Proverbs 3:5–8, 13–18, 31–35 comment (0)
May 2, 2013
By Scott McGinnis
Related Scripture: Proverbs 3:5–8, 13–18, 31–35
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Religion, Samford University
Getting My Most Important Relationship Right
Proverbs 3:5–8, 13–18, 31–35
The wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible forms a fascinating part of the biblical canon, presenting as it does both the strange and familiar. For instance, the Book of Proverbs is filled with countless references to the everyday things that make up human existence: the relationship between parents and children, treating friends well, working hard, obeying authorities, caring for the poor and so on.
At the same time, the book’s universal themes and lack of historical references can blind the reader to the fact that the cultural setting of ancient Israel is quite distinct from our own. Indeed, Proverbs itself recognizes that wise living requires more than just spouting off truisms, a practice that can do more harm than good: “Like a thornbush brandished by the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of a fool” (Prov. 26:9).
Trust in God (5–8)
Wisdom is used improperly when end is self-seeking at the expense of God and neighbor. A key theme of the Proverbs is that wisdom begins and ends in God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7), with “fear” here best understood as a healthy mix of respect, awe and obedience.
A common human instinct is to trust in our own wisdom, but the Proverbs call for trust in Yahweh with all one’s heart (v. 5). In ancient Israel the “heart” was not simply the seat of the emotional self but the moral self: it is where we make our most fundamental decisions. The fifth century bishop Augustine saw in the desire for absolute autonomy in this realm the stirrings of human pride, and hence the root of all sinfulness.
Verses five, six and seven are an example of Hebrew parallelism, a poetic device used for emphasis as well as to extend the key teaching of the passage. Thus, to “trust God” is one thing; to “acknowledge Him” in our ways requires living out what we know. Simply knowing God’s ways is not sufficient.
Discover God’s Wisdom (13–18)
The word here rendered usually as either “happy” or “blessed” does not refer to a temporal state wherein we are happy one day and unhappy the next, but to a state of living in light of the wisdom of God. This kind of happiness endures inasmuch as it satisfies our deepest desire for connection with God (v. 15).
That wisdom is here personified as a woman (compare chapter 8) points to the fact that the wisdom of God is not a dry accumulation of facts or set of rules. Rather, we come to know God’s wisdom in the context of our relationship with God in much the same way that we might claim to know the wisdom of a grandmother or a treasured friend. They may well have taught us many things — my grandmother’s banana bread recipe lives on — but their wisdom lies not in facts communicated but in habits of the heart reflected in their patterns of living.
Happiness of this sort endures. It is described here metaphorically in images of wealth (silver, gold, riches) but is intended to communicate a situation wherein we are at peace with God and one another (pleasantness, peace and life) and thus able to face the vagaries of life.
Choose God’s Ways (31–35)
Proverbs shares with other wisdom literature a teaching method known as the doctrine of the two ways. Three contrasts are presented in this passage: wicked and the righteous, the scorner and the humble and the fool and the wise, and the three pairs are meant to explain and reinforce one another. Thus, to be wise is at the same time to be righteous and humble.
When we humbly seek and practice the wisdom of God, we experience the blessings of God, not as a carrot that dangles at the end of the stick but as the spiritual wholeness that comes from aligning ourselves with the deep purposes of God in creation.