6 The father now adds to his demand for entire and exclusive commitment an exhaustive commitment—in all [see v. 5] your ways (derākeykā; see 1:15; 2:8). Instead of the gloss desire his presence, most English versions gloss dāʿēhû (lit. “know him”; see 1:2, 2:5) by “acknowledge him” (e.g., NIV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV). Delitzsch, however, rightly argues that the verb “is not fully represented by ‘acknowledge Him.’ ”32 “Acknowledge” in the sense of “to confess” could represent yādaʿ in Hiphil, but doubtfully in the sense “to recognize the Lord’s rights and authority.” “To know” in this book means personal knowledge, intimate experience with a person’s reality (see p. 77; 1:2; 2:5–6). The noted connections between the spiritual consequences in Lecture 2 and the spiritual admonitions in ch. 3 infer that “know” in 3:6a has the same sense as in 2:5b. Personal knowledge of God ensues from risking oneself to obey the specific teachings that pertain to all sorts of human behavior in full reliance on God to keep his promises coupled with them (see 2:1). Jeremiah equates knowing the Lord with having the tôrâ written upon the heart (Jer. 31:31–34). So does Solomon (see 3:1), even if 3:4 is not original (see 7:3). It is difficult, however, to get the mind around the notion of knowing God in connection with all of one’s ways. But when the psalmist says: “The Lord knows the way of the righteous” (Ps. 1:6), he means, “The Lord is aware of sympathetically (i.e., existentially, not merely noetically)” > “enters into their way (and so protects it) > “watches over” (NIV).33 Independently, Fox glossed the expression by “hold him in mind” and commented that it denotes “awareness of what [the Lord] wants as well as a desire to do it.” Unfortunately, in this rare instance he based himself “on the rabbis, not on philology.” Moreover, as in Ps. 1:6 it may also connote “desire his protective presence.” The significance of the imperative mood is ambiguous because in this poem volitional forms are used for both pure admonitions and forceful promises (cf. “find,” v. 4; “let it be,” v. 8). The pattern of placing the divine promises in the even verses favors taking the verb as a promise (i.e., by trusting God entirely and exclusively you will know him). However, the consequence in verset B, “and he will make your path straight,” implies that the admonition in verset B functions as its condition vis-à-vis “know him personally, and he will.…” Straight and smooth (see “; cf. 11:5) renders the pun of this one Hebrew word to denote its physical reality and connote its ethical sense. Figuratively, Alonso-Schökel rightly says that it denotes either “straight” (i.e., yāšar “right, honest, upright conduct that does not go astray or out of bounds,” 2:13; 9:15) or “smoothness” (i.e., “the success of an undertaking or action”; cf. 3:23; 4:12; Isa. 40:3). The structure of 3:1–12 shows that at the least “smooth” is meant here. Since, however, to know the Lord one must abstain from evil for there is no evil in him, that relationship also makes one walk “straight.” Your paths (ʾōrehōteykā; see 1:19; 2:13) probably functions as a stock-in-trade parallel to derākeykā “your ways” (see 2:20). One has to view the course of one’s life from a bird’s-eye view, not from a worm’s-eye view, to see this truth. A Portuguese proverb says, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
3:6. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.
The third line of the exhortation is found here: ‘In all your ways acknowledge Him.’ The verb ‘acknowledge’ means simply ‘to know.’ Such knowledge is more than acquainting yourself with God, but describes a deep experiential knowledge. The fact that this is to be ‘in all your ways’ (cf. ‘with all your heart,’ v. 5) drives deeper still the level of intimacy intended.
Finally, the reward is stated: ‘And He will make your paths straight.’ The straight paths of the wise contrast with the crooked or perverse ways of the wicked (Prov. 2:13, 15; 3:17; 10:9). The reward is more than the promise of simple guidance. It includes the removal of obstacles (Isa. 40:3; 45:13) from the path of the wise and the surety of arriving at one’s destination.
When you abandon yourself to God in trusting obedience, finding your entire support in Him and striving in every avenue of your life to know Him more intimately, He guarantees that the path before you will be clearer and smoother than otherwise it would have been, and that He will keep you in His will.
Ver. 6.—In all thy ways. This expression covers the whole area of life’s action—all its acts and undertakings, its spiritual and secular sides, no less than its public and private. It guards against our acknowledging God in great crises and solemn acts of worship only (Plumptre). Acknowledge (daehu); Vulgate, cogita; LXX., γνὠριζε. The Hebrew verb yada signifies “to know, recognize.” To acknowledge God is, therefore, to recognize, in all our dealings and undertakings, God’s overruling providence, which “shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will.” It is not a mere theoretical acknowledgment, but one that engages the whole energies of the soul (Delitzsch), and sees in God power, wisdom, providence, goodness, and justice. This meaning is conveyed by the Vulgate cogitare, which is “to consider” in all parts, “to reflect upon.” David’s advice to his son Solomon is, “Know thou (ola) the God of thy father.” We may well acknowledge Jehovah; for he “knoweth the way of the righteous” (Ps. 1:6). Acknowledging God also implies that we first ascertain whether what we are about to take in hand is in accordance with his precepts, and then look for his direction and illumination (Wardlaw). And he shall direct thy paths (v’hu y’yashsher or’khotheyka); i.e. he himself shall make them straight, or level, removing all obstacles out of the way; or they shall, under God’s direction, prosper and come to a successful issue; they shall be virtuous, inasmuch as deviation into vice will be guarded against, and happy, because they are prosperous. The pronoun v’hu is emphatic, “he himself;” Vulgate, et ipse. Yashar, piel, is “to make a way straight,” as in ch. 9:15; 15:21; 11:5. Cf. the LXX. ὀρθοτομεῖν, “to cut straight” (see on ch. 11:5). God here binds himself by a covenant (Lapide). This power is properly attributed to God, for “it is not in man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
6. Acknowledge is quite simply ‘know’, which contains not only the idea of acknowledging, but the much richer content of being ‘aware of’, and having ‘fellowship with’. And the promise that closes the verse offers more than guidance, though it includes it: He will make straight your paths (rsv), as he did for the unwitting Cyrus (Isa. 45:13; cf. Isa. 40:3) to bring him to his appointed goal.
Ver. 6. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.—Trust and guidance:—
We have here the sound counsel of a wide experience.
- As containing the most important precepts for life. God claims from you here—
- The supreme affection of your heart.
- The complete homage of your intellect.
- The unswerving loyalty of your lives. Religion is not to be put on and off, it must pervade the life.
- As suggesting the greatest dangers in life.
- The fallibility of human counsellors.
- The deceitfulness of our own hearts.
III. As promising the greatest blessings through life.
- Spiritually. (T. Campey.)
The nature of the Christian’s trust in God:—
- The nature of the trust.
- It must be intelligent.
- It must be unlimited.
- It must be constant. No trust is of any great value that is not uniform and abiding.
- The manner in which this trust is manifested.
- There is surrender to the Divine authority.
- There is obedience to the Divine law.
- There is submission to the Divine providence.
- There is faith in the Divine promises. Contrast the man who leans on his own understanding with the man who trusts in God. The one leans on a broken reed, the other on the arm of Omnipotence. (Anon.)
The Christian’s mainstay:—
- Something to lean upon: “Trust in the Lord.”
- He is worthy of trust—kind, good, loving.
- He is suitable to trust in—powerful, eternal, just.
- He is able to be trusted in, for He is accessible, He invites all, He saves all who trust in Him.
- Something to distrust: “Lean not to thine own heart.”
- Nothing is more fickle.
- Nothing is more frail.
- Nothing is more deceptive.
- Nothing is more wicked.
III. Something to establish: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him.” “In all thy ways.” There will be ways of sorrow. Acknowledge His hand. There will be ways of disappointment. Thank Him for the discipline. There will be ways of joy. Praise Him for His love.
- Something to cheer: “He shall direct thy path.” He will direct it in perfect wisdom; He will direct it in perfect goodness; He will direct it for our good and His own glory. How peaceful the prospect, and how safe and sure the journey of that man whom the Lord directs! (Homilist.)
Consult God first:—
Take one step at a time, every step under Divine warrant and direction. Ever plan for yourself in simple dependence on God. It is nothing less than self-idolatry to conceive that we can carry on even the ordinary matters of the day without His counsel. He loves to be consulted. Therefore take all thy difficulties to be resolved by Him. Be in the habit of going to Him in the first place—before self-will, self-pleasing, self-wisdom, human friends, convenience, expediency. Before any of these have been consulted, go to God at once. (C. Bridges, M.A.)
The necessity for Divine guidance:—
- The filial acknowledgment demanded.
- In what it consists. We must acknowledge God’s supreme authority, and also His Divine wisdom and goodness.
- In what manner this acknowledgment should be made. By going to the Divine Word for instruction; by prayer; and by obedience to His authority.
- The Divine guidance which is promised.
- By enabling us to understand truth and the rule of duty.
- By preparing and disposing the heart to obedience.
- By a kind and wise providence. Application:
- Do you complain that you have not such guidance? In all your ways you do not acknowledge God.
- We must be sinful if we are in error.
- The subject appeals to wanderers and backsliders.
- The counsel is specially addressed to the young. (Evangelical Preacher.)
God to be acknowledged in all the affairs of life:—
There is no hardship in this. This injunction is aimed, not at the speculative atheism which denies that there is a God, but at the much more common practical ungodliness which keeps Him at a distance from human affairs. If the commandment had been, “Acknowledge God in the uncertain and difficult ways of life,” it would have met with a more ready compliance. The large, and the formal, and the public men will submit to His decision; but the little, and close, and kindly they will keep to themselves. Let Him compass you about as the atmosphere embraces the earth, going into every interstice, and taking the measure of every movement. “Trust in the Lord at all times; pour out your hearts before Him.” (W. Arnot, D.D.)
- A direction: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him.”
- It means to recognise God as our master, to accept Him as the sole arbiter of our lot, and publicly to acknowledge the position which we assume towards Him.
- It means to take God into all our counsels, and listen to His authority in everything we undertake. This act will render it impossible for us to sin, for how can a man take a holy God unto his counsels for evil?
- It means to acknowledge God in all our actions by seeking His blessing in their progress. It is not sufficient to begin well. It is only when God is sought at every step that we can walk in accordance with His will or progress safely or securely.
- It means to cultivate a feeling of resignation, and to be willing to give up our own ways and desires to His demand. This is, indeed, the great test which determines whether we acknowledge God. It costs something, and hereby we prove our sincerity. It is hard to have to renounce the cherished desires of a lifetime.
- The promise: “And He shall direct thy paths.”
- That it is the only safe course we can pursue to allow God to direct us. Owing to our own ignorance and shortsightedness we cannot direct them ourselves.
- That it is an utter impossibility for God to direct our paths unless we commit our whole ways into His hands. Faith and trust are the requisites for this happy consummation.
- That the ultimate end of His direction will turn out a glorious triumph. (Homilist.)
Human dependence and Divine guidance:—
- The acknowledgment of God in all our ways supposes, as a preliminary, that what we are about to do is consistent with Christian principle. Christian principle is on the side of everything that is high, and honourable, and pure in the character of man. A mean Christian, a dishonourable Christian, an impure-minded Christian, are associations of light and darkness unknown to Christian verity.
- This acknowledgment of God is the constant accompaniment of a Filial spirit. The true child may not always understand, but will always obey the will of his parent. The filial spirit regulates the discordances between the understanding and the life. The religious man is a child. It is not enough for him to do child’s work, he must do it in a child’s temper. It is not enough for him to bear a child’s discipline, he must bear it in a child’s spirit.
III. This acknowledgment of God is always accompanied by practical obedience. Whether it is the cause or the effect of this obedience, it is not necessary to distinguish. There is a real practical obedience along with the utterance that expresses the acknowledgment. When may we hope that Divine direction is given in answer to prayer? Consider—
- The reflex benefits of prayer.
- The arrangements of God’s providence that secure an answer to prayer. To withhold prayer is to oppose the spiritual constitution of the universe. It is the refusal of obedience, of worship, of the acknowledgment of dependence, of confession, of supplication, and of thanksgiving; and we cannot imagine that to place ourselves at that distance from God is the way to secure eternal bliss. (W. G. Barrett.)
Duty and assurance:—
- The duty enjoined.
- The nature of this duty. By our “ways” and “paths” we understand the designs, aims, and intentions of our minds, together with our actions consequent upon them; our whole capacity of judging, designing, resolving, and acting. To acknowledge God is to confess and own Him, according to all those several accounts and manifestations of Himself that He has given us.
- The extent, scope, and latitude of the duty. It is not indeed capable of limitation, for unless our resignation shall be universal, it cannot be sincere.
III. The encouragement or the motive that is offered to the practice of it.
- The truth of the proposition, “He will direct thy paths.” What is to be understood by this Divine direction? What confidence have we that God will make good His promise?
- The force of the motive. Because He will vouchsafe to direct our paths, therefore in all our ways we should acknowledge Him. (Dean Lambe.)
What to acknowledge concerning God:—
- His presence. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place.” All except an atheist—a no God man—will admit this with their lips; few admit it in their lives.
- His power. He can do whatsoever He pleases. Nothing is impossible, nothing is too hard for the Lord.
III. His promises. The Bible is full of promises, suitable for all persons, and fitting into all circumstances. (R. Newton. D.D.)
Submission to Divine providence does not consist in a blind surrender of the will to the influence of circumstances. Many a time we persuade ourselves that our course is one of patient acquiescence in the will of God, when we do but drift in foolish idleness on the stream of life. This text introduces the subject of Divine providence as an essential truth in the practical creed of our daily life. In solving the problem of human life it is necessary to recognise the individuality of character and the liberty of will. A false humility has led to the virtual denial of this. Men have deemed it bestowing honour upon God to represent themselves as mere clay in the hands of the potter. This idea has been underlying much of the popular theology of the past, and, in some way or other, it seems to be underlying much of the popular theology of to-day. To be wilfully blind to our own capacity and character is to deny ungratefully the best gifts of God. It is to lose sight of the real purposes of our being. True self-examination is one of the chief wants of our time. Self-examination is real and true in proportion as it dispenses with the fallacious and often misleading appearances in the lives of others. Truth is relative. No two truths can possibly be antagonistic to, or inconsistent with, each other. We recognise the individuality of character and the liberty of the will, and in perfect consistency with this, we affirm the truth taught in the text. But what is it to acknowledge God? The relation of cause and effect holds good in the realm of spiritual life not less than in the material world. Rewards and punishments are not arbitrarily bestowed by Him who is “the Judge of all the earth.” To “acknowledge” God is neither more nor less than to acknowledge the principles of truth and righteousness in all our ways. It is not to talk about religion, but to act it in the life. Not he who talks much about the gospel, but he whose every-day duties in business, in the family, and in the world are evidently influenced by the spirit and essence of the gospel, is the best evangelist. Thus to acknowledge God is to secure the guidance of His providence. Thus God has placed man’s happiness, so to speak, in his own keeping; and by true submission to the Divine will man is able to “lay hold on eternal life.” Surrendering ourselves to the guidance of holy and eternal principles, we are unconcerned about the future. Our delight being in the Lord—that is, in the integrity and holiness of His will—we know that He will give us the desires of our heart. (F. Wagstaff.)
How does God guide us?—
In acknowledging God we are not to trust enthusiastically to impressions, to dreams, to fancied voices, and inward suggestions. Far less are we to make a lottery of the Bible, opening it at random, and taking the text that first meets our eye as given us by God, and putting our own meaning upon it. We are to apply our understandings to the blessed volume of inspiration, that we may find its principles and precepts that bear upon our case, and give our hearts to prayer, for that influence of the Holy Spirit which is necessary to deliver us from all undue prepossessions and prejudices in examining it. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The acknowledgment of God:—
Such acknowledgment will not be a fruitless thing, it will have a practical effect.
- How God is to be acknowledged. By a solemn and deliberate appeal to the great Disposer of all things for that aid and guidance which He alone can afford. This must involve—
- A real conviction that God rules the world. If God has no care for the concerns of this lower world, to acknowledge Him is useless; if He acts in all things quite independently of oar conduct, acknowledging Him is an impertinence.
- That we honestly admit to Him in each particular case that the matter is in His hands, and that it is ordered as He may see fit. This implies a course of thought just the very opposite of that which men commonly pursue in the business of life. To them all concerns and events are godless just because they are godless themselves.
- A sincere dependence on Him for direction and help. This is the practical bearing of our conscious reference to God. A real and earnest acknowledgment of God is a belief in His supreme and almighty government of the world; a devout reference to His presence in all the concerns in which we are called to act, a humble reliance on His Spirit and aid; and this is a state of mind to be maintained, continually carried into every scene of duty and conflict, and made a settled habit of thought and feeling in all our ways.
- How will God direct our ways? If proof that He does were wanted the whole experience of His people in all ages would rise up in witness. The promise is of direction. It is not necessarily a complete deliverance, and much less a painless course of ease and prosperity. How will the direction be effected? Through the working of our own minds and the counsels of others; by opening new paths and placing fresh aids within our reach; by influencing our souls through the teaching of His Spirit, and preserving them from false signs by which they were wont to be led astray.
- Often God leads us and we know not how, we cannot say by what means it is.
- Often God leads us even by means of obstacles.
- Often God leads us by means of delay.
- Sometimes God even seems to guide our way by means of our enemies. (J. M. Charlton, M.A.)
Do nothing without God’s direction in His Word. A man that had a house to build would in all things follow the direction of a skilful workman, lest he lose his cost. So let us follow God’s guidance, or all our labour is lost. None desires to go astray out of his way, except he be first gone out of his wits. Every man will rather take a guide to direct him, and give money to that end. If we be careful to acknowledge God in our ways we shall not wander out of them, for we shall have a trusty guide. The Athenians conceived that their goddess Minerva turned all their evil counsels into good to them; the Romans thought their goddess Videlia set them again in the right way when at any time they were out. All this, and undoubtedly more, is done by the true God for all who commit their ways unto Him. (Francis Taylor, B.D.)
Acknowledging God in all our ways:—
- The nature of the injunction. A practical acknowledgment is required; but this is founded on a firm belief of the existence and perfections of God. We acknowledge God in all our ways—
- When we live in obedience to His Word and commandments.
- When we look to and trust Him for what we want, and implore His blessing on all we undertake.
- When we acquiesce in and submit to His dispensations.
- Acknowledging implies praising and gratefully adoring Him under a sense of His bounty and loving-kindness.
- And seeking Him in and through His Son.
- The encouragement given us to acknowledge God.
- We shall be preserved by grace from fatal mistakes and errors.
- We shall be conducted by God through all the difficulties and perplexities that may meet us.
- We shall be well instructed in the way of duty and peace. (S. Knight, M.A.)
Piety in every-day life:—
- Bring religion into our ordinary conversation.
- Into our ordinary employments.
- Into all our trials.
- Into our ordinary blessings. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
- Acknowledge God as thy King, by conforming to His laws.
- As thy Benefactor, by gratefully receiving His benefits.
- As thy Father, by submitting to His paternal chastisements.
- As thy Model, by striving to copy His perfections. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
- The Duty.
- Acknowledge His wisdom.
- His goodness.
- His superintendence.
- His faithfulness.
- The promise connected with the duty. He will make our path straight and plain before us, and show in what way we ought to walk, and how we ought to act. (W. C. Wilson, M.A.)
The thought of an over-ruling Providence is the sweetest of all thoughts to the Christian. It is to him his stay, his comfort, and his assurance in this dark vale of tears. The best Christian is he that trusts most implicitly to the God of providence, the God of all His mercy. The Christian who truly loves Christ feels himself utterly dependent upon the strength of Christ. There are some men who go forth to their daily work from morning till evening as though there were no providence to guide them. Worldly-minded men have no recognition of a God, make no acknowledgment of a providence.
- Man’s duty. The whole course of man’s existence is a course of utter dependence, and for some mercy or favour he is every day required to give an acknowledgment. This feeling of dependence we must be conscious of every day we live. In every position of society we are mutually dependent the one upon the other. One class of society looks to another class, and even the queen upon her throne must ask her people for her annual supplies and revenues. But there is a point at which dependence ceases. There is One above all others who owes nothing to any man, but contributes of His goodness to all men freely—One on whom all are dependent, and yet He Himself is independent of any. That is the God of heaven; the God of providence—the source of all our comfort; the author of every blessing; the giver of every grace, the spring of all our joys, the life of every delight. To acknowledge God we must—
- Believe in the existence of God.
- Use the power and privilege of prayer when we are in need, distress, affliction.
- God’s promise. He has pledged Himself in His own never-failing covenant, “I will direct thy paths.” Are you not conscious that oftentimes Providence has turned your feet by a way you know not, and opened up to you new spheres of duty? The mercies past demand acknowledgment, and they encourage you to trust for mercies yet to come. If you feel any doubt, hesitation, perplexity, trouble, then come, like Hezekiah of old, and spread your want before the Lord; the ears of the God of Sabaoth love to hear the voice of him that prayeth. (R. Maguire, M.A.)
He shall direct thy paths:—
His direction will secure—
- Endless progress. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The great duty of acknowledging God:—
- The duty enjoined. We are to carry out, in the actings of every-day life, the great principle that there is a Being above us, and that Being is the proper object of the love and confidence of His creatures. From the time we set out in life to the period of old age—in all the variety of circumstances in which we may be placed, whatever be our state, whether one of prosperity or one of affliction—in all our concerns, personal and relative, temporal and spiritual, in all that belongs to this world or that relates to the next—we should think of God, and thank God, and trust God, and pray to God for His counsel and grace. We are to see God in everything, and we are to do nothing without Him. This duty is set in opposition to the natural tendency of the human mind to draw wisdom from its own resources, and to rest satisfied with its own powers. This setting God before us, with that feeling of reverence which His great name inspires, is a barrier to the commission of sin.
- The encouragement given to practise this duty. All our goings shall be under His guidance, if we own and seek His providence. With a special regard to the interests of the humble, trusting soul, He will open a path before it; He will lead it into that path by indications of His will, plain and evident. We are short-sighted. We miscalculate. We often fail. We are exposed to temptations. We want a counsellor. If we look for God we shall see God, and see Him as our Helper, Protector, and Guide, in the most remarkable manner. If we depend upon providences, in the use of means, we shall have providential actings in our behalf, times without number. God may not always lead us in the path that we ourselves would choose. Infinite Wisdom chooses the path, and Infinite Love bears us through it. The rugged way may be the right way, though we may not now be able to see it. The direction of a higher Power brought to your affairs will not only conduce to your spiritual interests, it will likewise prove the greatest temporal blessing. (William Curling, M.A.)
Trust in the Lord:—
Speaking broadly, there are two ways in which people pass through life. They pass through it remembering God, or they pass through it forgetting Him. God is out of sight to us all: the difference is that to some He is out of mind; by others He is really and truly constantly thought of. We are all mixed up together for the present: those who are passing through the world looking to God, and leaning on His arm, and those who have no help but what their own strength gives them, and no hope beyond this world. We are all mixed up together—nay, the two ways are mixed up very often in ourselves; we seem to pass from one to the other, from forgetting God to remembering Him, from trusting Him to trusting only this world; we have Him in mind one hour, we lean unto our own understanding the next. Yet, in spite of all this, there are but the two ways; there is no mixing up of them in the eyes of God, who sees all clearly. Now, to which is our ordinary course of life most like? We must look close into our hearts and secret ways if we would not be deceived; if we really wish to know whether we are trusting to Almighty God’s wisdom and strength to help and guide us through our day’s walk, or whether we are leaning to our own poor, weak understanding. One sure proof is in our private prayers. It is impossible that any one can really be acknowledging God—can be thinking of anything but worldly things—who does not pray by himself in secret, and pray every day regularly. Then, again, how do we pray? Do we make a reality of our prayers by giving our mind to them, and keeping our thoughts from wandering—by earnestly begging God to be merciful to us, and to take care of us, in soul and body, both here and in eternity? Or do we pray only because we should feel uncomfortable if we had not said our prayers, but yet without really feeling that we need what we pray for? Another proof is our way of bearing disappointments—the crosses and vexations which come upon all of us in our turn as we go through life. Nothing shows more plainly than this whether we are indeed acknowledging the Lord in all our ways, for this discovers to us for certain whether indeed we believe that all things come from God’s ordering; and also that there is nothing that He sends on us but He sends it out of love for our souls, out of the desire to do us good in the end. Another proof is the care we take to keep in order our words and our secret thoughts as we pass through the day. “Acknowledge Him in all thy ways,” says the Scripture; and how should we acknowledge Him better than by showing how constantly what He loves and desires comes into our thoughts, and keeps us from saying and thinking what, if we sought only our own will, we should think and say. When, for love and fear of Him, we keep back a bitter or ill-natured word that no one knew we were going to say, then we do nothing for the praise of men, but we “acknowledge” Him in secret. When for fear and love of Him, we not only set a watch on our lips, but keep a guard also on our thoughts—drive away all things that we ought not to think about—check and keep down our passion when it is rising—then this is something which is meant only for His eye; for the eye of man cannot see what was in our heart, and would not have known anything about it if we had indulged our thoughts. But if we let our thoughts run riot, and say that no eye shall see them, and no one think the worse of us for them; if we prefer to say the first harsh or unkind thing that comes up to our lips when we are vexed or angry, instead of keeping it under, though it cost us a struggle; if we give our hearts liberty to long for, and run after, the good things of this world, and say that there is no harm in it; if we let our souls be burdened or surfeited with the cares or pleasures of this world; if we have no time for thoughts about God and our eternal state, and put them out of the way that we may give ourselves more completely to our worldly interests—if we do all this, how can any one deceive himself with thinking that he is acknowledging God in all his ways? (Dean Church.)
A recipe for the true enjoyment of life:—
Obedience to the known will of God is the condition which secures Divine direction in the paths of our life.
- The important condition. The presence of the Lord fills the universe, and you should—
- Acknowledge Him in your secret ways. Such presence should not be a dread to us. His is a kindly presence.
- Acknowledge Him in your ways of thought. If the fountain be pure, the stream which flows therefrom shall be unstained.
- Acknowledge God in your ways of business. The best partner we can have is our heavenly Father.
- Acknowledge Him in your ways of pleasure. In all festivities. Wherever you go, whatever you do.
- Acknowledge Him in your ways of dress. Instead of dressing to appear fashionable, dress to be Godlike, Christlike.
- Acknowledge Him in the ways of social life.
- Acknowledge Him in the ways of prayer, faith, praise, penitence, doing good, reading the Scriptures.
- The soul-inspiring promise: “He shall direct thy paths.”
- In the pilgrimage of life.
- To the unrevealed future.
- To the Cross of Calvary.
- To the ever-flowing fountain of forgiveness.
- To your place in heaven. (William Birch.)
- Guidance is to be had for the journey. There are countless false paths, but no traveller needs to take any of them. God makes the minds of those whom He guides clear, so that they act wisely, and He makes their consciences sensitive and correct, so that they act rightly.
- How are we to get this guidance? It will not be forced upon any one. No one can count upon getting God’s guidance who does not seek it. This is the meaning of “acknowledge Him.” It means “take notice of Him,” consult Him, and obey His directions. Treat Him as you treat a guide.
III. What are “the ways” in which we must acknowledge Him?
- The course of life as a whole. It is well often to think of life thus as a unity, and ask where it is leading to. Is it not strange that men should undertake the longest journey of all without Him?
- In each particular enterprise and action we engage in He is to be acknowledged.
- In what goes before our actions—the imaginations and desires, the plans and purposes, we must acknowledge Him.
- In what comes after our actions—habits. All of us have some bad habits, and many who consult God as to particular actions still let their formed habits guide them each along its own line. But here, too, He must be acknowledged, and by His grace the strongest habit can be broken.
- Stress must be laid on the word “all.” God will have our whole heart or He will have none of it. (John Kelman, M.A.)
There have been many definitions of religion. It is one of the great and fascinating features of life which tempt description, just as the glory and charm of nature provoke representation in art. I am not going to add another definition. I am only going to say that for practical purposes our religion may be described as our response to the will of God. It is an obedience. When I have said that, I have said in the same breath that religion is not an easy thing, but a hard. If religion were not so commonly represented as an accommodation to the weak, it would be a mightier power in the world than it is to-day. Christian religion is not, in the first place, a concession to our weakness. It is an appeal to our strength. It is deep calling to deep. It is a summons to unite all that is within us. God does not address Himself to our weakness, but to our power, to our faith. His Church is the fellowship of the strong, or those who are growing strong, not of the weak, who hug their weakness and demand that the rest shall wait for them. Religion, I say, is a hard thing. Any appeal to our will is hard. To submit the will is the hardest thing man has to do. If religion were merely sympathy, it would not be so hard. Sympathising is easy. What is hard is to obey. Have you not discovered that? How easy it is to sympathise with Christ, to love one so lovely as Christ! How hard it is to obey Christ! Have you not found that obeying Christ is more hard than loving Him? Have you not observed that Christ asked for obedience much more than He asked for love? It was to our power of doing hard things that He appealed. It was to our strength He came, to side with that against our weakness. You must begin by taking Christ Himself. The one comprehensive expression of God’s will is Christ. To respond to Christ is the first step in religion. It is the first comprehensive act of obedience to God’s will. It is the first comprehensive surrender of your will to His. But that is a serious matter and a severe. It is not a mere thrill of sympathy with some of the lovelier features in Christ. You have not accepted Christ when you have felt you would like to love Him and serve Him. That is no act of will. What Christ did for you was more than that. He did not feel as if He would like to love and help and save you. That would have been a very sentimental salvation, no salvation at all, a mere piece of amiable religious failure. How does it look to say that Christ had a weakness, or tenderness, for mankind? Yet it is all that some forms of religion seem to recognise in Him. And to admit that you have a weakness for Christ, is that religion, faith? Yet it is all that you have in some forms of religion which have much to say about sympathy with Christ and little about obedience, about self-committal. To love much that is in Christ is one thing, but to wed Christ, give yourself to Him for good and all, take Him for better or for worse by a decisive act of loving will and total life—that is another thing and a greater. How are we to let God direct our path? When will He direct it? If this verse be true, it is when in all our ways we acknowledge Him. What does that mean? Push your inquiries. Do not swallow texts whole. There are forms of acknowledging God in all our ways which do not seem to win the blessing promised here. A man may be very pious in his habits, and feel no shame or backwardness in acknowledging God in connection with his daily pursuits. He may be particular about family worship, about saying grace, about church-going, about obliging his servants to go to church, about thanksgiving for prosperity, about giving God a portion of his income, about making a ready and sometimes even effusive recognition of religion in his manner of speech, his churchly feeling, his philanthropic energies. In plenty of cases all this is quite sincere, in some it is not. It is sometimes combined with ways of business which excite comment, or a habit of mind which does not adorn the faith. But, whether sincere or not, it has this feature. The man stands in his own ways and acknowledges God. The acknowledgment of God is an extra something joined on to the pursuit of his ways, joined on to the rest of his activities as the Sunday and its engagements are attached to the rest of the week. Now, if this is sincere it is something to be thankful for. But it is hardly, perhaps, the kind of thing which makes a man sure of the direction of God in all he may go on to do or design. Again, there are some people who are most unselfish in all their thoughts and acts, people whom it is a happiness to know, and who are a rebuke sometimes to our own selfish ways. In spite of their absence of self-seeking they are not so directed in their paths that they become directors of conscience to others. Some, I mean, with less unselfishness have a moral judgment that we should trust more. To say the truth, unselfishness is sometimes a negative kind of virtue. There are people who are more unselfish than obedient. They do not think of themselves, but—they have not the secret of the Lord. They are not self-willed, but they have not the insight into the will of God. We speak of the sinlessness of Christ, and I fear it often means something colourless and negative. It keeps us from thinking as we should about the positive and complete obedience of Christ. And so with the unselfishness of some sweet souls. It is more the absence of self than the presence of God or the secret of His Spirit. Again, when we think of God directing our path, what do we mean? When you look for God’s guidance on a difficult matter what is it you expect? Do you expect to hear, as it were, a voice in your soul’s ear saying clearly, as if some one called in at your window, “Yes, do this,” “No, don’t do that”? Do you expect to see in a vision of the night a beckoning figure? With cases like St. Paul before us, or even Joan of Arc, how can we deny that God has taken in special instances that way of revealing His will? But where would missions have been if the missionaries had waited till they saw the beckoning of some man of Macedonia in the dead of night? No. The commentary on the text is, “Whoso shall do the will of God shall know the doctrine,” or “My judgment is just, because I seek not Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.” We must not only acknowledge God in our ways, but by our ways. We must not only pursue our own ways and interests, and add to that an occasional further acknowledgment of God; but our ways and business themselves must be the acknowledgment of God—the doing of His will. Life must be obedience, service. And in a life so lived there grows up a habit of mind which increases in the power of discerning God’s will and receiving His direction. As we pursue this obedience there grows up in us a mind conformed to Christ’s, a fellowship of the Spirit, a faculty of judgment which has the life secret of the Almighty. Our natural powers work. Our rational judgment is alive. We bring our reasonable faculties to bear on things. And yet within all there is a moral sympathy, a moral affinity with the Spirit of God, which guides our judgment almost insensibly. Our affection and devotion, guide, shape, colour our views. Christ had no visions. It was His judgment that acted always in His perception of God’s will. But it was a judgment leavened by all His love of the Father, by all the obedience of His past. He steered by the compass of the Spirit. He never followed wandering fires. He did not act from suggestions in a trance. His human judgment was quickened by the Divine Spirit. It was not in abeyance. He divined God’s will not by His human weakness, but by His human strength. God directed His path through the exercise of His native powers, raised to superhuman insight by the intense purity and perfectness of His obedience at every stage. Everything He did gave Him power for seeing and doing His next thing. Every way He took so acknowledged God’s will that the direction of God never failed His path. Do not fall into the habit of expecting calls and impulses of a distinctly preternatural, miraculous, magical sort at your decisive steps in life. So live that the faculties that God gave you to read His will may be pure and fit for their work. If your eye be single, your body will be full of light. Obedience is the secret of just judgment in the will of God. Learn the habit of worshipping Christ in spirit and in truth. That is the school and practice for that judgment which sees God’s will, kindles to it, follows it, perceives it for others, and makes you a guide, antagonist, and helper to their weakness. There are many great cases in history where sanctity has given a penetration of judgment which baffled policy and puzzled shrewdness. And in the great affairs of the world the right judgment in the long run will reside with the men or the Church that best succeeds in holiness, in fine and deep obedience. Dwell much with God, and you acquire God’s habit of mind. Then take your honest share in the world, and you learn to read the world with God’s eye. Go into action, and you perfect yourself by practice in the art of interpreting God’s guidance for life. (T. P. Forsyth, D.D.)
The hand on the helm:—
My bark is wafted to the strand
By breath Divine;
And on the helm there rests a hand
Other than mine. (Dean Alford.)
A safe pilgrimage:—
Religion is not a mere sentiment; it is a life. A man is known by his “ways.”
- The condition mentioned.
- “Acknowledge Him.”
(1) By shaping thy course according to His Word. His Word is His law.
(2) By real and constant prayer.
(3) By faith in the Divine promises.
- “In all thy ways.”
(1) In thy enterprising ways. Seek first the blessing of the great Disposer of events—like Jacob at Bethel, Moses in his mission, and Solomon in the temple.
(2) In thy prosperous ways.
(3) In thy ways of adversity. There will be cross-ways: acquiesce, and glorify God.
- The assurance given: “He shall direct thy paths.”
- By removing obstructions. How often to the faithful He reveals surprising grace, as in the case of Nehemiah, Daniel, &c.
- By preventing mistakes. Better if Jonah had acknowledged God; and Peter would once have saved himself bitter tears. Keep close to the Cloud and the Pillar.
- By preserving from ruin. How came a portion of Israel to perish? and Ananias? Remember Lot’s wife, and beware. Be ever faithful, and God will keep thy feet in heaven’s pathway. Conclusion:
- Now sinner, go thy way and acknowledge God for the first time on thy knees.
- Christian brother, resolve to set the Lord continually before thee. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
I will direct his ways:—
It is like a child sitting in a boat; he does not know the coast, nor how to row; and his right hand, being a little stronger than the other, the boat would be constantly turning round and round. He would be carried away and lost if there were no guiding power in the boat. But there in the stern sits his father, whose steady hand overcomes the uneven strokes, and the boat keeps the right course. So that the force exerted by the child, though misdirected, all works for good when the father guides. (H. W. Beecher.)
The folly of a self-directed life:—
Have you acknowledged God yet in your life? Are you a converted man? Is your own self-will gone? Have you passed the reins of the nervous steed of your life into the hands of Him who can drive without a spill; or are you clumsily taking the reins into your own hand, and trying to drive these horses that have a career before them beside which that fabled career in Grecian mythology sinks into insignificance? The myth says that Sol’s son stole the chariot of his father, and in one blazing career he attempted to drive the horses of the Sun. It was his death. I rather think the old Greeks had a hold on life when they thus spake. I rather think they were feeling after the gospel when they said to the young heart, “Never try to handle the ribbons of the chariot of the Sun, that great circle of the heavens. Never try to ascend the blazing steps of the throne of light, or it will be your death.” Oh, young man! I beseech you, do not attempt to drive the horses of your life. You cannot do it. Many a man as strong in the muscle and nerve as you are has failed. In the paragraphs of human life you read this, if you read anything—that life, if it is to be a success, must be handed over in humility of spirit to a mighty God, the giver of life to the soul. Have you yet made the grand decision? (J. Robertson.)
Life a labyrinth:—
One of the great wonders of the world was the Egyptian Labyrinth. Herodotus tells us of a visit he made to this place. There were three thousand chambers in it; and when you had entered, the difficulty was to get out. The rooms were like one another, the passages were devious, and tortuous, and winding; and you might wander in the Egyptian Labyrinth till you died, and never be able to get out. They said, “This maze is the wonder of the world!” The Egyptian Labyrinth is nothing to this life in the way of a maze. I have been at the ball under the cross of St. Paul’s, in London, when the day was clear. I shall never forget how the city looked as it lay at my feet. Those streets on streets, those lanes and crosses, and avenues and roads—they lay in a perfect maze, in a labyrinth, before me. One felt how easy it would be to lose oneself in the London streets, they are so many, the place is so perplexing. No man can tell you about all these streets. He knows his one little bit. It is only as you stand and look down on the great living maze of the colossal city that you apprehend its vastness. Ah! this life of ours is worse. As you ascend the hill-top, and look down on the streets, and ways, and lanes, and roads of life, you say, “God help me! How can any man thread his way through this confusion?” (Ibid.)
When the old Spanish mariners, in their explorations, touched any new land, the first thing they did was to run the flag of Ferdinand and Isabella to the masthead on the highest point that they could reach on the new land. Every new shore was claimed for Spain. The sovereigns that encouraged the explorations of these Spanish mariners were acknowledged when the first foot touched the new shore. Ah, man! when you get your new situation, when you set up your new home, when new circumstances arrive in your life, it is grand to run up the flag of God’s Son, and say, “This new situation—this new era in my life—will be the acknowledgment of God in the person of His Son.” (Ibid.)
The value of prayer for Divine guidance:—
Two men had been friends since their early boyhood. One is now a successful merchant, who is known for his honour, probity, and high Christian character. The other is a lawyer, a man of integrity and good standing in the community also, but a disbeliever in God and His providence. The two men had been talking about the efficacy of prayer; and the merchant, urged to speak from his own experience, had confessed that he took this text literally: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” “I never make a large purchase of goods, or plan any important change in my business,” he proceeded to explain, “without first asking special Divine guidance.” The lawyer smiled. “Oh, yes, I understand,” he replied. “But your phenomenal success can all be explained in a natural way. For instance, most men act impulsively sometimes—yield to their whims, or to ideas suddenly conceived. You escape this danger through your system of praying before you act. The prayer gains you a little time. Besides, your feeling of reverence for the Being you worship has in itself a tendency to clear your mind of prejudices, to restore your balance, and to make you a reasonable, logical person—otherwise, a good business man.” A light broke over the merchant’s face, and he was glad to have his friend’s testimony to the value of prayer, notwithstanding his unspiritual and inadequate way of seeking to explain it. (Sunday Companion.)
6. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. “Acknowledge Him” by referring all thy ways to His will, trusting in His power, wisdom, providence, goodness, righteousness, and feeling that without Him you can do nothing. Have Him always before your eyes (Ps. 139:2). Pray to Him, and consult Him in everything you take in hand. Keep His glory in view, as your end in all your ways; attribute all your blessings to Him alone, and to Him give thanks for all. The promise follows the precept. You will not be disappointed in your confidence, whereby you consult Him in all things. He will guide you to all holiness and all happiness.
3:6 Finally, there must be an acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ: “In all your ways acknowledge Him.” Every area of our lives must be turned over to His control. We must have no will of our own, only a single pure desire to know His will and to do it.
If these conditions are met, the promise is that God shall direct our paths. He may do it through the Bible, through the advice of godly Christians, through the marvelous converging of circumstances, through the inward peace of the Spirit, or through a combination of these. But if we wait, He will make the guidance so clear that to refuse would be positive disobedience.
 Waltke, B. K. (2004). The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15 (pp. 244–245). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Kitchen, J. A. (2006). Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary (p. 77). Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Proverbs (p. 56). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 Kidner, D. (1964). Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 17, p. 61). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). Proverbs (pp. 58–67). New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.
 Fausset, A. R. (n.d.). A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical, on the Old and New Testaments: Job–Isaiah (Vol. III, pp. 419–420). London; Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Company, Limited.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 798). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.