Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
“This chapter is one of the most excellent in all this book, both for argument to persuade us to be religious and for directions therein,” Welsh Nonconformist theologian and commentator Matthew Henry said of Proverbs 3.1 I agree that it is a practical chapter. And a couple of verses of this section land on my toes. However, Proverbs 3 contains surprises for everyone, such as one verse that tells us that Jehovah has a school. This phrase is used in verse 11 by Lutheran commentators Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch. 2
I’ve seen different plans for Proverbs 3, but the one I like best right now is to divide the chapter into 8 points. Lady Wisdom tells her students to do the right thing first (1-4). Next, she advises students to believe in God’s plan (i.e., Providence; 5-10). The student is then told by Lady Wisdom not to look down on the “school of Jehovah” (11-12). After that, Lady Wisdom will offer a discourse about the practical applications of wisdom in our lives (13-26). Then, in verses 27 and 28, Lady Wisdom tells people not to put things off. (There go my toes!) Lady Wisdom then tells students to love each other and be patient, and then she tells them not to feel sorry for bad people who get what they deserve (29-32). Finally, lady Wisdom ends by comparing the house of the wicked to the home of the humble and wise (33-35).
However, those who do the right thing will avoid many pitfalls into which the foolish repeatedly fall. Sin can have both natural and long-term consequences. Sexually promiscuous people are at risk of contracting a disease. A car accident may kill a drunken driver. When a curious teen tries illicit drugs for the first time, he or she may overdose. Those who do the right thing will avoid these scenarios. Those who do good will also have peace of mind. Their conscience does not interfere with their sound sleep. They also have peace because they have a good relationship with God. Before I go, I’d like to make one more point. Doing the right thing gives someone a sense of purpose (Ecclesiastes 12.13-14). That certainly adds to the quality of life.
Lady Wisdom advises us to put our trust in God’s plan (i.e., Providence). Following God’s plan leads to our greater industry and avoiding the previously identified pitfalls. Lady Wisdom says wealth results from working in concert with God’s Providence, as opposed to the prosperity gospel’s teaching that faith alone can produce wealth. We trust God for the increase, but we contribute by working. Unlike those who make rash plans, we pray for God’s will to be done (cf. James 4.13-16). We have faith in God’s wisdom.
We are now at the text portion where Lady Wisdom enrolls us in the “Jehovah’s school.” Interestingly, this passage shows that Keil and Delitsczh change God’s “chastisement” to His “school.” According to their understanding of Hebrew, the word in the original text means “taking one into school.” 3 But isn’t that in line with what God says about His correction elsewhere in the Bible? He corrects us through His love for us to share in His holy nature and bear righteous fruit (Hebrews 12.1-13). Of course, God could let us go without discipline, but that would not be in our best interests.
Lady Wisdom describes the practical benefits of wisdom obtained through diligence after we enroll in Jehovah’s school. On a much smaller scale, the person willing to apply himself or herself can receive the same information God used to create and sustain the cosmos. No, our wisdom will never be as great as God’s (Isaiah 55.8-9), but it can be significant enough to serve as a badge of honor. Wisdom, once established, also provides a peaceful life. It’s worth noting that Solomon mentions peace twice in Proverbs 3. We could say that wisdom makes life easier, which leads to peaceful outcomes.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, what do you do? Anxiety and fear fill your heart. Those thus afflicted shut down and cannot process rational thought, and there is no peace. I jokingly referred to this phenomenon as “panic logic” to my speech therapist. In other words, one loses reasoning and follows the first impulse that comes to mind. I told her about when I stepped into a fire-ant bed as a kid. The ants were already halfway up my leg and stinging when I realized what I had done. My rescuer was watering his garden when he ran over to me with the garden hose. Rather than spraying my legs with water and sending the ants flying, as would have been more logical, he began swatting them away with the hose itself—what a way to add insult to injury. So, I had to contend with stinging ants as well as stinging blows from a rubber hose. A person who follows Lady Wisdom not only has peace of mind because of his relationship with God, but he can also keep his cool in worldly dealings because he “knows stuff.” It’s no surprise that wisdom is valuable!
And now we come to the part of Proverbs 3 that I need to remind myself of daily. Lady Wisdom instructs us not to procrastinate by using a benevolent illustration. If we are in a position to act and have the resources to do so, we should act immediately. Why? It is because we are easily distracted. Remember how Joseph predicted in Genesis 40 that an imprisoned servant would return to serve the pharaoh as a cupbearer? Joseph requested that the cupbearer communicate his plight to the pharaoh since he had his ear. But the cupbearer managed to forget Joseph. Was it because he was a bad guy? No, not necessarily. We can get caught up in the minutiae of life and lose sight of our responsibilities or promises. Or, if it is a matter of money, it vanishes (Proverbs 23.5). You may intend to assist someone with his financial burden “tomorrow,” but tomorrow arrives with an illuminated check engine light. So, whenever the opportunity arises, do good (Galatians 6.10).
Outside of the example of benevolence, how does this relate to the overall procrastination problem? When given a deadline or promise to do something, it is easy to become distracted by other things or waste resources, such as time. As someone who has written many term papers in the final hours before they are due, I can tell you that procrastination is not a good idea, even if you claim that you need the adrenaline rush to finish projects!
At the end of the chapter, our other lessons from Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 3 now flow together. Solomon says God gives people what they deserve and sometimes uses men in His Providence. As a result, we can be blessed by others while also becoming a blessing to others. We should maintain good relationships with others and avoid arguing with anyone without justification. When we come across someone who is suffering as a result of his foolishness, we are to leave him alone. That may appear harsh, especially considering Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19.10). However, God explains it to us by making it clear what He means when He speaks of the fool. Remember that a fool is someone who lacks moral character. As a result, a fool is rebellious and stubborn. When people rejected the message, Jesus told His disciples in the limited commission to shake the dust from their sandals and walk on (Matthew 10.14). So, we preach the Gospel to the world (Mark 16.15-16), but we recognize when it devolves into throwing pearls before swine or giving holy things to dogs (Matthew 7.6).
Finally, there is a clear distinction between these two paths. Those seeking wisdom live in homes where God’s grace has healed their wounds and declared them righteous. The foolish scoffer will live in the filth of his own dishonorable home. God will laugh when he sees his house. Are you paying attention to Lady Wisdom? Do you refrain from disparaging Jehovah’s school? All the decisions you make today and the effort you put in to become wise will make all the difference.
1 Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Biblestudytools.com, Salem Media Group, www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/proverbs/3.html.
2 Keil, Karl, and Franz Delitzsch. Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. Worthy.Bible, Worthy Ministries,www.worthy.bible/commentaries/keil-delitzsch-commentary/commentary-on-proverbs-3.