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What is the meaning of “length of days” in Proverbs 3:16?

length of days

Most people dream of living a long and meaningful life. According to the Bible, acquiring wisdom from God is the path to fulfilling that desire. The book of Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman who offers longevity: “Length of days is in her right hand” (Proverbs 3:16, KJV). The phrase length of days refers to a person living for many years. Other Bible translations express the idea more directly, rendering the phrase “long life is in her right hand” (e.g., ESV, NASB, NIV).

Wisdom is a communicable attribute of God, which means He generously shares it with people (Romans 16:27; Psalm 51:6). God’s wisdom is a combination of His perfect knowledge and His holy actions. Specifically, He determines the best results and the right ways to achieve them, all in alignment to His righteous character (Psalm 89:14; 1 Peter 1:1).

Likewise, the wisdom God gives people combines understanding and application as it is rooted in the heart and mind but fully expressed in practice (e.g., Matthew 7:24–27). The wisdom God gives resides in a person’s heart (Psalm 90:12), signifying that it is central to the recipient’s inner life, influencing his or her emotions, intellect, and will. Yet wisdom is also practical. James emphasizes this when he writes, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13, KJV). Therefore, wisdom is only fully realized in actions that wisdom itself engenders (Matthew 11:19).

Proverbs 3:16 figuratively depicts God’s generosity, saying that length of days “is in her right hand.” The reality that underlies the poetic imagery of a hand is God’s willingness to dispense wisdom to those who ask for it. Confirming this invitation, James 1:5 encourages people to pray for wisdom: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5, KJV). Together, these verses teach that God stands ready to generously dispense wisdom to His people.

In Proverbs 3, the phrase length of days first appears at the beginning of the chapter: “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee” (Proverbs 3:1–2, KJV). The message of these verses complements what Proverbs 3:16 says about “length of days” because they describe what wisdom entails—obedience to God. Likewise, Psalm 111:10 links wisdom and obedience: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”

The Holy Spirit dispenses wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:5–16), yet people can receive it in different ways. A primary way Christians acquire wisdom today is through reading and applying the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15–17; e.g., Psalm 119:99–100). Another way Christians can get wisdom is from the counsel of godly people (Proverbs 11:14; e.g., Exodus 18:17–18). Furthermore, God gives people wisdom in response to prayer (Colossians 1:9–11; e.g., 1 Kings 3:9–12).

The concept that wisdom from God leads to a long and meaningful life is a proverb, not a promise. This means the outcome is often true, but not guaranteed to be. In a fallen world, sometimes unrighteous, foolish people live to old age (e.g., Psalm 37:1–2, 7; 49:16–20) and the righteous die young. Yet what transcends the number of days and years a person lives is the life that Jesus Christ offers people. He said, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, KJV). For those who have responded in faith to the gospel, Jesus’ words about having an abundant life in Him aren’t true sometimes—they aren’t a generalized statement like a proverb—they are an everlasting promise.

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What is the meaning of “length of days” in Proverbs 3:16?
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This page last updated: May 21, 2024