Proverbs 21:21

Following Righteousness

21 He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.


1. This proverb makes some basic assumptions about the human psyche:

a. Everyone desires a good life.

b. Everyone also wants justice – to be treated fairly.

c. Everyone also seeks honor and respect from others.

2. These are some core goals that all men everywhere desire. They are universal aspirations of mankind.

a. They transcend political, financial, social, racial, and even religious boundaries.

b. Everybody aspires to living a good life, to have others treat them fairly, and to be respected.

c. From an earthly perspective, a good life might be defined as being able to raise a family, have friends, and have basic physical needs met.

d. It is possible to live a good life like that in virtually ANY political environment… any set of social conditions… and regardless of how well the stock market is doing.

e. These basic human aspirations have nothing to do with politics or finances.

3. We are not talking about a spiritual life here, but rather, Solomon is speaking about normal earthly life for the citizens of his country.

a. It is possible for these goals to be achieved in ANY country—regardless of the circumstances.

b. A country or a people would be in mighty good shape (humanly speaking) if its population believed that they had a good life (basic needs being met), if they believed that they were being treated fairly – with justice, and if they were respected (and not being trampled over).

c. Even if the economy completed tanked, and the people felt that their leaders were treating them fairly (the leaders were not living in opulence while the general population was starving), IF the people felt they were treated fairly and those in power respected them and were not taking advantage of them—that nation would handle their economic woes WELL.

d. If that was NOT the case—and the people felt they were being abused or not treated fairly, there would quite likely be an uprising… riots… mob violence.

4. As a king, and as a keen observer of human nature, Solomon KNEW the importance of these universal aspirations to the general populace.

a. If those goals are obtained, it makes for content citizens and for a peaceful country.

b. Life, righteousness, and honor for Solomon’s kingdom might be compared to seeking after “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in America.

c. They are almost like basic human rights for every citizen.

5. In this proverb, Solomon tells us the somewhat surprising MEANS by which those goals are achieved.

Life, righteousness, and honour.

Once again we note that EVERYBODY wants these things: life, righteousness, and honor. But NOT everybody has them.


1. Solomon is not speaking about life in the literal sense of biological life.

a. Rather, he is using the term as he often does to speak of “a life worth living”—a good life… an abundant, full life.

b. Prov. 3:18 – Solomon spoke of wisdom as a “tree of life” for those who practice wisdom. (A fruitful life.)

c. Prov. 4:13 – Instruction is spoken of as “life.”

d. Prov. 4:20-22 – Keeping and attending to the words of wisdom in the book of Proverbs would be “life” and “health” for those who find them… and keep them.

e. Prov. 8:32-35 – One who finds wisdom finds “life.”

2. The term “life.”

a. In each of the examples above, Solomon uses the word “life” to refer to a good, wholesome, healthy, fruitful, upright life worth living. (And who doesn’t want a life worth living?)

b. It means more than simply possessing biological life; it is used also of the experiencing of living life… a good, healthy, prosperous life lived to the fullest.

c. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament defined life this way: “Life is the ability to exercise all one’s vital power to the fullest.”

3. All men hope to find “life.”

a. Men who already possess biological life seek to have a fruitful, happy, prosperous, abundant, meaningful life.

b. By the good life he is not necessarily speaking of becoming rich, powerful, and famous—just having basic needs met… having friends and family…

c. This kind of life is what all men everywhere aspire to.

d. This proverb states that such a life IS obtainable!


1. Defined: This term means righteousness, truthfulness, justice, innocent, free of charge—free of guilt.

2. People want to be TREATED righteously, fairly, justly.

a. Deut. 24:12-13 – A poor man may be forced to give his outer garment as a “pledge” or security to buy food for his family. It was an act of “righteousness” for the lender to give him his pledge back at night—for that is what kept him warm. It was his sleeping bag.

b. It would be considered cruel and unfair if the wealthy took advantage of the poor to such a degree that they took the very coat off their back and held it as collateral for a loan… and forced them to sleep out in the cold.

c. All people want justice – fairness in the way others treat them.

3. Kids want to be treated fairly by their parents. (No favorites; they want their parents to keep their word; etc.)

4. Spouses want to be treated righteously… fairly… justly. Nobody wants to be mistreated.

5. Workers also desire to be treated fairly. Who likes to see preferential treatment for unqualified workers who are related to the boss… or string pulling… or outright discrimination?

6. Nobody’s happy when the CEO’s of AIG are getting multimillion dollar bonuses for bankrupting the company and losing billions of their customers’ dollars. That’s not fair.

7. Citizens of a country want to be treated fairly too. When a citizen obeys the rules, follows the law, and sees others who do NOT getting preferential treatment, it destroys the unity and cohesiveness of that nation.

8. Everybody wants righteousness… justice… to be treated fairly.

9. Unfortunately, around the globe, not everyone IS treated fairly.


1. Defined:

a. It sometimes means glory and splendor (used of a king or God). That does NOT seem to be the way Solomon uses it here.

b. The term also is used in the sense of honor, dignity, respect.

2. The average citizen in a country or kingdom has no delusions of grandeur… of ever becoming crowned with royal glory and splendor.

3. But the average citizen DOES expect to be treated with dignity and respect.

a. The average citizen expects to be treated as a human being, and not just a number… or a customer… or a statistic… and not just as one of the meaningless “little people” to be used and discarded at will by the aristocracy.

4. People ARE made in the image of God. There ought to be respect shown because of that—if for no other reason.

5. There is something in the human breast that longs for—almost NEEDS to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect.

6. Everybody wants it—but not everybody gets it.

7. Everybody wants a good life worth living; everybody wants to be treated fairly; everybody wants to be treated with dignity and respect.

a. This is a universal aspiration that Solomon hones in on in this passage.

b. But not everyone OBTAINS that which his heart desires.

c. There are a lot of unhappy, unfulfilled people in the world.

He that followeth after righteousness and mercy

1. Solomon not only puts his finger on the pulse of the core needs of the human psyche, but he also tells us HOW those things are obtained.

2. In the Bible, things are often NOT what they might at first appear.

a. For example: The way up is down! The way to be exalted is to abase oneself.

b. He that is first shall be last.

c. There is that scattereth yet increases.

d. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

e. God’s ways are not our ways… and this proverb is yet another example of that principle.

3. We might ASSUME that if we want life, righteousness, and honor, then we ought to seek it, demand it, fight for it, be assertive, pushy, aggressive, etc.

a. After all, that’s the American way! If you want something bad enough, do whatever you have to do to get it!

4. But Solomon says that the man who obtains life, righteousness, and honor, actually seeks something ELSE in order to obtain them.

5. Follow after righteousness.

a. This term appears twice in this proverb. It is the very same word each time.

b. Solomon now commands his readers to FOLLOW after righteousness.

c. Follow: Follow after; pursue; persecute; run after; strive after; chase after.
i. This is much more than a casual interest in something.
ii. This is an all out pursuit… an ongoing quest…

d. What does it MEAN follow after righteousness?
i. It means to seek to DO that which is righteous.
ii. It means to TREAT others fairly and justly.
iii. Micah 6:8 – O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
iv. This is one of the basics of a God honoring life.

e. In other words, if you want to be TREATED fairly, justly, and righteously by others, then make following righteousness an ongoing pursuit in your life!

f. This is basically the same principle Jesus mentioned: Do unto others (following a life of treating THEM righteously) as you would have others do unto you (treating you fairly).

g. And as a general rule (that’s what a proverb is), if you treat people fairly, they will reciprocate and treat you fairly.

h. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. There are ingrates, and evil men, and self centered men who will not respond properly.

i. But over all, if you have a reputation for treating others fairly, they will respond in treating you fairly.

j. This works at home too! It works with your spouse, your kids, and even your mother in law!

k. It works in the office too. If you follow righteousness and it characterizes your life… and if you have earned a reputation for being fair and just… for the most part, people will respond by treating you fairly.

l. So if you want people to treat you fairly and justly, don’t seek to FORCE them to do so. Don’t DEMAND it of them.

m. The right way to FIND it is to LIVE it.

n. He that follows after righteousness FINDS righteousness.

6. Follow after MERCY.

a. Following after mercy is the means by which a man will FIND life, righteousness, and honor.

b. If you want to live a good, fruitful, abundant life worth living, then don’t follow after THINGS that you might think will cause you to have a rich life.

c. Follow after MERCY.

d. MERCY: Goodness; kindness; faithfulness; loyal love; devotion.

e. To follow mercy implies a life of showing mercy to others… a lifelong pursuit of showing kindness to others… and of demonstrating loyal devotion.

f. Micah 6:8 – “What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

g. If you walk with God (by doing justly to others and loving to show mercy to others, you WILL have a rich, meaningful, honorable life!

7. The one who diligently follows after righteousness and mercy will FIND life, righteousness, and honor.

a. He will find that which the heart of man longs after…

b. He will find that which all men aspire to find—although most men look in the wrong places… and seek after it the wrong way.

c. FIND: Discover; uncover; find; find out.

d. The proverb almost implies a sort of surprise in finding life, righteousness, and honor…

e. It sounds a bit as if the man was seeking to BE righteous and merciful to others, and lo and behold, to his amazement, he made a discovery!

f. In his pursuit of following one thing (being fair and kind to others), he actually discovered something else: a worthwhile life… the meaning of life… a rich life… and he discovered that he himself was treated fairly… and that others honored and respected him!

8. A rich, meaningful life, being treated fairly, and being honored, and respected are the things that all men WANT… but they cannot really be pursued directly.

a. You can’t FORCE people to respect you. You can’t demand it from others.

b. And a rich, meaning, fruitful life is not obtained by force either. You can’t buy it. And you can spend all your days selfishly trying to OBTAIN such a life too, but it will be elusive.

c. It is only obtained, by means of selflessly SHOWING mercy to others… and by BEING fair and just with others… and by dedicating your life to being KIND to others.

d. Then, at the end of that road, the man who followed after righteousness and mercy will look back and discover that his life really was fruitful… meaningful… and honored and respected.

e. Matt. 16:25 – Jesus applied this principle to the spiritual life: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”