Chapter 3: Commentary

This chapter continues the first sections of Proverbs (1:1-9:18) attributed to Solomon. It is mostly comprised of a series of extended poetic wise sayings, frequently including "my son" sayings, as opposed to the more typical one-verse wise sayings in most of the book. Proverbs 3 is divided into 3 sections, each beginning with the directive "my son:":1-10; 11-20; 21-35. Verses 1-10 are 5 series of couplets in which the first verse contains commands we are supposed to do and the second contains God's promises to us if we do those commands.


3:1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart,

3:2 For they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.

     This chapter begins with 6 couplets of verses, each offering multiple commands and a promise or two. Typical of this section of Proverbs, it begins with another "my son" statement.
      The first couplet has two commands and two promises. It begins with father's advice about his son's focus and mental priorities over the long haul. "Do not forget my teaching" and "keep my commands in your heart" is directed not so much on things his son is to do, but the way his son is to think. Real life changes begin with attitude and focus.
      These two directives also have a long-term ring to them. This is not just about today, but a lifetime commitment. Note the resultant promises!
      As a result of following these two commands ("they will..."), the promises are "prolong your life" and "bring you prosperity." These verses make perfect sense to a father like me!
      Adults who impart their life experiences and lessons learned can help the next generation not make the same mistakes. Son can build upon his father's life and much more quickly achieve even greater things in his own.
      Admittedly, in our culture, it is not easy for young people to consciously choose to listen and learn from their parents. But a lot of sorrow and misery can be averted if they would and so much more could be accomplished.
      And, as an adult, if you don't have or can't find a son to listen - tell somebody else. Others will benefit from your advice!

3:3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.

3:4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

     This is the second couplet of commands and promises from father to son in chapter three. "Love and faithfulness" are character qualities that dad said his son should always keep close to him (first command).
      The second command, "bind them around your neck" (see also 6:21) would be understood like strands of a necklace. Love and faithfulness will make us much more attractive to others, like wearing a beautiful necklace. Being external, something seen on the outside, I would suggest connection to our actions.
      "Write them on the tablet of your heart" is the third command. It suggests love and faithfulness should be a permanent part of my innermost being. On the inside, they will impact on my attitudes and thinking.
      The overall direction from these three commands in clear. Father advises son to hook up closely with a couple of great qualities ("love and faithfulness") and that will serve him well in both his actions ("neck" - outside) and attitudes ("heart" - inside).
      The verse ends with a promise. These two qualities will empower our spiritual "(in the sight of God") and social ("in the sight of man") relationships. Sounds like pretty good outcomes. Sounds like a pretty good way to live!

3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

3:6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

     These are two of the most memorized verses in the Bible. One of the reasons why is their message – three commands and a promise.
      The first command is "trust in the LORD with all your heart." If anything of eternal value and good is going to happen in our lives, we need to begin trusting God, and half-hearted faith will not cut it.
      The second command is to "lean not on your own understanding." I call these two commands "mutually exclusive." If we practice one, we will not be practicing the other – you can't trust in the LORD and lean on your own understanding at the same time.
      The third command is to "acknowledge Him in all your ways." To experience God's empowerment is to know ("acknowledge") Him at work in every part of our lives. There is really no difference between the sacred and the secular. He is there, working all the time. When we can see that on a regular basis we will experiencing His empowerment in a special way.
      God's promise in response to all this obedience is to clear out a straight path ahead for us – "He will make your paths straight." He promised! God knows where we are, He knows where we need to go, He knows the best way to get there, and He even knows what time we need to arrive!
      In truth, these three commands are the Biblical basis of Steps 1-3 of the 12 Steps. Step One reminds us just how powerless we are – so we don't need to "lean on our own understanding." Step Two reminds us that only God can do for us what we really need – so "trust in the LORD with all your heart." Step 3 reminds us we need to make a commitment of our will and our lives to Him – "acknowledge Him in all our ways."
      I have a shortened version of these 3 commands and the first 3 Steps: I can't, He can, so let Him. It's honestly that simple!

3:7 Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the LORD and shun evil.

3:8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

     These are two of the most memorized verses in the Bible. One of the reasons why is their message – three commands and a promise.
      The first command is "trust in the LORD with all your heart." If anything of eternal value and good is going to happen in our lives, we need to begin trusting God, and half-hearted faith will not cut it.
      The second command is to "lean not on your own understanding." I call these two commands "mutually exclusive." If we practice one, we will not be practicing the other – you can't trust in the LORD and lean on your own understanding at the same time.
      The third command is to "acknowledge Him in all your ways." To experience God's empowerment is to know ("acknowledge") Him at work in every part of our lives. There is really no difference between the sacred and the secular. He is there, working all the time. When we can see that on a regular basis we will experiencing His empowerment in a special way.
      God's promise in response to all this obedience is to clear out a straight path ahead for us – "He will make your paths straight." He promised! God knows where we are, He knows where we need to go, He knows the best way to get there, and He even knows what time we need to arrive!
      In truth, these three commands are the Biblical basis of Steps 1-3 of the 12 Steps. Step One reminds us just how powerless we are – so we don't need to "lean on our own understanding." Step Two reminds us that only God can do for us what we really need – so "trust in the LORD with all your heart." Step 3 reminds us we need to make a commitment of our will and our lives to Him – "acknowledge Him in all our ways."
      I have a shortened version of these 3 commands and the first 3 Steps: I can't, He can, so let Him. It's honestly that simple!

3:9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops;

3:10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.

     These two verses are the fifth of six couplets of commands and promises at the beginning of chapter three. There is a single command here with two parts focusing on my attitude about my stuff and God.
      The command is that I'm supposed to honor God with all my stuff - both what I already have ("wealth") and what I am going to get ("crops"). How do I do that? Certainly I can do so by using it in ministry and for the direct advancement of His kingdom.
      But, as responsible adults, we probably use the bulk of our stuff to sustain ourselves and our loved ones. So, these verses are probably also talking about something more.
      I suggest the real focus here goes beyond what I do for ministry. I'm supposed to use all I have the way He wants. It is as if He is the owner and I am just the manager - it's His call and I am to simply do what He wants me to do with His stuff.
      If I can learn to live this way (and once I got started, it has worked out pretty well for me), then the promise kicks in - He said he will put more and more stuff at our disposal to manage for Him. The fact is that everything thing in my "barns" and "vats" has come from Him (Job 1:21) and He can give more or take back anytime He wants!
      And when He gives, He really gives – "filled to overflowing" and "brimming over" is how God likes to do things for us. I have all kinds of issues and do not deserve anything I have. Yet, I have tried to follow this concept and He has continued to over-abundantly bless me. I can't explain it, but it really works!

3:11 My son, do not despise the LORD'S discipline and do not resent his rebuke,

3:12 Because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

     The father talks to his son about discipline – but not the father's discipline, the LORD's! It is a senseless act to resist or fight against the LORD's discipline and rebuke.
      But an important frame of reference for this verse is the meaning of the words "discipline" and "rebuke." In my world growing up, the God of the Bible was always going to be angry with me and punish me because of the stupid things I did. Yet I want to suggest that such an understanding of God is inappropriate, according to the Bible. He has the power and the right to punish us – and He does! But the focus of the whole Bible – and this verse – is not punishment.
      "Discipline" and "rebuke" do not focus on punishment but on confrontation, accountability and honesty. In the vernacular of Helping Up Mission, God is calling us to "man up" and "keep it 100!" This verse is not about God hurting us, but confronting us and calling us to be honest and accountable for our choices. That's always been at the heart of His dealings with us "because the LORD disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in." Punishment is only a last resort.
      So let's get honest about our stuff. For one reason, we can't beat Him and, for another, He only disciplines those He loves, His own children. The very fact that we are being disciplined means that we are His; that He loves us and He is helping us find and live out the wonderful plan He has for our lives. So we need to quit resisting and embrace the accountability and honesty His discipline is calling us to do. And then get on with the plan, because it will be the very best thing for us!

3:13 Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding,

3:14 for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.

3:15 She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.

     Here wisdom and understanding are used in poetic juxtaposition. The two terms (along with knowledge) are almost used interchangeably and are represented as going together. Like grapes or bananas, they come together in a bunch or a cluster.
      These verses suggest that wisdom and understanding are more profitable and better than silver and gold (see 2:14; rubies, too, see 8:11, 19) – the standard commodities of value in the ancient world. I think the reason this is true is because wisdom and understanding can help us get silver and gold, but even better can help us keep it, enjoy it and even share it with others.

3:16 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.

3:17 Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.

     Wisdom holds in her hands things that we all care about – long life, riches and honor. In her hands suggests that they are hers to pass along to us. Her steps lead to pleasant and peaceful places and things, and if we can go along with her if we are hanging with her.
      Silver, gold and rubies can only offer so much. Without wisdom (and understanding), we will generally use them inappropriately and not really appreciating it (until after it is gone). But, with wisdom and understanding, we can not only get riches (silver, gold and rubies – see 8:18; 16:16) and honor, too. But not only will you get all that stuff, wisdom and understanding will enable you to keep it, enjoy it and even share it with others. They bring pleasant things and peace along with them. Get wisdom and understanding and you can have it all!

3:18 She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.

     A "tree of life" is mentioned in Genesis, Revelation and Proverbs (also 11:30; 13:12; 15:4). While a specific "tree of life" is referred to in the Garden (Gn 2:9) and in the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:2), in Proverbs it is a generic symbolic tree which produces good, healthy, positive things in people's lives.
      This is the final verse of a longer proverbial saying about Lady Wisdom (:13-18) and it speaks of the benefits of connecting with her. To "embrace" or "lay hold" of her is to make the conscious decision to connect with her and enjoy the benefits of the life she can produce.

3:19 By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place;

3:20 By his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

     These verses suggest that God used wisdom, understanding and knowledge in the Creation process (see also Proverbs 8). The association of these three qualities together is frequent in Proverbs and, as usual, wisdom is listed first.
      They seem to come as a group, like bananas in a bunch or grapes in a cluster. When you connect to one, you can hook up with them all.
      The great truth from this verse for me is that these three qualities -- which participated in the Creation process -- are also available to me in everyday life. If God used them to help create the heavens, the earth and the seas, they can certainly help me with my latest little problem!

3:21 My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight;

3:22 They will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.

     For the third time (:1, 11; 21) in this chapter, we read that father is offering son some understanding about the character and insights – "sound judgment " and "discernment" – which can supernaturally empower his life.
      He points out that we are to make the conscious choice to connect and stay connected with them (:21). The result is that they will then be there for us every day ("be life for you") and enhance our lives ("an ornament to grace your neck").
      This ornament that graces our neck (see also 1:9; 3:3; 6:21) would be understood as something attractive that enhances our appearance. Not some kind of false outward appearance, but something real on the inside that shines through on the outside. It's the stuff that makes our faith and our God attractive to someone else. Hope you're feeling some of that today – if not, it's available!

3:23 Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble

     Verse 21-22 indicated one of the results of connecting to the supernaturally empowering character and insights of "sound judgment" and "discernment" was their ability to offer us real life and to make us more attractive in the sight of others.
      Verse 23 notes another benefit of such a connection - "safety" and stability ("your foot will not stumble") for us as we journey through this life.
      The promise of God's special watch-care over us as we go through life is pretty powerful and is absolutely available. We simply need to accept that it's true and make a conscious decision to walk in it.
      The reason it works is because making this connection automatically helps put us on the right path ("you will go on your way") - I don't think the promise works the same if we're going along just any old road. But our connection with "sound judgment and discernment" puts in the correct road leading to the right place.
      We know what it is to take our own paths and have felt the consequences of following our own choices – even if we're trying real hard to do it right. Yet there is a better way.
      God knows the right road and exactly where all the potholes are located along the way. He will get us safe and sound to our appropriate destination.
      All we have to do is admit His way is better than ours and the follow His lead. At Helping Up Mission, we've learned it this way - I Can't, He Can, So Let Him!

3:24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

     In the context of this verse, verses 21-22 indicated one of the results of connecting to the supernaturally empowering character and insights of "sound judgment" and "discernment." It involved their ability to offer us real life and make us more attractive in the sight of others.
      Then verse 23 noted another benefit of such a connection. "Safety" and stability ("your foot will not stumble") are our promise as we journey through life.
      Today's verse (:24) is the third example of empowerment from "sound judgment" and "discernment." It is the blessing of sweet, restful sleep.
      Full disclosure here, I sometimes have trouble putting my mind in neutral at night. Thoughts sometimes keep me from settling down to sleep.
      Other times I wake up, start thinking and then struggle getting back to sleep. Generally it involves things I still need to do - but sometimes it's about the stupid stuff I've already done!
      This verse offers a general cure. When connected to "sound judgment" and "discernment" we can be empowered in our daily activities (:21-23) and even in our sleep at night!
      Yet, sometimes, I still need some extra support. At that point, I have to consciously focus on the promises of God and His ongoing goodness in my life.
      Meditating on such promises - which I have already memorized - has become a great tool to help me get back to the blessedness of sweet, restful sleep. One night at a time - sleep tight!

3:27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.

     Based on an appropriate relationship with the positive character qualities of "sound judgment" and "discernment" (see :21), we will be in a place to help and support others. This verse speaks about those who deserve the good we can offer. While we might think there are some people who don't deserve good from us, actually everyone does.
      And by the way, "good" might not always be what you think. Sometimes I do someone good when I say no. To enable them is not really doing them any good. Many times, to do good for someone is to simply give them tough love.

3:28 Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow"— when you now have it with you.

     This proverb – the second is this doublet with verse 27 – is similar to a modern day wise saying. Originally attributed to Thomas Jefferson, we know it as "Never put off tomorrow what you can do today." In this case it relates to something we can do today for someone else. This verse is really just another way of teaching the same truth as the previous verse.
      But here we also have the first reference to "neighbor" in Proverbs. The ancient Hebrew word for "neighbor" is also often translated as "friend." In our world today, our neighbors are frequently not our friends – in fact, in many cases, we hardly know our neighbors.
      But the ancients didn't travel extensively so, out of necessity, their neighbor would become their friend and basically their friends were there their neighbors.
      The Law of Moses provided the theological underpinning for this verse in Leviticus 19:18, where we are instructed to "love your neighbor as yourself." In the New Testament (Mk 12:29-31), Jesus said adds that this was the second greatest commandment – second only to loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
      We should need to treat our neighbors like we would treat ourselves and that is to help whenever we can. But, I admit, there is a bit of a selfish (the guys call it a "dope fiend move") motive behind this directive – you never know when you will need their help. So do unto them today as you would want them to do unto you tomorrow!

3:29 Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you.

     Continuing the theme of daily dealings in relationships (:27-28), this verse discuss how I should treat someone close to me. They're not family, but my "neighbor."
      Also translated "friend" or "companion," in the ancient world, my neighbor was my friend and my friend was my neighbor - because I hardly knew anyone else! People lived in small walled cities or even smaller unwalled villages and didn't really get out much.
      So "your neighbor who lives trustfully near you" should be understood as your friend, a basically good person. Yet, the verse notes that I might actually find myself considering to "plot harm against" them.
      Not cool! But I don't doubt that, at times, we've all had such thoughts about one or another of our friends.
      I think we're supposed to understand this verse being much more about me than about them. They won't be perfect and have done some things that really tick me off - but I'm responsible to face and deal with my own thoughts and emotions.
      And I'm their neighbor, too. Since I'm not perfect either, I'm going to need them to look past and get over some things that I have done, too!
      Our verse represents the most basic element of civilized society - and we can do it!

3:30 Do not accuse anyone for no reason— when they have done you no harm.

     This verse is the final wise saying about those with whom we have relationships (:27-30). It's good advice for today...and, maybe, even tomorrow.
      "Do not accuse anyone for no reason" - we need to be honest about our dealings with other people. While they may have done something that annoy us - maybe even dissed us a little - we need to be honest about the situation. Did they really do us any harm?"
      "When they have done you no harm" - once we can be honest about the fact that they really didn't, we should be honest with ourselves. Do we really have any reason to accuse them of anything?
      Jesus said it this way, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12). Today, we call it the Golden Rule, I learned it in elementary school.
      Admittedly, this is easier to discuss than it is to practice - but it's a great way to live. Our lives would be so much simpler if we could just think and do things like this.
      Besides, this wise saying sets us up to practice a modern proverb: "It pays to be nice to the people we meet on the way up, for they are the same people we will meet on the way down!"

3:33 The LORD'S curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.

3:34 He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.

3:35 The wise inherit honor, but fools he holds up to shame.

     This chapter ends with three verses which seem to fit together, each offering a slightly different view of the same truth. They are all good Hebrew poetry, discussing one kind of person in the first line and an opposite kind of person in the second.
      Both verses indicate that God is watching and aware of what goes on in our world. This is something with which we are already very familiar, from both ancient and modern wise sayings – we all reap what we sow.
      The Bible is clear that God is active in our lives to show us, teach us, help us and empower us all on a daily basis. When we reject His working in our lives and deliberately do our own thing, He does respond accordingly.
      But there are two important unstated truths that underline these verses. In both cases, God's actions are grounded in His love for us – the good guys and the bad guys. In the case of the bad guys, he has a better plan for them than the one they are going with. God is very willing and able to intercede in their lives because He wants better for them than they are presently experiencing. That process may be painful, but it is good and it is necessary.
      The second important truth comes from verse 33. It is not just the guy (good or bad) who gets affected by what God does – but his whole house and home. This concept goes all the way back to the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:5-6). God makes it clear that our loved ones will either reap the benefits or suffer the consequences for our choices.
      One of the strong reasons men continue to work at their recovery from drugs and alcohol at Helping Up Mission is their loved ones. For their sakes a man can choose to stay clean today.