Proverbs 21:29

A wicked man hardeneth his face: but as for the upright, he directeth his way.
– Proverbs 21:29

The word for hardeneth means to be strong, or firm. The word appears three times in Proverbs and is translated impudent (Proverbs 7:13), strengthened (Proverbs 8:28), and hardeneth (Proverbs 21:29). The word for directeth means to separate mentally, or understand. The proverb contrasts the wicked and the upright. The wicked man puts up a strong front, whereas the upright considers well his way. The proverb speaks of appearance versus substance. The wicked are more concerned about the right appearance, whereas the upright is more concerned about the right way.

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Proverbs 21:27

The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?
– Proverbs 21:27

The word for abomination means disgusting, or detestable. Here it refers to a form of ritual worship that God hates. The first phrase echoes Proverbs 15:8 and the issue is the odious nature of hypocritical worship. Getting the outward form right is meaningless when the heart is not right (1 Samuel 15:22-23). In the second phrase, wicked mind refers to an evil intent, or plan. We could view this as an attempt to bribe God to overlook unrighteousness, or an attempt to entice God to deliver the wicked one through payment apart from repentance and faith. However, God refuses to hear those who will not hear him (Proverbs 28:9).

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Proverbs 21:18

The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.
– Proverbs 21:18

Commentators vary on the meaning of this proverb as it presents some difficulty. The word for ransom means covering and, in this context, refers to a price, or compensation. Theologically, we think of atonement with this word and I think that can put us off on the wrong foot. The same word is used in a couple different places in the law. The first is in a section of the law pertaining to ox goring, or more fundamentally, liability (Exodus 21:28-36). Exodus 21:28 refers to an accidental death by ox goring. The ox was to be stoned and not eaten. The owner’s liability was covered by the loss of the ox and there was no further criminal penalty.

However, if the owner knew the ox was disposed to goring and he did not keep it penned up, he would be criminally guilty when the ox killed someone. This would be like what we call involuntary manslaughter today where there is demonstrable criminal negligence leading to death. In this case, the owner shared in the guilt and was to be put to death along with the ox (Exodus 21:29). The law made a provision where the owner could pay a sum of money as a ransom for his life (Exodus 21:30). The phrase sum of money is translated from the same word as ransom in Proverbs 21:18. This was an amount set by the family of the victim, which would be approved by the judge or adjusted as he deemed necessary. The sum of money was a ransom price for the owner’s life, because otherwise he would be executed.

The next occurrence of the word is in Number 35:31-32 where such a satisfaction is not permissible in the case of murder. The ransom was a just restitution to the aggrieved. This proverb becomes clear when we consider the relation of the wicked to the righteous. The wicked are variously described as plotting and planning evil (Proverbs 6:14; 24:8-9). Not only do they plot evil generally, but they plot evil against the righteous specifically (Psalm 37:12, 32; Proverbs 1:11; 24:15). Wisdom also teaches that the evil plans of the wicked will ultimately ensnare them (Proverbs 5:22; 11:5-6; 12:13). This justice will also come specifically because of their plans and schemes against the innocent (Proverbs 1:11, 18). So the wicked transgress against the upright in their plans and actions, and the judgment that comes to them exacts the ransom price from them.

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Proverbs 21:15

It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.
– Proverbs 21:15

The word for joy means gladness, or pleasure. Judgment refers to justice, or just dealing. It can mean a legal verdict in the official sense of justice, or it can refer to the just respect and treatment of others in our dealings. The word for destruction means ruin, or terror. The just and upright delight in justice being done and it terrifies the wicked, because they want justice to be bendable to their advantage (Proverbs 17:23). This proverb complements Proverbs 10:29 where the way of the Lord, which is the way of judgment, is a fortification for the upright but a terror to the wicked.

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Proverbs 21:12

The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked: but God overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness.
– Proverbs 21:12

The wording of this proverb is difficult. I understand there is no change in subject between the first and second phrase in the Hebrew. The righteous one in the first phrase performs both actions—considereth and overthroweth. The most natural reading takes God, Yahweh, to be the righteous one. If so, this is the only place in Proverbs where the term is used of God. Does the meaning of the proverb justify this?

The word for considereth means to look at, or give attention to. The house of the wicked likely refers to the wicked’s prosperity. Wisdom points out the temporary prosperity of the wicked is unenviable (Proverbs 24:19-20). The word for overthroweth means ruin. The second phrase points to ultimate justice for the wicked, where their own wickedness destroys them (Proverbs 11:3-5; 13:6; 14:32). Proverbs is clear that God is the one who sees and judges the wicked (Proverbs 5:21; 15:3; 16:2). This meaning is clear in a similar proverb in Proverbs 22:12. The natural and consistent meaning takes the righteous one to be God who sees and metes out final justice.

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Proverbs 21:10

The soul of the wicked desireth evil: his neighbor findeth no favor in his eyes.
– Proverbs 21:10

Desire can be a wish, want, longing, hunger, ambition, and so on. The phrase soul desireth speaks of appetite. The picture is sinfulness, not in terms of a misstep or mistake, but rather a strong desire to do evil, or calamitous harm (Proverbs 3:29; 12:12). The word for favor means to bend, and so, pity or mercy. Wisdom properly infers it is better to avoid such a person bent on evil.

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Proverbs 21:7

The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; because they refuse to do judgment.
– Proverbs 21:7

The word for robbery means violence, or destruction. It refers to the various schemes by which they oppress, extort, and steal from others (Proverbs 1:11-14). The word for judgment means a verdict, or sentence. It can be used in a legal sense to refer to the work of a judge or magistrate. We find just such a usage in Ecclesiastes 12:14. In a more general way, the word can refer to a person’s rights, i.e., property ownership, civil and criminal redress, due process of law, etc. By doing violence to a person, you are disregarding their rights and violating their just claims. The proverb means that those who do such violence and refuse justice will be destroyed. Wisdom teaches they shall be ensnared by their own ways (Proverbs 1:18-19; 10:6; 22:22-23).

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Proverbs 20:26

A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
– Proverbs 20:26

The word for scattereth is the same as in Proverbs 20:8 (see commentary). The term combined with the use of the wheel in the second phrase completes the threshing, winnowing image. The previous proverb highlighted discernment in judgment. The winnowing image had to do with the searching eyes of the king separating the innocent and the guilty. This proverb uses the same imagery, but with two different emphases. Here wicked are not just sorted into proper categories, but rather the wheel is brought over them. So this proverb highlights the execution of just judgment and maintenance of justice by bringing punishment to evildoers.

The second emphasis is the attribution of the king who does this. He is wise. The word for wise means skillful. It was a term used commonly to describe a master craftsman; one who had learned the art and science of his craft and gained the technical expertise to execute a master work. The word was so used to describe the craftsmen who built the tabernacle and its furnishings (Exodus 36:4). The word was also used to describe the work of the craftsmen who fashioned an idol in Isaiah 40:20, where it is translated cunning. The word appears 46 times in Proverbs and refers to one who is skilled in applying the word of God in all areas of life. So a wise king is one skilled in mastery of the art of ruling well and maintaining justice in the fear of the Lord and according to his word.

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Proverbs 18:5

It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to overthrow the righteous in judgment.
– Proverbs 18:5

This proverb refers to the perverting of justice by showing partiality. Such miscarrying of justice is forbidden by the law and by wisdom (Deuteronomy 1:16-17; Proverbs 17:26; 28:21). Accepting bribes (Deuteronomy 16:19), showing favoritism to a class (Leviticus 19:15), and oppressing the vulnerable (Deuteronomy 24:14; Leviticus 19:33-34) can pervert Justice.

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