1 My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: 2 For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: 4 So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. 7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. 8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. 9 Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: 10 So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
This passage is a second parental lecture. The first two verses essentially restate the fifth commandment.
First they declare the command using a parallel:
forget not my law || but let thine heart keep my commandments
Then they declare the promise:
For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.
What is particularly interesting here is the use of the term "peace." This provides a parallel to the phrase "that it may go well with thee," in the second giving of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5). A blessed life is one in which peace and longevity are combined.
"Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:"
Here "mercy and truth" are an internal parallel to speak figuratively of Scripture. They are speaking of Scripture in its essence and its reward. Recall that the Psalm tells "All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies." (Psalm 25:10) These two concepts are often found paired in Scripture - in Samuel's blessing (2 Samuel 15:10) and in Psalm 85 (Psalm 85:10 "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.") to give two examples. Lord willing, we will see it again later in these very proverbs.
We can see more clearly that these refer to the commands of God, because the parallels to "let not [them] forsake thee" are "bind them about thy neck" and "write them upon the table of thine heart." To bind them about your neck or write them on your heart, is to put them in a secure place where you won't lose them. If something is around your neck, it won't come off unless you lose your head. If something is engraved into the tablet of your heart, it's a permanent record that goes with you wherever you go.
Furthermore, we see that we are speaking of them as to their result, for the result is described as:
"So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man."
The commandments of God are universally beneficial to you. If you live a life of following them, not only will God look favorably upon you, but men will recognize your morality as well.
Solomon then draws a distinction between God's ideas and our ideas, with a repetition of promised favor:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart // lean not unto thine own understanding
In all thy ways acknowledge him || he shall direct thy paths.
Be not wise in thine own eyes // fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
Notice the elegant structure of this section of the proverb. There is a positive command, a parallel negative command, a positive command and its parallel positive result, and finally a negative command and a parallel positive command.
Trusting in the LORD with all of one's heart is contrasted with leaning on one's own understanding. We must be careful to commit ourselves wholly to God. If we only think of God on Sundays (or worse yet, only on Sunday mornings), we are not trusting in the LORD with all of our heart.
Notice how we are to acknowledge God in all our ways, and as a result he will direct our paths. This is just a natural result. When we do what he says, he is guiding our paths. If you read the instructions, you are being led by the author of the instructions. If you want to know how to live your life, read the Bible.
The proverbs continues to point out the absolute necessity of humbling ourselves before God's Word. If we are wise in our own eyes, and think we can do it on our own, we are not following God. This contrasts with the person who fears God and stays away from evil and sin.
And the proverb goes on to explain that doing so is in our best interest:
"It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones."
Obviously there is a bit of cultural reference there, which is lost on folks today, but the basic idea is that you will be comfortable and provided for. Your bones will be comfortable, not dried out and aching. Your stomach will be full, not empty.
Is this the "health and prosperity" message? No, not really. This is just an encouragement to obedience. God does not promise everyone that they will have a 100 camels, but enough to eat, with peace, is an enormous blessing.
The next parallel is one that is, of course, constantly used in those "prosperity" calls:
Cause: Honour the LORD with thy substance || [Honor Him] with the firstfruits of all thine increase
Effect: thy barns [shall] be filled with plenty || thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
The point is that God does reward obedience. If we give to God, he will give to us. It's not rigid formula, and its not an absolute promise. God is not an ATM from which we demand money. We need to honor God with our physical possessions. That means giving to the church, to the poor, to widows and orphans as God gives you the ability. It also means showing hospitality as you are able.
Look at all the things that come from obedience as set forth in this paternal lecture! Long life, peace, favour and good understanding, health and wellbeing, and more than enough food and wine. But we should be humble, realizing that even if God were like an ATM, and even if we could "demand" these things for having done what we were commanded, we would be unable to demand, because we so inadequately obey.
Nevertheless, whether drawn by the "carrot" of this lecture, or the "stick" of the one that is about to follow, let us seek to learn what God has commanded by reading His Word, memorizing it, and following it diligently.