The Book of Proverbs ~ Chapter 21:1-8 ~ The Virtue of Recognizing God’s Sovereignty and of Having AGAPE Love; The Defeat of the Wicked

Vol. 14 No. 16

To Do What is Right is More Acceptable to God than Sacrifice



Chapter 21 continues the themes of Chapter 20, where we have varying principles exhorting the believer to possess virtue, honor and integrity, as he functions in the righteousness and justice of God by having Bible Doctrine resident within his soul.



Chapter Outline:

Vs. 1, Continuation of Chapter 20’s Exhortations to Those in Leadership Positions.

Vs. 2-3, Introduction and Main Theme of the Chapter.

Vs. 4-8, The Defeat of the Wicked.

Vs. 9, A Refrain About the “Contentious Wife.”

Vs. 10-18, Triumph of the Righteous Over the Wicked.

Vs. 19, A Refrain About the “Contentious Wife.”

Vs. 20-29, The Lasting Gratification and Establishment of the Righteous and the Demise of the Wicked.

Vs. 30-31, Conclusion, The Sovereignty, Omniscience and Omnipotence of the Lord that Brings Him Victory.

Therefore, our overall theme of this chapter is, “The defeat of the wicked and the triumph and establishment of the righteous by the Lord.”

Vs. 1

Prov 21:1, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.”

Chapter 20 ended with several principles regarding “the king” who has judicial authority. Therefore, we noted several principles that are pertinent for all who have judicial authority. Now, in the first verse of Chapter 21, we have another exhortation for kings, i.e., those in rulership positions. In this verse we see the sovereignty of God over earthly rulers.

The king’s heart,” MELEK LEB, “is like channels of water,” PELEGH, (canal, channel, river, or stream), MAYIM, “in the hand of the Lord,” BE YADH YHWH.

The channel here refers to something that is made. Therefore, it is directed by another. The sovereign all powerful God is able to move the heart, thinking and decision making, of any leader of any nation, state or city as He desires. Satan may rule the world, but God controls history. The water means blessings to the people, and denotes decisions that bless, not curse. The analogy of an artificial stream of water provides a steady, directed, full supply of refreshing, living, giving water.

The second half tells us, “He turns it,” which is the causative active Hiphil Imperfect of the verb NATAH that means, “to spread out, turn aside or bend,” “wherever,” AL KOL ASHER, “He wishes,” which is the Qal Imperfect of CHAPHETS, that means, “pleased or delighted.”

As easily as a farmer digging a hole in the bank of a river so that water would flow to his field, that is how easy it is for the Lord to guide a king so that he accomplishes God’s purposes to bless the people.

This is both a warning and a comfort, reminding the king that he rules by the will of God, not by his own strength, and that he is not the sovereign power, but rules under the requirements of God’s Word, Deut 17:18ff; John 19:11; Rom 13:1

The king’s or civilian leader’s true role is to be a regent, exercising dominion on behalf of and in the name of the Lord. His responsibility, therefore, is not to amass great wealth for himself, but to ensure justice in the land and faithfulness to the Lord.

Prov 16:15, “In the light of a king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain.”

Prov 19:12, “The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.”

Daniel 2:20-23, “Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. 21It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. 22It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him. 23To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for You have given me wisdom and power; even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, for You have made known to us the king’s matter”.”

J Vernon McGee notes, “A man may be a pharaoh in Egypt, a king of Babylon, a caesar of Rome, an Alexander the Great, a Napoleon, a Joe Stalin, an Adolph Hitler, or any great ruler of the future. Regardless of how powerful a man may become politically, it can be stated as an axiom that no man can act in independence of God. Many of these rulers thought they could, and men today may still think they can. But the truth is that no man is free from God. No man can act independently. We have a Declaration of Independence in this country. Right now it is being used to declare our independence from God. We believe in liberty; so we’ve declared we are free from God! However, we are not free from God. We cannot act independently. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord,” and God is going to turn him just as He turns the course of a little babbling brook that runs down a mountainside.” As the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” No king nor ruler nor any individual can act independently of God.

I wish we had more men in public office who express a dependence upon God and show it in their lives. I wish they would quit telling us that they have the solution for all the problems of the world. They haven’t. It is a misrepresentation for any man to say that. No man is independent of Almighty God, and we need to recognize our dependence upon Him. Oh, may this country be called back to a dependence upon God before it is too late. We need a new declaration, but this time it should be a declaration of dependence upon Almighty God. The only way such a change can come about is by the people of this nation returning to the Word of God. That is why it is so important for us to proclaim God’s Word.” (Thru The Bible.)

Given this fact of God’s sovereignty over earthly rulers, it is a great encouragement to pray for our leaders so that God would turn their hearts to justice, ruling in the fear of God, cf. 1 Tim 2:1-3.

1 Tim 2:1-3, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.

Vs. 2-3, Introduction and Main Theme.

Vs. 2

Prov 21:2, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts.”

Continuing the theme of God’s sovereignty, we see its application to everyone in the omniscience of God, as He examines every man’s heart. This is similar to Prov 16:2, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives.” The difference between this verse and ours is the plural “ways” versus the singular “way” in our verse. Therefore, God knows everyone’s heart and the motivation behind every decision made. He knows both the motives of the individual’s and the motives of the totality of decisions made, as all are under His scrutiny.

Every man’s way,” is KOL DEREK ISH, where we could also say “Every way of a man.”

Is upright” is YASHAR for “straight, reliable, upright, and level.”

In his eyes” is BE AYIN.

Many people feel that their actions and way of life are perfectly acceptable. However, God looks into the heart and judges their thoughts and motives, as the second half tells us.

It begins with the contrasting conjunctive WA, “but,” with the Qal active Participle Verb TAKHAN that means, “to examine, assess or evaluate.” The thing that is examined is the LEB, “heart,” and the one who does the examining is YHWH, “The Lord.”

Here again in comparison to Prov 16:2, God examines the “heart,” versus the “motives” of 16:2, because the heart is the source of all decision making. Remember the Sin Nature only tempts. It is the heart that decides what you will do or not do and why (the motives).

God’s power of discernment goes beyond unmasking those who fool others; He even finds out those who have fooled themselves.

The link with Vs. 1 is that “God will not divert life-giving water upon those who act according to their own value system. Self-distrust must be matched by bold confidence in the Lord, who keeps his promises to bless the upright (see 3:5; 16:3).” (Waltke, NIC)

Prov 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Prov 16:3, “Commit your works to the LORD and your plans will be established.”

So we see that the Lord evaluates our motives and not merely our actions. We think we know ourselves, but the Lord knows our hearts, and His knowledge is based on examination and judgment of the value and quality of our decision making, which should be based on the application of His Word resident within our souls.

Vs. 3

Prov 21:3, “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD rather than sacrifice.”

Alluding to God’s ability to discern the intentions of the heart, this verse tells us the standard for measuring what counts before God; righteousness and justice, (functioning in the integrity of God), is the priority.

To do righteousness and justice” is the Qal Infinitive of the Verb ASAH where the Infinitive intensifies the certainty of the verb in regard to the Lord’s desire. This is linked with the Nouns TSEDAQAH and MISHPAT. In other words, He absolutely desires us to operate in righteousness and justice, His integrity, rather than in mindless rituals and sacrifices.

Is desired by the Lord” is the reflexive use of the Niphal Participle of the Verb BACHAR that means, “to choose or select” along with the Noun YHWH. Therefore, righteousness and justice are the qualities carefully chosen by God for the believer to operate in.

Then we have the contrasting comparison, “rather than sacrifice,” which is the Adverb MIN with the Noun ZEBACH for “sacrifice.” This tells us that there is no value in simply going through a religious ritual; a ritual without reality.

The comparative does not exclude sacrifice as a good thing, but simply states that the righteous and just heart, in application of AGAPE love, is preferred over those who exclude it, yet offer sacrifices religiously. Therefore, we see that the Lord prefers AGAPE love towards mankind over legalistic religion, Mat 9:13; 12:7; 22:37-39; 23:23; Mark 12:33f; cf. Heb 10:1-18.

That is why our Lord called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs;” they had no AGAPE love in application of righteousness and justice, Mat 23:27.

This will be further emphasized in vs. 27, where “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,” and in vs. 7, where the arrogant wicked “refuse to act with justice.”

This priority of ethics over ritual was also taught by Moses. He first ratified the moral law before being given any ritual instructions, Ex 24. Likewise, the prophets taught this same principle in 1 Sam 15:22; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21; Isa 1:11-14; Micah 6:6-8; Psa 40:6-8; 50:7ff; Isa 1:11-17; 58:5-14, as do other passages in Proverbs, Prov 15:8, 29; 21:27, 29; 28:9, 13.

1 Sam 15:22, “Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams’.”

Hosea 6:6, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Prov 15:8, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.”

Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The requirements of the Law include sacrifice, Lev 1-7, but the most important commandments are that we love the Lord and those around us with all that is within us, Lev 19:18; Deut 6:5; Mat 22:34-40.

Therefore, we note that the Lord requires righteousness before religious service; to do what is “right and just” is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. It does not teach that ritual acts of worship are to be avoided; rather, it stresses that religious acts are valueless without righteous living.

Given the judicial overtones in the past few verses, as J. Vernon McGee put it, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Vs. 4-8: The Defeat of the Wicked.

Vs. 4

Prov 21:4, “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.”

Haughty eyes” is the noun RUM that means, “height or pride” with AYIN for “eyes.” We have noted the verb RUM previously, but here it is the noun that is also used in Prov 25:3. Here it stands for the prideful and arrogant person.

Proud heart” is RACHAB LEB linked to RUM AYIN with the WA conjunction. Therefore the arrogant and proud are one and the same person here. RACHAB, רָחָב is an Adjective that means, “broad, wide, spacious, or large,” used for the person with an enlarged concept of themselves. We noted the verb in Prov 18:16. Here, as in Prov 28:25 and Psa 101:5, it stands for “pride or arrogance.” So we see a person with unrestrained thoughts, ambitions, plans, etc., a heart that recognizes no boundaries to curb its aspirations, and behaves as if it were God.

Psa 101:5, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.”

So we have synonymous concepts speaking about the proud and arrogant person with their outward haughty eyes and their inner audacious hearts. We also see a progression as what the eyes see enter into the heart. And each pollutes the other, so that a haughty spirit also distorts a person’s perception.

These two things are described as “the lamp of the wicked,” NIYR RASHA. This chapter, along with Chapter 11, uses RASHA 8 times, the second most utilization in Proverbs; the first most is Chapter 10 where it is used 12 times.

In contrast to Prov 20:27, where “the spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord,” here we see that the thing that illuminates and permeates the wicked person’s heart is pride and arrogance. That is what fills their soul and that is what drives them in their thoughts, speech and actions. If the image of the lamp refers primarily to the eyes (i.e., as the place through which light enters the body; cf. Mat 6:22f; Luke 11:34ff), then this proverb warns that the arrogant are so ruined that even their light is darkness, cf. Prov 2:12-15; 4:19.

In addition, some believe NIYR, spelled NER in the Hebrew text is the NER that means, “tillage or to plow a field” as used in the Septuagint (LXX) translation. In that context, pride and arrogance is what the wicked plow, and therefore sow, with the harvest or product of sin.

Finally, this verse qualifies pride and arrogance as “sin,” CHATTATH, 9 where its central meaning is “to miss the mark or fail.” What is also interesting about CHATTATH is that sometimes it is translated as a “sin offering,” e.g., Ex 29:14. Therefore, we could also say that this is what the wicked offer up to God, their pride and arrogance. Waltke calls these types “megalomaniacs who do not do righteous and justice.” This type of person must be avoided, since his or her friendship and counsel will bring nothing but ruin to you, cf. Prov 10:32.

Vs. 5

Prov 21:5, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.”

The first half reads, “The plans of,” MACHASHABAH, “the diligent,” CHARUTS, “surely to advantage”, AK LE MOTHAR, where MOTHAR means, “advantage or profit.” As we have seen throughout Proverbs, the diligent are those who plan well, seek counsel, work hard and do a good job at their work. The diligent also calculate into their plans the sovereignty of God. As a result, they will profit in their work and be blessed. So this verse exhorts industriousness.

In contrast, the second half defines the arrogant wicked, “But everyone who is hasty,” WA KOL UTS, “surely to poverty,” AK LE MACHSOR, where MACHSOR means, “want or lack.” It warns about the danger of hasty shortcuts and eludes that the one who hastens to get rich and acts without reckoning with the Divine order. They will come to ruin, wanting and lacking. On the other hand, patience and planning leads to prosperity as it does take into consideration the sovereignty of God and the application of impersonal love as they do their job unto the Lord. Therefore, the diligent stands opposed to the rash and imprudent, as we noted in Prov 11:24-28.

Vs. 6

Prov 21:6, “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.”

Here we see an example of the hasty profiteer who comes to ruin.

The acquisition of” is the noun PO’AL which we noted in Prov 20:11, that means, “deed or work.”

Treasures” is the noun OTSAR that means, “treasury, storehouse or supplies,” Prov 8:21; 10:2; 15:16; 21:20.

The work performed to receive these treasures is “by a lying tongue,” BE SHEQER LASHON. So they are procuring treasures by deceptive speech.“Their antisocial speech falsifies facts to fill their vaults with stores of food and/or precious metal at the community’s expense.” (Waltke, NIC)

The treasures acquired by a lying tongue “is a fleeting vapor,” which is HEBEL NADAPH, ‏נָדַף‎ in the simple passive Niphal Participle that means, “a breath that blows away,” just as the wind blows the chaff away.

Psa 1:4, “The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away.”

Job 21:18, “Are they as straw before the wind, and like chaff which the storm carries away?”

This type of profiteer is in reality in the “pursuit of death,” which is BAQASH in the intensive active Piel Participle, with the noun MAWETH that means, they are intensively seeking their own death. This is their ill-fated consequences. In other words, their riches will lead to their ruin. Ironically, the treasures procured through deception are themselves deceptive; they are as insubstantial as breath.” (Ibid)

Prov 13:11, “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it.

Prov 20:17, “Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.”

Vs. 7

Prov 21:7, “The violence of the wicked will drag them away, because they refuse to act with justice.”

Here we see another description of the wicked person, as one who acts violently towards others. This passage begins with “the violence of the wicked,” which is the Noun SHOD, שֹׁד for “violence or devastation,” that describes an act of violence or oppression, with the Adjective RASHA once again. The wicked persons violence may include physical, financial, (e.g., by not showing mercy to creditors), manipulating the legal system, (e.g., by bribing witnesses), or being their own law in some other way.

Will drag them away” is the Qal Imperfect of the Verb GARAR, ‏גָּרַר‎ that means, “to scrape, to drag, to ruminate, or to saw.” Here the idea of dragging is used as a fisherman dragging a net to catch fish or the image of a police officer dragging a criminal away to prison. In other words, they will be caught in their own drag net. Both allude to a reversal of fortune for the wicked, as they sought to capture the wealth of others illicitly, but now they themselves are caught “red handed.”

In the second half we have the causal coordinating conjunction KI, “because” with the intensive active Piel Perfect of MA’AN for “they refuse.” This refusal is the act of the prideful and arrogant. They refuse to treat others with honesty, dignity, respect, fairness, righteousness, and justice, as God requires.

Next we are told what they refuse “to do,” LE ASAH, they refuse to do “justice,” MISHPAT. So they absolutely refuse to be fair and honest, just and right with others. That is the epitome of arrogance. Therefore, they suffer the Sin Unto Death, as noted in the previous verse, and here, as they are thrown into jail. In the final analysis they can blame only themselves, for in arrogance they chose to persist in evil, rather than do what is right in the eyes of God and their fellow man.

Principle: Leaders might be in positions of power, but they must not abuse their privilege, lest they be destroyed.

In summary:

Riches accumulated by means of honest, wholesome toil give pleasure and a measure of satisfaction to their possessor. But the hasty gathering of wealth by lying and deceit, often coupled with downright robbery, will bring sorrow and shame with it. One may possess boundless stores of gold and silver and yet be as needy as the Arab lost in the desert. When almost dead for want of food, he found a package in the track of a caravan. He opened it with trembling eagerness, hoping it might be dates. He dropped it in dire disappointment as he groaned, “It’s only pearls!” Those pearls were worth thousands of dollars, but they could not feed a starving man. So with wealth illegally gotten. It cannot satisfy. He who possesses it will be in deepest and most abject poverty after all. Life will be a weary round of frustration and disappointment, and he will be left to groan at last, “All is vanity, and pursuit of the wind.”  See Ecclesiastes 5:10-17.” (H.A. Ironside Expository Commentary – Proverbs.)

Vs. 8

Prov 21:8, “The way of a guilty man is crooked, but as for the pure, his conduct is upright.”

This proverb tells us that deeds reveal the heart.  Righteous behavior reveals righteous character and sinful acts betray the wicked. We begin with the wicked person.

The way of a guilty man is crooked,” is DEREK WAZAR ISH HAPHAKPAK, where the Adjectives WAZAR and HAPHAKPAK are both hapaxlegomenas, (only used here in the entire OT), and mean “guilty and twisted,” respectfully.

Next we see the righteous person.

But as for the pure,” is the contrasting conjunction WA with the Adjective ZAK, meaning pure or clean.

His conduct is upright” is the Noun PO’AL for “work or deeds,” with the Noun YASHAR for “straight, reliable, level, or upright.” It means walking in experiential sanctification as you express the righteousness and justice of God in impersonal love towards others in business transactions or the court room.

Therefore, your life will demonstrate what kind of a person you really are. If you are right with God, that will be revealed in your life. Bad men are underhanded, whereas good men are above board.

One scholar states regarding the Hebrew of this verse, “the syntax of the first line is itself fairly contorted, whereas the second line is straightforward, just like the man that each describes.” (Complete Biblical Library.) Therefore, the text resembles the people they are describing.

Summary Conclusion:

Vs. 8 brings this section to its conclusion, loading the arrogant, vs. 4, the hasty, vs. 5, the deceiver, vs. 6, the violent, vs. 7, with God’s evaluation, “guilty,” entailing their judgment.  And the pure of heart who is diligent in all that they do will walk in righteousness.

“The ways of a guilty man are like the trail of the serpent. It is invariably a sign that something is radically wrong in his heart when a person’s path is crooked, and he has to be continually excusing and explaining. He who walks with God will be above reproach, for he will avoid every form of evil. The work of the pure is right. His life is like an open book, which explains itself and silences his enemies. Daniel was of this character; when the presidents and princes sought to find fault with him, “they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him” (Daniel 6:4). Ahab’s history is a solemn illustration of the crooked ways of a guilty man (1 Kings 16-22).” (H.A. Ironside Expository Commentary – Proverbs.)



If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I am here to tell you that Jesus loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His life for you. God the Father also loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His only Son for you by sending Him to the Cross. At the Cross Jesus died in your place. Taking upon Himself all of your sins and all of my sins. He was judged for our sins and paid the price for our sins. Therefore our sins will never be held against us. Right where you are, you now have the opportunity to make the greatest decision in your life. To accept the free gift of salvation and eternal life by truly believing that Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised on the third day as the proof of the promise of eternal life. So right now you can pause and reflect on what Christ has done for you and say to the Father:

“Yes Father, I believe that Your Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.

If you have done that, I welcome you to the eternal Family of God!


If you would like more information on this subject, you may watch/listen to lesson #’s: 

15-041, 15-042, 15-043.

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