3 Important Things to Know about Walking Arm in Arm with Jesus from Proverbs 3:5-6

Two people arm in arm. This always gives me joy. Of all the ways that human beings can express physical affection, this one seems unfailingly delightful. It brings people closer than holding hands. Unlike the kiss, it doesn’t exclude others. Unlike an embrace, it doesn’t prevent you walking along together.   

A father and daughter proceed arm in arm down the church aisle. Two students, backpacks bouncing up and down, skip arm in arm to school. Comrades in arms march arm in arm on their country’s Memorial Day with grim smiles and misty eyes. Two friends walk briskly, arm in arm, to find mutual warmth on a frosty morning.

Two people arm in arm are going somewhere, helping each other on the way. 

Two people arm in arm are going somewhere. They are going somewhere together. They are helping each other on the way. That is what I want with Jesus. I want to walk through life arm in arm with him. I want to go in the same direction as he is. I want to feel his love. I want his strength to hold me up and keep me going.

As we will see, the book of Proverbs urges us to do exactly this. It calls us, lovingly and loudly, to walk arm in arm with Wisdom himself, Jesus Christ the Son of God, our Creator and Redeemer. As believers we walk close to Jesus in our marriages, our friendships, our child-raising, our work, our finances, our food and wine, our speaking, our old age, and our final hours and breaths.   

In Proverbs 3:5-6, we hear Jesus call us to walk arm in arm with him through every path of life:

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. (All passages from NIV)

The medium is the message.

Here are four lines arranged in two couplets. This careful structure is designed to help us better interpret the meaning of the words. Notice the general plan:

This is what to do;
    This is what not to do;
This reiterates what to do;
    This is the consequence of doing.

Reread Proverbs 3:5-6 with this plan in mind, and its meaning will already seem clearer and stronger.

Now look at how the structure ties certain words and ideas together in such a way that they mutually explain each other. Notice how “trust” and “lean” and “submit” go together. Trusting is like leaning, and leaning is like submitting (or knowing, as we will see). Notice also how “ways” and “paths” go together.

Jesus is the hero of Proverbs.

Proverbs personifies Wisdom, showing her creating the world and calling to us on the street corners (ch. 8). Wisdom is manifestly Jesus himself. He is the wise Creator. He is the wise Teacher, out in the streets and fields, calling and instructing with the kinds of stories and pithy sayings that characterize Proverbs. And he is, of course, the LORD, Immanuel, God come to be close to his people—to save them and lead them with love, mercy, and justice.  

Going back and reading Proverbs 3:5-6 through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we know that it is the LORD Jesus himself calling us to trust him with all of our heart. Keeping in mind the structure of Proverbs 3:5-6 and its deep-rooted Christ-centeredness, let us ask three questions.

1.  What does the LORD Jesus require of us?  

In short, he requires us to trust in him instead of ourselves. The word “trust” (bātach) doesn’t need a lot of explaining. It means to have faith in, to believe, to rely upon, to depend on, to have confidence in, to count on. The same word features in Psalm 22:9, “You brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast.” Is there any more beautiful and compelling picture of trust than an infant lying against her mother’s breast, feeding with languid tranquility and satisfaction? The Hebrew preposition “on” strengthens this idea. Trust “on” Jesus. Rest yourself entirely on him.

Image from  Wikimedia Commons ;  British 55th (West Lancashire) Division  troops blinded by tear gas await treatment at an Advanced Dressing Station near Bethune during the  Battle of Estaires , 10 April 1918, part of the German offensive in Flanders.

Image from Wikimedia Commons; British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by tear gas await treatment at an Advanced Dressing Station near Bethune during the Battle of Estaires, 10 April 1918, part of the German offensive in Flanders.

Exactly a hundred years ago World War One was coming to its final ghastly end. We have all seen the haunting photos of the walking-wounded survivors of chlorine gas attacks. Chlorine turns to hydrochloric acid in the moisture of the eyes and lungs. It blinds and liquefies the lungs’ delicate membranes. The eyes of these men in the image above are rough-bandaged, and they stagger as they struggle to breathe. They lean heavily on their more able-bodied compatriots. They had to lean. They could not move without leaning. They were blind, and the supporting strength of their friends was utterly necessary. 

Jesus commands us to trust in him by leaning on him. For by sin's noxious fumes our eyes are blinded, and our strength is shattered.

When I returned to the church in my early twenties, a friend criticized me: “Jesus is just a crutch for you.” The longer I have walked in life, the truer this seems to me. Jesus is my crutch, my support, my “hope and stay.” I lean utterly on him for forgiveness. I lean utterly on him for every step that I take toward my heavenly home. Yet, he is more than a crutch—he is my life support, for I cannot survive a moment without him.

Notice how “trust” and “lean” are linked to “submit” in the third line: “In all your ways submit to him.” Most versions translate the celebrated Hebrew word yāda as “acknowledge.” The word yāda means basically “to know,” and “acknowledge” has the advantage of conveying that sense of “knowing.” In everyday speech, however, “acknowledge” is an insipid word. If I say, “I acknowledged my old teacher across the street,” I am saying, “I nodded to him. I tipped my hat.” In fact, it often conveys reluctance: “I had to acknowledge that he was fitter than I am.”  

The Hebrew word yāda on the other hand means “to experience,” “to know intimately,” “to be in close relationship with.” Thus “Adam knew (yāda) Eve his wife, and she became pregnant.” Thus David “knew (yāda) how to play the harp,” for he had mastered the harp with thousands of hours of practice. (The idea is captured more or less by the French connaître, to know personally, as opposed to savoir, to know about something.)

“Submit” has the advantage over “acknowledge” in that it conveys a deeper and more serious connection. “Submit all your ways to him, put all your ways under his strength and rule.” Perhaps a better expression to capture the true idea of yādawould be: “In all your ways keep very close to him.” In short, “Walk arm in arm with him wherever you go.”

“Lean not on your own understanding” strengthens this. I remember when my daughters turned three. At this advanced stage of maturity and understanding, they no longer wanted me to put their shoes and jumpers on. “I do it!” became their battle cry. Mastering skills and learning to do things independently is a happy and healthy thing. But true maturity means depending on others for things that I simply cannot do on my own: depending on others to mend my teeth, to install electrical fittings, to fly me to Western Australia, to build the car that I drive, to bake the bread that I toast, to make the music that sweetens my days, and a million other unnoticed things.

Jesus says, “Don’t walk through life alone. Don’t be self-reliant. Don’t ultimately depend on your own muscle power, your own experience, your own brainpower and knowledge. Don’t depend on yourself for salvation. Walk arm in arm with me. Rely on my strength, my wisdom, my knowledge, my promises, and my love.”

2.  How are we to walk arm in arm with Jesus?  

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” The word “heart” is a metaphor that transcends many cultures and languages. In English the heart represents the center of a person and his or her deepest longings and desires. I put my heart into preaching, which means that I give it the best of my working time, energy, passion, and ability. I love my wife with all my heart, which means that I would rather die than see her hurt or betrayed. My heart’s desire is to see my children saved, which means that this is my deepest and strongest desire for them—far stronger than my desire that they be well-educated, married, and successful in their vocation. The French cœur carries the same freight, as does the Greek word kardia and the Hebrew word lēv. In the Old Testament, the heart is the center of a person’s will and desires.

I feel great love for Jesus when the whole church sings a rousing version of Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah! or Behold Our God! I feel great love for Jesus at the communion table. I feel great love for Jesus as I proclaim his love and grace from the pulpit. And I lean closely to Jesus in those terrifying Sunday morning hours before I preach, or when my children face a crisis.

Yet, what about when our planned trip to Europe all seems to be coming together? Or when the tax return is higher than expected? Or when I am lolling in front of Netflix? Or what about when my feelings are hurt, or I am getting cross with a difficult teacher? In these times of good and ill, I tend to walk life’s path alone. I tend to call for Christ only when things are unbearably good, or just unbearable. I trust in Jesus with some of my heart, or with all of my heart sometimes.  

Israel was perennially tempted to lean on their strong fortresses, their horses and chariots, or their occasional alliances with Egypt. And I tend to lean on the fortress of job security or the horses and chariots of health and energy or my alliance with my house and land.  

With these words Jesus calls you, urges you, goads you, and cajoles you to walk always arm in arm with him—to always lean entirely on him. How foolish to lean on self! Sick, stupid, stumbling, sinful self! How fatal! Lean on him, entirely on him! He is wise, strong, loyal, and good.

Walk arm in arm with Jesus and listen to him as you read his Word. Walk arm in arm with Jesus and talk to him in prayer. Walk arm in arm with Jesus with his other children. Walk arm in arm with Jesus and feast with him at regular communion.  

3.  What will be the result?

“He will make your paths straight.”  The word “path,” like “heart,” is a universal metaphor, and the Hebrew derek may be translated “way,” “journey,” “undertaking,” “conduct,” or “situation.” Walk arm in arm with Jesus, and he will keep you on the right path, the path that brings contentment, joy, and peace, the path that leads to eternal life with him.

Walk arm in arm with Jesus, lean entirely on him, and he will take care of you. He will take care of your children. He will love your wife or husband much more and better than you do. He will give you your daily bread. He will wound you where you need to be wounded. He will cripple you to make you lean on him more. He will stay close when you are betrayed or abandoned.

Jesus will forgive you when you sin and wash away your guilt and filth. He will allow the world to abuse and hurt you, but he will stand with you and give you the words to say. He will thrash you severely and mercifully when you need correction. He will knock away the temporary supports you tend to lean on: strength, financial security, a secure job, or even a loving spouse.

When your heart fails, he will be standing to receive you. And at the end of time he will call your dusty corpse from the grave and clothe you with a renewed body that will never grow weary, thirsty, hungry, or sick. He will always love you. He will never let go of you.

Walk arm in arm with Jesus. He will take you down the best and hardest path and will carry you to the end.

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Campbell Markham is a Presbyterian pastor in Hobart, Tasmania. He blogs at Campbell Markham: Thoughts and Letters.

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