My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; 22 they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. 23 Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble. 24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. 25 Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, 26 for the LORD will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared. 27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. 28 Do not say to your neighbour, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”– when you already have it with you. 29 Do not plot harm against your neighbour, who lives trustfully near you. 30 Do not accuse anyone for no reason– when they have done you no harm. 31 Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways. 32 For the LORD detests the perverse but takes the upright into his confidence. 33 The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. 34 He mocks proud mockers but shows favour to the humble and oppressed. 35 The wise inherit honour, but fools get only shame. (Prov. 3:21-35 NIV)
Again, the Teacher insists on the importance of keeping wisdom and understanding. How might we let wisdom and understanding out of our sight? There are two ways we could do this. First, we could stop studying God’s word, and second, we could ignore the wisdom that we have learned. Walking in wisdom today does not ensure we will pursue wisdom tomorrow. Every day, we must embrace wisdom afresh. When a decision has to be made we could feel it is too difficult or inconvenient to choose God’s way. We choose to abandon sound judgement and discretion. To embrace wisdom and understanding is to preserve sound judgement and discretion, and these are life to us, like a beautiful necklace. A life lived God’s way is a life of beauty.
Notice that the gift of God’s wisdom is to enable us to have sound judgement and discretion. Sometimes we make quite a fuss about trying to discover what God’s will is for us, to take a job, to join a church, to marry a person and many other decisions in life. We like to try and find a verse, or a hint of some kind from God. If God guided us that way, it would relieve us from having to make the decision, and if it turned out to be a bad decision then we would be absolved from all responsibility. God gives us wisdom to enable us to make decisions and we are held accountable for those decisions.
Sound judgement and discretion are associated with safety. When we make wise choices about the way to go we avoid snares that might otherwise entrap us. For example, if we find that certain places make us give in to temptation, then it is a wise decision to avoid that place. We may have to keep ourselves away from certain company to avoid putting ourselves in a place of compromise.
A guilty conscience can keep us awake at night, but when we have made wise decisions then we can sleep in peace. Of course, there will be times that no matter how wise we are in the decisions that we make, we could still find ourselves facing difficulty and trial simply because we live in a fallen world. The disaster that will ultimately befall the wicked will never happen to those who fear the Lord.
In v27 the Teacher begins to give advice on how to work with our neighbours. We are not to withhold good from our neighbours when it is in our power to do something. Why this warning? My usual response is that we need the warning because God knows that it is likely that we would behave like that. We hold back or delay in doing something for our neighbour just simply because we like to demonstrate that we have the power or the position to do it. You can see this kind of thing happen in work, in families and sadly it can also be seen in the church. This spiteful behaviour is a likely outcome because sadly we delight in ‘getting one over’ on our neighbour. If this wasn’t a likely type of behaviour the Teacher would not be raising it here as an issue. Pride and spite are temptations of the heart and we need to examine ourselves to test and see if that kind of attitude is anywhere within us.
We can also withhold good from our neighbour when it is within our power to do it because we feel it is not convenient for us to help. We might have to go out of our way or take up some of our time. This is a very selfish attitude.
We are not to harm our neighbour who lives trustfully near us. We can harm our neighbour by what we say as well as what we do. We are not to accuse anyone for no reason. There may be no substantial grounds for making an accusation, but spiteful hearts are usually creative enough to take the truth and put a slant on it which can then be levelled as an accusation. Why might we mean to harm anyone who has done us no harm? There could be several reasons: we maybe jealous of them, we may not like the friendships that they have with others, we may want to increase our sphere of influence, or we are just inclined to want to be difficult. Wisdom should teach us that this is not the way to live and behave. Remember the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbour.
The problem is that we have seen many examples of people getting ahead by employing strong arm tactics. The violent exert their power over others because they are in a position of influence, and we watch these tactics and feel that we could quietly exert some pressure and get our way. The Teacher tells us not to use the way of the wicked. Make the wise and righteous choice of behaviour and conversation.
The Teacher makes it abundantly clear to us that the Lord detests these underhand and perverse ways. These ways are often difficult to expose, but they are perverse and ugly, and God will one day expose them. To be ‘taken into the Lord’s confidence’ comes from a Hebrew phrase that is difficult to translate. It likely means that God gives further wisdom to those who are upright.
The Teacher continues to contrast the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. The upright receive blessing upon their house and family, and they also receive God’s favour and honour from the Lord. Not so the wicked, they will be cursed, mocked by God and will suffer shame. This is the path that they have chosen.
Search me O God:
Search me O God, because the sins of spite, pride and jealousy are not easy for us to spot in our hearts. Lord, help us to seek wisdom afresh every day, so that we might make wise choices throughout this day. Help us not to become arrogant. Just because we made a wise decision yesterday does not mean we’ll be wise today. Each day we need to receive wisdom from You, so that we will continue to walk in a righteous way. Deliver us from the waywardness of an ungodly life, because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.