Proverbs 3 begins by reminding the reader that the words of wisdom contained in these proverbs will prolong life and yield prosperity. In addition, the reader is commanded to live a life characterized by love and faithfulness.
Verses 5-8 are well-known verses that appear on the walls of many Christian homes. Duane A. Garrett, in The New American Commentary Volume 14 – Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, explains what these famous verses mean.
The command to trust God ‘with all your heart’ means that the total personality is to be committed to God’s care, although it emphasizes the mind and volition. The prohibitions against depending on one’s own understanding and against intellectual pride (vv. 5b, 7a) implicitly reject a ‘secular’ search for wisdom and look back to the thesis of the book (1:7).
Although this passage certainly condemns any academic arrogance, it does not indulge in anti-intellectualism. The commitment of the heart to God means that all the beliefs and decisions of life are to be submitted to Yahweh. Even very practical decisions are in view here, and not just matters of academic pursuit. But the text is no more opposed to academic research per se than to any normal activity of life. Also, ‘understanding’ implies not just intellectual capacity but one’s own moral standards. One’s private vision of right and wrong must be submitted to God.
Solomon then instructs his son to honor God with his material wealth. If he does, God will reward him with overflowing barns and vats full of wine. But, Sid S. Buzzell reminds us in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament:), “In general it is true that godliness results in gain, that piety brings prosperity (cf. v. 2; Deut. 28:1–14; Matt. 6:33). But this kind of generalization, common in Proverbs, does not disallow God from making exceptions. Otherwise God is invested in, rather than honored.”
Verses 11-12 balance out verses 9-10 by reminding the young man that God disciplines as well. The young man should not resent discipline, because that is what a loving father does.
Verses 13-20 are a hymn to wisdom. There are several points made about wisdom. First, wisdom is more valuable than wealth. The church father, Thomas Aquinas, famously ranked the top 8 goods for human beings and wealth came in last place. Solomon, in fact, personifies wisdom as a woman who holds wealth in her left hand. The left hand was considered to be the inferior, or weaker hand, in the ancient world.
Second, wisdom gives long life. Third, wisdom gives peace. Fourth, wisdom holds the keys to immortality, for that is what the “tree of life” refers to in the Book of Genesis. The readers of this proverb would surely make the connection that wisdom leads to the defeat of death itself.
Fifth, and finally, God Himself employed wisdom and knowledge to create the earth and the heavens above. If God embraces wisdom, then surely we, His creatures, should as well.
Verses 21-26 are another appeal from Solomon to his son to embrace wisdom. Why? Because the wise person will live a life characterized by security and safety compared to the fool who rejects wisdom. Duane Garrett reminds us that “verse 23 is a general promise; it is not an absolute guarantee that the wise will never have occasion to stumble. Compared to the unwise, however, they will experience tranquility.”
Verses 27-35 contain maxims on how to be a good neighbor. These are very practical pieces of wisdom that Solomon renders in a rapid-fire sequence.
First, don’t withhold good things from other people. Garrett writes, “’Those who deserve good’ may be laborers who have earned their pay, the poor who rightly plead for help, or suppliants at the city gates who call for justice. On the other hand, they could be those who have loaned money and deserve to be repaid.”
Second, “do not plot harm against your neighbor.” He lives near you and trusts you. Third, do not falsely accuse your neighbor. Fourth, do not envy a violent man. God curses the man of violence, but blesses the man of righteousness. Verse 34 is quoted in both James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5, as “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Sid Buzzell, commenting on verses 27-35, writes, “These verses show that the words ‘upright,’ ‘righteous,’ ‘the humble,’ and ‘the wise’ are basically synonymous in the Book of Proverbs.”