Proverbs 16 is a collection thirty-three individual sayings. While the chapter does not seem to have a unifying theme, topics such as the king, haughtiness, God’s relation to man, and speech play an important role.
Verse 31 speaks about the virtue of old age, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; It is attained by the way of righteousness.”
III. Important Verses
v. 3: Entrust your affairs to the LORD, And your plans will succeed.
v. 4: The LORD made everything for a purpose, Even the wicked for an evil day.
v. 8: Better a little with righteousness Than a large income with injustice.
v. 9: A man may plot out his course, But it is the LORD who directs his steps.
v. 10: There is magic on the lips of the king; He cannot err in judgment.
v. 18: Pride goes before ruin, Arrogance, before failure.
v. 19: Better to be humble and among the lowly Than to share spoils with the proud.
v. 24: Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweet to the palate and a cure for the body.
v. 25: A road may seem right to a man, But in the end it is a road to death.
v. 31: Gray hair is a crown of glory; It is attained by the way of righteousness.
v. 32: Better to be forbearing than mighty, To have self-control than to conquer a city.
3. Trust in God
4. Everything has a purpose
6. Atonement; Fear of God
10. A king’s judgment
11. Honest weights
12-13. Kings and righteousness
14. The king’s wrath
15. The king’s favor
16. The value of wisdom
17. The proper path
20. Wisdom; Trust in God
21-24. Wisdom; Wise words
27-29. The ways of the wicked
31. Old age
32. Self control
Proverbs 16 is a collection of thirty-three individual sayings. Murphy writes (p. 125), “Chap. 16 marks a turn in the book. Chaps. 10–15 were long considered… to be a separate collection. The difference in chap. 16 is not only in style, e.g., less antithetical sayings, but also in theological content. It is not that the book previously lacked significant theology, but rather that the sovereign action of the Lord was not emphasized as much as here. And the very beginning is impressive: eight of the first nine verses [contain the name of God].” Thus, the form of its parallelism and its focus on God’s name seem to indicate that ch. 16 is a new section of the book. In addition to the synthetic parallelism (which was first seen in ch. 15), synonymous parallelism begins to play an important role (see vv. 10, 13, 16, 17, 18, and 32).
In terms of structure, the name of God appears in 9 of the first 11 verses (vv. 8, 10 are the exceptions). The chapter also ends with the a reference to God, forming an inclusio of sorts. Vv. 10-15 focus on the melekh “king” (v. 11 is the exception, but it is juxtaposed to v. 10 because of the catchword mishpat “judgment”). There are other catchwords: vv. 27-29 begin with the word ish “man,” and v. 23 is a look-alike of v. 21. V. 22, which separates the two “look-alikes,” is linked to v. 23 because of the word sekhel “understanding.”
Many of the chapter’s sayings speak about God’s control of man’s future. V. 3 says, “Entrust your affairs to the LORD, And your plans will succeed.” Prov. 20:24 says, “A man’s steps are decided by the LORD; What does a man know about his own way?” This is similar to the message of Ps. 127:1-2, “A song of ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain on it; unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman keeps vigil in vain. In vain do you rise early and stay up late, you who toil for the bread you eat; He provides as much for His loved ones while they sleep.” V. 9 of our chapter corroborates the notion that “all is up to God”: “A man may plot out his course, But it is the LORD who directs his steps.” Also see Jer. 10:23: “I know, O LORD, that man’s road is not his to choose, That man, as he walks, cannot direct his own steps.” Vv. 4 and 25 of our chapter continue the same theme.
In v. 8 we find the familiar “better X than Y” formula: “Better a little with righteousness Than a large income with injustice.” This verse is similar in meaning and form to 15:16-17: “Better a little with fear of the LORD Than great wealth with confusion. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love Than a fattened ox where there is hate.” Two other verses in our chapter employ the “better than” formula: v. 19 says, “Better to be humble and among the lowly Than to share spoils with the proud,” and v. 32 says “Better to be forbearing than mighty, To have self-control than to conquer a city.”
The next section (vv. 10-15) deals with the king. V. 10 says, “There is magic on the lips of the king; He cannot err in judgment.” While the term qesem “oracle/magic” usually has a negative connotation (cf. Deut 18:10), here it seems to be positive. It is interesting to note that the king section is juxtaposed to the God section because other verses indicate a connection between the two. For instance, the two are put together in 24:21: “Fear the LORD, my son, and the king, And do not mix with dissenters.” Also, the term to’avat “abomination” is used for both (cf. 16:12 and 15:9). Joab even compares David to an “angel of God” in 2 Sam. 14:20. But, once again, “no proverb says it all”: the wicked/foolish kings will be dealt with in the coming chapters (e.g. 31:4-5).
The prominent theme of haughtiness is taken up in v. 18: “Pride goes before ruin, Arrogance, before failure.” Similar verses are 11:2, “When arrogance appears, disgrace follows, But wisdom is with those who are unassuming,” and 18:12, “Before ruin a man’s heart is proud; Humility goes before honor.” There is a related theme in prophetic literature, namely to tear down all “high things”: “For the LORD of Hosts has ready a day Against all that is proud and arrogant, Against all that is lofty — so that it is brought low: Against all the cedars of Lebanon, Tall and stately, And all the oaks of Bashan; Against all the high mountains And all the lofty hills; Against every soaring tower And every mighty wall; Against all the ships of Tarshish And all the gallant barks. Then man’s haughtiness shall be humbled And the pride of man brought low. None but the LORD shall be Exalted in that day” (Isa. 2:12-17).
V. 31 speaks about the virtue of old age: “Gray hair (sevah) is a crown of glory; It is attained by the way of righteousness.” This is similar to 20:29, “The glory of youths is their strength; The majesty of old men is their gray hair (sevah).” Indeed, there is a command in the book of Leviticus to respect the elderly: “You shall rise before the gray haired (sevah) and show deference to the old; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:32).
VI. Works Used
(See “Commentaries” page)
Murphy, Proverbs (Word Biblical Commentary)
Waltke, The Book of Proverbs (NICOT)
Photo taken from http://www.colourlovers.com/uploads/2007/12/gray_haired_man.jpg