Not Thine Own
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, NASB, other citations from the ASV).
What is understanding? Is it knowledge? Yes. Is it humility? Yes. Is it praising God? Yes. Is it righteous living? Yes. Is it applied wisdom, discretion, zeal, peace, and other things? Yes. How is this possible?
God’s creation gives us a clue. The chemical sodium (Na) cannot be found in its pure form in nature, though it is the seventh most abundant element in Earth’s crust and part of every drop of ocean water. Sodium is part of a multitude of compounds; table salt (NaCl), soda ash (Na2CO3), baking soda (NaHCO3), caustic soda (NaOH), sodium nitrate (NaNO3), and borax (Na2B4O7•10H2O)
Science may be man’s best attempt to replicate the principles of understanding. Walt Whitman observed, “I like the scientific spirit — the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine — it always keeps the way beyond open — always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake — after a wrong guess.”
God the Source
True understanding comes from God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: God applied understanding to create the universe (Jeremiah 10:12 NASB). God’s understanding is infinite (Isaiah 40:28).
God shares His understanding with us: “There is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8). Jesus has an active role in imparting understanding: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
God gives understanding to those who seek it: “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much” (1 Kings 4:29).
Get Understanding to Live
Job teaches us that God has “counsel and understanding” (Job 12:13). Solomon encourages us to “get wisdom and with all the getting to get understanding” (Proverbs 4:4, 7). Jesus hid the truth in his Parables but imparts “understanding” to those who truly desire and seek for it (Matthew 13:13).
Jesus’ disciples asked him to explain the Parable of the Sower. Jesus indicated that true understanding does not stop with accepting his word, but it continues with curiosity, fruit-bearing, and action (John 15:7-8). Later, the disciples’ desire to understand Jesus kept them close to him when all others left: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Understanding helps us to be closer to Jesus. It helps us to be more like Jesus. Understanding is a key to a closer relationship with God, it opens His plans to us. It also guides us to genuine relationships with our brethren and with our worldly friends, without the need to compromise principles of the truth. The psalmist summarizes it best, “Give me understanding, and I shall live” (Psalms 119:144).
How to Get Understanding
(a) Pray, ask, even cry, for it (2 Timothy 2:7, Proverbs 2:3, Psalms 119:169). (b) Study the Word with humility (Ephesians 3:4). (c) Learn it from the wise (Proverbs 1:5). (d) Learn it from godly parents (Proverbs 4:1). (e) Be humble (Psalms 119:130). (f) Invest yourself fully in acquiring it (Proverbs 23:23). (d) Declare your commitment to God, “I am Thy servant; give me understanding that I may know Thy testimonies” (Psalms 119:125).
Growing in Understanding
In the Parable of the Sower, the good ground is the heart that understands the Word and brings forth fruit (Matthew 13:1-9). Without the growth of the seed, without the action, there is no understanding but simply the type of knowledge that puffeth up. Understanding matures as we apply it in every corner of our lives.
Understanding Matures When We:
a) Observe God’s law (Psalms 119:34).
(b) Pray to God and praise Him (Psalms 111:10, Psalms 47:7, 1 Corinthians 14:15).
(c) Depart from evil (Job 28:28).
(d) Hate falsity, hypocrisy (Psalms 119:104).
(e) Find happiness, rejoice in it (Proverbs 19:8, 3:3).
(f) Listen, then change our hearts (Proverbs 2:2, Proverbs 1:5).
(g) Meditate upon it (Psalms 49:3, Psalms 119:99).
(h) Are humble in our deeds (James 3:13).
(i) Are discrete and slow to anger (Proverbs 2:11, Proverbs 17:27). (j) Do not glory in material accomplishments (Proverbs 28:11).
(k) Teach it to the young (Proverbs 5:1).
As we mature, we must acknowledge God’s infinite understanding and continually align our understanding to His standards (Psalms 147:5, Proverbs 3:5, Job 36:5).
The Human Counterfeit
“A rebuke entereth deeper into one that hath understanding than a hundred stripes into a fool” (Proverbs 17:10).
Anything of real spiritual value has a human counterfeit; understanding is no exception. Unlike understanding, which comes from God, counterfeit human understanding is easy to spot since it needs to be continually evidenced by material accomplishments. Predictably, it also degrades into pride and idolatry; two key identifiers of a fractured relationship with God.
It is critical that we resist human counterfeit by pursuing real understanding. Solomon’s cautionary tale shows that even a man of God can forfeit godly understanding by a desire for human greatness. In contrast, Daniel’s example guides us into our potential to stay true to godly understanding, even in the most difficult circumstances.
Counterfeit Understanding Versus Real Understanding
- Boasts about achievements, especially when they are visible and undeniable (Isaiah 10:13). — vs. — Is never complete, trusts in God, does not lean on its merits (Proverbs 3:5).
- Is proud and refuses correction (Proverbs 15:32). — vs. — Is humble and listens when rebuked according to the word (Psalms 119:130, Proverbs 1:5, Proverbs 19:25).
- Is vain. Lives instinctively, for one’s own pleasures (Job 11:12, Psalms 32:9). — vs. — Lives for God, who guides us in living by His principles (Psalms 119:34, Psalms 111:10).
- Is used to oppress (Proverbs 28:16). — vs. — Is used to seek justice for the poor (Proverbs 29:7).
- Turns the work of our hands into idols (Isaiah 44:19, Hosea 13:2). — vs. — Enhances our praise to God (Psalms 47:7).
- It makes us think we are our own work, rather than God’s (Isaiah 29:16). — vs. — Knows we are simple, the recipients of God’s understanding (Matthew 11:25, Proverbs 9:6, Psalms 119:125,130).
- Is greedy and partial to bribes (Ecclesiastes 7:7). — vs. — Leads us on straight paths (Proverbs 15:21).
- It can tell us how to do evil, but not how to do good (Jeremiah 4:22). — vs. — Guides us to wisdom, righteousness, equity and “every good path” (Proverbs 2:2-9).
- It gives us eyes and ears that cannot see or hear (Jeremiah 5:21). — vs. — “But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear” (Proverbs 13:16).
- Fails us (Ecclesiastes 10:3). — vs. — Leads us to God who never fails, and to peace in Christ “which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
- God destroys the counterfeit understanding (Ezekiel 28:2-8, Isaiah 27:11). — vs. — God is Infallible and Almighty. His understanding is infinite and guides us towards eternal life (Psalms 147:5, 1 John 5:20).
Slipping into counterfeit understanding is more than an intellectual danger. Our fleshly human nature demands visible results and encourages us toward slippery paths. Sins of immorality take away godly understanding quickly and unsubtly (Hosea 4:11). Inaction and a false reliance on things that we already “have” will erase understanding slowly and smoothly. Over time, we become confused and lukewarm. “Thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
However, when we fail, God may still be glorified by providing a way for us to come back into harmony with Him. Let us look at three vivid examples of God’s redemption.
(1) The Message to the Church of Laodicea
Revelation 3:18 — we are advised to buy gold refined in fire, white garment, and eye salve. In Proverbs 23:23, we are told to buy truth, wisdom, and understanding and sell them not.
Revelation 3:19 — Jesus rebukes us out of love, so we should be careful not to apply this to the nominal church. Job 36:5 tells us that God’s understanding does not despise any.
Revelation 3:20 — Jesus is our teacher, he feeds us and even enjoys our company. Similarly, the Psalmist tells us that we can cry and come to God and get understanding according to His word (Psalms 119:169).
Revelation 3:21-22 — A promise is given, at this very time, that the overcomers will sit on a throne with Jesus. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
(2) Wisdom Builds
“Through wisdom is a house builded; And by understanding it is established” (Proverbs 24:3). Prior to the Babylonian captivity, Israel lacked understanding. They refused to go to God for answers (Jeremiah 4:22, 5:21). During their captivity, they gained a fuller realization of their insufficiency. Faithful Jews returning after 70 years knew that they needed God, but they also knew that they lacked understanding. In their new home in Israel, with enemies ready to destroy them, they learned humility, they looked to God, the source of Israel’s blessings, and listened intently to God’s word.
“Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month” (Nehemiah 8:2). Israel finally worshipped God in understanding. Their new-found understanding enabled them to rebuild the land of Israel, a wonderful parable of the inauguration of God’s Kingdom.
(3) The Life of Daniel
Daniel’s life is an example of how true understanding should command every aspect of our lives. He possessed godly understanding at a very early age (Daniel 1:4, 17, 20). He was recognized for it even as kings and kingdoms fell and rose. He was instrumental in the redemption of Israel, but he was also instrumental in the redemption of Nebuchadnezzar, his captor! Practical lessons from Daniel include:
(a) He studied the Word and followed God’s commandments.
(b) He and his friends refused idolatry and worshipped God openly, fully understanding that doing so could cost them their lives.
(c) When called upon to reveal and interpret dreams, Daniel gave glory to God, never claiming his own understanding (Daniel 2:21).
(d) Multiple Kings praised God, witnessing Daniel’s understanding, even as it contradicted their commands (Nebuchadnezzar, Darius).
(e) Daniel spoke the truth, prophesied, and rebuked kings when understanding required it: Remnants of Laodicea “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” (Daniel 5).
(f) Even late in life, Daniel remained humble, curious, with a desire to learn, as he petitioned God for the understanding of visions.
Daniel is a beautiful example of how to apply understanding in our lives (Daniel 9). He has left us a template for faith against odds. For example, Daniel understood from Jeremiah’s writings that Israel’s captivity neared an end and, by providence, he was just restored to a position where he could do something about it. Daniel first prayed for God’s will to be done. His prayer was fervent, sincere, and incredibly humble. He asked for God’s grace and acknowledged that neither he nor Israel, deserved it. He also exhibited love for God, for God’s people, and even for their oppressors. Only after approaching God in prayer did his wise and timely actions open the door for Israel to return to the promised land.
Daniel’s amazing example of godly courage, fidelity, and loyalty to righteous principles, shows us how the lives of those we influence can change through active godly understanding (Daniel 4). When Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of his own downfall, Daniel did not rejoice, but shared the advice of Micah 6:8 with the king. This was one of many times Daniel showed us how to “give the diligence to present thyself approved unto God … handling aright the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
For twelve months, Nebuchadnezzar tried to listen to Daniel’s advice. Eventually, his pride got the best of him. Upon his restoration, however, Nebuchadnezzar gained the humility necessary to allow God’s understanding to speak through him (Daniel 4:34-37).
Even today, God’s understanding provides us an opportunity to open people’s hearts to God’s goodness. In God’s kingdom, billions will understand how to praise God just as Nebuchadnezzar learned: “Having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
God’s understanding is never complete in our lives, yet it is never lacking. It is more genuine, pure, and real than even man’s idealized concept. Godly understanding is an awareness of God’s principles, qualities, and plans. It includes an active effort to learn them, love them, and live them, with a willingness to continually align with God’s standards. “Go thou and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).