Proverbs 21 Study Notes

21:1 God is sovereign even over a king—and not just Israel’s kings (1Kg 11:23; Ezr 6:22; Is 44:28; Jr 25:9; Ac 4:27-28).

21:2 Sometimes a man is a poor judge of his own actions because, unlike God, he ignores or justifies his motives (cp. 15:11; 16:2; 17:3; 24:12).

21:3 Sacrifice stands for the outward actions of religious observance, equivalent to “doing church.”

21:4 This Hebrew word for lamp that guides could also be translated “unplowed field of.” Just as an unplowed field produces weeds, haughty eyes (see “arrogant eyes” and note at 6:17) and an arrogant heart (immodesty and lack of restraint) produce sin. In contrast, a commandment and teaching guide the righteous (6:23).

21:5 The reckless person is literally “hasty” (19:2; cp. 29:20) or “in a hurry” (28:20); he lacks forethought and diligence.

21:6 On mist, see note at 13:11. It is literally “blown away” like smoke (cp. Ps 68:2). This fortune cannot save from eternal death (10:2; 20:21).

21:7 “Sweep away” can also mean “drag away” as fish are dragged in a net (Hab 1:15).

21:8 To be crooked is to be perverse or deceptive.

21:9 On better . . . than proverbs, see note at 15:16-17; on nagging, see note at 19:13. Houses in ancient Israel had flat roofs, and it was possible to build a shelter on them (2Kg 4:10) or to sleep there in the summer (1Sm 9:25-26). Normally, however, the inside of the house was “better.”

21:10 The Hebrew words for evil (ra‘) and neighbor (rea‘) look and sound similar.

21:11 A mocker’s only contribution is as a negative example (see note at 1:22). He in the second part of this verse could refer to the inexperienced (see note at 1:4), who first becomes wiser, then acquires knowledge.

21:12 On brings . . . to ruin, see “undermines” in note at 13:6.

21:13 God does not answer cries for help if they are insincere (1:28; Is 1:15; Jr 11:9-12; Ezk 8:16-18; Mc 3:4; Zch 7:13; 1Pt 3:7).

21:14 While it cannot be denied that a bribe is effective (see note at 15:27; cp. 17:8), God hates bribery. On covert, see “secretly” in note at 17:23.


Hebrew pronunciation [yah SHAHR]
CSB translation straight, right, upright
Uses in Proverbs 25
Uses in the OT 119
Focus passage Proverbs 21:2,8,18,29

Adjectival yashar, from the verb yashar (go straight), means straight (Is 26:7) or smooth (Jr 31:9). People are upright (Nm 23:10), true (Dt 32:4), just (Ps 92:15), honest (Jb 4:7), or honorable (1Sm 29:6). Actions are right (Ex 15:26), ordinances impartial (Neh 9:13), journeys safe (Ezr 8:21), and hearts one (2Kg 10:15). “Yashar of heart” implies conscientious (2Ch 29:34). “Yashar in his eyes” suggests fine to him (2Sm 19:6), whatever seems right (Jdg 17:6; Jr 40:4), and what pleases him (Jr 34:15). Book of Jasher is literally “Book of the Upright” (Jos 10:13). Related yosher (15x) and meshar (19x) mean integrity, uprightness, rightness, and agreement (Dn 11:6,17). Additionally, yosher connotes that which is upright (Ps 119:7), honesty (Pr 17:26), accuracy (Ec 12:10), and straightness (Pr 4:11). Meshar connotes fairness (Ps 9:8), levelness (Is 26:7), and smoothness (Pr 23:31). Yishrah means integrity (1Kg 3:6).

21:15 Amos warned that justice on the day of the Lord would be terror to the wicked in Israel (Am 5:18), and Paul taught that rulers are only a terror to the wicked (Rm 13:3).

21:16 On strays, compare 7:25-27; on departed spirits, see note at 2:18-19.

21:17 Wine and oil were blessings from God (Dt 7:13; Ps 104:14-15), as was pleasure (lit “joy,” Ps 21:6), but when God’s blessings are pursued without God, they become vices.

21:18 One should not conclude from this proverb that sinners somehow pay the debt of the godly; in fact Christ, the sinless One himself, paid for the sins of all (Ps 49:7-9,15; Gl 3:13; 1Tm 2:6). While this does not explain the means of salvation, it does express the outcome: the righteous go free and the treacherous will be punished.

21:19 On nagging . . . wife, see note at 19:13. A hot-tempered person annoys others, causes grief and aggravation, and expresses displeasure (12:16; 17:25; 27:3).

21:20 To “consume” is literally to “gulp down” (1:12; 19:28). The wise person accumulates valuable savings but the fool (Hb kesiyl) spends his income as fast as it is produced.

21:21 On faithful love, see note at 19:22. Those who pursue godliness also find God’s blessing (1Kg 3:10-14; Mt 6:33).

21:22 Secure fortress in this verse uses the same two Hebrew words as “strong confidence” in 14:26. However, those who trust in this mighty fortress have unfounded confidence. A wise person can overcome the most formidable obstacles.

21:23 To guard one’s mouth is the opposite of opening it (13:3).

21:24 On Mocker, see note at 1:22. Arrogance is the key to the mocker’s character.

21:25-26 The slacker (see note at 6:6) has a selfish craving that is unfilled because he is too lazy; he will experience physical and spiritual death. Righteous people are generous yet contented (19:24).

21:27 God hates hypocrisy (15:8), but even more so (see note at 11:31) when there is a plan to harm others (2Sm 15:7-13; Mt 23:14).

21:28 The person who listens could be one who paid attention to the report of a crime so that he could give accurate second-hand testimony, or it could be the accused person who listened to a lying witness against him and then gave a good rebuttal.

21:29 To put on a bold face is to act brazenly (7:13) or arrogantly (Dn 11:12).

21:30-31 God is sovereign (19:21; Ps 33:10-11). A horse is an example of human understanding—military technology—that cannot succeed apart from God’s will (Ps 20:7; 33:17; Is 31:1; Jr 3:23).

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