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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 3

 

 

Introduction

Discourse 3. The Young Man Is To Trust In YHWH, To Fear YHWH And To Honour YHWH, And In View Of Their Great Value Is To Find YHWH’s Wisdom And Obtain Understanding Which Will Be His Protection And Through YHWH’s Chastening Activity Will Restore Him To Man’s First Estate. In View Of Them He Is To Observe A Series Of Practical Requirements Which Will Result In Blessing For The Wise (Proverbs 3:1-35).

The passage divides into three sections, each headed by an address to ‘my son’. These sections are:

· Introductory exhortation followed by the requirements to trust in YHWH, to fear YHWH and to honour YHWH (Proverbs 3:1-10).

· Emphasis on the importance and great value of wisdom and understanding, especially as restoring those who respond to them to man’s first estate at creation (Proverbs 3:11-20).

· An assurance that wisdom and understanding will bolster their lives, followed by a series of exhortations in which is given the assurance that YHWH will be their confidence, whilst abominating the perverse man, ending with a series of contrasts concerning the fate of the wicked and the good in which the good are assured of YHWH’s blessing whilst the wicked come under His curse (Proverbs 3:21-34).

As already mentioned it may be significant that Proverbs 1:8-33; Proverbs 2:1-22 and Proverbs 3:1-35 all divide up into three parts (Proverbs 1:8-33; Proverbs 2:1-22; Proverbs 3:1-35), and all end in a final contrast between the wise and the fool (or equivalent). The pattern, however, does not continue.

Once again the passage commences with a detailed exhortation (Proverbs 3:1-4; compare Proverbs 1:8-9; Proverbs 2:1-5; Proverbs 4:1-4; etc.), as in other wisdom literature (see introduction). But the aim now is not just to teach, but to exhort. In contrast with chapter 2, where the emphasis was on finding wisdom and understanding, something which could only be given by God, and would deliver from evil men and women, Solomon now presses home the response which should come from receiving his words. And because he is dealing with practical response he adds the proviso for ‘kindness and truth’ which are a necessity to their proper fulfilment. These too are to be sought with urgency and dedication.

In other words to Solomon it was not enough simply to heed his instruction and commandments, it must be done with the right motive and attitude, it must be done in love and truth. Thus the response to wisdom and understanding, which he sees here in terms of ‘instruction’ (torah) and ‘commandments’, is not to be hardnosed and judgmental, but is rather to be fulfilled lovingly and honestly. The word for ‘kindness’ is chesed which regularly indicates ‘covenant love’, a love which springs from a willingness to fulfil the Covenant. For as that Covenant said, they must love their neighbour, and any strangers who lived among them, as themselves (Leviticus 19:18; Leviticus 19:34). The man who follows true wisdom is therefore to be gentle and kind, something which the teaching of Jesus underlines and amplifies.

The fact that Solomon is not just thinking of humanistic wisdom comes out very strongly here. They are to trust in YHWH (Proverbs 3:5), to fear YHWH (Proverbs 3:7), to honour YHWH (Proverbs 3:9), and not to despise YHWH’s chastening (Proverbs 3:11), for true wisdom has its source in YHWH (Proverbs 3:19-20). The young man is to trust in the wisdom that comes from YHWH, and not in his own understanding. If he truly ‘knows YHWH’ (not, be it noted, knows wisdom) in all his ways, his path will be directed by Him. God will be personally involved. They are not just to trust in their own humanistic wisdom, having a general sense of what is right, but are to fear YHWH, and as a consequence depart from all evil. And they are to honour YHWH by expressing their gratitude in offering to Him the firstfruits and tithes. Solomon’s wisdom was rooted in the activity of YHWH. This was something that other wisdom literature could not offer.


Verses 1-10

Introductory Exhortation Followed By The Requirement To Trust In YHWH, To Fear YHWH And To Honour YHWH (Proverbs 3:1-10).

Solomon here speaks of wisdom and understanding in terms of ‘my torah -- my commandments’. It is observance of these that will ensure longevity and wellbeing. In view of the Scriptural precedents for these words (Exodus 24:12; Deuteronomy 30:10’; Joshua 22:5; 1 Kings 2:3; etc.) it is clear that Solomon see his wisdom as complementary to the Torah and therefore to YHWH’s covenant with Israel. It was that Torah which stressed the need for love for God and one’s neighbour (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18), a stress that Solomon brings out here. His ‘son’ must ensure that observance of YHWH’s instruction is accompanied by covenant love and truth, for thereby he will find favour with both God and men. This is then followed by the injunctions to ‘trust in YHWH -- fear YHWH -- and honour YHWH’, for it is in association with YHWH that wisdom can be obtained and carried out in practise.

These first ten verses form a chiasmus:

A My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days, and years of life, and peace (wellbeing), will they add to you (Proverbs 3:1-2).

B Do not let kindness and truth forsake you, bind them about your neck, write them upon the tablet of your heart, so will you find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man (Proverbs 3:3-4).

C Trust in YHWH with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways know him, and he will direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

B Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear YHWH, and depart from evil, it will be health to your navel, and marrow to your bones (Proverbs 3:7-8).

A Honour YHWH with your substance, and with the first-fruits of all your increase, so will your barns be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine (Proverbs 3:9-10).

Note that in A the actions called for will result in longevity and wellbeing, whilst the actions in the parallel will result in prosperity and plenty. In B the actions will produce spiritual wellbeing, as will the actions in the parallel. Central in C is the requirement to trust wholly in YHWH and to know Him in daily life.

Proverbs 3:1-2

‘My son, do not forget my law (torah),

But let your heart keep my commandments,

For length of days, and years of life,

And peace, will they add to you.’

Solomon calls on ‘my son’ to observe his instruction (torah) and commandments from ‘the heart’. The observance is to be inward, not just outward. A wholehearted obedience is called for.

The Hebrew words for ‘law’ and ‘commandments’ are so closely associated with YHWH’s covenant with Israel that that covenant could hardly not have been in Solomon’s mind. Indeed that it was so comes out in Proverbs 3:9. But here they are expressed in terms of Solomon’s wisdom teaching. Solomon sees himself as re-presenting the Torah. He can thus speak of ‘my instruction’ and ‘my commandments’ (compare Proverbs 1:7 ‘the torah of your mother’). The teaching of the Torah has become personalised. Solomon is re-expressing it (as Moses did in Deuteronomy).

We can compare in this regard how the covenant is assumed in Proverbs 3:9, has been mentioned in Proverbs 2:17, and is almost certainly in mind in Proverbs 6:23 where we read that ‘the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is a light’. Both commandment and torah are words regularly used of covenant requirements, e.g. Exodus 24:12; Deuteronomy 30:10’; Joshua 22:5; 1 Kings 2:3; etc. Thus Solomon is here expressing his wisdom in terms of covenant obedience.

And the consequence of obedience to his instruction will be ‘length of days and years of life, and wellbeing’ (compare Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 9:11). In Proverbs 10:27 the same is the consequence of the fear of YHWH. Thus Solomon’s teaching and the fear of YHWH are equated. They are to obey his teaching because they fear YHWH. In Exodus 20:12 (compare Ephesians 6:3) a similar prolonging of day was promised to those who honoured father and mother, in other words responded to their authority and instruction (Proverbs 1:7). In Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 11:8-9 such prolonging of days was promised to those who kept the statutes and commandments of YHWH and walked in His ways. Solomon thus also equated his teaching with the Torah.

‘And peace (wellbeing, prosperity).’ He will not only live long, but his life will prosper and be one of peace and security.

Proverbs 3:3-4

‘Do not let kindness and truth forsake you,

Bind them about your neck,

Write them upon the tablet of your heart,

So will you find favour and good understanding

In the sight (the eyes) of God and man.’

Along with obedience the young man is to hold firmly to ‘lovingkindness and truth’. He is to be compassionate (having chesed - covenant love) and honourable, without deceit. Indeed he is to bind compassion and truth about his neck, as ancient man bound his signet around his neck (Genesis 38:18), so that they are revealed as his means of identification. And he is to write them on the tablet of his heart (compare Deuteronomy 11:18; Jeremiah 31:31), so that they are permanent and living and an intrinsic part of him. These are to be the two virtues which mark him off as God’s man. In Proverbs 16:6 they are brought into close connection with the fear of YHWH. They are in complete contrast with the violence and deceit and false love of the ungodly (Proverbs 1:11-15; Proverbs 2:12-20). We can compare here the words of James in James 3:13-18.

And the consequence of doing this will be that he will be viewed with favour and appreciation by both God and man. He will be seen as a man of good repute whose heart is right. ‘In the eyes of’ may indicate that what they think of him shines forth from their eyes. Compare Proverbs 15:30. The unexpected use of ‘God’ rather than YHWH may indicate that the words ‘God and man’ echoed a recognised general saying.

A Threefold Charge - Trust In, Fear And Honour YHWH.

In true New Testament fashion Solomon now brings out that the emphasis is not to be simply on the young man observing Solomon’s commandments, but on his doing so because of his own personal response to God. It is this which differentiates a living faith from a dead legalism. The emphasis is on the fact that he is to ‘trust in’, ‘fear’ and ‘honour’ YHWH, revealing this by walking in the ways of His revealed wisdom. This is central to Solomon’s wisdom teaching, in total contrast to the wisdom teaching of other nations. Wisdom is to be followed because it is YHWH’s wisdom. It is YHWH Who is to be heeded and obeyed.

We have here the three aspects of the godly life. It commences with personal response to, and trust in God. This leads on to ‘fearing God’ and obeying Him on the one hand, and honouring and worshipping Him on the other.

Proverbs 3:5-6

‘Trust in YHWH with all your heart,

And do not rely on your own understanding,

In all your ways know him,

And he will direct (make straight) your paths.’

The young man is firstly to ‘trust in YHWH with all his heart’, and this will result in him having YHWH’s understanding (for he is not to rely on his own). The word for trust means ‘lean wholly on’ (compare Psalms 22:10). YHWH is to be his full support and his sole source of understanding. His whole confidence is to be in Him. And he is to do so with all his inner self (his ‘heart’). This does, of course, include leaning on His revealed wisdom, but it is that wisdom as revealed to him by God Himself (Proverbs 2:6-8). YHWH and His wisdom are inextricably combined. He is not only to know wisdom, he is to know YHWH, and the word ‘know’ is a word of personal relationship (see Galatians 4:9). It is because he knows YHWH that he appreciates YHWH’s true wisdom. In contrast he is not to lean on/rely on his own wisdom and understanding. For God’s ways are not man’s ways (Romans 11:33). However, if he walks in a personal relationship with YHWH (knows Him), it is YHWH who will guide him and direct his paths in the right way (literally ‘make straight your path’), largely through His wisdom and His word.

Proverbs 3:7-8

‘Do not be wise in your own eyes,

Fear YHWH, and depart from evil,

It will be health to your navel,

And marrow to your bones.’

Solomon secondly calls on the young man to ‘fear YHWH’, something which will make him wise (rather than relying on his own wisdom). Note how ‘fearing YHWH’ is contrasted with being worldly-wise. To fear YHWH results in having God’s wisdom and following it. It indicates submission to God and His wisdom and instruction, but with the emphasis not on wisdom but on YHWH. And the consequence of this will be that he will depart from all that comes short of good. For fearing God and following evil at the same time is simply not possible. In contrast are those who are wise in their own eyes. They follow their own ways. These have been depicted in Proverbs 1:11-14; Proverbs 2:12-15. They are also depicted in 1 Corinthians 1:20 to 1 Corinthians 2:5. They walk in wayward paths. They are inappreciative of God’s wisdom, and therefore of His truth.

However, if the young man does ‘fear YHWH’, responding to Him in loving obedience, (as a man fears his parents and responds to them - Leviticus 19:3), it will strengthen him within. The navel and the bones have in mind the inner man. To ancient man the navel was the means of entry of life. The bones were the inward part of the body representing the inner man (Proverbs 15:30; Proverbs 16:24; Psalms 34:19-20; Psalms 35:10). The marrow was what made the bones strong. So this is not promising health of body, although that may follow, but health of heart and mind, a healthy inward life.

Proverbs 3:9-10

Honour YHWH with your substance,

And with the first-fruits of all your increase,

So will your store-places be filled with plenty,

And your vats will overflow with new wine.’

Solomon thirdly calls on the young man to honour YHWH, to treat Him as of value. And in those days nothing revealed this more genuinely than a grateful and cheerful offering of men’s substance to Him in sacrifices and offerings, which included the willing offerings of the firstfruits (see 2 Corinthians 8:6-7). As with Abel the quality of the sacrifice was dependent on the attitude of heart of the sacrificer (he willingly gave of what he first received and of the fat portions. He did not grudge what he gave to God). Solomon is not here proposing a bargain with God, as if he were saying, ‘if we do this, He will do that’. He is rather calling on the young man to offer to God gladly and freely from his substance because his heart is right with God. But inevitably, because of what God is, it will result in full barns and overflowing vats of wine. For God is no man’s debtor.

The store-places would be pits and silos in the ground, or small rooms and sheds or larger storehouses above ground. The vats would be the lower pit of the wine-press in which the wine was collected, after it had first been trodden in the upper pit, and had flowed down a conduit into the lower pit. Such would be the quantity of grapes that the pit would overflow.

In these words we have a clear reference to offerings as stipulated in the Torah. Having God’s wisdom will result in obedience to the requirements of the Torah. Solomon’s wisdom did not replace the Torah, it supported it.


Verses 11-20

YHWH As Chastening Father And Wise Creator Inculcates Wisdom And Understanding As A Tree Of Life To Those Whom He Loves (Proverbs 3:11-20).

The reference to ‘my son’ in Proverbs 3:11 (although in the Hebrew text not at the beginning of the sentence) points to the opening of a new subsection in the passage (as does the fact that it follows the chiasmus in Proverbs 3:1-10). Here YHWH is seen as acting to ensure the reception of His wisdom by those whom He loves. And He does it by means of discipline, by ‘the chastening instruction of wisdom’ (Proverbs 1:3). The man whom He loves will be subject to His rod. Solomon recognises the waywardness of even a good man’s heart, and realises that wisdom and understanding must partially be obtained as a consequence of stern discipline. Nevertheless this must be borne patiently because of the value of such wisdom and understanding, indeed because wisdom actually lies at the very root of creation. Note how the subsection commences with YHWH’s fatherly activity as He fashions those whom He loves, and ends with His creative, and even violent, activity by which He fashioned the world which He saw as ‘very good’. YHWH’s activity in saving and creating forms an inclusio. This reminds us again that it is YHWH’s wisdom and understanding that is being inculcated.

Thus this subsection commences with the idea of YHWH, as Father of those whom He loves, fashioning and shaping those who are truly His by chastening and reproof, in order to inculcate into them wisdom and understanding. The great value of that wisdom and understanding is then described in terms of longevity, security, pleasantness, prosperity and mention of the tree of life, all reminiscent of Eden (note how Eden similarly springs to mind in the prophets - Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 36:35; Joel 2:3), and the subsection ends with the reminder that this wisdom is rooted in creation. The One Who initially founded, fashioned and shaped the world by wisdom, (and gave man the tree of life), is now through chastening and reproof, and through wisdom and understanding which are as a tree of life, fashioning those whom He loves in a new work of creation. Thus God’s chastening and reproof of those whom He loves is set against the background of creation and the fall

The subsection may be analysed chiastically as follows:

A Do not despise, my son, the chastening of YHWH, nor be weary of his reproof, for whom YHWH loves he reproves, even as a father the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:11-12).

B Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who obtains understanding, for the gaining of it is better than the gaining of silver, and its profit than fine gold (Proverbs 3:13-14).

C She is more precious than rubies, and none of the things you can desire are to be compared to her, length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand are riches and honour (Proverbs 3:15-16).

B Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace, she is a tree of life to those who lay hold on her, and happy is every one who retains her (Proverbs 3:17-18).

A YHWH by 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 (Proverbs 3:19-20).

In A YHWH, acting (in wisdom and understanding) like a father, will discipline his son in order to fashion and shape him, inculcating wisdom and understanding into the one whom He loves, undoubtedly seeking to restore him to what he once was, (it is a tree of life to him) and in the parallel this can be compared with the importance of God’s wisdom and understanding as Creator in the fashioning and shaping of the world. His wisdom in shaping the world thus still goes on in the chastening of His people. We should in fact note here that the idea of YHWH’s fatherhood and creatorship go hand in hand in the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 45:9-12; Malachi 2:10; Luke 3:38; Ephesians 3:14-15). Having created He acts as Father to His creation. In B the man who finds wisdom and understanding is happy, and in the parallel everyone who retains wisdom/understanding is happy. Central in C is the incomparable worth of God’s wisdom/understanding.

We may see from this subsection Solomon’s way of thinking. God having created the universe by wisdom, had seen man lose access to the tree of life because he thrust aside God’s wisdom and replaced it with the serpent’s wisdom (his ‘subtlety’, a word used of the shrewd/prudent, and therefore wise, man in Proverbs 12:16; Proverbs 12:23; Proverbs 13:16; Proverbs 14:8; Proverbs 14:15; Proverbs 14:18; Proverbs 22:3). Now He is at work to restore man to his former state, using reproof and discipline in order to turn man back to His wisdom which is as a tree of life, a wisdom which fundamentally lies at the root of, and shaped and fashioned, creation, and is now shaping and fashioning His new creation (compare Ephesians 2:10).

Proverbs 3:11-12

‘Do not despise (reject), my son, the chastening of YHWH,

Nor be weary of his reproof,

For whom YHWH loves he reproves,

Even as a father the son in whom he delights.

The young man is not to reject or despise the chastening of YHWH, nor to grow weary when he is constantly reproved. For he must remember that he is being shaped and fashioned by a loving YHWH, in the same way as a loving father who is proud of his son, shapes and fashions him.

In Malachi 2:10 we see that Israel closely connected God’s fatherhood with His position as creator and a similar connection occurs here (compare Proverbs 3:19-20). Nevertheless Israel also saw God’s fatherhood as evidence that God had chosen some from among many to be special to Him. Thus the idea of YHWH as the Father of His true people is emphasised in Exodus 4:22 where He declares, ‘Israel is My son, my firstborn’, and this was confirmed by Moses in Deuteronomy 14:1, ‘you are the children of YHWH your God’. In other words the son of YHWH is one chosen by Him. But here in Proverbs the son is not all Israel, but the responsive remnant of Israel, those who take heed to the wisdom that comes from God and respond to His chastening. And each of them (‘my son’) is called on not to despise the chastening of YHWH, or be wearied by His reproof. They are to see that the chastening and reproving by God of His people is a necessary part of their progression. Indeed just as a loving father who delights in his son, chastens him, such chastening is evidence of YHWH’s love for those who are His true people. Israel had experienced such chastening in the wilderness days (Deuteronomy 8:3-5; Deuteronomy 11:2), and during the period of the Judges, and it comes in many forms, including reproof (Proverbs 19:25; Psalms 141:5), being subjected to others (Proverbs 5:9-13; 2 Samuel 7:14), persecution (Hebrews 12:3-11 where this passage is cited; compare Romans 8:28-39) sickness and even death (1 Corinthians 11:30-32).

Whilst YHWH is not here called Father, the implication of His fatherly love is clear, and we have here the clear beginnings of the idea that not all Israel were YHWH’s beloved children. Thus YHWH is seen as fashioning and shaping those who are His own, having set His love upon them. And the thing that distinguishes them is their responsiveness to His wisdom, that wisdom that God initially revealed at creation when He fashioned and shaped the world (verses Proverbs 3:19-20), and now brings to bear in restoring those on whom He sets His love. Indeed that wisdom is as a restorative tree of life (Proverbs 3:18), restoring man to what he lost through the fall. Through it He has now set out to fashion and shape those whom He loves, restoring them to abundant life.

Proverbs 3:13-14

‘Happy is the man who finds wisdom,

And the man who obtains understanding,

For the gaining of it is better than the gaining of silver,

And its profit than fine gold.’

It is now made clear that the fashioning and shaping of His beloved sons is in order to inculcate in them wisdom and understanding. He Who by wisdom created and fashioned the world, is now recreating and refashioning those who are His by imparting to them wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 2:5-6). For in the final analysis men find wisdom and obtain understanding because YHWH Himself gives it to them (Proverbs 2:6).

And happy is the man who ‘finds’ (the word implies not by accident, but by searching out) such wisdom, and obtains such understanding for it is better than gaining silver, and more profitable than fine gold. (Note how the ‘it’ refers to both wisdom and understanding seen as one). We may see an expansion of this idea in Psalms 1 where the man is happy who deeply studies YHWH’s instruction and thereby rejects sin, and in Matthew 5:3-10 where Jesus Himself taught the happiness of those who obtained God’s favour and received from Him true wisdom and understanding.

Note that whilst that wisdom was given by God, and is in fact an important aspect of His creative work, it still has to be sought and found. Nevertheless man cannot find it solely by his own efforts. He can only find it because it has been given by God in words that come from God (Proverbs 2:6).

Proverbs 3:15-16

‘She (wisdom/understanding) is more precious than rubies,

And none of the things you can desire are to be compared to her,

Length of days is in her right hand,

In her left hand are riches and honour.’

The value of such spiritual wisdom and understanding is now revealed. It is more precious even than ‘rubies’ (the word signifies some red material of value (Lamentations 4:7), possibly red coral as found in the Red Sea. The same word is found in Proverbs 8:11; Proverbs 20:15; Proverbs 31:10; Job 28:18 as indicating something precious). Indeed nothing that a man can desire is comparable in value to wisdom and understanding, for they offer on the one hand a long life (compare Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 10:27), and on the other prosperity and honour. Here are the gifts which men desire above all others, to live long, to enjoy prosperity and to be held in high esteem. And they are all granted to the truly wise through their response to the wisdom of God. This was something that Solomon knew from his own experience, for because he sought from God wisdom above all else, he was promised both prosperity and length of days (1 Kings 3:9-14).

The fact that length of days is held in the right hand may indicate the importance being laid on this, for what are prosperity and fame without length of days? And indeed the phrase may well be intended to include the idea of physical wellbeing, indicating length of days in good health, for otherwise they would simply be a burden.

‘In her left hand are riches and honour.’ This is not a promise that those who become wise will become financially rich. Certainly it includes a certain level of material prosperity (compare Proverbs 10:4), but the main idea is of richness of life which goes along with that prosperity. It is the blessing of YHWH that makes rich (Proverbs 10:22; compare Proverbs 13:8). We can compare here Proverbs 8:18 which speaks of ‘durable riches and righteousness’.

That all this was generally true in Solomon’s day we can be confident. It was a time of peace and prosperity, with no major wars, and conditions which allowed truly good men to live long and benefit from their wise living. We are similarly reminded of how in the eighteenth century John Wesley bemoaned the fact that godly living so enabled many of his Methodists to prosper materially, that it put them in danger of a diminution of their spiritual enthusiasm. Solomon, of course, overlooked the fact that his own extravagance, and his building schemes with their forced levies, often prevented this from being true for all.

The New Testament recognises the same principle, although seeing it in terms of eternal life and spiritual prosperity. Jesus Himself made clear that those who obtained true wisdom and understanding by responding to Him would be blessed in this life and finally enjoy eternal life (Matthew 19:29).

It may be that the reference to ‘fine gold’ and rubies (or ‘red coral’) had in mind the ‘good gold’, bdellium and onyx stone found in connection with the ‘garden of Eden’ (Genesis 2:12) in the same way as the tree of life which is shortly mentioned. Solomon in his splendour would necessarily expand on their magnificence. He may well not have thought much of bdellium and onyx stone. There is an Edenic quality about the promises given, length of day, riches and honour, pleasantness, peace, tree of life.

Proverbs 3:17-18

‘Her ways are ways of pleasantness,

And all her paths are peace,

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold on her,

And happy is every one who retains her.’

The happiness of the one who obtains wisdom from God is now again emphasised, and the benefits of obtaining such wisdom continue to be described. In contrast with the ways of the unwise (Proverbs 2:12-15; Proverbs 2:18-20), her ways are ways of pleasantness and peace. For the wise will not only experience spiritual blessing, but they will also avoid unnecessary discord, and will in general as a consequence of their good lives be in favour with the authorities (Romans 13:3-4;1 Peter 2:13-17) and with their neighbours. The New Testament takes up the idea and emphasises that true believers in Christ will enjoy lives of pleasantness and peace, receiving ‘life more abundant’ (John 10:10), ‘the peace which passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) and ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ (1 Peter 1:8).

Indeed God’s wisdom is ‘a tree of life to those who lay hold on her’. The idea behind this phrase (which is followed by a mention of creation) may well be of a figurative restoration from the fall. Adam exchanged God’s wisdom (‘you shall not eat of the tree of knowing good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it you will certainly die’) for the serpent’s subtlety/prudence (‘you shall not certainly die’). Thereby he lost access to the tree of life (Genesis 2:9; Genesis 3:22; Genesis 3:24) and became a dying man. Now by turning back to God’s wisdom those who are his receive a new impetus for righteous living, and enter into God’s promise that ‘those who do these things will live in them’ (Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 8:1), clearly in contrast to those who do not do them and who will therefore die, first spiritually and then physically. It is noteworthy that constant contact with the tree of life was seemingly necessary (Genesis 3:22), and of course the same applies to the wisdom that comes from God. The same figure is found in Proverbs 11:30; Proverbs 13:12;Proverbs 15:4 supporting the case for the unity of Proverbs 1:1 to Proverbs 24:34, but in those cases it does not directly have in mind wisdom

It is probable (see introduction) that Solomon saw in this reference to the tree of life a promise of a future life, that is, ‘eternal life’, although not in any thought out sense. If he did not then we see a greater fulfilment of it promised in the New Testament where those who receive Jesus Christ, God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30), thereby receive eternal life, pictured in Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2 in terms of the tree of life. But the Davidic Psalms do undoubtedly offer a glimpse of such a future hope (e.g. Psalms 16:10-11; Psalms 17:15) and it may well therefore have been an intrinsic part of Solomon’s thinking. And this especially so in the light of representations of the tree of life or its equivalent, the plant of life, in the mythology of nations round about, which offered immortality.

Proverbs 3:19-20

‘YHWH by 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.’

The vastness of the value of YHWH’s wisdom and understanding is now brought out by associating it with the founding and shaping of creation. YHWH’s wisdom is seen as intrinsic within His creating work. And by that wisdom YHWH founded the earth, and by that understanding He established the Heavens. And by it, as revealed in His knowledge, He broke up the depths and caused the skies to drop down dew, thus watering the earth for man’s benefit. Thus having created He fashioned. We may well see in the ‘breaking up of the depths’ and the ‘dropping down of the dew’ symbols of YHWH’s chastening work in breaking up man’s sinfulness through chastening (Proverbs 3:11-12), and His provision of wisdom in watering men’s lives. This latter idea has already been found in Proverbs 1:23 (the pouring down of wisdom’s spirit).

The breaking up of the depths is not referring to the separating of the water from the water (Genesis 1:7), for it parallels the pouring of the dew from Heaven. Thus it refers to the waters below being caused to water the earth in accordance with Genesis 2:6, just as the dew is the water from above. This is confirmed in Genesis 7:11 where ‘all the fountains of the great deep were broken up and the windows of heaven were opened’ refers to the waters below (the sea) and the waters above (the clouds.


Verses 21-35

Responding To God’s Wisdom And Understanding Will Result In Life, Peace And Security But Must Result In Positive Behaviour Towards Others, For YHWH Will Bless The Righteous, Lowly And Wise Whilst He Will Curse The Wicked, The Scoffers And The Foolish (Proverbs 3:21-35).

The first subsection of Proverbs 3:1-35 stressed the importance of trusting, fearing and honouring YHWH. In this is understanding and wisdom. The second subsection emphasised the value of wisdom as an important part of YHWH’s activity of restoring man to his first estate. This final subsection of the passage now emphasises the positive moral behaviour which is to spring from wisdom and understanding, with its consequence being blessing from God.

The subsection is constructed on a chiastic pattern, centred on four ethical instructions concerning positive behaviour, as follows:

A My son, do not let them (wisdom and understanding) depart from your eyes, keep sound wisdom and discretion, so will they be life to your soul, and grace to your neck, then will you walk in your way securely, and your foot will not stumble, when you lie down, you will not be afraid, yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet. (Proverbs 3:21-24).

B Do not be afraid of sudden fear, nor of the desolation of the wicked, when it comes, for YHWH will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being taken (Proverbs 3:25-26).

C Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do it, do not say to your neighbour, “Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give,” when you have it by you’ (Proverbs 3:27-28).

C Do not devise evil against your neighbour, seeing he dwells securely by you, do not strive with a man without good reason, if he has not done you any harm (Proverbs 3:29-30).

B Do not envy the man of violence, and choose none of his ways, for the perverse man is an abomination to YHWH, but his friendship is with the upright (Proverbs 3:31-32).

A The curse of YHWH is in the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwellingplace of the righteous, surely he scorns the scorners, but he gives grace to the lowly, the wise will inherit glory, but shame will be the promotion of fools (Proverbs 3:33-35).

Note that A gives reasons why wisdom is to be followed, and centres around ‘grace’. It makes positive promises of life, grace, security and sweetness of sleep to those who follow wisdom, whilst the parallel also gives reasons why wisdom is to be followed and centres around ‘grace. It makes positive promises of blessing, grace and glory to ‘the wise’. B speaks of an emotion to be avoided (fear), and of desolation by the wicked, whilst the parallel also speaks of an emotion to be avoided (envy) and of men of violence. Centrally C gives two general injunctions to positive behaviour, and is centred around the idea of the ‘neighbour, whilst the parallel also gives two injunctions to positive behaviour, and is again centred around the idea of the neighbour.

Proverbs 3:21-22

‘My son, do not let them depart from your eyes,

Keep sound wisdom and discretion,

So will they be life to your soul,

And grace to your neck.

‘My son.’ This is the usual indicator of a new section or subsection. Here it introduces the third subsection of this chapter. Solomon sees those on whom he is calling as his ‘sons’.

His son is not to allow ‘them’ (the wisdom and understanding which YHWH used in creation - Proverbs 3:19-20) to depart ‘from his eyes’. This would appear to indicate a written record which the young man can see. He is to read it constantly (compare Psalms 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:15). And in doing so he is to ‘keep’ (keep in mind and carry into practise) wisdom and discretion, especially as it has been revealed by Solomon. Wisdom and understanding in the things of YHWH will result in discretion (compare Proverbs 2:11), that is in knowing how to behave wisely and acceptably, something which will shortly be amplified.

And these will be ‘life to his inner self’ and ‘grace to his neck’. Through receiving God’s wisdom, as revealed by God Himself, he will be inwardly renewed by God (compare Psalms 1:2-4; Psalms 51:10; Psalms 119:50 b, 93; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23), and there will be ‘grace (spiritual beauty) to his neck’, that is, he will display spiritual beauty as a necklace (compare Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 3:3), in other words he will be made spiritually beautiful by YHWH in the eyes of God and men (he will have lovingkindness and truth bound about his neck - Proverbs 3:3). God will so work in them that they will appear spiritually beautiful. In Proverbs 3:24 this spiritual beauty given by YHWH will be ‘given to the lowly’ (those who are in contrast to scorners), that is to those who humbly respond to God’s wisdom. They will be made spiritually beautiful.

Proverbs 3:23-24

‘Then will you walk in your way securely,

And your foot will not stumble,

When you lie down, you will not be afraid,

Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet.’

The consequence of receiving and responding to the wisdom that has been imparted by God is that he will walk securely and will not stumble. He will avoid things that may trip him up. He will not find the going rough. And he will sleep with confidence in his heart. He knows the way in which he should go and intends to go, and leaves all his worries with the God of wisdom. As a result when he lies down, he will sleep sweetly. Such sleep come to those whose trust is in God (Psalms 3:5; Psalms 4:8). In Isaiah’s words, ‘in quietness and in confidence will be your strength’ (Isaiah 30:15).

Proverbs 3:25-26

‘Do not be afraid of sudden fear,

Nor of the desolation of the wicked, when it comes,

For YHWH will be your confidence,

And will keep your foot from being taken.’

That having confidence in the wisdom and understanding revealed by God does not guarantee that life will be smooth is emphasised here. For that wisdom and understanding should enable its recipient not to be afraid even when outwardly things go wrong. Thus the young man who receives that wisdom should not be afraid of sudden fearful events. This brings out that it is not only the rejecters of God’s wisdom who will be faced with sudden fears (Proverbs 1:26). Nor should he be afraid of the desolation of the wicked, including the devastations of invading armies, and violent activity by evil men. Such things will come on all men, but his confidence is to be in YHWH, for YHWH will be his surety, and will preserve him through it. In Proverbs 3:23 the promise was that his foot would not stumble as he walked through life, now the promise is that his foot will be preserved from harm. Note that his confidence is not to be in wisdom, it is to be in YHWH. True wisdom results in a personal confidence in God.

‘For YHWH will be your confidence.’ Their full cause for confidence will be that YHWH is with them. A possible translation is ‘YHWH will be at your loin’, in other words will be with them to support them through it. (The Targum translates ‘YHWH will be your help’). But the underlying idea is the same.

A Series Of Four Commands.

These four commands emphasise positive behaviour towards others. Those who respond to God’s wisdom are expected to live it out before men. They form a small chiasmus within a chiasmus, ‘those to whom it is due -- your neighbour -- your neighbour -- a man in general’. The first two commands refer to a failure to do good (‘to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin’ - James 4:17), the second to positive wrongdoing. The opening words of the two couplets confirm this, ‘do not withhold good -- do not devise evil’. To fail to do good is as wrong in God’s sight as to positively do evil.

Proverbs 3:27-28

‘Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,

When it is in the power of your hand to do it,

Do not say to your neighbour, “Go, and come again,

And tomorrow I will give,” when you have it by you.’

The principle here is that to be put in a position to do good to people puts us under a responsibility to do that good. The good may be physical, such as food and drink, or it may indicate positive behaviour, such as rendering physical or mental assistance. ‘Those to whom it is due’ is probably the equivalent of ‘your neighbour’, but takes into account that there are those who do not deserve assistance, the layabout, the lazy and the professional beggar. Or the idea may be that we should not delay in repaying our debts or fulfilling our obligations when we are in a position to do so. The point is that we have a responsibility for those among whom we live. But we are only under such an obligation if we have the wherewithal to do it. We are not called on to put ourselves in need (2 Corinthians 8:12; Galatians 6:10).

Above all we must not procrastinate. When we have the means to do good, delay is sinful. To put it off until tomorrow is wrong. ‘Do not say --.’ It is easy to use words to give an impression of being willing to help. This may save our reputation in men’s eyes, but it is totally unacceptable to God. Delay may indicate unwillingness, or simply laziness, or being too busy, but all are wrong (compare James 2:15-16).

Proverbs 3:29-30

‘Do not devise evil against your neighbour,

Seeing he dwells securely by you,

Do not strive with (bring an accusation against) a man without good reason,

If he has not done you any harm (evil).’

The idea of a failure to do good is now followed by the idea of doing positive evil. Evil is the opposite of good. To do evil is to do what is not good. Any planning to do what is not good to a ‘neighbour’ (those among whom one lives) is forbidden. Your neighbour ‘dwells securely by you.’ He is not anticipating trouble, and is to be allowed to live in peace (compare Leviticus 19:13). Note the assumption that the neighbour is neighbourly. (In the parallel he has not done you any evil). It might be seen differently if that neighbour is also ‘devising evil’ against you. This therefore comes short of Jesus command to ‘do good to those who hate you’ (Matthew 5:44, western texts).

The word used for ‘devise’ technically means to plough, and therefore to prepare the ground, and thus to plan or devise..

The command is then particularised into ‘do not bring an accusation against --’, thus having in mind the misuse of the judicial bodies in order to obtain our own way, or even the spreading of rumours to someone else’s harm. Justice can be sought, but it must be justice. Truth can be told, but it must be truth. No accusation should be brought without good reason. It does not, of course, apply if he really has done evil against you, if he has harmed you in some genuine way.

The Young Man Is Not To Envy Those Who Use Wrong Methods To Get Their Own Way.

Proverbs 3:31-32

‘Do not envy the man of violence,

And choose none of his ways,

For the perverse man is an abomination to YHWH,

But his friendship is with the upright.’

A man may be ‘violent, unjust, selfishly forceful’, by being over-forceful in order to obtain his own way or by being unjust, as well as by being physically violent. It is used of using wrong methods in order to get one’s own way. There are those who will use any method to get their way. And they often prosper. The word translated violent is used by Sara in Genesis 16:5 of the ‘wrong’ that she had done to Abraham by giving him her handmaid as a slave wife. She was confessing to using wrong methods for the carrying on of the Abrahamic line. It is used of witnesses when describing them as ‘false’ (Exodus 23:1; Deuteronomy 19:16), those who do violence to the truth. But the man who follows the wisdom of God will not follow in such ways. Such people are not to be envied (compare Proverbs 1:10-19). We are not to wish that we could be like that. We are not to choose their ways. For they are an abomination to YHWH.

The contrast is then made between the ‘perverse (crooked) man’ the man who is like the one described above, who uses devious methods, or one who strays from the right way (Proverbs 2:11-15), and the ‘upright’ man, the man whose ways are straight. The former is an abomination to YHWH, the latter is His close friend. It is this strong language that then leads on to the strong language in the next verse.


Verses 33-35

YHWH’s Dealings With Both The Righteous And The Wicked (Proverbs 3:33-35).

As regularly in the first four chapters (Proverbs 1:32-33; Proverbs 2:21-22; Proverbs 4:18-19) the section ends with a contrast between YHWH’s dealings with the righteous/ lowly/wise and the wicked/scoffers/fools, although the language here is stronger, referring to cursing and blessing in good Deuteronomic fashion. This stresses the fact that God divides mankind into two, one section being those who hear and respond to His word and wisdom, the other referring to those who neglect (the naive), ignore (the fools) or are scornful of (the mockers) His word and wisdom (compare Proverbs 1:22).

Proverbs 3:33-35

‘The curse of YHWH is in the house of the wicked,

But he blesses the dwellingplace of the righteous,

Surely he scorns the scorners,

But he gives grace to the lowly,

The wise will inherit glory,

But shame will be the promotion of fools.’

The first contrast is between those who are under the curse of YHWH and those who are blessed by Him. This is strong language but makes good sense in the light of Deuteronomy 27-28. It is a reminder of the fact that God treats sin seriously. The consequences for those who are cursed are laid out in Deuteronomy 28:15-68, ideas which can be seen as reflected in Proverbs 1:26-27. It brings impoverishment to men’s lives. The consequences for those who are blessed are found in Deuteronomy 28:1-14, and are reflected in Proverbs 3:9-10; Proverbs 3:16-18. It results in general wellbeing. This approach suggests that Solomon had the teaching of Deuteronomy 27-29 in mind. It is the wicked (i.e. the non-righteous who make little attempt to obey the covenant) who are cursed, in other words all who do not continue in the book of instruction (the Torah) of YHWH to do it (Deuteronomy 27:26). They are ‘wicked’ because they do not listen to the voice of God. Their continual thoughts, words and deeds are displeasing to Him. They may appear to be decent, good-living people, but their hearts are not right before God. In contrast are those who seek after and follow God’s wisdom, who ‘listen to the voice of YHWH their God’ (Deuteronomy 28:2), for these are blessed with long life, prosperity and good reputation. Note that the blessing or cursing falls on the whole household (compare Exodus 20:5). The assumption is being made that the children will follow in their father’s footsteps (Proverbs 20:7; Proverbs 22:6). However, as the Scripture constantly makes clear, God always leaves it open for an individual to be different. An example of this is Saul’s son Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9)

God scorns the scorners, in the same way as His Wisdom did in Proverbs 1:26. He mocks their folly, as the consequences that they deserve come upon them. They had been arrogant (they had not been ‘lowly’) and had scoffed at His word. Now God mocks their worldly wisdom as judgment comes upon them. In contrast are the lowly, those who humbly receive His wisdom, who are not too proud to listen to God, and pay heed to His wisdom, and to them God gives gifts of ‘grace’ (see on Proverbs 3:22). He adorns them with spiritual beauty. It is a fulfilment of Proverbs 3:22. For the use of this verse in the New Testament (in LXX) see James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5.

The third couplet does not mention YHWH, but we should note that the language assumes His activity. The wise can only ‘inherit’ because there is One from Whom they inherit (in Proverbs 8:21 it is from God’s wisdom). This language of inheritance from YHWH occurs regularly (Genesis 15:7 and often), and indicates God acting in undeserved favour, a favour which can however be forfeited by disobedience. Thus the wise who follow God’s wisdom (the righteous, the lowly) will inherit from YHWH ‘glory’, in contrast with ‘shame’. In Isaiah 17:3 the ‘glory of the children of Israel’ is their combined wealth and possessions. Compare Genesis 31:1 where it refers to the possessions that Jacob had received from Laban. The same idea is probably to be found here. YHWH will ensure that they prosper.

In contrast ‘shame will be the promotion (merim) of fools’. The root behind ‘promotion’ (rum) refers to lifting up’, and therefore ‘setting up’, and therefore ‘producing’ (Exodus 16:20). Fools produce shame for themselves. But some relate it to the root ‘acquire, purchase’ (mur). Fools buy shame for themselves. Either way the idea is that rather than ‘inheriting’ shame, they in some way obtain it for themselves. They bring shame on themselves, either because of their behaviour, or because they lose their possessions (their ‘glory’) which gave them status.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/proverbs-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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