Proverbs 21:4 – A haughty look, a proud heart... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
March 1, 2019

Proverbs 21:4 – A haughty look, a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked are sin.

by Dr. Bill Edgar, former chair of the Geneva College Board of Trustees, former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPNCA)

Some uncertainty exists about this proverb. The Hebrew has “plowing” or “tillage,” but the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate translations have “lamp.” English versions choose one or the other. I prefer “plowing” as a synecdoche (part for a whole), indicating that evil infects all of an evil man’s work, even something as innocent as plowing. A bad person’s facial expression, his thoughts, and all he does reveal his twisted character.

Everyone recognizes a haughty look. It is “looking down one’s nose” at others. People with exalted self-esteem glance at others with a look meaning, “You are nothing but vermin.” But all stand before God as equals; He is no respecter of persons. Consequently, haughty looks, whether based on social distinctions of inherited title, wealth, education, position, or achievement, defy God, who made the poor as well as the rich. God hates such looks.

Where do haughty looks come from? From a proud heart, where thoughts of superiority reign! The proud think like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. “He stood by himself and prayed, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and pay tithes of all that I receive (Luke 18:11-12).’” The proud heart exalts itself, not God. The Pharisee left the Temple still not right with God.

Proud and ambitious people often work hard in order to exalt themselves ever higher in their own eyes. The French Emperor, Napoleon, famously gave out lots of medals, remarking that with such baubles men are led. Governments, schools, and corporations use awards to harness pride, ambition, rivalry, and love of honor to achieve great things. The strategy works. It also feeds pride. But what does even the lawful and productive plowing of the wicked amount to in God’s eyes? Sin, because the wicked give honor to themselves and not God. Satan promised exaltation, not humility. “You will be like God (Genesis 3:5),” he lied. The haughty look and the proud heart, and even honest work like plowing when done by evil people displease God, because it does not honor Him.

The New Testament’s praise of humility instead of pride and honor was a radically new thing in the world. Exhortation: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (I Peter 5:6).” Promise: “God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud (James 4:6).” Example: Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11:29).” Humble people, peacemakers who mourn their innate pride, will be comforted and called children of God (Matthew 5:1-11).

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