The word of the day is “trust.” Our society values self-reliance. We teach that maturity means that we no longer depend on others for direction or support. When we are fully grown, we should take our own path in life. However, our reading of Proverbs 3:1-18 teaches us the opposite. The wise teacher of Proverbs says, “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (OAB vs. 5). Today we will consider what it means to trust the Lord for wisdom. We will also find that reliance on God’s wisdom should apply to everything we do.
Our key verse (vs. 5) is a favorite of many. It is worth memorizing so that we keep it in mind as we make our way in life. But today, we study the vocabulary of this passage to gain deeper insight into the divine call to trust God and to look confidently to His wisdom for guidance in living.
Trust: Another Word for Reliance, Confidence, or Refuge
Most English versions of Proverbs use the word “trust” to translate the idea of taking refuge in God (Hebrew Dictionary #982, 36). The Hebrew term suggests that we find our security in the Lord. The Septuagint (LXX) uses the Greek word meaning “to rely on” (Strong’s #4006, 197). Accordingly, “trusting” here means to depend on and put our confidence in the Lord.
But Proverbs directs us to put our confidence in the Almighty “with all your heart” (OSB vs. 5). The “heart” is the seat of our thoughts, feelings, morality, and conscience. Thus, the writer of Proverbs advises that our dependence on God should be without reservation. We should devote our thoughts, feelings, and desires, as well as our will to trusting in God.
Relying On Our Own Understanding
But if we find our security in God, we should also put our confidence in His wisdom. The Hebrew text uses a compelling image to describe the opposite of such reliance. It cautions us, “lean not on your own understanding” (NKJV vs. 5). The Hebrew term refers to supporting oneself. But “leaning” suggests that if this prop were suddenly removed from us, we would fall over. Thus, our own understanding is contrary to the dependability of God’s wisdom. It is unreliable.
The New Revised Standard Version agrees with this thought when it translates, “Do not rely on your own insight” (NRSV vs. 5). However, the Septuagint (LXX) offers another viewpoint. It says, “Do not exalt your own wisdom” (OSB vs. 5). The Greek word for “exalt” means to “lift up” (Strong’s #1869, 93). In this view, we are not to give an elevated estimation to our own wisdom, higher than our value of God’s understanding.
Wisdom Applied to All Our Ways
The next verse elaborates on what it means to rely on God for wisdom. Most versions have it that we should apply this dependency to “all our ways” (NKJV, OAB, OSB vs. 6), that is, in everything we do. The Hebrew text uses the general word “to know,” and the Greek Septuagint does the same. Therefore, the Orthodox Study Bible translates, “In all your ways know wisdom (OSB vs. 6). We might say, “In all you do, know and remember the wisdom of God.”
But the New King James and New Revised versions offer a more specific thought. They translate, “In all your ways acknowledge Him” (OAB, NKJV vs. 6). When we “acknowledge” the Lord, we submit to the authority of God and His wisdom.
Straight Paths Without the Danger of Stumbling
When we look to God’s wisdom rather than our own, then the Book of Proverbs promises, “God will make straight your paths” (NKJV vs. 6). The Hebrew word here for “make straight” (Hebrew Dictionary, #3774, 124) also means “to direct” (Hebrew Dictionary, #3774,124). Accordingly, the New King James Version says that “God will direct your paths” (NKJV vs. 6).
However, the Septuagint brings up another thought. First, it uses the Greek word that means “to cut in a straight line” (Strong’s #3718, 181). Thus, The Orthodox Study Bible says, “… know wisdom that she may cut a straight path for you” (OSB vs. 6). This translation is like the others. But then the Septuagint adds the thought that God’s wisdom prevents us from stumbling. It uses the Greek word for “strike” and says literally, lest you “strike your foot.” Accordingly, the Orthodox Study Bible translates the LXX, “That she [wisdom] may cut a straight path for you and your foot will not stumble” (OSB, 6).
In summary, verse five advises us to rely on the Lord with our whole heart. Moreover, we should not depend on our own knowledge, understanding, perceptions, and insights. Our own wisdom is a tottering column, a wobbly crutch, and a crumbling wall. It is unstable and insecure for us to lean on. Verse 6 teaches that we should look to God, acknowledge Him, and follow His wisdom in all our ways. The result would be that God’s understanding would make our paths straight and prevent us from stumbling.
Today’s reading and our comments assume that God is trustworthy. He is true to His Word and faithful to His promises. He is constant in kindness and steadfast in love.
Moreover, we can count on the Almighty’s wisdom to lead us on straight and level paths. The writer of Proverbs assures us, “She [wisdom] is security for those who lean upon her as upon the Lord” (OSB vs. 20). The Psalmist declares, “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth” (OSB Psalm 25:10). And James professes, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits” (James 3:17. The Lord of Heaven gives that wise understanding and all its benefits to those who seek it.
So, as we turn to the God of forgiveness, let us also turn to the God of wisdom. Let us turn back from the winding road of our prideful self-reliance and take the straight path of the knowledge, understanding, and discernment that resides in God above.
How do we know when the answers or wisdom we seek is from God? How do we trust we are heading in the right direction following the will of God?
Dear Melissa: to answer from the Wisdom Tradition, we know that we are following the will of God when we act in accord with the wisdom of the sages. This may not seem to be much of an answer, but the Wisdom Tradition is practical and condenses the practical experience of wise persons through the ages. The Lord Jesus taught in this tradition when He said such things as “by their fruits, you will know them.” That is a practical but profound insight. Another is that it is foolish to put “new wine in old wineskins” and again, “no one can serve two masters,” and again “a house divided cannot stand.” All these sayings can be tested by experience. I would be interested in your response to this answer. God bless, Fr. Basil