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.
Be not wise in thine own eyes. This admonition carries on the thought from the preceding verses (5, 6), approaching it from a different direction. It is a protest against self-sufficiency, self-conceit, and self-reliance. It says, in effect, "Trust in the Lord, do not trust in yourself." Wisdom, as Michaelis remarks, is to trust in God; to trust in yourself and in your own wisdom is unwisdom. God denounces this spirit: "Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!" ( Isaiah 5:21 ), because such a spirit leads to the prohibited self-dependence, and is inconsistent with "the tear of the Lord." The precept of the text is reiterated by St. Paul, especially in Romans 12:16 , "Be not wise in your own conceits" (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:8 ; Galatians 6:3 ). It commends humility. The diligent search for Wisdom is commanded. The great hindrance to all true wisdom is the thought that we have already attained it (Plumptre). In thine own eyes ; i.e. in thine own estimation; arbitrio tuo . Fear the Lord, and depart from evil. The connection of this with the first part of the verse becomes clear upon reflection. "The fear of the Lord" is true wisdom ( Job 28:28 ; Proverbs 1:7 ). Fear the Lord, therefore, because it is the best corrective of one's own wisdom, which engenders arrogance, pride, presumption of mind, which, moreover, is deceptive and apt to lead to sin. The fear of the Lord has this other advantage—that it leads to the departure from evil ( Proverbs 16:6 ) It is the mark of the wise man that he fears the Lord, and departs from evil ( Proverbs 14:16 ). These precepts form the two elements of practical piety (Delitzsch), an eminent example of which as Job ( Job 1:1 ).
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.
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 .)
(second part), 8.— A three-linked chain. We have—
I. PIETY . "Fear the Lord." It is the faculty which distinguishes the meanest man from the noblest brute, which raises our race immeasurably above the next below it. Man can fear God. He can
II. MORALITY . "Depart from evil." The outcome of piety is morality.
1 . The morality which rests not on the basis of piety (the fear of the Lord) is on an insecure foundation. Change of circumstance, of friends, of fashions, may blow it down.
2 . The morality which depends on the "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" of the Supreme is safe against all the winds that blow. For the dark hour of powerful temptation there is no such barrier against sin and ruin as the conviction, "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" For the bright hour of obligation there is no such animating incitement as "that Christ may be magnified in me." The third link in this heaven-forged chain is—
III. HEALTH . "It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones." Sickness of body may be the portion of the best of men or women. Some are born to suffer until they die and pass to the blessed country where the inhabitant will never say, "I am sick." But the constant tendency of piety and its invariable accompaniment morality is to give