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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:
2For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.
Three words carry on the chain of blessings:
(1) "Length of days" (see the Psalm 91:16 note);
(2) "Years of life," i. e., of a life worth living (compare Psalm 30:5; Psalm 42:8);
(3) "Peace," tranquility inward and outward, the serenity of life continuing through old age until death. Compare 1 Timothy 4:8.
3Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:
The two elements of a morally perfect character:
(1) "Mercy," shutting out all forms of selfishness and hate.
(2) "Truth," shutting out all deliberate falsehood, all hypocrisy, conscious or unconscious.
The words that follow possibly refer to the Eastern custom of writing sacred names on pieces of papyrus or parchment, and wearing them around the neck, as charms and talismans against evil. Compare, however, 1 Peter 3:3-4.
4So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.
Compare Luke 2:52. These are the two conditions of true human growth.
5Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In preaching "trust in God" the moralist anticipates the teaching that man is justified by faith. To confide in God's will, the secret of all true greatness, is to rise out of all our anxieties and plans and fears when we think of ourselves as the arbiters of our own fortunes, and so "lean to our own understanding."
6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Not in acts of solemn worship or great crises only, but "in all thy ways;" and then God will make the "path" straight and even.
7Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
The great hindrance to all true wisdom is the thought that we have already attained it.
8It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
Navel - The central region of the body is taken as the representative of all the vital organs. For "health" we should read healing, or, as in the marg. There is probably a reference to the local applications used by the surgery of the period as means of healing.
9Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:
"Substance" points to capital, "increase" to revenue. The Septuagint as if to guard against ill-gotten gains being offered as an atonement for the ill-getting, inserts the quaifying words, "honor the Lord from thy righteous labors."
10So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
Compare the marginal reference. This fullness of outward blessings does not exclude the thought of the "chastening" Proverbs 3:11, without which the discipline of life would be incomplete. "Presses" are the vats of a Roman vineyard, into which the wine flowed through pipe from the wine-press.
11My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction:
Despise ... be weary - The temper is not that of contempt. To struggle impatiently, to fret and chafe, when suffering comes on us, is the danger to which we are exposed when we do not accept it as from the hands of God. Compare Jonah 4:9; Job 5:17.
12For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
The first distinct utterance of a truth which has been so full of comfort to many thousands; it is the summing up of all controversies (compare John 9:2) as to the mystery of suffering. The apostle writing to the Hebrews can find no stronger comfort Hebrews 12:6 than this; the Church, in her visitation service, has no truer message for the sufferer.
13Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
The first beatitude of the Proverbs introduces a new lesson. "Getteth understanding," literally as in the margin, probably in the sense of "drawing forth from God's store, from the experience of life" (as in Proverbs 8:35; Proverbs 18:22). The preciousness of wisdom is dwelt on here, not the use to be made of it.
14For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
Compare Proverbs 2:4. "Fine gold" is apparently a technical word of that commerce, the native gold in the nugget or the dust.
15She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
Rubies - The פנינים pânı̂ynı̂ym were among the costly articles of traffic, and red or rose-colored Lamentations 4:7. The last fact has led some to identify them with coral, or (as in the King James Version) with "rubies." Most commentators, however, have identified them with pearls, which may connect this passage with Matthew 7:6; Matthew 13:45. The words of the promise here are almost the echo of 1 Kings 3:11-13.
16Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.
17Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
"Ways" and "paths" describe the two kinds of roads, the "highway" and the "byway." In both these he who was guided by Wisdom would walk securely.
18She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.
This and the other references in Proverbs PRomans 11:30; Proverbs 13:12; Proverbs 15:4 are the only allusions in any book of the Old Testament, after Genesis, to the "tree" itself, or to its spiritual significance. Further, there is the tendency to a half-allegorizing application of that history. "The tree of life" which Adam was not to taste lies open to his children. Wisdom is the "tree of life," giving a true immortality. The symbol entered largely into the religious imagery. of Assyria, Egypt, and Persia. Philo, going a step further, found in the two trees the ideal representatives of speculative knowledge and moral wisdom; and the same image subserves a higher purpose in the promises and the visions of Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2.
19The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.
Hereto Wisdom has been thought of in relation to men. Now the question comes, What is she in relation to God? and the answer is, that the creative act implies a Divine Wisdom, through which the Divine will acts. This thought, developed in Proverbs 8, is the first link in the chain which connects this "Wisdom" with the Divine Word, the Logos of John's Gospel. Compare Psalm 33:6; John 1:3. The words of the writer of the Proverbs take their place among the proofs of the dogmatic statements of the Nicene Creed.
20By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.
Compare Genesis 1:7; Genesis 7:11; Job 38. Looking upon the face of Nature, men see two storehouses of the living water, without which it would be waste and barren. From the "depths" rush forth the surging waves, from the "clouds" falls the gentle rain or "dew;" but both alike are ordered by the Divine Wisdom.
21My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion:
Let not them depart - i. e., The wisdom and discretion of the following clause. Keep thine eye on them, as one who watches over priceless treasures.
22So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.
23Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.
24When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.
25Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.
Under the form of this strong prohibition there is an equally strong promise. So safe will all thy ways be that to fear will be a sin.
26For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.
27Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.
A marked change in style. The continuous exhortation is replaced by a series of maxims.
From them to whom it is due - literally, as in the margin. The precept expresses the great Scriptural thought that the so-called possession of wealth is but a stewardship; that the true owners of what we call our own are those to whom, with it, we may do good. Not to relieve them is a breach of trust.
28Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.
Procrastination is especially fatal to the giving impulse. The Septuagint adds the caution: "for thou knowest not what the morrow will bring forth."
29Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee.
Securely - i. e., "With full trust," without care or suspicion. Compare Judges 18:7, Judges 18:27.
30Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.
31Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.
A protest against the tendency to worship success, to think the lot of the "man of violence" enviable, and therefore to be chosen.
32For the froward is abomination to the LORD: but his secret is with the righteous.
The true nature of such success. That which people admire is an abomination to Yahweh. His "secret," i. e., His close, intimate communion as of "friend with friend," is with the righteous.
33The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.
The thought, like that which appears in Zechariah 5:3-4, and pervades the tragedies of Greek drama, is of a curse, an Ate, dwelling in a house from generation to generation, the source of ever-recurring woes. There is, possibly, a contrast between the "house" or "palace" of the rich oppressor and the lowly shepherd's hut, the "sheep-cote" 2 Samuel 7:8 ennobled only by its upright inhabitants.
34Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.
Surely - Better, If he scorneth the scorners, i. e., Divine scorn of evil is the complement, and, as it were, the condition, of divine bounty to the lowly (compare the marginal reference and the Proverbs 1:26 note).
35The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.
The margin conveys the thought that "fools" glory in that which is indeed their shame. Others take the clause as meaning "every fool takes up shame," i. e., gains nothing but that.