What does Proverbs 21:3 mean?
ESV: To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
NIV: To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
NASB: To do righteousness and justice Is preferred by the Lord more than sacrifice.
CSB: Doing what is righteous and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
NLT: The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices.
KJV: To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
Verse Commentary:
Scripture often notes that, while actions are important, they are driven by attitudes. Our thoughts matter just as much as our deeds. In the same way, the overall pattern of our lives matters more than occasional acts of piety. Any confusion about this is answered here. The Lord is pleased with a holy, justice-seeking life (Proverbs 1:7) more than hollow acts of religious ritual.

The prophet Micah (Micah 6:6–7) asked God what He desired. Micah's suggestions included burnt offerings, year-old calves, thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil, and even his firstborn son. He receives the answer that God's expectations are not defined purely by material sacrifices. His will for mankind is rooted in justice, kindness, and humility. (Micah 6:8).

This and other portions of the Bible note that religious rituals or offerings cannot balance out disobedience to God (Proverbs 15:8). The Lord ordered King Saul to completely erase the Amalekites and their livestock (1 Samuel 15:3). Instead, Saul spared the enemy king and what he thought was the best of their livestock (1 Samuel 15:9). His disobedience showed that his heart was not right with the Lord. When the prophet Samuel confronted Saul, Saul said he had kept the best of the sheep and the oxen to sacrifice to God. Yet this was not an acceptable reason to disobey God's clear command. Samuel replied, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?" (1 Samuel 15:22).
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.
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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