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Sovereignty and Wisdom – Proverbs 16

Read the Passage: Proverbs 16

Sovereignty and Free Will (16:1–9)

As with most of the other chapters in this section of the book of Proverbs, so in chapter 16 many of the sayings are related to each other; yet, they are not necessarily connected in a logical argument. A main theme in Prov. 16:1–9 is the relationship between man’s free will and God’s sovereignty. This topic has frequently been discussed by God’s people and can be a mentally challenging subject. To elaborate, Prov. 16:1 reads, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” In short, here is the biblical answer for how man’s free will and God’s sovereignty relate—that is, we must act with conscious dependence upon God, being confident that He is always at work in us and through us. Note that God’s commands in the Bible do not imply our power to obey; rather, they are designed to provoke our dependence upon Him for the grace of willing obedience.

One of the most challenging aspects of the notion of God’s sovereignty is the presence of evil and suffering in the world. In Prov. 16:4 Solomon gives the teaching, “The Lord has made all for Himself; yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.” The here idea that God’s sovereignty extends over evil and suffering is not easy to process. Indeed, fallen human beings who are enduring life in the cursed creation often ask, “If God is sovereign, why do I still suffer?” Note, however, the general teaching of God’s sovereignty over both good and bad is reiterated all throughout Scripture (cf. Exod. 4:11; 9:16; Ps. 92:7; Eccl. 7:13–14; Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:32, 38; Rom. 9:22–24; 1 Pet. 2:8; Jude 4). So, while the Bible is silent about the specific details concerning God’s providence, we must affirm the truth of God’s sovereignty, as well as the fact of the goodness of His character (cf. Heb. 7:26). Observe Prov. 16:3 teaches us that the way to please God is to follow Him.

Kings and Wisdom (16:10–23)

The main recurring theme in Prov. 16:10–23 is the place and role of authority in society. In the context of Proverbs, the main human authority was the king. In fact, between Prov. 16:10–15 the office of king is mentioned five times. In this passage Solomon notes that: (1) the lips of kings speak divine wisdom, (2) the sins of kings are an abomination to God, (3) the delight of kings ought to be righteousness (4) the wrath of kings brings death, and (5) the favor of kings brings life. In general, these principles apply to all rulers, whether believers or unbelievers. When speaking of secular rulers, Paul wrote, “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore, you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:4–5).

In Prov. 16:16–23 Solomon reiterates some of his most important earlier teachings, as he extols the value of wisdom. Prov. 16:16 reads, “How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver” (cf. Prov. 3:13–18; 8:10–11). One of the more often quoted, and sometimes misquoted, sayings in the book of Proverbs is, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Pride is by nature self-idolatry. Since mankind was made to worship God (cf. Isa. 43:7), when man is prideful he is bound to stumble. Remember that man is created to do what God tells him to do in the moral law. Therefore, when man sins, he experiences frustration; yet, when man obeys God, he experiences joy (cf. Prov. 16:20–21). The wise will understand this principle, while sinners will oftentimes reject it as foolishness (cf. Prov. 16:22).

Pride and Anger (16:24–33)

A noticeable theme in the concluding verses of this chapter is the practical effect of pride. As he details the results of pride first mentioned in Prov. 16:18, Solomon refers to the ungodly man, the perverse man, and the violent man (cf. Prov. 16:27–30). That which ties these individuals together is their self-idolatry. Before writing about the actions of these three evil men, in Prov. 16:25 Solomon notes, “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.” Next, Solomon explains that the ungodly man digs up evil (cf. Prov. 16:27), the perverse man separates friends (cf. Prov. 16:28), and the violent man brings about evil (cf. Prov. 16:30). The startling part about these effects is that each man thinks he is doing right! In contrast to these individuals, at Prov. 16:32 Solomon notes, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”

Application Questions:

  1. How can we affirm the biblical teaching that man has a duty to obey God and at the same time acknowledge that God is sovereign (cf. Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12–13)?
  2. As you’ve read the Bible and matured in Christ, how has your understanding of the relationship between man’s freewill and God’s sovereignty changed?
  3. If God is sovereign over all things, why do we still suffer? How have personal experiences of suffering and evil refined your character?
  4. How are Christians to react when their authorities are not believers? Is it ever right to obey a sinful mandate from a secular ruler?
  5. What are the implications of Prov. 16:33, which reveals that every decision of the lot that is cast into the lap is from the Lord?
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