Trust in Yahweh with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.
Don’t consider yourself to be wise;
fear Yahweh and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7 HCSB)
Proverbs 3:5-6 have been loved and memorized by saints immemorial, and it’s easy to see why. In Solomon’s expected pithy power, he reminds us of the need to live by faith and not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Proverbs 3:7 is not as widely quoted or recognized, but it provides context and explanation to help us understand the preceding verses. In fact, these three verses can form a chiasm (think of a framed picture: the frame is on the edges, and its purpose is to draw your eye toward the picture within; chiasms do the same with words).
A: Trust in Yahweh with all your heart
B: do not rely on your own understanding
C: think about Him in all your ways
C’: He will guide you on the right paths.
B’: Don’t consider yourself to be wise
A’: Fear Yahweh and turn away from evil
In a chiasm, the statements at the same level parallel one another. Each statement helps inform and explain its partner. For example, the A-A’ pair matches trusting Yahweh with fearing Yahweh; to trust Him is to fear Him, and vice versa.
The B-B’ pair is a helpful warning (or rebuke, as is so often the case). To rely on one’s own understanding is the same thing as considering yourself wise. You see yourself as smart enough and wise enough to not need God. You don’t even think about Him (see statement C).
As I said at the beginning, Solomon is packing a lot of freight into a little car: these three verses form a mini-sermon on what living by faith looks like.
- We are not called to a half-hearted, begrudging allegiance to Yahweh; rather, He demands all our heart.
- His Spirit has shown us how weak, broken, and foolish we are because of our sin, so trusting our understanding is ridiculous. Sin notwithstanding, we are limited, finite creatures made to be dependent upon Him. To try to stand on our own is to fall for the Snake’s garden-lie all over again.
- Having shown us how weak, broken, and foolish we are, in His kindness He shows us the glory of the face of the Savior, Jesus our King. He has caused us to be born again, and we have new desires that replace the old ones. We actually want to walk the right paths, and by looking to Him in faith, He guides us. That same Spirit who shined the light of truth onto our sin, and who shines the light on the Savior’s face, lives within us to take the light of the Word He inspired and shine it on the road at our feet (Psalm 119:105).
- Considering yourself to be wise is the pride that goes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall. If you think you are standing, take heed lest you fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).
- Because Yahweh has saved us with such a great salvation, we are in awestruck wonder and reverent adoration of Him; we turn away from evil because it offends Him and slanders His name.
Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).