Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament


Prov. 16:1

Verse 1
The plans of the heart belong to man; But the answer of the tongue is from Jehovah.

"A man may think what he will say, but at the moment the word comes to him from the Eternal."F1 "People make their plans, but it is the Lord who makes those things happen."F2 "This proverb is identical in meaning with Prov. 16:9, and with our saying that, `man proposes; God disposes.'"F3

Verse 2
All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; But Jehovah weigheth the spirits.

Toy's paraphrase of this is: "Although a man's actions may seem right to him, ignorant and prejudiced though he is, yet the final judgment on his deeds comes from God."F4 This corresponds with Paul's declaration that, "I know nothing against myself; yet I am not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:4).

Verse 3
Commit thy works unto Jehovah, And thy purposes shall be established.

"I consider that work as good as done, that trial as good as borne, which I have solemnly committed to God in prayer."F5 "Deo Volente" (God willing)should be understood as the invariable condition, whether stated or not, that finally determines any mortal achievement. See James 4:15.

Verse 4
Jehovah hath made everything for its own end; Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

Yes indeed, God needs even the wicked. A woman once asked Adam Clarke, "Why does not God just kill all the wicked people and allow us righteous to build a heaven right here on earth"? Clarke replied, "Lady, if God were to be so foolish as to do that, there would not be enough righteous people left to keep the lions and tigers from eating up the human race"!

Verse 5
Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to Jehovah: [Though] hand [join] in hand, he shall not be unpunished.

The first clause here is identical with that of Prov. 11:20; and the second clause with that of Prov. 11:21. This second clause means, "My hand on it," or "assuredly." Toy translated this: "The proud man is an abomination to Yahweh; he will assuredly not go unpunished."F6

Verse 6
By mercy and truth iniquity is atoned for; And by the fear of Jehovah men depart from evil.

"Mercy and truth, no matter how diligently practiced, cannot alone be the ground of salvation from sin, except in the sense that they might be a sign of true repentance and conversion to God's will."F7 "What can take away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus"! This rendition: "Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for."F8 This is correct with an expanded definition of `faithfulness.'

Verse 7
When a man's ways please Jehovah, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.

"When you please the Lord, you can make your enemies into friends."F9 "When a man's ways please the Eternal, he makes even his foes friends with him."F10 A genuine Christian is the most lovable personality in human life.

Verse 8
Better is a little, with righteousness, Than great revenues with injustice.

Many of the proverbs touch this admonition that men should be satisfied with `little,' and that they should restrain their greed for more. "Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content" (1 Timothy 6:8).

Verse 9
A man's heart deviseth his way; But Jehovah directeth his steps.

This is parallel with Prov. 16:1. See our comment there.

Verse 10
A divine sentence is in the lips of the king; His mouth shall not transgress in judgment.

Many of the judgments pronounced by Solomon in the days prior to his apostasy were examples of what is written here. "The Israelites never thought of their kings as infallible; and this verse means merely that true judgment is the duty of kings."F11

Verse 11
A just balance and scales are Jehovah's; All the weights of the bag are his work.

This verse is the positive side of Prov. 11:1. "The Lord wants weights and measures to be honest and every sale to be fair."F12 "God's stamp is on the standard weights and measures; any unfair practice in trade is against God's will."F13

Verse 12
It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness; For the throne is established by righteousness.

The first clause here means that any king who commits wickedness becomes an abomination to God; and the second clause is parallel with the New Testament teaching that reveals, "The powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1).

Verse 13
Righteous lips are the delight of kings; And they love him that speaketh right.

This should be understood as applicable to good kings, or to an ideal king. "The ideal king takes pleasure in the truth and justice that his subjects display in their conversation."F14 As Kidner noted, "Of course, all this is true, upon the assumption that the king is in his fight mind."F15

Alas, in the history of Israel, in the collective sense, their monarchs were as wicked and reprobate a parade of scoundrels as the world ever witnessed. There were four or five (maybe six) exceptions in their whole history. They more than lived up to the prophecy that Samuel gave concerning Israel's kings when the idea first was presented (1 Samuel 8:10-18).

Verse 14
The wrath of a king is [as] messengers of death; But a wise man will pacify it.

Cook pointed out that Prov. 16:13 speaks of a king as he should be; and this one presents a king as they actually were, "Reminding us of the terrible rapidity with which, in the despotic monarchies of the East, death followed the royal displeasure."F16 As the second clause indicates, it was the pinnacle of good judgment to avoid, at all costs, the displeasure of any king.

Verse 15
In the light of the king's countenance is life; And his favor is as a cloud of the latter rain.

"If a king's look is benevolent, this portends life, and his favor is like a cloud promising spring rain."F17 With a wise and righteous man upon the throne such a situation as this would be tolerable; but the record of earthly kings has reduced the very idea of royalty to shame and contempt on the part of the vast majority of the human race. The great historian Edward Gibbon extolled the monarchy as the best form of government known to men;F18 but, even so, it still remains true that, "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."

Verse 16
How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! Yea, to get understanding is rather to be chosen than silver.
This truism is universally recognized as the truth; but, as DeHoff said, It is practiced by very few.F19

Verse 17
The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: He that keepeth his way preserveth his soul.

"The paths of life turn aside from evil; and the ways of righteousness are length of life."F20 This promise that length of life is related to righteous living is reiterated in the New Testament (Eph. 6:1:3). There must needs be exceptions, of course, due to many factors that serve as hindrances to the will of God.

Verse 18
Pride [goeth] before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.

This is another of the many proverbs denouncing human pride. "Pride brings shame (Proverbs 11:2); humility brings honor (Proverbs 15:33); pride and humility are contrasted (Prov. 21:24; 22:4; and Prov. 30:13)."F21

Verse 19
Better it is to be of a lowly spirit with the poor, Than to divide the spoil with the proud.

This verse also teaches with regard to the humble and the proud. This mention of the proud dividing the spoil identifies them as not merely proud but wicked also. "It is better to be humble and live with poor people than to share wealth with people who think they are better than other people."F22

Verse 20
He that giveth heed unto the word shall find good; And whoso trusteth in Jehovah, happy is he.

These clauses are parallel. The man that heeds the Word of God is exactly the same man that trusts in Jehovah. A man can do neither without doing both. "There can be no real blessedness in life without one's trusting in the Lord. Men are so constituted that if their souls are to find rest, they must trust the loving power and wisdom of that Being who is stronger and wiser than themselves."F23

Verse 21
The wise in heart shall be called prudent; And the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.

The sweetness of the lips should be understood here as a compliment to the teacher who brings learning to another.

Verse 22
Understanding is a well-spring of life unto him that hath it; But the correction of fools is [their] folly.

The thought here is that a person who follows the Word of God will avoid many pitfalls in life; but the fool will never learn except by experience. His only correction shall be when his own folly overthrows him.

Verse 23
The heart of the wise instructeth his mouth, And addeth learning to his lips.

"The wise mind makes a meaning clear, and to be a master of words is a further advantage."F24 "Good sense makes men judicious in their talk; it adds persuasiveness to what they say."F25 This would be a good motto for salesmen.

Verse 24
Pleasant words are [as] a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.

"Friendly conversation is agreeable and useful. It relaxes the mind, dispels anxiety, provides information, promotes mutual love and kindness, and enables us to return to life's business with renewed vigor."F26

Verse 25
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, But the end thereof are the ways of death.

(See comment under Prov. 14:12).

The appetite of the laboring man laboreth for him;

For his mouth urgeth him thereto.

A worthless man deviseth mischief;

And in his lips there is a scorching fire."

Verses 26, 27
The appetite of the laboring man laboreth for him; For his mouth urgeth him [thereto]. A worthless man deviseth mischief; And in his lips there is as a scorching fire.
(Proverbs 16:26). The need to earn a living inspires men to work.

"An ungodly man diggeth up evil; and in his lips there is a burning fire."F27 "The description of agitators in this through Prov. 16:30 needs little comment."F28 In this verse, the mischief maker is a gossip. The burning fire in his words is designed to burn up the reputations of other people.

Verse 28
A perverse man scattereth abroad strife; And a whisperer separateth chief friends.

"Troublemakers are always causing problems; and the person who spreads gossip causes trouble between close friends."F29

Verse 29
A man of violence enticeth his neighbor, And leadeth him in a way that is not good.

Behold here the wickedness of the violent man. He is the incarnation of Unbelief. "He robs God, takes life without paying for it, blasphemes the Maker on his throne, stares broadly at the truth when he hears it, and flouts it as if he never heard of it. Unbelief is violence."!F30 "Such sons of the devil take pleasure in seducing the virtuous from the way of life. Just as there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, there is malicious joy in hell when such a seducer turns any one from the straight and narrow way."F31

Verse 30
He that shutteth his eyes, [it is] to devise perverse things: He that compresseth his lips bringeth evil to pass.

"One who winks his eye plans perverse things; one who compresses his lips brings evil to pass."F32 Frankenberg has this various reading, "He who fixes his eyes devises falsities, and marks out all evils with his lips. He is a furnace of wickedness."F33 As the passage stands in our version, the meaning is unclear.

Verse 31
The hoary head is a crown of glory; It shall be found in the way of righteousness.

The meaning must most certainly be, IF it is gained in a righteous life.

Verse 32
He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; And he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.

The teaching here is simply that a person who can take charge of his own conduct, discipline and command his own behavior, having complete control of his appetites and passions -- that man is greater than any world conqueror or military hero.

Verse 33
The lot is cast into the lap; But the whole disposing thereof is of Jehovah.

Making decisions by the casting of lots was widely practiced in the Old Testament; and even in the early days of the New Testament, Matthias was chosen to the apostleship by the casting of lots. "Casting lots was an ancient practice, animated by faith in God's government of the world."F34

"Following the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the apostles never resorted to casting lots; and the Christian Church has wisely repudiated the practice altogether."F35

Footnotes for Proverbs 16
1: Moffatt's translation.
2: The Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible (Fort Worth, Texas: World Bible Translation Center, 1992).
3: International Critical Commentary, Vol. 17, p. 320.
4: Ibid.
5: Flavel in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Vol. 13, p. 457.
6: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 317.
7: Zockler in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, op. cit., p. 464.
8: The New International Version (NIV).
9: The Good News Bible.
10: Moffatt's translation.
11: Wycliffe Bible Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 570.
12: The Good News Bible.
13: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 563.
14: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 312. <15> Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 15, p. 119.
16: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), Proverbs, p. 48.
17: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
18: Edward Gibbon. History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, pp. 223, 224.
19: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. III, p. 280.
20: The Greek Septuagint (LXX).
21: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 328.
22: The Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible (Fort Worth, Texas: World Bible Translation Center, 1992).
23: Harris in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, op. cit., p. 485.
24: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
25: Moffatt's translation.
26: George Lawson's Commentary on Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980), p. 247
27: J. Vernon McGee, Vol. III, p. 58.
28: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), Vol. 5, p. 55
29: The Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible (Fort Worth, Texas: World Bible Translation Center, 1992).
30: Miller in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, op. cit., p. 493.
31: Wardlaw in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, op. cit., p. 493.
32: The New Revised Standard Version.
33: The Cross-Reference Bible (New York: The Cross-Reference Bible Company, 1910), p. 1143.
34: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6, p. 352.
35: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 316.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 16". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.