The book of Proverbs is all about how to ‘know wisdom’(Proverbs 1:2). The first thing to grasp is that we’re not the source of this wisdom, so we’re not to be wise in our ‘own eyes’(Proverbs 3:7). Wisdom comes from ‘Yahweh’(Proverbs 1:7) i.e. God. Being in awe of Him and His wisdom, and recognising our lack of it, is where we must start, ‘the beginning’(Proverbs 1:7).
‘“‘Yahweh’”’(Exodus 3:15) was the name of God revealed to Moses. It’s derived from the Hebrew for ‘“‘I AM’”’(Exodus 3:14). This indicates something of the mystery and magnitude of God and His wisdom – across time and space, even beyond it, He just IS. He’s the creator and sustainer of all things, who wrote the laws of physics even, and is the very essence of the wisdom that underpins them: ‘Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past tracing out… For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things’(Romans 11:33-36).
It stands to reason therefore that we should have faith in and trust a God like that, even when we don’t fully understand all of the mysterious wisdom behind His guidance, like Abraham who ‘when he was called, obeyed… He went out, not knowing where he went. By faith’(Hebrews 11:8-9). So we also must obey and pray ‘“‘your will be done’”’(Matthew 6:10).
However, although we’re advised to trust in Yahweh with all our heart, not leaning on our own understanding, we are to employ the wisdom that He’s conveyed to us, in the book of Proverbs and scripture more generally, which is ‘God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work’(2 Timothy 3:16-17). This includes following God’s moral guidance, a point emphasised frequently in Proverbs, in this passage as ‘depart from evil’(Proverbs 3:7) and wear ‘kindness and truth… Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart’(Proverbs 3:3), so engraved at our very core. In contrast, foolishness is to live otherwise, ‘fools… who exchanged the truth of God for a lie… refused to have God in their knowledge… [having] a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting…’(Romans 1:22-28ff.). Instead scripture advises ‘Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God’(Romans 12:2). So we’re actively to employ God’s revealed wisdom to discern His will, not just sit back and wait for things to happen – that’s what ‘In all your ways acknowledge him’ means.
Nevertheless, we must be careful to remain open to the Spirit’s guidance, holding the reins loosely, always bearing in mind proverbs like ‘A man’s heart plans his course, but Yahweh directs his steps’(Proverbs 16:9) and ‘There are many plans in a man’s heart, but Yahweh’s counsel will prevail’(Proverbs 19:21). We see the apostle Paul and his companions doing just that in the book of Acts, when ‘the Spirit didn’t allow them’(Acts 16:7) to enact a couple of their plans, because God wanted them to take the gospel to ‘Macedonia’(Acts 16:10) i.e. Europe, with all the consequences that flowed out from that! So we should pray with David: ‘Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to you… Your Spirit is good. Lead me…’(Psalm 143:8-10).
Then He will make our ‘paths straight’, i.e. keep us on His course, which might involve seeming to fly like a curveball! Straight can mean through dire straits, where it’s difficult to see the way through, but God can guide the ‘“blind by a way that they don’t know… lead them in paths… make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight’(Isaiah 42:16). He offers peace on this rollercoaster too, even cheer, as we rest in His will and enjoy the ride: ‘“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives… Don’t let your heart be troubled”’(John 14:27), ‘I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world… oppression; but cheer up! I have overcome the world”’(John 16:33). ‘“In my Father’s house are many homes… I am going to prepare a place for you… you know the way… I am the way”’(John 14:2-6) – our ‘pilgrimage [to] God in Zion’(Psalm 84:5-7).
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