My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
Proverbs 3:1-12 ESV
We are now in week five of our study through the first nine chapters of Proverbs, and as I’ve said, Proverbs is generally divided into two main sections. Chapters 1-9 are the introduction, and chapters 10-31 are the actual collection of proverbs. So almost one-third of the book is spent giving us a proper introduction to prepare us for reading the actual proverbs. If the book spends so much time introducing us to wisdom, then it probably means that we should pay careful attention.
These nine chapters continue to teach us that wisdom does not come from the proverbs themselves. Wisdom comes from God. The proverbs teach us what wisdom looks like and to turn to God. But wisdom itself only comes from the hand of God.
Let us also remember that wisdom is applied knowledge, the skill of living life well. When we talk about wisdom, it has its root in knowledge and understanding, but wisdom is primarily about living well. When you make good decisions and life goes well for you, you are living in wisdom. And true biblical wisdom is only found in knowing God.
In fact, Proverbs teaches that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the wise and the fools. Each of us are simple-minded who will, given the right circumstances, fall into either category. We will either be wise or foolish. The Bible defines the fool as saying in his heart that there is no God, but wisdom begins by fearing God. Therefore, we need God to give us wisdom.
Here is a quick word about how these twelve verses are structured. There are six pairings of thoughts. The first verse will give us a command to follow, and it will be followed by a blessing that comes from obeying that command. This general structure will be guiding our study.
PEACE & LONGEVITY // VERSES 1-2
The first command: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” Notice that he is essentially saying the same thing, once positively and once negatively. “Do not forget” “but let your heart keep”.
Now comes the blessing: “for length of days and years and peace they will be added to you.” Well that’s an interesting promise. If we remember the commandments of the LORD, He is promising us peace and longevity. Is that true? Yes, in a general sense. Wisdom after all is about making wise decisions. Thus, living in a wise, godly manner will generally lead to us having a longer life. If I have the wisdom to understand that riding my bicycle off the roof, my life is more likely to continue on further (and with less pain). Foolishness often leads to premature deaths. How tragic to read about people dying from drinking and driving! They are killed because of foolishness. They set themselves up for having their lives cut short. Thus, if we do abide in wisdom, generally our lives will be longer than if we make foolish decisions. Sadly, there was a young college-age missionary who was recently taken to ICU after his car getting totaled by a tornado. He was about to lead a team to fulfill the Great Commission but was hospitalized instead. Unfortunately, the world is broken by sin, so pain and suffering still happen. But ultimately, this will be complete in its final form in heaven. If we live in the wisdom and fear of God, we will have eternal life with the LORD.
THE TABLET OF YOUR HEART // VERSES 3-4
The second command: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you, bind them around your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart.” These two words, steadfast love and faithfulness, are covenant words used throughout the Old Testament. Steadfast love is essentially the Hebrew equivalent of agape in Greek. It is not a passionate, feeling, or infatuated love; instead, it is based upon commitment. It is a love that declares, “I will love you. Period.” But this love is often paired with faithfulness, which is interesting because together they form a redundancy. Faithfulness is a crucial aspect of steadfast love. Faithfulness is what makes steadfast love steadfast. God is doubly emphasizing to us that His love for us knows no end. His love will not run dry, and it will not go away when our actions rebel against it.
Not only are those covenant words, but the commands also allude to the Mosaic Covenant. Binding them around your neck alludes back to the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. We have already discussed this in week two, so I won’t dive into it again here. Writing it on the tablet of your heart is a callback to the tablet of the ten commandments. Just as the ten commandments were written on tablets of stone, take God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and write them upon the tablet of your heart. Interestingly, many centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah would use this same imagery to describe the New Covenant that God would establish with His people.
The blessing that comes from obeying this command is favor and good repute with both God and man. Favor is the Old Testament equivalent of grace in the New Testament. Good success could also be translated as a good reputation. Thus, if we stick to the love and faithfulness of God, we will find favor and good repute with God and men.
FEARING GOD // VERSES 5-6
The third command: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” This is, I believe, one of the most popular verses in the Bible, and rightfully so. Proverbs 1:7 is the thesis of Proverbs, but these verses are the heart of the book. In fact, I would argue that these verses describe what it means to fear the LORD.
Let us begin with the blessing first. What does it mean to have a paths made straight? We’ve seen that Proverbs continues to use the imagery of life having two paths: one leads to wisdom and God, while the other leads to death and foolishness. Jesus takes this imagery and applies them in the Sermon on the Mount. He states that the wise path is difficult with a narrow gate, but it leads to eternal life. The foolish path, however, is a easy road with a broad gate that leads to death and destruction. Few will find the narrow gate, but many will find the broad gate. The straight path here in Proverbs means that God will keep us on the wise road with the narrow gate. The reward of following these commands is that God will keep us on the difficult path that leads to eternal life. That is tremendous blessing, especially when Jesus tells us that only a few will find the narrow gate!
First, we must trust in the LORD with all our heart. Notice that if we have God’s steadfast love and faithfulness bound around our necks and written on the tablet of our hearts, it becomes a little easier to trust Him. When we have His Word, promises, and faithfulness deeply engrained within us, it becomes easier to trust God. Also notice that the command is not to trust in the LORD with all your spirituality. It is not to trust in the LORD with all your religion. Nor is it trust in the LORD with all of your Sunday (and maybe Wednesday night). No, trust in the LORD with ALL your heart. This means that every aspect of your life is submissive to Him. We trust Him with our children. We trust Him with our careers. We trust Him with our recreation and free time.
Trusting the LORD means that we will not rely on our own understanding. We will know that His ways are higher than our own, that He knows better than us. We must have a refusal to be self-reliant. This is difficult though because we love the idea of the self-made man, the hero who pulls himself out of the mire by his own bootstraps. We love this idea because we love giving glory to lesser gods. And the only thing we love more than glorifying false gods is being one of those gods. But the wise God-fearer knows the limit and fallibility of his own understanding; therefore, he trusts God.
But we cannot simply trust Him and not ourselves, we must also acknowledge Him. Too many believers have the idea of preaching the gospel at all times and using words when necessary. Unfortunately, that typically means that we try to live good, moral lives and hope that we never have to actually share the gospel because that gets really uncomfortable. Acknowledging means verbally declaring that everything we do is for the glory of God. It means being like Paul who said that he would boast in nothing except for the cross of Christ. Whoa, Paul. What about when I get a promotion, don’t I get to boast in my hard work and success? No, boast only in the cross of Christ. Does your zeal and passion for the glory of God come out of your mouth?
WISE IN YOUR OWN EYES // VERSES 7-8
“Be not wise in your own eyes, fear the LORD, turn away from evil, it will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” In essence, verse 7 is restating what we saw in verses 5-6. When we do not trust the LORD, rely upon our own understanding, and fail to acknowledge Him, we are being wise in our own eyes. We are not fearing the LORD; instead, we are fearing ourselves. We turn ourselves into gods. We delight in evil instead of turning from it. But if we refuse to be wise in our own eyes, if we fear the LORD, and if we turn away from evil, it will heal and refresh our bodies.
One of the most difficult concepts for me to believe is that God’s way is more restful than sin. Often we look at the Bible and see command after command. But Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That is difficult for me to believe. I would rather go anywhere else for rest. Netflix, YouTube, etc. But Jesus says, “Come to me.” When the commands of God are etched upon our hearts, they are not burdens but joys. We understand that God is loving Father who longs for us to live as we were designed to live. Following after God is healing, refreshment, and rest. Do we believe that?
WISDOM & PROSPERITY // VERSES 9-10
“Honor the LORD with your wealth, and with the firstfruits of all your produce. Then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vast bursting with wine.” What does it look like to honor the LORD with your wealth? He clarifies with the second phrase: giving Him our first fruits. This meant that the first of any crop was given to God as an offering of thanksgiving. The heart of this is not God taking our stuff; rather, God gave us our wealth. Especially when considering farming, we remember that farmers can plant and water, but God must cause the seed to grow. God gave the growth of seeds. Therefore, produce came from the hand of God. Likewise, the LORD grants us everything that we have. Our ability to work and jobs come directly from the grace of God. Everything we have is blessing from God. Therefore, what we give to the LORD is out of thanksgiving for His grace. Do we thank the LORD for all the money in our bank accounts?
This generosity leads then to prosperity. But is God promising prosperity here? Yes, just maybe not now. Do you believe that God has truly promised to bless you as His child, if only in the eternity to come?
THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD // VERSES 11-12
Command number six: “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of this reproach, for the LORD reproves Him who He loves as a father the son in whom he delights.”
God loves us so much that He is willing to discipline us.
That’s not a fun statement. Can we go back two verses and hear about prosperity again? It is, however, no accident that discipline and disciple come from the same root word for training or teaching. You cannot be a disciple of Christ without facing the discipline of the LORD because discipline is a means of teaching, of training us to follow Jesus. In fact, Proverbs does teach that a father should delight in disciplining his children.
Listen to just two proverbs. Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline.” Do we think of discipline in those terms? If a father does not discipline his children, he hates them. He does not love his children, and he is setting them up for failure later on in life. Or Proverbs 19:18: “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” That’s saying that without discipline, children are heading for death (maybe not always in this life, but certainly spiritual death). Discipline is a good thing. Hebrews 12:7-11 also quotes these two verses and then offers this commentary:
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Anyone who has ever exercised knows the truth presented in these verses. In the moment, the discipline of working out is painful, not pleasant. But in the long run, it produces the fruit of greater endurance for our bodies. Likewise, God’s discipline is a means of training us and growing us in the peace, righteousness, and holiness of God.
Let me make this clear, the discipline of the LORD is NOT punishment. The ultimate goal of discipline is not to punish sin but to correct the heart. Discipline takes us off the path leading to destruction and back onto the path leading to eternal life. It corrects us out of love, calling us toward repentance. Punishment is simply about satisfying justice, but discipline is about teaching, instructing, and correcting.
In the Bible, there are two big forms of God’s discipline. First, God sometimes allows us to face the consequences of our sin. Take note that we believe Jesus’ death absorbed all the punishment for our sins; therefore, there is not one ounce of God’s wrath left for us. We have nothing but love, grace, and favor from God our Father. We believe that. But at times, God allows us to feel the temporal consequences of our sin in order to impact and affect us as a means of discipline. These consequences are meant to show us the truth of our sin and what it costs.
We find God using this form of discipline on Israel in the Old Testament. Coming out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were meant to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it by God’s strength. Unfortunately, only two of the twelve spies sent into the land encouraged the Israelites to trust the LORD to give them the land, and the people sided with the other ten. God, therefore, caused the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years until that present generation died off. God did not permit them to enter into the land of promise because they failed to trust Him. This wilderness wandering was a disciplinary act of the LORD as a consequence of their sin. In fact, at the end of the forty years (Deuteronomy 8:2-5), God explicitly tells them so:
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did you fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not sell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.
The LORD allowed them to feel the consequence of their sin as discipline, not punishment. The entire point of the wilderness was to teach them trust in Him. The humility of forcing the Israelites to rely upon God for their daily provision was an act of love from the LORD.
The second form of discipline is through general sufferings, which are the natural sufferings that come with living in a broken, fallen world. In other words, these are sufferings that are not the consequences of particular sins but instead are the result of sin scarring the world. Paul speaks of these sufferings in Romans 5:3-5:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been give to us.
Why does God allow us to go through suffering? Because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, meaning it causes us to trust and rely upon the LORD. Suffering forces us to hope only in God, to trust Him. Suffering conforms us to the image of Christ.
All suffering, whether it is the consequence of our sin or simply the product of life, is the discipline of the LORD. For the Christian, this is good news because it allows us to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that nothing happens to us as a punishment from God. Jesus has already absorbed every drop of punishment for our sins, satisfying the justice of the Father. Therefore, every trial and suffering that we face, even when our sin caused it, God uses to discipline us, teaching us how to trust Him more and more.
But we must also make one more point of observation here. Notice that God disciplines as a father disciplines his son. Here God is like a father, but He is not a father. This kind of language is true of the Old Testament where viewing the LORD as our father would be unthinkable. But Jesus does the unthinkable, He tells us to pray to God as our Father. Jesus takes the father-son analogy away from being a figure of speech and into reality.
JESUS‘ PERFECT OBEDIENCE
It is good news that God is our Father because although we have seen six commands here and the blessings that flow from obeying them, we are incapable of upholding them. We know that we must trust the LORD, but we fail to do it each day. We repeatedly rely upon our own understanding. We constantly use our wealth for selfish gain instead of honoring the LORD. We often despise God’s discipline. We regularly delight in sin rather than turning from evil. This is a problem. If we cannot obey the commands, we cannot reap the blessings that follow. In our disobedience, we constantly veer off the straight and narrow path.
Fortunately, our blessing is not dependent upon our own obedience but upon the faithful work and obedience of Another. Jesus is the only human to ever perfectly embody the commands listed in these verses; therefore, He is only one deserving of the blessings as well. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus took the penalty of our disobedience upon Himself and graciously gave us the blessings of His obedience instead. The Christian, therefore, has claim to each blessing in these verses, not because of his or her obedience, but because of the gracious imputation of Jesus’ righteousness.