Tag Archives: Proverbs 3:5-6

Leaning on Your Own Understanding

Last night during our family devotions, we opened up to those famous verses in Proverbs 3. “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,” (vv. 5-6, ESV). As we discussed this, I told my family that for years I completely misunderstood these verses. Taking them out of context, I saw them as verses telling me to trust God. He knows what he is doing even if I don’t. While that sentiment is true (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9), that’s not what these verses mean. I explained to them that in this context, we are talking about God’s wisdom versus our own wisdom, or our own thoughts.

We are to trust God’s wisdom–God’s revealed wisdom in his Word–and distrust our own understanding of our lives. It is God’s Word that is truth and our own hearts that lie to us. This thought took us to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it,” (ESV)? The heart lies to us more than anything else! It is deceitful above all things! If a friend were to lie to us once, we would probably give them a break. We have all lied; maybe he/she thought he/she was in a bind. But what would happen if the lies continued? Would we ever trust anything that friend said?

I know someone personally who is a habitual liar. I’m not even sure if he knows he is. It seems so engrained into his nature to lie. He lies about little things and big things. My family has simply learned not to ever plan on anything he says to come to fruition. We love him dearly, but we don’t believe his words. Yet, think for a moment what Jeremiah told us: the heart is deceitful above all things. That means my heart is even more deceitful and more of a habitual liar than that person I know. That’s saying something there! No wonder Solomon told us not to lean on our own understandings, but to trust God with all our hearts (ironic I know).

That being said. . . This morning I got up to do my morning Bible reading and meditation. As I was reading Deuteronomy 1 for the third time this week, I thought about what Israel had done. Preaching through 1 Corinthians 10 these past few weeks reminded me that Israel and their history was written to serve as an example to the church. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses recounts how Israel had neared the Promised Land forty years prior. They sent out 12 spies, only to have 10 come back and tell them they couldn’t win the land. Only Joshua and Caleb said they could. The people recoiled in fear. They believed man’s wisdom instead of God’s. They believed their own fearful hearts rather than trust God completely. What was the outcome? God would not allow them to enter into the Promised Land. They missed out on the blessings–the land which flowed with milk and honey. Only those who trusted in God, Joshua and Caleb, were allowed to enter forty years later.

How often do we miss the blessings of God because we do not trust in his wisdom, but lean on our own understandings of this life and world we live in. God reveals his truth in his Word and yet we will not believe it because our hearts tell us a different story. Those deceptive, sick, depraved hearts shout against God’s still, small voice. They foolishly rebel against God’s all-powerful, all-knowing wisdom. If it were a person, we’d be living our lives completely oblivious to the heart’s promises, foolishness, and rebel words. But it isn’t a person. It’s our own inner-thoughts, inner-testimony, our own inner-fears, and so we lean upon our own understandings.

The result is the same as Israel’s. Israel missed out on the milk and honey. They missed out on the fruits and vegetables and fattened flocks. Instead, they continued to wander the wilderness with manna and water from the rock. God continued to provide. He did not abandon them, yet the missed out on the straight paths, the blessings and wisdom that were theirs if only they had trusted.

When Solomon brought up that God would make straight our paths, he didn’t necessarily mean that everything would be easy in life. Instead, that which was difficult would be eased because we don’t live by our wisdom, but God’s. When pain came, we could handle it because we would not believe our thoughts on the matter, but God’s. When hardships came, we would focus on God’s wisdom rather than our own. When we faced a cross-roads and needed to know which way to go, God’s wisdom would see us through. How blessed is that!?

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being read to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete,” (10:4-6, ESV; italics mine). Spurgeon wrote about these verses:

[The believer’s] powers of meditation and consideration keep within the circle of truth and holiness, finding green pastures there. Even when thinking about common things, matters that have to do with affairs of this world, he seeks to serve the Lord, for he knows that “every thought,” not some thoughts, is to be humbled into the obedience of Christ. (Spurgeon Study Bible)

One must remember that Spurgeon suffered severely with depression his entire life, and it worsened after people were trampled (seven killed and 28 severely injured) by a wicked calling of “fire!” during his preaching at Surrey Gardens Music Hall. I believe Spurgeon would say that this his words about the matter are the ideal thought-life of the believer, though not the way it always is. If the believer was always living by this standard, he’d be perfect. It is when we live by our own understandings that we sin against God. But the truth is this: the believer, because he/she has Christ, can bring his/her thoughts captive to him. That however means leaning not on our own understandings, but trusting Him.

May we seek to take our thoughts captive to Christ, trust God with all our hearts and lean not on our own understandings. Those bumps and twists and turns will be made straight and smooth as we grow in his wisdom and follow his navigating of our lives.

Reading Proverbs Afresh: Proverbs in Light of Christ

Wisdom is often described as having the know-how of living out knowledge practically. This is a rather weak definition, especially if one is looking to biblical wisdom using books such as the Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. One need only to read through the Proverbs to find that the answer lies within the text itself. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,” (Prov. 9:10, ESV). The writer here used parallelism to explain what wisdom is: the fear of God, the knowledge of the Holy One. Something similar is stated in 1:7 (The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge), though Proverbs 9:10 was chosen for its explicit use of wisdom/insight (synonymous terms) rather than knowledge (as one may tend to still see the two as separate entities as the weak definition above portrays). Thus, wisdom is the fear of the LORD and this use of “the fear of the LORD” (YHWH) is a purposeful use of covenantal language within the Wisdom books. Grant correctly wrote:

How is it that the “fear of Yahweh” indicates the presence of covenant theology within the Wisdom books? There are two answers to this question: (1) Proverbs’ focus on the fear of Yahweh points us specifically to relationships with Israel’s covenant God as being key to true wisdom; (2) fear of Yahweh takes the reader deep into Israel’s covenant theology because of its intertextual links with the book of Deuteronomy.[1]

Where in Deuteronomy? Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (one of the major chapters in all the book) brings out what one needs to know about this type of fear. “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good,” (ESV; italics added).

Grant explains, “The main question (“What does the LORD your God require of you?”) is answered by the initial central statement (“fear the LORD your God”), and each of the following statements explains what it actually means in reality to fear Yahweh (“walk in his ways, love him, serve him and keep his commandments”).[2] This would mean that the Proverbs are not simply a bunch of sayings unrelated to the rest of the Old Testament (and definitely not of the New Testament), but are intricately linked to both. Though it may not have all the echoes of laws and rites and prophetic remarks of the Laws and Prophets, as Trevor Longman III wrote on Proverbs: “[T]he whole book is theological to the core,”[3] and that theology is in total agreement with the rest of Scripture. “The concept of wisdom is not simply practical skill but is a theological idea.”[4]

That theology is not only shown in “fear of the LORD” language, but in Lady Wisdom (aka Woman Wisdom). Lady Wisdom is wisdom personified as a woman who calls out to young men to come to her, learn from her, and follow as they have been taught. Her archenemy is Lady Folly (aka Woman Folly). This personified foolishness also calls out to the young men to come to her, learn, and so live. As there are two women, there are two paths in which the women point: one being the path of wisdom and the other the path of folly. “The dark path represents one’s behavior in this life, but it culminates not in life but in death. On the other hand, there is the right path, the path that leads to life. This path is straight and well lit. The person who stays on this path will not stumble.”[5]

As one reads the Proverbs and encounters the many times Lady/Woman Wisdom speaks, he/she cannot help but begin to notice that as she speaks, so God has spoken or demonstrated elsewhere within the Bible. “[I]t is clear that Woman Wisdom is a personification of Yahweh’s wisdom and ultimately of Yahweh himself.”[6] Yet where does that leave Lady/Woman Folly? Longman argues that she is the false gods and goddesses of the world. Ultimately, “[T]he choice between Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly is no less than a fundamental religious choice between the true God and false gods.”[7]

Does this not dramatically change the way one reads the Proverbs? It must! As one encounters the many foolish ways (whether directly or indirectly stated), he/she must see that this is the way of this world. It is the way of idolatry, not simply a dumb move that may be regretted later in life. This brings new life and light to Proverbs 3:5-6. “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,” (ESV). These verses are not simply about trusting God when one doesn’t understand what it is He is doing. These verses are calling upon the reader not to go down the paths of idolatry and live in folly, but to trust the God-given proverbs (law and prophets) and live by them so that one does not go down the dark way that seems right unto man but ends in death (Cf. Prov 14:12), but goes down the path of light leading to life. Thus, the writers of the Proverbs want what Moses and the Prophets wanted: for their readers to find God in all His glory and splendor. “Both sets of literature [Proverbs and Law] come to the conclusion that it is impossible to do so apart from real, and therefore inevitably covenant, relationship with God.”[8]

Yet, how does one build that covenant relationship? Longman answers: “[I]f one wants to know how the world works and thus to successfully navigate life, one had better know the woman, Yahweh’s wisdom—that is Yahweh himself.”[9] But this begs the question as to how then is one to know her. The answer comes as one reads and notices aspects of Lady Wisdom, such as her being described as being before creation (Prov. 8:28), being co-creator with God (Prov. 8:27-30), God’s delight—being well-pleased with Wisdom (Prov 8:30), and other aspects as well such as the fact that with her are abundant riches (Prov 8:18-21). Anyone who has a clear understanding of the New Testament can see that Lady Wisdom and Jesus Christ are one and the same (cf. Col 1:15-19; 2:3, John 1:1-3; Matt 3:17). “The message is clear: Jesus is Wisdom herself. . . Thus to understand the invitation of Woman Wisdom as the invitation of Christ to relationship with God makes the book contemporary to Christian readers.”[10] What an understatement! If wisdom is the Word of God (not only the recorded Word, but the Living Word) it is not only contemporary but massively important. To reject Christ is to reject wisdom and to reject wisdom is to reject Christ. To live a life in folly is to go after false gods, whether they be tangible or intangible and be utterly ruined, never to be in covenantal relationship with God. That very thought ought to keep the believer holding tight to the Proverbs. Without Christ there is no wisdom, there is no covenant relationship, there is no pleasure from or in God.

[1] J. D. Grant, “Wisdom and Covenant” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008) 860-861.

[2] Ibid., 861.

[3] Trevor Longman III, “Proverbs, Book of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008) 550.

[4] Ibid., 549.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 550.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Grant, “Wisdom and Covenant” in DOT: Wisdom, 861.

[9] Longman III, “Proverbs, Book of,” in DOT: Wisdom, 550.

[10] Ibid., 551.