HERE I SHALL FOCUS ON THREE of the several themes that surface in Proverbs 21:
(a) "To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice" (Prov. 21:3).
The prophets say something similar (e.g., Hosea 6:6), and so does the LORD Jesus (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Every generation must remember that integrity and righteousness are more important than religious ritual. It should come as no surprise that religious people may sometimes cheat on their income tax, abuse their children, covet their neighbor's car, and love nothing so much as personal pleasure. Their religion may actually serve as a cloak to cover their sin with a veneer of respectability. This chapter includes another relevant proverb: "The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable-how much more so when brought with evil intent!" (Prov. 21:27). The religious observance of wicked people is simply detestable in God's sight; it is unimaginably revolting to him when the wicked person is less a wicked dupe than a self-conscious charlatan using his religion to deceive people. Implicitly, of course, this means that the religion of the Bible is more about character than choirs, more about real transformation than religious tradition, more about God and the Gospel than about leadership and glitz.
(b) Poverty may come about because of abuse and oppression by the strong and powerful. But it may also come about because of a character flaw such as laziness or love of self-indulgence. So it is in this chapter: "He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich" (Prov. 21:17). "In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has" (Prov. 21:20). "The sluggard's craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work" (Prov. 21:25). "All day long he craves for more, but the righteous give without sparing" (Prov. 21:26). By contrast, "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty" (Prov. 21:5). The wise will not pursue pleasure as one of the great goals of life, but will prove provident, generous, hard-working, faithful, and just-precisely the kind of qualities that make good employers and good employees.
(c) "Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!" (Prov. 21:4). "The proud and arrogant man-'Mocker' is his name; he behaves with overweening pride" (Prov. 21:24). The heart of all wickedness is this vaulting self-focus that deludes itself into thinking we are self-determining, such that God himself can never be more than an accessory. Small wonder that gospel transformation begins with repentance.