Proverbs 3 Miss Understanding


As part of our Leadership Development Team, we take turns providing a 10-minute devotional for elders and leaders meetings. We are supposed to follow a method known as SOAP:

  • Scripture
  • Observation
  • Application
  • Prayer

Since SOAP works best with 1-2 verses at a time, I’m planning to speak on Proverbs 3:5-6. However, I feel uncomfortable using a passage with so little context, so I figured I’d first work through the surrounding verses in my usual line-at-a-time style. Hopefully I’ll glean enough insights to boil down to a useful ten-minute talk!

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Proverbs 3:1-12

My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:

This passage is couched as fatherly advice, rather than a divine command — though I wouldn’t rely too much on that distinction! The contrast between “forget” and “heart keep” may be merely Hebrew parallelism, but I rather like the notion that the best way to remember good advice is to follow it! And why should we follow it?

For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.

That is, the author isn’t appealing to authority or threat of punishment, but self-interest: do this, and you will live! And he’s not merely talking about clever tricks, but genuine virtues:

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:


So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.

So far, so good. I get that if I pursue mercy and truth, I will understand and live well. But that’s only half true:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

This (for me) is the money verse: the highest goal is not to increase our own understanding (as useful as that is), but rather to trust God even more than our own wisdom.

This is really quite shocking, given the promise in the earlier verse (which a different word for “understanding”, but with the same basic meaning). Yes, we need to strive after wisdom and insight, but the bottom line is to trust God. With everything:

In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

This is mind-blowing. Why should we entrust everything to God? Shouldn’t we rely on our own common sense?

Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.

Ouch. That is the problem with the self-reliance strategy; when we become over-fond of our own wisdom. Instead, we should have a holy awe towards the complexity of the world God has created, and a corresponding humility about our ability to comprehend it. More, we need to actively fear God’s punishment if we try to abuse that world for own selfish purposes.

But this fear doesn’t weaken us, it strengthens us:

It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.

In fact, the more we give over to God, the better off we’ll be:

Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:
So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.

In fact, we’re even better off when God takes away from us what we thought we had a right to (e.g., our independence):

My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction:
For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son [in whom] he delighteth.

This brings the idea of father advice full circle. In fact, I suspect the better our experience with paternal discipline the easier it will be for us to understand this passage — and God’s heart. My father was a godly man, but I was a (mostly) dutiful son, so I don’t have many memories of his correction. To be honest, I think my biggest problem is that I often think I’m doing God’s will, when I’m really doing my own will in God’s name.

I think I need to learn to be “frustrated” better; that is, when something I want to do — and believe is right — is being thwarted, I need to let go and check with God whether that is really what He wants. Because the sooner I submit to God’s discipline and leading, the easier He can be on me!

God, I confess my lack of faith in you. I have become wise in my own eyes, and trusted in my own understanding. I have not feared you as I ought, and have consequently wandered into evil. I have forged my own paths through self-will, rather than letting you lead me. Forgive me, O my father. Chasten me as you would a beloved son, that I may learn to be humble before you. Teach me to trust you with my whole heart, not just bits and pieces here and there. May I give to you my best and most precious, that I may experience your divine increase. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

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