Matthew Poole's Commentary
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:Solomon exhorteth his son to obedience, Proverbs 3:1-4. To faith, Proverbs 3:5,6, and trust in God; the benefits that they shall receive thereby, Proverbs 3:7,8. To honour God with our estates, Proverbs 3:9. The advantage in so doing, Proverbs 3:10. To patience under God’s chastisements, Proverbs 3:11. A reason for it, Proverbs 3:12. The happiness of him that findeth wisdom, Proverbs 3:13. Wisdom set out, with the benefits that attend her, Proverbs 3:14-18. The effects, Proverbs 3:19,20. Another exhortation to perform our duty, Proverbs 3:21-27. To charitableness, Proverbs 3:28. To avoid strife, Proverbs 3:29,30. Against envy, Proverbs 3:31. The misery of the wicked, and blessings of the just, Proverbs 3:32-35.
My law; my doctrine or counsel; or the law of God, which might be called his law, as the gospel is called Paul’s gospel, 2 Thessalonians 2:8, because delivered by him.
Keep my commandments, by diligent meditation and hearty affection.
For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.God will add these blessings which he hath promised to the obedient, Deu 8:18 30:20 1 Timothy 4:8.
Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: either,
1. God’s mercy and truth. So it is a promise, God’s mercy and truth shall not forsake thee. Or rather,
2. That mercy and truth which is man’s duty. So it is a precept; which seems most probable, both from the form of the Hebrew phrase, and from the following words of this verse, which are plainly preceptive, and from the promise annexed to the performance of this precept in the next verse.
truth are frequently joined together, as they are in God, as Psalm 25:10 57:3, &c., or in men, as Proverbs 16:6 20:28 Hosea 4:1, and here. Mercy notes all that benignity, clemency, charity, and readiness to do good freely to others; truth or faithfulness respects all those duties which we owe to God or man, to which we have special obligation from the rules of justice.
Bind them about thy neck, like a chain, wherewith persons adorn their necks, as it is expressed, Proverbs 1:9; which is fastened there, and not easily lost, which also is continually in one’s view.
Upon the table of thine heart: either,
1. Upon those tablets which the Jews are said to have worn upon their breasts, which are always in sight. So he alludes to Deu 6:8. Or,
2. In thy mind and heart, in which all God commands are to be received and engraven, as is oft required in this book, and every where. So the table of the heart seems to be opposed to the tables of stone in which God’s law was written, as it is Jeremiah 31:33 2 Corinthians 3:3.
So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.Find favour, i.e. obtain acceptance, or be gracious and amiable to them.
Good understanding; whereby to know thy duty, and to discern between good and evil. The serious practice of religion is an excellent mean to get a solid understanding of it; as, on the contrary, a vicious life doth exceedingly debase and darken the mind, and keep men from the knowledge of truth, which not only Scripture, but even heathen philosophers, have oft observed. Others render it, good success; which seems not to suit well with the following words.
In the sight of God; grace or favour with God, and that understanding which is good in God’s sight, i.e. truly and really; as a truly good man is called good before God, in the Hebrew, Ecclesiastes 7:26.
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.Trust in the Lord; wholly and securely rely upon God’s promises and providence for help and relief in all thine affairs and dangers.
Lean not unto thine own understanding; think not to accomplish thy designs by the strength of thine own wit without God’s blessing. Under this one kind of carnal confidence, which is most frequent and most plausible, he understands and forbids all other confidences in bodily strength, wealth, friends, &c.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.Ways; designs and undertakings for the things of this life or of the next.
Acknowledge him, Heb. know him, to wit, practically; or, own him; his wisdom, in following his counsels; his power and goodness, in expecting success from him; his sovereignty, in managing all thy affairs so as to please and glorify him.
Direct thy paths; assist and bless all thine endeavours, and keep thee from the paths of sin and destruction.
Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.Be not wise in thine own eyes; be not puffed up with vain conceit of thine own wisdom, as if that were sufficient for the conduct of all thine affairs without direction or assistance from God, or without the advice of others.
Fear the Lord: this he adds, because the reverence and dread of the Divine Majesty will make a man, when he compareth himself with God, little and vile in his own eyes. Reverence God’s wisdom, and thou wilt despise thine own.
It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.To thy navel, i.e. to thy body, which is signified by the navel, which is a noble and useful part of the body, by which the infant receives nourishment in the womb, and which is the ligament or bond by which the bowels, a principal part of the body, are united together and preserved.
Marrow is the nourishment and strength of the bones, and a great preserver and prolonger of life, as the decay of it is a chief cause of the weakness, and dryness, and decay of the body. The sense of the verse is, This wisdom or fear of God is not only useful to the salvation of the soul, but also to the health and welfare of the body, both as it prevents those diseases and distempers which are oft procured by sinful lusts and passions, and as it giveth us an interest in all God’s promises, and putteth us under the care of his special providence.
Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:With thy substance; or, with thy riches. Lay out thy estate not only to please and advance thyself or family, but also to glorify God; which is done by the payment of all those offerings and dues which God hath required; by giving according to thy abilities whatsoever is necessary for the support and advancement of God’s worship and service in the world; by free and liberal contributions to those whom God hath made his deputies, and, as I may say, the receivers of his rents, to wit, faithful ministers and good Christians, and all others who need and require thy help. The performance of these duties is here called an honouring of God, partly because that word is sometimes used for giving of gifts, as 1 Timothy 5:17, and elsewhere; and partly because it is, a testimony of our respects to God, of our obedience to him as our sovereign Lord, and that in hard and costly duties, of our thankfulness to him as our chief Benefactor and Donor of all that we have, and of our belief of his promises made to the faithful practisers of this duty; which if they were believed, the most covetous persons would be the most charitable.
With the first-fruits; or, with the chief, or best, or first, which answers to the first-fruits under the law.
So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.This is not the way to diminish thy estate, as covetous and profane persons allege, but rather to increase it.
Shall burst out; shall be so filled, that they would burst out, if not carefully prevented.
My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction:Despise not the chastening of the Lord; either,
1. By making light of it, or not being duly affected with if; and so this is one extreme opposed to the other in the next clause. Or rather,
2. By accounting it an unnecessary, and useless, and troublesome thing; but rather esteem it as a privilege and favour from God, and a benefit to thyself; for such negatives do oft imply the contrary affirmatives by a common figure called meiosis, as Proverbs 17:21, and oft elsewhere. And this sense seems to agree better both with the following clause, which repeats the same thing with some aggravation, after the manner; and with the reason used to enforce this and the following command, Proverbs 3:12, which concerns not such as are insensible, but rather such as had too deep a sense of the evil of affliction.
Neither be weary of his correction; neither esteem it tedious and intolerable, but endure it with patience and cheerfulness.
For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.Afflictions are not infelicities, but benefits and comforts, because their are testimonies of God’s love, which is infinitely more desirable than any evil can be terrible. They show God’s purpose, and desire, and care to purge us from our sins, and to make us fit for his presence and kingdom. This and the former verse seem to be here inserted in the midst of his commendations of wisdom, to remove an objection against the excellency and happiness of wise or pious men, taken from those many calamities to which such persons are frequently exposed, the reason of which providence he here giveth.
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.Happy is the man, notwithstanding all his afflictions, that findeth wisdom; which supposeth his diligent searching for it, expressed Proverbs 3:4.
That getteth, Heb. that draweth out; which expression implies two things:
1. That man hath it not naturally in himself, but must have it from another, even from God and his word.
2. That men should labour for it, as those do that dig and draw forth metals out of the earth.
For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.It is more necessary and advantageous, because it is so, not only for this short life, but also to the future and everlasting life, in which gold and silver bear no price.
She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.For true worth and usefulness.
Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.Wisdom is here represented as a great and generous princess distributing gifts to her subjects. She giveth them long life, &c., unless when she foresees that these things would prove snares and mischiefs to them, as they very frequently do to others.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.Are ways of pleasantness; are exceedingly delightful, to wit, to those who know them and walk in them; whose judgment is certainly to be preferred before the contrary opinion of ungodly men, who are grossly ignorant of them, and professed enemies to them.
Are peace; procure a blessed tranquillity in a man’s mind and conscience, prosperity in his undertakings, and eternal rest with God in glory.
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.She is a tree of life; she is a certain pledge and mean of everlasting life and happiness. He alludes to that tree of life, Genesis 2:9 3:22; which if eaten by man in Paradise before his fall, should have perpetually preserved him in life, and health, and rigour; and intimates that this is the only restorer of that life which we have lost by sin.
That lay hold upon her; that eagerly pursue after her, and when they overtake her do greedily and gladly apprehend and embrace her, as the Hebrew word signifies.
That retaineth her; that holdeth her fast, and is constantly resolved not to forsake her.
The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.By wisdom; either,
1. By Christ, the co-essential and co-eternal Wisdom of God the Father. Or,
2. By that Divine perfection of wisdom, which is the fountain of that wisdom that is in man, which Solomon hath hitherto commended; and therefore the commendation of that wisdom tends to the commendation of this, which is a stream flowing from it.
Hath founded the earth; hath fixed it in the lowest part of the world.
Established the heavens, or fitted or ordered them; framed them in that exquisite order which now they have,
By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.The depths are broken up; that great abyss or depth of waters, which was mixed with and contained in the bowels of the earth, did break forth into fountains and rivers for the use of men and beasts; which is justly remembered here as an illustrious effect of God’s wisdom, by which the earth was made habitable, and the waters serviceable.
The dew; under which the rain is comprehended, as being of the same nature and use.
My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion:Them, to wit,
wisdom and discretion; of which he hath hitherto discoursed, and which are expressed in the end of this verse, and may be referred hither by a figure called trajection; and the words may be put into this order, let not sound wisdom and discretion depart from thine eyes, but keep them diligently. The like trajections are found in other texts of Scripture.
From thine eyes, i.e. from the eyes of thy mind. Constantly and seriously meditate upon them, and upon those excellent precepts and rules which proceed from them.
So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.Unto thy soul; either,
1. To thee or thy person. They shall prolong and perpetuate thy life, and make it life indeed, to wit, pleasant and happy; whereas a miserable life is reputed a kind of death, and is oft so called. Or, to thy soul, properly so called. They shall quicken, and delight, and save thy soul.
Grace to thy neck; like a beautiful chain or ornament about thy neck, as above, Proverbs 3:3 1:9.
Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.Walk in thy way; manage all thy employments and concerns.
Safely, or securely, or confidently, without danger or fear; casting thy care upon God in the discharge of thy duty.
Shall not stumble at those stumbling-blocks and temptations at which heedless sinners commonly stumble and fall. Thou shalt thereby be kept from falling into sin, and that mischief which generally attends upon it.
When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.Free from distracting cares and terrors, which ofttimes haunt sinners even in their sleep, because thy mind shall be composed and serene through the sense of God’s favour and providence, and the conscience of thine own integrity.
Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.Be not afraid, i.e. thou shalt not be afraid. For that it is a promise, seems most probable from the context; only it is for greater emphasis delivered in the form of a precept; I allow thee and require thee not to be afraid, which is both thy duty and privilege.
Of sudden fear; for sudden and unexpected evils are most frightful and grievous. And fear is here put for the evils feared, as Proverbs 1:26,27, and oft elsewhere. The desolation of the wicked; either,
1. Actively, which they bring upon thee. Or, rather
2. Passively, which befalls them, when the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, as it is expressed, Isaiah 26:21; and thou mayst be apt to fear lest thou shouldst be involved in the common calamity; but fear not, for God will then hide thee in his chambers, as he promised, Isaiah 26:20.
For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.Thy confidence; a sufficient and sure ground of confidence to thee.
From being taken, in the snares either of sin or of mischief.
Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.Withhold not good; do not deny it, but readily and cheerfully impart it, which is implied in the contrary, as above, Proverbs 3:11, and oft in this book, as we shall see. Good; any thing which is good; either spiritually, as counsel, comfort, reproof, &c.; or civilly, the good things of the present life, as good is taken, Psalm 4:6, called this world’s good, 1Jo 3:17.
From them to whom it is due, Heb. from the lords or owners of it; from those who have any kind of right to it; either,
1. By the law of justice and equity, prescribed both by the natural and written laws of God, and by the civil laws of men. So this place commands the payment of just debts, and the restitution of things either found or committed to our trust, or taken from others by fraud or violence. Or,
2. (which seems to be chiefly intended by comparing this with the next verse, though the former is not to be excluded,) By that great and sovereign law of love or charity, which God hath written in the hearts of men by nature, and frequently and severely enjoined in his word, whereby every man is obliged according to his ability and opportunity, to pity and relieve such as are in real want or misery; who in that case are here called the owners of our goods, not in respect of men, as if men in want might seize upon the riches of others, but in respect of God, who is the sovereign Lord and only true Proprietary of all men’s estates, who giveth them when and to whom he pleaseth, and who doth not give away his right, nor make men absolute lords of them to dispose them as they will, but only allows them the use and comfort of them upon such conditions, and with such reservations and rent charges, as I may call them, as he hath appointed, whereof this is one, that men should readily and freely communicate them to other men who need and require their help. And such actions, though they be acts of charity and bounty to men, yet, as to God, they are acts of righteousness, as they are called, Proverbs 11:18 2 Corinthians 9:9, and in many other places.
To do it; either,
1. To withhold it. Or,
2. To do good. And this clause may be added, either,
1. As a limitation, to intimate that God expects from men according to what they have, and not according to what they have not, as is said, 2 Corinthians 8:12. Or,
2. As an argument to persuade them to partake the present season to perform this duty, when they are capable of so doing, because by the changes of this world, and the course of Divine providence, they may be disenabled from the performance of this great and necessary duty, and then they will be without excuse.
Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.The former verse forbade the denial, and this forbids the delay of this duty.
Unto thy neighbour; unto any man, as the word neighbor is commonly used in Scripture, as hath been oft proved.
I will give, to wit, what is thy due, in manner before expressed, or what thou needest; for this word is generally used concerning free or charitable gifts, and not concerning due debts.
Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee.Devise not evil; any thing injurious or hurtful. Having commanded doing of good, Proverbs 3:27,28, he here forbids doing or designing any evil.
Dwelleth securely by thee; relying upon thine integrity: do not therefore betray thy trust, which is hateful even to heathens.
Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.Strive not; either by words before the magistrate; or otherwise by thine actions.
Without cause; without just and necessary cause.
If he have done thee no harm; whereby he clearly implies that in case of injury a man may by all lawful means defend himself.
Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.Envy thou not the oppressor, for his impunity and success in his wicked designs, and the wealth which he gains by his unrighteous practices.
Choose none of his ways; for what men envy in others they seek to obtain for themselves.
For the froward is abomination to the LORD: but his secret is with the righteous.The froward; or, perverse, who walketh in crooked or sinful paths, as the oppressor last mentioned; opposed to the upright man, who is called right or straight, as Deu 32:4 Proverbs 29:27. Is abomination to the Lord; God hates him, and therefore sooner or later he must needs be extremely and eternally miserable.
His secret is with the righteous; they are God’s friends and favourites, to whom he familiarly imparts, as men use to do to their friends, his mind and counsels, or his secret favours and comforts, to which other men are strangers. Compare Psalm 25:14 John 15:15 Revelation 2:17.
The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.In the house of the wicked; not only upon his own person, but also upon his posterity, and upon all his domestical concerns.
Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.He scorneth, he will expose to scorn and contempt, the scorners; proud and insolent sinners, who make a mock at sin, Proverbs 14:9, and at God and religion also, and despise all counsels and means of amendment. Compare Psalm 1:1 Proverbs 1:22.
He giveth grace, to wit, favour, both with himself and with men, as this word and phrase is used, Exodus 3:21 11:3 12:36 Ecclesiastes 9:11 Luke 2:52
The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.Shall inherit glory; shall enjoy it not only for a season, as wicked men ofttimes do, but as an inheritance, constantly, and to perpetuity.
Shame shall be the promotion of fools; instead of that glory which they greedily seek, they shall meet with nothing but ignominy. Or, as it is in the margin, shame exalteth or lifteth up fools, i.e. it makes them manifest and notorious, as this very word is used Proverbs 14:29. Or, as the words lie in the Hebrew text fools take or carry away (as this word is here rendered by divers both ancient and modern translators, and as it is used Leviticus 6:10,15, and oft elsewhere) shame, to wit, as his proper portion or inheritance; which is here very fitly opposed to the portion or inheritance of the just. And although the verb be singular, yet it agrees well enough with the noun plural, because this is taken distributively, such constructions being very usual in the Hebrew text.