Often, I have heard Proverbs 3:5-7 brought up in discussions about decision making. Before I move any further, have a read:
Pro 3:5-7 ESV Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (6) In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (7) Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
The idea is often that somebody who is attempting to use discernment to make a major life decision should wait for God to literally tell them what to do. Otherwise, they might use their discernment (their own understanding), and dishonor God. But, is that what this verse is teaching? Is Solomon advocating listening for God to give us personal advice about our future?
What is the evidence in the text itself? Here is all of Proverbs 3:
Pro 3:1-35 ESV My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, (2) for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. (3) Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. (4) So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.
(5) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (6) In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (7) Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. (8) It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (9) Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; (10) then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
(11) My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, (12) for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. (13) Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, (14) for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. (15) She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (16) Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. (17) Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. (18) She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. (19) The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; (20) by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.
(21) My son, do not lose sight of these— keep sound wisdom and discretion, (22) and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. (23) Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. (24) If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. (25) Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, (26) for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught. (27) Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. (28) Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you. (29) Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you. (30) Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm. (31) Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, (32) for the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence. (33) The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous. (34) Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor. (35) The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace.
It appears in this context, that trusting in the Lord is directly related to three ideas:
- Solomon’s commandments to his son (the teachings of the whole book of Proverbs, but most immediately those in the following paragraphs)
- Steadfast love and faithfulness (adherence to the Mosaic Covenant), thus “turning away from evil.” Do note, that the practice of tithing in order to ensure the economic success of the whole society and thus yourself is directly referenced.
- Gaining wisdom as so that one is no longer trapped in the impetuous and simpleminded approach to life that corresponds to youth in the book of Proverbs.
In other words the concept of “leaning not on your own understanding” means basing your life on the advice of the wise, on what God has revealed in Scripture, and on a mature perspective once you have gained wisdom.
I have no doubt that God can speak directly to people about things. God is omnipotent. On the other hand, when interpreting Scripture, one should try to do it in context. Proverbs 3:5-7 is not a command to rely upon direct mystical revelation from God. It is, instead, a command to base one’s life on wisdom when your own preferences and passions lead you in the opposite direction of truth and goodness.
In many ways, the interpretation often supplied for this verse may actually be the opposite of what it means. When we wait for a “private revelation from God” we often wait for a deep emotional or intuitive impression. The problem is that it is really easy to use confirmation bias in such situations and then blame extremely foolish decisions upon God.