In Proverbs 3, Solomon emphasizes that wisdom is more than merely following the proper rules; it is a matter of knowing God intimately in a heart-to-heart relationship. For this reason, he instructs,
“Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3, NKJV).
The word “mercy” is translated from the Hebrew term chesed, which describes loyal, faithful, covenantal love. The word “truth” (ʾemeth in Hebrew) is better translated as “faithfulness.” The New International Version renders the passage, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” “Faithfulness” speaks of trustworthiness or dependability. A faithful person is worthy or deserving of complete trust.
The virtues of mercy and truth (or love and faithfulness) are often paired in the Old Testament to indicate the making and keeping of commitments. “Mercy and truth have met together,” says the psalmist (Psalm 85:10, NKJV; see also Psalm 25:10; 57:3). “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for,” asserts Solomon in Proverbs 16:6 (see also Proverbs 20:28).
The act of binding loyal love and faithfulness around one’s neck refers to holding these virtues close, always before us, and carrying them with us wherever we go to ensure they won’t ever be forgotten. The Voice translation renders Proverbs 3:3 as follows: “Stay focused; do not lose sight of mercy and truth; engrave them on a pendant, and hang it around your neck; meditate on them so they are written upon your heart.”
Solomon suggests that, if you are a wise person, you will write mercy and truth “on the tablet of your heart.” The expression also appears in Proverbs 7:3 and Jeremiah 17:1. In ancient times, tablets were made of clay or stone. The directive would have been linked in the Jewish reader’s mind with the Ten Commandments, also written on tablets (Deuteronomy 5:22).
In Deuteronomy 6:6–9, the Lord’s commands were to be written on the people’s hearts, impressed upon their children, talked about frequently, tied as symbols on their hands, bound on their foreheads, written on the doorframes of their houses and on the city gates as a constant reminder. The idea was to take these virtues not merely as external codes to live by but to receive them into our minds and hearts so that they govern our motives and become part of our very nature.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord said, “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel. . . . I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). Mercy and truth, loyal love and faithfulness are attributes of the ideal relationship between God and His people.
The apostle Paul describes the believer’s relationship with the Lord in similar terms: “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
Mercy and truth (love and faithfulness) are characteristics that belong to God (Psalm 108:4; 116:5; 117:2; Deuteronomy 4:31; Daniel 9:9). They also constitute the response God seeks from His children toward Him and other people.
The Bible reveals that covenantal love and loyalty to God are written on the tablet of true believers’ hearts by the Spirit of the Living God. Those who know the Lord intimately and are born of His Spirit receive an engraving or seal of God’s love on their hearts. Our ability to love faithfully comes from Him (1 John 4:7–19), for God accomplishes in us what the law could never do (Romans 8:3).