Proverbs 16. Here’s a bagful of thirty-three 2-liners. The usual assortment of takes on life, human behaviour, riches and poverty, wisdom, justice, trouble-makers, gossip, come-uppence theory and firmly embraced values. Take some to heart by memorising.
Note the way of Hebrew poetry. You say something, then add to it. The second line may be a restatement with variation, an amplification, or a contrast.
We all know that ‘pride comes before a fall’, but probably couldn’t tell someone that Proverbs 16:18 said it first:
“Pride goes before destruction
and haughtiness before a fall.”
We’re probably thinking now—“Oh, yes! That was true for Richard Nixon, Jacob Zuma, disgraced corporate bosses, like the CEOs of VW, for Weinstein. And Trump next? Did they all think that they were invincible, untouchable, too clever at cover-ups, generous enough with hush money? Pride’s a hazard for high-ups and celebs, who get used to being applauded and kow-towed to. We’re not in that league.”
Yet pride is a jacket that we slip on so easily when we compare ourselves with others to our own advantage. Woops!
What’s unusual about Proverbs 16 within Proverbs is that two characters are really prominent. What two characters? I’ll give you a clue. One pops up 5 times, the other 11 times. Another clue? Both are in positions of power. Got it? Yes, it’s ‘the king’ (v10, 12, 13, 14, 15) and ‘the LORD’ (Yahweh, v 1–7, 9, 11, 20, 33).
Now just when we think that the king is getting a free ride, and that those sayings about the king must be his own press releases or twitters—‘inspired decisions are on the lips of a king’, ‘it is an abomination to kings to do evil’—then we come to verse 14:
“The anger of the king is a deadly threat;
the wise will try to appease it.”
That’s an observation that his top advisors at court should take to heart. This man could have your head before breakfast. And did (2 Chronicles 24:20–22). So the positives re the king are probably holding up an ideal, and whether the present incumbent matched up would be up for discussion. Collected proverbs can be discussion starters, not the last word. And if we comb the whole collection on a topic like riches and poverty, we will discover that there’s more sophistication, juxtaposing and nuance to the total bag of proverbs than first meets the eye.
Certainly, “a just balance and scales are the LORD’s” (v11)—not the king’s. And when it comes to weighing things up, it’s the Lord who has before Him all the facts necessary from the readout of His scanner:
“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes
but the LORD weighs the spirit.” (v2, RSV)
The New Living Translation rather aptly translates as: the LORD examines… motives.
Our usual bundle of mixed motives for our best behaviour is one reason why we come together each Sunday to admit before the Lord that we are natural sinners and to receive the grace of His forgiveness and not condemnation.
See you there!