Chapter 16: Commentary

Chapter 16 is a continuation of the second collection of Proverbs (10:1-24:34) attributed to Solomon. It consists of single verse wise sayings of typical Hebrew poetry, somewhat similar to the wise sayings with which we grew up. "The king" and "the LORD" are the most reoccurring characters in this chapter.

16:1 To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue

     This verse indicates that heart plans are one thing – thoughts, ideas, attitudes, internal stuff. Words, on the other hand, represent actions, activities, external stuff. Attitudes are on one level, actions (and words) are on another.
      People love to make plans. We are full of ideas – some good, some not so good. But we all know from experience – make all the plans we want, it doesn't make that much difference. As the modern-day wise saying goes, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."
      In the end, God has the knowledge, right and power to make happen what He knows is best. We really need to quit making our own plans, quit fighting His plan and simply embrace what He already knows is best for us.

16:2 All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.

     Most of us can explain and justify our ways (behaviors). But the reality is, we all have blind-spots and we are frequently neither correct nor honest, about what we do or why we do it.
      God knows us better than anyone – even better than we know ourselves – and He looks beyond our actions to see our motives and attitudes. And that is where we can find real empowerment to do the right things - starting with the right heart attitude. Our motives and attitudes is also where we get and stay connected to God. He doesn't focus on behavior - God has always focused on attitudes.
      The best way I know to do this is learn how to be Honest, Open and Willing (HOW; see one day at a time before God. He will help us to know, understand and live life to the full - both thinking and doing the right things.

16:3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

     What a great promise! If I do what this verse says, my plans are guaranteed to succeed. But just what exactly does it mean to "commit to the LORD whatever you do?"
      "Whatever I do" would involve all my daily activities. The promise is – if I commit what I do daily to the LORD – then He will direct my future and my "plans will succeed." Sounds pretty simple and straightforward, but there is a catch!
      If I really commit what I do to the LORD daily, His commitment is to redirect me and my plans for tomorrow. If I can get comfortable with committing to the LORD what I do today, He guarantees successful results tomorrow.
      This particular theme is restated again and again in this chapter (see 4; 9; 20; 33). God has the authority to make this kind of promise – and He has the power to back it up!

16:5 The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.

     While many Proverbs simply offer wisdom of about human intentions and interaction in everyday life, some note God's direct involvement in the situation. This is one of those wise sayings.
      It's true that some walk around "proud of heart," seemingly getting to do and say whatever they want. But this verse is very clear - "they will not go unpunished."
      When anyone goes through life "proud of heart" we make a few assumptions about life. Of necessity it starts with the idea that there is no God - or at least that He has no real power or influence over me.
      Secondly, we would also assume that we really are in charge of our own destiny and have all the answers.
      Finally, an ultimate conclusion of this thinking is that I really don't need anyone else to mentor me or hold me accountable - because I'm really the only one who knows what's going on here and I do know best!
      Most of us know this is such a dead-end place to be - because we've tried being this person and failed miserably! And our verse says it will always turn out this way - because God hates it when we act like this and we can be certain that whenever any of us do, it will cost us!
      But this verse doesn't say why - and the reason is simple. He's got a better plan for our lives than even we do and He knows best how to make it happen.
      So, once again, it's my everyday choice. I can go through life Honest, Open and Willing (HOW) or kicking and screaming.

16:6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.

     This verse seems to have two separate and unrelated wise sayings. The first mentions "sin," which we all do. We need to have it "atoned." The "love and faithfulness" necessary for my atonement would not be my own, but that which is offered by others. Eternally and spiritually, it is God's love and faithfulness that addresses our sin. But in our daily interpersonal relationships, it is the love and faithfulness of others that atones for our sins and shortcomings.
      While the first line deals with sins we have already committed, the second talks about the empowerment to not sin in the future. "The fear of the LORD" (see the "Introduction" and notes at 1:7) is the spiritual insight to see and understand God as He really is. Really seeing all God is, all He can do for us and how much He loves us should motivate us to turn our will and lives over to Him. Both curative (first half) and preventive (second half), this verse addresses all we need for our daily spiritual walk

16:7 When a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.

     When my relationship with God is good "my ways are pleasing to the LORD." At that point, everything in my life goes better.
      It should be noted that my "ways" (actions) being "pleasing to the LORD" is based on me having right attitudes and motives. Right actions alone, apart from appropriate thinking, has never cut it with God.
      But, when anyone is doing and thinking right, this verse indicates that God "makes even his enemies live at peace with him." The LORD has the power and, based on my own choices, will supernaturally move in my life and relationships.
      In the Bible "enemies" are those who doesn't like me, not someone I don't like. We're not supposed to have bad attitudes toward others. So, if someone is my enemy, that is their choice, not mine!
      This verse suggests that when things are right between God and me, He has the power to make my enemies (plural!) chill out in how they feeling and act toward me. Admittedly, it doesn't always happen the way I want, or precisely when I want – but He really does move in people's hearts and lives like this.
      It sounds supernatural, and it is! But, if there really is a God, this is the kind of thing we should expect Him to be able to do – and He does!

16:8 Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice

     The focus of this verse is stuff – whether little or lots of it. Most of us are thinking that not having many worldly possessions is not a good thing and that having lots is really great.
      Yet, as a young pastor in Frederick, Maryland for 18 years, I visited some of the finest houses in our community. I was actually surprised to find that the people who lived in those nice houses (and drove nice cars) were not as happy and satisfied with their lives as I was.
      As Spiritual Life Director at Helping Up Mission for a dozen years, I've met a number of guys here who used to have "much gain" to go along "with injustice" in their lives. It's pretty interesting to hear them say they find themselves more peaceful and content with "a little" in their possession today as they work their recovery and get better acquainted "with righteousness."
      This verse suggests that things, themselves, are not really so wonderful. Instead, there are other immaterial things in our lives ("righteousness" in this verse) which make the material possessions really meaningful. Blessed is the person who has both and can appreciate it all!

16:9 In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

     It's a basic part of our nature that, "in their hearts humans plan their course." To have a sense of order or a plan for what's coming is important to us all.
      Yet, it's also true that some have given up hope to ever have a plan, again. But the good news in this verse is that there is a God who "establishes their steps."
      He, above all, has the power and desire to hook us up with our plan and, maybe even better, the best plan. The real issue then is, how do I connect with this plan?
      As the verse suggests, we have ideas. But all we know how hard it is to get from the plan in my heart to any sense of reality in my life!
      There's a pretty famous promise in the Bible: "For I know the plans I have planned for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).
      It suggests He's made a plan for us that is still current and in-force today - in spite of all the things we have done! This plan is absolutely for our good and offers us a genuinely hopeful future.
      We can make all the plans we want, it's just so hard to actually make them happen! But He has the best plan for us ever!
      I just need to realize that I can't do it on my own, but He can! Then I really need to let Him do for me what I know I just can't do for myself.

16:11 Honest scales and balances belong to the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making.

     This verse talks about "scales" and "weights." It's a reference to the ancient method of measuring bulk items.
      But the message here is not about weights and measures. Instead, it's about how we deal with others – even though they're not mentioned at all!
      But the LORD is mentioned, along with His clear intention to be involved in the entire process of our dealings with others. God is all about "honest scales and balances" and He really pays attention to "all the weights in the bag."
      No doubt, some ancient Israelites tried to short the LORD when it came to measuring out some part of an offering at the Temple. But the real concern in this verse was their daily interaction with each other.
      When we're honest in our dealings with each other, we're living as the LORD desires.
      But when we try to cheat others, we'll find ourselves at odds with God, Himself.
      And we need to know He knows – and is watching! So I can be greedy and try to have it my way or I can decide to do it God's way…and experience his blessing!
      My choice -- always one day at a time.

16:15 When a king's face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring.

     While a king is an ancient king in Proverbs, in America today we can make the application of the king being our superior, boss or supervisor. On most all occasions, we would consider the boss being happy as a very good thing. His favor is compared to a rain cloud in the springtime. Also known in the Old Testament as "the latter rain," it was considered a situation of blessing and good.
      I was taught that it was my responsibility to do my job in such a way as to make my boss look good. If I do this, he will be pleased and that should be a good thing for me.

16:16 How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!

     This verse restates the truth of 3:13-14, reminding us that a commitment to wisdom and understanding has more value and benefit than anything else. It particularly notes that they are both better than gold or silver, generally understood as the two most valuable commodities in the ancient world.
      The reason is simple. Gold and silver are really not an end in themselves, but simply the means to a greater end. If we have wisdom and understanding, we will have the opportunity to not only get silver and gold, but also keep them, appreciate and enjoy them, and even share them with others. What a great way to live and it starts with the conscious decision to make wisdom and understanding priorities in our lives.

16:17 The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives.

     The second statement of this poetic Hebrew wise saying is simply a restatement of the first. "The upright" and "those who guard their ways" would be similar people - and, no surprise, their results are also similar.
      An ancient "highway" was a regularly-used, wide, dirt road running through open countryside. In the Holy Land they crossed the wide plains and open desert.
      This phrase suggests "the highway of the upright" was their regular every-day path through life and it always involved "avoiding evil."
      "Those who guard their ways" would be similar folks. Their habit was to "guard" or pay attention to their daily routine (" their ways") and there's no indication it's because they felt like they had anything to hide!
      Both of these folks had developed a modus operandi (MO) which kept them going in the right direction day after day. But they also never seemed to put it on autopilot, either.
      They made daily decisions to stay the course - keeping vigilant about what they did and what was going on around them. As we say here at Helping Up Mission, it's "how they roll!"
      It reminds me of a phrase often used in recovery - "just do the next right thing." With God's empowerment, we can - one day at a time!

16:18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

     This proverb is about bad attitudes - "pride" and "a haughty spirit." Whenever I think I've got it figured out or know exactly what to do, I just need to realize...I don't!
      "Pride" brings on "destruction" to even my best plans and ideas. "A haughty spirit" sets me up for "a fall."
      Such results may simply represent the natural result of poor thinking and choices on my part. But God, who isn't mentioned here at all, also reserves the right to step in at any time and do what He knows is appropriate.
      Admittedly, we all know something about the mindset that says "I've got this!" Sometimes, it's not even that I think I know everything or am the smartest person in the room, but I still find myself thinking I have what it takes and can handle a situation.
      In my life, that's a dangerous place to be - especially since I've been there before and know better! In the 12 Steps of Recovery, the first 3 are summarized as: I Can't (Step 1); He Can (Step 2); So Let Him (Step 3).
      While still very imperfect at it, this is the way I've learned to operate in my life - whether at work, at home or on the highway in between - I try to follow His lead. Fact is, I don't have any better ideas!

16:25 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

     He already told us this in the exact same words in 14:12, but God really does know us! In order to get something straight, we usually need to hear it more than once and, then, still be reminded about it again later! At least, that's how I roll!
      I have a tendency to think something is good, right and okay – but it isn't. What has become the best way I know to head down THE right road (and stay there!) is to develop the spiritual qualities of Honest, Open and Willing (HOW – see comments at 14:12).
      When I live this way, I really can't lose. Being Honest, Open and Willing puts me in a place where God can very easily lead me, as well as redirect me when necessary. The spiritual walk was never designed to be complicated. It was supposed to be simple enough for folks like me to get it. I have learned to practice it daily – yet imperfectly – and have to say it really does work.

16:31 Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.

     Old age didn't come easy in the ancient world and anyone who lived long enough to earn gray hair wore it proudly (unlike today!) and as a badge of honor. In their culture, old age was greatly respected, so Moses wrote "rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly" (Lev 19:32). Thus gray hair (as opposed to no hair!) was a euphemism for old age. Those gray hairs, whether few or many, almost universally come from many years of experience – what guys call "street cred" in East Baltimore.
      This verse suggests two things about gray hair – it represents a "crown of splendor" and is the result of "a righteous life." A crown of splendor (see note at 4:9) was worn to recognize the wearer and make him or her look good. It was universally respected and gave its owner honor.
      Of course everyone with gray hair did not live a righteous life and gray-hairs were not the only ones who lived righteously (bald guys can be righteous, too!). But this verse suggests that righteous choices set us up to live longer and allows us to experience God's blessings to the fullest.

16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

     The "lot" ("lots" – plural) was an ancient method to determine choices. Casting lots was not a game, but a method to determine God's will and all those involved were apparently willing to accept the outcome.
      But the real message of this verse is not about "the lot," but that "every decision is from the LORD." It is suggested here that God knows what is best and – in the end – will do so in our lives.
      What is at issue here is whether I am comfortable in letting Him handle it or not. I tend to try anything and everything I can think of in order to make things happen, but the truth is that the LORD is the one who has the right and power to make the final call.
      So, the best thing I could possibly do is it quit trying to work stuff out, myself, and consciously let God do what He knows is best. It's my choice to either accept it or fight it! As we say here at Helping Up Mission, God has a plan and we can go with it either Honest, Open and Willing (HOW) or kicking and screaming!
      This chapter ends like it began (:1) – we do what we can do, but in the end it is all up to God. Get used to it, that's how He rolls!