The Unerring, Righteous Judge

If we were to remove the verse designations from this passage, we could see it as an integrated doctrinal discourse concerning the sin of humanity, the sovereign and purposeful rule of God over all persons, and his righteous wisdom in the execution of redemption and final judgment. With the text from Proverbs indented and interspersed through the corresponding narrative, perhaps a paraphrase would read like this.

The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

 All wisdom in found in learning the holy character and ways of God as revealed in his manner of dealing with sin and unrighteousness. We find the paradigm of wisdom and its perfect execution in the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. We find salvation, likewise, in repentance from sin and union with Christ and his righteousness by faith. Follow this line of thought.

[1-5] The plans 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 spirit.   Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.  Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.

 Fallen persons make their plans according to their own desires and evil propensities, but the final verdict on the wisdom and moral character of their action comes from God. The man making such plans considers them free of anything blamable or perverse, or, if involved in any kind of deceit, perfectly justifiable in his own eyes. The Lord, however, knows the internal operation of his motives even more thoroughly than the man himself. His standard of judgment is precise, without any deceit, perfectly apportioned ounce for ounce, and pound for pound according to a perfectly just standard of measure. If you would find your plans to be executed successfully and not subject to condemnation, they must be in accord with God’s character and expectations as revealed in Scripture.

We should learn to see everything as under the sovereign control of God (Ephesians 1:11). He is the Creator of all and he has created, not only with intricate physical design and teleological connections within the natural world, but with a moral purpose to glorify himself. All his image-bearers also will reflect his ownership and his purpose in a way far more glorious than even the splendid display of power and intelligence as manifest in the physical world (1 John 3:1-3). Yes, even those who remain under the condemnation of the fall will show forth the glory of God in the manifestation of his perfectly holy wrath and impartial judgment. They were made, not to be condemned as their final end, but to be “vessels of wrath” as a display of the eternal majesty of his name (Romans 9:16-18). We may be sure that this is not an unjust act on the part of God for, according to their own choice and moral purpose, they have been abominable to the Lord through their pride and are fully deserving of punishment.

[6-8] By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.  When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.  Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.

On the other hand, God manifests overwhelming overtures of mercy and grace in his eternal redemptive purpose as decreed in the covenant of redemption (Titus 3:4-7). His lovingkindness and mercy appeared in his saving work in Christ. His purpose and grace abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:9, 10). He made perfect atonement for sin through the substitutionary death of his Beloved Son and faithfully pursues his elect by his truth until all of them come (2 Timothy 2:10; 2 Peter 3:9, 10). When God’s Spirit and truth arrest sinners, the fear of the Lord enters the heart and conscience; they turn from sin because it is displeasing to God and they embrace with joy every display of righteousness.

Those persons who receive the benefits of this atoning work begin to walk in a way that is pleasing to God as he works in them that “which is well-pleasing to him” (Hebrews 13:21). He works in them both to “will and to do according to his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). They now fear nothing in this life or in death when they fully sense the hope of eternal life. All the enemies of their redeemer have been placed under his feet in the resurrection (Ephesians 1:20-22) and they are seated with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). They need have no fear of what man can do to them for the Lord is their portion in life and in death. They are now satisfied with having been justified by the Righteousness of Christ; their goal is for that righteousness to be reflected in their daily lives. That is more important than possessing any worldly standing of either prestige or wealth at the expense of God’s redemptive work.

[9] The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

The justified person has a renewed mind (Romans 12:2); his affections now boil into a passion to be like Christ and he earnestly sets his goal on the state of perfection that will come when the Lord returns (Philippians 3:13, 14). The Holy Spirit energizes his spirit with sanctifying influence (Galatians 5:16-18). As the justified person sets before himself a purpose to honor Christ and avoid the influence of indwelling sin (Romans 7:23-25), the Holy Spirit operates effectually, even as he did in the call to salvation, to shape the whole person according to the divine will for holiness (Romans 8:12-17).

[10-13] An oracle is on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment.  A just balance and scales are the Lord‘s; all the weights in the bag are his work.  It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right.

All kings should speak truthfully and rule with unbiased judgment, governing according to an absolute and impartial standard of justice. Only the King of kings and Lord of Lords has the capacity to do so. Both in revelation of God’s truth and in judgment according to God’s absolute standards, the enthroned Redeemer King speaks as the ultimate prophet the oracles of God (Hebrews 1:1-4). Revelation and judgment are under his sway. The enthroned Redeemer utters only truth. Having sent his Spirit to inspire his apostles to lead them into all truth, he speaks in his word and does not allow any error to enter into their teachings (John 14:12; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Ephesians 3:5). His standards of judgment are clearly revealed in the unerring word. All judgment is committed into his hands (John 5:22–29) and he will assign to all their just eternity. Those declared righteous in Christ through faith have taken a path in life with a distinct moral difference from those who have rejected the gospel of Christ and have thus scoffed at his righteousness. They will seek to speak and act according to God’s word and obey him under the power of the Spirit. That difference will be evident in the final judgment when the unerring King receives the forgiven, justified, and sanctified into his kingdom and assigns to eternal punishment those who have merely their own unrighteousness as a moral commendation. (Matthew 25:31-46).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts