Proverbs 3:3-4 "Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man."
Throughout the Bible, it is clear that God is a match-maker. In Genesis 1, God paired Heaven and Earth, Day and Night, Land and Sea, Sun and Moon and then finished with His grand pair, Man and Woman. This Divinely-intended pairing demonstrates God’s love for harmony and balance. God has given us two hips attached to two legs with two knees, two ankles and two feet all for the benefit of balance. He has given us two ears for balanced and enhanced listening; two eyes for balanced and enhanced seeing; two arms for balanced and enhancing handling; two lungs for balanced and enhanced breathing. When God sent His Son into the world, He sent Him as a pair – a perfect balance of God and of man described by John as being “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Inspired by God’s Spirit, Solomon’s literary style incorporated God’s match-making tendencies. After all, it was Solomon who wrote, “Two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). Here in the third chapter of Proverbs, there are four pairs mentioned in the same sentence in verses three and four. The first pair is MERCY and TRUTH. These two virtues belong together. Without truth, there can be no mercy. Without honesty, there can be no forgiveness. Without the knowledge of sin, there can be no forgiveness of sin. On the flip side of the same coin, without mercy, truth becomes overwhelming and overbearing. With no hope for mercy, truth is resisted and often rejected. With no option for mercy, truth can be frightening. Truth without mercy doesn’t render truth bad but it does make truth unattractive and unfruitful. God is a perfect balance of mercy and truth because He is abundant in both. There is no lack of truth in God nor is there any shortage of mercy in Him. The concern for Rehoboam was that he “let not mercy and truth forsake him.” He couldn’t afford to live life without these two virtues – without BOTH of these virtues. We can’t afford to live without both of these virtues either. Without truth, we will be governed by the dangerous deceit of our own hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). Without mercy, we will not be given mercy (James 2:13). If equipped with truth but void of mercy, we will become cold, hard and ineffective. If warmed by mercy but lacking in truth, we will be temporarily warm but ultimately ineffective. If we forsake either of these virtues, they both will eventually leave us to find someone that will want them – BOTH of them.
The second pair that Solomon mentions in these verses is the figurative pair of NECK and HEART. He obviously was not referring to Rehoboam’s physical neck and literal heart. By speaking in figurative terms, Solomon was urging his son to treat this pair of virtue with affection. The suggestion to treat this pair of virtue as a necklace gives mercy and truth great value. We don’t wear things around our neck that lack value. No one wears Q-tips or thumbtacks around their neck. We wear diamonds, rubies, pearls, precious metals, colorful stones and pictures of loved ones around our necks. Because it is within our nature to take virtue for granted, we need to follow Solomon’s advice and cherish mercy and truth. Because it is within our nature to eventually lose sight of this pair of virtue, we need to cherish them and bind them around our neck. Not only should we place mercy and truth around our neck, but the Bible also suggests that we “write them upon the table of our heart.” This phrase isn’t a reference to any literal writing tablet – instead, it speaks of inscribing these virtues in our figurative hearts. We need to have such an affection for mercy and truth that we emotionally carve their names into the seat of our affections. Like a tree in the forest inscribed by two lovers, our hearts should be carved with the names of these two virtues surrounded by an iconic heart with an arrow going through it. If we fail to treasure mercy and truth, they both will eventually forsake us.
The third pair that Solomon mentions in this sentence is the pair of fruits mercy and truth produce, FAVOR and GOOD UNDERSTANDING. If retained in the heart of a person, mercy and truth will bring forth favor and good understanding in the life of that person. When paired with mercy, truth produces favor. When paired with truth, mercy produces good understanding. This pair of products is given to the person who possesses the pair of virtues by a pair of witnesses. The fourth pair in this sentence is GOD and MAN. Mercy and truth bring favor and good understanding in the sight of God AND in the sight of man. Both God and man favor such a person as well as understand him. People lacking in mercy are typically misliked while people lacking in truth are typically misunderstood. Even though an omniscient God understands everyone, He has a better or “good understanding” of those who have mercy and truth because He tends to be “more understanding” of them. Because man lacks omniscience, he has a much harder time understanding people but he tends to be willing to work harder to understand or have a “good understanding” of someone who is both honest and merciful. If either virtue or both virtues are missing in a man, he will not find favor or good understanding in God’s sight or in man’s sight.
Likeability in both God’s eyes and in man’s eyes hinges on possessing a pair of virtues. Being understood and being given the benefit of the doubt rests on whether or not one evidences a pair of virtues. If you lack the favor of God, then you probably lack mercy or truth or both. If you lack the good understanding of man, then you probably lack mercy or truth or both. We are at our best when we realize that God has designed us to possess harmonious pairs of virtues. We receive the best when we treasure the harmonious pairs of virtues, mercy and truth.