What does Proverbs 3:31 mean?
ESV: Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways,
NIV: Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways.
NASB: Do not envy a violent person, And do not choose any of his ways.
CSB: Don't envy a violent man or choose any of his ways;
NLT: Don’t envy violent people or copy their ways.
KJV: Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.
Prior verses followed a progression. The reader is commanded not to delay in doing good to others, not to withhold help from a neighbor, not to plan evil against a neighbor, and then to avoid unnecessary conflict (Proverbs 3:27–30). The command given here follows that chain by warning against looking to "a man of violence" either as a role model or with jealousy. In context, this means something more than a person who engages in fistfights or mayhem. It also refers to something more than simply being jealous of what such a person has gained.
As used here, the "man of violence" would be someone who does the opposite of the commands just given. Those who are selfish, cruel, plotting, or greedy towards others might seem to gain material wealth. The instruction Solomon gives here is that such actions should not be echoed. In Psalm 37:1, David, Solomon's father, gives similar advice. He writes: "Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers." Instead of envying wrongdoers, believers should trust in the Lord. In verse 16 David reasons, "Better is a little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked."
The other meaning of this verse is that godly people should not become bitter or jealous when evildoers appear to prosper. Asaph, the writer of Psalm 73, almost made shipwreck of the faith because he envied the arrogant wicked because they were prosperous (Psalm 73:1–3). He saw them as trouble free, fat, malicious, blasphemous, and growing richer and richer (Psalm 73:3–12). However, he stopped envying the wicked when the Lord revealed their disastrous fate to him (Psalm 73:17–20, 27).
The way of the wicked may look easy and prosperous, but disaster waits at the end of the road. It is far better to follow the road that leads to endless blessings.
Proverbs 3:27–35 gives general principles about our relationships, both with other people and with God. Solomon instructs the reader to show honor, integrity, trustworthiness, peace, and contentment towards others. This passage also contrasts the response of God to those who defy His will, versus His actions towards those who honor Him.
This chapter of Proverbs is addressed to Solomon's son. The term, ''my son'' occurs 15 times in chapters 1—7. The words may apply to one of Solomon's students in his court or to one of his biological sons. The application of wisdom in Proverbs 3 shows the benefits of trusting in the Lord with one's whole heart. Solomon credits obedience to and trust in God for longevity, success, guidance, health, reward that exceeds monetary wealth, enjoyment, peace, security, confidence, excellent human relationships, the Lord's blessing and favor, and honor. As with all ''proverbs,'' biblical or otherwise, their purpose is to impart general wisdom, not absolute prophecy. Like the original audience, modern readers are not expected to see these guidelines as absolute guarantees for any one person.
This passage lies in the second section of the book, found in chapters 1—9. The author, King Solomon, reigned over Israel from 971 to 931 BC. The first section of Proverbs, the preface, is found in Proverbs 1:1–7. The third section, chapters 10—22, were also written by Solomon. These proverbs were likely written by Solomon in his middle years, whereas he probably wrote Song of Songs in his early adulthood, and Ecclesiastes near the end of his life. As in the first two chapters, wisdom is stressed in Proverbs 3.
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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