“The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the spirits. Commit your works to the Lord, And your thoughts will be established.” Proverbs 16:1-3.
What is the significance of this verse? Here is a breakdown of the meaning of this passage (Proverbs 16:1-3):
1. The Preparations of the Heart Belong to Man (Proverbs 16:1)
The term “preparations of the heart” is translated as “heart plans,” “plans and reflections,” “heart reflections,” “heart arrangements,” and “heart intentions” in different Bible versions.
It’s worth noting that the words “preparations,” “reflections,” “arrangements,” and “intentions” are all plural.
The plural form indicates that God has endowed us with a creative mind that is constantly generating new ideas and plans.
We naturally entertain many thoughts and ideas because God created us with the ability to think, plan, and execute.
There is nothing wrong with forethought and planning. Bill Edgar points out in his article The Preparations of the Heart Belong to Man that God gave us all of our mental faculties because He expected us to use them.
To make plans, God gave us eyes, ears, and minds, and He wants us to use them. ~ Bill Edgar
If that is the case, what does the phrase “heart of man” in Proverbs 16 mean? According to the contextual and syntactical evidence of Proverbs 16:1-3, the heart alludes to the mind, which is the seat of judgment, emotions, will, intellect, and understanding. Making plans and preparations is a mental activity, not the heart organ function.
The phrase “the preparations of the heart” refers to the motives and intentions of the heart, which are numerous according to the scriptures.
In a later chapter, the writer of Proverbs affirms:
There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand (Proverbs 19:21, NKJV).
In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul (Psalms 94:19, KJV)
What does it mean that the “the heart preparations belong to man”? It means that God has charged man with the task of planning and preparation. Planning is a human domain entrusted to man by God.
Regrettably, many of our thoughts are flawed as a result of our sinful fallen natures. Our hearts and minds have a natural proclivity for evil. Some of our plans and ideas are constructive, while others are not.
We are naturally drawn to what is deceptive and wrong. As a result, the Bible says,
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)
Surely He knows the deceit of men. If He sees iniquity, does He not take note? (Job 11:11, BSB)
In the absence of God, our notions of right and wrong may be dubious at best.
We cannot rely solely on our own judgment. Something seemingly harmless on the surface may be the catalyst for our demise.
This is why we must seek God’s will and guidance in our plans. God’s will must take precedence over our own.
Thus, the author of Proverbs encourages us to include God in all of our plans before executing them. He desires for us to be wise enough to entrust our plans to God’s providential care.
He is confident that God will see to it that His sovereign purposes for our lives are carried out.
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2. But the Answer of the Tongue Is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:1)
The phrase "the answer of the tongue is from the Lord" implies that God has the final word over our plans. God determines whether or not our goals, dreams, and visions are realized. No one can disrupt, alter, or prevent God from carrying out His plan.
God alone has “the answer of the tongue” necessary to carry out His purpose and plan for our lives.
The Lord’s tongue, or God’s word, is the true power that shapes human history and destiny.
God has the final say because He sometimes overrides our human plans to do His will. A great example of God overriding human plans and intentions is the story of Joseph.
In that story, Joseph’s brothers devised a plan that resulted in Joseph being sold into slavery (Genesis 37:1-50:26).
However, God intervened, turning Joseph’s misfortunes into a story of redemption. Egypt and Joseph’s family were spared from a seven-year famine.
What was meant to harm Joseph turned out to be a blessing. In the words of Joseph:
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.(Genesis 50:20, NKJV)
The story of Joseph shows that God can triumph over human schemes. We discover that our personal success is contingent upon God’s favor and presence in our lives.
So, how do we seek God’s will in our plans? We seek God’s will in our planning through prayer. We must pray for God’s guidance throughout the planning, implementation, and follow-up phases.
To bring our plans to fruition, we need “the answer of the tongue” from the Lord. The Bible teaches that it is not in our hearts to direct our steps.
O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. (Jeremiah 10:23, NKJV)
As a result, we must ask God to direct our steps. It is God who endows us with the ability to articulate, implement, and complete our plans. God must then be supreme over our thoughts and plans.
We must plan and prepare in accordance with God’s will.
3. All the Ways of a Man Are Pure in His Own Eyes (Proverbs 16:2)
Human and divine assessment are not the same.
The divine assessment of man is unbiased and accurate. The human assessment is flawed and limited.
Our perception is finite, delusory, and often distorted from reality and truth.
The phrase “all the ways of man are pure in his own eyes” implies that we regard all of our actions and thoughts as legitimate and wise in our own eyes.
This assessment of our lives is not only subjective, but also deceptive. What is the reason for this? This assessment is subjective and deceptive due to the fact that it is founded on a rash, undiscerning, and ignorant finite human perspective rather than God’s.
The Bible, too, denigrates those who are wise in their own eyes in several places; here are a few examples:
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the hearts. (Proverbs 21:2, NKJV).
There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, Yet is not washed from its filthiness (Proverbs 30:12, NKJV).
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12, NIV)
Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and depart from evil. (Proverbs 3:7, NKJV)
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise. (Proverbs 12:15, NKJV)
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12, NKJV)
As the above Bible verses demonstrate, all of man’s ways, without exception, are flawed and limited. Man’s ways are diametrically opposed to God’s ways, as the scriptures attest:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9, NKJV)
Our self-evaluation or judgment is, without a doubt, skewed. Because of this, Proverbs 16:2 encourages us to place our faith in God’s assessment of our lives rather than our own limited perception.
4. But the Lord Weighs the Spirits (Proverbs 16:2)
This brings up the concept of weighing balances, which were commonly used in trade in the ancient Near East. In the same way that Beltashazzar was weighed in balances and found wanting, the Lord weighs the spirits.
TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; (Daniel 5:27, NKJV)
What exactly does “the Lord weighs the spirits” mean? The phrase “the Lord weighs the spirits” refers to God’s assessment of the motivations behind our thoughts, desires, attitudes, and actions. God evaluates and examines our motivations and intentions.
God weighs and evaluates our hearts before bestowing or withholding His blessings on us. And because God is capable of giving us a fair and accurate assessment, He is qualified to instruct and direct our steps in righteousness.
In his Bible commentary, Matthew Henry discusses how God not only sees men’s ways but also tests their spirits:
The judgment of God concerning us, we are sure, is according to truth: He weighs the spirits in a just and unerring balance, knows what is in us, and passes a judgment upon us accordingly, writing Tekel upon that which passed our scale with approbation—weighed in the balance and found wanting; and by his judgment we must stand or fall. He not only sees men’s ways but tries their spirits, and we are as our spirits are.Matthew Henry
God sees everything from heaven. His point of view is the clearest because it is not tainted by sin. God sees for all eternity, which means He sees the past, present, and future. And the Scripture bears witness to this:
For He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. (Job 28:24, BSB)
He shapes the hearts of each; He considers all their works. (Psalm 33:15, BSB)
Does he not see my ways and count my every step? (Job 31:4, NIV)
For His eyes are on the ways of a man, and He sees his every step. (Job 34:21, BSB)
But Jesus did not entrust Himself to them, for He knew them all. He did not need any testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man. (John 2:25, BSB)
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13, BSB)
The One great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are on all the ways of the sons of men, to reward each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. (Jeremiah 32:19, BSB)
God sees everything that happens beneath the heavens, molds our hearts, weighs our deeds, and keeps track of each step we take.
The best choice we can make is to cooperate with a God who is intimately acquainted with us. It follows then that we can entrust Him with our lives.
He is worthy of our trust.
5. Commit Your Works to the Lord (Proverbs 16:3)
In Biblical Hebrew, the verb translated as commit means “to roll away” or “to roll over” a burden entrusting it to someone stronger than you.
In fact, the Amplified Bible translates the word “commit” as “roll” in Proverbs 16:3:
Roll your works upon the Lord [commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and] so shall your plans be established and succeed (Proverbs 16:3, Amplified Bible).
The Hebrew word for “commit” is “galal.” According to Adam Clarke’s Bible commentary, galal was “probably, a metaphor taken from the camel, who lies down till his load be rolled upon him.”
In his book The Psalms of David, According to the Book of Common Prayer: with Critical and Explanatory Notes, Daniel Cresswell translates the word “commit” as “devolve,” explaining that “the metaphor… [is] taken from a burden put by one who is unequal to it upon a stronger man.”
From the foregoing, we can deduce that the word galal, or commit, was a common term for entrusting a burden to someone stronger than you.
Similarly, we should cast our burdens upon the Lord. He is the stronger man. Albert Barnes expresses this truth succinctly in his Notes on the Whole Bible:
“The idea is that of rolling a heavy burden from ourselves on another, or laying it upon him, so that he may bear it. The burden which we have not got strength to bear we may lay on God.”
The Bible teaches that God is the greatest burden bearer, and He bears our burdens on a daily basis:
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God of our salvation. Selah (Psalm 68:19, BSB)
What does it mean to commit your works to the Lord? Committing your works to the Lord involves total surrender and prayerful disclosure of your intentions, plans, and preparations to God. It encompasses handing over everything to God and holding nothing back, trusting that He has a greater plan for you. Additionally, it entails informing Him of our plans ahead of time so that He can take precedence over everything we do.
Why should we commit our plans and works to the Lord? When we commit our plans and actions to God, we show complete trust in Him and acknowledge His presence in our daily lives.
By resigning and submitting everything to God, we free ourselves from focusing on our problem and instead focus on God.
We trust God’s judgment because we know He knows what is best for us. We can be confident that whatever pleases God will also please us, because He is always working for our good.
How do we commit our works to the Lord? Through persistent prayer, we commit our works to God for guidance, approval, and blessing. We make a conscious effort to pray every day to renew our commitment to God because prayer is an act of self-surrender.
Charles F. Stanley in his Life Principles Bible Notes answers this question this way:
“How do we commit our works to the Lord? Not merely by asking Him to bless what we’ve already done, but by devoting ourselves completely to His plans before, during, and after we have done our work.”Charles F. Stanley
Do you ever feel as if the burdens of life are too much for you to bear? If this describes your current situation, God invites you to roll it over to Him. Simply pray to God right now, pleading with Him to intervene in your situation. In fact, God invites us to cast our burdens on Him.
Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken. (Psalm 55:22, BSB)
Involve God in the planning, execution, and completion of your project.
6. And Your Thoughts Will Be Established (Proverbs 16:3)
The Hebrew verb kun, which is translated as “established” in the New King James Version, conveys a sense of security and permanence.
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Old Testament Hebrew Lexical Dictionary defines kun as “firmly established,” “fixed,” “securely determined,” “prepared,” “directed aright,” “arranged,” and “settled.”
Thus, the phrase “your thoughts will be established” means that the Lord will make your plans, thoughts, and intentions “firm,” “secure,” “prepared,” and “directed aright.”
The Lord will direct every aspect of your life.
In Proverbs 16:3, God is the one who does the “establishing.” God is the one who “establishes” our thoughts, intentions, hopes, dreams, and visions.
It is not our efforts that lead to our success in life.
God is the impetus that drives our plans to fruition.
In one of Our Daily Bread devotionals titled Whatever We Do, Xochitl Dixon captures the essence of allowing God to establish our plans and dreams in these words:
As we make plans and follow dreams, God can purify our motives and empower us to devote whatever we do to Him (Proverbs 16:1–3). From the most ordinary tasks to the greatest challenges, we can live for the glory of our almighty Maker, who “works out everything to its proper end” (v. 4).Xochitl Dixon
Proverbs 16:1-3 does not guarantee that our lives will be easy if we commit our ways to God.
The truth is that we will face setbacks and obstacles throughout life, but we can be confident that we are safe in God’s hands.
In Psalm 37:24, the Lord promises to uphold his faithful ones when they stumble or fall.
When he falls, he will not be hurled down, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand and sustains him. (Psalm 37:24, Amplified Bible)
Therefore, we must involve God in all of our everyday decisions. We must seek God’s guidance in all aspects of our lives every day.
When we wake up each morning, we should pray, “Lord, what is your plan for me today?” God wants us to plan, but He also wants us to depend on Him and prioritize Him in our lives.