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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 4

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Verses 1-4

A Good Lesson Goes Forth Through Generations

The father appeals to his children to listen to his instruction and to give attention, that they “may gain understanding” (Proverbs 4:1). A father seeks the best for his children and gives them only what is useful to them. He will not give them wrong things (Luke 11:11-2 Kings :). The best he can give is something that serves to increase understanding in God’s thoughts about how life should be lived.

The father is convinced that he teaches his children “a sound [lit good] teaching” (Proverbs 4:2). It regards the sound doctrine, he gives sound teaching which therefore has a sound effect. That is quite different to what false prophets and false teachers do, who say what the people want to hear (Isaiah 30:10; Jeremiah 5:31; Ezekiel 33:31-Jonah :; Galatians 1:6-Judges :; 2 Timothy 4:3-Numbers :). They tell stories that are received well by the religious people, but through which they lead them to destruction. That’s not the way the father speaks to his sons. He teaches them God’s Word and orders them not to abandon his teaching and not to let themselves to be dragged by nice talking preachers.

In Proverbs 4:3 the father underlines what he said in Proverbs 4:1-Exodus :. The conjunction “for” indicates that. He speaks to his sons as somebody who knows what it means to be “a son” to his father, for he himself has also been a son. When he recalls that time, he sees how “tender” he was (1 Chronicles 22:5; 1 Chronicles 29:1). He then felt as “an only child” in the sight of his mother, secured of here tender attention and care.

It is a blessing if we also could recall our parents like that in the time that they were still taking care of us. An increasing number of children cannot. What those children can still do, is to make sure that their children will remember them like that.

Here we have the family again as the atmosphere in which education and teaching take place (Deuteronomy 6:6-1 Samuel :). We see here again (Proverbs 1:8) that the teaching that is given by the father or the mother, is not given in a formal, academic, scholastic way, but out of personal involvement, with warmth and love. This is undoubtedly the best way of teaching.

The father passes on to his children what his father has told him (Proverbs 4:4). He is not making up what he is telling them, but he in his turn has heard it from his father. Also his father took the time to teach his son. A father does that when he is aware of his responsibility to help his children make good choices in life. Fathers have to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

We hear the voice of experience resonating in the generations (cf. Deuteronomy 6:2; 2 Timothy 1:5; cf. Job 8:8-2 Samuel :). That makes the teaching on wisdom a valuable tradition throughout the generations. It is also an encouragement for the sons, for they know in that way that the experiences that they are going through are also the experiences of their father. It is the shared experience and it is not an imposed behavior. That makes the teaching attractive. Photographs and anecdotes can show the youngsters that their father has also been young and inexperienced and that he had taken the place towards his father which they are now taking towards him.

Personal fellowship with God cannot be transferred, but can surely be shown and made attractive, through which the desire is being stimulated to possess it also. Solomon had seen the intimacy that his father David had with God and that had made him jealous. Solomon has surely also seen the sins of his father. But that does not prevent him from teaching his sons, because he also saw the dismay that his father had of his sins.

That also goes for the church in spiritual sense. This is why Paul also tells that to Timothy by saying: ”You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Timothy 3:14). It is a great privilege when we have a ‘spiritual genealogy’, when we learn from the previous generations and pass that on to those who come after us (2 Timothy 2:2). We shall do that when we are fully convinced that what we have learned, is in accordance with the Scripture.

In Proverbs 4:4 the father lets his father, the grandfather of his sons, speak. Grandpa speaks and he definitely has something to tell. It seems like he is talking up to Proverbs 5:6, for in Proverbs 5:7 we again hear how the father addresses his “children”. The grandchildren will do well when they listen well to what their grandpa said to their father. Their father passes that on to them, so that they may profit from that. That profit is nothing less than life.

That the father does this, proves that he is fully committed to convince his sons about what he says, to let them go the way of wisdom and to guard their lives against corruption. This should be the drive of all parents for each child that has been entrusted to them. It is an intention of the heart, that says: ‘As far as it depends on me, my children will not perish, but become faithful servants of the Lord.’ That grace has to work this, does not change anything of the effort that is expected of the parents.

In order to have profit, he, the son, must above all hold fast to the words that his father has spoken to him. It is about the heart, not the intellect, although that is not separated from it. If the heart holds fast to the words, those words will be considered to be “commandments”, they will act accordingly in the practice of life. Then life will be lived as God has intended it; it will be experienced with all the blessings which a life in obedience to God hides in itself.

Verses 5-9

Acquire Wisdom, Acquire Understanding!

The father urges his son to acquire “wisdom” and “understanding” at any price, whatever the efforts are to be delivered (Proverbs 4:5). He should do anything for it and should be willing to make any sacrifice for it. Solomon was already wise, but wisdom can and must increase. He who is wise, will be willing to grow in wisdom. Wisdom and understanding do not come naturally; they are to be acquired. You may want to have everything, but you should consider that acquiring wisdom and understanding is the most important.

To acquire wisdom means to know Christ better. That’s what life is all about, only about that. The son is not to forget the words that the father has spoken. He should ponder on them, meditate on them and bear them in mind. In that way the memory of what God’s Word says, will remain vivid. He is not to turn away from it.

In Proverbs 4:6 wisdom is presented as a person who gives preservation and protection. The condition to experience that preservation and protection is that the son not forsakes wisdom (negative), but loves her (positive). To forsake wisdom – or Christ – is a great evil, with disastrous consequences. In that case he is delivered to all bad elements in the world. It is important to love wisdom, which is Christ. That is the most secure protection against all temptations to sin.

The first step, the beginning, to acquire wisdom, is to make the decision to acquire her (Proverbs 4:7). Here the key is handed over to us to gain wisdom. To acquire wisdom takes time, money, effort. It is not about our intellect or about the opportunity, whether we have it or not, but about decisiveness, whether we want it. He who sees the superior value of wisdom, will be willing to acquire it at any price.

The same goes for the understanding, which is the fathoming and discerning of the nature of things or people, whether they are good or evil, whether they have good or bad intentions. Wisdom and understanding belong together. Wisdom becomes apparent from understanding. He who has understanding sees certain situations through and knows how to act; he also knows how he should approach or estimate certain people.

One of the main differences between the wise and the fool is the awareness of the need that each of them has. Those who believe that they have no problems, have the greatest problem. When we realize what our biggest problem is, we will want to make every effort to solve it. Here it is about our lack of wisdom. When we realize our lack of wisdom, we would want to do our utmost and use every resource that we have, to gain it. Thereby we could think of taking time for bible study, time to pray, time to attend the gatherings of the church where God’s Word is explained, to speak with believers or to read books of believers who have had an extensive experience with the Lord, in order to learn from them.

Paul speaks about ‘gaining’ Christ (Philippians 3:8). That indicates effort, as if it is about gaining a prize of a match. He wanted to learn to know Christ. Of course Christ was in him and of course he knew Him. But instead of being satisfied with that, that exactly encourages Paul ‘to gain Him’, which means to become more and more like Him, learning to know Him better and better.

Wisdom should be exalted, like a banner is exalted (Proverbs 4:8). We should prize wisdom. Nothing else ought to have a higher place in our thinking. The result will be that she will exalt us. Someone who exalts wisdom, is esteemed by other people. Wisdom is compared with the woman you love and whom you embrace. This is the opposite of embracing a strange woman. The inexperienced young man should give his full devotion and love to wisdom.

We can also relate this to Christ, the wisdom of God. Our life is about exalting and honoring Him. To embrace Him means that we are very close to Him and that we make Him feel our love. We do that when we let Him exceed above everything and everyone. We honor Him if we tell Him what attributes we have discovered in Him and praise Him for that. Then those attributes will become visible in us too, which will find appreciation with God. He says: “Those who honor Me, I shall honor” (1 Samuel 2:30).

The honor that wisdom gives to those who love her, is compared with “a garland of grace” and “a crown of beauty” on the head (Proverbs 4:9). A garland and a crown are given as a clearly visible proof as a way of appreciation for choosing wisdom. They are the homage to a conqueror. Love for wisdom demands sacrifices. He who sacrifices those offerings, will be rewarded for that by wisdom (Christ) (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10).

Verses 10-13

The Way of Wisdom

In Proverbs 4:10-Psalms : again the two ways are pictured for the young man: the way of wisdom (Proverbs 4:10-1 Chronicles :) and the way of the wicked and evil men (Proverbs 4:14-Psalms :). The one way is that to the full sun, the other leads to the darkness of the night. It is the choice between the narrow and the broad way. The son is as it were, again given the option of choosing between the two trees in paradise. Ultimately the choice is between to be or not to be obedient, by which it is the choice between life and death.

The father repeats his instruction to listen and to receive his words (Proverbs 4:10; Proverbs 4:1). He attaches to it the promise of many years to his life. That does not only regard the number of years, but also the enjoyment of joy in life. It is about the quality of life, a full life, which comprises more than its earthly duration. At the deepest level it is about the joy of life in the kingdom of peace, the everlasting life.

The words of the father contain the teaching in going the way of wisdom, words that also show the way that leads to wisdom (Proverbs 4:11). He leads him on the way to her. It is the narrow way “that leads to life” (Matthew 7:13). When he allows himself to be directed by the wise words of his father, he will be “led … in upright paths” and therefore not go the twisting ways. His behavior will be straight, righteous, holy and in truth.

The way of wisdom is free of hindrances, obstacles, and free of enemies and dangers, which guarantees progress (Proverbs 4:12). There is freedom of movement. Although the believer walks on the narrow way, he walks in the freedom of God’s Word. Whoever lives after the teaching of God’s Word, will in no way be hindered in his progress. Even though when people run the race, when they hurry to do God’s will, there is no danger for stumbling and falling, caused by the entanglement of sin (Hebrews 12:1-Exodus :). We see going the way of wisdom in perfection by the Lord Jesus.

The instruction to take hold of the instruction and not to let go (Proverbs 4:13) means that there are opposing forces active. Those forces seek to make us sacrifice the teaching that we have received. ‘Do not let go’ implies that the enemy is pulling on it to take it away from us. We take hold of the instruction only when we know its value with our hearts. Wisdom is not only the means to make progress in life, she herself is life. Something that is so fundamental, is to be taken hold of strongly and with enthusiasm.

It is to be compared with a robe that is thrown to someone who lies in the water and who cannot swim. It is shouted to him that he must grasp that robe and take hold of it. If he lets go of it, he will drown. That robe is his life. In that way we are to grasp and take hold of the instruction, the teaching that we receive.

Verses 14-19

The Path of the Wicked

The young man is warned to avoid the path of the wicked by not entering that path with even one single step (Proverbs 4:14). If no first step is put on that path, he will never end up wrong. This warning is connected to the instruction to take hold of instruction. Whoever goes the path of the wicked, will lose his fast grip to the sound teaching; he does not hold on strongly to it any longer and will let go.

In Proverbs 4:15 the necessity of avoiding the path of the wicked is spoken in imperative terms to the young man in four brief sentences. To choose that path is choosing the path of death. The father is very determined:
1. First, there is the inner attitude of rejecting that path.
2. The clear choice not to go that way is attached to it.
3. It is even the case, that he should not even want to come near to it; he is to turn away from it
4. and to ignore it, so not putting one single step on it.

If he comes near to it, the suction power may possibly take the control over him, which can cause him to enter that path. He ought to make a big swing around it and walk further. He ought not to stand still there, nor should he look at it, even if it is at a distance. He should not give it a glance, but totally ignore it.

As for the practice of life, it implies that we should not be influenced by the thinking which determines the path of the world. If we do not have a task from the Lord to do it, we should not allow ourselves to be involved with it and ought to stay far away from it. We should not desire to know all that is going around there.

Dina, the daughter of Jacob, was curious to know what was going around on that way. She surely found out. We see in what she experiences, where the ignoring of this command leads to (Genesis 34:1-Exodus :). She is a warning example. It may be attractive to read all kinds of gossip in magazines and on the internet. We may want to do that with the excuse that we should know what is happening in the world. But we are to reject that thought. We are not to participate in gossip, but we should neither listen to it. We are to turn away from it and ignore it.

The reason to avoid the evil path is the addictive operation of it (Proverbs 4:16). The wicked and the evil men are addicted to evil (Psalms 36:4). If they cannot commit their daily dose of evil, they get upset, like a drug user gets upset when he does not get his daily dose of drugs. The longer it takes the more and more restless they get; they cannot sleep unless they do evil or have caused someone to stumble. They are real children of their father, the devil.

They are not even seeking money or power anymore. Their pure goal is to do evil. There is love for the evil. Doing evil is their “bread” and “wine”, which means their food and drink (Proverbs 4:17). These are the means with which Melchizedek came to the weary Abraham, in order to strengthen him (Genesis 14:18). These people, however, do not take this food and drink out of the hand of God, but take them out of “wickedness” and “violence”. That’s what they feed themselves with; they live from it; that’s their delight. The people who go this way lack every form of human compassion.

Proverbs 4:18, which begins with the word “but”, shows the contrast with Proverbs 4:17 and clarifies how dangerous this path and the life of the wicked are. It is the contrast between darkness and light. The path of the righteous is a light that began to shine after a life in darkness (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). It breathes the freshness of dawn and covers their surroundings with the beauty of the sunset.

The path itself is a light because truth, righteousness and holiness are seen on it. Christ is seen and He is the light. The righteous are also called the light of the world, who let their light shine before men (Matthew 5:14; Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15). The further the righteous are progressing on that path, the brighter the light will shine, until they end in the full light. Then the full day has come. That is the day of the kingdom of peace.

The path of the wicked is the deep darkness of sin and the unbelief in the middle of the night (Proverbs 4:19; Exodus 10:22) which will make them stumble and fall. They have no idea what makes them stumble, for they do not see anything. Stumbling is also a result of wrong teaching on the law (Malachi 2:8). There is darkness around them and in them. Whosoever walks in the light, will not stumble; he who walks in darkness, will stumble (John 11:9-2 Samuel :). He who walks in darkness, will end in eternal darkness, where the light of God is changed into eternal fire.

Verses 20-27

Watch Your Heart, Lips, Eyes and Feet

The portion of Proverbs 4:20-Daniel : deals with life. A kind of ‘medical check’ follows of the heart, the mouth, the eyes and the feet, to see in which condition they are, in order to teach the son how to use them properly. The whole exterior life comes forth from what is in the heart (Proverbs 4:21; Proverbs 4:23). With the heart the center of life is meant: the whole of a person as human, with his mind, his will and his emotion. In that center the Word of God is to be given its place.

The heart must be guarded; we should see to it what is coming in. When the good comes in it, the good will come out of it. What comes out of it, comes through the mouth and lips (Proverbs 4:24), the eyes and gaze (or eyelids) (Proverbs 4:25), feet and ways (Proverbs 4:26). If the heart is okay, the mouth knows what to speak, the eyes know where to look, and the feet know where to go to. That can only be when the heart is filled with the fear of the LORD.

Again the father calls upon his son to give attention to his words (Proverbs 4:20). Such an appeal appears repeatedly in this book, because Godliness implies for a greater part to take hold of the known truths. The son is to incline his ears to what his father says. He ought to be willing and to be a good listener, for it is about words that are of most importance.

He also should not let those words depart from his sight; he is to keep his eyes fixed on them continually (Proverbs 4:21). He can do that literally by writing them down (cf. Deuteronomy 17:18). It will help him to keep them “in the midst” of his heart. By using his ear, his eyes and his heart, his whole personality will be guided by the words of his father.

The result is life and health (Proverbs 4:22). The words of the Scripture, the words of Christ, “are spirit and are life” (John 6:63). They liberate from evil things that cause pain and hinder to live of the true life. To listen to and to heed the teaching will increase the benefit of the whole man. Sin destroys the body. Some examples are aids as a result of sinful sexual contacts and anorexia as a result of an unhealthy spirit of control. Whosoever returns with the confession of sins to the path of wisdom, can find healing.

After the instruction in Proverbs 4:21 to keep wisdom in the heart in Proverbs 4:23 the instruction to watch over the heart follows. That means that there is a danger that wrong elements can enter in that want to take the control. That happens through the mind or the thoughts, the will and the emotion. The heart can be protected by continual prayer, listening to God’s Word and the sanctification through God’s Spirit. The heart is the starting point of the activities of life and determines the course of life. It comprises what a man says (Proverbs 4:24), sees (Proverbs 4:25) and does (Proverbs 4:26-Daniel :).

What is present in the heart, first appears, and most clearly, from the words that come forth from the mouth and the lips (Proverbs 4:24; cf. Luke 6:45; Matthew 12:34-Habakkuk :; Matthew 15:18-Psalms :). From our words must be removed what does not come forth from a heart that is led by wisdom. A radical break must happen between the young man and falsehood in his words (cf. Ephesians 4:29).

The “eyes” are to look directly ahead, which means that the eyes are simply focused on one particular goal (Proverbs 4:25). That goal here is to gain wisdom, which is Christ, to gain Him. We may also say that the important thing is, that the son “looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer” (James 1:25). He should look continually at the prescriptions of God’s Word, which his father presents to him. Therein he sees promises and also examples which encourage him to look ahead to the goal.

His “gaze” must be fixed straight in front of him. The concentration on the goal must be so intense that he does not even blink with his eyes. When his eyes wander aimlessly and adulterously, the adulterous deeds will follow. The Lord Jesus speaks about looking ahead when He says: “So then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). By that He means that when the eye is focused on that very one goal, the whole body knows what it should do.

The commandment to look ahead has a direct effect on the “foot” of the young man (Proverbs 4:26). He should make straight paths for his feet (cf. Hebrews 12:13). He should make his path accessible, make it free from holes and pave it by purging it from stumbling blocks. Then all his “ways will be established”, which means that he can go a trustworthy way, which constantly leads straightforward to the goal.

There is a clear connection between where our eyes are looking at and where we put our feet. Everyone who drives a car knows that looking straight ahead is the only way to keep the car straight on the road. The same goes for the farmer that ploughs. He also looks to the end of the field to make straight lines. If the wife of Lot had looked straight ahead and did not look back, she would not have become a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:17; Genesis 19:26). Not to look ahead is fatal. That’s why the Lord Jesus says: “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).

The principle is clear that our feet are inclined to follow our eyes. We determine the course of our path by where our eyes look at. The author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks about a race. He emphasizes that the important thing is that we lay aside all other things, while we fix our eyes on only one object alone, which is Christ in glory (Hebrews 12:1-Exodus :).

The instruction in the last verse (Proverbs 4:27) connects to the previous verse. The son must not depart from the path that the father shows him by turning to the right or to the left (Deuteronomy 5:32; Deuteronomy 28:13-2 Chronicles :; Joshua 1:7). Therefore he should listen to the voice of God (Isaiah 30:21). To turn to the right means to us that we should not fall into legalism and orthodoxy; to turn to the left means that we should not fall into liberalism and idolatry.

Also threats should not make him turn away from the path, as less as flatteries. The same goes for adversary and prosperity. He should therefore go straightforward on the path that is shown. By turning his feet from the evil, he will keep distance between himself and the evil.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Proverbs 4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/proverbs-4.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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