4. Fourth admonitory discourse. The third chapter introduces us to a group of admonitions, and the first of these ( Proverbs 3:1-18 ) forms the fourth admonitory discourse of the teacher. To all intents and purposes this is a continuation of the discourse in the preceding chapter, for inasmuch as that described the benefits, spiritual and moral, which follow from the pursuit of Wisdom, in promoting godliness and providing safety from evil companions, so this in like manner depicts the gain flowing from Wisdom, the happiness of the man who finds Wisdom, and the favour which he meets with both with God and man. The discourse embraces exhortations to obedience ( Proverbs 3:1-4 ), to reliance on God ( Proverbs 3:5 , Proverbs 3:6 ) against self-sufficiency and self-dependence ( Proverbs 3:7 , Proverbs 3:8 ), to self-sacrificing devotion to God ( Proverbs 3:9 , Proverbs 3:10 ), to patient submission to God's afflictive dispensations ( Proverbs 3:11 , Proverbs 3:12 ), and concludes with pointing out the happy gain of Wisdom, her incomparable value, and wherein that value consists ( Proverbs 3:13-18 ). It is noticeable that in each case the exhortation is accompanied with a corresponding promise of reward ( Proverbs 3:2 , Proverbs 3:4 , Proverbs 3:6 , Proverbs 3:8 , Proverbs 3:10 ), and these promises are brought forward with the view to encourage the observance of the duties recommended or enjoined. Jehovah is the central point to which all the exhortations converge. Obedience, trust, self-sacrificing devotion, submission, are successively brought forward by the teacher as due to God, and the persons in whom they are exhibited are truly happy in finding Wisdom. The transition in thought from the former to the latter part of the discourse is easy and natural. Obedience and trust are represented as bringing favour, guidance, and health—in a word, prosperity. But God is not only to be honoured in times of prosperity, but also in adversity his loving hand is to be recognized; and in this submission to his will is true wisdom.
The teacher here enters upon the last part of this discourse. In doing so, he reverts to his main subject, which is Wisdom, or the fear of the Lord (see Proverbs 3:7 and Proverbs 1:7 ), and pronounces a panegyric upon her, comparing her, as in Job 28:1-28 ; with treasures whose value she exceeds, and showing wherein that value consists, viz. in the gifts which she confers on man.
Rubies (Khetib, p)niyim ; Keri, p)ninim ) . No unanimous opinion has been arrived at as to the real signification of the word here translated "rubies." The majority of the rabbins (among them Rashi), and Bochart, Hartman, Bohlen, Lee on Job 38:18 , and Zockler, render it "pearls." Its meaning seems to lie between this and "corals," the rendering adopted by Michaelis, Gesenius, and Delitzsch (following Fleischer), who says that the Hebrew p)ninim corresponds with the Arabia word whose root idea is "shooting forth," and means "a branch." The peculiar branching form in which corm is found favours this opinion, which is strengthened by the passage in Lamentations 4:7 , where we get additional information as to color, "They [the Nazarites] were more ruddy in body than rubies," a description of which would apply to "coral," but is scarcely applicable to "pearls." The various versions suggest the further idea that p)ninim was a descriptive word used to denote precious stones in general. The LXX . renders, "She is more precious than precious stones ( λίθων πολυτελῶν ) . " So the Targum Jonathan, Syriac, and Arabic. The Vulgate renders. "She is more precious than all riches ( cunctis opibus ) . " The word p)ninim only occurs here (Keri) and in Proverbs 8:11 ; Proverbs 20:15 ; Proverbs 31:10 ; and in Job and Lamentations as above. This passage, as well as Proverbs 8:11 , which is an almost literal repetition of it, are imitations of Job 28:18 . The identification of p)ninim with "pearls" may have suggested our Lord's parable of the pearl of great price ( Matthew 13:45 , Matthew 13:46 ). All the things thou canst desire ( kal-khaphatseyka ); literally, all thy desires. Here everything in which you have pleasure, or all your precious things; LXX ; πᾶν τίμον ; Vulgate, omnia, quae desiderantur. The comparison, which has risen from the less to the more valuable, culminates in this comprehensive expression. There is nothing, neither silver, gold, precious stones, nor anything precious, which is an equivalent ( shavah ) to Wisdom in value. How it shows, when everything is put before us to choose from, that, like Solomon at Gibeon, we should prefer wisdom ( 1 Kings 3:11-13 )! In the second half of this verse the LXX . substitutes, "No evil thing competes with her; she is well known to all that approach her."
More precious than rubies.
We must bear in mind that the wisdom here commended to us is not mere knowledge, science, philosophy. It has two important characteristics. First, it is religious ; it is based on the fear of God. Second, it is practical ; it assumes the direction of human conduct. It is the knowledge of Divine truth, and the application of it to life. Why is this to be accounted most precious?
I. WISDOM IS VALUABLE ON ACCOUNT OF ITS OWN INHERENT QUALITIES . ( Proverbs 3:13-15 .) Paper money is worthless unless it can be exchanged for something else; but gold coins have a value of their own. If they are not used in the purchase of other things, the precious metal is valuable, and can be fashioned into objects of use and beauty. Wisdom is like solid specie. If she brings nothing else, she is a treasure in herself. While men are asking what advantages will religion give them, they should see that she is "the pearl of great price," for which all other good things may be sold, and yet the profit remain heavily on the side of him who purchases her. This is an inward treasure, a possession of the soul. It has many advantages over material treasures.
1 . It is exalted and elevating. Its character is pure, and it raises those who possess it. There are earthly treasures that defile by contact with them, and others that materialize—make a man hard, worldly, ignoble.
2 . It is satisfying. A man cannot live on gold, but on bread alone. There are desires of the soul that money and food do not quiet. Books, pictures, music, all works of art, all triumphs of civilization, leave a void unfilled. It is the mission of the thoughts of God in the soul to fill this void.
3 . It is never wearying. Many things that never satisfy soon satiate. We are not full, yet we turn away with disgust, having had enough of them. The sea is beautiful, but the sailor grows tired of the endless monotony of waves. Divine wisdom never tires us. It is infinite, endlessly varied, eternally fresh, It is true that we may become wearied of religious occupations, religious books, etc. But then we have the imperfections of the human embodiment of wisdom to annoy us.
4 . It is secure. No thief can steal it. No moth nor rust can consume it. The thief may take a man's jewels, but never his inner treasure. He may be stripped of property, home. choicest possessions, and left to bare beggary; yet if he have precious thoughts of God in his heart, no thief can touch them. They are a safe, an eternal possession.
II. WISDOM IS VALUABLE BECAUSE IT MINISTERS TO OUR EARTHLY WELFARE . ( Proverbs 3:16-18 .) The temporal advantages of religion are here described with that prominence and positiveness which are characteristic of the Old Testament, and of the Book of Proverbs in particular. We have learnt to see more limitations upon these things, and, at the same time, we have had revealed to us much larger spiritual and eternal beatitudes than those of the Jewish faith. But we may make the mistake of ignoring the truth contained in the old view. There are earthly advantages in religion. It has promises for this life as well as for that to come.
1 . Length of days. Many good people die young; many bad men grow hoary in sin. It' it were not so, we should lose the discipline that comes by our having to walk by faith. But on the whole, wisdom tends to length of days by preserving the constitution sound and healthy. A wise way of living falls in with the laws of health. Reckless folly saps the energies of life, induces disease, decrepitude, premature old age and death.
2 . Ways of pleasantness and peace. The road is pleasant as well as the end. Religion may bring a cross, but she also brings grace for bearing it. All her rewards are not reserved for the future. There is a peace of God that passeth all understanding, which the world can neither give nor take away, and which will make the wilderness of tim saddest life blossom like the rose.
3 . A tree of life. Length of days is a poor blessing unless the life preserved is worth living. What boon would it be to an exile in Siberia, a convict on Dartmoor, a paralytic in an infirmary? Long existence without a source of worthy life is the curse of the Wandering Jew, not the blessing of eternal life. Wisdom— i.e. Divine truth, religion—supplies fruits for holy sustenance and leaves for the healing of the nations. To know God is eternal life ( John 17:8 ).
III. WISDOM IS VALUABLE BECAUSE IT IS A LINK OF CONNECTION BETWEEN MAN AND GOD . (Verses 19, 20.) Our heart is restless till it finds rest in God. All our highest life, all our deepest peace, all our truest thought, all our noblest effort, all our purest joy, depend on our union in and with God. But wisdom is an essential Divine attribute. By it God first created the earth and the heavens (verse 13). By it he now controls all things ever. 20). The wisdom of God is reflected in nature. All our knowledge is just the reflection of this wisdom; it is thinking into the thoughts of God; thus it is a communion with him. Spiritual knowledge brings us nearest to God, who is Spirit. Christ as the incarnate "Word," by whom all things were made, and the Wisdom of God, is our Mediator, and unites us to God.
Wisdom the best investment
I. WISDOM COMPARABLE WITH THE MOST PRECIOUS THINGS . Silver, gold, precious stones, everything eagerly coveted and warmly prized by the senses and the fancy, may illustrate the worth of the pious intelligence. Every object in the world of sense has its analogy in the world of spirit. The worth of the ruby is due to the aesthetic light in the mind of the observer. But wisdom is the light in the mind itself.
II. WISDOM INCOMPARABLE WITH ALL PRECIOUS THINGS . For by analogy only can we put wisdom and precious minerals side by side, on the principle that mind is reflected in matter. But on the opposite principle, that mind is diverse from matter, rests the incomparableness of wisdom. Mere matter can breed nothing; spiritual force only is generative. When we talk of "money breeding money," we use a figure of speech. It is the mind which is the active power.
III. WISDOM MAY BE VIEWED AS THE BEST LIFE INVESTMENT . All the objects which stimulate human activity to their pursuit are derivable from this capital. Life in health and ample and various enjoyment, riches and honour, pleasure and inward peace; blessings that neither money nor jewels can purchase, are the fruit, direct or indirect, of the cultivation of the spiritual field of enterprise, the whole-hearted venture on this Divine speculation, so to say. For religion's a speculation; faith is a speculation in the sense that everything cannot be made certain; some elements in the calculation must ever remain undefined. (For further, see the early part of the chapter; and on Proverbs 3:17 , South's 'Sermons,' vol. 1, Proverbs 3:1 ) The summary expression, "a tree of life," seems to symbolize all that is beautiful, all that is desirable, all that gives joy and intensity to living (comp. Proverbs 13:12 ; Proverbs 15:4 ).—J.
Wisdom's inestimable worth
Here are found many strong recommendations of heavenly wisdom, and we might adopt the thirteenth verse as a refrain to each one of them: "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding."
I. POSSESSORS OF IT , WE ARE SHAREHOLDERS WITH GOD HIMSELF . ( Proverbs 3:19 , Proverbs 3:20 .) Only by wisdom could the Divine Founder of all visible things make them what they are. His wonder workings in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, in sun and star, in grain and grass, in coal and iron, in rain and dew,—all are the product of Divine wisdom.
II. POSSESSORS OF IT , WE HAVE A WELL BEING THAT ENDURES . "Length of days is in her right hand" ( Proverbs 3:16 ). "She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her" ( Proverbs 3:18 ). They who fear God are more likely than others to "be satisfied with long life" ( Psalms 91:16 ). For the secret of strength is with those who are obedient to law; but though they should die before old age, yet
III. IT IS THE SOURCE OF GENUINE ESTEEM . "In her left hand … honour" ( Proverbs 3:16 ). It may, indeed, be that the children of wisdom are disregarded or even despised. But that is the painful exception to the rule. The rule is, everywhere and in every age, that those who consult God's will in the guidance of their life are honoured of their brethren, enjoy the esteem of the worthiest of their neighbours, live and die in the fragrance of general regard.
IV. IT IS THE ONE SECURITY AGAINST SIN . ( Proverbs 3:23 .) How many are "the stumblers," those who trip and fall as they ascend or descend the hill of life! And how serious, sometimes, are these falls! Character, reputation, joy, the light of other hearts, the happiness of the home,—all gone through the one false step! We have urgent need of some security. In what shall this be found? Not in hedgings and fencings which will take away every possible danger, but in the wisdom of the wise, which will teach us where to go and how to tread the path of life, in the "wisdom which is from above."
V. IT GUARANTEES THE GUARDIANSHIP OF GOD , AND THUS ENSURES CONFIDENCE AND PEACE . ( Proverbs 3:24-26 .) There are those whose life is full of slavish fear; by day they dread the evils which assail the wicked, by night the perils of the darkness. But he who keeps God's Word enjoys the guardianship of his Almighty arm. "The Lord is his confidence;" his days are spent in quietness and calmness, and "his sleep is sweet" ( Psalms 112:7 ).
VI. IT IS THE PERENNIAL SPRING OF PEACE AND JOY . ( Proverbs 3:17 , Proverbs 3:18 .) Other sources of gratification are to be found, but some of them do not carry the sanction of conscience, some of them are out of the reach of the lowly, others are only open to the learned or the favoured; most, if not all of them, are short-lived, and become of less worth as they are more frequently employed. The wisdom which comes from God and which leads to him, which makes the human spirit the friend and follower of the Son of God, brings a "peace which passes all understanding," the "peace of God," and "joys which through all time abide."
VII. IT IS THE REALIZATION OF HUMAN LIFE . Wisdom is a "tree of life" ( Proverbs 3:18 ); wisdom and discretion "shall be life unto our soul" ( Proverbs 3:22 ). Any existence which is not illumined, ennobled, sanctified, beautified ( Proverbs 3:22 , "grace to thy neck"), by these, is something less than life in the sight of God. Only with these and by these do we attain to a state of being which the Wise One who sees things as they are recognizes as the life of man.
1 . Count it worth while to secure this heavenly wisdom at all costs whatsoever ( Proverbs 3:14 , Proverbs 3:15 ). Its value cannot be estimated in gold; the price of wisdom is above rubies ( Job 28:18 ). Nothing is to be compared with it. Part, if necessary, with the largest fortune to obtain it ( Mark 10:21 ; Proverbs 23:23 ).
2 . Take care to cherish and retain it ( Proverbs 3:24 ). Let the must precious pearl fall, hut hold this with a hand that will not unclasp.—C.