We begin our three-part study of pride and humility in Proverbs 3. As I noted last week, at the core of our three passages is the same verse that originates here in Proverbs 3:34 and is then cited by both James and Peter in the New Testament. Of course, this verse looks a bit different from the two NT citations because both James and Peter used the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. But before we discuss the verse at hand, we would benefit greatly from a quick view at its context within the surrounding passage.
The book of Proverbs contains two big parts. The first nine chapters are paternal instructions to us as readers on the nature and value of wisdom. Chapters 10-31 are the actual collection of proverbs, the typically short nuggets of wisdom that the book is known for. Chapter 3 is obviously a part of the former section.
The overall thrust of the chapter is that wisdom is a blessing because wisdom means trusting and fearing God. These blessings are said to include “length of days and years of life and peace” (v. 2), “favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (v. 4), “healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (v. 8), “your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (v. 10), “life for your soul and adornment for your neck” (v. 22), “you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble” (v. 23), “if you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet” (v. 24), “for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught” (26). Ultimately, therefore, the greatest blessing is that God Himself will be our confidence and will treat us as sons (vv. 11-12).
Toward the end of the chapter, after providing a list of warnings against bringing evil upon others, we are given the following warning:
Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence.vv. 31-32
Notice that this final warning moves from being specific to broad. We are told not to envy the violent particularly, but the violent are then placed within a larger category of persons: “the devious” or those who deviate from the wisdom of God. They are abominations to the LORD. The upright, being persons who walk according to God’s ways, are (as verse 26 also said) in God’s confidence.
Verses 33-35 give a triple reemphasis of this point, contrasting the devious from the upright. Verse 33 calls them the wicked and the righteous, with God’s curses upon the wicked and blessings upon the righteous. Verse 34 gives the titles of scorners (to whom God also is scornful) and the humble (to whom God gives favor). Finally, the primary distinctions of the book of Proverbs are used: the wise who inherit honor and the fools who receive disgrace.
Devious or upright. Wicked or righteous. Scorner or humble. Wise or foolish. They are all the same division being described in different ways. The upright are also the righteous, are also the humble, are also the wise. The devious are also the wicked, are also the scorners, are also the fools. They are all inseparably bound together.
We should also note that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (9:10). Wisdom requires, first and foremost, humility enough to admit that we are not gods, that we did not fashion the cosmos according to our own design, and that we do not often know what is best for ourselves. Wisdom is yielding and submitting to the ways of the Creator, trusting that the Potter knows how best to use His clay. This submission to what He has said and to who He is not only wise but morally upright and righteous.
On the other hand, foolishness consists of despising “wisdom and instruction” (1:7). Just as humility is the great marker of the wise, pride is the great marker of the fool, for he scorns and mocks the ways of the LORD, choosing to instead rely upon his own “wisdom”. The wise, after all, understands his utter reliance upon his Maker, while the fool scorns Him and rebels against His created order.
Consider the epitome of the Old Testament law: the Ten Commandments. To fools, these are an oppressive tyranny from under which we must be liberated. To the wise, they are received as joyfully as a soldier would receive a map disclosing the location of every mine in the minefield through which he must pass. Indeed, who would not want to live in a society where values like life, property, marriage, and rest were held as sacred, deriving their immediate worth from the Creator Himself? Only the proud. Only those who would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. And while pride has always lurked within the human heart, today’s culture has embraced it as a virtue, reveling in their ‘liberation’ from the Creator’s ways, rejoicing in their deviation from His design.
A specific example can be seen in Nickelodeon’s recent “The Meaning of Pride” song, sung by drag queen Nina West. The song, which is explicitly targeted to children, explains the meaning of the colors on the pride flag. In this chorus, he sings: “Doesn’t it just fill you with pride, showing who you are on the inside? With the pride flag up high, be true to you!”
These lyrics are worth noting because they point to the larger condition of which Pride Month and the LGBT movement are simply symptoms. You see, “be true to you” is the slogan of those who scorn the wisdom of God in favor of their own ‘wisdom.’ And it is not just drag queens who adhere to that motto.
As we cited last week, Lewis calls pride “spiritual cancer,” and like physical cancer, it grows silently within the body long before its presence is ever felt. In the same way, there are many who would call themselves Christians and would revolt in horror at the Nickelodeon video above yet who fail to see that their own pride has paved the way for these blatant displays. Such cultural Christians, who assume biblical values without actually valuing the Bible, blissfully convert biblical Christianity into the religion of self, which is what secularism boils down to in the end. Or in the language of the Bible, they are defined by worldliness rather than godliness. Pointedly this has led to movements like the Word of Faith, in which self-revelation supersedes Scripture.
Indeed, that is the very root of the matter. Proverbs 3 begins by saying, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments” (v. 1). The author, presumably Solomon, is quite aware that he was writing these words, that he was scripting them. He is, therefore, calling our attention to the very source of wisdom: the Scriptures.
The humble do, in fact, remember God’s teaching and keep His commandments in their heart, and God gives them favor. He showers them with grace enough to cover their failures to keep the commandments with the imputed righteousness of His own Son.
The proud, however, scorn God’s Word. They mock it as antiquated and a relic. They set themselves against the Creator and proclaim themselves to be the arbiters of reality. The Judge of all the earth will, therefore, rightly be scornful to them in return.
May we look upon the blatant ways that our society scorns God’s Word and humbly repent of even the subtler ways that we also scorn Him, that we may receive favor from His hand rather than the scorn that we rightly deserve.