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Monday, May 27th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


DeHoff recognized three divisions in this chapter: “(1) a call to complete commitment (Proverbs 3:1-10), (2) the happiness and blessing of those who trust in God (Proverbs 3:11-20), and (3) the confidence and security of those who walk with God (Proverbs 3:21-35).”(F1) Halley noted that the big words in the chapter are: “Kindness, Truth, Long Life, Peace, Trust in God, Honoring God with our Substance, Prosperity, Security, Happiness, and Blessing.”(F2) It is a supremely superb and beautiful chapter indeed!

Verses 1-10


“My son, forget not my law; But let thy heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and years of life, And peace will they add to thee. Let not kindness and truth forsake thee; Bind them about thy neck; Write them upon the tablet of thy heart: So shalt thou find favor and good understanding In the sight of God and man. Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, And lean not upon thine own understanding: In all thy ways acknowledge him, And he will direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes; Fear Jehovah, and depart from evil: It will be health to thy navel, And marrow to thy bones. Honor Jehovah with thy substance, And with the first-fruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, And thy vats shall overflow with new wine.”

“My son, forget not my law” Harris wrote that, “These words are not to be pressed as a reference to Moses’ law”;(F3) but we believe that the word [~torah] (the Hebrew word which is translated law) here could hardly refer to anything else. The same writer admitted that there is probably an allusion to Exodus 20:12 in the following verse; and Walls pointed out that, “The reference to first-fruits in Proverbs 3:9 points back to the Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 26, where the worshipper was commanded to bring each year as an offering to God the first-fruits of his fields and flocks.”(F4) “There are definite reflections of the Book of Genesis in Proverbs 3:19-20. Also, as Kidner wrote, “The term [~torah] as used here is the Jewish name for the Pentateuch.”(F5)

We have often pointed out that practically the whole Bible from the end of Deuteronomy to Malachi is written in the shadow of the Law of Moses, the nearest thing to an exception to that being the Book of Job. There is certainly nothing in the Book of Proverbs that diminishes that conviction.

“Length of days, years of life, and peace” “These are the blessings that come of right living.”(F6) Some profess not to believe this, but it is true. See Christ’s promise (Mark 10:30). In spite of exceptions, this is the divine law; and whenever there are variations from it, they are clue to the element of chance that happens to all men (Ecclesiastes 9:11), to divine chastening, to the devices of Satan, to the exercise by wicked men of the freedom of their will, or to the curse that rests upon the earth “for Adam’s sake.” The most obvious proof of this is the fact that the material prosperity of every nation on earth is directly related to the degree of their acceptance of Christianity. Just take a look at the wretched squalor of those countries where God’s Word is not honored!

“Let not kindness and truth forsake thee” The KJV reads “mercy and truth,” and the RSV reads “loyalty and faithfulness.” Neither of the more recent versions is any improvement over the King James in this passage. Cook noted that, “Mercy shuts out all selfishness and hate, and that truth shuts out all falsehood, hypocrisy and deceit.”(F7)

“Write them upon the tablet of thy heart” This is simply a metaphor that means, “Whatever you do, do not forget the commandments of the Lord.” The literalizing of such passages as this resulted in the phylacteries worn by the Pharisees.

“Favor… in the sight of God and man” This verse brings to mind Luke 2:52, where it is said that Jesus increased in favor with God and men. Christian character blesses and beautifies human personality; and the people who live godly lives are instinctively loved, trusted, and favored by their fellow mortals. The devil’s caricature of a godly person as “a disagreeable old sour-puss” is a malicious and ridiculous exaggeration.

“Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart… etc.” Any preacher of the gospel can identify with the words of McGee on this passage. “In any religious service where people are invited to quote favorite passages of scripture, these verses are invariably quoted.”(F8) These beautiful lines deserve the loving appreciation that has been lavished upon them.

“In all thy ways acknowledge him” “Not merely in acts of solemn worship, or in great crisis only, but in all thy ways, acknowledge the Lord.”(F9) Many people turn to God, acknowledge him by their prayers and supplications in times of great anxiety, distress or danger; but the true servant of God continually acknowledges God, without intermission, during long years that may progress evenly without emergency or crisis, doing so as a constant way of life, never deviating from the constant worship on Lord’s Days.

“Be not wise in thine own eyes” “The great hindrance to all true wisdom is the conceit that one has already attained it.”(F10) This same warning is given repeatedly in Proverbs. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). True wisdom is found only in the Lord and in his holy word. “True confidence cannot be placed in one’s own ability to think and act; the fear (and obedience) of Jehovah is the real basis of confidence.”(F11)

The world boasts many men who are allegedly wise; “But we cannot be truly wise unless we renounce all dependence upon our own wisdom and become fools, depending fully upon the Lord.”(F12) Something like this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Let a man deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Isaiah wrote, “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes” (Proverbs 5:21); and the same precept was advocated by Paul, “Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16).

“It will be health to thy navel” Here we have another ridiculous emendation in the RSV that gives us the word flesh instead of navel. If translators would stop trying to tell us “what the Holy Spirit was trying to say,” and give us what he actually said, it would greatly expedite Biblical interpretation. As Adam Clarke stated it, “There is no better translation of the Hebrew word here than navel.”(F13) The meaning of this is that, “Just as the umbilical cord (of which the navel is a part) is the only source of life and growth for the unborn child, so also that wisdom that comes from God is the only source of life and growth for God’s servant.”(F14)

“Honor Jehovah with your substance” This means simply, “Don’t forget to give to God’s work as the Scriptures command.” “The word first-fruits in this same verse recalls Deuteronomy 28:4; Deuteronomy 26:2; and Amos 6:6. The promise in Proverbs 3:10 agrees with Deuteronomy 28:8 and Malachi 3:10-12.”(F15) Thus we have further confirmation of the truth that the entire Old Testament from Deuteronomy to Malachi carries countless reflections of the Pentateuch.

“So shall thy barns be filled with plenty” See under Proverbs 3:2 above, for a discussion of the prosperity that God promises his faithful. The passage cited above by Tate from the Book of Malachi is another Old Testament witness to the same truth. Wilson cited Proverbs 3:9-10 here as an example of the parallelism in Proverbs in which the first clause is elaborated in succeeding lines that extend or explain the meaning.(F16) Of course, there are far more wonderful blessings that result from the faithful service of God than material prosperity. “The remaining verses in the chapter carry the reminder of better prizes than prosperity.”(F17)

Verses 11-20


“My son, despise not the chastening of Jehovah; Neither be weary of his reproof: For whom Jehovah loveth he reproveth, Even as the father the son in whom he delighteth. Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, And the man that getteth understanding. For the gaining of it is better than silver, And the profit thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: And none of the things that thou canst desire are to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: And happy is every one that retaineth her. Jehovah, thy Wisdom founded the earth; By understanding he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths were broken up, And the skies drop down the dew.”

In this paragraph are enumerated a number of the marvelous blessings of trusting in the Lord which far exceed and surpass any material prosperity. Happiness, peace, pleasantness, honor, length of days - these are the things more profitable than silver or gold. “These are truly `the good things’ of life, the blessings which all men are seeking.”(F18)

“Despise not the chastening of Jehovah” This understanding of the utility of sufferings and misfortunes borne by the righteous, “Is the same solution to that problem that was proposed by both Eliphaz (Job 5:17 f) and Elihu.”(F19) And, although their understanding of it as it regarded the miseries of Job was inaccurate, it is nevertheless one of the valid reasons why God causes his saints to pass through afflictions.

“God’s people, like Jonah, may fall into sin and fall asleep in the storm; but for those whom God’s loves, he will send some terrible tempest to awaken them. The true Christian is thankful for the very afflictions that some despise, because he is able to use them as the occasion for his complete return to duty.”(F20)

Hebrews 12:5-6 quotes this passage verbatim from the Septuagint (LXX) and Sinaiticus Versions of the Old Testament.”(F21) For further commentary on the subject of Chastening, we refer to Vol. 10 in our New Testament Commentaries (Hebrews), pp. 293-296.

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom” Tate observed that here there are two elements in the admonition regarding wisdom: “This verse speaks of finding wisdom; and Proverbs 3:18 says `Happy is the man that retaineth it.”(F22)

“The gaining of it (wisdom) is better than the gaining of silver” We like Kidner’s terse comment on this that, “Wisdom will make you richer than money ever will.”(F23)

This writer is deeply impressed with the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 3:15-16; and we have taken the liberty of capitalizing Wisdom here. To the Christian “Christ is our Wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:30); and, as Tate observed, “There is presumed some degree of an independent existence of Wisdom which antedates the creation of the universe (Proverbs 3:19-20).”(F24) This harmonizes completely with the fact of God’s having created all things by Jesus Christ our Lord (Hebrews 1:2).

Cook also noted that, “This passage is a link in the chain which connects the Wisdom mentioned here with the Divine Word ([@Logos]) of John 1:3; and therefore this passage takes its place among the proofs of the dogmatic statements of the Nicene Creed.”(F25)

“She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her” “The Book of Proverbs is the only book in the Bible that mentions the tree of life except the first (Genesis) and last (Revelation).”(F26) Other references in Proverbs to the tree of life are Proverbs 11; Proverbs 30; Proverbs 13:12; and Proverbs 15:4.

This first section of Proverbs (Proverbs 1-9) exists in the format of some ten speeches, most of them beginning with the words, “My son.” Walls pointed out that, “The 3rd, 4th, and 5th of these speeches begin in Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 3:11; Proverbs 3:21 in this chapter.”(F27) We have now come to this fifth speech.

Verses 21-35


“My son, let them not depart from thine eyes; Keep sound wisdom and discretion: So shall they be life unto thy soul, And grace to thy neck. Then shalt thou walk in thy way securely, And thy foot shall not stumble. When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: Yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, Neither the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh: For Jehovah will be thy confidence, And will keep thy foot from being taken. Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, When it is in the power of thy hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and come again, And tomorrow I will give; When thou hast it by thee. Devise not evil against thy neighbor, Seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, If he have done thee no harm. Envy thou not the man of violence, And choose none of his ways. For the perverse is an abomination to Jehovah; But his friendship is with the upright. The curse of Jehovah is in the house of the wicked; But he blesseth the habitation of the righteous. Surely he scoffeth at the scoffers; But he giveth grace unto the lowly. The wise shall inherit glory; But shame shall be the promotion of fools.”

“We have been watching celestial processes, but here we are brought firmly back to earth.”(F28) Not only did the previous paragraph speak of the Creation; but the separation of the beneficial waters by the heavens, dividing those beneath from those above, appeared in the mention of `the depths’ and the `dew from the skies’ (Proverbs 3:19-20).

“Let them not depart from thine eyes… so shall they be life unto thy soul” “The main thrust here is the security that wisdom gives.”(F29) The plural `them’ refers to both wisdom and discretion. There is also a stern warning here that wisdom and discretion may be lost, escape, slip away, or depart from thine eyes. Therefore a constant guard must be posted against such a disaster.

“Then shalt thou walk in thy way securely” “Here it becomes very clear that wisdom means walking with God,”(F30) doing his will, keeping his commandments, and doing so continually.

Lawton reminds us that, “No wisdom is sound that is not taught in the Word of God. Some kinds of wisdom highly esteemed in the world are not merely useless, but folly.”(F31)

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due” These verses (Proverbs 3:27-35) are declared by Tate to, “Have little or no direct connection,”(F32) with the preceding verses. He made this a separate paragraph on, “Being a Good Neighbor”! Deane also wrote that these verses are, “A sixth admonitory address which demonstrates the conditions upon which wisdom and happiness are to be attained. It consists of a number of detached proverbs.”(F33)

In these final verses of the chapter, we are impressed with the fact that, “The value of the Book of Proverbs is its revelation of the application of wisdom to all sorts and conditions of people, and to the ordinary affairs of human life.”(F34)

“The curse of Jehovah is in the house of the wicked” It is not only the physical dwelling which is meant here, but especially the `family’ or `household’ of the wicked; but it appears from Zechariah 5:3-4 that the physical residence of the wicked is also included. “This curse continues from generation to generation, the source of ever-recurring woes.”(F35)

“Surely he (God) scoffeth at the scoffers” This is also rendered, “He scorneth the scorners.” “The word from which these translations come has many overtones of wickedness. It is one of the many synonyms for a wicked man. It carries the meaning of arrogant; and the opposite of it is `lowly’ or `humble.’“(F36)

“It is pride that makes men scorners; men having an overweening conceit of themselves are likely to behave insolently toward others. Nebuchadnezzar, Haman, and Herod are Biblical examples of this wickedness.”(F37)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/proverbs-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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