|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-6 In the way of believing obedience to God's commandments health and peace may commonly be enjoyed; and though our days may not be long upon earth, we shall live for ever in heaven. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; God's mercy in promising, and his truth in performing: live up to them, keep up thine interest in them, and take the comfort of them. We must trust in the Lord with all our hearts, believing he is able and wise to do what is best. Those who know themselves, find their own understandings a broken reed, which, if they lean upon, will fail. Do not design any thing but what is lawful, and beg God to direct thee in every case, though it may seem quite plain. In all our ways that prove pleasant, in which we gain our point, we must acknowledge God with thankfulness. In all our ways that prove uncomfortable, and that are hedged up with thorns, we must acknowledge him with submission. It is promised, He shall direct thy paths; so that thy way shall be safe and good, and happy at last.
Verse 3. - Mercy and truth (khesed vermeth); properly, love and truth; Vulgate, misericordia et veritas; LXX., ἐλεημοσύναι καὶ πίστεις. With this verse begin the commandments which are alluded to in ver. 1. The Hebrew khesed has to be understood in its widest sense, though the Vulgate and the LXX. confine it to one aspect of its meaning, viz. that which refers to the relation of man to man, to the pity evoked by the sight of another's misfortunes, and to ahnsgiving. The radical meaning of the word is "ardent desire," from the root khasad, "to eagerly or ardently desire." Delitzsch describes it as "well affectedness." Predicated of God, it indicates God's love and grace towards man; predicated of man, it signifies man's love toward s God, i.e. piety, or man's love towards his neighbour, i.e. humanity. Where this mercy or love is exhibited in man it finds expression in
(1) mutual outward help;
(2) forgiveness of offences;
(3) sympathy of feeling, which leads to interchange of thought, and so to the development of the spiritual life (see Elster, in loc.).
The word carries with it the ideas of kindlim as, benignity (Targum, benignitas), and grace (Syriac, gratia). Truth (emeth); properly, firmness, or stability, and so fidelity in which one performs one's promise. Truth is that absolute integrity of character, beth in word and deed, which secures the unhesitating confidence of all (Wardlaw). Umbreit and Elster designate it as inward truthfulness, the pectus rectum, the very essence of a true man. As khesed excludes all selfishness and hate, so emeth excludes all hypocrisy and dissimulation. These two virtues are frequently combined in the Proverbs (e.g. Proverbs 14:22; Proverbs 16:16; Proverbs 20:28) and Psalms (e.g. Psalm 25:10; Psalm 40:11; Psalm 57:4-11; Psalm 108:5; Psalm 138:2), and, when predicated of man, indicate the highest normal standard of moral perfection (Zockler). The two ideas are again brought together in the New Testament phrase, ἀληθεύειν ἐν ἀγάπη, "to speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). There seems little ground for the remark of Salasius, that "mercy" refers to our neighbours, and "truth" to God. Each virtue, in fact, has a twofold reference - one to God, the other to man. The promise in ver. 4, that the exercise of these virtues procures favour with God and man, implies this twofold aspect. Bind them about thy neck; either
(1) as ornaments worn about the neck (Gejerus, Zockler); or
(2) as amulets or talismans, which were worn from a superstitious notion to ward off danger (Umbreit and Vaihinger); or
(3) as treasures which one wears attached to the neck by a chain to guard against their loss (Hitzig); or
(4) as a signet, which was carried on a string round the neck (Delitzsch). The true reference of the passage seems to lie between (1) and (3). The latter adapts itself to the parallel expression, "Write them on the tablet of thine heart," and also agrees with Proverbs 6:21, "Tie them about thy neck," the idea being that of their careful preservation against loss. The former meaning, however, seems preferable. Mercy and truth are to be ornaments of the character, to be bound round the neck, i.e. worn at all times (comp. Proverbs 1:9, "For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thine head, and chains about thy neck." See also Genesis 41:42; Song of Solomon 1:10; Song of Solomon 4:9; Ezekiel 16:11). The imagery of the binding is evidently taken from Exodus 13:9 and Deuteronomy 6:8, and is suggestive of the tephillim, or phylacteries. Write them upon the table of thine heart; i.e. inscribe them. mercy and truth, deeply there, impress them thoroughly and indelibly upon thine heart, so that they may never be forgotten, and may form the mainspring of your actions. The expression implies that the heart is to be in entire union with their dictates. The table (luakh) was the tablet expressly prepared for writing by being polished, corresponding to the πινακίδον, the writing table of Luke 1:63, which, however, was probably covered with wax. The inscription was made with the stylus. The same word is used of the tables of stone, on which the ten commandments were written with the finger of God, end allusion is in all probability here made to that fact (Exodus 31:18; Exodus 34:28). The expression, "the tables of the heart," occurs in Proverbs 7:3; Jeremiah 17:1 (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:3); and is used by AEschylus, 'Pro.,' 789, δέλτοι φρενῶν, "the tablets of the heart." This clause is omitted in the LXX.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Let not mercy and truth forsake thee,.... Or, forsake not them, and the exercise of them; show "mercy" to fellow creatures, to sinful men, to the bodies of men, by relieving their wants; and to their souls, by pitying and praying for them, and by giving them wholesome counsel and advice: to fellow Christians, sympathize with them in their troubles, put on bowels of compassion, be tenderhearted, and forgive offences; and, in a spirit of meekness, restore backsliders, for God will have mercy, and not sacrifice. Attend to "truth"; exercise faith on the Lord; cast not away your confidence; speak truth to your neighbour and brother; and hold fast the truth of the Gospel, and never depart from it. Though many interpreters understand this by way of promise, and as an encouragement to regard the doctrines and ordinances of Christ, rendering the words, "mercy and truth shall not forsake thee" (g); meaning the mercy and truth of God; the "mercy" of God in forgiving sin, in sympathizing under affliction, in helping in time of need, in supplying with all needful grace, and in bringing to eternal life; for the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting, upon them that fear him, Psalm 103:17; the "truth" of God, his faithfulness in performing promises, never fails; the unbelief of man cannot make it of no effect; though we believe not, he abides faithful and true to every word of his; not one shall fail, or pass away; all shall be fulfilled; see Psalm 89:33; "all his paths are mercy and truth", and he never goes out of them, Psalm 25:10;
bind them about thy neck; as chains for ornament: not mercy and truth, just before mentioned, as may seem at first sight; but the law and commandments of wisdom, Proverbs 3:1; or the doctrines and ordinances of Christ; see Proverbs 1:8; reckon it as your greatest honour, glory, and beauty, that you steadfastly adhere to these things; nothing makes a believer look more lovely in conversation than a close regard to the truths of Christ, and a constant walking in his ordinances;
write them upon the table of thine heart; do not forget them, keep them in memory, and always retain a hearty affection for them; it is the Spirit's work to write them in the heart; and when they are there written, it is the work of saints, under a divine influence, to copy them over in life, and to show by their conduct and behaviour that they are written there; see Jeremiah 31:33. The allusion, in both phrases, is to the directions given about the law of Moses, Deuteronomy 6:8; and to the writing of his law on tables of stone: and it was usual with the ancients, in later times, to write on tables of wood; Solon's laws were written on tables of wood (h); and such were the "tabellae et pugillares" of the Romans, made of box, beech, and other sorts of wood, covered with wax, on which they wrote; See Gill on Habakkuk 2:2; but Solomon would have his law written on the fleshly tables of the heart, 2 Corinthians 3:3.
(g) "non derelinquent te", Piscator; "non deserent te", Michaelis; so Aben Ezra and Gersom. (h) Laert, Vit. Solon. A. Gell. Noet. Attic. l. 2. c. 12.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
3. mercy and truth—God's faithfulness to His promises is often expressed by these terms (Ps 25:10; 57:3). As attributes of men, they express integrity in a wide sense (Pr 16:6; 20:28).
bind … write … heart—outwardly adorn and inwardly govern motives.
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