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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Proverbs 3

Verses 5-6

Proverbs 3:5-20.3.6

(with Proverbs 27:1 )

I. The precept, "Lean not unto thine own understanding" is one in which, with advancing years, we are well disposed to acquiesce. One who has grown older, and who has really profited by the experience of life, must often have found cause to revise his own judgments. In this world of change and sorrow experience soon teaches us the lesson, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Sudden reverses overtake the most prosperous; the most sagacious make blunders, through which their inferiors discover with pleased surprise that these wise men were, after all, not so much wiser than themselves.

II. The result of such experience might seem to be general distrust of the powers of the human intellect, but happily the exigencies of life save us from the danger of any unreasonable scepticism. We must act, and it is continually necessary for us to decide between different courses of action. As experience convinces us of the weakness of our understanding, our liability to go wrong notwithstanding all the light it gives us, we should all be glad if there could be supplied us any way of arriving at our belief which we might safely trust without the necessity of leaning on our own understanding. It is thus that the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to infallibility has been willingly admitted by multitudes.

III. When we want to know what is meant by wisdom and understanding in the Book of Proverbs we can find no better commentary than the saying in the Book of Job: "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." This, then, is what the writer of this part of the Book of Proverbs means to say in the words of the text. Be not deceived by any suggestions of the human heart which would lead you to fancy that God's precepts are not wise, and that you can find happiness in any ways which are not the ways of holiness. The words of the text convey no injunction to us to put out the candle of the Lord within us, that reason which supplies the light whereby we must walk; but only an injunction to us to hold fast the best conclusion which true wisdom furnishes namely, the conviction that it must be a vain search to look for happiness in any way but this.

IV. The truth that we know not what a day may bring forth seems to give a most disheartening view of human life. We have the burden cast on us of directing our own way while yet the light by which to guide it is denied us. This is the truth which removes all sadness from the reflection that we know not what shall be on the morrow, that while a man's heart deviseth his way, it is the Lord who directeth his steps. Though the path which we tread may be dark and gloomy, we can walk it with courage if we feel that we have our Father and our Saviour with us. The Psalmist found it so long since when he said, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."

G. Salmon, Non-Miraculous Christianity, p. 153.

References: Proverbs 3:5 . R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 142; Preacher's Monthly, vol., i., p. 102; W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 116. Proverbs 3:5 , Proverbs 3:6 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 33.

Verse 6

Proverbs 3:6

A characteristic of the Old Testament Scriptures, which results from the genius of the Hebrew language, is specially observable in the Book of Proverbs. Instead of the copious, versatile, precise, and in so many respects unrivalled, instrument which the Greek wields when expressing his thought, the Hebrew writer has at command a language possessing by comparison only a few and simple words. But of these, many are words of the widest range and applicability. They are words containing depth below depth of meaning. The text furnishes us with a sample of this almost untranslatable pregnancy and power of Hebrew speech. The English word "acknowledge" represents only one of the many meanings which are to be found, upon reflection, in the original word יַָדץ . This word, originally identical with εἰδεῖν and videre , came to signify that which results from sight, unless the sense be imperfect or the understanding impaired, namely, knowledge. It exhibits knowledge at all its stages of growth. As used in the passage before us it describes nothing less comprehensive than the whole action of man's spiritual being when face to face with the eternal God. It is irresistibly implied that to know God truly, to have a full sight of God before the soul, is something more than mere head-knowledge, that it is knowledge in act. It is, in short, to be out of heart with self, to distrust self, to abase and crush and forget self; we are sensible of the presence of a Being who discovers to self its insignificance or its pollution. The text thus includes, besides much else, such specific exhortations as that of St. Peter, "Be clothed with humility."

I. Not long since the question was discussed, whether a virtue can ever die. Certainly particular relative excellences do characterise particular races, epochs, stages of social progress. They appear; they shine forth; they wane and fall back into obscurity; they vanish outright. Doubtless there are forms of virtuous action suited to human life at one stage of its development which do not fully express or answer to its wants and aspirations at another. But the question does not concern the mere modification of the outward expression of a virtue; if practical applications may vary imperishable principles must live. The opinion which views intellectual submission as a dead virtue, could hardly ascribe any strong vitality to the grace of humility. If humility is dying out, this is because the idea of God has been impoverished or impaired in the thought of our day. Humility is but the sincere acknowledgment in thought, in language, in action, of the first and most commanding of all facts; it is the sincere acknowledgment of God.

II. Theoretically speaking, humility must of course be right. But look, you say, to its practical effect. Does it interfere more or less with activity and success in life? Is it secretly hostile to the claims and efforts of vigorous and cultivated intellect? After all, what is humility? Humility is not a μικροψυχία . On the contrary, the Christian is the genuine μεγαλόψῦχος ; he is pre-eminently the man of large soul and noble instincts. Humility is not a want of enterprise, a subtle resource of idleness. The force which is apparently forfeited by the destruction of self-reliance in the character is more than recovered when the soul rests in perfect trustfulness on the strong arm of God. The Christian's humility is in reality the cause of his mental energy.

III. Humility is indispensable to the true life of the soul. No man ever went to heaven without learning humility on this side of the grave. (1) Without humility that is to say, the victory of truth in the soul no soul ever really turned to God. (2) Without humility religious progress is impossible. (3) Without humility no soul that was turned to God, and is learning to serve Him, is for a moment safe.

H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, 1st series, p. 139.

I. You can acknowledge God in your play, by recognising that it is He who gives it, by thanking Him for it, and by remembering that He is near you when you are at it. It would not make you less happy to remember this, but far more happy. Only, it would repress many a wicked word, many an angry thought, many an ungentle and ungenerous deed. If all children remembered it a new sunshine would fall on the pavement, and a new joy ring in the voices there.

II. Do you acknowledge God in your work? He expects you to do so. How is He to be acknowledged? (1) By recognising that He has given you your work to do, and expects you to do it well; (2) by praying about your lessons, asking God to assist you to overcome your defects.

III. Boys and girls always have companions. Friendship will be one of the largest as well as sweetest parts of your life. There can be none in which it is more important to acknowledge God, that He may direct your paths.

IV. Thoughts of the future. Without God, however brave and strong you be, you will stumble and fall. Is Christ your Saviour and your Friend? He comes to you now, and at the outset of your career offers to accompany you. Will you not welcome Him and clasp Him to your heart with bands of triple steel? "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."

J. Stalker, The New Song, p. 118.

References: Proverbs 3:6 . J. M. Charlton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 324; New Manual of Sunday School Addresses, p. 5.

Verses 7-8

Proverbs 3:7-20.3.8

I. The text may be paraphrased and expanded thus: God has taught you by various ways by your own experience and that of others; above all, by the warnings of conscience and the voice of revelation what is right and what is wrong. Do not set yourself above this teaching, or think to be wiser than your Maker. Presume neither to cavil at nor neglect those unchanging laws by which the Almighty has separated good from evil, and appointed to each their just recompense of reward. Fear the Lord, for that is the beginning of true wisdom, and not this fancied enlightenment on which you pride yourself, fear the Lord and depart from evil.

II. Notice some familiar instances of the temptation which we incur to be wise in our own eyes, and of the evil into which we fall if we yield to it. (1) On many things the stamp of good or evil is so indelibly planted that no sane man can presume to question it. Who could think murder praiseworthy, or prayer a vice? But there are other things on which the mark, though visible to a faithful scrutiny, is not so patent; or, to vary the figure, between the acknowledged territories of the two principles is a borderland which needs wary walking, lest we pass over before we know it to the enemy. The humble man will avoid that doubtful district if he can; if compelled to enter it, he will walk circumspectly, trusting very little to his own discernment, and greatly anxious to be guided in the right path. Not so he that is wise in his own eyes. This borderland is his favourite resort. (2) It is a common delusion that we can become good and religious when we will. There is a law which is written in the history of a thousand misguided lives, that when habits of sin are once formed they are not lightly broken through; and that, instead of its being an easy thing to turn from the world to God, every added year, aye week, of rebellion, makes it more difficult, till at last, long before we are called to our account, it becomes with some men, humanly speaking, impossible. (3) The devil has his proverbs as well as Solomon, and among the devil's proverbs there is none perhaps more common or more wicked than this, that "young men must sow their wild oats." Facts are clean against this vile assertion, for four-fifths of the men who have been pure and holy in later years have been holy and pure in their youth; and the law that "evil communications" are not a preliminary of sanctity, but "corrupt good manners," is a law of the moral world which this proverb wilfully ignores.

E. H. Bradby, Sermons at Haileybury , p. 232.

References: Proverbs 3:7 , Proverbs 3:8 . W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 121.Proverbs 3:9 . J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 2nd series, p. 98; W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 123.

Verse 11

Proverbs 3:11

I. Affliction acts as a dyke against the overflow of evil; it incessantly restrains and thrusts it back. Sin finds its limit in suffering; passion strikes against pain as a fatal bourne, where it perishes; lust is quenched in disgust; and death is there to say to the raging waves of our dissolute passions, "Thus far shall ye go and no farther." Thus far; namely, to that gravestone against which evil always dashes itself at last.

II. Suffering is not a blessing simply because it acts as a restraint; but also, and especially, because it acts as a preparative. It is a bridle, but also a spur, urging us towards the Cross, (1) An infinite suffering, an unlimited obedience, such was the Cross. At this cost heaven and earth were reconciled, and salvation was consummated. But it was in our name that the great work of that hour of atonement was performed, and we can derive benefit from it only as we ratify it. He only will be saved who unites himself to Christ, not with a view of offering again a sacrifice which was perfected in itself, but in order to make it his own by an earnest acceptance and a living faith. Grace employs every means to bring us to this, and of all conceivable means none can be more efficacious than suffering. Hence the important part which it plays in the work of our personal redemption. (2) Thus suffering, under the influence of grace, fills up the infinite distance between man and the Cross. Through the direct action of grace, suffering had prepared the way for Christ in the old world, by attacking not merely the individual but also the lost race of men, whom it had mercilessly and unceasingly pursued from religion to religion, from illusion to illusion; and it was through a wasted world, reduced to the condition of a desert, that the road was made which was to lead to Him. Ever since the Redeemer came among men, and called to them from His Cross, suffering has been His great prophet and forerunner; but suffering modified, mingled with blessing, as befits a pardoned world, but yet traversing the earth with the axe of John the Baptist. We must recognise even in its most distressing manifestations the infinite love which seeks to save our souls at all costs.

E. De Pressense. The Mystery of Suffering, p. 34.

References: Proverbs 3:11 , Proverbs 3:12 . J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 2nd series, p. 86; W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 126; R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. i., p. 88.

Verse 12

Proverbs 3:12

(with 1 Corinthians 15:55 )

In the case of a saint, his afflictions and death fall to be considered: (1) as they have a respect to himself, and (2) as they have a respect to his neighbours and friends.

I. As they have a respect to himself. (1) The design of a saint's afflictions may be to rebuke him for backsliding, and not seldom for spiritual sloth and dulness of heart, with a view of recalling him from his wanderings, or arousing him from his lethargy. (2) A saint may be making commendable progress and yet be visited with affliction, that his graces may be advanced to a higher degree of excellence the Lord designing for His servant a station of peculiar glory in His heavenly kingdom. (3) Affliction and death are frequently commissioned as preventives of evil. (4) That which often strikes us as mysterious is, perhaps, resolvable on the principle that God removes some of His saints when their graces are most vigorous, and shine with the brightest lustre, before they decline; so that His government may be justified in advancing them to a higher place of honour in the kingdom, than it would have been fit to assign them, had they entered eternity in a state of declension.

II. It is frequently the interests of his friends even more than the interests of the saint himself, which the Lord designs to advance by the particular time and manner of his death. He may be a spiritually prosperous saint, cultivating his talents and opportunities with assiduity and zeal; but they may need correction and quickening, preservation from evil; and the requisite and most suitable discipline is dispensed to them by means of his afflictions.

III. Practical reflections. (1) Let us be thankful for death. (2) In reference to afflictions which do not proceed the length of death, as we would be saved their infliction, let us submit to the more gentle discipline of the remonstrances of the Spirit of God, excited within our consciences. (3) As we fear the death of our friends, let us be careful of our own ways. (4) As we desire that our own lives be prosperous and prolonged, let us be earnest and faithful in the training of our children, and in the admonition of our friends. (5) Let us diligently prepare for the death of our friends. (6) Let us prepare ourselves for our own death. (7) Let us examine ourselves of the improvement which we have made or are making of the death of our friends, and prepare to give them a satisfactory account of it.

W. Anderson, Discourses, 2nd series, p. 40.

References: Proverbs 3:13 . W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 134.Proverbs 3:13-20.3.20 . R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. i., p. 101.Proverbs 3:14 , Proverbs 3:15 . W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, p. 136. Proverbs 3:16 . Ibid., p. 139.

Verse 17

Proverbs 3:17

There is a certain exclusiveness about this expression which stands out into a necessary emphasis; strong in the first, stronger in the second, clause of the sentence. For of many things it may be said, that some of their "ways" are "pleasant," though some be bitter; and of a very few things indeed, perhaps, it might be said that their "paths" are sometimes "peace." But of nothing in the whole world save one the life of a real child of God could it ever be spoken so broadly, so universally, so absolutely.

I. In this high peace, then, notice that there is a distinction drawn which is not without its special signification. It is the ways which are pleasant, and the paths which are peace. Now the way is always larger and broader than the path. And the meaning may be this: The more general and public things in religion things which all see and know these are pleasant; but the things which retire back and are most unfrequented, and which very few either see or guess, all these are "peace."

II. Wisdom's way is: (1) a high way. It is always reaching up out of littlenesses; it ranges at loftier levels, it has the world at its feet. (2) Wisdom's way always has one fixed mark. For that it steers. It throws lesser things aside as it goes, and it goes straight and earnest to a goal, and that goal is the glory of God. (3) Wisdom's way is a way of usefulness. It always puts usefulness first before pleasure, before profit. (4) To go in wisdom's way is to go in sweet fellowship. They who walk there walk hand in hand. It is full of sympathies, it is a road which lies in the communion of all saints, and all love all in wisdom's way. (5) Above all, Christ is there. They walk with Jesus, they lean on Jesus, they are satisfied with Jesus, and they shall travel on and reign with Jesus, in that city where they go.

III. Let us leave the wider track, and go down to one or two of the more secluded "paths." (1) There is a going out in a man's heart from its deepest places to Christ. He tells Jesus something which has long been a hidden burden in his mind. And in the little path of that secret confession there is a peace which no words can tell. (2) It is a very small path that faith takes, but the "peace passeth understanding." (3) Shame, sorrow, parting, death, lie in the same wisdom's path. Jesus' path lay just the same, through shame, through death. And wisdom's path and Jesus' path are both one; and both are peace.

J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1867, p. 77.

References: Proverbs 3:17 . J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 1875, p. 278; W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 142.Proverbs 3:19 , Proverbs 3:20 . Ibid., p. 144.Proverbs 3:21-20.3.35 . R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. i., p. 113.Proverbs 3:26 . W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, p. 147. Proverbs 3:27 , Proverbs 3:28 . Ibid., p. 152.

Verse 32

Proverbs 3:32

I. Consider the intimacy between God and man implied in this promise. To whom is it that we open our confidence, and explain our most secret purposes and objects? It is not to the stranger, of whom perhaps we know nothing but his mere name and title; not to those who have already slighted and injured us; not to the passing acquaintance, between whom and ourselves there is no bond closer than that of a formal courtesy; but to those we love and who love us; those with whom we have had long and familiar acquaintance, and in whom, through constant intercourse, we have learned to place confidence. Thus it is in regard to God and the soul. He gives milk for babes; broad simple truths, conveyed in His Holy Word, as clearly as human language can express them; and when these are received, then He leads the believer on to a further and higher knowledge. Thus there arises a personal, familiar intercourse, a spiritual intimacy, an individual knowledge of experience between the soul and God. Not little is the dignity, nor poor the communion, nor scant the privilege, contained in this promise, "His secret is with the righteous."

II. Look at the nature and blessedness of the secret revealed. (2) It includes a clear knowledge of God's being and of the revelation of His will. (2) The secret of God includes the full saving comprehension of the Gospel of His dear Son. (3) Another secret of God is the sweetness of His comforting peace.

E. Garbett, The Soul's Life, p. 16.

References: Proverbs 3:33 . W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 158. Proverbs 3:33-20.3.35 . E. Johnson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 40. Proverbs 3:34 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 10. 3 Parker, Pulpit Analyst, vol. i., pp. 421, 481.Proverbs 4:1-20.4.13 . R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. i., p. 126. Proverbs 4:2 . New Manual of Sunday School Addresses, p. 142.Proverbs 4:3 , Proverbs 4:4 . E. H. Bradby, Sermons at Haileybury, p. 150.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Proverbs 3". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/proverbs-3.html.