William Kelly Major Works Commentary
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:Proverbs Chapter 3
The opening chapters set out moral wisdom in the fear of Jehovah as the true and sure preservative in a world of self-will and its evils of violence and corruption. Redemption is not introduced any more than a new nature, but the duty primarily for the Israelite of subjection to divine instruction, with the consequent establishment in the land when the wicked perish out of it.
In verses 1-4 there is still more ample exhortation as well as admonition, that the discipline might issue in the happiest and most fruitful results.
"My son, forget not my teaching, but let thy heart keep my commandments: for length of days and years of life and peace shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the tablet of thy heart; and thou shalt find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man." vv. 1-4.
We thus learn how far the Old Testament was from casting the people of God on the sentiments, emotions, or reasonings of their own hearts. It was but an imperfect, or at least partial, revelation. "For the law made nothing perfect." The first man was under process of trial; the Second had not yet appeared. There were dealings of God and testings of man; revelations from God, but not yet God revealed. For the Son of God had not come nor given us an understanding that we might know Him that is True.
Yet even in the days when faith waited for its Object and His work, and the best blessing then lay in promise, the heart was formed by the positive teaching afforded, and trained in the observance of commandments which came from God. They might come through a parent; and such no doubt was the due order in Israel, as it has been marked from their father Abraham, as Jehovah deigned to express His pleasure in his commanding his children and his household, that they might keep the way of Jehovah, to do justice and judgment. But what gave divine value was that it was His teaching, and that the commandments enjoined were His. This alone sanctifies - obeying God, obeying His Word, the effect and proof of love, when any are in relationship with God. Nor do we forget but remember what we love and value.
So the Lord puts it in His matchless way to His disciples. "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself unto him." John 14:21. What a contrast with dark superstition, forbidden to have His commandments through fear of making an ill use of them, and shut up to a sinful director, and to its tradition nobody knows whence, both human and precarious at best! What a contrast with the yet darker sin, which denies the authority of God to every scripture, and thereby would deprive His words of spirit and life!
Even a Jew was not so bereft of blessing. He was called not to forget what he had been taught, and his heart to observe commandments which were Jehovah's only through Moses or any other that communicated them. What a blessed picture Luke 2 sets before us of the Lord, thus obedient in the early days of His sojourn, subject to Joseph and Mary in Nazareth, yet conscious of a higher relationship and so occupied with His Father's things! And blessed were the fruits. Even then truly, as He said afterward, He kept His Father's commandments and abode in His love. So here it is written for the obedient Israelites, "length of days, and long life, and peace shall they add to thee."
But this is far from all. As we know that "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ," the Israelite was exhorted to cherish confidence in mercy, or loving-kindness, and truth. Let them "not forsake thee," is the word. He was entitled to believe and count on them habitually and evermore. "Bind them about thy neck, write them upon the tablet of thy heart." What ornament can compare with them? What inward lesson so cheering and invigorating! "And thou shalt find favour and good understanding [if this last be the shade of sense here meant] in the sight of God and man."
So we see in our perfect pattern. Our Lord assuredly found in His unequalled path of subjection "favour" with God and man, as we are told. Whether the word often rendered "good understanding" is not modified here, as sometimes elsewhere, may be questioned. But as it stands, it was a good and welcome stamp of divine approval through devotedness to God's will, without either self-seeking or men-pleasing. Happy, when as here, it comes as the answer without as well as on high, to grace and truth written on the heart! Now too one word, Christ, expresses all; and the Spirit of the living God is given to us who believe, that He may be written truly and deeply on those tablets of flesh, our hearts. How rich the grace wherein we stand! For we all, contemplating with unveiled face the glory of the Lord, are being changed into the same image from glory to glory as by the Lord the Spirit.
Confidence in God, and in the relationship He forms for us with Him, is the fruit of faith. It is the next call here, and it is found ever the sure answer of His grace. It ought to be still more easy for the Christian, seeing that how many soever be the promises of God, in Christ is the Yea; wherefore also through Him is the Amen unto the glory of God through us. This is just as it should be for the saints passing through a wilderness world. If all were fulfilled in us, the changed state of glorification would be incompatible with the needed trial. But that they are fulfilled in Him, that in Him is the Yea, is the ground of peace and joy and comfort; and victory for us is exactly what the God of all grace meant that we should have in the fullest measure by the Holy Ghost given to us. For we have in Christ's redemption the remission of our sins, and only await His coming for adoption, the redemption of our bodies, having already the Spirit of the Son sent into our hearts crying, Abba, Father. What a power of deliverance from leaning upon our own understanding!
"Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, and lean not unto thine own discernment; in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall make straight thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes; fear Jehovah, and depart from evil; it shall be health for thy navel, and moisture for thy bones." vv. 5-8.
Worthily does the chapter open with the call to trust in Jehovah. As He, He only, is God, so was He the God of the fathers, the God of Israel. How blessed for the Israelite that he had Him to trust in! that He even demanded his trust! He was in no way exhorted to trust himself. He was but a creature whose breath is in his nostrils; what is he to be accounted of? It was wise to have done with man to lean on, wiser still to trust in Jehovah. Yes, He was and is the eternal God, merciful, gracious, slow to wrath, great in goodness and truth, keeping His goodness to thousands of generations, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin, yet holding no guilty one as innocent, but visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the sons and on the sons of sons, on the third and on the fourth generation. Not that this is His language to the Christian or the Church, but just His declaration of Himself to Moses the mediator for Israel, that they should know His governing character and principles.
Yes, it was good and right to trust in Jehovah with all the heart, and to lean not on one's own discernment, as the tempter always advises to ruin, sorrow, and shame. This is the divine counsel for the heart. But the Israelite needed also to "acknowledge Him" in all his ways. And the heart if loyal would prompt to honour Him thus. For practical inconsistency is a burden to the upright; and it is due to Jehovah to own Him where He is apt to be ignored or forgotten in each detail of walk, and in them all. Nor was it even without present fruit, for He could not be unmindful, who never slumbers or sleeps. "And He shall make straight thy paths." He is Lord of all, no less than He is the Eternal, and concerns Himself with every obstacle and difficulty for such as would walk unswervingly according to His will.
The great danger for all, though for some of thought and experience more than others, is to seek counsel from within. Yet experience should have taught the reflecting a less flattering tale. All Scripture re-echoes what is here written, "Be not wise in thine own eyes." The bait of Satan was to become so, and man has ever coveted it. How blessed when we learn our folly and find an incomparably better wisdom open to us! Certainly to the Christian, to them that are called both Jews and Greeks, the crucified Christ preached to us is God's power and God's wisdom. What they counted foolishness is wiser than men; and what looked the extremity of weakness is stronger than men. Of God are we in Christ Jesus, who from God was made to us wisdom and all things. Well may we glory in Him.
But there is a word for conscience as well as heart, and none the less now, but more when, having been purged once for all, we have no more conscience of sins. "Fear Jehovah, and depart from evil." Was there ever true fear of Him without pardon? Certainly Psalm 130:4 makes clear that there is pardon with Him that He may be feared. Without it, what can the fear be but servile and tainted? This nerves the soul to "depart from evil." We hate it, because He hates it; and such doubtless it is in itself, intrinsically evil. We turn away from what the serpent commands, trembling at His word. A son honours his father, a servant his master. His honour, His fear, are no longer light things to us. And the effect is wholesome and blessed. "It shall be health for thy navel, and moisture for thy bones." The boast of altruism might perhaps in a way suit an angel, not a sinner nor a saint. We need to be blessed that we may be a blessing to others; we need and have God in Christ the Lord and Saviour. We love Him because He first loved us. Is it a wonder that all then goes on well? How sad when it is not so!
Read Job 1:1-8; Job 2:3 and think what pleasure God takes in him that fears Himself and abstains from evil. He knew all the while the weak point and danger for Job; but Satan failed to reach it by his hostile measures. Jehovah did through Job's friends, though they were beyond comparison more faulty than Job, and indebted to his intercession to shield them from His dealing according to their folly, wise as they had thought themselves.
Prosperity and chastening are treated, each in the next pair of verses respectively. Let us hear the wise king, inspired now with the best wisdom for man on earth, and first in view of earthly blessing on the due recognition of the living God.
"Honour Jehovah with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase; so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy vats shall overflow with new wine." vv. 9, 10.
Jehovah is precisely that designation of God which He gave to Israel that they might learn His ways and bear witness to Him in His earthly government. Things are sadly changed now, for His people played Him false, went after strange gods, and rejected His Anointed. But He abides the same, and will arise and have mercy on Zion; and when He does, the nations shall fear His name, and all the kings of the earth His glory. But when things looked fair, and Judah and Israel were many, and the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones; and cedars as sycamores for abundance, this was the word: "honour Jehovah with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of thine increase." It is always morally true, though then when the reality of direct divine judgment was being shown, the result was unfailing: "so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy vats shall overflow with new wine." The rejection of Christ brought in the revelation of heavenly hopes for believers, and sufferings, persecutions, etc., with better spiritual blessings even while they were here. The text speaks of normal results for the earth, and Israel on it.
But, man being as he is, there is another side, which brings out divine goodness yet more strikingly. "His eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men." Still more closely bearing on us, we read that "the eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous, and his ears are toward their cry. The face of Jehovah is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth"; as on the other hand, "Jehovah is nigh to those that are of a broken heart and saveth those that be of a contrite spirit." Hence the need and the blessing of His ways with our ways.
"My son, despise not the instruction of Jehovah, neither be weary of his chastisement; for whom Jehovah loveth he chasteneth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth." vv. 11, 12.
There is, as always, another and more intimate kind of divine government, and this wholly independent of the public state of things. It was true when Solomon reigned and wrote; it is only more fully disclosed and deeply known under the gospel. There is ever a government of souls, and here it is stated with all simplicity. How affectionate the call! "My son, despise not the instruction of Jehovah, neither be weary of his chastisement." For these are the snares of the enemy - either to make light of His training on the one hand, or on the other to sink under His reproof, as if He dealt hardly with us.
The epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 12:5-6) appropriates this ancient order, and applies it to the Christian now, pointing out the love which acts unfailingly when we fail, as we too often do. Nor is the blessed object less which the Father of spirits has toward us; for it yields peaceable fruit in those thus exercised, though for the present it seems not joyous but grievous. There is therefore no ground in it for despondency, but the best reason for the lame that they be not turned out of the way, but rather be healed.
The first epistle of Peter (1 Peter 1:15-17) is no less plain. "As he who called you is holy, be ye also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy. And if ye call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to the work of each, pass the time of your sojourn in fear." It is now that the Father judges His children in the love that will make us hate our every inconsistency; for His grace has through Christ and His work exempted us from that future judgment which is appointed for all that believe not, and walk in evil and darkness (John 5:23-28).
Even more explicit is the word in 1 Corinthians 11:29-32. The Apostle explains that in the sickness and death that fell on not a few saints at Corinth, the Lord was judging those who did not discern or discriminate themselves, but walked carelessly, even as to the Lord's supper. But when thus judged now, "we are chastened [or, disciplined] of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." It is a present moral dealing which might go as far as cutting off; but even so, it was His chastisement in love, that the saints should not share the world's condemnation, as all unbelievers must.
The reason given in our text and cited in the New Testament bears out fully the love from which present chastening flows. "For whom Jehovah loveth he chasteneth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth." It is not always however because of evil done; His chastening may be to guard us from evil. It may be preventive, as well as corrective. Shall we not, as children confiding in Him, accept it with thanksgiving? We have the distinct proof of His love. Let us never doubt, but believe and bow.
But chastening or discipline is far from all, proof though it be of Jehovah's love. There is positive blessing to reap, and of a high order.
"Blessed [is] the man [that] findeth wisdom, and the man [that] getteth understanding. For the gain thereof [is] better than the gain of silver, and her revenue than fine gold. She [is] more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not equal to her. Length of days [is] in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways [are] ways of pleasantness, and all her paths [are] peace. She [is] a tree of life to them that lay hold on her; and blessed [is] he that retaineth her. Jehovah by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew." vv. 13-20.
It is God, we are told in a later revelation, that gives liberally to all, and without reproach. Yet He will be asked for it; not that any one adds to Him, or that He is beholden to man's hand. But He cannot deny Himself; and this it would be, if one found wisdom or got understanding elsewhere. The blessing comes through dependence on Him. Who of mankind knew this better than Solomon himself? Did not God say to him, "Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; behold, I have done according to thy word." Nor is there another means; and "blessed" indeed is he that proves afresh that God is true and faithful, as He ever is. Even the beloved Son, when He in grace deigned to become man, even Jesus, so walked here below from tender years, and increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. He received all as man from His Father.
If it was so with the Jew before Jehovah, is the blessedness less now that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding to know Him that is true? Is He less accessible, or less gracious, now that He is revealed as Christ's Father and our Father, His God and our God? Has He not abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence, and this of the highest character and largest hope, in accordance with our calling and inheritance? And if for the greatest things, does this kind of blessing fail for the least things day by day? How true that the gain thereof is better than the gain of silver, and the revenue than fine gold. Surely we can say that the wisdom that comes down from above is more precious than rubies, and that all the things one can desire are not equal to the rich boon of divine favour.
Willingly do we bow to Jehovah's promise of wisdom to the Israelite, of "length of days" to be in her right hand, and of "riches and honour" in her left hand. He that died and rose again has brought us deeper grace and shown us a yet more excellent way; so that what things were gain, one has in one's measure counted loss for Christ, and it may be, as it surely ought to be, to count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord - to count them dung that one may win Him and be found in Him in that heavenly glory where He is, renouncing all righteousness save what is through the faith of Him, the righteousness which is of God by faith. This is indeed Christian privilege - that we may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death, if by any means, no matter how trying the way, one might attain unto the resurrection from among the dead, as Paul knew pre-eminently.
Not only is such experimental wisdom as the Apostle expresses in Philippians alien to all that flesh and blood values, but it rises unspeakably higher than all that was or could be revealed of old, as for instance in the Proverbs, or even the Psalms. It awaited the presence of the Son of God, the work of redemption, and the sending down of the Holy Spirit from the glorified Head. The wisdom and the understanding, of which this book treats, remain ever for man on the earth; and Jehovah will doubtless thus bless His people looking to Him for these good gifts in the day of power and glory; for the word He has spoken cannot fail, but shall stand everlastingly. But man's evil, and the Jews' in particular, has given occasion for God to bring "some better thing" in every way. Of this we see the basis and substance and exemplar in Christ crucified, risen, and set in the highest glory, quite above all Old Testament expectations. And we know that "the wisdom of God in a mystery" is not confined to His heavenly and universal exaltation, but in God's sovereign purpose embraces us too who have believed in Him since the cross. It is the hidden wisdom, as the Apostle adds (1 Corinthians 2:7), which God ordained before the world unto our glory; but a glory which now calls for, not length of days on earth, or riches or honour, but fellowship with Christ's sufferings, "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." It is just Christianity in contrast with all before, and its hope for the heavens in the day when the earth also shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea.
Still, whether the wisdom be of the general kind for the earth, or of that higher and heavenly kind which we now know in Christ, we can truly say that "her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." When our Lord tasted rejection, and sufferings, the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief beyond all, nonetheless was it His to say, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage"! It is ours thus to follow Him, living on account of Him, as He on account of the Father; but it can only be by making Him our constant food (John 6:57). So here wisdom is said to be "a tree of life to them that lay hold on her; and blessed is he that retaineth her." How much more can we boast of what He is to our souls by faith! The oracle before us can add, "Jehovah by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew" - blessed witness of His multifarious wisdom and unlimited understanding, as His knowledge directed the devastation of the deluge, and orders the kindly refreshings of a peaceful night. The one word, Christ, recalls to us heights and depths more wondrous far.
If Jehovah manifested wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in creation, and in its least things as well as the greatest, how vain in all to forego the quest, or the means open to them from on high!
"My son, let them not depart from thine eyes; keep true counsel and discretion: so shall they be life to thy soul, and grace to thy neck. Then shalt thou walk in thy way securely, and thy foot shall not stumble. When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid, but thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, nor of the desolation of the wicked when it cometh; for Jehovah shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken." vv. 21-26.
Change is a snare to the young especially; hence Jehovah's wise ways were no more to depart from their eyes than they were to be wise in their own eyes; life inwardly, honour outwardly, would follow; the walk would be secure, the foot stumble not. Nor would the night bring fear, but sweet sleep. Nor would alarm surprise when the storm falls on the wicked, for Jehovah is the confidence against all snares and terrors.
"Withhold not good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thy hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go and come again, and tomorrow I will give, when thou hast it by thee. 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 not the man of violence, and choose none of his ways. For the perverse [is] an abomination to Jehovah; but his secret [is] with the upright. The curse of Jehovah [is] in the house of the wicked; but he blesseth the habitation of the righteous. He indeed scorneth the scorners; but he giveth grace to the lowly. The wise shall inherit glory; but shame shall be the promotion of fools." vv. 27- 35.
The heart is deceitful as well as suspicious in a world of evil. Hence the importance of the simplehearted integrity which confiding in Him gives. He that gives (exhorted the Apostle) in simplicity, which is liberality. The lack of looking to Jehovah brings crookedness in dealing with man; the bowels of compassion are closed. The same lack may be even mischievous, and quarrelsome, instead of, if possible, as far as depends on us, living peaceably with all. And why envy the violent man, or choose any of his short-cuts? All these ways are turned aside from God's will, which alone is good, acceptable, perfect, and which alone makes happy him who learns it in Christ. The perverse is an abomination to Jehovah, as His secret is with the upright. "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?" So His curse is not only on the person, but on the house of the wicked, as He blesses the habitation of the righteous. Neither wealth can avert the one, nor poverty prevent the other.
Yet there is an evil even lower, and never did it abound so much as now in these closing days. Scorn or mocking is prevalent, and self reigns unblushingly in contempt of all that is good and noble and generous, as well as holy and true. But "He indeed scorneth the scorners," as surely as "He giveth grace to the lowly." The wise shall understand, as Daniel assures; but, further, "the wise shall inherit glory," whereas "shame shall be the promotion of the foolish," whatever the deception of present appearances or of such as trust them. "Judge not according to sight [said the Lord], but judge righteous judgment."
For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.
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.
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
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.
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.
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.
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.
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.
My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion:
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.
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.
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.
Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.
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.
For the froward is abomination to the LORD: but his secret is with the righteous.
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.
The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.