Proverbs 3
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:
1. law] or, teaching, R.V. marg. This is the primary meaning of the Heb. word Torah (see Proverbs 1:8 note, Proverbs 4:2, Proverbs 7:2), which is the common designation of the Law, in its Biblical sense.

Fourth Address. Chap. Proverbs 3:1-10Be obedient to my instruction, so shalt thou live long and prosper (Proverbs 3:1-4). Trust, not in thyself, but in God (Proverbs 3:5). Seek His direction (Proverbs 3:5-8): render Him His due (Proverbs 3:9-10): and (see Proverbs 3:12, note) submit to His fatherly correction (Proverbs 3:11-12).

For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.
2. long life] Rather, with A.V. marg. and R.V. text, years of life. There is perhaps a climax; not only length of days, prolonged existence, but years of life truly so-called, life worth living. The distinction is at least suggested by the use of βίος in the first clause and ζωή in the second by the LXX. μῆκος βίου, ἔτη ζωῆς: not alone vita quam vivimus, but vita quâ vivimus.

peace] This word, meaning literally wholeness, completeness, contains implicitly and is gradually developed into its full Biblical sense: “the greatest blessing, even peace, a blessing which no man is able to afford,” Philo quoted by Bp Westcott on St John 14:17. Comp. Php 4:7.

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:
3. mercy and truth] The phrase is often used to represent the character of Almighty God as exhibited in His dealings with men (Genesis 24:17; Genesis 32:11; Exodus 34:6; Psalm 25:10). Hence it comes to represent the perfection of moral character in man (Proverbs 16:6, Proverbs 20:28).

bind them … write them] Cultivate alike their outward exhibition “about thy neck,” and their inward possession upon the table of thine heart. Let them be in thee at once attractive and genuine. (Comp. Proverbs 7:3; 2 Corinthians 3:2-3; 1 Peter 3:3-4).

So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.
4. favour and good understanding] Your character will conciliate for you by its two great elements of mercy and truth, the two corresponding tributes of good-will and respect. (Comp. 1 Samuel 2:26; Luke 2:52.)

To find good understanding in the sight of anyone (A.V. and R.V. text), i.e. to be regarded by him as prudent and intelligent, gives a satisfactory sense, without having recourse to the other renderings, good success (A.V. marg.); good repute (R.V. marg.); care or consideration (Maurer, who compares Psalm 41:1 [Hebrews 2], where the same Heb. word is rendered considereth). We are told in this Book that good understanding giveth (or getteth) favour, Proverbs 13:15.

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
5. unto] Rather, upon, R.V. The confidence is to be complete both in degree and in extent: “with all thy heart,” “in all thy ways.” This teaching of trust in God, “anticipates,” as the Speaker’s Commentary points out, the doctrine of faith. Fides est fiducia.

In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
6. direct] Or, make straight or plain, R.V. marg. Comp. Proverbs 11:5, ἵνα ὀρθοτομῇ, LXX.; diriget, Vulg.

Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
7. The first clause of this verse in the rendering of the LXX., φρόνιμος παρὰ σεαυτῷ, is quoted by St Paul, Romans 12:16.

It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
8. health] By an eternal law the moral condition and the physical are linked together; the mens sana promotes the corpus sanum.

“Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is.” 1 Timothy 4:8.

to thy navel] So R.V. The LXX. give to thy body, τῷ σώματί σου (comp. Proverbs 4:22), reading, as Ewald conjectures, a Heb. word which differs by a single letter (which has dropped out) from our present Heb. text Their rendering, however, may be only a free translation, of the nature of a gloss, of the Heb. as it now stands.

marrow] Lit. moistening. Vulg. irrigatio. The moisture and freshness of a healthy and well-nourished body are indicated. Comp. “The marrow of his bones is moistened,” Job 21:24, R.V., and for the contrary effect of disease and suffering, Job 30:30; Psalm 102:3.

Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:
9. substance … increase] Perhaps (as Speaker’s Comm.) capital, and revenue. It is interesting that (as there pointed out) the LXX. qualify both words, by restricting them to “righteous,” well-gotten wealth: ἀπὸ σῶν δικαίων πόνωνἀπὸ σῶν καρπῶν δικαιοσύνης. Restitution is the true consecration of unrighteous gain, Luke 19:8.

So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
10. presses shall burst out] Rather, fats shall overflow, R.V. “The wine-press of the Jews consisted of two receptacles or vats placed at different elevations, in the upper one of which the grapes were trodden, while the lower one received the expressed juice. The two vats are mentioned together only in Joel 3:13, ‘The press (gath) is full, the vats (yekebim) overflow,’ the upper vat being full of fruit, the lower one overflowing with the must. Yekeb is similarly applied in Joel 2:24, and probably in Proverbs 3:10, where the verb rendered burst out in the A.V. may bear the more general sense of abound.” Smith’s Dict. of Bible, Art. Wine-press.

My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction:
Fifth Address. Chap. 3. Proverbs 3:11-20

11, 12. This short paragraph is at once in contrast and in harmony, with what precedes and follows it. It states the contrast that it may introduce the harmony. The pathway of wisdom, so the rest of the chapter insists, is the pathway of temporal prosperity. But the experience of life proves that there is another side to the truth. There is, these verses say, a contradictory side, but it is so in appearance not in reality; for to the childlike follower of wisdom the apparent exceptions and contradictions are but as passing discords and minor strains that lend force and sweetness to the overmastering harmony of love.

Christian teaching itself has no better solution than this to give of the mystery of suffering. See Hebrews 12:3-13.

For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
12. even as a father &c.] The LXX. (reading the same Heb. consonants with different vowels) renders this clause, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth, which is followed in Hebrews 12:6.

The R.V., guided perhaps by the direct address, “My son,” Proverbs 3:11, begins the fresh paragraph there. The thought will then be: Wisdom has been commended to you by the happiness it brings (Proverbs 3:1-10); but if you have to suffer in the pursuit of it, be not discouraged (Proverbs 3:11-12); for it is worth the cost (Proverbs 3:13-20). The argument is in reality continuous, however the paragraphs are arranged.

Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
13. getteth] Lit. draweth forth, or out, R.V. and A.V. marg. The word occurs again Proverbs 8:35, Proverbs 12:2, Proverbs 18:22, in all which places the source of supply is expressed: obtaineth (lit. draweth forth) favour from Jehovah.

For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
14. the merchandise of it] Comp. Matthew 13:45-46, where this proverb is expanded into a parable. The same idea of trading in the moral and spiritual sphere occurs in Proverbs 11:19, Proverbs 23:23; Job 28:15-19.

She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
15. rubies] This rendering is retained in R.V. text, with a reference to Job 28:18, where the alternative is given in the marg. of red coral, or pearls. The expression “more ruddy” (which those, however, who render “pearls,” take to mean “more bright”), Lamentations 4:7, would seem to confine our choice to rubies or red coral. The word occurs frequently in this Book (Proverbs 8:11, Proverbs 20:15, Proverbs 31:10). The LXX. evade the difficulty with λίθων πολυτελῶν, precious stones, and the Vulg. follows suit with cunctis opibus. See note in this Series on Lamentations 4:7, and Smith’s Dict. of Bible, Art. Rubies.

all the things … are not] This is the Hebrew way of saying, none of the things … are; and so it is rendered in R.V. Another example occurs in Psalm 25:3, where the P.B.V. preserves the Heb. idiom, and A.V. and R.V. give the corresponding English form of expression.

Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.
16. The LXX. add at the end of this verse:

“Out of her mouth proceedeth righteousness;

Instruction and compassion she beareth upon her tongue.”

Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.
18. a tree of life] The tree of life, Genesis 2, 3 is referred to again in this Book (Proverbs 11:30, Proverbs 13:12, Proverbs 15:4), and only besides in the Bible in Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a tree of death: “in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” The tree of Wisdom is a tree of life.

Proverbs 3:19-20. And the wisdom which is thus profitable to man, is none other than that by which God erected the firm fabric of earth and heaven, and furnished it with such storehouses of force and fertility, as “the waters that are under, and the waters that are above the firmament.”

In our present Hebrew text a new paragraph begins here, and here only in this chapter. But, as has been said, the argument is in reality continuous throughout.

The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.
By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.
20. are] Rather, were broken up, R.V. The reference is to Genesis 7:2, where the same Heb. word is used: “all the foundations of the great deep were broken up.”

The two clauses of the verse give two typical examples: alike, when the pent-up forces of nature burst forth occasionally in their resistless might, and when her gentler agencies exert continually their beneficent influence, the wisdom of God is working.

My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion:
Sixth Address. Chap. 3. Proverbs 3:21-35

21. let not them] The reference may be to the “sound wisdom and discretion” of the following clause; but it is better perhaps to understand by “them” the precepts already given. The reading of the LXX., μὴ παραρυῇς, is interesting in connection with παραρυῶμεν, Hebrews 2:1, where see notes in this Series and in Dean Vaughan’s Commentary.

So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.
Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.
23. thy foot shall not stumble] Lit. thou shalt not dash thy foot, R.V. margin. Comp. Psalm 91:12, where “against a stone” is added.

When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.
Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.
25. Be not afraid] Dean Plumptre (Speaker’s Comm.) points out that, “under the form of this strong prohibition there is of course an equally strong promise,” so that these two verses add yet another to the advantages to be gained from Wisdom: it confers both strength and beauty (Proverbs 3:22); it preserves alike in action and in repose (Proverbs 3:23-24); it is equal to every emergency of life (Proverbs 3:25-26).

desolation] or, storm, R.V. marg.

of the wicked] This may mean, brought upon thee by the wicked. So Maurer, who compares, “rescue my soul from their destructions.” Psalm 35:17; and Vulg. irruentes tibi potentias impiorum. But it is perhaps better to understand it of the desolation or storm which comes upon the wicked. Comp. Psalm 91:8.

Proverbs 3:27-35. There is a marked change of style in these verses, and they are regarded by Maurer (who describes them as singularia aliqua prœcepta) and others as a separate section. The continuous address is exchanged for the concise sentences or “proverbs,” which form the bulk of the Book.

For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.
Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.
27. them to whom it is due] Lit. the lords, or owners thereof, as A.V. marg. This may be either a precept of honesty, pay your just debts; or of benevolence, you are a steward and your wealth belongs not to you but to the poor and needy, for whose benefit you hold it. Comp. 1 Peter 4:10. So LXX. μὴ ἀπόσχῃ εὖ ποιεῖν ἐνδεῆ; and the Vulg. benefacere.

Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.
28. Give (Proverbs 3:27); and not only so, but give promptly. We may compare Seneca’s saying, “ingratum est beneficium, quod diu inter manus dantis hæsit; nam qui tarde fecit, diu noluit.”

Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee.
Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.
Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.
31. Envy thou not] The temporal rewards of wisdom, health (Proverbs 3:8), long life (Proverbs 3:16), riches and honour (ib.), as they may be withheld from thee (Proverbs 3:11-12), so may they be surpassed by the prosperity of the wicked; but let not the comparison of thy lot with his move thee to envy, for the true reward of wisdom is higher and surer (Proverbs 3:32-35). Psalms 73. illustrates these verses.

oppressor] Lit. man of violence, R.V.

For the froward is abomination to the LORD: but his secret is with the righteous.
32. his secret] i.e., as R.V. margin explains, his counsel (Genesis 18:17), or his friendship (Exodus 33:11). Comp. Psalm 25:14 (and note there in this Series); John 15:15.

The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.
Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.
34. Surely … but] Or, Though … yet, R.V. margin. For the thought comp. James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5.

scorners] See Proverbs 1:22, note.

The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.
35. the promotion] There is force and irony in this rendering, which is retained in R.V. text, whereas the alternative of R.V. margin, fools carry away shame, though it may be thought to preserve the parallelism better, is insipid. Their glory is even now (Php 3:19), and in the day when all things become real shall be seen to be, their shame.

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