New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Pro 3:1 My son, don’t forget my teaching but let your heart keep my commandments-
David so often talks about God's "law", using the word torah. But Solomon so often speaks of his own torah, and that of his wife, the mother of "my son" (s.w. Prov. 1:8; 3:1; 4:2; 6:20; 7:2; 13:14; 31:26). Yet elsewhere in the Bible, the well over 200 occurrences of torah are always about God's law. Solomon applies the word to his own teachings and that of his wife, and thereby plays God. whilst it could be argued that Solomon's teachings were Divinely inspired, all the same he ought surely to have spoken of them as God's torah rather than his own torah. This kind of playing God is seen so often in the teachers of God's people.

Pro 3:2 for length of days and years of life, and peace, will they add to you-
Length of days was promised for obedience to the covenant, but Solomon appropriates this language to the reward for obedience to his book of Proverbs. He appears to effectively replace God's word with his own words, although his words were indeed Divinely inspired. But he came to ignore the rest of God's revelation, with the result that he was absolutely disobedient to the Mosaic words about not multiplying horses, marrying foreign wives etc. See on :3.

Pro 3:3 Don’t let grace and truth forsake you-
David saw "mercy [s.w. "grace"] and truth" as something given by God's grace to him, an unworthy sinner (Ps. 40:11); whereas Solomon assumes that they are with him and his son. The phrase often refers to God's covenant promises with David; and we note this is particularly addressed to Solomon's son. Solomon perceived the conditionality of the promises when it came to his son; but refused to perceive this concerning himself.

Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart-
The idea is that devotion to the covenant should be externally visible as well as in the heart. But the New Testament emphasizes that it is God who writes upon the table of the human heart by His Spirit (2 Cor. 3:3). Solomon assumes that by intellectual effort, man can do this to himself. There could be the implication that Solomon considered that his Proverbs had now replaced the tables of the covenant; the same word is used. See on :1,2.

Pro 3:4 So you will find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man-
Quoted in Lk. 2:52 about the Lord Jesus, who fulfilled all the advice to the "son" who is addressed in this part of Proverbs.

Pro 3:5 Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding-
Trust in God is indeed predicated upon some form of "understanding", although not necessarily of the abstract, academic type which Solomon had in view. Trusting and leaning are parallel; to trust in Yahweh requires "understanding" of Him. For faith must have some basis, there are things which need to be believed before "faith" can be faith. Thus David predicates "trust" (s.w.) upon knowing Yahweh's Name, His character (Ps. 9:10). But David's "trust" in God was connected with his trust or belief in God's mercy to him regarding his sins (Ps. 13:5; 21:7; 32:10 s.w.). But Solomon doesn't seem to have had any conscience of personal sin, and so trust in the Yahweh whose lead characteristic is grace and forgiveness was not elicited within him.   

LXX "be not exalted in thine own wisdom" is precisely what Solomon did; he disobeyed his own teaching. Just as he did regarding marrying Gentiles.

Pro 3:6 In all your ways acknowledge Him-
Relationship with God is to affect all our ways, not merely some of them; just as the regulations concerning offerings required that every part of the animal [representative of the offerer] be given to Him. 

And He will make your paths straight-
We must ‘rightly divide’, or cut straight, the word of truth in our preaching of it (2 Tim. 2:15). The LXX uses the same word in Prov. 3:6: “He will make straight your paths”. We are to offer people a clear, straight way to the Kingdom; to span that gulf between the word of God and the mind of man. And this is why simple, direct preaching of Gospel truths is always the most successful.

Pro 3:7 Don’t be wise in your own eyes. Fear Yahweh, and depart from evil-
Not being 'wise in our own eyes' is a major theme of Solomon's Proverbs (Prov. 3:7; 12:15; 26:12,16; 28:11). We are to recognize that there is no inherent wisdom in man; it must be taught to us from God's word. And yet we live in a postmodern world, where what seems or feels good to our own gut is taken to be the highest personal truth. This was what led Judah to condemnation (s.w. Is. 5:21), because trusting in their own opinions and gut feelings left them insensitive to God's word. Paul quotes the idea in Rom. 12:16; to be wise in our own eyes means that we ignore those whom we naturally consider worthy of being ignored. But that is not necessarily the way of the Spirit. But when Solomon lost his faith, he comments that whether a man has wise eyes or not (s.w.) is irrelevant in the face of death (Ecc. 2:14). He clearly conceived wisdom as only helpful for this life; he had no real personal faith in the resurrection of the dead or the establishment of the future Kingdom of God. And this led him to ultimately despise his own wisdom as futile.   

Pro 3:8 It will be health to your body, and nourishment to your bones-
Solomon may have the idea here that there will be literal blessings to our health if God's laws are obeyed; and that may also be hinted at in Ex. 15:26; Dt. 7:15. But true as this may have been in a way under the old covenant, this fails to appreciate that bad things have always happened to good people. Material blessings and lack of trials simply haven't been the consistent experience of God's people; for none have been completely righteous. But Solomon had a black and white view of things, and his own apparent good health made him incline the more towards it.  

Pro 3:9 Honour Yahweh with your substance, with the first fruits of all your increase-
This is true enough, but Solomon has a subtext it seems. He was obsessed with building the temple, and as the Israelites had 'honoured Yahweh with their substance' in their contributions towards making the tabernacle, so they were asked to do so for the building of the temple. The firstfruits were to be given to the priests for them to live off, but perhaps Solomon is implying they should be given to the king to help the building of the temple. In this case he would be subtly changing the Mosaic law to his own advantage.

Pro 3:10 so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine-
As noted on :8, this may be true in the sense that the old covenant promised such blessings. But spiritual reality is far more nuanced than that. The Lord told a parable of the unbelieving Jew whose barns were so filled with plenty that he had to build greater barns (Lk. 12:18). But this was not due to his honouring Yahweh as required (:9). Perhaps this was the Lord's way of pointing out that things simply aren't as black and white as Solomon was perhaps suggesting. 

Pro 3:11 My son, don’t despise Yahweh’s discipline, neither be weary of His reproof-
Proverbs is a book full of Solomon's reproof of others. And yet he veers towards playing God, by equating his reproofs with those of Yahweh. What he said was indeed Divinely inspired, but his later apostasy had its roots in this kind of playing God. Yet these words are true, and quoted in Hebrews as encouragement to every true child of God (Heb. 12:5,6). Indeed Solomon is quoting here from Job 5:17. Those were the words of Eliphaz, who said many things which were untrue. We have here an insight into the nature of Divine inspiration. The Bible is indeed wholly inspired as a record of the words and deeds of men; but there is a difference between inspiration of the record, and revelation- in the sense of a "Thus says the Lord". Not all that Eliphaz said was true, and he is rebuked by God for not speaking rightly at the end of the book. But this particular observation was true enough, and given to Solomon as inspired wisdom from God, and likewise quoted under inspiration in Hebrews.

Pro 3:12 for whom Yahweh loves, He reproves; even as a father reproves the son in whom he delights-
This is true, and is quoted as true in Hebrews. But Solomon was 'the one whom Yahweh loves' (2 Sam. 12:24; the same words are used), and there is a subtext here of self justification. Solomon therefore considers himself the son of God in whom God supremely delighted. He uses a Hebrew for "reproves" which can also means "justifies". It is perhaps in commentary upon Solomon's mistaken ideas about himself that Messiah is called the one whom Yahweh loves (Is. 48:14), the one in whom He supremely delighted (Is. 42:1). David perceived that Yahweh's delight is in those who hope for His mercy and grace after they have sinned (Ps. 147:11); but Solomon seems to have known nothing of personal sin and the receipt of grace upon forgiveness.

Pro 3:13 Happy is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gets understanding-
This is true on one level, but it is a simplistic position. The same words are used in the book of Job for how wisdom in its ultimate sense cannot be "found", but rather must be taught and given by the experience of God's grace through affliction (Job 28:12; 32:13). Solomon often alludes to the book of Job (see on :15), yet he chooses to disregard this. Again Solomon is assuming that there exists "wisdom" as in a set of absolute truth which is attainable by God's people if they listen to the right teachers and intellectually master the system. This is an attitude found in many fundamentalist Christians. 

Pro 3:14 For her good profit is better than getting silver, and her return is better than fine gold-
This is true, but Solomon is again hinting at his own justification; for God had commended him for not seeking wealth but wisdom. And yet he seems to relish the fact that God added wealth to him despite not asking for it; for he teaches in :16 that wisdom gives wealth. But the wealth given to Solomon was by pure Divine grace; and yet he sees it rather as an outcome of his own wisdom.

Pro 3:15 She is more precious than rubies. None of the things you can desire are to be compared to her-
The words of Job 28:18 are repeatedly quoted in Proverbs (Prov. 3:15; 8:11; 20:15). "Wisdom" in Proverbs refers not so much to nuggets of isolated truth, but to a way of life in relationship with God; for that is the context in the source passage in Job 28:18 cp. 28. I noted on :13 that although Solomon was clearly aware of Job 28, he chose to only quote what was appealing to him, and ignores that which is inconvenient to his agendas.

Pro 3:16 Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand are riches and honour-
Length of days was offered as a gift from God in the old covenant; but in return for not having a heart which turned aside to idols (Dt. 30:17,20). Solomon seems to imply that this "length of days" comes instead from merely possessing "wisdom". And because of this, his heart did indeed turn away to idols. Solomon has just said that wisdom is far better than riches (see on :14), but now he claims that wisdom gives wealth. It doesn't, and the Bible is clear enough about that. In his case, his choice of wisdom over wealth led to God blessing him with wealth, but by His grace alone. Solomon seems to wrongly extrapolate from his own experience to a more general principle which is wrong. He saw his wealth as due to his wisdom, rather than due to God's grace; and he ends up wrongly implying that the path to wealth is through loving wisdom.

Pro 3:17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, all her paths are peace-
Again, Solomon presents a simplistic view. For the lives of those who follow God are rarely those of idyllic peace. The seed of the woman and that of the serpent are ever in conflict. He fails to appreciate that final peace is only possible in God's future Kingdom, rather than solely by following his rule book as presented in the book of Proverbs.

Pro 3:18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her. Happy is each one who retains her-
The way to the tree of life is what we are currently travelling. But Eden is not yet restored. Again, whilst Solomon's words are true as far as they go, they imply a lack of faith and understanding of the future Kingdom of God. He liked to think that he was the Messianic ruler of Ps. 72, as his father had unwisely enthused and fantasized about.

Pro 3:19 By wisdom Yahweh founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens-
Here and in :20 we have more allusions to the book of Job. This and the Pentateuch were likely the only scriptures possessed by him and his father. As David often alludes to Job, so does Solomon; and we suspect that in this we see a living out of parental expectation, a worshipping of the dominant father figure, rather than personal faith. It was by God's word that the earth was created (Ps. 33:6), but Solomon says it was by wisdom. This is also true (Jer. 10:12), but by "wisdom" Solomon appears to have in view specifically the wisdom he is teaching in this book. And thus he makes his Proverbs effectively the entire word of God, when they are only part of His total revelation. Solomon alludes to the book of Job, but not to those parts which don't quite fit with his simplistic views. For Job 38:4 leaves Job humbled that he doesn't in fact know anything about the founding of the earth, neither does he have such "understanding". But Solomon is saying that the same Divine understanding which was the blueprint for creation is in fact in us all if we accept the wisdom and understanding of the book of Proverbs. This is only partially true; man's lack of understanding and wisdom is a feature of Job, but is not at all reflected in Solomon's thinking.

Pro 3:20 By His knowledge the depths were broken up and the skies drop down the dew-
See on :19. Solomon will go on to now claim that this same knowledge is within us (:21). His claims to hold absolute truth lead him to minimize the wonder of creation, rather than being humbled by it as were David and Job. The breaking up of the depths is the phrase used about the flood (Gen. 7:11). Solomon seems to be saying that we can have the same knowledge as God in judging others; and this is inappropriate for us as fellow sinners who are not to condemn others.   

Pro 3:21 My son, let them not depart from your eyes. Keep sound wisdom and discretion-
See on :19,20. Prov. 4:21 develops this thought, interpreting the eyes as the heart: "Let them not depart from your eyes. Keep them in the midst of your heart". "Discretion" really means plans or intentions. Our entire mindset, intentions, dreams, hopes are to be dominated by wisdom. This is the essence of the spiritual life; to be spiritually minded. But we live in an age which like no others seeks to dominate our thinking with unspiritual things. 

Pro 3:22 so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck-
The idea is perhaps that what we think internally within our "soul" will be displayed outwardly as well, like a chain around our neck; see on Prov. 1:9. True spirituality is not just a matter of the mind; it will be outwardly revealed. A city set on a hill cannot be hid; there is to always be some external manifestation of our inward faith and belief. Yet Solomon reasons as if the mere possession of truth is what will adorn us before God. But it is personalization of the wisdom, not mere possession of it, which is required. And Solomon was a stellar example of failure in this. It was rulers who had chains around their necks, and Solomon has himself obliquely in view here; and he considers that the fact he was taught truth by his parents qualifies himself as king. That is not altogether untrue, but his personal example shows that it was not the right attitude.

Pro 3:23 Then you shall walk in your way securely; your foot won’t stumble-
The idea is taken from Ps. 91:12, where the Angels "will bear you up in their hands, so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone". The same words are used. The potential for Joshua is true for us all. "Guard" is the same word used in Gen. 3:24, and thus alludes to the Angels keeping  men in the way to the tree of life- not only physically but spiritually preserving them. The figure of dashing the foot against a stone suggests the idea of spiritual stumbling against a "rock of offence" or stumblingstone (s.w. Jer. 13:16, of how the exiles refused this potential help and did stumble). The Angels bore up the Lord Jesus (to whom Ps. 91:12 refers) to help Him avoid these. But only because He Himself wished for that strength, and avoided the temptation He faced to abuse it and wrongly use it.

Pro 3:24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet-
This repeats the theme of many Psalms of David his father when under persecution. But David attributed this to his faith in God's grace and sustenance (Ps. 3:5); whereas Solomon appears to attribute it to the mere possession of wisdom, rather than personal faith. 

Pro 3:25 Don’t be afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked when it comes-
Again, this is true but only to an extent. "Sudden fear" is a phrase only used about the experience of Job (Job 22:10). He was a righteous man, yet afflicted with "sudden fear". Solomon presents a too simplistic view, whereby the righteous live a charmed life of every blessing. And he seems to think that the mere possession of wisdom frees us from any fear of condemnation, the "desolation of the wicked" which is to come. It was this which led Solomon to fail so badly; he had no sense of the conditionality of his relationship with God, no sense of the eternal future he might miss.  

Pro 3:26 for Yahweh will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being taken-
Solomon's prophetic sonship of David was conditional upon him preserving or observing Yahweh's ways (1 Kings 2:4; 1 Chron. 22:13; 2 Chron. 7:17); but he didn't preserve of observe them (1 Kings 11:10,11); despite David praying that Solomon would be given a heart to observe them (1 Chron. 29:19). We can pray for God to work upon the hearts of others, but He will not force people against their own deepest will and heart position. Solomon stresses overmuch how God would keep or preserve the righteous (Prov. 2:8; 3:26), without recognizing the conditional aspect of this. Why did Solomon go wrong? His Proverbs are true enough, but he stresses that obedience to his wisdom and teaching would preserve his hearers (Prov. 4:4; 6:22; 7:1; 8:32; 15:5), preservation was through following the example of the wise (Prov. 2:20); rather than stressing obedience to God's ways, and replacing David his father's simple love of God with a love of academic wisdom: "Yahweh preserves all those who love Him" (Ps. 145:20).

Pro 3:27 Don’t withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in the power of your hand to do it-
This is a powerful, incisive challenge to us in our approach to generosity. But again we note how Solomon fences it with the comment "to whom it is due". He sees generosity as predicated upon the worthiness of the recipient. Grace doesn't think like that. He may have in view the payment of wages (Dt. 24:15).

Pro 3:28 Don’t say to your neighbour, Go, and come again; tomorrow I will give it to you, when you have it by you-
There is a tendency in human nature to play for time, to not say "Yes straight away" to the calls of Divinely inspired conscience. We see throughout scripture the theme of immediate response, not least in the immediate baptisms of those who heard the Gospel in the Acts of the Apostles. Our nature is the source of our temptations, and there is always the voice of the flesh which urges us to perform our devotions tomorrow and not today. The LXX adds "For thou knowest not what the morrow may bring forth". We may not have the opportunity tomorrow, so, do it today; but that only makes sense if we are possessed of a basic desire to be generous. Solomon may here be interpreting further Dt. 24:15. In this case, paying a worker on time is a form of doing good (:27). 

Pro 3:29 Don’t devise evil against your neighbour, since he dwells securely by you-
"Devise" is literally to plough (as Prov. 6:14). The idea is that bad attitudes to others are a sowing of sin (Prov. 22:8). Solomon so often has a subtext of justifying his father David and his own rulership, seeing there were initially other contenders for the throne. Many of those pretensions to David's throne arose from the fact that David's "neighbour" did "evil" to him by taking his wives at the time of Absalom's rebellion (s.w. 2 Sam. 12:11). This "evil" was brought about by God, and yet Solomon condemns those who did it. That may be fair enough, but again we have to note that David is ever seeking to whitewash David and Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, regarding their sin.

Pro 3:30 Don’t strive with a man without cause if he has done you no harm-
To strive or plead a cause is the very phrase used of the opposition of Saul (1 Sam. 24:15) and Nabal to David (1 Sam. 25:39); and in both cases, David had done them "no harm", the phrase used of David's innocence before Nabal (1 Sam. 25:21,28) and Saul (1 Sam. 24:11). Clearly Solomon has these incidents in view, and again his statements of truth have a subtext of justifying his father David, with whom he was psychologically obsessed.

Pro 3:31 Don’t envy the man of violence; choose none of his ways-
David had calmly urged not to be envious of the wicked (s.w. Ps. 37:1), but he himself almost failed in this (Ps. 73:3 s.w.). We can profess clearly how much we are not envious of others; and then find ourselves like David, caught in a pang of crisis when we wonder why our lives cannot be like those of the world around us. Solomon simplistically commanded not to be envious of the wicked, drawing a simple contrast between the wicked, and the righteous who are not envious of them (Prov. 3:31; 23:17; 24:1,19 s.w.). But this is not how it was in reality with his father David, who admits to almost having given in to envy of the wicked (Ps. 73:3) despite his earlier simplistic condemnation of such envy (Ps. 37:1), and was only saved from that by God's gracious action on his heart (Ps. 73:2). Solomon's proverbs seem to fail to address this complexity of situations because of his own self-righteousness; and yet all he says is inspired and true so far as it goes.

Pro 3:32 For the perverse person is an abomination to Yahweh, but His friendship is with the upright-
The Hebrew for "perverse" is literally 'the one who turns aside', implying they were once on the right path but had left it. It would seem that Solomon has in view the house of Saul, who were potential contenders for his throne. "Friendship" is AV "secret", a term sometimes used of God's revealed word (Am. 3:7; Job 15:8; Jer. 23:18,22). In this case, Solomon is again veering towards saying that mere possession of God's word of truth is what makes people "upright".

Pro 3:33 Yahweh’s curse is in the house of the wicked, but He blesses the habitation of the righteous-
Here as in Prov. 14:11, Solomon again fails to have the subtlety he ought to have learnt from the book of Job. For Job was righteous but his "house" was overthrown, and the house of the wicked apparently prospered at the time of his affliction. Spiritual reality is that things are far more nuanced than the simplistic picture Solomon presents, true as it is in outline and ultimate terms. 

Pro 3:34 Surely He mocks the mockers-
But this is not quite how God is, even to those who are against Him. Solomon should again have learned the lesson of Job, who was taught that "God despises not any" (Job 36:5).

But He gives grace to the humble-
This is quoted in James 4:5; 1 Pet. 5:5. But the quotation follows the LXX, which appears to correct Solomon's incorrect statement in the first half of the verse. God "resists the proud", but not with the mockery which Solomon's arrogance liked to impute to God.

Pro 3:35 The wise will inherit glory, but shame will be the promotion of fools
David had called Solomon a "wise man", and indeed he was made wise by God (s.w. 1 Kings 2:9; 3:12; 5:7). But the logic of what Solomon seems to be saying is that the possession of wisdom makes a man obedient. And this is where he got it wrong; for his mere possession of wisdom didn't do so. And comparing Proverbs with Solomon's personal life as revealed in Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and the historical records- all indicates that in fact Solomon's possession of wisdom didn't at all make him obedient. Solomon failed to appreciate what David did- that the wise man also dies (Ps. 49:10). What is critical is having the hope of God's Kingdom and the resurrection of the body. But Solomon's possession of "truth" blinded him to this desperate need of all men. The mere possession of wisdom was no guarantee of itself of inheriting glory, as Solomon wrongly thought.