Proverbs often compares the lifestyles of the wicked and the righteous, and makes a strong case for living by God’s pattern. The advantages of righteous living and the disadvantages of wicked living are pointed out. The kind of person we decide to be will affect every area of our lives.
21:1 While The Lord and the king are the two administrators of justice, there can be no doubt about who is the dominant power. The Lord is over every king. This verse does not teach that everything the king does is wise or good, and still less does it teach that the king has no need of counselors. Rather, it asserts that the king is simply another of The Lord’s tools for dispensing justice as he sees fit.
21:2 Most people feel that their actions and patterns of life are perfectly acceptable. God, however, looks into the heart and judges thoughts and motives. The Lord’s power of discernment goes beyond unmasking those who fool others; he even knows who has fooled themselves.
21:3 “Sacrifice” is referring to religious activity at the Temple. Some people think they can fool others through their religion or balance out their wrong doing.
*Sacrifices and offerings are not bribes to make God overlook our character faults. If our personal and business dealings are not characterized by justice, no amount of generosity when the offering plate is passed will make up for it
21:4. In describing the “haughty eyes” and “proud heart” as the “lamp of the wicked” this verse is saying that the devious are sure of themselves and think that their ways can guide them through life.
21:5–7 The “haste” of v. 5 is the desire to gain wealth without the sacrifice of honest labor. Two specific means to easy money, fraud and violence, are mentioned in v. 6 and v. 7.
21:8 Verse 8 aptly summarizes all that has been said on recognizing honest and dishonest people. It is the simple difference between those who are open and honest and those who try to hide what they are really up to.
21:9 & 19 These verses say that any living conditions like the corner of a roof 21:9, or in the desert, 19, are preferable to living with a quarrelsome woman
21:10 Evil people even hurt their neighbors.
21:11–12 It is usually better to learn from the mistakes of others than from our own. We can do this by listening to their advice. Take counsel from others instead of plunging ahead and learning the hard way.
13 We should work to meet the needs of the poor and protect their rights — we may be in need of such services ourselves someday.
21:14–15 Verse 14 is an observational proverb; that is, it does not necessarily approve of every case of giving a gift or bribe. Even today the terms of out-of-court settlements are often kept secret, and the reference to secrecy need not imply bribery. At the same time, the practice of giving bribes to prevent justice cannot be excluded from this verse. Verse 14 should be read in context with v. 15, which asserts that justice is essential if society is to function and evildoers are to be held in check. Taken together the verses state that a person should avoid litigation if possible and that a gift may be the means of doing so; on the other hand, a person should beware of bribery or criminals will be free to pervert the justice system.
21:16 Someone who has gone off the right path comes to an untimely death.
21:17–18 In v. 17 those who show restraint in the amount of time and money they invest in pleasure will have the means to attain them. In v. 18 the point is that the wicked or unfaithful are always going to be punished for what they have done.
21:20 This proverb is about saving for the future. Easy credit has many people living on the edge of bankruptcy. The desire to keep up and to accumulate more pushes them to spend every penny they earn, and they stretch their credit to the limit. But anyone who spends all he has is spending more than he can afford. A wise person puts money aside for when he or she may have less. God approves of foresight and restraint. God’s people need to examine their life-styles to see whether their spending is God-pleasing or merely self-pleasing.
21:21 The point is that those who seek to do what is right not only find that but also find life (be it long life, eternal life, or the inner life of emotional heath) and honor in the community as well.
21:22 This verse is often taken to mean that “brains is better than brawn,” The wise man is secure and prosperous without an army to surround him, but against him even the greatest human opposition is insecure. The fruit of wisdom is a life of victory.
21:23–24 Each is clear enough on its own, but side by side they throw light on each other. The “mocker” is recognized precisely for his obnoxious mouth, and the refusal to control his tongue (v. 23) comes directly from arrogance (v. 24). On the other hand, just as those who show humility in their language avoid trouble, but not the mocker they will get into trouble.
21:25–26 These verses revisit the theme of the prosperity of the wise/righteous over against the poverty of the lazy/wicked. A person might think that those who work hard would want to hoard what they struggled to obtain, but in God’s economy the two virtues of self-reliance and compassion for others must be linked. Also looking back to 21:17, the lazy man’s life is portrayed as one of constantly wanting.
21:27 The kind of worship (“sacrifice”) described in this proverb is no better than a bribe. How do people try to bribe God? They may go to church, tithe, or volunteer, not because of their love and devotion to God, but because they hope God will bless them in return. But God has made it very clear that he desires obedience and love more than religious ritual (see Prov 21:3; 1 Samuel 15:22). God does not want our sacrifices of time, energy, and money alone; he wants our hearts — our complete love and devotion. We may be able to bribe people (Prov 21:14), but we cannot bribe God.
21:28–29 Verse 28 promises destruction for false witnesses and social disgrace (or exile) for those who side with them. The setting is the law court and the warning to jurors is that they will be held accountable if they allow false testimony to stand. Verse 29 then says that the wicked can lie with a brazen face, much as English says that one can be a “bald-faced” liar. The just man, however, can see through the charade. The teaching of both verses is to be perceptive and diligent about disallowing perjury in court.
21:30–31 Just as a trained, prepared army can be defeated if God wills it, so also all efforts at success in life (the goal of wisdom) without God are vain. All knowledge is hollow without God. All our preparation for any task is useless without God. But even with God’s help we still must do our part and prepare. His control of the outcome does not negate our responsibilities. God may want you to produce a great book, but you must learn to write. God may want to use you in foreign missions, but you must learn the language. God will accomplish his purposes, and he will be able to use you if you have done your part by being well prepared.
Have a great day! Darrell
Life Application Bible Notes
New American Commentary