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Grace. Truth. Family.

Proverbs 3a – The Tablet of the Heart

Proverbs 3:3 says, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (all Scripture references in ESV). During my sermon today, I briefly alluded to the “tablet of the heart” language reflects the language of Deuteronomy and other biblical passages. Originally I had a longer focus on the specific passages that this verse and this chapter draws from, but I was forced to cut back due to time.

Deuteronomy 6:6-8 reads, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”

Notice that the words of God in Deuteronomy should be “on your heart.” They are to be worn on the body (figuratively speaking, though some Jews did and still do take this literally). The core concept of “wearing Scripture on the body and heart” is found here in Deuteronomy 6. Deuteronomy 11:18 uses similar language: “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”

The idea of writing something on the heart also occurs in Jeremiah 31:33: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jeremiah 17:1 might be even clearer: “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars.”

It’s impossible to be definitive about whether Jeremiah or Proverbs 3 was written first, which makes it impossible to determine which passage borrows from which passage, or if they both independently relate to Deuteronomy. Remember: Solomon didn’t necessarily write Proverbs 1:8 – 9:18.

Scholars have also pointed out that there is a tight relationship between Exodus and Proverbs 3. Andrew Steinmann, author of a commentary on Proverbs (as well as many others), draws many linguistic comparisons between Proverbs 3 and Exodus 24:12 (with its surrounding narrative). He writes, “Therefore Solomon, the father, is consciously comparing his commands (3:1) to God’s commands to Israel at Sinai” (Steinmann, Proverbs, 108).

The emphasis of the father in Proverbs 3 is that the son should internalize the Lord’s commands. They shouldn’t just be words in an ancient book; they should be words figuratively written on his living, beating heart, lived out in day to day life. By using the language of Deuteronomy, Exodus and maybe Jeremiah, the author here emphasizes the need for heart-felt obedience.

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