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Observe the Commandments of Your Heavenly Father
Proverbs 3:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 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.
Chapter 3 opens with an exhortation for the youth to receive parental guidance into the very core of his being. He must not forsake the teaching (תּוֹרָה torah) of his mother. The son is told to let your heart keep my commandments. As was true in 2:2, “inclining your heart to discernment” and 2:10, “for wisdom will enter your heart,” this refers to the mind, the inherent mental power of the brain with which we accumulate information, reason, and draw conclusions. In 2:1, the son is told to “treasure up my commandments with you,” which refers to the instruction that the teacher of wisdom gave. The conjunction “for” ties the promises of this verse to the previous verses. Generally speaking, if you do (A), you get (B). If the son does not ignore the father’s instruction and does not forsake his mother’s teaching, and keeps the commandments, length of days and years of life and peace will add to his life as God promised at Exodus 20:12, “‘Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which Jehovah your God gives you.’”
The most important point at the outset, which we need to keep in mind, regardless of whether we are talking about a human relationship or a relationship with our heavenly Father, is; it should always be based on a value system, a moral code, one’s worldview of life. If we have a friend who does not share our values because he believes in morally wrong things, it will not be long before the friendship grows apart. Worse still, the ever-present danger is that we will adopt his system and abandon our own.
Jehovah God will never abandon his values. His values are perfect and are something to be desired. To be friends with Jehovah God, we must adopt his value system. Like James mentioned, drawing close to God means that we must have the same value system as outlined in God’s Word. While Solomon is the inspired writer, Jehovah God is the author. Let us look at James for 4:8. James informs us, if we ‘draw near God, he will draw near us.’ However, that is James 4:8a. The latter half of that verse qualifies what must be done in order to draw near God. The second half of that verse says we need ‘to recognize that we are sinners, cleanse our hands and purify our hearts.’ The use of religious ceremonial language sends a moral message to the reader. To cleanse our hands is to stop all wrongdoing that we may be doing and clean up our lives. To purify our hearts is to remove all wrong thinking that we carry on in our lives, meaning that we clean up our inner person as well.
James 4:8 Excursion
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (4:8)
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
This statement of James includes a significant and essential principle in the life of any genuine Christian. If it is our desire to have a righteous standing before God, to receive his mercy, we must draw near (ἐγγίζω eggizō) to him. How can we draw near to God since it is clearly physically impossible? We are to draw nearer in a spiritual sense. The more we grow spiritually, the closer we will feel. And when we address him directly in prayer as Father, it will seem like the most tender moment with a real person. As we walk with God, we draw closer. In the Bible, the phrase “to walk” means “to follow a certain course of action.” We walk with God by living the life course he has laid out for us in the Bible. We become biblically minded. We can never hope for a close relationship with the Father, expecting favor and grace from him, if we do not take actions that bring us closer.
James first addressed the fact that one must not be a friend of the world if he will draw near to God. The Hebrew Old Testament spoke of God’s people, the Israelites, ‘coming near to Jehovah.’ (Ex. 19:22; Jer. 30:21; Ez. 44:13) In the New Testament, we have the Father sending humanity his only-begotten Son. (John 3:16) The apostle John tells us, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only-begotten one from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As we learn from the example, Christ set while on earth, it is by prayer, repentance, obedience and exclusive devotion to God that Christians can draw near to God. “Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah, the son of Oded, and he went out before Asa and said to him, ‘hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: Jehovah is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.’” (2 Chron. 15:1-2) As we ‘get to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent’ (John 17:3), we will learn more fully of his love, power, wisdom, and justice, which will guide us in the way that we should go, as he draws near us as well.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
The book of James accuses his readers of being guilty of wars at 4:1 and murder at 2:11. Obviously, as was mentioned earlier, James was not talking about literal wars and murder. Rather, he spoke of those guilty of murderous hatred for others, infighting, slander, and the like. Therefore, he told them to cleanse their hands. This would have sounded familiar to those familiar with Isaiah 1:15-16. See below.
James’ readers were sinners in more ways than inherited sin or just occasionally committing a sin. They were living in sin and needed to repent, i.e., turn around from their bad ways. The sinful actions that these ones were carrying out spiritually polluted their hands. Hands, in a figurative sense, had many different meanings, but James is using them to symbolize deeds, as almost all work, especially in Bible times, was carried out with the hands. Many times, within Scripture, the heart is used figuratively for “the center of the self, of its feeling and willing, has purity as one of its chief virtues (cf. Matt 5:8; 1 Tim 1:5).” (Richardson 1997, 187) Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:19) Our heart “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9), which brings forth sinful thinking, leading to sinful works if cultivated. Therefore, we must cleanse the inner person, which will result in good works, which is also facilitated by the Holy Spirit’s power.
James is the only writer to use the double-minded expression, which refers to their impurity of heart and failure to trust in God. The Greek is literally speaking of two-souled ones, meaning they are trusting in both God and something else: self, world, money, and the like. We likely recall that James said the one who asks God for wisdom and doubts was a double-minded man. In other words, he is an indecisive man, namely, wavering in mind. This one fails to ask God because he is not certain God will or can answer him. Another aspect of this is one who may ask, but does not have faith either, so he depends on his own wisdom; and blames God when things do not go as he had hoped. James said of this man; he is “unstable in all his ways.” James’ readers were wavering between being a friend to God and being friends with the world, that is, figuratively, adultery.
We need to be every vigilant in our relationship with God. Our inherited sin and human weaknesses, coupled with Satan’s world catering to our fallen flesh, will contribute to our drifting away (Heb. 2:1), drawing away (3:12-13), falling away (6:6), becoming sluggish (6:12), grow weary or fainthearted (12:3), or turning away (12:25). One can move away from the Christian faith for many different reasons, and it can be sudden or so slow that we do not even realize it is taking place. (See Rom. 7:18-19) Therefore, we must employ constant, unending watchfulness.
More in-depth Insights
Cleanse your hands, you sinners. This seems to be a reference to Isaiah 1:15-16, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yes, even though you make many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil.” The heart is the seat of motives and intentions, which the eyes feed. The hands are the tools by which we carry out our resolve. The hands here are pictured as tainted by blood, or by acts of error. Therefore, when James says, cleanse (καθαρίζω katharizō) your hands, it was illustrative of removing our transgression. (Mat. 27:24; cf. Deut. 21:6; Psa. 26:6) Both the pagan and the Jewish people followed the practice of washing their hands before they engaged in their worship services. The idea James is drawing on here is not that we need to literally wash our hands, but rather for us to draw close to God, we need to cleanse away our sins. This is done through a contrite, repentant heart, followed by prayer, and then the action of turning away from our former sinful ways. Then, only then can we draw much closer to God and approach him in a pure state. Literal handwashing will not accomplish this. We can never have the hope of fully drawing close to God, finding the favor of God, if we do not abandon our transgressions. You sinners: (חָטָא chata ἁμαρτωλός hamartōlos) in the Scriptures is generally used in a more specific way, that is, referring to those willfully living in sin, practicing sin, or have a reputation of sinning. James meant by the words that he used to clarify one significant condition on which we can draw close to God. We need to approach God with the purpose and the desire to cleanse ourselves continually throughout our lives. But this is especially so if we have fallen into willfully living in sin.
Purify your hearts. That is (ἁγνίζω hagnizō), to make free from sin or guilt or other undesirable traits, to have moral virtues. Heart: (לֵב leb; καρδία kardia) In biblical Hebrew, the word for heart (leb) has twenty-four different meanings. Generally, it is a reference to the center of feelings. As in numerous instances, in Hebrew, the heart refers to the mind, the center of a person’s thoughts and emotions. The sense is the place of the person’s thoughts (mind), volition, emotions (feelings), and knowledge of right from wrong (conscience), translated by some as mind. However, it can refer to the whole person: the mind (knowledge), emotions (feelings), and awareness (knowledge or perception of a situation or fact).
We want to avoid being satisfied with some reforming of ourselves, an outward display of ourselves, simply removing our external transgressions. The work of being biblically minded needs to go deeper by getting it down into the heart, which will then make us clean and pure. If the heart is not purified and cleansed by the Word of God, it is nigh impossible to truly draw close to God. Yes, maybe we are working on our outward selves, yet we still indulgence the secret sins of the heart, which occasionally cause us to stumble. We cannot truly draw close to God.
You double-minded. The Greek word here (δίψυχος dipsuchos) translated double-minded occurs only in James 1:8 and in 4:8 in the Greek NT. It is possible that James coined the term. It literally means “two-souled.” It refers to a person who is uncertain about every path before him and every decision before him. Not only that, but it refers to an indecisive person, dual thinking, which are in opposition to each other. Furthermore, it is a man who is pulled from his fleshly side over against his spiritual side. The person walks between two worlds, one his faith, the other, the fallen flesh. He is moved by his desires, not his commitment to God. This man goes from an obedient servant of God to following his imperfect fleshly desires at a moment’s notice. God has no use for such a person in this state.
End of Excursion
Proverbs three is expecting no less because right away, we are told that if we are going to be a friend of God, we must know his teachings and be living by them. We are to have his laws written on our hearts, meaning that every motivation we have in life will be geared toward his teachings. Remember, the Bible promises that relate to human activity are not absolutes. In other, if you do (A), you get (B) is not an absolute guarantee. This is not how this literary device works. It is best understood, if you place a qualifier at the beginning, such as generally speaking, usually, normally, most often, if you do (A), you get (B). Thus, if we do not forget Jehovah’s teachings, normally, we can expect that we will live longer and have a more peaceful life.
Ecclesiastes 9:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and unexpected events happen to them all.
We cannot stop unexpected events in this system of things, which may lead to an early death. If we follow Jehovah’s teaching but end up being hit by a car, are the victim of a natural disaster, or get an incurable disease, we will not live long, and peace will not be. However, there is everlasting life outside of what was meant here, but that can bring us peace of mind in any event. However, if we look at a person’s life that violates traffic laws, smokes tobacco, lives an immoral life, and lives in an area plagued with natural disasters, he is more likely to suffer the ills of his actions.
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 Error: (עָוֹן awon; Gr. ἀνομία anomia; παρανομία paranomia) is found five times in the book of Lamentations. The Hebrew word awon essentially relates to the erring, acting illegally or wrongly. This aspect of sin refers to committing perverseness, wrongness, lawlessness, law-breaking, which can also include the rejection of the sovereignty of God. It is an act or a feeling that steps over the line of God’s moral standard, as something God forbids, or the person ignores carry out (doing) something that God requires, whether it be by one’s thoughts, feelings, speech, or actions. It also focuses on the liability or guilt of one’s wicked, wrongful act. This error may be deliberate or accidental; either willful deviation of what is right or unknowingly making a mistake. (Lev. 4:13-35; 5:1-6, 14-19; Num. 15:22-29; Ps 19:12-13) Of course, if it is intentional; then, the consequence is far more serious. (Num. 15:30-31) Error is in opposition to the truth, and those willfully sinning corrupt the truth, a course that only brings forth flagrant sin. (Isa 5:18-23) We can be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Ex 9:27, 34-35; Heb. 3:13-15.
 Transgression: (עָבוּר abur or עָבֻר abur; Gr. parabasis) Sin can take the form of a “transgression.” This is an overstepping, namely, to exceed a moral limit or boundary. Biblically speaking, this would be crossing the line and saying, feeling, thinking, or doing something that is contrary to God’s personality, standards, ways, will and purposes, as set out in the Scriptures. It is breaking God’s moral law. – Num. 14:41; Deut. 17:2, 3; Josh. 7:11, 15; 1 Sam 15:24; Isa 24:5; Jer. 34:18; Rom. 2:23; 4:15; 5:14; Gal. 3:19; 1 Tim. 2:14; Heb. 2:2; 9:15.
Transgression: (פֶּשַׁע pesha) This is a violation of a law, duty, or moral principle. An act that is in opposition to a human or divine standard by a person who is focused on the rebellious nature of the wrongdoing. This is wantonness, crime, wrongdoing. One who violates a law, a duty, or a moral principle. An action or behavior that is contrary to a standard be it a human standard or divine, with emphasis on the rebellious nature of the wrong committed.
 Isa. 65:20; Prov. 11:31; Eccles. 2:26; Matt. 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 5:30; 7:37-39; John 9:16; Rom. 3:7; Gal. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 7:26; Jam. 4:8; 1 Pet 4:18; Jude 1:15.