What does Proverbs 16:6 mean?
ESV: By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.
NIV: Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD evil is avoided.
NASB: By mercy and truth atonement is made for wrongdoing, And by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.
CSB: Iniquity is atoned for by loyalty and faithfulness, and one turns from evil by the fear of the Lord.
NLT: Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin. By fearing the Lord, people avoid evil.
KJV: By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.
In the prior proverb, Solomon wrote about the inevitability of punishment for those too arrogant to acknowledge God (Proverbs 16:5). The best way to avoid evil consequences is to avoid evil actions, by following God's truth (Proverbs 1:7; 15:24). The ultimate means of atonement—of "making up for" sin—comes through God Himself, in His steadfast love and faithfulness.
No human sin goes unpunished. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death." That includes separation from God in this life and in the next. Thankfully, thanks to His mercy, God has provided a way to escape this punishment. Romans 6:23 continues, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." God loved the world of sinners so much that He gave His only Son Jesus as the sacrifice for our sin. He faithfully keeps His promise to grant forgiveness and eternal life to all who turn away from evil and turn to Jesus in repentance and faith. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24).
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.
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.
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.
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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