be “short of nose,” and that idiom occurs in Proverbs 14:17.(top)
“lap.” The “lap” actually refers to the fold, or “pocket” made in the garment that is about where the lap is. People wore long outer garments and tied them up by a belt or sash, and it was common to tie the garment in such a way that it had a pocket where different things, for example money, could be put. The “lot” was usually actually at least a couple, and sometimes more, stones or items that were different but felt the same to the hand. In making decisions, the stones would be “cast” (or placed) into the pocket and then one drawn out that would make the decision. The High Priest set a great example for this, because he had the Urim and Thummim inside a pocket in his breastplate that were used in making decisions (cp. Exod. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65).
To understand this Proverb correctly, we must understand that it is written from the greater perspective of Proverbs, which is that the one casting the lot is a righteous person with good intent, so God can help with making the decision. This verse is not a “stand alone,” apart from the scope of Proverbs; it is not saying that any chance throw of the dice is God’s decision. The way a lot, or dice, or other forms of divination work, the result can be by chance, from God, or influenced by Satan and demons.
We see Satan involved in divination all the time; in fact, many ungodly forms of decision-making, including casting lots for ungodly purposes, were influenced by invisible demonic forces. The ancients believed that invisible spiritual powers guided the “lot” or other means of divination, and they were certainly correct in that. Thus, what looked like chance was actually controlled by spirits, or God. In fact, witches and people involved with the occult have used divination for millennia because it is a good way that Satan can be involved in decision-making without having to come out into the open. So, for example, the wicked Haman cast lots to pick a date to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:7).(top)