I heard a message tonight on this passage. The theme of the sermon was “Always trust God for direction.” The sermon text wasn’t in the bulletin, but instinctively, I figured it would be this passage. Indeed, I was correct. I listened though and found so much that I disagreed with that I decided I would write on how I see the passage tonight.
The view given first off compared the trust to being blindfolded, put in a city one hasn’t been to, had a stranger take you by the hand, and being told that this person would be your guide. It also stated that we need to follow where God is leading us and how we should not have things we want to do and trust God to bring them about but rather wait and see what he wants us to do.
In short, modern pop Christianity stuff.
I have a real problem with the way we try to sound spiritual in the church when we talk about this. “Well, this is the message God has laid on my heart.” How serious a claim is! If God put a message on your heart, then we should accept that message as infallable! If he did not though, then we are claiming to speak when God did not.
Let’s also deal with that idea of trust first off. This is the book of Proverbs written within the thought of Judaism of the time. The Jews had more than enough reason to trust God. There was this event they knew about in the past called Exodus. Based on the Exodus, God had shown himself to be capable in their eyes and he had called them to be his own people and obey the rules of his covenant.
Trust is never meant to be blind. In fact, when we get to the book of Acts, we find that the Bereans are praised because they checked the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul was saying was true. I have no problem with someone wanting to check up on what I say and see if it’s true. In fact, I wish everyone would.
Let’s really look at this passage though. We have interpreted it in the idea of modern individual guidance. Our churches today have ideas about how God is leading people (Who in here ever looks up the term “led by the Spirit” to see what it really means?) and how God is talking to each one of us today. (Do you really see that as normative in Scripture?) To an ancient Jew though, this would seem quite bizarre. Proverbial writings would be no exception. Let’s begin and start with a look at what is going on in Proverbs beforehand.
Proverbs is a part of the Bible referred to as Wisdom literature. Wisdom was highly esteemed in ancient times and if I could sum up the message of Proverbs as quickly as possible, I would simply say “Seek wisdom.” Of course, this must be within the biblical context. What does it say? The book says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)
Wisdom has already been shown to be valuable by the time we get to chapter 3. The passages come in couplets consisting of two verses. Let’s look at the first.
1 My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart, 2 for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you prosperity.
What is this teaching that the son is not to forget? It is the way of wisdom that will be shown throughout this book. The son will not read this book and say “What was the teaching I was to follow?” He will know it. If that path is followed, the son will be rewarded. (For the record, Solomon’s son did not follow such wisdom. A professor of mine once referred to his son as “bonehead Rehoboam” and for good reason.)
3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.
Along with wisdom, the son is to have love and faithfulness. Again, this will give him success. What is he to love? He is to love the Lord his God as he would know from the Shema. (Deut. 6:4-5.) He is to be living a life of faithfulness in following the commandments of the Lord.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
This is where it gets different. People take these two verses and wrench them out of the context that they are in. The context is in faithfulness to YHWH in seeking wisdom. What is the son being told then? We have been told the other view long enough that we might be surprised by what I believe is the true view.
To trust in the Lord means to follow in the path of wisdom for there is no wisdom apart from God. Leaning on your own understanding then would not be “making decisions for yourself.” It would be making decisions that are not in accordance with the way of wisdom. If there is no wisdom apart from God after all, then it is foolishness to live a life in any way outside of the path of wisdom.
In all your ways then, you are to acknowledge him. In all your ways, you are to live life according to wisdom and God will make your paths straight. Now I know the Hebrew word there can mean that he will direct your paths, but I don’t think that’s the best interpretation. Proverbs is talking about wisdom and how it leads to righteousness. Making paths straight then means that in following the way of wisdom, you will lead a righteous life.
Now what does this say about the idea that we can make plans and trust our plans to God? It seems we don’t have any problem! Proverbs 16:3 tells us to commit to the Lord whatever we do and our plans will succeed! Of course though, this is assuming one is living in faithfulness to the covenant. You do not commit to the Lord your plans to murder your neighbor and steal his money and expect God to help you succeed for instance.
Thus, we don’t have anything in the text about God giving us individual guidance in our lives. That is a modern concept read back into the text. Instead, we have a general principle that applies to everyone that we are to follow. Seek wisdom. We have a whole book here on how to make wise decisions. (In light of that, why would we think God would really be saying “Or just listen to me and I’ll always tell you what decisions to make.”?)
However, the section does not end there. It goes on for a few more verses.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
And this is the same thing said in a different way. Do not be wise in your own eyes. It doesn’t mean you should go around thinking you’re an idiot. It means do not think that you know better than God. When God has shown the way of wisdom, walk in it. That includes to fear him and shun evil. Do so, and you will be blessed for it.
9 Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.
And this brings us back then to the faithfulness aspect. If we love God, we will be faithful in the way of Wisdom which will honor God. In doing so, we will be blessed beyond measure.
I fear that with the modern view, we are robbing ourselves of so much and presenting a Christianity that isn’t there. God is calling us to the path of wisdom and how we are to live. It is not a day-to-day thing where we get guidance when needed. It is a lifetime path. It is where we live each day seeking more wisdom. We could take this further and see that Christ is the wisdom of God. We are then to seek to walk in the path of Christ and as John says, if anyone loves God, he must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)
The modern view is easy and it can make us feel really spiritual, but it just isn’t true. The ancient view did not rest on feelings. In fact, it would rely more on self-control where you control your feelings instead of controlling you. It is a life of discipline that is not easy. I suppose then I can understand why we have so often moved to an easier view.
It may be easier, but it is not true. Let us walk in the truth and do as the text really tells us to do. Live our lives according to Wisdom. It will not be easy, but it will be a blessing.