The Pulpit Commentary

Proverbs 3:1-18 (Proverbs 3:1-18)

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.

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Proverbs 3:4 (Proverbs 3:4)

So shalt thou find ( vum'lsa ); literally, and find. A peculiar use of the imperative, the imperative kal ( m'tsa ) with vav consecutive ( וִ ) being equivalent to the future, "thou shalt find," as in the Authorized Version. This construction, where two imperatives are joined, the former containing an exhortation or admonition, the second a promise made on the condition implied in the first, and the second imperative being used as a future, occurs again in Proverbs 4:4 ; Proverbs 7:2 , "Keep my commandments, and live;" Proverbs 9:6 , "Forsake the foolish, and live;" Proverbs 20:13 , "Open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread". Delitzsch calls this "an admonitory imperative;" Bottcher, "the desponsive imperative." Compare the Greek construction in Menander, οἶδ ὅτι ποίησον , for ποιήσεις , "Know that this you will do . " Find ( matza ); here simply "to attain," "obtain," not necessarily implying previous search, as in Proverbs 17:20 . Favour ( khen ) . The same word is frequently translated "grace," and means the same thing; Vulgate, gratia ; LXX ; χαρίς . For the expression, "to find favour" ( matsa khen ) , see Genesis 6:8 ; Exodus 33:12 ; Jeremiah 31:2 ; comp. Luke 1:30 , εὗρες γὰρ χάριν παρὰ τῷ θεῷ ." For thou hast found favour [or, 'grace'] with God." spoken by Gabriel to the Virgin. Good understanding ( sekel tov ); i.e. good sagacity, or prudence. So Delitzsch, Bertheau, Kamph. A true sagacity, prudence, or penetrating judgment will be adjudicated by God and man to him who possesses the internal excellence of love and truth. The Hebrew sekel is derived from sakal, "to act wisely or prudently," and has this intellectual meaning in Proverbs 13:15 ; Psalms 111:10 (see also 1 Samuel 25:3 and 2 Chronicles 30:22 ). The Targum Jonathan reads, intellectus et benignitas, thus throwing the adjective into a substantival form; the Syriac, intellectus simply. Ewald, Hitzig, Zockler, and others, on the other hand, understand sekel as referring to the judgment formed of any one, the favourable opinion or view which is entertained of hint by others, and hence take it as reputation, or estimation. The man who has love and truth will be held in high esteem by God and man. Our objection to this rendering is that it does not seem to advance the meaning of the passage beyond that of "favour." Another, mentioned by Delitzsch, is that sekel is never used in any other sense than that of intellectus in the Mishle. The marginal reading, "good success," i.e. prosperity, seems inadmissible here, as the hiph. has'kil, "to cause to prosper," as in Proverbs 17:8 ; Joshua 1:7 ; Deuteronomy 29:9 , does not apply in this instance any more than in Psalms 111:10 , margin. In the sight of God and man ( b'eyney elohim v'adam ); literally, in the eyes of Elohim and man ; i.e. according to the judgment of God and man (Zockler); Vulgate , coram Deo et hominibus. A simpler form of this phrase is found in 1 Samuel 2:26 , where Samuel is said to have found favour with the Lord, and also with men. So in Luke 2:52 Jesus found favour "with God and man ( παρὰ θεῷ καὶ ἀνθρώποις )" (comp. Genesis 10:9 ; Acts 2:47 , Romans 14:18 ). The two conditions of favor and sagacity, or prudence, are not to be assigned respectively to God and man (as Ewald and Hitzig), or that finding favour has reference more to God, and being deemed prudent refers more to man. The statement is universal. Both these conditions will be adjudged to the man who has mercy and truth by God in heaven and man on earth at the same time (see Delitszch). The LXX ; "after favour," instead of the text, reads, "and provide good things in the sight of the Lord and men," quoted by St. Paul ( 2 Corinthians 8:21 ).

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Proverbs 3:1-4 (Proverbs 3:1-4)

Making the heart a treasury of good principles

I. THE TREASURE . Innumerable impressions are constantly being made upon our minds, and as constantly transferring themselves into memories. Frivolous thoughts, false notions, corrupt images, once harboured, take up their abode in the soul, and ultimately modify its Character to the likeness of themselves. It is most important for us to guard our memories from such things, and to fill them with more worthy stores. Consider, therefore, the best subjects for contemplation and memory.

1 . The Law of God. Divine truth is the highest truth, the noblest theme of meditation, the supreme guide to conduct. Truth concerning our actions, the revealed will of God, is for us the most valuable Divine truth. Other forms of truth may please and help us, but this is essentially needful as a lamp to our feet. We can afford to lose sight of the stars if the harbour light shines clear on the waters over which we have to sail. This practical Divine truth—not our dreams and fancies, but utterances of God's will—we are called to remember. Hence the importance of studying the Bible, which contains it. It is well for children to store their minds with passages of Scripture. These will afford strength in temptation, guidance in perplexity, comfort in sorrow.

2 . Mercy and truth. "The letter killeth:" It is superstition that merely treasures up the words of Holy Writ, and repeats them parrot-like, as though a spell were to be wrought by the very utterance of them. The truth contained within these ancient words is what we need to recollect. And it is not the exact verbal bearing of the Law, but the wide-reaching principles underlying it, that Christians are called upon to treasure; not rules of sacrifice, but principles of mercy; not merely the prohibition, "Thou shalt not steal," but the higher precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

3 . Christ. Christ is the Truth; he is the incarnation of mercy, our great exemplar, the visible manifestation of God's will, the perfect Ideal of our life. If we are weary of reading dry legal rescripts, and fail in contemplating bare abstract truths, we have a better way of treasuring good principles, by cherishing the vision of Christ.

II. THE TREASURY . This is the heart. It is not enough that the Law has been once for all revealed, that we come under it and under the institutions of the Church, that we treasure the Bible in our library, that we hear it read in hasty moments. Much superstition prevails on these points. People seem to think that there is a virtue in the mere act of reading a chapter from the Bible, and some seem to go through the task as a sort of penance, imagining that they thus score some points to their credit in heaven. The Bible is valuable to us only in so far as it influences us. To influence us it must be known and remembered. The Law graven on stone, locked in the ark, and hidden behind the thick curtains of the sanctuary, could do the people of Israel little good. It needed to be written on the fleshy tables of the heart. This involves:

1 . An intelligent understanding of Divine truth, so that it comes to us, not as a mere string of words, but as clear ideas.

2 . A good memory of it.

3 . A love of it, so that it is treasured thoughtfully, and becomes part of our very being, moulding our character, colouring our thoughts and affections, and directing our conduct. It is not difficult to see that such a treasury of such treasure will secure favour with God and ultimately also favour with men.

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Proverbs 3:1-10 (Proverbs 3:1-10)

Precepts and promises of wisdom


1 . Precept needs confirmation. We cannot but ask— Why should we pursue this or that line of conduct in preference to another? Why should men be God-fearing, honest, chaste? We are rational creatures, not "dumb driven cattle," to be forced along a given road. We must have reasons; and it is to reason in us that the Divine reason ever makes appeal.

2 . The confirmation is found in experience. This is the source of our knowledge; to it the true teacher must constantly refer for the verification of his principles, the corroboration of his precepts. The tone assumed by the teacher is indeed that of authority, but real authority always rests upon experience. Experience, in short, is the discovery and ascertainment of law in life. Precepts are its formulation.

3 . The experience of the past enables the prediction of the future. Just; as we know the science of the astronomer, e.g; to be sound, because we find that he can predict with accuracy coming events, appearances of the heavenly bodies, eclipses, etc; so do we recognize the soundness of moral teaching by its power to forecast the future fates of men. Precepts are the deductions from the actual; promises the forecasts of that which, because it has been constant in the past, may be expected in the future. In science, in morality, in religion, we build on the permanence of law; in ocher words, on the constancy of the eternal God.


1 . Obedience ensures earthly happiness . ( Proverbs 3:1 , Proverbs 3:2 .) The connection is first stated generally. "Extension of days," or long life, is the one aspect of this happiness; inward peace of heart, denied to the godless, the other ( Isaiah 48:22 ; Isaiah 57:2 ). Prolongation of days, life in the good land, dwelling in the house of the Lord, are the peculiar Old Testament blessings ( Deuteronomy 4:40 ; Deuteronomy 5:33 ; Deuteronomy 6:2 ; Deuteronomy 11:9 ; Deuteronomy 22:7 ; Deuteronomy 30:16 ; Psalms 15:1 ; Psalms 23:6 ; Psalms 27:4 ).

2 . Love and good faith ensure favour with God, good will with men. "Mercy," or "love;" the word denotes the recognition of kinship, fellowship in men, and the duty of kindness therein implied. "Truth," in the sense in which we speak of a true man ; sincerity and rectitude, the striving to make the seeming and the being correspond to one another; the absence of hypocrisy. St. Paul gives the ideas, "dealing truly in love " ( Ephesians 4:15 ). Let these virtues be bound about the neck, like precious objects, for the sake of security; let these commands be engraven in the only indelible way—upon the heart. Let the mind be fixed and formed, and the result will be favour in the sight of God, and a "good opinion" in the minds of men. The two relations form a correlation. There is no true standing with God which does not reflect itself in the good opinion of good men; no worthy opinion of a man which does not furnish an index to God's view of him. Both were united in the case of the youthful Jesus.

3 . Trust in God ensures practical direction. ( Proverbs 3:5 , Proverbs 3:6 .)

4 . Simple piety secures health. ( Proverbs 3:7 , Proverbs 3:8 .)

(a) Physical. It tends to promote right physical habits. It certainly reacts against the worst disorders, viz. the nervous.

(b) Spiritual. It is in the mind what the sound nervous organization is in the body. The mind thus centrally right digests, enjoys, assimilates, the rich food which nature, books, and men afford.

5 . Consecration of property ensures wealth. ( Proverbs 3:9 , Proverbs 3:10 .)

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Proverbs 3:1-4 (Proverbs 3:1-4)

Cherishing the truth

We have here—

I. THE ESSENTIAL THING IMPLIED . It is implied that the Law of God has been heard and understood; also that it has been received as Divine, and taken as the true guide of life. The teacher or preacher has sometimes to assume this; but too often it is an assumption unjustified by the facts. When it is justified, there come—

II. TWO SPECIALLY VALUABLE VIRTUES INSISTED UPON . Mercy and truth ( Proverbs 3:3 ) are to be exemplified.

1 . Mercy, which includes

2 . Truth, which includes

III. A MATTER OF GREAT MOMENT ENFORCED . This is the cherishing of the truth by the spirit which has received it in the love of it. "My son, forget not my law; … let thine heart keep," etc. ( Proverbs 3:1 ); Bind them about thy neck; write them upon the tablet of thine heart" ( Proverbs 3:3 ). If these precepts are to he duly carried out, and there is thus to be a continuance in well doing, and even a growth therein, then must there be:

1 . The dwelling upon them by the mind; that must be a mental habit carefully cultivated.

2 . The placing ourselves where they will be urged on our attention and commended to our affection (the sanctuary, the Lord's table, the society of the holy, etc.).

3 . The wise study of them as illustrated in the lives of the worthiest of our race.

4 . The use of any and every means by which they will be seen by us to be the beautiful and blessed things they are. The children of Wisdom will not only receive gladly the truth of God, but they will cherish it carefully; they will water with diligent hand the plant which has been sown and which has sprung up in the soul. "Let not the workman lose what he has wrought." If we continue in the word of Christ, then are we his disciples indeed (see John 8:31 ; John 15:9 ; Acts 13:43 ).

IV. A LARGE BLESSING PROMISED . ( Proverbs 3:2 , Proverbs 3:4 .) Under the Law, temporal blessings were more abundantly held in view; then the wise were promised long life, comfort, and human estimation, as well as the favour of God. Under the gospel, temporal prosperity takes the second place, spiritual and heavenly well being the first. But we may urge that conformity to the will of God as revealed in his Word:

1 . Tends to bodily health and strength; if that does not secure it, assuredly disobedience will not.

2 . Tends to secure a life of tranquillity. "Peace," as well as "length of days," it is likely to add; equanimity of mind and the comfort which is the consequence of right and kind behaviour.

3 . Tends to win the esteem and the affection of our neighbours. "Favour in the sight of man."

4 . Ensures the love and the blessing of Almighty God.—C.

Proverbs 3:5 , Proverbs 3:6 , Proverbs 3:7 (first part)

Self-distrust and trust in God

If we would realize God's thought concerning us, we shall—

I. CHERISH A DEEP DISTRUST OF OURSELVES . We are not to "lean unto our own understanding," or to "be wise in our own eyes" ( Proverbs 3:5 , Proverbs 3:7 ).

1 . We shall certainly have a sense of our own insufficiency if we weigh our own human weakness ; if we consider how little we know of

2 . So also if we consider the disastrous results that have followed presumption in this matter. How often have we seen men, confident of their own capacity, staking everything on their own judgment, and miserably disappointed with the issue! Men of this spirit, who carry self-reliance (which is a virtue) to an exaggerated and false assurance of their own sagacity, not only dig a deep grave for their own happiness, but usually involve others also in their ruin. Neither in

II. LOOK DEVOUTLY UPWARD . We are to maintain:

1 . A whole-hearted trust in God ( Proverbs 3:5 ). A profound assurance that

2 . A continual acknowledgment ( Proverbs 3:6 ). We are to acknowledge God

This trust and acknowledgment are inclusive and not exclusive of our own individual endeavour. We are to think well, to consult wisely, to act diligently, and then to trust wholly. Whoso does the last without the first is guiltily and daringly presumptuous; whoso does the first without the last is guiltily irreverent and unbelieving.

III. RECKON CONFIDENTLY ON DIVINE DIRECTION . "He shall direct thy paths" ( Proverbs 3:6 ). As a very little child, left alone in the streets of a great city, can but wander aimlessly about, and will surely fail of reaching home, so we, lost in the maze of this seething, struggling, incomprehensible world—world of circumstance and world of thought—can but make vain guesses as to our true course, and are certain to wander far from the home of God. What the shrewdest and cleverest of men most urgently and sorely need is the guiding hand of a heavenly Father, who, through all the labyrinths of life, past all the by paths of error and evil, will conduct us to truth, righteousness, wisdom, heaven. If we trust him wholly, and acknowledge him freely and fully, we may confidently expect that he will

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