Proverbs 16

The human proverb, “Man proposes, but God disposes,” finds its far earlier counterpart in Proverbs 16:1.


“It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). He may plan and arrange, but when the time arrives to speak or act the answer comes from Jehovah. See Balaam (Numbers 23-24).


Ever since the fall it has been second nature with man to justify himself. Until brought into the light of God’s holiness he is certain that his conduct is defensible. His ways are clean in his own eyes, but he is not to be trusted to judge himself rightly for the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Jehovah weighs the spirits. His balances are exact. His judgment is unerring; it is He who solemnly declares, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).

Only by allowing God to be the judge of his sin can a man receive the salvation provided through the finished work of the Son of God on Calvary’s cross. Otherwise condemnation can be his only portion. See Belshazzar (Daniel 5:25-30).


The word commit might be rendered “roll.” He who rolls his affairs over on the Lord will find Him ever ready to take charge of them all and to carry them on to a proper completion. But it must be remembered that if I thus commit all to Him, I no longer choose for myself what the outcome should be, but say with confidence, “Thy will be done.” God would have every desire whispered in His ear, and then left in faith that He may act according to His love and unerring wisdom. See Hannah (1 Samuel 1:9-20).


All things will result at last in the glory of God. Earth’s long tale of sin and sorrow will eventually result in magnifying His love and His holiness. Those saved by His grace will praise Him forever; but the wicked will also acknowledge His justice in the day of their condemnation. He detests pride; all who walk pridefully will be broken before Him, try as they may to resist His power. They will be declared guilty when He sits on the throne of judgment. How much better to bow in repentance now, while He is on a throne of grace! See His word regarding the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 7; 2 Peter 2:6).


Wrongdoing between men is best reconciled by lovingkindness and truth. This proverb is not referring to the atonement of our sins before God. No amount of kindly deeds and truthful words can purge the conscience of guilt and give acceptance with Him. But by showing repentance and making amends to someone who has been sinned against we will go far towards clearing his mind of the past evil. It is the fear of Jehovah that leads to departure from what is unholy and contrary to sound doctrine. This fear of God will lead one to endeavor to have a conscience void of offense both towards God and men. See the apostle Paul (Acts 24:16).


The truth of this proverb is a far-reaching statement, which is not pondered often enough. It allows no exceptions. If a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, his enemies will be unable to say one word against his character. They may hate him, but they are compelled to admit that God is with him.

If therefore my enemies are not at peace with me, I should ask myself, Do my ways really please God? Doubtless I soon will be reminded of something needing to be judged in His presence.

The one who goes on quietly “through evil report and good report,” will close the mouths of his enemies. He wastes no time in self-vindication, but is concerned only with pleasing God and committing all to Him who judges righteously. A holy, humble walk will silence even his worst foes. See Daniel (Daniel 6:4-5).


Integrity of heart is better than thousands in silver and gold. How poor is the man who piles up his millions, but sacrifices his conscience to do it! A simple living, with the mind and heart at rest, and a walk in accordance with righteous principles is infinitely to be preferred to a large income coupled with covetousness and unholy practices. See Naboth and Ahab (1 Kings 21).


Compare this verse with Proverbs 16:1. People frequently think they are having their own way, when in reality the Lord is leading them through strange paths for their discipline and blessing. See Naomi (Ruth 1:21).


These verses bring to our minds the ideal king. Occasionally earthly monarchs have been raised up who hated iniquity and loved righteousness. But this world still groans for the coming and reign of the true King, who will judge the nations with justice, and in whose mouth the vile person will be despised.

It is God’s Anointed alone whose throne will be established by righteousness and to whom lawlessness of every kind is an abomination. In His lips there is a sure decision, for His mouth does not break the laws of sound judgment. Christ is the grand pattern for all human rulers. To the degree that they imitate Him, they properly maintain the kingly glory.

Whatever is right and true among men is from God. All indecency and dishonest trickery are detestable in His eyes. So we have the weights and balances introduced in the middle of this section relating to kingly dignity. For the same integrity that directs the decision of the upright king also influences the measures used by the poorest of his subjects.

The king delights in lips of truth and loves sound speech. His anger is as a death-sentence, but wisdom will pacify it. In his favor is life and refreshment. If life is in the light of an earthly king’s countenance, how much more life is in the light of the King of kings—”In thy presence is fulness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). See David (2 Samuel 3:36).


Compare with notes on Proverbs 2:1-9. The man of wisdom and understanding has his fortune made for both worlds (see Daniel 5:11). It is easy to be deceived by a counterfeit wisdom that does not come from above, but is earthly, sensual, and devilish. That wisdom which does not begin with the fear of the Lord is Satan’s counterfeit. Arrogant, worldly people may boast that they have all knowledge but they do not know to depart from evil. They follow the highway of iniquity.


Pride was an archangel’s ruin, as it has been the destruction of untold myriads of men and women on earth. It is the sure precursor of a fall; the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity cannot permit His creature’s self-exaltation to go unchecked. It is far better to be little in one’s own eyes and to find happy fellowship with the humble, than to share the pursuits and treasures of the proud in spirit.

It is when one sees pride in another that its hideousness is clearly revealed. How often we will complacently tolerate in ourselves what fills us with disgust when we see it in someone else. But God notices the least beginning of unjudged haughtiness in each heart. What mind can conceive how hateful it must all be to Him! May we see to it that this deadly sin is examined in His presence, before it leads us to our lasting sorrow! See Haman (Esther 5-7).


These five verses form a series of epigrams on the value of applying wisdom to the various affairs of life. To proceed wisely in a case presenting difficult obstacles assures a good result. This is true of those who confide in Jehovah and find their happiness in obeying Him.

When wisdom rules our innermost being our behavior will be discreet. Kindly lips will demonstrate a humble heart and willingness to be instructed. This is true understanding and like a spring of living water it flows forth to bless others. The opposite is true of fools. Their folly is evident to any person of discernment.

The condition of the heart is of prime importance. If all is right there, the words of the lips will also be upright. The profitable and pleasant counsel of the wise will replace the speculative boastings of worldly wisdom. Note the characteristics of true wisdom as described in James 3:17, and see the confession of the queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:6-9).


This verse repeats the statement of Proverbs 14:12. It emphasizes the danger of refusing the path of wisdom for self-chosen ways that only end in death. See note on that verse.


The laborer pursues his occupation because of his desire to be satisfied with the fruits of his toil. His appetite craves gratification and so he presses on in his service. This is as God ordained when the fall shut man out of the garden, and he was commanded to eat his bread in the sweat of his face. Wealth gotten without labor is generally a very dangerous acquisition. He who knows the weariness of honest toil will be careful how he uses the results of his labor. Ponder the cases of Ruth (Ruth 2), and of Gideon (Judges 6:11-12).


See notes on Proverbs 11:13 and 17:9. Everyone addicted to the sinfully cruel habit of gossiping should ponder these words carefully. It is an ungodly man who digs up evil and whose lips seem to be set on fire of Hell. Such a one goes about scattering the seeds of strife as one might sow thistledown, or the pods of other noxious weeds, to result in a harvest of grief and anguish to many a soul.

There is no question that whispering and backbiting is one of the greatest curses among Christians. This detestable vice alienates the dearest friends and creates misunderstandings of all kinds. Many are defiled by repeating tales which a godly person would seek to cover and never repeat. See what mischief was brought about by the talebearing of Doeg the Edomite, and see that you follow not in the steps of so unsavory a wretch (1 Samuel 22:9-19).


Many an otherwise kindly and gracious soul has been misled by the energy and apparent earnestness of a violent man. His eyes were blinded and he was led on to join that violent man in things that were quite opposed to his own more mature judgment. Fair speech coupled with a magnetic personality have often led one into a way that was not good. It is wise not to be too easily persuaded. Before making a decision, take time to ascertain the mind of God, so you will not be a partaker of other men’s sins. Neglect of this led Jehoshaphat, a most amiable man, into many a snare (2 Chronicles 18:1; 20:35-37).


Probably the last line of this proverb should read simply, “It shall be found in the way of righteousness.” The verse does not say the hoary head will never be found in the paths of wickedness; alas, often white hairs crown the sinner’s head. But it is characteristic of the way of righteousness and when found there, it is indeed a diadem of honor. Riotous living in youth generally means feebleness in middle age and premature death. Temperance and righteousness tend to strengthen body and lengthen life. Hear the testimony of Caleb, who wholly followed the Lord (Joshua 14:11); and note what is written of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:7).


Self-mastery is the greatest of all victories. Men have subdued kingdoms but were defeated in the effort to control themselves. A bad temper is often excused on the ground of genetic make-up, but it is rather the evidence of unjudged pride and impatience. “Learn of me,” said Jesus, “for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). The meek man is not a spiritless man, but he is slow to anger. He can be righteously stirred when occasion requires, but not when it is his own dignity that is in question. “Add…to [self-control] patience” (2 Peter 1:6) is a verse for us all. It is generally a sign of weakness when one allows himself to become angry and excited in the face of opposition. Note Nehemiah’s calmness of spirit and dependence on God when meeting the irritating sneers and downright opposition of the enemies of Jerusalem.


In this world it may seem that chance rules the lives of men (Ecclesiastes 9:11). But a supreme intelligence controls all things, even when He is unseen and unrecognized.

The men of ancient times frequently resorted to casting lots to determine troubling questions. It was used to divide Canaan among the tribes (Numbers 26:55-56) and was used on many occasions to detect guilty persons (for example, Jonah 1:7). The last mention of the use of lots in Scripture is in connection with the election of Matthias to the vacant apostleship left by Judas (Acts 1:15-26). It would seem that since the days of the patriarchs God had given judgment through lots, and so the company of the twelve used this method to keep their number complete. Paul evidently was never numbered with them. He was the messenger of the glory of Christ to the nations, while the twelve were connected primarily with testimony to the Jewish nation.

For instances of God’s giving judgment by the lot, see the cases of the two goats (Leviticus 16:8); Achan (Joshua 7:16-18); and Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:41). In the book of Esther we find the lot (called Pur) used by Haman to determine a day for the destruction of the Jews (Esther 3:7 and 9:24-25).