While many chapters in Proverbs combine unrelated gems of wisdom, some of the earlier sections contain several verses dealing with certain subjects. Proverbs 3 is one of these, and the first eight verses serve as a unit. It begins with Solomon writing an admonition to his son in the form of a parallelism:
My son, do not forget my law,
But let your heart keep my commands (3:1).
How often did God command Israel to do the same thing? In Deuteronomy 4:9, God warned Israel to “take heed” and “diligently” keep themselves lest they forget what they had seen and depart from their God. A few verses later they were cautioned to “take heed” to themselves lest they forget the covenant God had made with them (4:23). Similar passages are found in Deuteronomy 4:31, 6:12, 8:11, 14, 18; et al. Deuteronomy 8:1 also expresses the positive principle: “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe….”
For length of days and long life
And peace they will add to you (3:2).
On this occasion promises attend the exhortation. Of course, keeping God’s laws always provides His followers various blessings, but it is helpful to have it spelled out sometimes.
Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart,
And so find favor and high esteem
In the sight of God and man (3:3-4).
Without a doubt, every man needs to be the recipient of mercy, as well as finding the truth (Pr. 23:23), but the point here is to extend those qualities to others. A person should not need to strain himself to be merciful if we recognize our own need of it. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). We must also avoid deception and lies as we speak to others (Rev. 21:8). These attributes must be part of our character, and they will cause us to be held in high regard both by God and man.
Keeping God’s commands are beneficial to us; so is the possession of mercy and truth. But the centerpiece of our spiritual life is found in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
No one should be persuaded to give up his obedience, mercy, and grasp of the truth because of various forms of adversity. One must maintain his faith.
Does it seem as though things are not working out? Does the devil appear to be winning? Is there pressure to throw in the towel and either ignore or participate in all the various forms of ungodliness? Discouragement comes easily; faithfulness requires effort.
Christians know the fundamentals are true. None of us can seriously question the existence of God or the Bible being from Him. The evidence is overwhelming to an honest heart. We know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, because of the “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). But the majority of people are not paying attention to these truths. We therefore simply don’t understand either people or events—especially those that have an adverse effect on Christians. John wrote the entire Book of Revelation to deal with that problem. In the final analysis, we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37). So, when things do not seem quite right, and we have no explanation, we should not lean to our own understanding. Our goal must be to trust in His providence—even when events are confusing. He always knows what He is doing. Or do we think we know more than God? Verses 7-8 address that notion.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.
No matter how cleaver we might fancy ourselves, God stands high above us in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. We cannot compete with omniscience. We cannot allow a lack of understanding on any point to lead us back into sin; nothing can justify such an evil choice. As in verse 2, the right character has advantages. Health and strength are similar to long life and peace. God also grants prosperity to those who trust completely in Him.
Honor the Lord with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So will your barns be filled with plenty.
And your vats will overflow with new wine (3:9-10).
The last holdout some may have in their dedication to God is their money. Although exceptions exist (the Pharisees, for example), when a person is willing to give generously, he usually has given himself totally to God. In fact, it is often the case that the more one has, the harder it is to part with it. Consider the selfishness of the rich man, who could not spare anything for Lazarus and the rich farmer with a huge “I” problem (Luke 16:19-31; 12:15-21). The rich young ruler desired to be perfect—until Jesus told him to give away all that he had, promising him treasure in heaven (which would be far greater than what he would have given away) (Luke 18:22). The man was sorry to hear Jesus say those words because he was very rich (v. 23). His trust in God did not allow him to cross the wealth barrier.
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor detest His correction;
For whom the Lord loves, He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights (3:11-12).
Of course, sometimes when things do not go well, we might consider that it is our own fault. Perhaps we have committed a sin unwittingly—and then defended our actions. Or maybe we did know it was a sin but thought we could get by with it. No. Because God loves us, He chastises us. It may not even be our sin—but rather that of someone in the family or someone in the congregation. All Israel was punished for Achan’s sin. Whatever the problem is, it needs to be discovered and corrected.
Proverbs 3:13-26 is a section which pleads for all to seek wisdom. The early chapters of this book often list tributes to wisdom. The great charge of 4:5 is: “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” Verse 7 adds: “Wisdom is the principal thing….” Chapter 8 records an extended praise of wisdom. Perhaps the greatest comment in our text is 3:18: “She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.” The idea of the tree of life refers to that which refreshes, but it also sustains. We can live by wisdom, and she will not disappoint. God denied access to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden once Adam and Eve sinned, but it exists symbolically as described in this verse, and it will be part of heaven itself—to sustain us eternally (Rev. 22:14).
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in the power of your hand to do so.
Do not say to your neighbor,
“Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,”
When you have it with you (3:27-28).
After the section on wisdom, the last nine verses may serve as examples of it in the way we treat one another. Verse 27 reminds us of three important verses in the New Testament. The first is the Golden Rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Would any of us appreciate it if someone had the power to do good to us but refused? Hardly. We would be saddened and greatly disappointed. How, then, will others feel if we are equally hard-hearted?
The second verse is James 4:17: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Again, if we have the opportunity to do good to someone, we ought to do so, as Galatians 6:9, the third passage, indicates. The illustration may refer to the prohibition of keeping a person’s wages overnight (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:15). Despite the specific application, however, we must honor the principle.
Do not devise evil against your neighbor,
For he dwells by you for safety’s sake.
Do not strive with a man without cause,
If he has done you no harm (3:29-30).
These verses expand the idea of wrongdoing. It is bad enough to withhold from someone what is owed, but now we see that some people actually go out of their way to devise evil. This is not just taking advantage of a circumstance; it involves seeking a way to do harm, which is the opposite of loving one’s neighbor. Each neighbor depends on the other to have his back. We do not expect, should thieves come by to rob someone, for a neighbor to offer to lend a hand to the thieves! He is there for protection. We trust our neighbors that way. So it is evil to do him harm. One who would extend ill will to someone who never did him wrong violates both loving God and his neighbor—and it puts the aggressor and his family at risk. “Whoever rewards evil for good, evil will not depart from his house” (Pr. 17:13).
Do not envy the oppressor, and choose none
of his ways, for the perverse person
is an abomination to the Lord (3:31-32a).
Why would anyone envy an oppressor? Is this an Old Testament variation of the Stockholm Syndrome? According to Wikipedia, only 8% of people who are kidnapped form a bond with their captors. Is it possible that, when people see injustices, a certain percentage of them want to emulate the one committing the wrong? Apparently, but no one should because God does not respect him, nor will He save him.
But His secret counsel is with the upright.
The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked,
But He blesses the habitation of the just (3:32b-33).
The Pulpit Commentary suggests that secret counsel means that God sits together with the upright. In other words, God communes and fellowships them. He approves of them (though they are not perfect). But they are not persecuting others for their own advantage. Solomon presents two different types of people who receive two different responses from God. He enjoys blessing the upright, but the house of the wicked receives no such favor. In fact, all they can expect is a curse, which includes the youngsters in the family who grow up to be like their parents.
Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace
to the humble. The wise shall inherit glory,
But shame shall be the legacy of fools (3:34-35).
Wisdom should cause us to act in certain positive ways while avoiding behavior that is unacceptable to God. The chapter begins with praising the obedient one who practices mercy and truth, while trusting in God completely. Here it ends by defining more fully the way to treat others, especially neighbors. We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7-8). God scorns the scornful; they receive back what they gave, and God can repay them perfectly. The humble and wise receive grace and glory, which is the way God chooses to reward imperfect human beings who are nevertheless trying to please Him. Only a fool would prefer a legacy of shame, which not only follows him but spills over to his offspring. His unconcern demonstrates his unbridled selfishness.