What does Proverbs 16:2 mean?
ESV: All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit.
NIV: All a person's ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.
NASB: All the ways of a person are clean in his own sight, But the Lord examines the motives.
CSB: All a person's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs motives.
NLT: People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives.
KJV: All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.
NKJV: All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the spirits.
Verse Commentary:
God knows our inner thoughts and motives, even better than we do (Romans 8:26–27). Very few people act with the assumption that their choices are "evil." Some do exactly that—but most have ways of justifying their deeds. The process of making excuses for our decisions makes us feel as if we're morally upright. That self-justification is not the final measure, however (1 Corinthians 4:4). We may believe our actions are right, but the Lord examines our hearts and knows what motivates us to do what we do. "Why" we act is as important as "what" we choose.

The Pharisees thought their actions were righteous. They fasted and prayed openly, but their hearts were not right in the Lord's sight. He saw their self-serving motives and labeled them "hypocrites." Jesus instructed His disciples to avoid hypocrisy. Matthew 6 warns about doing good things for the wrong reasons (Matthew 6:1). Jesus condemned the practice of making a big show of giving to the needy (Matthew 6:2), of praying with the intent to "show off" for others (Matthew 6:5), and of deliberately looking gloomy to impress others while fasting (Matthew 6:16). Jesus told a Samaritan woman that the Father seeks those who worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). An outward practice of religion is worthless unless it is motivated by love for God and done in accordance with the truth of God's Word. It is God, not man (1 Samuel 16:7), who is the perfect measure of our morality.
Verse Context:
Proverbs 16:1–9 reflects on the heart's intention to make plans and the Lord's rule over that planning. Committing one's ways to God, with reverence, is the wise way to make plans. The Lord has a purpose for everything He created (1 Timothy 4:4). This continues the main section of the book of Proverbs: a compilation of short, general-case statements of wisdom.
Chapter Summary:
This part of Solomon's proverbs emphasizes human motives, self-control, and common sense. Many of these proverbs are arranged in a two-part style. The first and second half of these statements make the same basic point, but from opposite perspectives. Notable verses are verses 9 and 33, speaking of God's sovereignty, and verse 18, a famous warning about arrogance. Also often cited is verse 25, which repeats Proverbs 14:12 and encourages self-reflection.
Chapter Context:
A lengthy list of Solomon's wise sayings began in chapter 10. Chapter 16 begins a section mostly composed of comparisons and completions. It extends to Proverbs 22:16. Man's thoughts, speech, motives, and conduct are examined in this chapter. The chapter also addresses pride, evil, and injustice.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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