What does Proverbs 21 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Proverbs chapter 21 continues a long series of wise statements attributed to Solomon (Proverbs 10:1). Early comments in this passage remark on God's perfect knowledge of our innermost thoughts. Merely "doing" right is not enough to please God. He knows whether we act in arrogance or humility, and whether pious actions are motivated by worship, or selfishness. As do other parts of the book of Proverbs, this section extols the value of wisdom and warns against the consequences of sin and wickedness (Proverbs 21:1–16).

The second part of this chapter emphasizes the power of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7) as compared to the dangers of rejecting godliness. Living according to wisdom does not make a person invincible, but it greatly increases one's likelihood of success. This passage repeats God's intense disgust at those who try to whitewash their sin using sacrifices or other acts of service. God, and God alone, is ultimately in control of all things. This includes daily life and the victor on a battlefield (Proverbs 21:17–31).
Verse Context:
Proverbs 21:1–16 continues Solomon's wise observations (Proverbs 10:1) by acknowledging the Lord's control of kings. He also mentions what the Lord despises: pride, love of money, violence, the conduct of the wicked, the withholding of charity, bribery, and apostasy. On the other hand, he commends righteousness and justice, pure conduct, wise acceptance of instruction, and charity.
Proverbs 21:17–31 continues the recorded wisdom of Solomon (Proverbs 10:1). He contrasts the wise person with the foolish person, the righteous with the wicked, the lazy person with the diligent, and human wisdom with the Lord's sovereignty.
Chapter Summary:
This chapter begins and ends with a declaration of God's sovereignty. He alone judges the heart; the Lord considers intentions just as important as physical actions. Other comments include statements about unpleasant spouses, proper perspectives on wealth, work ethic, and the essential nature of godly wisdom. Human wisdom is no match for the sovereign Lord, who alone is ultimately responsible for victory in battle.
Chapter Context:
This is part of the second major section of the book (Proverbs 10—22) featuring nearly four hundred statements. Most of these are two-line comments presenting common sense and general wisdom. The vague theme of chapter 21 is God's control. Man may believe he is in control of his circumstances, but God superintends everything. The chapter begins and ends by assuring the readers that God holds ultimate sway over all things.
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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