"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6
To "lean on our own understanding" is to trust in our own wisdom. It is to be guided by what the world calls "common sense." It is to rely upon the dictates of human reason.
The objector may reply, "God has endowed me with the reasoning faculty shall I not use it?" To which, we reply, that the highest act of reason is to bow before the wisdom of God, and be controlled by His unerring Word. But, alas, fallen men, in the pride of their hearts, had rather walk by sight than by faith, "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Eph 4:18).
The connection between the words of our text, and the first clause in the verse, is not difficult to trace. It forms a supplementary word of warning. It is this very leaning on our own understanding, or reasoning things out which so often hinders us from trusting in the Lord with all our hearts. A similar supplementary warning is found in Matthew 21:21, added to, "If you have faith," is, "and doubt not," which shows the danger of unbelief coming in afterwards and preventing the fruits of faith.
So, the great obstacle against continued wholehearted trust in the Lord, is leaning unto our own understanding. To lean unto our own understanding is to rest upon a broken reed, for it has been deranged by sin. That is why we need constantly to seek counsel and instruction from the Scriptures, which are given not only to reveal the way to Heaven, but also to guide us through this dark world. God's Word is given to be "A lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path" (Psalm 119:105), and it is because we have failed to use this divine provision, that we have had so many slips and falls.
Experience shows that more grace is needed to repudiate our own wisdom than to abandon our own righteousness. It is both solemn and humbling to see how many of the most eminent saints have failed at this point.
Abraham, at the very time he responded to God's call to leave the land of his birth, instead of fully trusting the Lord to care for his wife as well as himself, leaned unto his own understanding, and instructed her to pose as his sister (Gen 20:13).
Jacob, instead of trusting the Lord to make good His promise, relied upon human expediency and trickery.
Moses, after God had graciously supplied the cloud to guide them by day and by night (Num 9:18-20), said to Hobab, "One day Moses said to Hobab, 'We are on our way to the place the LORD promised us, for he said, 'I will give it to you.' Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has promised wonderful blessings for Israel!' But Hobab replied, 'No, I will not go. I must return to my own land and family.' 'Please dont leave us,' Moses pleaded. 'You know the places in the wilderness where we should camp. Come, be our guide.'" (Num 10:29-31). The policy of Moses was dictated by natural prudence. Knowing that his father-in-law was thoroughly familiar with the wilderness, he concluded that he would be a suitable and competent guide. It is hard to imagine Moses being so foolish, yet, how often have we acted in a similar fashion!
Other examples of this sad failing are often found in what is recorded concerning the twelve apostles. For example, when the Lord first announced to them His approaching death, Peter rebuked Him, saying, "Be it far from you, Lord" (Mat 16:22).
Yes, the exhortation of our text is much needed by us. "Lean not unto your own understanding" when interpreting the Scriptures. God's Word is not addressed to the intellect but to the conscience and heart. And as soon as we begin reasoning over its contents, we land into a bog of error. The majority, if not all, of the false systems in Christendom are the outcome of the natural mind of men taking up the things of God. People single out certain fragments of Scripture, ignoring or repudiating all else, and, by a process of reasoning, have based their schemes thereon. Some dwell on the fact that God is gracious and that His mercy endures forever and from this promise they reason that there can be no eternal punishment for anybody. Others single out the statements,"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16), and "Whoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev 22:17) and from these, reason that there cannot be such a thing as God having, from all eternity, chosen or elected certain ones to salvation.
On the other hand, some appear to be very zealous of God's glory and imagine it is sullied when we press the responsibility of man. Because "Salvation is of the LORD" (Jon 2:9), they can see neither need nor warrant for the preacher to urge the ungodly to seek the Savior. Because repentance and faith are the gifts of God, it seems senseless to hyper-Calvinists to call upon the unregenerate to repent and believe.
All of these people are doing the very thing which our text forbids."Lean not unto your own understanding" by seeking to solve the mysteries of providence. God has told us that His thoughts and ways are very different from ours (Isa 55:8-9). Yes, that they are "past finding out" (Rom 11:33). When a finite creature attempts to comprehend the Infinite, he is not only guilty of presumptuous sin, but is working against his own well-being. To philosophize about our lot, to reason about our circumstances is fatal to our rest of soul and peace of heart.
We cannot, by searching, find out God. In His Word, God has placed on record example after example to warn us against the folly and futility of reasoning about His providences. Take the case of Jacob. When Joseph seemed lost to him, Simeon had been left behind in Egypt, and request was made for Benjamin to leave too, he said, "All these things are against me!" (Gen 42:36). He was walking by sight, judging things from their outward appearance, reasoning from what he saw. God was left out of his calculation and consideration. As the sequel showed, all those things were, really, working together for his good. What a warning for us!
Take the children of Israel after their exodus from Egypt. "When Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid. And they said unto Moses: Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?" (Exo 14:10-11). Instead of trusting in the Lord with all their hearts, they leaned unto their own understanding.
Once more, consider the apostles after the crucifixion. The death of their Master, was the death of their hopes. Why? Because, instead of trusting in the Lord with all their heart, they leaned unto their own understanding! Once again we say, what a warning for us!
Ah, Christian readers, when shall we learn that God's dealings with us are designed to wean from leaning unto our own understanding? If it takes us a long time to discover that we have no might of our own, and must draw strength from above; it takes us longer still to realize that we have no wit of our own, and must seek wisdom from on high.
"Lean not unto your own understanding" when engaged in the work of the Lord. Alas, how much failure is there here! How much of the flesh enters into "Christian service"! How frequently worldly methods are employed! How often it is assumed that the end justifies the means! The only "end" which is worthy for any Christian to hold in view, is the glory of God; and the only "means" befitting His servants are those which are prescribed in the Scriptures.
Implicit confidence in God's promise that His Word shall not return unto Him void, and unquestioning obedience to all His arrangements are what constitute all acceptable service.
When Moses built a house for the Lord, though skilled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, he was not permitted to use his own ingenuity, but had to make all things according to the pattern shown him in the mount. And this is written for our learning.
The teaching of Scripture on the subject of Christian service, and the thoughts of many professing Christians thereon, differ widely. The Word teaches that the measure in which we glorify God is the measure in which we obey Him. But how many gauge it by apparent results! Those preachers who do most visible good in the conversion of souls and the edification of Christians, are regarded as having brought most glory to their Master. But that is a false standard of measurement. It is walking by sight. It is leaning unto our own understanding. Again, those methods which seem to secure the best returns are almost everywhere looked upon as being most blessed of God, and, therefore, as most pleasing to Him. But the value of any action can be ascertained only through testing it by Scripture. So many reason backward from effect to cause the effect is good, therefore, it is supposed the cause must be. God is giving blessing, therefore, He must be pleased.
Ah, it is so easy to lean unto our own understanding. Have we forgotten what happened when Moses was bidden to speak to the rock? Instead of so doing, in his anger, he smote it. In this, he sinned, and God judged him for it. Nevertheless, the water flowed forth! Did that "result" prove Moses was in the right? Certainly not! And it is recorded as a solemn warning against our arguing from effect to cause, against reasoning from results.
It is so easy to persuade ourselves that we have God's approval because we appear to have His blessing. If we leave the path marked out for us in His Word, we may have visible "results," but we shall not have God's approval. If we desire the latter, then, we must give constant heed to the divine injunction, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding."