This is going to be an interesting, and hopefully inspirational week as we continue our journey through Proverbs. Solomon sets us up with four statements which follow the same pattern: ‘if you do this, then this will happen’:
‘Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favour and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Honour the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.’ (Proverbs 3:3-10)
Love and faithfulness – favour and success
So if we hold tight to love and faithfulness we will ‘find favour and good success’. What does this mean? Well, holding on to love and faithfulness must refer to God. He is love (1 John 4:8), and all His work is done in faithfulness (Psalm 33:4). So holding on to love and faithfulness is to maintain a strong faith in God. We are to worship Him above all other gods, and submit to Him in everything. If we do this, we are promised favour and good success – so what does this mean? Well, this uncovers the single biggest mind-blowing mystery in history, yet one that I think we overlook on a daily basis! Despite the fact that God’s standard is unattainable by us, He has granted us His favour through the Son’s death and resurrection. The Hebrew word used for favour is chen, which can also be translated as grace. ‘by grace you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:5).
The second and third statements used by Solomon echo and underline this first one. If we trust in the LORD, if we acknowledge Him in the way we live our lives, He will make our paths straight – what does that mean? Well, ‘all the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Psalm 25:10) so Solomon is using this opportunity to remind us of God’s amazing grace. Who says that the God of the Old Testament is all wrath?
And the third statement is like it; if we admit that we are not wise (submission to God’s wisdom) and fear the LORD and turn from evil, we are promised healing and refreshment. Does this mean that ‘if we have enough faith, we will always be well’? Absolutely not; read the words carefully: ‘It will be healing…and refreshment’. NOT ‘you will be healed and refreshed’ – Solomon is telling us that the act of submission, humility and fear of the LORD in themselves will be healing and refreshment! In submitting to God, in worshipping Him, we are healed. For our benefit and joy, they are an end in themselves.
Honouring with wealth – full barns and vats
Having understood how the previous statement can be misinterpreted it should be more straightforward for us to understand this statement. I’ve been told on numerous occasions that this verse is a Bible promise that if you tithe, God will make you rich…but that is not what it says. This is a Bible promise, but the promise is that if we honour the LORD with our wealth (i.e. what we own above the absolute basics of food, clothing and shelter) and the firstfruits of all our produce (i.e. giving a generous portion of our income to God before doing anything else with it), our barns and vats will be ‘filled with plenty’ and ‘bursting with wine’. The assumption that is normally made here is that the barns and vats essentially refer to our bank accounts on earth, but that simply doesn’t tie up with the rest of the Bible.
Jesus speaks a similar phrase to this in Mark 10:21: ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Jesus’ command to this rich man was to honour the LORD with his wealth, and his reward would indeed by treasure…but in heaven. You and I, if we are Christians, have barns and vats in heaven, and as we honour God with our earthly wealth we are making an eternal guaranteed investment. What joy will meet our eyes as we arrive at our heavenly mansions, where our vats are literally bursting with wine! Our God is indeed a generous God.