Proverbs 16

<Link to Proverbs 16>

While Chapter 16 has no set theme or topic, there are a number of proverbs around the intersection of our thoughts and actions with the Lord’s hand in the lives of people, both righteous and otherwise.

Here are today’s selections:

To humans belong the plans of the heart,
    but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.”

(Proverbs 16:1 NIV)

In most of these two-phrase proverbs, Solomon expresses them as contrasting phrases, with the word “but” as the hinge between the two thoughts.  Normally the contrast is between good and evil, righteousness vs. unrighteousness.

In this proverb, there is a contrast, but not between good and evil.  Instead, Solomon contrasts human thought and action vs. God’s provision and sovereign aid in our lives.

Solomon implies that both the plans of our heart (our innermost desires, the ordered thoughts in our mind) and the verbalization of those thoughts to others are both good.  Solomon’s point is that we can arrange the details of what we are going to say in our minds, but God is the one who ultimately gets credit for our ability to communicate it effectively to others.

Jesus reminded His disciples of God’s intervention and aid in getting our words out in effective communication, when He said to His disciples,  “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:11-12 NIV)

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord.”
(Proverbs 16:2 NIV)

We may justify our actions to ourselves or others, but the Lord knows why we do what we do.  Yes, we may being doing something to help others, but why are we doing that thing?  Is it from a pure motive to help others, or is it really to make ourselves look good, or to receive thanks and praise from others?

Asked another way, are we giving to others, expecting nothing in return, or are we giving to others, expecting that we will receive more than what we give?  And if we receive nothing in return, what is our reaction?  Are we still glad we did what we did, or are we hurt, angry, or disappointed that nothing came back to us?

It’s good to check our motives, to ask why we do what we do, to make sure we are operating from a pure heart.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
    and he will establish your plans.”
(Proverbs 16:3 NIV)

Although Solomon does not give his dad credit, he likely heard the basis of this proverb from his father, King David.  David uses this same thought in three different Psalms:  Psalm 22:8, Psalm 37:5, and Psalm 55:22.

The word “commit” literally means “to roll”, as in rolling the burden of our plans to the Lord.  This is accomplished through a spirit of humility and earnest prayer, seeking God’s approval for what we desire to be and to do.  When we diligently seek God’s heart on a matter, He either blesses our plans, or shows us His better way.

There is a way that appears to be right,
    but in the end it leads to death.”
(Proverbs 16:25 NIV)

Solomon repeats this proverb again, from Proverbs 14:12.  James also reminded his readers (and us) that we are to include the Lord in all our planning and decision making (James 4:13-17).  James and Solomon are not condemning planning; they are simply saying that we should not expect the Lord to bless our plans when we don’t include Him in the process.  If we don’t include the Lord, we are acting in pride and self-reliance, and operating like practical atheists.

The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord.”
(Proverbs 16:33 NIV)

Here’s a short explanation of this ancient custom:

“The primary reason for casting lots was to render an impartial, unbiased decision on important matters. Once they were cast, no one could argue that the decision was the result of human intervention like nepotism, politics, favoritism, and so on. This practice would be the same as throwing dice or flipping a coin we commonly use today. In ancient times, they used varying means to cast lots, depending on the place and local customs, such as coins, polished sticks, cards, dice, and so on.” (from The Bible Study Site web page)

This custom was used both in Jewish and other pagan cultures.  This was not gambling, but was commonly used as a way to make decisions in a tie-breaker situation.

Solomon says that it may be a way to make decisions, but it’s not luck.  Instead, Solomon says, God divinely intervenes and chooses every time.

And who said that God is not caring or involved in the smallest details of our lives, that we would just flip a coin to resolve?