What does Proverbs 21:23 mean?
ESV: Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
NIV: Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.
NASB: One who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles.
CSB: The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
NLT: Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.
KJV: Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.
NKJV: Whoever guards his mouth and tongue Keeps his soul from troubles.
Verse Commentary:
Solomon lived in an era without the internet, recording devices, or mass communications. And yet, he still recognized the danger of uncontrolled speech. Some people talk too much, to their own detriment. The same Hebrew word is translated into English as "keep" and "guard." The person who guards his mouth and his tongue spares himself a lot of trouble. Lying, gossip, slander, and cursing have ruined many who would have stayed out of trouble if they had kept their mouths shut. In an era where every word can be recorded, broadcast, and criticized, Solomon's counsel is as appropriate today as when he gave it.

Of course, this advice is not easy to apply. The apostle James writes, "If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man" (James 3:2). He describes the tongue as a "a small member, yet it boasts of great things" (James 3:5), "a fire, a world of unrighteousness" (James 3:6), and "a restless evil" (James 3:8). He stresses how hard it is to control the tongue.
Verse Context:
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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