Proverbs 22:17

The next section in Proverbs begins in Proverbs 22:17 and goes through Proverbs 24:34. This section is titled, “The Words of the Wise,” per 22:17. Solomon did not write these proverbs but rather collected them as wise sayings from his predecessors. The collection has over 70 proverbs that are typically two to three verses in length, and do not follow the two-line structure of the Proverbs of Solomon. The collection features three sections—22:17-21; 22:22-24:22; 24:23-34—touching on various wisdom themes common to Proverbs. The first section is a short introductory section, calling for attention to wisdom and enumerating blessings of wisdom that treasures up wisdom, deepens trust in the Lord, creates stability in the life, and fits the lips to speak sound wisdom to others.

Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge.
– Proverbs 22:17

The word for bow down means to stretch, or bend. The word for hear means to listen with attention. You must think about what you hear and strive for understanding. The word for apply means to set and the word for heart indicates the mind. The word for knowledge means perception, or understanding. Wisdom continually calls us to listen and exercise all our faculties to understand and retain the words of wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-5; 3:1; 5:1-2; 8:33-34; 23:12). Wisdom teaches effort must be expended and wisdom sought for diligently (Proverbs 2:2-6). The reminiscent exhortation to hear gives three imperatives to the prospective learner—bend your ear and listen to “the words of the wise,” and commit your faculties to “my knowledge.” We might also add, expect repetition.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 22:11

He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.
– Proverbs 22:11

The word for pureness means clean and can refer to ceremonial, physical, or moral cleanness. The word for grace means kindness, or favor. Wise speech is marked by honesty (Proverbs 16:13), appropriateness (Proverbs 15:23), and beauty (Proverbs 10:20; 25:11). The first phrase indicates purity of motives and the second indicates purity of speech. The proverb teaches honest and gracious speech wins favor.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 21:2

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.
– Proverbs 21:2

This proverb is similar to Proverbs 16:2 (see commentary). The word for right means straight, or upright. It can have a moral tinge, but also gives the sense of being correct. The first phrase is a wisdom observance that men think the way they are going is correct. Unless a man is bent on deliberate self-destruction, he thinks the way he is going will lead to some happiness. The seventeenth century French mathematician Blaise Pascal put it this way: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” 1

The proverb is a wisdom observation about our fallible self-knowledge, self-evaluation, and self-direction. Man is incompetent of himself, which is why we need wisdom and wise counsellors (Proverbs 11:14; 12:15; 15:22; 19:20-21). The word for pondereth means to balance, as in to measure by weight with a scale. The contrast of the second phrase with the first is that man follows his heart but only Yahweh truly knows the heart, or mind. Man cannot always accurately assess his motives and objectives, but God always knows what is in the deep, dark waters of our hearts (Proverbs 20:5).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series


  1. Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W. F. Trotter (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958), 113, #425.

Proverbs 21:1

Chapter 21 continues the Proverbs of Solomon, which form the largest section of this book and continues through the next chapter. The proverbs in this chapter touch on God’s sovereign omniscience, righteousness, justice, rewards, laziness, moderation, pride, and home life.

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
– Proverbs 21:1

The phrase, rivers of water, refers to channels, or watercourses, like what might be dug for irrigation or drainage. A gardener, or farmer, digs such channels in order to direct the water where he wants it to go. The image is analogous to God’s control, even over kings. He turns the king’s heart to accomplish the purposes of his will. The word for heart has a range of meaning and Proverbs often uses it in a way comparable to our use of mind. The proverb does not speak to how God does this, but leaves that mysterious. Other proverbs speak to God determining outcomes even though men plan and act according to their own hearts (Proverbs 16:9, 33; 20:24).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 20:9

Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?
– Proverbs 20:9

This proverb is a rhetorical question that anticipates a negative answer. Though “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness” (Proverbs 20:6) and “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes” (Proverbs 16:2), wisdom teaches us God weighs the spirits and ponders the hearts of all. Wisdom concludes, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness” (Proverbs 30:12).

The word for heart means the inner being, including the mind, will, emotions, etc. The first phrase asks whose inner intentions and motivations are clean, or innocent. Being pure from my sin points to the outward acts being morally good, or upright. This proverb speaks of rich theological truth we refer to as the depravity of man. Man is a fallen and corrupt creature who cannot keep from sin, nor purify himself from its defilement (1 Kings 8:46; Proverbs 21:4; Job 9:30-31).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
– Proverbs 17:22

The word for merry means glad, or joyful. The word for medicine means a cure, or healing. The word for heart generally means the mind as elsewhere in Proverbs. Our state of mind affects the state of our bodies (Proverbs 14:30). This can be reflected in more severe cases of dealing with diseases, but also in ongoing cases of poor health. There is “a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4), in other words, a time and place for lightheartedness. The lifting of spirits can come in various ways, but it is beneficial (Proverbs 12:25; 15:13; 18:14). Fat bones are an image of health and vitality (Proverbs 3:8; 15:30; 16:24). Dry bones are obviously the opposite picture.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 17:20

He that hath a froward heart findeth no good: and he that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief.
– Proverbs 17:20

The wicked are described as having a froward heart (Proverbs 3:32; 6:12-15; 11:20). This means a perverse mind, bent toward folly and away from wisdom. All their plans are plans of wickedness and abominations before the Lord. The wicked are also described as having a perverse tongue (Proverbs 8:13; 10:10; 18:6-7). The word for perverse means to turn about or over. This refers to a false tongue, saying one thing and doing another. One who thinks and talks this way cannot expect to find good and can expect to find mischief, or evil (Proverbs 10:31; 13:17).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 16:1

Chapter 16 begins the second part of the “Proverbs of Solomon” that runs from chapter 10 to chapter 22. The proverbs in this second part are primarily two lines that parallel. The first part featured mostly proverbs that were two-line contrasts. The parallel structure has the second phrase building on the first, expanding it rather than contrasting it. Most of these proverbs begin a phrase that is good and moves to better in the second, or the first phrase is something bad and the second goes to something worse. The proverbs in chapters 16 to 22 are also arranged and grouped more topically than in chapters 10 to 15. These proverbs deal with various topics such as, relationships with people, speech, wealth, business, justice, etc.

The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.
– Proverbs 16:1

Verses 1-9 touch on God’s sovereignty. Statements about God’s sovereignty in Proverbs are specimens of theology that seem ahead of their time, like statements about life after death, etc. But, they reveal much wisdom to us. The word for preparations means arrangement, mental ordering, or plans. The first phrase states that a man plans, or thinks, of his answer in his heart, or mind, before speaking. The second phrase reveals that, despite man’s plans, the answer, or reply, is from the Lord. This proverb balances human responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Man plans and does, but, ultimately, what man plans and does fulfills God will (Proverbs 16:9; 19:21; 20:24; 21:1).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 15:14

The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.
– Proverbs 15:14

The word for seeketh means to search out and indicates a deliberate search. The word for knowledge means cunning, perception, and discernment. Proverbs presents wisdom as accessible to all (Proverbs 8:1-11; 9:1-6), but acquired only by those who seek for it (Proverbs 2:1-6). One of the marks of wisdom is to continue to seek for wisdom (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9). The contrast speaks of feeding on foolishness rather than seeking wisdom. The word for feedeth means to pasture, or graze. The word for fools is the most common word in Proverbs for fools. The word means stupid and obstinate. The usage in Proverbs shows the word describes one who chooses the way of folly and not one who is mentally impaired. The fool gobbles up foolishness and spews it out freely (Proverbs 15:2). The fool has no heart or patience for acquiring wisdom (Proverbs 17:6, 24). He prefers his easy foolishness so much he returns to it like a dog to its own vomit (Proverbs 26:11).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Next Page »