Prov 21:1 As the divisions of waters, so the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever he will, he shall turn it.
Divisions of the water. The Hebrew more properly refers to man made irrigation channels (in the plural). Modern translations such as the RNAB and the RSV employ the singular “stream” and thereby miss the significance of the comparison. Just as a hydro-technician can control water via ditches, channels aqueducts, etc., God has control over his earthly representatives, but this is not by compulsion and, therefore, not a rejection of free will:
Isaiah 10~5 Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger, the staff of my fury! 6 Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. 7 But he does not so intend, and his mind does not so think; but it is in his mind to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few; 8 for he says: “Are not my commanders all kings? 9 Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus? 10 As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, 11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols as I have done to Samaria and her images?” 12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride. 13 For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I have removed the boundaries of peoples, and have plundered their treasures; like a bull I have brought down those who sat on thrones. 14 My hand has found like a nest the wealth of the peoples; and as men gather eggs that have been forsaken so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing, or opened the mouth, or chirped.” 15 Shall the axe vaunt itself over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood! 16 Therefore the Lord, the LORD of hosts, will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire (Isa 10:5-16 RSV).
Aquinas: God Who is more powerful than the human will, can move the will of man, according to Pr 21,1: “The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; whithersoever He will He shall turn it.” But if this were by compulsion, it would no longer be by an act of the will, nor would the will itself be moved, but something else against the will (Summa Theologica, I-II Q. 6. art. 4).
Prov 21:2 Every way of a man seemeth right to himself: but the Lord weigheth the hearts.
It is the wise king who humbly allows the wisdom of God to direct his actions (a wisdom all mankind is called to). The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that is wise hearkeneth unto counsels (Prov 12:15). The leaders of the people in Jesus’ day showed themselves unwise: you are they who justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts. For that which is high to men is an abomination before God (Luke 15:16). Such an attitude ends in judgement: There is a way which seemeth just to a man: but the ends thereof lead to death (Prov 14:12).
Prov 21:3 To do mercy and judgment, pleaseth the Lord more than victims.
Victims. Animal sacrifices. As has often been noted, passages such as this are not a condemnation of sacrifice, rather, they are about priority. Sacrifice is intimately connected with God’s mercy towards humans.We see this in the Prophet Joel. Because of the people’s sins the land has been devastated, so much so that there is nothing left for sacrificial offerings (Joel 1:2-10, Joel 1:13; Joel 1:16). Sacrifice and libation is cut off from the house of the Lord so, therefore, the people are called upon to repent (Joel 1:13-20). God holds out the possibility that he will relent: Now, therefore, saith the Lord. Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and mourning. And rend your hearts, and not your garments and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but he will return, and forgive, and leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14). Here we see that the opportunity and ability to offer sacrifice is a grace and a mercy, but if we are unwilling to bestow mercy and graciousness on others, what are we doing but affronting the grace and mercy of God who is ready to bestow it on us?
In 1 John we read: My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2). But how can one lay claim to this grace if one does not obey God and his command to love? (see 1 John 2:3-11).
Prov 21:4 Haughtiness of the eyes is the enlarging of the heart: the lamp of the wicked is sin.
This verse is variously translated, and many modern translations and commentators propose several different emendations.
Haughtiness. The lifting up of the eyes is often an image of haughtiness, pride, insolence (Isa 2:11; Isa 5:15; Isa 37:23; Prov 30:13; Ps 18:27).
Enlarging of the heart. Hebrew: ורחב = “a roomy heart.” It can be translated as “arrogant heart” (Ps 101:5). The basic meaning seems to be: Haughtiness of the eyes is (the result of) the enlarging of the heart.
The lamp of the wicked is sin. Some draw a connection with Luke 11:33-36. Other see an allusion to Proverbs 20:27 which, unfortunately, is variously translated. Others understand the lamp of the wicked to be the haughty eyes and enlarged heart. In Proverbs 24:20 we read: For evil men have no hope of things to come, and the lamp of the wicked shall be put out. Lamp here seems to me to be synonymous with life, thus: the lamp (i.e., life) of the wicked is sin.
Prov 21:5 The thoughts of the industrious always bring forth abundance: but every sluggard is always in want.
the industrious are always praised in the Bible, provided their industry is not sinful (see Prov 10:4; Prov 14:23). The above translation follows the Greek and contrasts the protected, careful, well planned thoughts of the industrious with that of a sluggard.The sluggard is often condemned in Proverbs (e.g., Prov 6:6; Prov 10:4; Prov 12:27; Prov 13:4; Prob 20:4; Prov 21:25).
In the Hebrew text the comparison is not with a lazy man, rather, it is with a hasty man: The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but every one who is hasty comes only to want (RSV). The desire and impatience to get rich quickly, or be successful early, usually leads to ruin due to a lack of wisdom, the absence of forethought and planning (Prov 19:2; Prov 21:5). Those who want a quick and easy salvation with out the nasty necessity of daily crosses will come to ruin (Luke 14:27-33).
Prov 21:6 He that gathereth treasures by a lying tongue, is vain and foolish, and shall stumble upon the snares of death.
See Prov 10:2; Prov 13:11; Sirach 40:13-14. A person’s desire to get rich quick, or be successful at a young age, can often lead to acquiring ill-gotten gains. The importance of truthfulness cannot be underestimated:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church~2464 The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.
2465 The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.”[Ps 119:90] Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth.[Rom 3:4; cf. 119:30]
2466 In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. “Full of grace and truth,” he came as the “light of the world,” he is the Truth.[Jn 1:14; Jn 8:12; cf. Jn 14:5] “Whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”[Jn 12:46] The disciple of Jesus continues in his word so as to know “the truth [that] will make you free” and that sanctifies.[Jn 8:32; cf. Jn 17:17] To follow Jesus is to live in “the Spirit of truth,” whom the Father sends in his name and who leads “into all the truth.”[Jn 16:13] To his disciples Jesus teaches the unconditional love of truth: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes or No.’”[Matt 5:37]
2467 Man tends by nature toward the truth. He is obliged to honor and bear witness to it: “It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons . . . are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth.”[Dignitatis Humanae 2 § 2]
Stumble upon the snares of death. To seek ill-gotten gain is to entrap yourself in death.
Pro 21:10 The soul of the wicked desireth evil, he will not have pity on his neighbor.
The soul of the wicked desireth evil. Soul in Hebrew is נפשׁ = breath, life, self. His very life is bound up with evil desire, as if he could not live without it.
He will not have pity on his neighbor. Literally, Not gracious in his eyes is his neighbor. His predilection is for his own evil desires, not the needs of his neighbors, companions, or associates.
The fact that in our liturgical reading this verse follows verse 6 with its reference to lying tongue is interesting. See Psalm 52 which is about the deceiver who relies on his tongue and his ill-gotten goods
Pro 21:11 When a pestilent man is punished, the little one will be wiser: and if he follow the wise, he will receive knowledge.
Pestilent man. One who infects others like a plague. Other translations speak of an arrogant, scoffing, or scorning man. Here we see the positive value of punishment. Even if it proves no corrective to the man himself, it give others a warning, leading to the possibility they will begin to follow the teaching of the wise
Pro 21:12 The just considereth seriously the house of the wicked, that he may withdraw the wicked from evil.
Perhaps the idea is that the just man takes account of a wicked man’s household (wife, children, servants) and the ill-effects that man has upon these, and seeks to bring the man from his wicked way on their account.
The RSV reads: The righteous observes the house of the wicked; the wicked are cast down to ruin.
Pro 21:13 He that stoppeth his ear against the cry of the poor, shall also cry himself, and shall not be heard.
The fool’s rule: God will treat you as miserably as you have treated others. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13 RSV).
Excerpt from Pope St Leo’s Sermon on the Collections~But, perhaps there are some rich people, who, although they are not wont to help the Church’s poor by bounteous gifts, yet keep other commands of God, and among their many meritorious acts of faith and uprightness think they will be pardoned for the lack of this one virtue. But this is so important that, though the rest exist without it, they can be of no avail. For although a man be full of faith, and chaste, and sober, and adorned with other still greater decorations, yet if he is not merciful, he cannot deserve mercy: for the Lord says, “blessed are the merciful, for God shall have mercy upon them” (Matt 5:7). And when the Son of Man comes in His Majesty and is seated on His glorious throne, and all nations being gathered together, division is made between the good and the bad, for what shall they be praised who stand upon the fight except for works of benevolence and deeds of love which Jesus Christ shall reckon as done to Himself? For He who has made man’s nature His own, has separated Himself in nothing from man’s humility. And what objection shall be made to those on the left except for their neglect of love, their inhuman harshness, their refusal of mercy to the poor? as if those on the right had no other virtues those on the left no other faults. But at the great and final day of judgment large-hearted liberality and ungodly meanness will be counted of such importance as to outweigh all other virtues and all other shortcomings, so that for the one men shall gain entrance into the Kingdom, for the other they shall be sent into eternal fire.
Let no one therefore, dearly beloved, flatter himself on any merits of a good life, if works of charity be wanting in him, and let him not trust in the purity of his body, if he be not cleansed by the purification of almsgiving. For “almsgiving wipes out sin” (Sirach 3:30), kills death, and extinguishes the punishment of perpetual fire. But he who has not been fruitful therein, shall have no indulgence from the great Re-compenser, as Solomon says, “He that closeth his ears lest he should hear the weak, shall himself call upon the Lord, and there shall be none to hear him” (Prov 21:13). And hence Tobias also, while instructing his son in the precepts of godliness, says, “Give alms of thy substance, and turn not thy face from any poor man: so shall it come to pass that the face of God shall not be turned from thee.” This virtue makes all virtues profitable; for by its presence it gives life to that very faith, by which “the just lives” (Hab 2:4), and which is said to be “dead without works” (James 2:26), because as the reason for works consists in faith, so the strength of faith consists in works. “While we have time therefore,” as the Apostle says, “let us do that which is good to all men, and especially to them that are of the household of faith” (Gal 2:9-10). “But let us not be weary in doing good; for in His own time we shall reap” (Gal 2:910).And so the present life is the time for sowing, and the day of retribution is the time of harvest, when every one shall reap the fruit of his seed according to the amount of his sowing. And no one shall be disappointed in the produce of that harvesting, because it is the heart’s intentions rather than the sums expended that will be reckoned up. And little sums from little means shall produce as much as great sums from great means. And therefore, dearly beloved, let us carry out this Apostolic institution. And as the first collection will be next Sunday, let all prepare themselves to give willingly, that every one according to his ability may join in this most sacred offering. Your very alms and those who shall be aided by your gifts shall intercede for you, that you may be always ready for every good work in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who lives and reigns for ages without end. Amen.