Bible Commentary: Proverbs 3

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Proverbs 3

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Seek God’s Guidance

The third exhortation of the book’s prologue (Proverbs 3:1-35) begins with strong encouragement to obey God’s commandments (verse 1) and adopt his character of “mercy and truth” (verse 3; compare Psalm 100:5)—the “grace and truth” that was also the character of Jesus Christ (John 1:14). “The command to ‘bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart’ [Proverbs 3:3; compare Proverbs 6:20-21] further indicates that the character of the student is in view rather than just his behavior. Some have suggested that the binding of love to the neck means that it is here a kind of necklace that beautifies the individual. But the parallel between ‘neck’ and ‘heart’ here implies that fidelity is more than an ornament to the neck [as in Proverbs 1:9]. The neck houses the throat which, in Hebrew anthropology, is the very life of the person. Love and faithfulness are to become part of the student’s heart and life” (New American Commentary, note on verses 1-4).

Verses 5-8 then give us crucial aspects of true wisdom. A person could know a lot on a human level and yet not truly “get it” in the whole scheme of things. Indeed, this characterizes the wisdom and understanding of the world in general. It is critical to not ultimately trust in oneself. Rather, we must look first and foremost to God for proper guidance in life. We must overcome the tendency to see ourselves as the final arbiter of what is right and instead develop a proper fear of God, which is the beginning of true knowledge and wisdom. This will be to our ultimate good. While verse 8 can be understood to include mental and spiritual health, it is interesting that it speaks specifically of physical health benefits, as does Proverbs 4:22.

Verses 9-10 tell us to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. This is a real test of how much we are willing to put God first in our lives and look to Him to take care of us. How we choose to spend our money and our time tells a great deal about our character. If we do our part, God will richly bless us. This is not a promise of immediate material riches but of God providing us with all our needs. Of course, in His Kingdom we will inherit all things.

We are then told to accept correction or discipline from God in verses 11-12, a passage cited in Hebrews 12:5-6. “While the idea of punishment is certainly present (cf. Job 5:17-18 and 2 Samuel 7:14), ‘discipline’ primarily involves teaching or training rather than punishment for wrongdoing. It is analogous to military training, in which, although the threat of punishment is present, even stern discipline is not necessarily retribution for offenses. Hardship and correction are involved, however, which are always hard to accept” (NAC, note on Proverbs 3:5-12).

Of course, God is not an uncaring drill sergeant. As these verses emphasize, discipline is “exercised in a family setting. The emotion conveyed is not anger or disgust, but love and active concern. A father disciplines his child to help her grow into a praiseworthy adult. Just so God disciplines those who trust Him to help us grow toward moral and spiritual maturity. Bible history and proverbs both demonstrate that at times punishment, a ‘rod of correction’ (Proverbs 29:15) is the best way to show love when people will not respond to verbal guidance. The important thing to remember, as these verses emphasize, is that when God disciplines it is because of, and with a continuing attitude of, love” (Lawrence Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion, 1991, note on Proverbs 3:11-12). Discipline here, it should be further noted, also has the sense of instruction—training, as mentioned above.

In a hymn to wisdom in verses 13-18 it is stressed that wisdom is the true wealth to be sought after (compare Proverbs 2:4; Proverbs 8:10-11). Through taking hold of it and holding on to it, we experience “a tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18)—which some see as merely denoting enjoyment and sustenance but which probably harkens back to the original tree of life in the sense of a way to return to paradise and escape the curse of death on mankind. True wisdom from God will indeed lead to eternal life and bliss.

Verses 19-20, appended to the hymn to wisdom, present wisdom’s role in creation, anticipating a fuller exposition in Proverbs 8:22-31. “The main point there and here is that whoever abandons wisdom runs against the very structure by which the world was made” (NAC, note on verses 19-20)—and by which it is ruled on a cosmic level, the breaking up of the depths referring to the great Flood. “The world is both nurturing and dangerous. Yet creation itself is under the hand of God, and he governs according to wisdom. Wisdom is therefore essential for survival” (same note).

Through God we can and should avoid living in fear (verses 23-26). We are to help others when we can and not seek to harm (verses 27-30). And we are to reject the ways of oppression and foolish scorn, being instead just and humble (verses 31-35). Verse 34 is quoted in James 4:6.

The latter half of this chapter has parallels with the first half of the next chapter.