Proverbs 21:4

An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.
– Proverbs 21:4

The text of this proverb is difficult. The Hebrew words for tillage and lamp are only differentiated by vowel points. We can see the similarity even in the transliteration of each: nir (tillage) and ner (lamp). The Septuagint has lampter (lamp, or lantern), and many translations have followed the Septuagint here and give plowing as an alternative reading. Knox, translating from the Latin Vulgate, rendered it as “hopes.” This takes “lamp” as a figure, not of the conscience, but of outlook, which is reasonable. Interestingly, plowing can also be a figure for hope, or outlook, and Paul used it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:10. If outlook fits and makes sense of the verse, then it isn’t nearly as difficult as it first appears. Though if I were smarter and more educated, I’m sure I could find more difficulty.

The high look and proud heart refer to arrogance that persists in its own way rather than receiving instruction in the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 6:17; 8:13; 30:13). The proverb is denouncing the thoughts of the wicked. They are high thoughts of self-conceit that dismiss and despise the wisdom of God (Psalm 10:4). This is why all the plans, or hopes, and actions of the wicked are tainted and sinful (Proverbs 21:27).

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