1A king’s heart is channeled water in the hand of the Lord;
God directs it where he pleases.#“Channeled water” in Is 32:2 and Prv 5:16 is water that fertilizes arid land. It takes great skill to direct water, whether it be water to fertilize fields or cosmic floods harnessed at creation, for water is powerful and seems to have a mind of its own. It also requires great skill to direct the heart of a king, for it is inscrutable and beyond ordinary human control.
2All your ways may be straight in your own eyes,
but it is the Lord who weighs hearts.#a. [21:2] Prv 16:2.
3To do what is right and just#b. [21:3] 1 Sm 15:22; Hos 6:6.
is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.#External rites or sacrifices do not please God unless accompanied by internal worship and right moral conduct; cf. 15:8; 21:27; Is 1:11–15; Am 5:22; Mal 1:12.
4Haughty eyes and a proud heart—
the lamp of the wicked will fail.#Heart and eyes depict, respectively, the inner and the outer person. “Haughty eyes” peering out from a “proud heart” show a thoroughly arrogant person. How can such a person flourish! Their lamp, which signifies life, will go out.
5The plans of the diligent end in profit,
but those of the hasty end in loss.#The antitheses are diligent and impetuous. The metaphor characterizing each type is taken from the world of commerce. Planning is important; bustle leads to waste.
6Trying to get rich by lying
is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.
7The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
because they refuse to do what is right.
8One’s path may be winding and unfamiliar,
but one’s conduct is blameless and right.#One cannot always read others’ hearts from their behavior. Unconventional conduct need not indicate evil motives.
9It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop
than in a mansion with a quarrelsome woman.#In Proverbs, two great obstacles to a happy household are foolish children and quarrelsome spouses. The nagging wife is also mentioned in 19:13 and 27:15; 25:24 is a duplicate. #c. [21:9] Prv 21:19; 25:24; 27:15; Sir 25:23.
10The soul of the wicked desires evil;
their neighbor finds no pity in their eyes.
11When scoffers are punished the naive become wise;
when the wise succeed, they gain knowledge.#d. [21:11] Prv 19:25.
12The Righteous One appraises the house of the wicked,
bringing down the wicked to ruin.#It is difficult to ascertain the subject of the saying. Some hold it is the Lord, the “Righteous One,” who is normally the executor of justice in Proverbs. Others believe it is the just person who is the agent of divine justice. “Righteous One” is a title for God in Is 24:16. The best argument for making God the subject of the verb is that elsewhere in Proverbs righteous human beings never do anything to the wicked; only God does.
13Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor
will themselves call out and not be answered.
14A secret gift allays anger,
and a present concealed, violent wrath.#Proverbs offers several remedies for anger—a soft word (15:1), patience, and a bribe. The last remedy implies a certain disdain for the disordered passion of anger, for it can be so easily assuaged by a discreetly offered “gift.”
15When justice is done it is a joy for the just,
downfall for evildoers.#The second line is a duplicate of 10:29b. #e. [21:15] Prv 10:29.
16Whoever strays from the way of good sense
will abide in the assembly of the shades.#Assembly of the shades: those who dwell in Sheol.
17The lover of pleasure will suffer want;
the lover of wine and perfume will never be rich.
18The wicked serve as ransom for the just,
and the faithless for the upright.#In this bold paradox, the ransom that protects the righteous is the wicked person who attracts, like a lightning rod, the divine wrath that might have been directed at the righteous. #f. [21:18] Prv 11:8.
19It is better to dwell in a wilderness
than with a quarrelsome wife and trouble.
20Precious treasure and oil are in the house of the wise,
but the fool consumes them.
21Whoever pursues justice and kindness
will find life and honor.#The paradox is that one comes upon something other than what one pursued. The way to (long and healthy) life and honor is the vigorous pursuit of virtue.
22The wise person storms the city of the mighty,
and overthrows the stronghold in which they trust.
23Those who guard mouth and tongue
guard themselves#Themselves: see note on 13:3. To guard your “self” (lit., “throat,” the moist and breathing center of the body, by metonymy, “life”), you must guard your tongue. Speech in Proverbs is the quintessential human activity and often has a meaning broader than speech alone; it can stand for all human activity. Acting rightly is the best way to protect yourself from evil. from trouble.#g. [21:23] Prv 13:3.
24Proud, boastful—scoffer is the name:
those who act with overbearing pride.
25The desire of sluggards will slay them,
for their hands refuse to work.#Desire, or appetite, is the impulse toward food and drink (see Ps 42:3) which spurs animals and human beings into action. But sluggards cannot lift hand to mouth; they bury their hand in the dish (19:24), and so their appetite is thwarted.
26Some are consumed with avarice all the day,
but the just give unsparingly.
27The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination,
the more so when they offer it with bad intent.#h. [21:27] Prv 15:8; Sir 34:21–23.
28The false witness will perish,#i. [21:28] Prv 19:5, 9.
but one who listens will give lasting testimony.
29The face of the wicked hardens,
but the upright maintains a straight course.#The wicked cannot deter the righteous from walking the straight path, i.e., from practicing virtue.
30No wisdom, no understanding,
no counsel prevail against the Lord.
31The horse is equipped for the day of battle,
but victory is the Lord’s.