What does Proverbs 16:26 mean?
ESV: A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.
NIV: The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on.
NASB: A worker’s appetite works for him, For his hunger urges him on.
CSB: A worker's appetite works for him because his hunger urges him on.
NLT: It is good for workers to have an appetite; an empty stomach drives them on.
KJV: He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.
Verse Commentary:
Several proverbs in this book point out the dangers of laziness (Proverbs 10:4–5; 14:23). When a person has no sense of need, they can be unmotivated to work. That might not bring immediate consequences. Yet laziness can result in dire shortages later (Proverbs 6:6–11). This statement points out that felt need—literal or figurative "hunger"—can become an advantage: it inspires the person to apply more effort. The "mouth," in this case, is the part of the body that wants food, and it spurs a person to continue working when they'd rather not.

Scripture promotes a good work ethic. Even in the garden of Eden's "very good" environment (Genesis 1:31), the Lord assigned work for Adam. Genesis 2:15 informs us, "The LORD God took the man [Adam] and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." Work tragically shifted from joy into a harsh necessity after Adam and Eve sinned. The Lord told Adam, "Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you … By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread" (Genesis 3:17–19).

The Bible tempers commands to help those who are poor and needy with warnings about enabling laziness. There are those who would work, if they could; fellow believers should try to ease their hardship (1 John 3:17). This is especially important for family members (1 Timothy 5:8). To those able to work, but unwilling to work, the apostle Paul counseled the Thessalonian believers not to contribute. He writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:6: "Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep yourselves from any brother who is walking in idleness." The same passage commands: "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Verse Context:
Proverbs 16:16–26 focuses on righteousness, pride, humility, faith, speaking, and industrious labor. Again, we see the contrast between the upright and fools, as well as between diligence and laziness. Many of these proverbs come in a two-sentence style, where each presents the same idea from different directions of thought.
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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