Proverbs 21

The prophet Daniel tried to influence the conscience of the impious Belshazzar on the last night of his reign at Babylon. He endeavored to impress the Chaldean king with his duty to acknowledge “the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways” (Daniel 5:23); but he would not be humbled.


This proverb presents the same truth of the sovereignty of God in a slightly different way. (See 20:24.) There is no monarch so great that he can act in independence of God. Whether he admits it or not, Jehovah is controlling him as He controls the flow of the streams. He who “hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm” (Nahum 1:3) can make the wrath of man to praise Him. As already noted, (Proverbs 11:8) the book of Esther is the fitting illustration of the truth of this proverb (Esther 6:1-10). Jehovah’s word to Cyrus, written long before that ruler was born, is another striking case in point (Isaiah 45:1-7).


See Proverbs 20:6. Self-righteousness is perhaps the most human of all sins. Men will excuse and explain away in themselves what would be severely judged in others. The Lord beholds the heart and takes notice of the pride gnawing like a worm at the root. He who is commended by God, not he who commends himself, is approved. See Paul’s example (1 Corinthians 4:4).


It was a common thing for men to forget that sacrifices and offerings were not pleasing to the Lord when uprightness was lacking. He always placed righteousness and equity above ceremonial observances, as He does today. While He was on earth the Lord with-eringly rebuked the Pharisees for their attention to ritualistic details while forgetting justice and integrity. “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13) was His word. Isaiah expressed the same truth of the supreme importance of the execution of righteousness; he contrasted the ceremonial fasts with what really delighted Jehovah (Isaiah 58:5-14). See Samuel’s word to Saul (1 Samuel 15:22).


As long as man persists in rebellion against God, he can do nothing that will be acceptable in His sight. Lofty eyes and a proud heart are obviously sinful. But even what might otherwise be considered meritorious is sin while man refuses to bow in repentance before Him.

When a country rebels against its lawful ruler, the inhabitants may carry on many useful occupations and labor diligently in them; but all are tainted with sedition and cannot be considered profitable or right. When they lay their weapons at the feet of the king and acknowledge his authority, these same occupations become pleasing and proper in his sight. So it is with man away from God and with those who turn to Him in contrition of heart. See the Holy Spirit’s estimate of Israel while God’s Anointed is rejected (Romans 10:1-4).


Riches accumulated by means of honest, wholesome toil give pleasure and a measure of satisfaction to their possessor. But the hasty gathering of wealth by lying and deceit, often coupled with downright robbery, will bring sorrow and shame with it. One may possess boundless stores of gold and silver and yet be as needy as the Arab lost in the desert. When almost dead for want of food, he found a package in the track of a caravan. He opened it with trembling eagerness, hoping it might be dates. He dropped it in dire disappointment as he groaned, “It’s only pearls!” Those pearls were worth thousands of dollars, but they could not feed a starving man. So with wealth illegally gotten. It cannot satisfy. He who possesses it will be in deepest and most abject poverty after all. Life will be a weary round of frustration and disappointment, and he will be left to groan at last, “All is vanity, and pursuit of the wind.” See Ecclesiastes 5:10-17.


The ways of a guilty man are like the trail of the serpent. It is invariably a sign that something is radically wrong in his heart when a person’s path is crooked, and he has to be continually excusing and explaining. He who walks with God will be above reproach, for he will avoid every form of evil. The work of the pure is right. His life is like an open book, which explains itself and silences his enemies. Daniel was of this character; when the presidents and princes sought to find fault with him, “they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him” (Daniel 6:4). Ahab’s history is a solemn illustration of the crooked ways of a guilty man (1 Kings 16-22).


See note on Proverbs 19:13. Happy will be the family where relationships follow the lovely order of God’s Word. If the husband treats the wife kindly, and the wife is adorned by a meek and quiet spirit, the children are likely to be in godly subjection; the home will be a sweet foretaste of that eternal one for which we wait. But where a brawling woman seeks to rule and will not be content unless she has things her own way, the home is most unpleasant. A quiet corner on the housetop is better far than to dwell in a palatial residence with such company. Both Job and David found it so at times (Job 2:9-10; 2 Samuel 6:20-23). See verse 19 of this chapter of Proverbs.


We generally find what we look for in others. The man who seeks goodness and virtue in his neighbor is almost certain to find something worthy of praise; but he who goes about looking for evil can readily find something in most people which he can gloat over. No one finds favor in the eyes of this critical person, even though he has to admit their superiority to himself. Sanballat was that kind of man (Nehemiah 6:5-9).


When one who mocks the truth is permitted to go unrebuked, it strengthens his position in the eyes of the ignorant. For this reason, we are told, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20). Most likely they will resent the correction, but this only emphasizes their need of it. A wise man, on the other hand, profits by instruction and receives knowledge. See the result of Paul’s rebuke to Ely mas the sorcerer, as contrasted with his rebuking of Peter and Barnabas (Acts 13:8-12; Galatians 2:11-16).


This verse refers to the final triumph of the righteous over the wicked. The just man will not be overly depressed and anxious when he sees the present prosperity of the wicked. He knows their joys are empty and their days of boasting few at best. Soon they will fall, for God has so ordained it. The verse might be easier understood by a Jew than a Christian, but in either case it remains true. Iniquity cannot flourish long. The just will overthrow the house of those given to evil. Even a Jehu can therefore be an instrument in God’s hand (2 Kings 9).


In Proverbs 19:17 we had a positive statement regarding the Lord’s assurance that he who comforts the poor will be richly repaid. The negative is equally true. He who does not heed the bitter cry of the needy will in due time cry himself and be unheard. The destitute and afflicted have a faithful Friend in the God who created them. His concern is very real, and He takes note of all done for or against them. This is especially true when they are of the household of faith. See the premillennial judgment of the nations of the earth, as pictured by our Lord Himself in Matthew 25:31-46.


Nothing so readily defeats hatred and anger as doing good to one who harbors malice. It must be done quietly and unpretentiously, so that others are not made aware of it. For there is danger that well-meant kindness, done openly in the sight of all, may be mistaken for hypocrisy, designed to deceive onlookers. But what passes between two parties in private will not be misunderstood, if it is not mentioned afterwards. This is how Jacob sought to turn aside the assumed wrath of Joseph (Genesis 43:11-14).


When a man is himself righteous, he delights in righteousness; whereas, to the immoral man moral virtue seems to be the certain road to ruin. For example, a businessman who in his public and private life shows integrity would find it painful and sorrowful to depart from principles of honesty. But with too many it is accepted as an axiom that one cannot prosper in business while maintaining the right. To attempt to do so seems to them to foreshadow certain and speedy failure. The young man launching out in life is very apt to be deceived by this unholy and utterly false idea; whereas the experience of many has confirmed the testimony of Scripture that the only true and lasting success results from righteous dealing.

He who wanders away from the paths of sound wisdom will remain in the congregation of the dead. “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Timothy 5:6). True abundant life is only enjoyed by the upright who set the Lord always before them. Contrast Judas (Acts 1:18).


The spendthrift and the self-indulgent are not on the path to future wealth and comfort. The frugal and self-denying, by their carefulness today, pave the way to easier circumstances in the future. The young man who spends his time in folly, seeking dubious pleasures with unwise companions, is laying up misery and want for his later life. He who pampers his appetite with costly delicacies in youth, will likely have to eat more common fare in old age. While those who were wise enough to forego present, destructive indulgences will be in a position later on to enjoy the comforts they have accumulated through labor and carefulness. The intemperate lover of folly and pleasure is likely soon to reach the depths to which the prodigal sank (Luke 15).


This proverbs states a principle of intrinsic justice. But when grace was revealed through Christ Jesus, the righteous, upright One became a ransom for the wicked and the treacherous! Justice demands the punishment of the guilty, in order that the guiltless may be delivered; but love gave the guiltless One to die that the guilty might be justified. An illustration of the proverb is seen in the siege and deliverance of Abel of Beth-maachah (2 Samuel 20:14-22).


See Proverbs 21:9. No creature is more lovely than a woman who exhibits the precious graces of the Spirit of God. But a woman bereft of thoughtfulness and kindliness seems almost to be a misnomer. A contentious and angry woman, no matter how physically attractive, is disagreeable beyond all words, and can by her tongue and her wretched ways produce untold misery. It is preferable to live in a tent in a wilderness alone than in a palace with her company. Athaliah was evidently a contentious woman. Violent and treacherous, she would stop at nothing to accomplish her unholy ends (2 Kings 11). See Proverbs 27:15-16.


See verse 17 of this chapter. The wise man does not live for the present; but he prudently considers the coming years when strength will fail, and he will be unable to labor as in his youth and prime. Therefore when his days of rest from toil come, he has provisions stored away for the sustenance of those who still depend on him. The foolish thinks only of the passing moment and spends his time and money lavishly, until he finally has nothing. Consider Paul’s word as to parents providing for their children (2 Corinthians 12:14).


A steady pursuit of righteousness and lovingkindness is the sure road to what all men desire—life and honor. They are linked together by uprightness. The empty glory of this world and the praise of worldly people are worth little after all. But to be honored by God, and by those who love Him, abides forever. God delights to bless those who honor His Word and yield obedience to His truth. For the truth was not given to be a source of intellectual enjoyment alone, though it is that; but truth is to be demonstrated in the life, as it was fully in our Lord Jesus Christ. A moral, loving life commends the truth to those who might be driven from it by the harshness of some of its followers. When grace and truth together control the being, life, righteousness, and honor will be the happy result. See Asa, king of Judah, and note how he prospered as he sought what was pleasing to God. His recorded errors emphasize the defeat he suffered when he left the path of righteousness (2 Chronicles 14-16).


Brute force and heavy fortifications are of little help against superior wisdom. It is not might alone that counts, but knowledge and ability. Seemingly impregnable positions have often fallen by the use of wise strategy. Jebus and Babylon were supposedly invulnerable to every assault, but both fell before men of insightful wisdom (1 Chronicles 11:4-6; Jeremiah 51:27-33). The lesson is important when we are called to fight against spiritual foes. We need the wisdom that comes from God and His Word to overcome the powers of evil. See Ephesians 6:10-18.


Again our attention is focused on the control of the tongue. Unwise words, however true they may sometimes be, are often the cause of serious trouble and disaster. To diligently guard the mouth and the tongue is to avoid many a grief and bitter memory. See James 3:2-12 and compare the notes on Pro verbs 11:13; 15:1; 17:20 and 18:6-8.


An arrogant, self-willed spirit is displayed by unbridled words and uncontrolled anger. A humble man is a gentle man; he will not be given to outbursts of wrath or indignation. Of course the man in this verse is to be distinguished from one who on extreme occasions loses control of his temper and utters hasty words under strong provocation. Such a man may afterwards be plunged in deepest sorrow and humiliation over his sin; but it is otherwise with the proud and haughty scorner. He has no remorse because of his wrong spirit, but persists in a course of action that is in every way contrary to meekness and patience; he forgets that the wrath of man does not promote the righteousness of God. See Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5-7).


Like a drone in the hive, the lazy man covets the fruits of labor but detests the work which produces them. He is occupied with himself, full of desire, but opposed to effort. Selfishness is his strongest characteristic. On the other hand, the righteous man is a producer. He loves to acquire, but only in order that he may “provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17). He desires to satisfy the needs of those dependent on him and have plenty to give to any who are in need. In this he is an imitator of God who “giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5). Contrast the spirit manifested by Achan (Joshua 7:21) and that of the Philippian assembly (2 Corinthians 8:2). See notes on Proverbs 12:27; 13:4; 19:24; 20:4.


See notes on 15:8-9, 26 and 21:4. The sacrifice of the lawless is always detestable and unacceptable in the eyes of God; this is especially true when the offering is just a cover for hypocrisy . To carry on so-called religious duties to be seen of men while hiding a life of wickedness is iniquity of the most revolting character. This lack of sincerity caused our Lord to sternly rebuke the scribes and Pharisees of His day. They were punctilious in observing the law and the added directions of the Talmud in regard to the temple offerings; they made broad their phylacteries (Matthew 23:5); they loved to pray standing on the street corners to be seen of men; but meantime they profited at the expense of poor widows and were characterized by covetousness and wickedness of the vilest description. Their moral descendants are many in our own day. They can put on a devout expression, use pious words, and ostentatiously give of their wealth to public charities; but their inner lives are black and iniquitous. For a time they may cover their true condition from the eyes of men, but in God’s sight their sacrifice is abominable.


The false witness may be believed for a moment but his destruction is certain to come. He who testifies truthfully according to what he has heard and knows will be able to maintain his position consistently and speak unchallenged. Such was the good confession of our Lord Jesus Christ when he testified before Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. Whereas the testimonies of the lying witnesses did not even agree with one another (Matthew 26:59-64 ; 27:11-14).

He who has no respect for human or divine law will harden his face and persist in his false words and ways; but the upright proves his purpose by his consistent speech and actions.


The trusting soul rests on the fact that the counsel of the Lord will never be defeated. Therefore he fears not the wisdom or understanding or the plots of his foes. What can man do to harm the one who is covered by the wings of Jehovah? “Though an host should encamp against me,” said David, “my heart shall not fear” (Psalm 27:3).

Numbers or superior accouterments will not ensure victory; we trust the God of our salvation as He goes before us. This was the confidence of Asa when confronted by the vast army of Zerah the Ethiopian at the battle of Mareshah. “Asa cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O Lord, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee” (2 Chronicles 14:11). This is delightful to contemplate. With Asa it was not a question of the relative strength and prowess of the hordes of Africans and the army of Judah; but it was simply a question of the power of God and the puny ability of weak, mortal men. “Let not man prevail against thee” was his plea.

In the Hebrew language there are various words that are translated in English as “man.”. The ordinary term that links man with Adam is Ahdahm, a word derived from a root meaning “red clay.” Geber refers to man in his might, and is derived from a root meaning “to be strong.” Ish depicts man in his dignity. However Asa chose a word that emphasized man’s lack of importance and strength: Enosh, signifying frail and incurable. It pictures man in his low estate as fallen and mortal.

To Asa, the great Ethiopian host seemed insignificant. All the strength of this world was nothing in contrast to the mighty power of the God who was leading the army of Judah and Benjamin. The result was certain: “The Lord smote the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah; and the Ethiopians fled…for they were destroyed before the Lord, and before his host; and they carried away very much spoil” (2 Chronicles 14:12-13).

May each saint cast himself upon the same omnipotent Savior-God in every time of apparently overwhelming trouble; thus he will prove for himself that “safety is of the Lord.”