Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Proverbs 3

Verse 2

Three words carry on the chain of blessings:

(1) “Length of days” (see the Psalm 91:16 note);

(2) “Years of life,” i. e., of a life worth living (compare Psalm 30:5; Psalm 42:8);

(3) “Peace,” tranquility inward and outward, the serenity of life continuing through old age until death. Compare 1 Timothy 4:8.

Verse 3

The two elements of a morally perfect character:

(1) “Mercy,” shutting out all forms of selfishness and hate.

(2) “Truth,” shutting out all deliberate falsehood, all hypocrisy, conscious or unconscious.

The words that follow possibly refer to the Eastern custom of writing sacred names on pieces of papyrus or parchment, and wearing them around the neck, as charms and talismans against evil. Compare, however, 1 Peter 3:3-4.

Verse 4

Compare Luke 2:52. These are the two conditions of true human growth.

Verse 5

In preaching “trust in God” the moralist anticipates the teaching that man is justified by faith. To confide in God‘s will, the secret of all true greatness, is to rise out of all our anxieties and plans and fears when we think of ourselves as the arbiters of our own fortunes, and so “lean to our own understanding.”

Verse 6

Not in acts of solemn worship or great crises only, but “in all thy ways;” and then God will make the “path” straight and even.

Verse 7

The great hindrance to all true wisdom is the thought that we have already attained it.

Verse 8

Navel - The central region of the body is taken as the representative of all the vital organs. For “health” we should read healing, or, as in the marg. There is probably a reference to the local applications used by the surgery of the period as means of healing.

Verse 9

“Substance” points to capital, “increase” to revenue. The Septuagint as if to guard against ill-gotten gains being offered as an atonement for the ill-getting, inserts the quaifying words, “honor the Lord from thy righteous labors.”

Verse 10

Compare the marginal reference. This fullness of outward blessings does not exclude the thought of the “chastening” Proverbs 3:11, without which the discipline of life would be incomplete. “Presses” are the vats of a Roman vineyard, into which the wine flowed through pipe from the wine-press.

Verse 11

Despise … be weary - The temper is not that of contempt. To struggle impatiently, to fret and chafe, when suffering comes on us, is the danger to which we are exposed when we do not accept it as from the hands of God. Compare Jonah 4:9; Job 5:17.

Verse 12

The first distinct utterance of a truth which has been so full of comfort to many thousands; it is the summing up of all controversies (compare John 9:2) as to the mystery of suffering. The apostle writing to the Hebrews can find no stronger comfort Hebrews 12:6 than this; the Church, in her visitation service, has no truer message for the sufferer.

Verse 13

The first beatitude of the Proverbs introduces a new lesson. “Getteth understanding,” literally as in the margin, probably in the sense of “drawing forth from God‘s store, from the experience of life” (as in Proverbs 8:35; Proverbs 18:22). The preciousness of wisdom is dwelt on here, not the use to be made of it.

Verse 14

Compare Proverbs 2:4. “Fine gold” is apparently a technical word of that commerce, the native gold in the nugget or the dust.

Verse 15

Rubies - The פנינים pânı̂ynı̂ym were among the costly articles of traffic, and red or rose-colored Lamentations 4:7. The last fact has led some to identify them with coral, or (as in the King James Version) with “rubies.” Most commentators, however, have identified them with pearls, which may connect this passage with Matthew 7:6; Matthew 13:45. The words of the promise here are almost the echo of 1 Kings 3:11-13.

Verse 17

“Ways” and “paths” describe the two kinds of roads, the “highway” and the “byway.” In both these he who was guided by Wisdom would walk securely.

Verse 18

This and the other references in Proverbs Proverbs 11:30; Proverbs 13:12; Proverbs 15:4 are the only allusions in any book of the Old Testament, after Genesis, to the “tree” itself, or to its spiritual significance. Further, there is the tendency to a half-allegorizing application of that history. “The tree of life” which Adam was not to taste lies open to his children. Wisdom is the “tree of life,” giving a true immortality. The symbol entered largely into the religious imagery. of Assyria, Egypt, and Persia. Philo, going a step further, found in the two trees the ideal representatives of speculative knowledge and moral wisdom; and the same image subserves a higher purpose in the promises and the visions of Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2.

Verse 19

Hereto Wisdom has been thought of in relation to men. Now the question comes, What is she in relation to God? and the answer is, that the creative act implies a Divine Wisdom, through which the Divine will acts. This thought, developed in Psalm 33:6; John 1:3. The words of the writer of the Proverbs take their place among the proofs of the dogmatic statements of the Nicene Creed.

Verse 20

Compare Genesis 1:7; Genesis 7:11; Job 38. Looking upon the face of Nature, men see two storehouses of the living water, without which it would be waste and barren. From the “depths” rush forth the surging waves, from the “clouds” falls the gentle rain or “dew;” but both alike are ordered by the Divine Wisdom.

Verse 21

Let not them depart - i. e., The wisdom and discretion of the following clause. Keep thine eye on them, as one who watches over priceless treasures.

Verse 25

Under the form of this strong prohibition there is an equally strong promise. So safe will all thy ways be that to fear will be a sin.

Verses 27-35

A marked change in style. The continuous exhortation is replaced by a series of maxims.

From them to whom it is due - literally, as in the margin. The precept expresses the great Scriptural thought that the so-called possession of wealth is but a stewardship; that the true owners of what we call our own are those to whom, with it, we may do good. Not to relieve them is a breach of trust.

Proverbs 3:28

Procrastination is especially fatal to the giving impulse. The Septuagint adds the caution: “for thou knowest not what the morrow will bring forth.”

Proverbs 3:29

Securely - i. e., “With full trust,” without care or suspicion. Compare Judges 18:7, Judges 18:27.

Proverbs 3:31

A protest against the tendency to worship success, to think the lot of the “man of violence” enviable, and therefore to be chosen.

Proverbs 3:32

The true nature of such success. That which people admire is an abomination to Yahweh. His “secret,” i. e., His close, intimate communion as of “friend with friend,” is with the righteous.

Proverbs 3:33

The thought, like that which appears in Zechariah 5:3-4, and pervades the tragedies of Greek drama, is of a curse, an Ate, dwelling in a house from generation to generation, the source of ever-recurring woes. There is, possibly, a contrast between the “house” or “palace” of the rich oppressor and the lowly shepherd‘s hut, the “sheep-cote” 2 Samuel 7:8 ennobled only by its upright inhabitants.

Proverbs 3:34

Surely - Better, If he scorneth the scorners, i. e., Divine scorn of evil is the complement, and, as it were, the condition, of divine bounty to the lowly (compare the marginal reference and the Proverbs 1:26 note).

Proverbs 3:35

The margin conveys the thought that “fools” glory in that which is indeed their shame. Others take the clause as meaning “every fool takes up shame,” i. e., gains nothing but that.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Proverbs 3". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.