PROVERBS 3 INCLUDES SEVERAL well-known passages. Many Christians have been told not to be wise in their own eyes (Prov. 3:7). The passage that likens the Lord’s discipline of believers to a father’s discipline of the son he delights in (Prov. 3:11-12) reappears in the New Testament (Heb. 12:5-6). Growing up in a Christian home, I was frequently told, “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding…. She [wisdom] is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (Prov. 3:13, 15). Wisdom is either God’s plan or the personified means of establishing the entire created order (Prov. 3:19-20).
But first place should go to Proverbs 3:5-6, enshrined on many walls and learned by countless generations of Sunday school students: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Observe:
(1) The first part of this familiar text attacks the independence at the root of all sin. Our own understanding is insufficient and frequently skewed. The only right path is to trust in the Lord. Such trust in the Lord is not an ethereal subjectivism; it is the kind of whole-life commitment (“with all your heart,” Solomon says) that abandons self-centered perspectives for the Lord’s perspectives. In the context of biblical religion, that means learning and knowing what the Lord’s will is, and obeying it regardless of whether or not it is the “in” thing to do. Far from being an appeal to subjective guidance, this trusting the Lord with your whole heart entails meditating on his word, hiding that word in your heart, learning to think God’s thoughts after him—precisely so that you do not lean on your own understanding. Joshua was required to learn that lesson at the beginning of his leadership (Josh. 1:6-9). The kings of Israel were supposed to learn it (Deut. 17:18-20), but rarely did.
(2) The second couplet, “in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight,” demands more than that we acknowledge that God exists and that he is in providential control, or some such thing. It means we must so acknowledge him that his ways and laws and character shape our choices and direct our lives. In all your ways, then, acknowledge him—not exclusively in some narrow religious sphere, but in all the dimensions of your life. The alternative is to disown him.
Thus the second couplet is essentially parallel to the first. The result is a straight course, directed by God himself.