Lean Not On Your Understanding - Prov. 3:5-8

What do you do when you have questions, problems, need guidance or advice? I’m not talking about things like how do you cook this, what color paint you should use, and other non-life affecting or unspiritual things. I’m talking about where do you go when you need advice about relationships, or choosing schools, careers, or making major financial moves? What about “following your heart”, what do you do for guidance in that area? What about with conviction, where do you go for counsel and accountability? Who do you turn to when you’re in emotional pain, or mental distress? Who is in your ear? Who are you taking guidance and advice from? What do you do?

More than likely our answer to these questions depends on the situation, right? I go to this person, I go to that person, I go over here, go over there. Or, we may turn to ourselves and our own reasoning and judgment to find the answers to some of these.

In whatever it is we do or wherever it is we may go to deal with these situations, the Bible says our bottom line pursuit for guidance, advice, and counsel is to be from God—i.e. His will, His ways, and His standards laid out before us in His Word. And that even goes for those “little matters” of life, glorifying God should still influence those decisions and whom we seek for help even in those “little matters”. Now let’s see why the Bible tells us this in Proverbs 3:5-8.

Dissecting Proverbs 3:5-8

–3:5-6 (NASB):

5 Trust (Heb–have a bold confidence/assurance)...
in the LORD with all your heart (Heb–everything within you)...
and do not lean (Heb–support one’s self) [do not depend (NLT)]...
on your own understanding (Heb–knowledge, meaning, wisdom, discernment).
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him [Seek His will in all you do (NLT)]...
and (here’s the promise) He will make your paths straight [He will show you which path to take (NLT)].

Here's Matthew Henry's commentary on the promise in verse 6,

“Those that put themselves under a divine guidance shall always have the benefit of it. God will give them that wisdom which is profitable to direct, so that they shall not turn aside into the by-paths of sin, and then [He] will himself so wisely order the event that it shall be…for their good.”

–3:7-8 (NASB):

7 Do not be wise (Heb–intelligent, skilled)...
in your own eyes [don’t be impressed with your own wisdom (NLT)]...
fear the LORD (Heb–revere/greatly respect God bcuz of who He is and what He can do)...
and turn away from evil.
8 (here’s the promise) It will be healing to your body (Heb–navel)...
and refreshment to your bones.

Allow me to give some historical background so to understand what the promise of verse 8 meant in context to the original audience. It’s known that by the umbilical cord the fetus receives its nourishment while it’s in the mother’s womb. All the nourishment is received and the circulation of the blood is kept up by way of the umbilical cord (which was connected to our belly button/navel). Thus, when the wise man says, that it shall be health to your body (i.e. navel), what he’s saying is that this principle—trust in God and not in ourselves, seeking His will and not our own wisdom, and fearing God so to turn from evil—is as vital to our life in God and to our “continual growth in grace, as the umbilical cord is to the life and growth of the fetus in the womb”. So the promise is by following this principle, it will be nourishment/sustenance (that which is sustaining) to our life just as all the nourishment is received and the circulation of the blood is kept up by way of the umbilical cord (the navel). What a promise this is once we have some background and understand what it originally meant in its historical context.

Now to finish what the rest of the promise means, the “refreshment to your bones”. In Clarke's Commentary he notes for verse 8,

“What the marrow [i.e. the soft tissue in the bones] is to the support and strength of the bones, and the bones to the support and strength of the body;” this principle, “is to the support, strength, energy, and salvation of [our lives].”

From now dissecting this passage do we now see why our bottom line pursuit for guidance, advice, and counsel is to be from what God has laid out before us in His Word? Because it is for our holistic benefit if we seek God with all our heart and in all our ways, but it is to our detriment if we go about pursuing guidance, advice, and counsel on our own understanding.

Some Examples

Let’s discuss some ways we, in our own understanding, go about dealing with questions, problems, needing guidance or advice in life-affecting situations, spiritual situations, and even in what we consider irrelevant small matters.

Some of us go about dealing with these situations by seeking guidance or counsel from Astrology and horoscopes, maybe even psychics—tarot cards, fortune tellers, palm readings, and séances. And some of you might be thinking, what’s wrong with this? First, they are all condemned and prohibited in the Bible as a form of divination (Lev. 20:22-24, 26-27, Deut. 18:9-14, 1Sam. 15:23; 28:3ff). The Bible is very clear, this is not of God. If you look up Astrology, it “is the “interpretation” of an assumed influence the stars (and planets) exert on human destiny.” All of the other practices are, and I’m going to quote Ron Rhodes because he says it perfectly, they are all “based on the concept that there are gods, spirits, or deceased loved ones that can give advice and guidance”. This is not of God. None of these are godly by any means because they require us to place our faith in something other than God. To participate in these things violates Scripture. Don’t lean on your own understanding in this, because you’re setting yourself up in disobedience and whatever consequences that follow.

Some of us go about dealing with these situations by seeking guidance or counsel from immature/carnal/unsound believers, or worldly philosophy (e.g. talk shows, radio shows, news, social media, magazines, word-of-mouth, websites, etc), or ungodly people, and so forth. In 2Chron. 18:4-22, this passage records the story about King Jehoshaphat (the king of Judah) and King Ahab (the king of Israel). Jehoshaphat is looking for counsel before going to war, so he hits up Ahab. Ahab seeks his own prophets for counsel and guidance rather than the prophet of God. His own prophets tell him what he wants to hear, but not the word of God. But when Jehoshaphat asked if there was another prophet, a prophet of God, Ahab said the prophet of God always speaks the opposite of what he wants to hear. In the end, Jehoshaphat follows God’s counsel by way of the prophet of God and is saved from the battle. Ahab leaned on his own understanding and followed the counsel of his prophets and died in battle just as the prophet of God foretold. What does this mean for us? Don’t seek guidance and counsel from people you know or think aren’t biblically grounded and mature, because that’s the equivalent of seeking your own prophets and not the prophet of God—i.e. the mature, biblically grounded believers who’s going to speak forth only what’s in accordance with God’s Word.

Final Word

As I wrap this up, let me clear something that may be misunderstood. What I’m not saying is abandon “careful thinking or belittle our God-given ability to reason” (NASB), and in that I’m not saying that we should trust our own ideas to the point where we exclude the Word of God or other godly counsel. What I am saying is when it boils down, we are to (1)make our decisions based on the guidance, advice, and counsel from what God has laid out before us in His Word—i.e. is this thing/decision going to be pleasing to God or not according to His word—and (2)not make our decisions based solely on our own understanding or solely on the understanding of others (especially those who aren’t fruit-bearing, biblically solid and mature accountable believers). (And that’s not that God can’t speak through anyone, He spoke through a donkey to get the attention of a prophet, but we shouldn’t seek just anyone out. If God wants to speak to us through an unlikely source, let Him do it, not us pursue it).

Proverbs are guides for daily life. Therefore let this proverb guide your daily life by simply following it as opportunities present themselves (our days are filled with opportunities to apply this proverb). Let the truth of this proverb guide your thinking and reasoning in how you go about dealing with questions, problems, needing guidance or advice in life-affecting situations, spiritual situations, and even in what we consider irrelevant small matters. If you want God’s best for your life—the nourishment of life and growth like the umbilical cord does for the fetus in the womb; the support, strength, and energy like the marrow is to the bones; the wisdom to direct where to go/which paths to take—then trust God with all your heart and seek His will in all your ways so that this conditional promise can be manifested, and lean not on your own understanding.


2010