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.
Trust in the Lord ( b'takh el yehovah ); literally, trust in Jehovah. Entire reliance upon Jehovah, implied in the words, "with all thine heart," is here appropriately placed at the head of a series of admonitions which especially have God and man's relations with him in view, inasmuch as such confidence or trust, with its corresponding idea of the renunciation of reliance on self, is, as Zockler truly remarks, a "fundamental principle of all religion." It is the first lesson to be learnt by all, and no less necessary for the Jew than for the Christian. Without this reliance on or confidence in God, it is impossible to carry out any of the precepts of religion. Batakh is, properly, "to cling to," and so passes to the meaning of "to confide in," "to set one's hope and confidence upon." The preposition el with Jehovah indicates the direction which the confidence is to take (cf. Psalms 37:3 , Psalms 37:5 ). Lean ( tishshaen ); Vulgate, innitaris ; followed by el, like b'takh, with which it is very similar in meaning. Shaan, not used in kal, in hiph. signifies "to lean upon, rest upon," just as man rests upon a spear for support. Its metaphorical use, to repose confidence in, is derived from the practice of kings who were accustomed to appear in public leaning on their friends and ministers; cf. 2 Kings 5:18 ; 2 Kings 7:2 , 2 Kings 7:17 (Gesenius). The admonition does not mean that we are not to use our own understanding ( binab ), i.e. form plans with discretion, and employ legitimate means in the pursuit of our ends; but that, when we use it, we are to depend upon God and his directing and overruling providence (Wardlaw); cf. Jeremiah 9:23 , Jeremiah 9:24 . "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom," etc. The teacher points out not only where we are to rely, but also where we are not to rely.
I. THE NEED OF DIVINE GUIDANCE . Several considerations force this upon us; e.g. :
1 . The complexity of life. The longer we live, the more do we feel the profound mystery that touches us on every side. Innumerable avenues open out to us. Innumerable claims are made upon us. Conflicting duties perplex us. We feel as autumn leaves before the driving winds. We are helpless to choose and follow the right.
2 . Our ignorance of the future. Like Columbus, we set our sails to cross unknown seas. We know not what a day will bring forth, yet we must boldly face the next day, and plan for many a day in advance. Our whole life must be arranged with respect to the future. We live in the future. Yet the future is hidden from us. How needful, then, to be guided on to that unknown land by One who sees the end from the beginning!
3 . The claims of duty. We need a guide if we have only our own interests to consider. Much more is this the case when we are called to serve God. We are not free to choose our own path, even if we have light to do so. The servant must learn the will of his master before he can know what he is to do. Our prayer should be not so much that God should guide us safely, as that he should show us his way.
II. THE CONDITION OF DIVINE GUIDANCE . This is trust. The lower animals are guided by God through unconscious instincts. But having endowed us with a higher nature, God has given to us the dangerous privilege of a larger liberty, and the serious responsibility of voluntarily choosing or rejecting his guidance. But then he vouchsafes this great help on the simplest of all conditions. We have not to deserve it, to attain to it by any skill or labour, but simply to trust with the most childlike faith. Consider what this involves.
1 . Self-surrender. "Lean not to thine own understanding." We sometimes pray for God's guidance insincerely. We want him to guide us into our own way. But his guidance is useless when we should go the same way without it. It is only when human wisdom diverges from Divine wisdom that we are called expressly to follow the latter; we do so unconsciously under easier circumstances. This does not mean, however, that we are to stultify our intellect; we must rather seek God's Spirit to enlighten it—not lean to our understanding, but to God for the strengthening of that understanding.
2 . Whole-hearted faith. "Trust in God with all thine heart." It is useless to have certain faint opinions about the wisdom of God. Every thought, affection, and desire must be given over to his direction; at least, we must honestly aim at doing this. The more completely we trust the more surely will God guide us,
3 . Active faith. God guides, but we must follow his directions. The traveller is not carried up the mountain by his guide; he follows of his own will. It is vain for us to pray for a Divine leading unless we consent to follow the directions indicated to us.
III. THE METHOD OF DIVINE GUIDANCE .
1 . Through our own conscience. Conscience is our natural guide. It is not, therefore, the less Divine; for God is the Author of our nature. Conscience, clear and healthy, is the voice of God in the soul. But conscience is liable to corruption with the rest of our nature. Hence the need of prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit to purify, enlighten, and strengthen it.
2 . Through inspired teaching. God guides one man through his message to another. Prophets and apostles are messengers of Divine guidance. We need such direction outside our own consciences, especially in our present imperfect condition, or we may mistake the echoes of old prejudices and the promptings of self-interest for voices of God. God's word in the Bible is "a lamp to our feet."
3 . Through the disposition of events. God guides us in his overruling providence, now closing dangerous ways, now opening up new paths.
Precepts and promises of wisdom
I. THE CONNECTION OF PRECEPT AND PROMISE .
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.
II. PARTICULAR EXAMPLES OF THIS CONNECTION '.
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.
(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.