I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Proverbs 3, Psalm 52, and Acts 27–28.
Proverbs 3, as part of the first third or so of the book focused on laying out the two paths which the remainder of the book traces out in greater detail, highlights the value of wisdom and gives the first few details as to what it looks like to walk in wisdom. First and foremost, wisdom is a matter of walking with Yahweh, in accord with his revelation of himself. Verses 3–4 make this abundantly clear, echoing as they do Moses’ words to Israel in giving them the law. Just as the people of God were to bind his law on their bodies and their hearts, so the author of the Proverbs exhorts his son to remember “steadfast love and faithfulness”—the very attributes with which Yahweh characterized himself in that climactic moment on the mountain in Exodus 34.
So although some scholars have asserted that the Proverbs (and indeed the rest of the literature) developed totally separately from the Law of Israel, such a proposition looks to me more like wishful thinking on the part of secularists than an accurate acknowledgement of the shape of the text. Proverbs is not separate from the Torah. It is commentary on the Torah. Indeed, there is no part of the moral Law given to Israel that does not come up for discussion in the course of the book. Worshipping Yahweh is front and center. Murder and adultery both come in for repeated admonition. Rejection of not only covetousness and envy but also of the roots beneath them is pervasive. To put it as Dr. Heath Thomas did in my Old Testament class several weeks ago: the Torah told Israel what to do, and the Proverbs taught them how.
So Proverbs 3 sits as part of this project. Its famous admonition to trust Yahweh and not to lean on one’s own understanding is one of the lynchpins of the book.1 The whole book must be taken in light of this admonition. Human wisdom is not God’s wisdom.
It is no coincidence that the author of the book turns almost immediately from exhorting his audience to trust in Yahweh rather than in human wisdom to a picture of divine wisdom. Nor is it mere happenstance that he includes the notion that Yahweh created the earth by wisdom and established the heavens by understanding.2 This is essential to understanding the shape and argument of Proverbs. God made the world to work in a certain way, and we either walk in that way or we do not. The way we have chosen—our broken, sinful path—is not in line with the way the universe was designed. The way he has set before us—the way of reconciliation in Christ Jesus—is the way of shalom. And Proverbs thus is a guide for the Christian for what it means to follow Christ. It is the light to our path as we seek to keep God’s law, recognizing that he who made all things has also shown us how to walk in line with the way he made those things—indeed, with how he made us.
This is why we should not lean on our own understanding: because it is not only flawed, but forever incomplete. Even when we are sanctified—perhaps especially when we are sanctified—we will not lean on our own understanding, but rest in the wisdom of the one who is wisdom, and who shaped the universe to his wisdom.
And, I would note, the key to understanding the entire book of Ecclesiastes. If we take Proverbs 3:5–8 as a guide and then we read Ecclesiastes, the problem that Qoheleth had becomes clear rather quickly, and then is reiterated throughout that book: the Preacher trusted his own wisdom instead of God’s. Proverbs is the foundational text for biblical wisdom, and other wisdom books must be understood in light of it.↩
It is impossible not to note the connection that New Testament authors made to this concept in Christ, from John’s description of Jesus as the Logos—which has in its semantic range not only the idea of “word” but of “reason”—to Paul’s straightforward declaration that “Christ Jesus… became for us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30), and to the New Testament’s oft-repeated refrain that Christ was the agent of creation (cf. Col. 1:16, Heb. 1:10–12, 2:10).↩