Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.XVI.
(1) The preparations of the heart in man . . .—Rather, To man belong the counsels of the heart. He may turn over in his mind what is the right thing to be said on any occasion, “but from the Lord is the answer of the tongue.” (Comp. Proverbs 15:23.)
All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.(2) All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes.—Yet that does not excuse his faults in God’s sight. (Comp. 1Corinthians 4:4.) So much the more reason is there for anxious self-examination and testing the conduct by God’s word, and, when this has been done to the best of our power, still to pray for cleansing from faults which have escaped our notice. (Psalm 19:12.)
Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.(3) Commit thy works unto the Lord.—Literally, roll them upon Him, as a burden too heavy to be borne by thyself. “Thy works” signify all that thou hast to do. (Comp. Psalm 37:5.) God provides such works for us. (Comp. Ephesians 2:10.)
And thy thoughts shall be established.—Thy plans shall prosper, for they will be undertaken according to the will of God, and carried out by His aid. (Comp. 1Corinthians 3:9; 2Corinthians 6:1.)
The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.(4) The Lord hath made all things for himself—i.e., to serve His own purposes, that His wisdom, goodness, &c, may be thereby revealed. Or the passage may be translated, “hath made all for its own end or purpose.” The assertion that “He has made the wicked for the day of evil,” does not mean that He created any one for punishment—i.e., predestined him for destruction. It only teaches that even the wicked are subservient to God’s eternal purposes; that Pharaoh, for instance, by his rebellion could not change God’s plans for the deliverance of His people, but only gave Him an occasion for showing forth His power, justice, goodness, and longsuffering. The “day of evil,” i.e., punishment, at last overtook Pharaoh in accordance with the law and purpose of God that the wicked, if unrepentant, shall be punished, and thereby serve as a warning to others; but God by his longsuffering shewed that He was “not willing” that he should “perish,” but rather that he “should come to repentance” (2Peter 3:9). This appears to be also the teaching of St. Paul in Romans 9:17, sqq.
Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.(5) Though hand join in hand.—See Note on Proverbs 11:21.
By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.(6) Mercy and truth.—See above on Proverbs 3:3. Mercy and truth cannot, of course, in themselves “purge iniquity,” only so far as they are signs of the “faith which worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6), which accepts the salvation offered by God (Romans 1:16-17). (Comp. the statement with regard to charity, 1Peter 4:8.)
By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.—Or, rather, escape misfortune. (Comp. Psalms 37 throughout.)
When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.(7) When a man’s ways please the Lord . . .—Comp. Genesis 26:28; 2Chronicles 17:10-11.
A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.(9) A man’s heart deviseth his way . . .—“Man proposeth, God disposeth.” (See below on Proverbs 20:24.)
A divine sentence is in the lips of the king: his mouth transgresseth not in judgment.(10) His mouth transgresseth not in judgment.—Or, should not transgress, as being the representative of God upon earth, and so distinguished by the title of “God” himself (Psalm 82:6). This verse recalls the days of Solomon’s youth, when it was his highest aspiration to judge his people righteously (1Kings 3:9). Comp. David’s noble words (2Samuel 23:3).
A just weight and balance are the LORD'S: all the weights of the bag are his work.(11) A just weight and balance are the Lord’s.—See above on Proverbs 11:1.
It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness.(12) It is an abomination to kings. . . .—This and the following verse are, like Proverbs 16:10, descriptive of the ideal king who, above all things, loves truth and justice. Psalms 72 works out the thought more fully. How feebly the character was fulfilled by Solomon or the best of his successors the history of Israel shews. It was too high a conception for man to carry out, and was fulfilled only in the person of David’s Son, who is “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).
In the light of the king's countenance is life; and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain.(15) A cloud of the latter rain.—This fell at the end of March, maturing the barley and wheat crops before the harvest in April. It was eagerly looked for as of great importance. (Comp. Psalm 72:6 for the same figure.)
The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul.(17) The highway of the upright is to depart from evil.—This is the plain way of duty, which lies right before him, which cannot be mistaken, whatever other difficulties he may have. (See above on Proverbs 6:23.)
He that keepeth his way.—That looks well to it.
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.(18) Pride goeth before destruction.—In contrast to the blessing promised to humility in Proverbs 15:33.
He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he.(20) He that handleth a matter wisely.—Or, perhaps, he that attendeth to the word of God. (Comp. Proverbs 13:13.)
The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.(21) The sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.—Power to express the thoughts in graceful language adds greatly to the value of learning.
Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly.(22) The instruction of fools is folly.- While understanding is “a fountain of life” (Proverbs 10:11) giving health and refreshment and vigour both to the possessor and his friends, the discipline given by fools is worse than useless, being folly itself. Or it may mean, “the discipline which fools have to endure is folly.” If they will not be taught by wisdom, their own folly will serve as a rod to correct them.
The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.(23)Addeth learning to his lips.—His wisdom and learning do not remain hidden in his heart, but continually rise to his lips, like the waters of an everflowing fountain, for the instruction of others.
Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.(24) Pleasant words.—Comp. Proverbs 15:26.
Health to the bones.—Comp. 1Samuel 14:27.
He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.(26) He that laboureth laboureth for himself.—Rather, the desire, or hunger, of the labourer laboureth for him, for his mouth urges him on; the feeling that he is supplying his own needs gives him strength for his work.
An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire.(27) Diggeth up evil.—Digs, as it were, a pit for others by his malicious plottings and slanders (Psalm 7:15).
In his lips there is as a burning fire.—“Set on fire of hell” (James 3:6).
A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.(28) A froward man.—Who distorts the truth.
A violent man enticeth his neighbour, and leadeth him into the way that is not good.(29) A violent man enticeth his neighbour. . . .—Comp. Proverbs 1:10, sqq.
He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things: moving his lips he bringeth evil to pass.(30) He shutteth his eyes. . . .—By the movement of eyes and lips he gives the signal for mischief to his confederates. (Comp. Proverbs 6:13.)
The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.(31) If it be found in the way of righteousness.—Rather, it is found; old age being promised as the reward of obedience. (Comp. Proverbs 3:1-2; Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:10; Proverbs 9:11; Proverbs 10:27.)
He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.(32) He that is slow to anger. . . .—For victory over self is the hardest of all victories. (Comp. 1Corinthians 9:27.)
The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.(33) The lot is cast into the lap . . .—In other words, much that we attribute to chance is due to the providence of God. (Comp. Matthew 10:29-30.) This should be an encouragement to trust in Him.