Proverbs 16:1

16:1 The intentions of the heart belong to a man,

but the answer of the tongue comes from the Lord.

Proverbs 19:21

19:21 There are many plans in a person’s mind,

but it is the counsel of the Lord which will stand.

Proverbs 20:24

20:24 The steps of a person 10  are ordained by 11  the Lord

so how can anyone 12  understand his own 13  way?

Proverbs 21:1

21:1 The king’s heart 14  is in the hand 15  of the Lord like channels of water; 16 

he turns it wherever he wants.


tn Heb “plans of the heart” (so ASV, NASB, NIV). The phrase מַעַרְכֵי־לֵב (maarkhe-lev) means “the arrangements of the mind.”

sn Humans may set things in order, plan out what they are going to say, but God sovereignly enables them to put their thoughts into words.

tn Heb “[are] to a man.”

tn Here “the tongue” is a metonymy of cause in which the instrument of speech is put for what is said: the answer expressed.

sn The contrasting prepositions enhance the contrasting ideas – the ideas belong to people, but the words come from the Lord.

sn There are two ways this statement can be taken: (1) what one intends to say and what one actually says are the same, or (2) what one actually says differs from what the person intended to say. The second view fits the contrast better. The proverb then is giving a glimpse of how God even confounds the wise. When someone is trying to speak [“answer” in the book seems to refer to a verbal answer] before others, the Lord directs the words according to his sovereign will.

sn The plans (from the Hebrew verb חָשַׁב [khashav], “to think; to reckon; to devise”) in the human heart are many. But only those which God approves will succeed.

tn Heb “in the heart of a man” (cf. NAB, NIV). Here “heart” is used for the seat of thoughts, plans, and reasoning, so the translation uses “mind.” In contemporary English “heart” is more often associated with the seat of emotion than with the seat of planning and reasoning.

tn Heb “but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand.” The construction draws attention to the “counsel of the Lord”; it is an independent nominative absolute, and the resumptive independent pronoun is the formal subject of the verb.

tn The antithetical parallelism pairs “counsel” with “plans.” “Counsel of the Lord” (עֲצַת יְהוָה, ’atsat yehvah) is literally “advice” or “counsel” with the connotation of “plan” in this context (cf. NIV, NRSV, NLT “purpose”; NCV “plan”; TEV “the Lord’s will”).

sn The point of the proverb is that the human being with many plans is uncertain, but the Lord with a sure plan gives correct counsel.

10 tn Heb “the steps of a man”; but “man” is the noun גֶּבֶר (gever, in pause), indicating an important, powerful person. BDB 149-50 s.v. suggests it is used of men in their role of defending women and children; if that can be validated, then a translation of “man” would be appropriate here. But the line seems to have a wider, more general application. The “steps” represent (by implied comparison) the course of life (cf. NLT “the road we travel”).

11 tn Heb “from the Lord”; NRSV “ordered by the Lord”; NIV “directed by the Lord.”

sn To say that one’s steps are ordained by the Lord means that one’s course of actions, one’s whole life, is divinely prepared and sovereignly superintended (e.g., Gen 50:26; Prov 3:6). Ironically, man is not actually in control of his own steps.

12 tn The verse uses an independent nominative absolute to point up the contrast between the mortal and the immortal: “and man, how can he understand his way?” The verb in the sentence would then be classified as a potential imperfect; and the whole question rhetorical. It is affirming that humans cannot understand very much at all about their lives.

13 tn Heb “his way.” The referent of the third masculine singular pronoun is unclear, so the word “own” was supplied in the translation to clarify that the referent is the human individual, not the Lord.

14 sn “Heart” is a metonymy of subject; it signifies the ability to make decisions, if not the decisions themselves.

15 sn “Hand” in this passage is a personification; the word is frequently used idiomatically for “power,” and that is the sense intended here.

16 tn “Channels of water” (פַּלְגֵי, palge) is an adverbial accusative, functioning as a figure of comparison – “like channels of water.” Cf. NAB “Like a stream”; NIV “watercourse”; NRSV, NLT “a stream of water.”

sn The farmer channels irrigation ditches where he wants them, where they will do the most good; so does the Lord with the king. No king is supreme; the Lord rules.