Proverbs 4 – The Path of the Just and the Way of the Wicked
A. A father teaches his children.
1. (1-2) A plea to listen to a father’s wisdom.
Hear, my children, the instruction of a father,
And give attention to know understanding;
For I give you good doctrine:
Do not forsake my law.
a. Hear, my children: Previously in Proverbs, Solomon spoke as a father to his son, perhaps with the principal heir in mind. Now the instruction is broadened to his children in general. This is the instruction of a father for the benefit of the children.
i. “So the home continues to be the prominent arena of learning as the parents in turn pass on the traditions (see Deuteronomy 6:6-9).” (Ross)
b. Give attention to know understanding: This appeal, and the appeal to hear in the first line, means there may be hesitancy or resistance on the part of the children that must be overcome by the appeal. Parents are often discouraged by a child’s resistance to their wisdom and instruction, but it still must be spoken, and with heartfelt appeals.
c. For I give you good doctrine: The father had confidence in his instruction, no doubt because it was based on Scriptural wisdom. Confident that he spoke good doctrine, he could exhort them, “do not forsake my law.”
2. (3-5) Guidance from previous generations: Get wisdom!
When I was my father’s son,
Tender and the only one in the sight of my mother,
He also taught me, and said to me:
“Let your heart retain my words;
Keep my commands, and live.
Get wisdom! Get understanding!
Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
a. When I was my father’s son: Solomon tenderly remembered the lessons his father taught him. This would be a special remembrance of any son with any father, but all the more so when we consider that Solomon’s father was King David, the greatest of Israel’s earthly kings.
i. “By recalling his own upbringing and citing his father, the teacher both identifies with the present struggles in his son’s life and reinforces the paternal dignity of his words. These teachings have stood the test of time.” (Garrett)
ii. When I was my father’s son: Waltke explains that the sense here is of a true son, true in a spiritual and moral sense. Even as a rebellious child could be disowned in Israel (Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and 32:19-20), an obedient son was regarded as true in every sense.
iii. The only one in the sight of my mother: 1 Chronicles 3:5 indicates that Bathsheba had other sons through David, but Solomon was her special son, God’s chose heir to the throne of Israel. “Though Abraham had other sons, only Isaac is called his yahid (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16) to emphasize the special status of Sarah’s offspring.” (Waltke)
iv. He taught me: “His [later] fall was therefore the more blameworthy, because he had been so piously educated.” (Trapp)
v. “Those who receive from their parents direction in the fear of Jehovah, have that for which to be perpetually thankful. They can never escape its power. It may be that they will ultimately reject its appeal, but the fact that they have received it will create for them a way of escape from evil through all life’s pilgrimage.” (Morgan)
b. Let your heart retain my words: Before David spoke to Solomon, he cultivated a receptive heart. David didn’t want his words to fall upon deaf ears or a hard heart, so he addressed this first.
i. Plainly said, if the king of Israel took the time to teach his children in this way, so does every father. “Parents, you must remember than an untaught child will be a living shame (Proverbs 29:15).” (Bridges)
c. Keep my commands, and live: One of the ways that David cultivated a receptive heart was to communicate the importance of his instruction. Because the teaching faithfully communicated God’s truth, obedience to the commands of his father meant life or death for Solomon.
d. Get wisdom: Before David gave him the actual words of wisdom, he first encouraged the pursuit of wisdom in Solomon. We might say that this is even more important than any particular piece of wisdom, or it is one of the early lessons of wisdom. Value wisdom, pursue wisdom, sacrifice for wisdom, get wisdom and understanding.
i. Get wisdom: “A blunt way of saying: ‘What it takes is not brains or opportunity, but decision. Do you want it? Come and get it.’” (Kidner)
ii. Get wisdom: Waltke explains that the verb get really has the sense to buy or purchase. “Qana means to acquire moveable goods through a financial transaction.” The idea is that wisdom will cost something, but it is worth it.
iii. “‘Get wisdom’ suggests, ‘buy wisdom,’ because the Hebrew word carries the idea of a commercial transaction. There’s a price to pay if you want to know God’s truth and obey it.” (Wiersbe)
e. Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth: Once wisdom is pursued and, in some sense, attained, it must be kept. It is possible to have wisdom for a time and then to turn away from it at a later time.
i. In this regard, we appreciate something of the irony and tragedy of Solomon’s life. King David taught him well and Solomon received the lessons, valuing wisdom so much that he asked for it above all other things (1 Kings 3:7-12). Ironically and tragically, late in life, Solomon did turn away from the path of wisdom (1 Kings 11:1-13). Even the best lessons can, eventually, be rejected.
3. (6-9) The benefits of getting wisdom.
Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
Love her, and she will keep you.
Wisdom is the principal thing;
Therefore get wisdom.
And in all your getting, get understanding.
Exalt her, and she will promote you;
She will bring you honor, when you embrace her.
She will place on your head an ornament of grace;
A crown of glory she will deliver to you.”
a. Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you: Solomon continued in his remembrance of his father’s teaching to him. King David taught Solomon that if he remained on the path of wisdom, and loved wisdom (love her), it would preserve him and keep him safe.
i. “The teacher uses feminine verbs to promise protection and safety. Here we find wisdom personified as a woman, at first reading like a bride that is to be loved and embraced (v. 8), but also having the qualities of an influential patron who can protect.” (Ross)
b. Wisdom is the principal thing: King David communicated more than the facts of wisdom; he wanted Solomon to love and value and honor wisdom. Men and women often regard money or fame or romance as the principal thing; God’s people should give a higher place to wisdom.
c. Exalt her, and she will promote you: The love and pursuit of wisdom is rewarded. She brings with her honor and ornament. Early in his life, Solomon was richly rewarded for his pursuit of wisdom (1 Kings 3:7-12).
i. A crown of glory: “A tiara, diadem, or crown, shall not be more honourable to the princely wearer, than sound wisdom-true religion-coupled with deep learning, shall be to the Christian and the scholar.” (Clarke)
4. (10-13) Receive and take firm hold of wisdom’s lessons.
Hear, my son, and receive my sayings,
And the years of your life will be many.
I have taught you in the way of wisdom;
I have led you in right paths.
When you walk, your steps will not be hindered,
And when you run, you will not stumble.
Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go;
Keep her, for she is your life.
a. Hear, my son, and receive my sayings: It seems that Solomon’s remembrance of his father David’s instruction ended at Proverbs 4:9. Now he once again speaks directly to his son, reminding him of the importance of the lessons learned.
i. The years of your life will be many: “Vice and intemperance impair the health and shorten the days of the wicked; while true religion, sobriety, and temperance, prolong them. The principal part of our diseases springs from ‘indolence, intemperance, and disorderly passions.’ Religion excites to industry, promotes sober habits, and destroys evil passions, and harmonizes the soul; and thus, by preventing many diseases, necessarily prolongs life.” (Clarke)
b. I have taught you in the way of wisdom: We sense that Solomon received an appropriate satisfaction in fulfilling his duty to teach his son wisdom, even as his father taught him. This would guide his children well into the future (when you run, you will not stumble).
i. Parents often work hard to prepare their children to succeed in the world – to run well in the race of life. Without also working hard to impart God’s wisdom to our children, we may set them to run, but also to stumble and to be hindered.
ii. “Living according to wisdom is like walking or running on a safe road, a course that will be free of obstacles, so that progress will be certain.” (Ross)
iii. I have led you in right paths: “A track is not a road that has come into existence without people moving on it, but is that on which and in which people move. The son will be walking on an ancient and proved way.” (Waltke)
c. Keep her, for she is your life: Again, Solomon emphasized the value we should have for wisdom. We should regard the love and pursuit of wisdom to be a life or death matter. We must take firm hold of wisdom because so much works to make us let go of her.
i. “The animated exhortation to hold on to instruction shows that it is a struggle to retain our principles. Feeble, indeed, is our hold when we are only interested in wisdom because it is a novelty.” (Bridges)
B. Keeping the heart away from the path of the wicked.
1. (14-15) Avoid the path of the wicked
Do not enter the path of the wicked,
And do not walk in the way of evil.
Avoid it, do not travel on it;
Turn away from it and pass on.
a. Do not enter the path of the wicked: Solomon told his children to keep from starting on the path of the wicked. If a way is never entered, it never has to be remedied.
i. “The warning is to avoid evil ways and evil men by not even starting on the wicked path of life. Plaut rightly paraphrases: ‘Don’t take the first step, for you may not be master of your destiny thereafter.’” (Ross)
ii. “Never associate with those whose life is irregular and sinful; never accompany them in any of their acts of transgression.” (Clarke)
b. Do not walk in the way of evil: If, through foolishness, the path of the wicked is entered, then one’s steps should turn from it soon. With urgency, wisdom speaks and says avoid it and turn away from it. Every further step on the way of evil makes it more difficult to depart from that path of the wicked.
2. (16-19) Why the way of the wicked is to be avoided.
For they do not sleep unless they have done evil;
And their sleep is taken away unless they make someone fall.
For they eat the bread of wickedness,
And drink the wine of violence.
But the path of the just is like the shining sun,
That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.
The way of the wicked is like darkness;
They do not know what makes them stumble.
a. They do not sleep unless they have done evil: Those on the path of wickedness are committed to their sin. They will sacrifice sleep and money and dignity and freedom to do their evil. They don’t rest comfortably (their sleep is taken away) unless they draw others to their own path of wickedness. Sin becomes their food and drink (their bread and wine).
i. “By using hyperboles the teacher portrays the character of the wicked as those who are addicted to evil (Proverbs 4:16; cf. Psalm 36:4). They are so completely devoted to evil conduct that they cannot sleep until they find expression for it.” (Ross)
ii. “The Bible does not hide the fact that one can become as zealous for evil as for good.” (Kidner)
iii. “As empty stomachs can hardly sleep, so neither can graceless persons rest till gorged and glutted with the sweetmeats of sin, with the murdering morsels of mischief. The devil, their taskmaster, will not allow them time to sleep; which is very hard bondage.” (Trapp)
b. But the path of the just is like the shining sun: The path of the wicked is dark and increasingly so. Yet the path of those who get wisdom – the path of the just – grows brighter. It shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.
i. “The path of the wicked is gloomy, dark, and dangerous; that of the righteous is open, luminous, and instructive. This verse contains a fine metaphor; it refers to the sun rising above the horizon, and the increasing twilight, till his beams shine full upon the earth.” (Clarke)
ii. “Nogah refers to the light’s bright gleam or radiance, as from the moon (Isaiah 4:5; 50:10) or stars (Joel 2:10; 4:15), and connotes that there are no clouds, not even a shadow, on this path.” (Waltke)
iii. “This is not the feeble light of a candle, nor the momentary blaze of the meteor, but the grand illumination of heaven.” (Bridges)
c. The way of the wicked is like darkness: Considering where each path leads should help a man or woman make the right choice. One of the tempter’s chief strategies is to hide the consequences of our path, whether it is the path of the just or the way of the wicked.
3. (20-22) A plea to be heard.
My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
Do not let them depart from your eyes;
Keep them in the midst of your heart;
For they are life to those who find them,
And health to all their flesh.
a. My son, give attention to my words: The lessons of wisdom can be given but never received. Solomon often exhorted his son to pay attention and to keep the lessons of wisdom before his eyes.
i. Proverbs 4:20-27 make mention of the body at least 11 times (eyes, feet, and heart are mentioned twice, and ear, flesh, mouth, lips, and eyelids once each). It is a section that speaks powerfully on how we can dedicate each part of our body to wisdom and God’s honor. Later the Apostle Paul wrote of yielding the parts (members) of our body to God (Romans 6:12-13).
b. Keep them in the midst of your heart: Though it goes against our inherited sinful nature, we can and must cultivate a heart that loves wisdom and is focused upon her. If wisdom is regarded as only a system of rules and threats, then her purpose is never achieved. We should pray for and pursue wisdom inthe midst of the heart.
i. “A neglected Bible is the melancholy proof of a heart that is alienated from God. For how can we have a spark of love for him if that Book that is full of his revealed glory is despised?” (Bridges)
c. They are life to all who find them: God’s word – communicated through the words and sayings of this father to his children – brings life and health. The pursuit of wisdom is rewarded.
4. (23) Keep your heart.
Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.
a. Keep your heart with all diligence: Since wisdom belongs in the midst of the heart (Proverbs 4:21), it also is necessary to keep the heart in the sense of guarding it. In the sense Solomon meant here, the heart should be kept for wisdom, guarding it against the way of the wicked (Proverbs 4:19).
i. Especially from the perspective of the new covenant, which promises a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), we can say that keep your heart implies a heart worth keeping – a new heart, one worth guarding.
ii. The heart is the reservoir, and change must begin there. If the reservoir is polluted, it does no good to fix the pipes and the valves.
iii. “The Bible warns us to avoid a double heart (Psalm 12:2), a hard heart (Proverbs 28:14), a proud heart (Proverbs 21:4), an unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12), a cold heart (Matthew 24:12), and an unclean heart (Psalm 51:10).” (Wiersbe)
b. With all diligence: This implies that it isn’t easy to guard or keep one’s heart. There will be many opportunities to give our heart to a person or a path that wisdom would warn against.
i. “As Satan keeps special watch here, so must we keep special watch as well. If the citadel is taken, the whole town must surrender. If the heart is captured, the whole man—affections, desires, motives, pursuits—will be handed over.” (Bridges)
c. For out of it spring the issues of life: There is great reward to the one who guards their heart, keeping it for wisdom (as in Proverbs 4:21). They enjoy life flowing from their heart, like a pleasant and bountiful water spring. The unguarded heart sees a choking or restriction to the joy and pleasantness of life.
i. “The metaphor implies, according to Delitzsch, not only that life has its fountains in the heart, ‘but also that the direction which it takes is determined by the heart.’” (Waltke)
ii. One of the great enticements to the way of the wicked (Proverbs 4:19) is that it is fun, pleasant, and will bring some sense of happiness. This is a lie. The same God who designed and created us is the God who guides us in and through His commands. Though it may not be immediately or instinctively apparent, His commands are for our happiness and good. Though guarding the heart with all diligence may mean saying a temporarily painful no to excitements and enticements on the way of the wicked, the overall result is happiness, joy, and pleasantness.
iii. “It is ‘the wellspring of life’ in that the capacity to live with joy and vigor ultimately comes from within and not from circumstances. The corrupt heart draws one down to the grave, but Wisdom protects the heart from that corruption.” (Garrett)
iv. “If we pollute that wellspring, the infection will spread; before long, hidden appetites will become open sins and public shame.” (Wiersbe)
5. (24-27) A plea to stay on the right path.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.
a. Put away from you a deceitful mouth: To stay on the path of the just, one must give attention to what they speak. Deceitful and perverse words are used to cover deceitful and perverse actions and lead one further along the way of the wicked. If one could actually never speak in an impure or perverse way and determine to never do things that must be covered with adeceitfulmouth, they would go a long way to avoiding the works of the wicked.
i. “Righteousness will control the tongue, avoiding twisted and crooked speech. This is the next logical step; for words flow out of the heart.” (Ross)
ii. “Superficial habits of talk react on the mind; so that, e.g., cynical chatter, fashionable grumbles, flippancy, half-truths, barely meant in the first place, harden into well-established habits of thought.” (Kidner)
b. Let your eyes look straight ahead: We often depart the path of the just out of distraction. The blinders used on horses do them much good and would do many of us good as well.
i. Jesus said that if we will be fit for His kingdom, we must keep our eyes forward, not distracted side to side or backwards (Luke 9:62).
c. Ponder the path of your feet: If one would consider the destination of their present path, it would lead to much more wise living. When we carefully ponder where we are headed, it helps to establish our wise direction and help us to not turn to the right or the left.
i. “The son must take care that every step conforms with that way; one false step could prove fatal. Your foot (ragleka) calls attention to every step taken in the road of life.” (Waltke)
ii. “Of particular interest is Proverbs 4:27, the warning to swerve neither to the right nor to the left. Deuteronomy 5:32; 17:11; 28:14; and Joshua 23:6 are similar. The idea is that one should not be distracted from the way of wisdom.” (Garrett)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org