Proverbs 3 King James Version (KJV)
3 My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: 2 For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.
We begin with a now customary reminder of the law. This is the King’s law. He is passing down his wisdom to his son, and subsequently children in general. The promise is that the King’s law will bring the keeper a long and peaceful life. This could easily be interpreted as a threat, though it is not framed as so. It is an implicit threat but one baked in a promise. Law brings peace and long life. If we look at this literally, lawless regions tend to lower the life expectancy of the population. Drilling down, the more lawless the person the lower their life expectancy (all things being equal).
3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: 4 So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
We start with the conception of mercy and truth as separate for the individual. They can “forsake” you. As such you must attach them to yourself, both in physical symbology around the neck and spiritually on the heart. The just rewards for this are that you will find both favor in man AND God. Finally, we intuit that wisdom is divine and that it is ancient and eternal truths, not personal truths that we should seek. If we acknowledge divine wisdom the lord shall direct our paths. It continues:
7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. 8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
This is an important point that at the very leats the post-enlightenment thinkers tends to miss. There is an ongoing trend for novelty, most likely due to a breaking of the bonds between the clergy (both religious and secular ) and any form of orthodoxy. Being wise in your own eyes is usually faulty. As is clear to anyone who has come this far in their thinking will note, there are many ways of looking at the world which are internally consistent yet wholly unwise.
9 Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: 10 So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine. 11 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: 12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
Again we see that following the Lord is for the benefit of the servant. This is not to say that all rich people follow the lord or that all poor people do not, but given the proper application of the wisdom of the lord you should find bounty. That is to say, if you are a decent servant but find yourself unsuccessful it may be wisdom, not virtue (though more virtue doesn’t hurt) that you lack. Lastly probably the least followed in any era, learn from your mistakes. Do not despise your failures and setbacks they will teach you the wisdom of the lord as surely as your study.
13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. 14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
After the promise of bounty, the passage reminds the reader that wisdom is an end worthwhile in and of itself. That they should not put material goods before the pursuit of wisdom.
16 Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. 17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.
Again we see the personification of wisdom as a woman. Probably the most important phrase in this passage is that wisdom is the tree of life. The rest of the passage supports this but this is a foundational concept to work with. The corollary is not that wisdom is some abstraction created out of the mind of some highly literate thinker, but that she is the thing which makes the living thrive, both in the base and heavenly sense. While wisdom is certainly at times difficult and esoteric it is in the Lord always practical and fruitful.
19 The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. 20 By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.
This is an interesting retelling of the creation story. By no means complete it seems to reflect the power of the Lord’s wisdom. That wisdom not only has the power to help man but that it is part of the power of God. This may seem trivial but it would be entirely possible that God in the mystery of his ways would not use wisdom (in that it would be something foreign to man). Verse 20 by my own perhaps unorthodox translation is a reference to the waters of chaos. The word for depths is specific to the ocean depths, and the ocean in cosmological terms is often associated with chaos. See genesis 1:1-2
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And also this summary of biblical chaos:
A state of complete disorder or confusion. The first stage of creation where, having brought something out of nothing, God had not yet brought order to the universe. This primeval chaos, often symbolised by surging waters, threatens to disrupt God’s order at any time. God sometimes allows a return to chaos as judgment. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/dictionary-of-bible-themes/4045-chaos
The reference to the dew and clouds to my eyes are both literal and metaphorical. Yes, water does literally form clouds and dew but the deeper meaning is that through HIS knowledge chaos (the depths) itself can be turned into life bringing order (clouds, rain and dew).
21 My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion: 22 So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck. 23 Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.
We return to the instruction to keep discretion and wisdom. I’m not sure whether to interpret grace to thy neck as a reference to ornamentation or grace from throat slitting, I suppose it could be both. The last line returns to the theme of the path, road or way.
24 When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. 25 Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. 26 For the Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.
I’m going to go off the reservation for a bit, but given the context, I believe this to be justified. Given the explicit and hidden threats that appear in this chapter, I would hazard to interpret this passage in the “you’re doing it right camp”. That being if truly can use God’s wisdom and knowledge you should be able to sleep well at night. If you wake up at night with irrational fear, chill, the lord knows his own. The threat comes next, the wicked will be desolated reflecting the punishment for the unwise. The next line is odd given the theme of sleep, but it makes sense as a metaphor for irrational fear. “Foot from being taken” is more simply translated as snared. Few people step on snares while sleeping, but again I take this as a metaphor, that being wisdom and discretion are not a trap to lull one to sleep. So my conclusion, one that I will build on is: if you fear for yourself at night you lack the wisdom, knowledge, and discretion of God in other words: you’re doing it wrong.
27 Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. 28 Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. 29 Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee.30 Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.
We receive a nice change of pace, we get to talk about neighbors and high trust. Simple enough advice, do good to those who deserve it to the extent you have the power to do so. Give the neighbor his goods even when he forgot his cash. Don’t be wicked towards your neighbor (specifically the neighbor who trusts you see high trust) and don’t fight with him for no reason.
31 Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways. 32 For the froward is abomination to the Lord: but his secret is with the righteous. 33 The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just. 34 Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly. 35 The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.
The last verses seem to point back to my “doing it wrong” hypothesis. Oppressor has also been translated as violent man or unjust man. This makes sense in that throwing away wisdom just because someone else is wicked would negate the Truth of Wisdom as universal. The second verse is a nice contrast, the froward ( also perverse, devious or wicked) are an abomination to the lord, “but his secret is with the righteous.” Wisdom is here depicted as a secret hidden from those the wicked. This along with the last verse should dampen enthusiasm for Machiavellian schemes. Verse 33, 34 and 35 reinforce the theme of bad people get the stick, good people get the carrot. 35 is particularly blunt “The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.” There are rewards for Wisdom and shame for the fool. This passage should clarify the mind numbing kvetching question so often heard “If God is good why do bad things happen?” The answer is that bad things happen to the wicked and fools. If a bad thing is happening to you somewhere someone is being foolish, chances are it is you. So my question is: do you have glory and bounty? If not become worthy and wise.