Confidence in God Leads to Prosperity*
1My son, do not forget* my teaching,
take to heart my commands;
2For many days, and years of life,a
and peace, will they bring you.
3Do not let love and fidelity forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4Then will you win favor and esteem
before God and human beings.
5Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
on your own intelligence do not rely;
6In all your ways be mindful of him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7Do not be wise in your own eyes,b
fear the LORD and turn away from evil;
8This will mean health for your flesh
and vigor for your bones.
9Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with first fruits of all your produce;c
10Then will your barns be filled with plenty,
with new wine your vats will overflow.
11The discipline of the LORD, my son, do not spurn;d
do not disdain his reproof;
12* For whom the LORD loves he reproves,
as a father, the son he favors.e
The Benefits of Finding Wisdom*
13Happy the one who finds wisdom,
the one who gains understanding!f
14Her profit is better than profit in silver,
and better than gold is her revenue;
15She is more precious than corals,
and no treasure of yours can compare with her.g
16Long life is in her right hand,
in her left are riches and honor;
17Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace;
18She is a tree of life* to those who grasp her,
and those who hold her fast are happy.h
19The LORD by wisdom founded the earth,
established the heavens by understanding;
20By his knowledge the depths* are split,
and the clouds drop down dew.
Justice Toward One’s Neighbor Brings Blessing*
21My son, do not let these slip from your sight:
hold to deliberation and planning;
22So will they be life to your soul,*
and an adornment for your neck.
23Then you may go your way securely;
your foot will never stumble;
24When you lie down, you will not be afraid,
when you rest, your sleep will be sweet.
25Do not be afraid of sudden terror,
of the ruin of the wicked when it comes;
26For the LORD will be your confidence,
and will keep your foot from the snare.
27Do not withhold any goods from the owner
when it is in your power to act.
28Say not to your neighbor, “Go, come back tomorrow,
and I will give it to you,” when all the while you have it.
29Do not plot evil against your neighbors,
when they live at peace with you.
30Do not contend with someone without cause,
with one who has done you no harm.
31Do not envy the violent
and choose none of their ways:i
32To the LORD the devious are an abomination,
but the upright are close to him.
33The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked,
but the dwelling of the just he blesses;
34Those who scoff, he scoffs at,j
but the lowly he favors.
35The wise will possess glory,
but fools will bear shame.
* [3:1–12] The instruction consists of a series of six four-line exhortations in which the second line of each exhortation mentions a reward or benefit. In the first five exhortations, the teacher promises a reward: long life, a good name, divine protection, health, abundant crops. The last exhortation, vv. 11–12, departs from the command-reward scheme, implying that being a disciple of the Lord does not guarantee unalloyed bliss: one must allow God freedom to “reprove” or educate. The process of education is like that described in chap. 2: the father first invites his son (or disciple) to memorize his teaching (v. 1), then to enter upon a relationship of trust with him (v. 3), and finally to place his trust in God, who takes up the parental task of education (v. 5). Education begun by the parent is brought to full completion by God.
* [3:1] Do not forget: this word and several others in the section such as “teaching,” “commands,” “years of life,” and the custom of affixing written teaching to one’s body, occur also in Deuteronomy. This vocabulary suggests that Proverbs and Deuteronomy had a common origin in the scribal class of Jerusalem. This section (and vv. 21–34) subtly elaborates Dt 6:5–9, “You shall love the LORD with all your heart (v. 5)…Take to heart these words (v. 1)…Recite them when you are at home and when you are away (v. 23)…when you lie down (v. 24)…Bind them (v. 3) on your arm as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead” (v. 21).
* [3:12] One might be tempted to judge the quality of one’s relationship to God by one’s prosperity. It is an inadequate criterion, for God as a teacher might go counter to student expectations. The discipline of God can involve suffering.
* [3:13–20] An encomium of Wisdom through the listing of her benefits to the human race and the depiction of her role in creation. Wisdom, or understanding, is more valuable than silver and gold. Its fruit is long life, riches, honor and happiness (vv. 13–18). Even the creation of the universe and its adornment (Gn 1) were not done without wisdom (vv. 19–20). The praise of Wisdom foreshadows the praise of a noble wife in the final poem (31:10–31), even to the singling out of the hands extended in a helpful way toward human beings.
* [3:18] A tree of life: in the Old Testament this phrase occurs only in Proverbs (11:30; 13:12; 15:4) and Genesis (2:9; 3:22, 24). The origins of the concept are obscure; there is no explicit mention of it in ancient Near Eastern literature, though on ancient seals trees are sometimes identified as trees of life. When the man and the woman were expelled from the garden, the tree of life was put off limits to them, lest they “eat of it and live forever” (Gn 3:22). The quest for wisdom gives access to the previously sequestered tree of life. The tree of life is mentioned also in the apocryphal work 1 Enoch 25:4–5. Rev 2 and 22 mention the tree of life as a source of eternal life.
* [3:20] Depths: for the Hebrews, the depths enclosed the great subterranean waters; the rain and dew descended from the waters above the firmament; cf. Gn 1:6–10; Jb 26:8, 12; Ps 18:15; 24:2. The cosmogony provides the reason why Wisdom offers such benefits to human beings: the world was created in wisdom so that all who live in accord with wisdom live in tune with the universe.
* [3:21–35] As in other instructions, the father in vv. 21–26 urges the son to seek wisdom, which in this case means practicing the virtues of “deliberation and planning,” a specification of wisdom. Practicing these virtues brings protection from violence (vv. 22–26) and friendship with God (vv. 32–35). The language is like Ps 91.
Verses 27–35 are arranged according to a clear order. Serving God requires serving one’s neighbor through kindness (vv. 27–28), maintaining peace with the good (vv. 29–31), having no envy of the wicked (v. 31), because the Lord’s friendship and kindness are with the just, not with the wicked. Matching the six exhortations of vv. 1–12, vv. 27–34 contain six prohibitions. The righteous/wicked contrast is progressively developed: in contrast to the wicked, the righteous are in God’s inner circle, their houses are blessed, they deal with a merciful God, and obtain honor.
* [3:22] Your soul: Heb. nephesh means “throat, esophagus; life; soul.” The meanings are connected. The throat area is the moist, breathing center of the body, which stands for life and for self. The figure of speech is called metonymy, in which one word is substituted for another on the basis of a causal relation, e.g., eye for sight, arm for power, or, as here, “throat area” for life. Proverbs sometimes plays on this concrete meaning of life (e.g., 21:23).