The beginning of the book of Proverbs contains 10 lessons of wisdom. We have already examined Lesson # 1 and Lesson # 2. This blog post will examine Lesson # 3 from Proverbs 3:1-12. As with each lesson, the father begins with the words “My son…”
Here this lesson contains God’s promises and the son’s obligations. It consists of twelve verses (totaling six parts), each of which presents an admonition (found in the odd verses) followed by a motivating argument (found in the even verses). Note as is typical the use of synonymous parallelism throughout. Let’s begin with verses 1-2:
My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you peace and prosperity.
(Prov 3:1-2, NIV)
The father’s first command is to not forget his teaching (or catechism). The word “forget” is much more than mere absent-mindedness. The word literally means to “abandon.” We abandon God when we become self-sufficient and do not have an immediate need for Him. For most of us when things are going great our dependence slides. In light of that, who should we be praying for? (a)
Usually we are tempted to abandon God when things are going well. This was the same warning given by Moses to the children of Israel after they settled into the land:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
(Deut 8:10-14, NIV)
If we trust God in good times and in bad times, this will result in a life filled with delight, enjoyment and peace (shalom) as good gifts from God above. Often in a Jewish environment, I will hear someone raise their wine glass in a toast and say, “L’chaim!” which means “To Life.” This is the language of blessing being used here in Proverbs 3. The father continues:
Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.
(Prov 3:3-4, NIV)
The two virtues of “love” and “faithfulness” mentioned here may be a way of referring symbolically to the father’s teaching and commandments. God’s commands are an expression of His love, they are for our blessing. Ultimately our love for others is the fulfillment of the Law. (see also Rom 13:8-13). This stands in contrast with the behavior of sinful men (2:16). Embracing these ethics and values will win favor with our two fundamental relationships (God and man, lit “Adam”). This will require trust in God.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
(Prov 3:5-6, NIV)
Here in v. 5-6 we have the most frequently quoted words in the book of Proverbs by Christian disciples. These words have the outline of a wedding ceremony, words of commitment and renunciation.The acknowledgment (or “submission”) required here has to do with a relational and personal knowledge, an intimate experience with God Himself.The father’s demand is for an exclusive and exhaustive commitment of trust in God (“with all your heart” and “in all your ways.”) This trust is even above trusting in our own understanding. I must say, I read these verses with a hint of regret. We know from elsewhere that Solomon himself struggled to put into practice this command as he himself had a divided trust. For example, we read this in the book of Kings:
“King Solomon loved many foreign women … from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love… and his wives turned away his heart…and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.”
(1 Kings 11:1-4, NIV)
Here in Proverbs, I believe Solomon is writing to urge his son not to make the same mistakes he made of dividing his trust among idols or trusting in his own peace-making schemes. Trusting will not always be natural or easy, especially when the wicked prosper (14:26; 16:3; 18:10). The wise son must trust the Lord to act according to his sovereign pleasure for his ultimate good. We must remain confident that God will uphold his promises, albeit in his time and in his way. The “straight paths” may not appear that way from our perspective, but we do not see the bird’s eye view that God does and so we must choose to trust Him.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
(Prov 3:7-8, NIV)
To do things right “in one’s own eyes” in the Bible is the essence of sin, it is to be self-centered and foolish. (Judg 17:6, 21:25) The opposite approach to life is to turn toward God and experience salvation and true healing in every sense of the word. This extends to every area, including our finances:
Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.
(Prov 3:9-10, NIV)
The word “honor” (Heb “Kabbed”) comes from the root word to be “heavy” and signifies esteeming someone with value and weight. The “first fruits” in the Bible referred to the first and best of all our resources: grain, crops, produce, livestock and even our children (Gen 49:30, Hos 9:10). God deserves our best. The reward for this allegiance is that the Creator will bless the true son more than one can ever ask or imagine. (Eph 3:20) Though we may experience God’s financial blessing, we in the New Covenant must remember that these instructions and the book of Proverbs were written within the economy of the Mosaic Covenant (Lev 26:3-13). There is much interplay between Proverbs and the Law, including consequences for disobedience:
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.
(Prov 3:11-12, NIV)
Wrong choices have consequences and God’s correction can feel unpleasant at the time it is offered. (see Heb 12:3-12) Nonetheless, divine discipline is always for the purpose of enabling the son to obey in order to enjoy the promises. C.S. Lewis once offered this helpful illustration: An artist may not be troubled over a picture drawn to amuse a child, but they will exert much effort to protect their greatest work of art. God’s discipline is a sign that he loves us deeply and takes our lives seriously.
Here in Lesson # 3 we learn that we should never abandon God, in good times and bad. We also learn that our faith has practical applications. A true follower of God cannot separate their spiritual life with the ethical sphere of their practical life. This will yield much fruit. The benefits of obedience are long life and peace (v. 2), favor with God and others (v. 4), straight paths (v. 6), holistic healing (v. 8), blessed finances (v 10), and a father’s love (v. 12).
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight!
Live before God with Consistency.
Next we will examine Lesson # 4.
The Ten Lessons of Wisdom:
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) – Part 1
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) Part 2
- Lesson # 2: “Diligently Seek Wisdom … and You Will Experience Her Protective Benefits.” (Prov 2:1-22)
- Lesson # 3: “Live before God with Consistency.” (Prov 3:1-12)
- Lesson # 4: “Wisdom is a Tree of Life.” (Prov 3:13-35)
- Lesson # 5: “Your Spiritual Inheritance Comes With a Price.” (Prov 4:1-9)
- Lesson # 6: “Choose the Way of Wisdom.” (Prov 4:10-19)
- Lesson # 7: “Guard your Heart!” (Prov 4:20-27)
- Lesson # 8: “Flee from Immorality!” (Prov 5:1-23)
- Lesson # 9: “Avoid three Kinds of Fools: “The Swindler,” “The Sluggard” and “The Sociopath.”” (Prov 6:1-19)
- Lesson # 10: “If You Play With Fire, You Will Get Burned.” (Prov 6:20-35)
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 1
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 2
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 3
(a) I am indebted to Professor Peter Hook at Philadelphia Biblical University for this insight. OT Poetic Books. Course Notes. 2000.