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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Proverbs 4

Verses 1-4

He now confirms and explains the command to duty which he has placed at the beginning of the whole (Proverbs 1:8). This he does by his own example, for he relates from the history of his own youth, to the circle of disciples by whom he sees himself surrounded, what good doctrine his parents had taught him regarding the way of life:

1 Hear, ye sons, the instruction of a father,

And attend that ye may gain understanding;

2 For I give to you good doctrine,

Forsake not my direction!

3 For I was a son to my father,

A tender and only (son) in the sight of my mother.

4 And he instructed me, and said to me:

“Let thine heart hold fast my words:

Observe my commandments and live!”

That בּנים in the address comes here into the place of בּני , hitherto used, externally denotes that בני in the progress of these discourses finds another application: the poet himself is so addressed by his father. Intentionally he does not say אביכם (cf. Proverbs 1:8): he does not mean the father of each individual among those addressed, but himself, who is a father in his relation to them as his disciples; and as he manifests towards them fatherly love, so also he can lay claim to paternal authority over them. לדעת is rightly vocalized, not לדעת . The words do not give the object of attention, but the design, the aim. The combination of ideas in דּעת בּינה (cf. Proverbs 1:2), which appears to us singular, loses its strangeness when we remember that דעת means, according to its etymon, deposition or reception into the conscience and life. Regarding לקח , apprehension, reception, lesson = doctrine, vid., Proverbs 1:5. נתתּי is the perf., which denotes as fixed and finished what is just now being done, Gesenius, §126, 4. עזב is here synonym of נטשׁ , Proverbs 1:8, and the contrary of שׁמר , Proverbs 28:4. The relative factum in the perfect, designating the circumstances under which the event happened, regularly precedes the chief factum ויּרני ; see under Genesis 1:2. Superficially understood, the expression 3a would be a platitude; the author means that the natural legal relation was also confirming itself as a moral one. It was a relation of many-sided love, according to 3a: he was esteemed of his mother - לפני , used of the reflex in the judgment, Genesis 10:9, and of loving care, Genesis 17:18, means this - as a tender child, and therefore tenderly to be protected ( רך as Genesis 33:13), and as an only child, whether he were so in reality, or was only loved as if he were so. יחיד (Aq., Sym., Theod., μονογενής ) may with reference to number also mean unice dilectus (lxx ἀγαπώμενος ); cf. Genesis 22:2, יחידך (where the lxx translate τὸν ἀγαπητόν , without therefore having ידידך before them). לפני is maintained by all the versions; לבני is not a variant.

(Note: In some editions לבני is noted as Kerı̂ to לפני , but erroneously and contrary to the express evidence of the Masora, which affirms that there are two passages in which we ought to read not לפני , but לבני , viz., Psalms 80:3 and Proverbs 4:3.)

The instruction of the father begins with the jussive, which is pointed יתמך־

(Note: The writing of - יתמך with the grave Metheg ( Gaja) and Kametz-Chatuph ( ǒ ) is that of Ben Asher; on the other hand, יתמך־ with Cholem ( ō ) and the permanent Metheg is that of Ben Naphtali; vid., Michlol 21a [under the verbal form 25], §30.)

to distinguish it from יתמך־ on account of the ǒ . The lxx has incorrectly ἐρειδέτω , as if the word were יסמך ; Symmachus has correctly κατεχέτω . The imper. וחיה is, as Proverbs 7:2; Genesis 20:7, more than ותחיה ; the teacher seeks, along with the means, at the same time their object: Observe my commandments, and so become a partaker of life! The Syriac, however, adds תּורתיו כּאישׁון עיניך and my instruction as the apple of thine eye, a clause borrowed from Proverbs 7:2.

Verses 5-6

The exhortation of the father now specializes itself:

5 Get wisdom, get understanding;

Forget not and turn not from the words of my mouth.

6 Forsake her not, so shall she preserve thee;

Love her, so shall she keep thee.

Wisdom and understanding are (5a) thought of as objects of merchandise (cf. Proverbs 23:23; Proverbs 3:14), like the one pearl of great price, Matthew 13:46, and the words of fatherly instruction (5b), accordingly, as offering this precious possession, or helping to the acquisition of it. One cannot indeed say correctly אל־תשׁכח מאמרי־פי , but אל־תשׁכח משּׁמר אמרי־פי (Psalms 102:5); and in this sense אל־תּשׁכּח goes before, or also the accus. object, which in אל־תשכח the author has in his mind, may, since he continues with אל־תּט , now not any longer find expression as such. That the אמרי־פי are the means of acquiring wisdom is shown in Proverbs 4:6, where this continues to be the primary idea. The verse, consisting of only four words, ought to be divided by Mugrash;

(Note: According to correct readings in codd. and older editions, ותשמרךּ has also indeed Rebia Mugrash, and אהבה , Mercha (with Zinnorith); vid., Torath Emeth, p. 47, §6; Accentuationssystem, xviii. §1, 2; and regarding the Zinnorith, see Liber Psalmorum Hebraicus by S. Baer, p. xii.)

the Vav ( ו ) in both halves of the verse introduces the apodosis imperativi (cf. e.g., Proverbs 3:9., and the apodosis prohibitivi, Proverbs 3:21.). The actual representation of wisdom, Proverbs 4:5, becomes in Proverbs 4:6 personal.

Verses 7-9

Referring to Proverbs 4:5, the father further explains that wisdom begins with the striving after it, and that this striving is itself its fundamental beginning:

7 The beginning of wisdom is “Get wisdom,”

And with [ um , at the price of] all thou hast gotten get understanding,

8 Esteem her, so shall she lift thee up;

She will bring thee honour if thou dost embrace her.

9 She will put on thine head a graceful garland,

She will bestow upon thee a glorious diadem.

In the motto of the book, Proverbs 1:7, the author would say that the fear of Jahve is that from which all wisdom takes its origin. יראת יהוה (Proverbs 1:7) is the subject, and as such it stands foremost. Here he means to say what the beginning of wisdom consists in. ראשׁית חכמה is the subject, and stands forth as such. The predicate may also be read קנה־חכמה (= קנות ), after Proverbs 16:16. The beginning of wisdom is (consists in) the getting of wisdom; but the imperative קנה , which also Aq., Sym., Theod. ( κτῆσαι ), Jerome, Syr., Targ. express (the lxx leaves Proverbs 4:7 untranslated), is supported by 7b. Hitzig, after Mercier, De Dieu, and Döderlein, translates the verse thus: “the highest thing is wisdom; get wisdom,” which Zöckler approves of; but the reasons which determine him to this rendering are subtleties: if the author had wished himself to be so understood, he ought at least to have written the words ראשׁית החכמה . But ראשׁית חכמה is a genitive of relation, as is to be expected from the relativity of the idea ראשׁית , and his intention is to say that the beginning of wisdom consists in the proposition קנה חכמה (cf. the similar formula, Ecclesiastes 12:13); this proposition is truly the lapis philosophorum , it contains all that is necessary in order to becoming wise. Therefore the Greek σοφία called itself modestly φιλοσοφία ; for ἀρχὴ σὐτῆς the Book of Wisdom has, Proverbs 6:18, ἡ ἀληθεστάτη παιδείας ἐπιθυμία . In 7b the proposition is expressed which contains the specificum helping to wisdom. The בּ denotes price: give all for wisdom (Matthew 13:46, Matthew 13:44); no price is too high, no sacrifice too great for it.

Verses 8-9

The meaning of the ἁπ. γεγρ. סלסל is determined by רומם in the parallel clause; סלל signifies to raise, exalt, as a way or dam by heaping up; the Pilpel, here tropical: to value or estimate highly. Böttcher interprets well: hold it high in price, raise it (as a purchaser) always higher, make offer for it upon offer. The lxx (approved by Bertheau), περιχαράκωσον αὐτήν , circumvallate it, i.e., surround it with a wall ( סללה ) - a strange and here unsuitable figure. Hold it high, says the author, and so it will reward

(Note: Löwenstein has rightly ותרוממך , vid., my preface to Baer's Genesis, p. vii.)

thee with a high place, and (with chiastic transposition of the performance and the consequence) she will honour

(Note: We read תכבּדך , not תכבּרך (Hahn) or תכבּדך (Löwenstein); the tone lies on the penult., and the tone-syllable has the point Tsere, as in ויגּדך , Deuteronomy 32:7; vid., Michlol 66b.)

thee if ( ἐάν ) thou lovingly embracest her. חבּק is used of embracing in the pressure of tender love, as in Song of Solomon 2:6; Song of Solomon 8:3; the Piel is related to the Kal as amplexari to amplecti . Wisdom exalts her admirers, honours her lovers, and makes a man's appearance pleasant, causing him to be reverenced when he approaches. Regarding לוית־חן , vid., Proverbs 1:9. מגּן , to deliver up (Genesis 14:20), to give up (Hosea 11:8), is connected in the free poetic manner with two accusatives, instead of with an accus. and dat. lxx has ὑπερασπίσῃ , but one does not defend himself (as with a shield) by a wreath or crown.

Verses 10-12

There is no reason for the supposition that the warning which his father gave to the poet now passes over into warnings given by the poet himself (Hitzig); the admonition of the father thus far refers only in general to the endeavour after wisdom, and we are led to expect that the good doctrines which the father communicates to the son as a viaticum will be further expanded, and become more and more specific when they take a new departure.

10 Hearken, my son, and receive my sayings,

So shall the years of life be increased to thee.

11 In the way of wisdom have I taught thee,

Guided thee in the paths of rectitude.

12 When thou goest, thy step shall not be straitened;

And if thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.

Regarding קח (of לקח ) of appropriating reception and taking up in succum et sanguinem , vid., Proverbs 1:3; regarding שׁנות חיּים , years not merely of the duration of life, but of the enjoyment of life, Proverbs 3:2; regarding &#מעגּל מעגּלה ), path (track), Proverbs 2:9; regarding the בּ of הורה , of the department and subject of instruction, Psalms 25:8. The perfects, Proverbs 4:11, are different from נתתּי , 2a: they refer to rules of life given at an earlier period, which are summarily repeated in this address. The way of wisdom is that which leads to wisdom (Job 28:23); the paths of rectitude, such as trace out the way which is in accordance with the rule of the good and the right. If the youth holds to this direction, he will not go on in darkness or uncertainty with anxious footsteps; and if in youthful fervour he flies along his course, he will not stumble on any unforeseen obstacle and fall. יצר is as a metaplastic fut. to צרר or צוּר , to be narrow, to straiten, formed as if from יצר . The Targ. after Aruch,

(Note: R. Nathan ben Jechiel, a.d. 1106, who is usually styled by the Jewish writers בּעל ערוּך , Auctor Aruch, author of a Talmudical Lexicon.)

לא תשנק ארחך , thou shalt not need to bind together ( constringere ) or to hedge up thy way.

Verses 13-14

The exhortations attracting by means of promises, now become warnings fitted to alarm:

On פּרעהוּ , avoid it (the way), ( opp. אחז , Job 17:9; תּמך , Psalms 17:5), see under Proverbs 1:25. שׂטה , elsewhere (as the Arab. shatt , to be without measure, insolent) used in malam partem , has here its fundamental meaning, to go aside. מעליו (expressed in French by de dessus , in Ital. by di sopra) denotes: so that thou comest not to stand on it. עבר means in both cases transire , but the second instance, “to go beyond (farther)” (cf. 2 Samuel 15:22, and under Habakkuk 1:11), coincides with “to escape, evadere .”

Proverbs 4:16

In the reason here given the perf. may stand in the conditional clauses as well as in Virgil's Et si non aliqua nocuisses, mortuus esses ; but the fut., as in Ecclesiastes 5:11, denotes that they (the רעים and the רשׁעים ) cannot sleep, and are deprived of their sleep, unless they are continually doing evil and bringing others into misery; the interruption of this course of conduct, which has become to them like a second nature, would be as the interruption of their diet, which makes them ill. For the Kal יכשׁולוּ , which here must have the meaning of the person sinning (cf. Proverbs 4:19), and would be feeble if used of the confirmed transgressors, the Kerı̂ rightly substitutes the Hiphil יכשׁילוּ , which occurs also 2 Chronicles 25:8, there without an object, in the meaning to cause to fall, as the contrast of עזר (to help).

Proverbs 4:17

The second כּי introduces the reason of their bodily welfare being conditioned by evil-doing. If the poet meant: they live on bread which consists in wickedness, i.e., on wickedness as their bread, then in the parallel sentence he should have used the word חמס ; the genitives are meant of the means of acquisition: they live on unrighteous gain, on bread and wine which they procure by wickedness and by all manner of violence or injustice. On the etymon of חמס (Arab. ḥamas , durum, asperum, vehementem esse ), vid., Schultens; the plur. חמסים belongs to a more recent epoch ( vid., under 2 Samuel 22:49 and Psalms 18:49). The change in the tense represents the idea that they having eaten such bread, set forth such wine, and therewith wash it down.

Verses 18-19

The two ways that lie for his choice before the youth, are distinguished from one another as light is from darkness:

18 And the path of the just is like the brightness of the morning light,

Which shines more and more till the perfect day.

19 The way of the wicked is deep darkness,

They know not at what they stumble.

The Hebr. style is wont to conceal in its Vav ( ו ) diverse kinds of logical relations, but the Vav of 18a may suitably stand before 19a, where the discontinuance of this contrast of the two ways is unsuitable. The displacing of a Vav from its right position is not indeed without example (see under Psalms 16:3); but since Proverbs 4:19 joins itself more easily than Proverbs 4:18 to Proverbs 4:17 without missing a particle, thus it is more probable that the two verses are to be transposed, than that the ו of וארח (Proverbs 4:17) is to be prefixed to דּרך (Proverbs 4:18). Sinning, says Proverbs 4:16, has become to the godless as a second nature, so that they cannot sleep without it; they must continually be sinning, adds Proverbs 4:17, for thus and not otherwise do they gain for themselves their daily bread. With reference to this fearful self-perversion to which wickedness has become a necessity and a condition of life, the poet further says that the way of the godless is כּאפלה ,

(Note: In good MSS and printed copies the כ has the Pathach, as Kimchi states the rule in Michlol 45a: &#כל כּאפלה פתח כל כּאבנים פתח .)

as deep darkness, as the entire absence of light: it cannot be otherwise than that they fall, but they do not at all know whereat they fall, for they do not at all know wickedness as such, and have no apprehension of the punishment which from an inward necessity it brings along with it; on the contrary, the path of the just is in constantly increasing light - the light of knowledge, and the light of true happiness which is given

(Note: Hitzig inverts the order of Proverbs 4:18 and Proverbs 4:19, and connects the כּי of 16a immediately with Proverbs 4:19 (for the way of the wicked...). He moreover regards Proverbs 4:16, Proverbs 4:17 as an interpolation, and explains Proverbs 4:16 as a gloss transforming the text of Proverbs 4:19. “That the wicked commit wickedness,” says Hitzig, “is indeed certain (1 Samuel 24:14), and the warning of Proverbs 4:15 ought not to derive its motive from their energy in sinning.” But the warning against the way of the wicked is founded not on their energy in sinning, but on their bondage to sin: their sleep, their food and drink - their life both when they sleep and when they wake - is conditioned by sin and is penetrated by sin. This foundation of the warning furnishes what is needed, and is in nothing open to objection. And that in Proverbs 4:16 and Proverbs 4:19 לא ירעוּ and &#לא ידעוּ יכשׁולוּ and &#יכּשׁלוּ נגזלה and כּאפלה seem to be alike, does not prove that Proverbs 4:16 originated as a parallel text from Proverbs 4:19 - in the one verse as in the other the thoughts are original.)

in and with knowledge. On בּמּה vid., under Isaiah 2:22; it is מכשׁול , σκάνδαλον , that is meant, stumbling against which (cf. Leviticus 26:37) they stumble to their fall. נגהּ ,

(Note: Böttcher, under 2 Samuel 23:4, explains נגהּ of the brightness striking against, conquering (cf. &#נגח נגף ) the clouds; but ferire or percutere lies nearer (cf. נגע , Ezekiel 17:10, נכה , Psalms 121:6, and the Arab. darb , used of strong sensible impressions), as Silius, iv. 329, says of the light: percussit lumine campos .)

used elsewhere than in the Bible, means the morning star (Venus), (Sirach 50:4, Syr.); when used in the Bible it means the early dawn, the light of the rising sun, the morning light, 2 Samuel 23:4; Isaiah 62:1, which announces itself in the morning twilight, Daniel 6:20. The light of this morning sunshine is הולך ואור , going and shining, i.e., becoming ever brighter. In the connection of הולך ואור it might be a question whether אור is regarded as gerundive (Genesis 8:3, Genesis 8:5), or as participle (2 Samuel 16:5; Jeremiah 41:6), or as a participial adjective (Genesis 26:13; Judges 4:24); in the connection of הלוך ואור , on the contrary, it is unquestionably the gerundive: the partic. denoting the progress joins itself either with the partic., Jonah 1:11, or with the participial adjective, 2 Samuel 3:1; 2 Chronicles 17:12, or with another adjective formation, 2 Samuel 15:12; Esther 9:4 (where וגדול after וגדל of other places appears to be intended as an adjective, not after 2 Samuel 5:10 as gerundive). Thus ואור , as also וטוב , 1 Samuel 2:26, will be participial after the form בּושׁ , being ashamed (Ges. §72, 1); cf. בּוס , Zechariah 10:5, קום , 2 Kings 16:7. “ נכון היּום quite corresponds to the Greek τὸ σταθηρὸν τῆς ἡμέρας, ἡ σταθηρὰ μεσημβρία (as one also says τὸ σταθηρὸν τῆς νυκτός ), and to the Arabic qâ'mt ‛l - nhâr and qâ'mt ‛l - dhyrt . The figure is probably derived from the balance (cf. Lucan's Pharsalia, lib. 9: quam cardine summo Stat librata dies ): before and after midday the tongue on the balance of the day bends to the left and to the right, but at the point of midday it stands directly in the midst” (Fleischer). It is the midday time that is meant, when the clearness of the day has reached its fullest intensity - the point between increasing and decreasing, when, as we are wont to say, the sun stands in the zenith (= Arab. samt , the point of support, i.e., the vertex). Besides Mark 4:28, there is no biblical passage which presents like these two a figure of gradual development. The progress of blissful knowledge is compared to that of the clearness of the day till it reaches its midday height, having reached to which it becomes a knowing of all in God, Proverbs 28:5; 1 John 2:20.

Verses 20-22

The paternal admonition now takes a new departure:

20 My son, attend unto my words,

Incline thine ear to my sayings.

21 Let them not depart from thine eyes;

Keep them in the midst of thine heart.

22 For they are life to all who get possession of them,

And health to their whole body.

Regarding the Hiph. הלּין (for הלין ), Proverbs 4:21, formed after the Chaldee manner like הלּין הנּיח הסּיג , vid., Gesenius, §72, 9; - Ewald, §114, c, gives to it the meaning of “to mock,” for he interchanges it with הלין , instead of the meaning to take away, efficere ut recedat (cf. under Proverbs 2:15). This supposed causative meaning it has also here: may they = may one ( vid., under Proverbs 2:22) not remove them from thine eyes; the object is (Proverbs 4:20) the words of the paternal admonition. Hitzig, indeed, observes that “the accusative is not supplied;” but with greater right it is to be remarked that ילּיזוּ (fut. Hiph. of לוּז ) and ילוּזוּ (fut. Kal of id.) are not one and the same, and the less so as הלּיז occurs, but the masoretical and grammatical authorities ( e.g., Kimchi) demand ילּיזוּ . The plur. למצאיהם is continued, 22b, in the sing., for that which is said refers to each one of the many (Proverbs 3:18, Proverbs 3:28, Proverbs 3:35). מצא is fundamentally an active conception, like our “ finden ,” to find; it means to attain, to produce, to procure, etc. מרפּא means, according as the מ is understood of the “that = ut ” of the action or of the “what” of its performance, either health or the means of health; here, like רפאוּת , Proverbs 3:8, not with the underlying conception of sickness, but of the fluctuations connected with the bodily life of man, which make needful not only a continual strengthening of it, but also its being again and again restored. Nothing preserves soul and body in a healthier state than when we always keep before our eyes and carry in our hearts the good doctrines; they give to us true guidance on the way of life: “Godliness has the promise of this life, and of that which is to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8.

Verses 23-27

After this general preface the exhortation now becomes special:

The תּוצאות are the point of a thing, e.g., of a boundary, from which it goes forth, and the linear course proceeding from thence. If thus the author says that the תּוצאות חיּים go out from the heart,

Another rule commends gathering together (concentration) in opposition to dissipation. It is also even externally regarded worthy of consideration, as Ben-Sira, Proverbs 9:5, expresses it: μὴ περιβλέπου ἐν ῥύμαις πόλεως - purposeless, curious staring about operates upon the soul, always decentralizing and easily defiling it. But the rule does not exhaust itself in this meaning with reference to external self-discipline; it counsels also straight-forward, unswerving directness toward a fixed goal (and what else can this be in such a connection than that which wisdom places before man?), without the turning aside of the eye toward that which is profitless and forbidden, and in this inward sense it falls in with the demand for a single, not squinting eye, Matthew 6:22, where Bengel explains ἁπλοῦς by simplex et bonus, intentus in caelum, in Deum, unice . נכח (R. נך ) means properly fixing, or holding fast with the look, and נגד (as the Arab. najad , to be clear, to be in sight, shows) the rising up which makes the object stand conspicuous before the eyes; both denote here that which lies straight before us, and presents itself to the eye looking straight out. The naming of the עפעפּים (from עפעף , to flutter, to move tremblingly), which belongs not to the seeing apparatus of the eye but to its protection, is introduced by the poetical parallelism; for the eyelids, including in this word the twinkling, in their movement follow the direction of the seeing eye. On the form יישׁרוּ (fut. Hiph. of ישׁר , to be straight), defective according to the Masora, with the Jod audible, cf. Hosea 7:12; 1 Chronicles 12:2, and under Genesis 8:17; the softened form הישׁיר does not occur, we find only הישׁיר or הושׁיר .

Proverbs 4:26

The understanding of this rule is dependent on the right interpretation of פּלּס , which means neither “weigh off” (Ewald) nor “measure off” (Hitzig, Zöckler). פּלּס has once, Psalms 58:3, the meaning to weigh out, as the denom. of פּלס , a level, a steelyard;

In closest connection with the preceding, 27a cautions against by-ways and indirect courses, and 27b continues it in the briefest moral expression, which is here הסר רגלך מרע instead of סוּר מרע , Proverbs 3:7, for the figure is derived from the way. The lxx has other four lines after this verse (27), which we have endeavoured to retranslate into the Hebrew (Introd. p. 47). They are by no means genuine; for while in 27a right and left are equivalent to by-ways, here the right and left side are distinguished as that of truth and its contrary; and while there [in lxx] the ὀρθὰς τροχιὰς ποιεῖν is required of man, here it is promised as the operation of God, which is no contradiction, but in this similarity of expression betrays poverty of style. Hitzig disputes also the genuineness of the Hebrew Proverbs 4:27. But it continues explanatorily Proverbs 4:26, and is related to it, yet not as a gloss, and in the general relation of 26 and 27a there comes a word, certainly not unwelcome, such as 27b, which impresses the moral stamp on these thoughts. That with Proverbs 4:27 the admonition of his father, which the poet, placing himself back into the period of his youth, reproduces, is not yet concluded, the resumption of the address בּני , Proverbs 5:1, makes evident; while on the other hand the address בּנים in Proverbs 5:7 shows that at that point there is advance made from the recollections of his father's house to conclusions therefrom, for the circle of young men by whom the poet conceives himself to be surrounded. That in Proverbs 5:7. a subject of the warning with which the seventh address closes is retained and further prosecuted, does not in the connection of all these addresses contradict the opinion that with Proverbs 5:7 a new address begins. But the opinion that the warning against adultery does not agree (Zöckler) with the designation רך , Proverbs 4:3, given to him to whom it is addressed, is refuted by 1 Chronicles 22:5; 2 Chronicles 13:7.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Proverbs 4". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.