by: FCC Staff
While exploring the wisdom of proverbs sometimes we have to look at a couple of verses to understand what wisdom we are to take away from a teaching. Reading, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” We can get the impression that it doesn’t matter what is on our hearts, what comes out of our mouths, that’s God’s will. And yes, there are times in scripture where we see God supernaturally acting in this way.
In Numbers chapters 22-24 we see Balaam being hired to curse Israel. Being that he was some sort of mystic from Mesopotamia, whose name meant “Destroyer of the People” he seems like the right kind of guy for the Job. But try as he might, every time he tries to curse Israel, blessings come out of his mouth instead. But this can’t be what our proverb is telling us. Most of the time we are free as humans to say whatever it is in our hearts to say.
So we can look to the next verse for context, where we are told, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.” Ok. So, verse one says it doesn’t matter what’s in a man’s heart, what is said out loud is what is of the Lord. Now we are told in verse 2 that there are also times where what we DO seems right to us, but in the end, God looks at the motivation of our hearts.
So sometimes our hearts aren’t in the right place, but what we say is godly. And then sometimes we think what we are doing is good, but God sees the motives of our hearts. So, what then are we to do? How can we know if what we are doing is what God wants? If sometimes it’s not what in our hearts but what we say that matters, and sometimes it’s not what we do that matters but what’s in our hearts? Ugh.
Both of these proverbs are true, and happen often in our human experience. These contrasting opposites are a reality of being a person. So is there any way out of this contradiction? That’s where verse three comes in to play: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Since both of these things are true, our way out is to commit our plans to God. God knows when it’s our hearts or our actions, (or hopefully both) that are aligned with his will. When we aren’t sure which is true, we can commit what we plan to do to God, and if it is his will, he will bless it.
Translations of the original biblical text that are the most literal are most often the most helpful in understanding the text. But when we don’t have the cultural, grammatical, and linguistic knowledge to understand what is going on in the biblical text, we can have a hard time seeing how to piece these ideas together, or know that, in this case, these three proverbs are linked to one another. Translators who have this knowledge, and wish to show this relation in English can help, paraphrasing a bit to make the connection more clear:
“People go about making their plans,
but the Eternal has the final word.
Even when you think you have good intentions,
He knows your real motives.
Whatever you do, do it as service to Him,
and He will guarantee your success.”
When rendered into English this way, the flow of thought is more obvious. The genius of the book of Proverbs as a wisdom text is that it doesn’t just spoon feed us wisdom. It teaches us to be wise by requiring us to apply some wisdom in how we read the text as well. And this wisdom is applicable in every book of scripture. If a verse doesn’t make much sense on its own, read it in context. Refer to a few other translations and understand why the translators may choose to render it differently for you in trying to convey either a literal, word-for-word translation, or a general paraphrase of the ideas found in the text.
Along with the wisdom of our proverbs today, that we should commit our plans to the Lord, these three proverbs also show us the wisdom of slowing down and taking a closer look at the text, in context. Wisdom begets more wisdom. But that’s a proverb for another day.
Prayer for Today
Father, thank you so much for training me in wisdom by the instruction of your word. Jesus guide me as I study scripture and point me to the will of your Father. By your Holy Spirit, give me the peace I need to tackle the harder truths of scripture, and rely on you to show me how best to live my life. Amen.