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What Does the Bible Mean by "Lean Not On Your Own Understanding"? (Proverbs 3:5-6)

To trust in the Lord we must follow the Bible's teaching to "lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). This posture requires we choose to let go of trusting earthly wealth, wisdom, and experience, to a more challenging one.

Contributing Writer
Updated Dec 12, 2023
What Does the Bible Mean by "Lean Not On Your Own Understanding"? (Proverbs 3:5-6)

In one of his most iconic proverbs, Solomon writes, “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).There’s obviously a lot to unpack in Solomon’s famous verse, but how can believers actually apply the principles of Proverbs 3:5 to their own lives and learn to let go and trust in the wisdom of God?

In the NIV translation, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It’s one thing to acknowledge God. Many people admit there is a God and even believe that God is good. It’s another thing to submit to God’s authority, obey His commands, and make God the Lord of one’s life.

Note that Solomon uses the word “all” twice to emphasize complete devotion and surrender. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” he writes, and “in all your ways submit/acknowledge Him.”

Trust, submission, and surrender involve putting one’s complete confidence in the Lord, not oneself, not one’s finances, experience, health, authority, or wisdom, and certainly not other leaders or other gods.

Trust means turning to God as the most reliable, capable, and authentic authority and source of personal strength, doing things God’s way instead of our own and placing God on the throne as king and ruler of our life. Even as king over all of Israel, David wrote,

Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it (Psalms 37:5).

Those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, Lord, have not abandoned those who seek You (Psalms 9:10).

Do not trust in noblemen, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation (Psalms 146:3).

It seems David passed some of this wisdom onto his son Solomon.

Now it’s one thing to say that we have faith in God. It’s another to actually believe in His power and promises enough that we’re willing to step forward and act upon them.

What Does it Mean to Not Lean On Your Own Understanding?

The Applied Old Testament Bible Commentary puts it this way:  But real trust goes deeper than just “counting on someone”; it implies commitment to someone. We are to trust God with all [our] heart. We not only cast ourselves upon Him in trust; we also give ourselves to Him in obedience. Trust and obedience are inseparable.15

As usual in Scripture, along with the positive command there is also a negative one: . . . lean not on your own understanding (verse 5). One might ask: Why shouldn’t we lean on our own understanding? We have been created in God’s image; we have been given rational minds. But God gave us minds so that we might know Him and be able to discern His will; He never gave us minds so that we could be independent of Him and go our own way. Our “own understanding” has been corrupted by our sinful nature16 and it will always lead us astray if we “lean” on it. That is why the writer urges us to commit all our ways to the Lord so that He might make our paths straight—free from temptation, sin and error (verse 6).

To walk in “straight paths” is to walk in God’s will. God shows us His will when we show Him we are willing to follow it. Many Christians complain that God is not giving them clear direction; the reason is that they are not willing to follow His direction. We won’t know God’s will in specific situations until we are willing to obey Him—no matter what. First, we must choose to do God’s will; then we will know what it is17 (see John 7:17). (Applied Old Testemant)

It’s also no coincidence that those who trust in the Lord are often the ones who are empowered to be more confident and courageous, not easily worried, discouraged, distracted, or overwhelmed by the struggles of life.

Why? Because their hope, their strength, their peace, and their joy don’t come from themselves but from the Lord, and in the end, they worry about nothing because they know that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). In the words of Paul, they see themselves truly as “conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

The ability to trust in the Lord, however, is also guided by one’s refusal to rely upon earthly wealth, wisdom, and experience, which are incomplete and unreliable compared to the eternal power and wisdom of the God who created the universe.

This is why, throughout Scripture, writers like Jeremiah, David, Saul, and Solomon used rocks, mountains, shields, and towers as metaphors for God’s unshakeable, unlimited wisdom and strength.

As Isaiah writes, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3-4).

Furthermore, the Message translation says to “trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Note that God didn’t promise to make our paths smooth or painless. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 18:33); and “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

This theme is repeated in Proverbs, where Solomon confesses, “the mind of a person plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Proverbs 3:5-6 in Context

Spiritual disciplines, like the ones championed in the Proverbs, take time, energy, and effort to develop. We are always a work in progress.

As it is written, “We all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:18).

Solomon understood, however, the secret to spiritual growth as Paul and the apostles of Jesus Christ would later discover.

His own triumphs and failures had provided inspiration, which he was quick to share, but by his own admission, Solomon’s wisdom was insufficient compared to the wisdom of God, who he had learned to rely on.

After all, Solomon tried things his way enough in life to realize the futility of any endeavor removed from God’s guidance or wisdom.

In all things, Solomon learned to put his trust in God, not in himself, not in others, and not in his experience, wisdom, strength, authority, or wealth, which could easily be shaken or taken away (Job 1:21).

For in everything, Solomon leaned on the rock of his salvation, and that of his father. In doing so, he was never disappointed.

As Solomon concluded in life, “Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe” (Proverbs 28:26). Therefore, “do not be wise in your own eyes fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:7-8).

It may take a lifetime to develop this kind of trust, but as Solomon discovered, it’s well worth the effort.

For further reading:

How Can I Trust the Lord with All My Heart?

What Is the Wisdom of Solomon and Is it in the Bible?

What Is the Peace That Surpasses All Understanding?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Wavebreakmedia


Joel Ryan is an author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Salem Web Network and Lifeway. When he’s not writing stories and defending biblical truth, Joel is committed to helping young men find purpose in Christ and become fearless disciples and bold leaders in their homes, in the church, and in the world.

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