The Happy Results of Acquiring Wisdom 3:1-12
We are going to examine Proverbs 3:1-12. Please take the time to read the passage before reflecting upon the comments in this post.
You will remember that the first 9 chapters of Proverbs present 9 separate poems devoted to the theme of wisdom. In previous posts we examined the first two poems. Chapter 3 contains two more poems (the third and fourth), which are marked off by distinctive themes, patterns, and other literary devices. The third poem, found in verses 1-12, emphasizes…
This poem contains 6 sections, each with an admonition followed by a promise/result.
1. Keep my commands…have long life and peace (vv. 1-2)
2. Don’t let go of unfailing love…find favour with God and people (vv. 3-4)
3. Trust the LORD…have a straight path (vv. 5-6)
4. Fear the LORD…enjoy physical healing (vv. 7-8)
5. Honour the LORD…enjoy prosperity (vv. 9-10)
6. Don’t reject discipline…have proof of father’s love (vv. 11-12)
Regarding this section, Waltke said that the author-father:
…more intently anchors his teachings in the LORD Himself. He refers to his instruction as “law,” and “commands,” which are terms frequently used to describe God’s instruction (tora, miswot). By doing so, the father “subtly positions the father in association with divine authority.”
The reader of the book of Proverbs needs to keep in mind that although a human father is admonishing his human son, the father, being guided by the Spirit of God, is providing the son (and reader) with God’s truth which will benefit him/her.
Keep God’s commands and receive long life and peace (vv. 1-2).
1 My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; 2 for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.
The father begins with an admonition for the son to preserve his teachings. He is instructed “do not forget my law,” because if the son forgot his father’s law he would take his place among the apostates. The father admonished his son to follow his law because it was informed by God’s Law (Mosaic). In contrast to forgetting God’s Law, the son was instructed to “let your heart keep my commands,” which conveys the notion, not just of mere obedience, but of whole-hearted and willing obedience.
The benefit of keeping God’s Law is expressed in verse 2. The son, by keeping God’s Law, will receive “length of days and long life.” This promise echoes the promise given in the fifth commandment (Dt 5:16). Waltke noted that this is a reference to “abundant life in fellowship with the eternal and living God.” The Mosaic Law promised longevity and prosperity to Israel if the nation would keep God’s Law. This idea is reiterated in the New Testament (Eph 6:3). Generally speaking, those who live by God’s Law (OT) or Christ’s Law (NT; 1 Cor 9:21) will be blessed with greater vitality than those who “forget” God’s commands.
Not only was the son promised long days, but long days with “peace” (shalom). This suggests every sufficiency and good fortune… a life “filled with inner contentment, delight, joy, and pleasure as a gift from God.” Peace in the Old Testament was more comprehensive (inner peace as well as peace within the land). However, the peace offered to obedient Christians is inner peace (the peace of God; Phil 4:7; Col 3:15), because Jesus assured His disciples that following Him in this world would result in conflict (Jn 16:33).
Having issued a general command to obey God’s Law, the father offered a more specific admonition…
Don’t let go of unfailing love…find favour with God and people (vv. 3-4)
3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, 4 and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.
Verses 3 and 4 contain instruction encouraging the son to retain ethical behaviour. The idea in verses 3-4 flows from the previous. If he keeps God’s Laws, he will maintain and not forsake “mercy and truth.” Another word for “mercy” is kindness (hesed). He must continually display the human virtues of kindness and truthfulness toward others. Rather than forsaking mercy and truth, the son must “bind them around your neck,” as an ornament (see 1:8-9). Furthermore, mercy and truth must be guiding life principles, which they will be if the son writes them “on the tablet of [his] heart.”
If the son obeys the instruction and displays kindness and truth to those who need it, he will receive favour from God and man. By acting in such a way, the son would receive “favor” (hen, grace) from God, as well as “high esteem” from man.
Again, the reader needs to be aware of the distinction between those under the Mosaic Law and New Testament Christians. During the Mosaic era, those who lived by the Mosaic Law and according to kindness and truthfulness within the Mosaic community were honoured as godly persons. However, the Christian should not assume a direct comparison. The Christian, by living according to kindness and truthfulness, may not (and probably won’t) receive honour from those of the world. However, they will receive honour from those within the church.
Thus far, the admonition was to live in obedience to God’s Law. When people truly live according to God’s Law, they live according to kindness and truthfulness.
However, the sin nature within man encourages self-reliance and rebellion. The sin nature encourages people to trust no one (not even God), but only self and what self can accomplish. Therefore, it is not surprising to find following the admonition to keep God’s commands, the command to…
Trust the LORD…have a straight path (vv. 5-6)
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
In verses 5 and 6, the father admonished the son to demonstrate active piety through an attitude of trust. Unfortunately, people tend to quote these verses in isolation from their context. People tend to gravitate to the wonderful promise of God directing the trusting one his/her path (whatever that path may be).
Unfortunately, many people tend to ignore the greater context demonstrated in the preceding and following verses. In verses 1-4, the father encouraged the son to keep or preserve God’s instruction. He was not only commanded to receive instruction (chs. 1-2) but to “keep” it – to not let it go, to be continuously obedient to it. This implies that there are times in life when people can become desperate for a good outcome which will likewise tempt them to use their own thinking to solve their problems. Therefore, the instruction to the son was to “keep” the commands, to not let them go once he has received them. In other words, verses 1-4 emphasize obedience. Likewise verses 7-12 continue that theme of obedience to God’s Law. Those people who are not determined to walk in God’s Laws, do not have any right to claim the promise of verses 5-6.
In verses 5-6, the son is admonished to “trust” the Lord. Obedience requires trust. Those who do not trust God will not walk in obedience to His Word. Those who do not trust God view God’s instruction as suspect and untrustworthy and they will rely upon their own understanding rather than God’s. Only those who trust God will be willing and able to believe He knows best and that His commands are best. Trust enables a person to continue to walk according to God’s instructions.
The son was encouraged to “trust in the LORD with all your heart.” Trusting God involves two things: assurance that He can uphold His moral order, and a willingness to obey Him in perplexing times of life. He is to give himself wholeheartedly to trusting God, so that he will actually obey God’s instructions. Desperate times cause desperate actions, leading people to forsake God’s wisdom for humanistic advice which offers a quick, pain-free solution. However, forsaking God’s instruction and relying upon one’s own wisdom, is simply a demonstration of a lack of faith in God and His wisdom. It is empty to say we trust God, if we are not willing to obey Him when situations become difficult or confusing.
Trusting God not only involves living according to His wisdom, it also involves letting go of self-confidence (in this case, perceived wisdom). The son was commanded “lean not on your own understanding.” We have the sinful tendency of thinking too highly of ourselves – of our abilities, of our goodness, and of our wisdom. Waltke noted,
One is a fool to rely on his thimble of knowledge before its vast ocean or on his own understanding, which is often governed by irrational urges that he cannot control (26:5, 12, 16; 28:26a; esp. 30:1-6; Job 38:4-5).
We need the humility to recognize that our wisdom is limited and often flawed. However, our infinite God is all-knowing and all wise, and therefore, we should be encouraged to order our lives according to His instruction, not by our feeble, self-seeking thoughts. Waltke said,
Faith in God’s promises and renouncing confidence in oneself (cf. 18:10-11; 28:11, 26) are unnatural and gifts of God, mediated in part through the admonitions and promises (see 2:6; cf. Rom. 9:14-17; Eph. 2:8-9).
Trusting God also means to “acknowledge Him” in all our ways. In this context, “acknowledge” does not mean “to confess” but to “recognize the LORD’s rights and authority.” When we go through life with a conscious acknowledgement of Him, His presence, our attachment to Him, our submission to His sovereignty, and our need to follow Him, we will be protected from foolish decisions.
The key to following the LORD in such a manner is by growing close to Him. Knowledge about God is not enough, you must get close to Him – which involves making it a priority to spend time with Him and meditating upon His Word. You won’t trust someone you don’t have a personal relationship with. The more you know about Him, His ability, and His promises, the more you will be able to trust Him.
These three actions: living according to His wisdom, forsaking our perceived wisdom, and acknowledging His Lordship in our lives, will result in great blessing. Solomon promised those who trust in God: “He shall direct your paths.” It is comforting to know that we are following Him. He imparts to us wisdom through His instruction. When we follow the instruction, we are being directed in our paths. But this is not the path we choose and try to convince God to bless, rather, this is the path that He determines for us and in which He guides us as we submit to His wisdom and sovereignty. To disregard His instruction and go through life according to our wits, hunches, gut feelings, or emotional reactions, results in us straying from His ways.
Rather than making hasty decisions which result in regret, we must yield to His Lordship in every situation, knowing that He will order our lives according to His will and wisdom; this will help us to order our steps in accordance with His instruction and will result in walking in His paths.
How is your trust today? Are you living your life in the knowledge and confidence of Him, His Word and His sovereignty over you, or are you trying to solve the problems of your life according to your limited and contaminated understanding?
We are commanded to live in obedience to Him. However, we will not obey Him if we don’t trust Him. When we trust Him, we will obey Him, and then He will guide us in the right way.