Ecclesiastes Podcast

Proverbs 3:11-18

These are the proverbs of Solomon, one of the most renowned kings in the history of Israel. The word translated “proverb” is the Hebrew word “mashal.” The root of the word contains the idea of “compare”—it is translated throughout Scripture as “parable” just as often as “proverb.”

This gives us some insight into the nature of these sayings. Proverbs are not prescriptions. It is not about a formula for how to manipulate circumstances and bend them to our will. That might be wishful thinking, but doesn’t work in reality. The proverbs are, in a sense, “comparing” our human perceptions to the reality of God’s world; trying to connect the two by providing principles that shape our perspective and inform our choices such that we live constructively—that is to say, wisely.

Like parables, the proverbs are meant to guide us “to wisdom”, that is, into a way of living. A way of thinking and perceiving. It is about molding and shaping our perceptions, values, and character into something that is consistently in tune with God, not just as a rule-follower but as someone who understands and practices the essence of the divine. One who sees the world through God’s eyes, and acts accordingly.

Ecclesiastes might be thought of as a philosophical foundation for wisdom. It shows the way to properly view the many aspects of life we cannot control, the “hebel” or vaporous nature of all that surrounds us. The main thing Ecclesiastes shows us is the importance of choosing to trust God, and make good choices based on that trust.

Proverbs will reiterate the philosophical foundations of Ecclesiastes, then zoom in and expand upon the practical application of trusting God and choosing a true perspective within certain areas of life. Proverbs leads us to choose a true perspective in all areas of life, and creates a foundation from which we can choose actions that are constructive, beneficial, and fulfilling.

There are only three things we control in life: who we trust, our perspective, and what we do—our actions. Ecclesiastes makes this reality abundantly clear. Trying to control what we cannot leads to complete futility. Trusting God, however, provides a foundation for constructive living. Proverbs teaches us how best to steward the choices we have—how to trust God, how to choose His perspective, and the key actions to take that lead us to the path of wisdom.

The third chapter of The Book of Proverbs is a continuation of Solomon’s case that wisdom is the key to fruitful living.

The chapter begins and ends by touting the ways in which the Lord will reward those who pursue wisdom. It also warns about the dangerous consequences of wickedness. Throughout his warnings and supplications in this chapter, Solomon stresses the importance of choices.

The choices we make have significant consequences.

Solomon reminds us in Chapter 3 that wisdom was prevalent in the foundation of the world. It is an ingredient of creation, there from the beginning. Wickedness is a perversion of this ingredient, an act of taking reality and trying to remold it into our own image. This inevitably brings disastrous results.

The key to wisdom is where we place our trust. When we put our trust where it belongs—in God rather than in our own reasoning or external circumstances—we discover that the key to life is not control, but submission. That by trust, we gain access to the peace, joy, and riches we desire. Even these riches are not given in the way the world (and our sinful flesh) want them—as comfortable circumstance and ease. They come as gifts of perspective. The only path to truth is understanding. Perspective transforms the idol of “more” into the arena of peace. It does not change things as much as it changes the way we see things. The way we perceive.

Throughout The Book of Proverbs, wisdom is given as the key to vibrant living. Solomon is constantly trying to convince the audience of the importance of wisdom, the necessity of remembering it throughout all of life’s twists and turns, and the great benefit it brings when relied upon. He calls for our commitment to wisdom. To apply wisdom to any circumstance we may encounter, relying on a consistent faith in God.

Even when it is difficult to accept or understand, God’s ways are truly best for us.

In the previous passage (Proverbs 3:5-10), Solomon (assuming the role of father) encourages his audience (given the role of son) to trust in the Lord rather than in their own understanding. Here he addresses the kinds of situations when doing this is most difficult.

He begins by once again addressing his audience as my son and instructs do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof. Just like a child, we often do not understand the Lord’s discipline. We see it as abuse, something we do not like. It is pain, and we desire comfort. We may, therefore, reject it.

Deciding not to trust the discipline of the Lord or see it as valuable, we often choose to perceive the one who disciplines us as our enemy. We loathe His reproof because we do not see or trust its value. And this leads to us leaning on our own understanding, as we were urged not to do in verse 5. We do not trust that our disciplinarian is acting in our best interest. So we trust ourselves. But, like children, that means we will inevitably engage in self-destructive behavior. We will, figuratively-speaking, play in the street, stick our finger into an electrical socket, or jump into a pool before we know how to swim. We will do this because our limited perspective does not allow us to truly comprehend what is in our best interest.

Proverbs tells us that refusing to see God’s benevolence is a distortion of reality. The truth is, The Lord loves those He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. The real betrayal would be to leave us uncorrected. If a father did not love and delight in his son, he would not take the time to correct him—for the son’s benefit. Letting a child have their own way can be dangerous, not only in terms of the patterns it sets for a growing person, but even in the immediate situation.

Discipline is lumped here under the previous admonitions—teaching, wisdom, correction. God does all of this, not to abuse us for His own amusement, but to teach us how the world works, to align our awareness with reality, and to show us the true (but difficult) path of our own best self-interest. This path often includes things like delayed gratification and perseverance, which may seem paradoxical. In this paradox, we can either fight against what God says and chase our own way (to our own hurt). Or we can trust God and place our hope in Him and the path He set before us. God’s intention is love and care. He delights in us and wants what is best for us. He is a loving Father who desires our best.

Solomon asks the rhetorical question: how blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding? Wisdom is valuable in our life, but it comes at a cost. The cost includes discipline and delayed gratification. But Solomon’s point here is that the blessed nature that accompanies wisdom is significantly better than either the cost, or the superficial things we think we gain from following our flesh.

The acquisition of wisdom is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. If the choice is between wisdom and money, take wisdom. Solomon knows this firsthand. God offered Solomon anything he wanted, you might say He offered to “grant one wish.” Solomon chose wisdom, and because he chose wisdom, God granted all the rest (1 Kings 3:5-15). Consistent with these Proverbs, that is generally what you would expect. Those with the most wisdom would be the most just and the best investors.

Wisdom and understanding are truly in our best interest. In fact, they are more valuable than any competitors for our affection. They are the path to the most valuable profit in this world and the only strategy for meaningful gain. The word for profit is the Hebrew “cachar” and is often translated “merchandise”—it is the fruit of our efforts, the end result of whatever we do in this life. The word for gain is “tebuw’ah” and it means “increase” or “revenue”—it is the measure of improvement. What we gain or accomplish through our investment of time in this life. In both ways, wisdom excels over all else.

Therefore, Wisdom (she) is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. Wisdom, then, is better than owning the “crown jewels.” It is about how to use the resources given to us to accomplish what we actually desire more than all else—a life of purpose. Only by reaching this deep, internal value are we blessed. Wisdom is the way, the path that leads to this blessing. Without wisdom, all the resources in the world will be a shackle or, at best, an empty distraction. None of our superficial desires or fears of discipline compare with the vast profit of wisdom.

Long life is in her (Wisdom’s) right hand. The dominant hand in Hebrew literature is the right hand. It is a symbol of strength and dominion. In this, Wisdom holds the key to long life. This could be an allusion to the value of delayed gratification. Being fit while young pays dividends when old, for example. If we abuse our bodies when young, it tends to shorten our lifespan from what it would have otherwise been. The troublesome toil of wisely raising children while young leads to enjoyable family togetherness when old.

It could also include the extreme benefit of wisdom for living in peace. Living in non-reality, seeking to control the uncontrollable, striving to gain purpose through the practice of folly—all lead to great stress. Stress is the root cause of many illnesses, which will inevitably shorten our lifespan.

Living in wisdom frees us from carrying the weight of anxiety that so often manifests in physical symptoms. Wisdom shows us what we cannot control (which is almost everything). We can entrust all those things to God, which relieves us of an immense burden we are not able to carry. On the other hand, wisdom also shows us what we can control, our proper boundaries, and shows us the path to faithful stewardship. If we steward well, we achieve our purpose, which brings peace. Walking in this attitude of wisdom will also generally lead to an extended life.

On the other hand, her (wisdom’s) left hand are riches and honor. This imagery includes the idea of balance and connection, like the scales of justice. Consistency and clarity are in the dominant right hand. Prosperity and influence are in the other. Wisdom is the thing that allows these life pursuits to work in meaningful collaboration. When wisdom brings us riches and honor, those become additional items over which to be good stewards, rather than snares that entrap us and lead us off course. Wisdom leads us to use our time, our resources, and our reputation in a way that brings true joy to us and to others. This is only possible through wisdom.

Her (wisdom’s) ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace. As opposed to evil, wisdom is an alignment with reality. And living in harmony with God’s design for the world is more fruitful, fun (pleasant), and calming (peace) than constantly fighting against the true nature of who we are, who God is, and the reality of existence.

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. The tree of life is an allusion to the Garden of Eden where the original Tree of Life stood as representative of God’s provision for the human race to live forever. Eating from the Tree of Life was free game for Adam and Eve, but the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was forbidden (for their own good). Once Adam and Eve sinned by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were banned from Eden so they would not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in a fallen state (Genesis 3:22). Thus taking hold of her (wisdom) creates a new sort of tree of life that allows us to participate and align with the eternal. This tree of life illustration could also allude to the great rewards God promises in the next life for living a life of wisdom (Revelation 2:7).

And happy are all who hold her fast. There is no greater joy than seeking and achieving that for which we were created. The Hebrew word for happy is “’ashar,” which is most often translated “blessed.” The root of the word means “to go straight” or “advance/make progress.” So, holding onto wisdom allows us to march forward, to progress and grow through the adventure of life. Embracing wisdom allows those who hold her fast to be happy regardless of circumstances, because they have a perspective that is rooted in the eternal, through their trust in God.

Biblical Text

My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord
Or loathe His reproof, 
12 For whom the Lord loves He reproves,

Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.
13 How blessed is the man who finds wisdom

And the man who gains understanding.
14 For her profit is better than the profit of silver

And her gain better than fine gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels;

And nothing you desire compares with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;

In her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways

And all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,

And happy are all who hold her fast.