We read in Proverbs 16:9-10(NRSVCE)

The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps. Inspired decisions are on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment.

We read the same verses in New International Version (NIV) as follows:

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth does not betray justice.

Now, an oracle is a priest or priestess acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought from the gods in classical antiquity. It is not clear if the Jews had a custom of having saintly people who resided in the temples speaking the messages from God, and who were likened to the oracles in pagan places of worship for some attributes say, straight-forwardness , absence of fear of the authority and the ability to arrive at decisions with the help of physical signs.

My question therefore is: According to Bible scholars, what does the phrase `as an oracle' in Proverbs 16:10 stand for ? Inputs from any denominations are welcome .

2 Answers 2


The operative noun in Prov 16:10 is קֶסֶם (qesem) which occurs 11 times in the OT Hebrew. On all occasions, it is translated, "divination", except in Prov 16:10 where it is translated, "oracle" (a message from God).

The BDB entry for this word is given below in the appendix. Thus, of the available translations on offer, I would use something like:

(ESV) An oracle is on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment.

[Note: In English the word, "oracle" can mean either the person delivering divine messages or the message itself. In Prov 16:10 the latter sense is in view.]

APPENDIX - BDB entry for קֶסֶם (qesem)

קֶ֫סֶם noun [masculine] divination; — absolute ׳ק Numbers 23:25+, קָ֑סֶם Ezekiel 21:26; construct קֶסֶם Ezekiel 13:6; plural קְסְמִים Deuteronomy 18:10 +; —

1 of the nations : Balaam, Numbers 23:23 (poem in J E; "" נַחַשׁ; with ב against; as accusative of congnate meaning with verb ׳לִקְאָםקֿ Ezekiel 21:26; ׳ק as instrument of divination בִּימִינוֺ Ezekiel 21:27; so of elders of Moab and Midian, קְסָמִים בְּיָדָם, Numbers 22:7(E). — Isaiah 2:6 see [קָסַם].

2 of false prophets כָּזָב ׳ק Ezekiel 13:6 (but see [קָסַם]); ׳ק as accusative of congnate meaning with verb Ezekiel 13:23 (Co Berthol Krae כָּזָב as Ezekiel 13:9; Ezekiel 21:34; Ezekiel 22:38); צֱלִיל ׳ק (so Gf for ᵑ0 וֶאֱלִו֯ל Jeremiah 14:4 (all "" חזה שׁוא or שׁקר) קֹסֵם קְסָמִים); prohibited Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 17:17; reprobated 1 Samuel 15:23 (poem; "" תרפים).

3 in good sense עַל שִׂפְתֵי ׳ק מֶלֶךְ Proverbs 16:10 (king's lips as oracle).


The answer is provided by the N.I.V. scholars themselves, who provided notes in The NIV Study Bible. Here is how they explained the meaning of 'oracle' in Proverbs 16:10

"speak as an oracle" - In judging cases brought before him, a king functioned as God's representative (see Deut. 1:17). Therefore he needed the divine gift of wisdom to discern between right and wrong i order to render God's judgment (see 1 Kings 3:9). When he did so, his judgment was tantamount to a divine oracle for the people (see 1 Kings 3:28; see also 2 Samuel 14:17,20; 19:27)."

Further, the Psalms teach this representative role of Jerusalem's kings:

"Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king's son. He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment... He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor." Psalm 72:1-4

In no way can this be "likened to the oracles in pagan places of worship for some attributes".

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