The enigma
‘The plans of the heart belong to man;
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord’ (Proverbs 16:1).
But didn’t Jesus say to his critics that ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Matthew 12:34)? So, if someone gives voice to his own heart-felt plans – whether wholesome or wicked – how exactly is his utterance ‘from the Lord’?
 Seen in its earlier context
A few verses earlier (Proverbs 15:22) Solomon told us that:
‘Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.’
So then whose ‘tongue’ offers an ‘answer … from the Lord’ and recommends ‘plans’ that will ‘succeed’? Evidently it is the tongue of the godly souls who prayerfully ‘counsel’ together. Neighbouring verses indicate that this is so:
‘The heart of the righteous [one] ponders how to answer’ (Proverbs 15:28a), for
‘the Lord hears the prayer of the righteous [ones, Hebrew plural] (Proverbs 15:29)
as they consult together (expressed three times in Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; and 24:6)).
 In its later context
Proverbs 16:0 soon tells us to ‘Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established’ (Proverbs 16:3), and ‘The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps’ (Proverbs 16:9) – as well as ‘the answer of [his] tongue’.
 In its historic context
There follows a sequence of six verses that focus on the ‘king’ as the one who speaks ‘the answer … from the Lord’ (Proverbs 16:10-15). The king here is surely Solomon, as this section of Proverbs (Proverbs 10:1 – 22:16) contains ‘The proverbs of Solomon’ (Proverbs 10:1). At the beginning of his reign Solomon had prayed in a dream: ‘“Give your servant … an understanding heart [Hebrew] … that I may discern between good and evil, … able to govern … your great people.”’ The Lord granted his request and also promised him wealth and longevity (see 1 Kings 3:3-15).
Later statements in Proverbs 16:0 shed further light on the riddle of verse Proverbs 16:1.
‘An oracle is on the lips of a king, his mouth does not sin in judgement’ (Proverbs 16:10).
‘It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness [also Proverbs 16:25:5]. Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right’ (Proverbs 16:12-13; compare Proverbs 16:23-24).
Solomon had in mind God’s ideal king, not his unrighteous descendants who at times would occupy the throne of David. Jesus, David’s descendant, is the King who fulfils these and other features of godly monarchy in Proverbs such as
– his discernment: ‘A king who sits on the throne of judgement winnows all evil with his eyes’ (Proverbs 20:8; Revelation 1:14b; 2:18-29); because
– his heart is governed by the Lord: ‘Proverbs (Proverbs 21:1; John 5:19-30); and
– he judges in favour of the poor: ‘If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever’ (2Proverbs 9:14; Matthew 5:1-6; Luke 1:30-33).