1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will.
2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the heart.
3 To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
4 Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
6 The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
7 The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
because they refuse to do what is just.
8 The way of the guilty is crooked,
but the conduct of the pure is upright.
9 It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
10 The soul of the wicked desires evil;
his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.
11 When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise;
when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.
12 The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked;
he throws the wicked down to ruin.
13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
will himself call out and not be answered.
14 A gift in secret averts anger,
and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous
but terror to evildoers. – Proverbs 21:1-15 ESV
As human beings, we can be the masters of deceit and deception. Over time we can learn the art of spin, controlling what others think about us and manipulating how they perceive us. In fact, how we’re perceived by others can become the most important thing about us. Our external persona becomes our pseudo-personality. Perception becomes reality. After a while, we can even begin to believe our own PR. We can convince ourselves that the facade we’ve erected is real, not imaginary – that the aura we give off is authentic, not self-manufactured and fake.
But while we may fool others and even ourselves with our Academy-Award-winning ways, God remains unconvinced and unimpressed. He looks right past our plastic facade and sees into the very recesses of our souls. He examines our hearts.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 ESV
The Hebrew word that is translated as “weighs” is actually a term for measuring, as in a balance scale. God places our hearts on one side of the scale and measures its real worth based on something of equal weight or worth. He doesn’t take into account any of the excess exterior trappings we’ve spent so much time creating and cultivating. He goes right to the heart of the matter – literally. God takes a look at the condition of our hearts and determines who we really are. If we allow Him. And sadly, we quickly discover that, rather than being the measure of all things, we are being measured by a holy and righteous God.
God X-rays our hearts and reveals what’s really going on under the shiny surface of our lives. He exposes our pride, anger, and arrogance. He shows us our selfishness and self-centeredness.
Haughty eyes, a proud heart,
and evil actions are all sin. – Proverbs 21:4 NLT
He exposes to us our fears, faithlessness, spiritual adultery, and embarrassing weaknesses.
The Righteous One knows what is going on in the homes of the wicked;
he will bring disaster on them. – Proverbs 21:12 NLT
But like a doctor examining a patient, God’s goal is not just to expose sickness. He wants to bring about healing. He desires to refocus our attention away from the surface issues of life and on to the hard reality of our heart health. God longs to heal our hearts so that we might truly be what He desires for us to be.
Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love
will find life, righteousness, and honor. – Proverbs 21:21 NLT
We can pursue wealth, pleasure, popularity, and a host of other things, but they will never deliver what we need. We can attempt to ignore our hearts and live in a fairy tale land of false identity and fake reality, but we will never find joy, peace, and contentment. So, God examines our hearts and then gives us the results. But He also provides us with a prescription and a remedy for healing. As the Great Physician, He knows how to heal our hearts and restore our souls. But it begins with a thorough examination and a correct, sometimes shocking diagnosis. Once we accept His assessment and place ourselves under His loving, capable hands, healing can begin. Our hearts can be made whole again. The facade can come down, the false identity can be removed, and the man or woman God designed us to be can begin to reveal itself – from the inside out. And a heart that is in the right condition can begin doing what God has deemed as right.
The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
than when we offer him sacrifices. – Proverbs 21:3 NLT
But sadly, a lot of us spend a lot of time trying to keep God pleased. We view Him as some kind of divine Santa Clause, who’s making a list, and checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. So, if we want to keep Him happy, we better get busy doing nice things. And that can translate into everything from having a quiet time to memorizing Scripture, or doing acts of service and going to a Bible study or on a short-term mission trip. We can even believe that giving more money to the church will put us in good standing with God. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, we can easily turn them into actions that we believe will earn us brownie points with God. And in doing so, we miss the point. When we make them personal sacrifices we offer on behalf of God in the hopes that He will notice and reward us favorably, they lose their meaning and we lose our focus.
King David understood this concept very well. He wrote, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:16-17 NLT).
While God had commanded the people of Israel to offer sacrifices, what He was really looking for was an obedient heart. Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders in His day.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law — justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides!” – Matthew 23:23-24 NLT
These men were adept at keeping the law and of making the proper sacrifices, but their hearts were not right. They were skilled at keeping the letter of the law but were oblivious to the real point behind the law: Doing justice, mercy, and faith.
It wasn’t supposed to be about their ability to keep laws, but about the motivation of their hearts. They were doing what they were doing out of a sense of self-righteousness and in the hopes that what they did would somehow earn them credit with God. But as we read in Proverbs, God is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer Him sacrifices. He is more focused on our hearts than our efforts. In the verse right before this one, Solomon writes, “People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart.”
God is able to see our inner motivation. He knows when we are doing what we are doing out of some sense of duty or simply in the hopes of earning His approval. The book of Micah contains these sobering words:
No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT
God’s desire is that our outer efforts be motivated by an inward transformation that He alone can bring about. As we submit to His authority over our lives and listen to the Holy Spirit’s direction, we begin to understand what it is that God would have us do. We begin to desire what He desires, love what He loves, and see the world as He sees it. We learn to walk in humility, not pride. We understand that our best efforts are never enough to earn points with God. He doesn’t need our sacrifices. He simply wants our hearts. And as He changes our hearts, we begin to do what is just and right. We act in ways that are in keeping with His heart and in accordance with His will. And He is pleased.
So much of what the book of Proverbs deals with has to do with outward conduct.
The way of the guilty is crooked,
but the conduct of the pure is upright. – Proverbs 21:8 ESV
But it all begins in the heart.
The soul of the wicked desires evil;
his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes. – Proverbs 21:10 ESV
Ungodly behavior can show up in a variety of forms, from a wife who likes to quarrel to a husband with a lying tongue and an arrogant attitude. The wicked are everywhere. And they all share the same problem: They each have unhealthy and unholy hearts. And that is an ailment only God can heal.