Cling to the Law and the Lord
Topic: English Passage: Proverbs 3:1-12
Genesis, chapter 4 tells us that Adam and Eve had a firstborn son who was named Cain. It wasn’t just their firstborn, it was the first born person in creation. Well, sometime later, she gave birth to her second son and named him Abel. Abel grew up to be a shepherd, and Cain became a farmer.
Later in life, Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to God. Abel brought the best of his sheep, the firstborn and the fattest. And Cain, not demonstrating joyful faith in God, brought just a regular sample of the fruit. And the Bible says: “the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but was not pleased with Cain and his offering.” [Y miró Jehová con agrado a Abel y a su ofrenda; pero no miró con agrado a Caín y a la ofrenda suya]
So, Cain began to burn with anger [quemaba con enojo]. He didn’t like being rejected by God, and it led to a deep sorrow [tristeza]. God said to Cain: “Why are you angry? And why is your expression downcast? Isn’t it true that if you do what is right, uplifting will come?” [¿Por qué estás enojado? ¿Por qué ha decaído tu rostro? Si haces lo bueno, ¿acaso no serás enaltecido?]
It’s a very interesting word God uses there. Physically, it’s a reference to his fallen face being lifted up. Joy would come. But the word used here also talks about a type of exaltation. To be lifted up. To be conferred with dignity and majesty. This is the reminder God is giving Cain: do what is right, and you will be blessed. You will be lifted up.
On the other hand, God continues, “Sin is crouching, like a lion, at your door. And it wants to rule over you. It wants to consume you. It wants to dominate you. And it wants to destroy you.”
And God ends his message to Cain that day by saying: “You must rule over it.” Cain has choice to make. He can give in to his own thoughts and his own sin and suffer the painful consequences. Or he can submit to God’s way, and receive a blessing.
This is a double motivation. It’s not just a warning to avoid painful consequences. It is a call to receive a blessing from God. And that is such an important idea to understand. Even though God is God, and we are called to obey Him for His glory, He also calls us to obey Him for our good.
God intends to appeal to us. Not just to our desire to avoid pain, but to our desire for something better. And that is vital in relating to God. That’s why Hebrews 11 says that whoever seeks to please God must not only believe that He exists, but that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. [creer que él recompensa a quienes lo buscan.]
Today, we will be looking at the first half of Proverbs chapter 3. Proverbs includes a lot of repetition. And a large part of the message is a reminder of the good God wants for His people. God intends for His children, not just to avoid negative consequences, but to experience something better. So, He appeals not just to His exalted status, but to our own desire for good.
And there’s a lesson here, not just for how we should approach God, but also for how we should approach others, especially our growing children. Remember, Proverbs was written from a father to his son. And we are not just being taught about life, we are being taught how to teach others.
Our teaching must have a negative component, that is a warning. And it should also have a positive component, a promise of blessing. There should be more to someone’s obedience than simply a desire to avoid problems. And that’s what we’ll see in this section for today.
Let me simply begin by reading it for us. PROVERBS 3:1-12
Do you consider yourself a positive person, or a negative person? As a parent, one way you might find an answer to that question is to ask your spouse and your children, the people who are closest to you.
And one of the ways that your positivity or your negativity can come out is in the way you give someone a command.
I’ve been thinking about this this week, especially since we’re here in this section, and since I’m a dad of 3 small children. What kind of commands do I tend to give my child? Are they positive or negative?
Let me give you an example. A negative command would be: “Don’t drop the cup of juice.” The positive command would be: “Be careful with your juice cup. Hold it with both hands.”
Do you see the difference? They’re both aiming at the same thing, but the negative command starts with “Don’t.” It tells someone what NOT to do. The positive command tells someone what TO do, and it gives them specific instructions to follow. Which one is better?
Well, if we ask the father of Proverbs, his answer would be: BOTH. You need both. We all need to be warned of the wrong things to do. And we all need to be reminded of the right thing to do. That is faithful teaching. That is faithful parenting. And that is exactly what we see happening in the book of Proverbs.
In our passage today, what we have are two major instructions, two vital life lessons that our Heavenly Father wants to teach us. And the first lesson comes in verses 1-4. And here’s what it is: Bind you heart to the Law. Bind your heart to the Law.
This is a lesson about your attitude toward and reception of what you are being taught. We all have things that we prefer to learn, things that we pay more attention to when people talk about them. And in this case, the message is: Pay the most attention to what I’ve been teaching you.
As we go through the passage, what we’ll see is that there are negative commands (what NOT to do). There are positive commands (what TO do). And there are motivations or blessings (WHY we should do it).
As we consider our heart toward the Law, let’s start with a negative command. VERSE 1a.
Now, the implication of a statement like that is that we have a tendency is to forget. Growing up, my parents would say that a favorite phrase of mine was: “I forgot.”
They’d go out on a date and tell me to vacuum the living room before they got back. And when they got back, they would say: “Why didn’t you vacuum?” And my standard answer was: “I forget.”
Now, even after getting married and having kids, this is still something I battle with. I have neglected to do things my wife has told me about, and she has said to me: “Why didn’t you do it? Let me guess. You forgot.”
That’s my tendency. And it is all our tendency when we’re dealing with the Law of God.
In this case, the father is appealing to his own teaching. My teaching. My instruction. The Hebrew word is Torah, which is sometimes translated as Law, but it’s more than just lists of rules. Torah means instruction or direction. And to say that it’s the father’s Law doesn’t mean that the father came up with it, but that this was what the father taught.
And for you dads especially, this is another reminder that our main priority in parenting is to teach our children the word of God. Ephesians 6 tells us: “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
And just an important as the lessons we teach is that we teach them to be teachable. We teach them to absorb what they are learning into their life. “Don’t forget this.” That’s the negative command. The positive command is next. VERSE 1b.
The idea behind the word “keep” is: Guard these things. Protect them. There are people and forces in this world that will try to take them away. Don’t let that happen. Protect what you have been taught. It’s like the way some of you handle your cell phone. You take care of it. You protect it. You don’t want it to get lost. In the same way, protect your heart’s understanding of the truth.
Why? Why is such a big deal to this father that his son guard what he’s learned and NOT forget it. That’s VERSE 2.
The dad’s concern here isn’t for his own reputation. It isn’t so that others will esteem him for how good his son behaves. His concern is the well-being of his child. This will make your life better. Length of days and years of life. And peace. The Hebrew word is “shalom,” and it includes an overall well-being and prosperity. That’s what the father wants for his children.
This lesson is also a repetition of the promise of the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and mother” why? “That your days may be prolonged in the land.”
Now, in a literal sense, this was especially true in Old Testament Israel. Right after giving the Ten Commandments, in the very next chapter, here is what it says: He who strikes his father or his mother, or who curses them, shall surely be put to death.” Honoring your parents is a serious deal to God.
Later, in the book of Deuteronomy (ch. 21) it says this: “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and even when they discipline him, he will not listen to them, then his father and mother shall take him, and bring him out to the elders of the city. And they will say to the elders: ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ (older and unwilling) Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death.” Again, being an obedient child is a big deal to the Lord. And your life could be cut short if you didn’t learn to listen.
Now, even if your parents don’t have you killed, there are still factors associated with poor decisions that will affect your life. I’m not going to get into all that, but in general, things like stress, gluttony, worry, illicit drugs, sexual immorality, and even guilt can all be linked to a shorter life. In general, an obedient life lasts longer.
So, the dad repeats this idea with another negative command. VERSE 3a.
Again, the implication is that unless you do something, unless you are intentional, you will not be faithful. You will not be able to maintain a life that obeys the Law.
And again, the Hebrew words here are very important terms. The first term this father uses is “chesed” which has to do with loyalty and fidelity. It’s about a kindness and love, but it’s also about being faithful to a commitment. And the term for truth is similar. It has to do with truthfulness and reliability. Do not neglect what I’m telling you.
And stated positively, it says, VERSE 3b.
There’s the lesson. Bind your heart to the Law. This is metaphorical language. If you’re at a carnival, and you pay $5 for a balloon for your kid, what’s the first thing you do? You tie it to something. Because if that kid decides to let go, and it’s not tied down, it’s gone, right? That’s how it is with instruction from your parents. Tie it to yourself so it doesn’t fly away.
The second image of a tablet is even stronger. Obviously he’s not talking about an iPad. Tablets back then could be made of wood or stone, and the letters were engraved or chiseled in. So, the image here is powerful. Engrave what you’re learning into your life. Carve it into your heart. Do whatever it takes to make sure you do not let this teaching go! And again, why? What’s the motivation? A better life. VERSE 4.
People will be drawn to you. People will be pleased with you. People will esteem you. I’ve seen it in the classroom with teachers, and in the workplace with a boss. The people who stand out, the people who get preference are the people of integrity.
But besides winning the favor of people, you will also know that you have pleased God. Isn’t that an amazing thought? You go to bed at night knowing that you pleased God. You see God opening doors for you because you are in His will. What a motivation this should be for all of us to bind our heart to the Law, to the instruction we’ve received.
Otherwise, Sunday afternoon, or Monday morning, guess what happens: “You forget.” You go right back to default mode, and you forfeit the blessings promised here.
Now binding your heart to the Law is just the first lesson. But there is something critical that has to happen for this to work. And this is lesson number 2. Bind your heart to the Lord. Bind your heart to the Law, and also to the Lord.
This connection to God is where verse 4 is pointing us. Your obedience to the Law is only going to be productive when it is an expression of your relationship to the Lord. That means this is a personal act.
If all you’re doing in life is trying to follow a list of rules, that’s not good enough. And a lot of people live like that. On the other hand, there are many people who think that just because they pray or think about God their life is good. But they have no desire or idea how to obey him. That’s no good either. You need both.
It’s not just about the Law; it’s about the Lord. It’s not just about rules; it’s about the Ruler. It’s not just about guidelines, it’s about God. It’s not just about principles, it’s about the Person behind them. You need to make it personal.
Remember, the mission statement of Proverbs is to produce a person, not just who behaves, but who fears the Lord. And so this father moves from emphasizing the sons relationship to the Law, to emphasizing His relationship with the Lord.
I’d like you to notice that Yahweh, the covenant name of God, which is usually translated as Lord with capital letters, is used 5 times in these closing verses. And it isn’t used at all in the first 4 verses. This is switch to the personal nature of our obedience. It’s not just that a son must obey his father. It’s that the son must learn to live life, ultimately, in obedience to God.
What we also have in these verses is a son who’s growing up. One day he’ll leave the house. He won’t have mom and dad there telling him what to do. But what will he have? He’ll have the Lord. So he needs to learn to respond to Him.
Verse 5 says: Trust in the Lord. Verse 7: Fear the Lord. Verse 9: Honor the Lord. Those are three very related ideas. Trust, fear, and honor.
And those positive commands come connected to negative commands as well. Verse 5: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, which would include “at all times.” And the negative command is “Do not lean on your own understanding.”
Now, this is such a small thing, but I think it’s significant. In the Hebrew, the little word (the preposition) used before “the Lord” and before “your own understanding” is the same word. And a more literal meaning is “toward.” So you could say it like this: “Trust toward the Lord with all your heart, and toward your own understanding do not lean.”
And the idea here is, you can only choose one. You can’t do both at the same time. To “lean” is another way of saying trust. The word means to support yourself. If the day ever comes when you need a cane or a walker, you better hope it’s capable of holding you up, right? Because you’re going to lean on it. You’re trusting it to hold you up.
Well in this life, you are either leaning on the truth of God, or leaning on your own understanding.
I think most parents will tell you that one of the most frustrating statements a child can make is “I know. I know.” I know how to do it. I know how it works. And we all live with that kind of heart. We want to do things on our own.
When I was about 8 years old, I remember that one Christmas, my aunt bought, for my brother and me, an electric race car track. The ones where you use a trigger to adjust the speed. And we were so excited when we got. We had never had one before and we were eager to use it.
Well, the next morning, since we were up late on Christmas Eve, everyone stayed in bed. But I was up first and decided I was going to put it together by myself. And it looked easy because it’s just a big oval, and all it needed was electricity. So I found 4 D Batteries (the big ones) and put them in. And then I started connecting all the pieces. And if any parts looked like they went together, then I was sure that they did.
Well, eventually I got to a cord that ended with two metal slotted prongs. Where do these go? Well, the answer was obvious to me. They go in the wall. They fit perfectly. So I roll out the cord, and I step over to the outlet. And I actually never got the cord all the way plugged in. Because the moment both prongs made contact, 120 volts of DC power went flying through a toy that was designed to work on 4 batteries with DC power.
And there was loud pop. And the batteries oozed out acid, and everything was fried. And we never, ever got to play with an electric race care set. And my poor brother still hasn’t forgiven me.
What happened? I thought I knew what I was doing. I trusted in myself. I never looked at the instructions. I never asked my dad for help.
And the wise father of Proverbs tells his son: “Don’t do that.” Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don’t trust in your own understanding. VERSE 6a.
Literally, the verb is “know Him.” It’s talking about an intimacy. A recognition and a dependency on His presence. And what’s the promise? VERSE 6b.
This is such a rich word, which is why it gets translated different ways. God will direct you. God will make your paths straight. God will make your paths smooth.
Personally, it means God will guide you. He’ll make your way forward clear. Ethically, it means you will be a person who walks in integrity. Practically, it means God will remove the obstacles. Who wouldn’t want this in his life? What a blessing?! But the cost is complete trust and submission to God.
Verse 7 goes back to a negative commands. And it’s basically repeating the same idea so we won’t spend too much time here. Negatively, VERSE 7a.
Positively, VERSE 7b.
Don’t do what your natural inclination wants to do. Turn away from sin. By the way, that word for evil also has a double meaning. It also means “ruin or disaster.” So again, the idea is turn away from disaster in your life. If you pursue sin, it will bring pain. But if you fear God, what’s the promise? VERSE 8.
Again, a blessing that is spiritual, psychological, and even physical. This is like a miracle cure. Relief and refreshment, if you will only trust in the Lord by obeying His Law.
The last 4 verses simply give two examples. And I’ll just touch on them quickly. And then we’ll wrap up. Verse 9 has the positive command. VERSE 9.
This is talking about money and resources. Use what you gain in obedience to God. Use it as an expression of worship. I think it’s interesting that when this father tells his son to honor the Lord in all his ways, the first specific area he mentions is money. And yet even that comes with a promise. VERSE 10.
Use your money to please yourself, and it will disappear. But use your money to serve God and further His causes, and He will bless you. And that’s a principle we see clearly repeated in the New Testament. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.
Last two verses. These are more of a transition to the rest of the chapter, which we’ll study at the end of November, once we’ve finished our 5-week series on the Reformation. But they continue the idea of seeing life, not just through the grid of a list of rules, but through the grid of a personal interaction with God.
And verse 11 has 2 negative commands to the son. Don’t despise the Lord’s discipline. And don’t be weary of His reproof.
With a grown son who’s moved out of the house, dad is no longer the primary disciplinarian. But who is? God is. And every true son of God knows what it’s like to have God shape you and mold you and correct you. It happens through conscience, through relationships, through the conviction of His word, and through difficult circumstances. And this father is saying: Don’t give up. Even when it gets difficult, even when you have severely messed up. Embrace the tough times. Learn to cherish them.
This is what James says, right? Count it a blessing? Why? How can you do that? VERSE 12.
Those difficulties are the evidence of God’s love. Even the temporal consequences of your sin. They show you that God still cares. And He is still working to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ. He began a good work in you, and He will see it through to conclusion.
So, if you’ve obeyed God, be grateful for the blessings. And if you’ve messed up, embrace His chastisement, His correction, and keep going, with the knowledge that God still loves you. Because you’re accepted by faith in Jesus. The Lord who died for your sin and united you to Himself.
Bind your heart to the Law, and bind your heart to the Lord who gave it.
I’d like to close by grouping these verses into negative and positive commands and then closing with the promises. Let me read them to you. And we’ll close in prayer and a song.
Do not forget my teaching. Do not let steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you. Do not lean on your own understanding. Do not be wise in your own eyes. Do not despise the Lord’s discipline. Do not be wear of His reproof.
[No te olvides de mi ley. No te apartes de lealtad y fidelidad. No te apoyes en tu propia prudencia. No seas sabio en tu propia opinión. No desdeñas la corrección del Señor. No te sientas mal cuando te reprenda.]
Instead, let your heart keep my commandments. Bind steadfast love and faithfulness around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. In all your ways acknowledge Him. Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce.
[En lugar, guarda en tu corazón mis mandamientos. Átalas alrededor de tu cuello. Escríbelas en la tabla de tu corazón. Confía en el Señor de todo corazón. Reconócelo en todos tus caminos. Teme al Señor y apártate del mal. Honra al Señor con tus bienes y con las primicias de tus cosechas. ]
And what will be the result? Length of days and years of life and peace the commandments will add to you. You will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. The Lord will make your paths straight. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. The Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
[Y ¿qué será el resultado? … Los mandamientos prolongarán los años de tu vida y te traerán abundante paz. Contarás con el favor de Dios, y con una buena opinión ante los hombres. El Señor enderezará tus sendas. Él será la medicina de tu cuerpo. Infundirá alivio a tus huesos. Tus graneros se saturarán de trigo, y tus lagares rebosarán de vino. El Señor corrige al que ama como lo hace el padre con su hijo amado.