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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 4

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-27


Proverbs 4:1-27

7. Seventh admonitory discourse. We here enter upon the second group of admonitory discourses, as is indicated by the opening address, "my children," and which occurs again in Proverbs 5:7 and Proverbs 7:24. This group extends to the end of Proverbs 7:1-27. Its prevailing tone is that of warning rather than of positive exhortations, which have been the rule hitherto. The general aim of the discourse before us, as of those preceding, is to exalt Wisdom, to exhibit her as a subject worthy of all earnest endeavour and sacrifice, but it is noticeable that the teacher introduces a fresh feature into his teaching or mode of instruction, in order to procure attention to, and acceptance of, his precepts on the part of his hearers. He has already spoken in his own name and with his own authority; he has brought forward Wisdom personified as making her appeal; he now adduces the authority of his own father's advice to himself. But as the mode of emphasizing his admonitions varies, so Wisdom is many-sided, and the aspect under which she is now presented seems to be especially that of discipline and obedience. The keynote of the discourse seems to be struck in the word "instruction," i.e. discipline, in the original, musar, thus recalling the admonition in Proverbs 1:8, "My son, hear the instruction of thy father." Bohlius, in his 'Ethica Sacra,' disp. 6. p. 65, sqq; assigns "discipline" (musar) to this chapter; and Melancthon describes the admonitions of the chapter before us as "adhortationes ad studium obedientiae." Discipline rising into obedience seems to be the predominant thought to which all others are made subordinate. The discourse is an enlargement or amplification of this aspect of Wisdom. In structure the discourse consists mainly of the father's advice (Proverbs 1:4-19), preceded and followed by the teacher's own admonitions in Proverbs 1:1-3 and Proverbs 1:20-27. The chief topics touched upon are

(1) the supreme importance of Wisdom as being "the principal thing" to be obtained before everything else (Proverbs 1:7-9);

(2) the two ways that lie open to the choice of youth, distinguished respectively as the way of light and the way of darkness (Proverbs 1:14-19); and

(3) the guarding of the heart with all diligence, as being the seat of conscience and the fountain of life in its moral sense (Proverbs 1:23-27). The first part of the discourse is characterized by exhortations accompanied by promises; the latter part takes the form of warning, and warning of an alarming nature. The harmony which exists between the allusions in the discourse and the facts recorded in the historical books of Samuel and Chronicles serves to indicate that we have before us, in substance at least, the advice which David gave to Solomon, and that the discourse is Solomonic. Compare especially Proverbs 1:3 with 1 Chronicles 28:5 and 1 Chronicles 22:9, and 1 Chronicles 22:18 with the last words of David in 2 Samuel 23:4.

Proverbs 4:1

Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father. This exhortation is identical with that in Proverbs 1:8, except that the address, "ye children," indicating a new departure, is now used instead of "my son," which has been hitherto employed (see Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 3:1, Proverbs 3:21), and "of thy father" is altered to "of a father." The verb is the same, occurring here, of course, in the plural number. The appeal is evidently intended to rouse attention. Attention is especially necessary to secure a knowledge of Divine truth. Ye children (bhanim). This address occurs again twice in the second group of admonitory discourses—in Proverbs 5:7 and Proverbs 7:24, and also in the appeal of Wisdom personified in Proverbs 8:32, and, with these exceptions, nowhere else in the Proverbs. It is used by David, and it is possible that when the teacher penned these words he had in mind Psalms 34:11, "Come, ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord." The similarity in the address serves to connect the teacher of wisdom with David, and thus to identify him with Solomon, while it also leads to the conclusion that the advice which follows in Psalms 34:4-19 is in substance that which David had given his son. On "instruction," see Psalms 1:1-8. Of a father (av). It is difficult, owing to the want of the pronominal suffix, to determine accurately whether the teacher is referring to himself or to his own father in the expression. The following verse

(2) would indicate that he is speaking of himself in his capacity as a teacher or instructor of youth. But it is quite possible that he may be referring to his own father, whose advice he had received, and which he is now about to lay before others in Psa 1:4 -19. Though attention to paternal advice in general, i.e. instruction given by any father to his children, is not intended here, still the passage may be regarded as embodying the principle that attention to parental advice is incumbent on children, and a disregard of it is the mark of ingratitude and depravity. Rabbi Levi understands the phrase as referring to our heavenly Father. Attend (hakshivu, hiph. imperative of kashav). On the force of this verb as signifying "earnest, absorbed attention," see Proverbs 1:24. To know understanding (ladaath bina); i.e. in order that you may know or gain understanding. "The infinitive marks the design or object of the attention (cf. the Vulgate, ut sciatis). `The expression corresponds with ladaath khokmah in Proverbs 1:2, and just as this signifies "to appropriate to yourself wisdom," so the one before us has the same force, and signifies the gaining or appropriation of understanding, i.e. the faculty of discernment or discrimination. Hitzig renders, "to know with the understanding;" i.e. to know intelligently, but this does not seem to be the meaning of the phrase.

Proverbs 4:2

For I give you good doctrine. This, while stating the reason for the exhortation in the previous verse, signifies that what the teacher has given and is giving, he has received from his father. I give; nathati, literally, "I gave," is the kal perfect of nathan, "to give," but the perfect is here used for the present, as denoting not only a past action, but one that is still continuing. Good doctrine (lekakh tov). The doctrine or instruction is "good," not only intrinsically, but as to the source from which it was derived, and in its effects. Lekakh is, according to its root lakakh, "something which is received or taken." From the standpoint of the teacher it is that instruction which he had received of his father. With respect to his hearers it is the instruction which is communicated to them, and which they receive (see on Proverbs 1:5). The LXX. renders, δῶρον ἀγαθὸν; similarly the Vulgate, donum bonum, "a good gift." Forsake ye not; al-taazovu, from azav, "to leave, forsake" (compare the corresponding phrase, al-tiltosh, from natash, "to leave, forsake," in Proverbs 1:8). Law (torah); as in Proverbs 1:8.

Proverbs 4:3

For I was my father's son. This is more than the mere statement of a physical fact. It indicates that the teacher was in the highest degree an object of endearment to his father, just as he states in the second hemistich that he held a unique position in the affection of his mother. `The statement agrees with the historical record. Solomon would be more than ordinarily dear to his father, as being a child of promise, as "the beloved of the Lord," and as the son whom the Divine will had pointed as the successor to his throne, and the one on whom was to devolve the building of the temple (see 2 Samuel 7:12, 2Sa 7:13; 2 Samuel 12:24; 1 Chronicles 22:9). Bertheau explains, "I also once stood in the relation to my (actual) father in which you stand to me your paternal instructor," thus giving prominence rather to the consecution of the passage, and preparing the way for the reception of the father's advice which is to follow. But this rather loses sight of what appears an important element in the instruction, that not only was it "good," but that it was dictated by affection. The writer is fortifying and strengthening his instruction by the authority of his father, showing that what he was laying before others he had had placed before him; and as his father's advice was the outcome of affection, so he addresses his hearers in the same spirit. Dathe and others connect "tender" rak) with "son" (ben), and render, "I was a son dear to my father." So the LXX; which, however, understands "tender" in the sense of "tractable," "obedient:" "For I was an obedient son to my father"—a meaning which the word rak can only bear as indicating the susceptibility of the young to receive impressions. In general, rak means "tender," "soft," and has reference to the weakness and helplessness of the young; comp. Genesis 33:13, "My lord knoweth that the children are tender (rakkim)." Combined with yakhid, which follows, it signifies, in the passage before us, that the teacher was an object of tender care or love. The Vulgate tenellus, the diminutive of tener, as signifying "somewhat tender or delicate," reproduces the idea of the Hebrew rak. In the word the teacher recalls his early lifo and the instruction in wisdom which he received in it. Only beloved; literally, only (yakhid), as "beloved" does not occur in the original. The Vulgate renders, unigenitus; Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, μονογενής, i.e. "only begotten:" but this was not literally the fact, as Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, had other sons (2 Samuel 5:14; 1 Chronicles 3:5). Both the Hebrew yakhid, "only," and the Vulgate unigenitus, "only begotten," consequently signify what is expressed by the LXX. ἀγαπώμενος, i.e. "beloved." Solomon was so beloved of his mother as if he were an only child. So yakhid is used of Isaac in Genesis 22:2, Genesis 22:12 in the same way, since at the time that Isaac was so designated, Ishmael, the other son of Abraham, was still living. The word yakhid occurs in Psalms 22:20, where it is rendered "darling," and may possibly refer to Solomon. Jennings, in Psalms 22:20, understands it, however, of the life besides which the psalmist has no other—unicam meam, as the Vulgate, i.e. "his only life" (cf. Psalms 35:17; and for the word yakhid, see Jeremiah 5:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10). In the sight of my mother (liph'ne immi); literally, ad facies matris meae, or, before my mother; Vulgate, coram matre mea, i.e. in her estimation (cf. Genesis 17:18). The mention of the mother is probably introduced here for the sake of poetic parallelism; cf. Proverbs 1:8 (Zockler).

Proverbs 4:4

From this verse to Proverbs 4:19 inclusive, the teacher quotes the instruction which he had received of his father. His object in doing so is to show that his own teaching was in harmony with it, and therefore worthy of attention. His precepts, admonitions, and warnings are not his only, but those of his father. Other examples of David's instructions to Solomon are found in 1 Kings 2:2; 1 Chronicles 22:12, 1 Chronicles 22:13; 1 Chronicles 28:9. And he taught; i.e. his father, for vayyoreni is masculine. The LXX. renders, "They said and taught me (οἳ ἔλεγον καὶ ἐδιδασκόν με)," as if the precepts which follow were the combined teaching of David and Bathsheba. This variation is due to the mention of both parents in the preceding verse. Retain; yith'mok, kal future, used imperatively, of thamak, "to take hold of," and metaphorically, as here, "to hold fast" (see Proverbs 3:18). The LXX. Renders ἐρειδέτω, imperative of ἐρείδω, "to fix firm." Symmachus has κατεχέτω, "give heed to." And live; i.e. and thou shalt live, as the kal imperative, kh'yeh, from khayah, "to live," has here the force of the future (cf. Vulgate, et vives). The meaning is, "And thou shalt enjoy a long and happy life." Temporal life alone seems to be indicated, as in 1 Chronicles 28:10 (cf. Proverbs 3:2). The Syriac addition, "And my law as the apple of thine eye," is probably borrowed from Proverbs 7:2, where we meet with the mine admonition.

Proverbs 4:5

After the general exhortation given above, the father's instruction becomes more specific, and deals with the acquirement of wisdom. This subject seems to be continued in Proverbs 4:13, where the second and concluding branch of the instruction begins, which consists mainly of warning, as the first part does with exhortation. We are thus furnished with an example how to teach. In our teaching it is not sufficient simply to point out what is to be done, but we must show what is to be avoided. Get wisdom, get understanding. The father urges the acquirement of wisdom in the same way and with the same importunity as the trader or merchant presses his goods upon buyers. Wisdom and understanding are put forward as objects of merchandise; for the verb kanah, from which the imperative k'neh, signifies not only "to acquire for one's self," or "to possess," but especially "to buy." The verb occurs again in the same sense in Proverbs 4:7, "Get [k'neh, i.e. buy] wisdom;" and in Proverbs 23:23, "Buy (k'neh) the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding" (cf. also Proverbs 15:22 : Proverbs 16:16; Proverbs 19:9, where we also meet with the same verb). The reiteration of the word "get," as Umbreit remarks, is "an imitation of the exclamation of a merchant who is offering his wares." The importunity of the father measures the value he sets upon wisdom as an inestimable treasure, a pearl of great price (see Proverbs 3:14). Forget it not, etc.; rather, forget not, neither turn from the words of my mouth,—so Zockler, Delitzsch, Hodg; and others; Vulgate, ne obliviscaris, neque declines a verbis oris mei. There is no need to supply "it" after the verb al-tish'-kakh, "forget not," as Holden states, and as appears in the Authorized Version, since shakakh is found with min (מִן), "of" or "from," in Psalms 12:4 (5), "I forgot to eat (shakakh'ti meakol)," and the same construction may obtain here. The two verbs, "forget" and "decline from," are not so very wide in meaning, since the former, shakakh, is to "leave" something from forgetfulness, and the latter, natah, rendered here "decline from," is "to turn away" from something. The words of my mouth represent as it were the means by which wisdom may be purchased.

Proverbs 4:7

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. The older versions, such as the Alexandrian LXX. (the verse is omitted by the Vatican LXX.), Targum, and Syriac, agree in rendering this verse, "The beginning of wisdom is get wisdom," which is equivalent to saying that the beginning of wisdom consists in the acquisition of wisdom, or, as Umbreit explains, "in the resolution to get wisdom." That this rendering, which is adopted by Luther, Delitzsch, and Umbreit, may be correct appears from Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10, where we have the same construction, only in inverted order. Seneca's aphorism is conceived in much the same spirit: "Magna pars boni est velle fieri bonum"—"A large part of good is the wish to become good;" i.e. that the beginning of being good depends to a large extent upon the wish to become so. The objections to this rendering are:

(1) That it is difficult to see how the beginning of wisdom can be the acquisition of it.

(2) That elsewhere, as in Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10, the beginning of wisdom is represented as the fear of the Lord.

(3) That it does not fall in well with the context or with the aim of the father's teaching, which is to hold up wisdom as pre-eminently a blessing, as the most excellent and highest thing attainable. On the other hand, Hitzig, De Dieu, Doderlein, Zockler, render as in the Authorized Version, "Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom;" i.e. wisdom is the highest good, and therefore ought to be obtained. The word reshith is found with this signification in Proverbs 24:20; 1 Samuel 2:29; Job 40:19; Jeremiah 49:35; Amos 6:1-6. And with all thy getting get understanding. This does not mean, as the Authorized Version seems to imply, that while you are acquiring other things, you are to acquire wisdom, but that wisdom is to be purchased with all you have acquired or gotten. "Getting" (kin'yon) is the purchase money. No price is too high to be paid for her, no sacrifice too great; cf. the parables of the hidden treasure and goodly pearl (Matthew 13:44 : Luke 10:42), in both of which the man sold "all that he had" to obtain the prize. There is a play upon the words in the original (kin'yan'ki k'neh), which is preserved in our translation.

Proverbs 4:8

Exalt her, and she shall promote thee. The father here proceeds to point out some of the benefits which follow from the pursuit of Wisdom. Exalt her (sal's'leah); Vulgate, arripe illam; LXX; περιχαράκωσον αὐτὴν; Targum, dilige eam; Syriac, blandire illi; Arabic, circumsepi eam. The Hebrew, sal's'leah, is the pilpel imperative of salal, "to lift up, exalt." It is equivalent to the kal form. The pilpel form only occurs here, but the kal participle is met with in Proverbs 15:19, where it has the meaning of "to raise up as a causeway". Gesenius renders, "exalt her," sc. with praises. The meaning of the verb, as Delitzsch says, is to be determined, by the corresponding "she shall promote thee" (th'rom'mek), and this verb romem is

(1) to raise or make high;

(2) to exalt by bestowing honours upon one of low estate, i.e. raising them in general estimation; it is so used in 1 Samuel 2:7 by Hannah, in her song of thankfulness, "He (Jehovah) bringeth low and lifteth up (m'romem);"

(3) to extol by praises, as in Psalms 30:2. The radical meaning of salal seems to be "to heap up," as a road is prepared by embankments, and by the filling up of inequalities (cf. Isaiah 62:10). In this sense the passage before us is explained by Levi ben Gersom, "Prepare the way of Wisdom, and walk assiduously in it." But the context, wherein the idea of buying is evidently used. favours Bottcher's interpretation, "Hold it or her high in price, bid high for her as a purchaser who makes offer upon offer, to secure what he wants." So Pi, in pretio habe. The LXX. rendering, "Circumvallate her, enclose her with a wall or hedge," which is reproduced in the Arabic, circumsepi eam, "hedge her around," seems out of place with the context. The Talmudists understand the verb as signifying "to examine closely," "to scrutinize, meditate, or reflect" upon Wisdom constantly, just as the Roman, poet says, "Nocturna versate manu, versate diurna"—"We exalt Wisdom when we follow her precepts," i.e. when we esteem her—the idea which is presented to us in the Targum and Syriac cited above. The sentiment of the verse agrees with what Jehovah says in the message of the man of God to Eli, in 1 Samuel 2:30, "Them that honour me I will honour." She shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. The LXX. reverses the order of ideas, "Honour her in order that she may embrace thee." Embrace her; i.e. in a loving and affectionate manner, as a husband does his wife, or a son his mother. (For the verb khavak, see Proverbs 5:20 : So Proverbs 2:6; Proverbs 8:3.) There are only three other instances where this verb occurs in the pilel form, khibbek. Esteem and honour, the confidence of others, elevation to offices of trust and consequence, are some of the rewards with which Wisdom repays those who esteem and love her. Others follow in the next verse.

Proverbs 4:9

An ornament of grace (liv'yath khen). (On this, see Proverbs 1:9.) A crown of glory shall she deliver to thee; or, as margin, she shall compass thee with a crown of glory. Deliver. The verb miggen, piel, since the kal, magan, is not used. is, however, properly, "to give, or deliver," as in Genesis 14:20; Hosea 11:8. That this is the meaning is clear from the corresponding "she shall give" (titten, but cf. nathan, "to give"). It is commonly found with an accusative and dative, but hero takes two accusatives. Both the LXX. and the Vulgate render, "With a crown of glory or delights shall she protect (ὑπερασπίση, proteget) thee:" as if it were connected with magen, "a shield," but a crown is not usually associated with protection or defence. "A crown of glory," in the New Testament, is always associated with the everlasting honours of heaven, as in Hebrews 2:9; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 4:4; Revelation 2:20. The meaning is here, "Wisdom shall confer on thee true dignity."

Proverbs 4:10

Many commentators, e.g. Jerome, Bede, Ewald, Bertheau, and Hitzig, suppose that the father's instruction closes in the preceding verse, but it seems more appropriate to consider the father as here passing to another branch of his instruction, which is to point out the way of wisdom, and so to prepare for his warnings which follow from Proverbs 4:14 to Proverbs 4:19. Receive; kakh, from lakah, "to receive" (on the force of this verb, see Proverbs 1:3). He who shows a delighter willingness in admitting the words of Wisdom—for such a character the father claims for his teaching, as we see from, the next verse—shall receive a blessing. It is a sign of grace when any even show themselves open to listen to instruction; but it is a greater sign when this instruction is received with readiness and pleasure (Muffet). The years of thy life (sh'noth khayyim); literally, years of thy lives. The plural "lives" expresses the idea of life in the abstract. There is no absolute statement of a future life here, though by the Christian this idea may be indulged in on the ground of a fuller revelation. The promise is one that not only implies the prolongation of life, but also a life of prosperity and enjoyment. Shall be many; literally, shall be multiplied.

Proverbs 4:11

The perfects, I have taught and I have led, in the original seem to have here the absolute signification of the past. The father recalls the instruction which he has given in times past. So Delitzsch. But Gejerus gives them the combined force of the past and future, "I have taught and I will more fully teach," and so with the other verb. The Vulgate renders, monstrabo, "I will show," and ducam, "I will lead." In the way of wisdom (b'derek khok'mah) may mean "in the way that leads to, or by which you come to Wisdom; I have taught you the manner in which Wisdom may be attained;" or "the way in which Wisdom walks" (Zockler). The ways of Wisdom are described in Proverbs 3:17 as "ways of pleasantness." The next clause seems to indicate that the latter explanation is to be preferred. The (be) indicates the subject in which instruction has been given. In right paths (b'ma'g'le yosher); literally, in the paths of rectitude; i.e. of straightness, paths of which the characteristic is uprightness. (On "paths," as signifying a carriageway, see Proverbs 2:9.) Instruction and direction have formed the two elements in the father's teaching. These present us with a model of education. "To teach duty without truth is to teach practice without motive; to teach truth without duty is to teach motive without the practice to which it should lead" (Wardlaw).

Proverbs 4:12

In this verse the father depicts the benefits and advantages which shall follow from "receiving his words" (Proverbs 4:10), i.e. from attending to his counsels and imbibing the principles of wisdom. The whole course of life shall be freed from obstacles or impediments, from anxiety, perplexity, or difficulty, or from vacillation. When thou goest may refer to the daily walk, to the common and ordinary events or circumstances incidental to life, just as the corresponding when thou runnest may refer to cases of emergency when promptness and decisive action are called for. In both cases Wisdom, by inspiring unity of principle, gives freedom of movement; in ordinary cases it removes embarrassment and perplexity arising from conflicting interests drawing now in one direction, now in another, and in extraordinary cases it supplies a rule of conduct which prevents our falling into mistakes and errors. Or the verse may refer to the prosperity which shall attend all the undertakings of those who are in Wisdom's ways, whether they advance slowly or rush forward with the impetuosity of youth, whether they act with deliberation or with haste. Shall not be straitened (lo-yetsar); i.e. shall not be narrowed or confined; Vulgate, non arctabuntur; LXX; οὑ συγκλεισθήσεται, The future yetsar only occurs four times in the Scriptures—here, and Job 18:7; Job 20:22; Isaiah 49:19. It is usually derived from the root yatsar, which, however, is not found, cognate with tsur, "to straiten," "to be narrow." Yetsar, however, always occurs in the passive sense, though an active signification is given it by the Rabbi Nathan ben Jechiel, quoted by Delitzsch, in loc; who renders, "Thou shall not need to bind together, or hedge up thy way." The roots yatsar and tsur partake more or less of the idea of binding up, oppressing, putting into narrow and confined circumstances and limits. By the expression that "the steps are straitened" we may understand, therefore, that there is a want of freedom for their movements, and consequently that they are impeded or cramped. The Arabic expression. "to contract the feet," signifies the diminishing of good fortune. Compare the similar expression in Job 18:7, "The steps of his strength shall be straitened." The psalmist presents the idea of the verse under a different form, "Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, so that my feet did not slip" (Psa 17:1-15 :36). Thou shalt not stumble; lo-thik-kashel, hiph. future. The niph. nikshal, equivalent to the kal kadshal, signifies properly "to totter," "to sink down," used of one about to fall. The primary idea, however, usually disregarded, of kashal, is "to totter in the ankles," equivalent to the Latin talipedare. It occurs again in Proverbs 4:16, and is a different verb from "stumble" in Proverbs 3:23 (which see).

Proverbs 4:13

The short but urgent admonitions in this verse may be explained by the knowledge which the father has of the temptations to which youth is exposed and the liability of youth to fall into them, as well as by the fact that Instruction, or Wisdom, is the bestower of life. This latter conviction is the reason why he urges "taking fast hold" of Wisdom. The tenacious grasp with which the shipwrecked sinking sailor lays hold on any spar or plank floating near will illustrate the kind of grasp with which Wisdom is to be held. It is no less a virtue to keep and hold fast a good thing than to get it at the first beginning (Muffet). Instruction (musar), usually of a disciplinary nature (see Proverbs 1:3), here more particularly the instruction of the father, but in a wider sense wisdom generally, with which it is synonymous, as appears from the feminine, "let her not go, keep her," musar being masculine; or the feminines may refer back to "Wisdom" in Proverbs 4:11. So Mercerus and Buxtorf. For she is thy life (ki hi khayyeka); i.e. she brings life to thee. Wisdom is represented as the bestower of long life, in Proverbs 3:2, Proverbs 3:16, Proverbs 3:18. Just in proportion as Wisdom is retained and guarded, so is life secured, and so far as the hold upon her is lost, so are the hopes of life diminished. Life depends upon the observance of her precepts.

Proverbs 4:14

From admonition the father passes to warning. The connection with the preceding section is obvious. There are two ways diametrically opposite—the way of wisdom and the way of evil; the one the way of life, the other fraught with death, because a way of darkness and violence. As the father has dealt with the former, so now he deals with the latter. With these warnings we may also comp. Proverbs 1:10-15 and Proverbs 2:10-15, where much the same warning is given, and the way of the wicked is described in almost the same terms. The warning of the father takes a threefold form:

(1) enter not;

(2) go not;

(3) avoid.

In effect he says this is the only course to be adopted in order to keep a firm hold of Wisdom which he has counselled in the preceding verse (13). Enter not; al-tavo, from bo. "to come in," "to enter," i.e. do not even enter. The Vulgate renders, "Delight not in," evidently from reading tove, which occurs in Proverbs 1:10. But our reading is to be preferred, as avah, "to acquiesce in," from which tov'e, is not used with בִּ, here denoting place, but with לִ. Go not (al-t'ashsher); i.e. do not walk in. The two verbs "to enter" (bo) and "to go" (ishsher) stand in the relation of entering and going on—ingressus and progressus. So Gejerus and Delitzsch. The piel ishsher, here used, is properly "to go straight on," like the kal ashar, of which it is an intensive (cf. Proverbs 9:6). It is the bold, presumptuous walk, the stepping straight out of the evil, which is here indicated, and against this the father warns his son. The sense is, "If you have entered the way of the wicked, do not continue or persevere in it." The other meanings of the verb ashar, viz. "to guide straight" (Proverbs 23:19), "to esteem happy and prosperous" (Proverbs 31:28), are not in place here, as they destroy the parallelism of thought, and on the same ground the LXX. and Syriac renderings, "envy not" and μηδὲ ζηλώσῆς, are to be rejected. The wicked (ishaim), i.e. the godless (cf, Psalms 1:1), is parallel with "evil men" (raim), i.e. the habitually wicked.

Proverbs 4:15

Avoid it; p'raehu, the kal imperative of para, properly, "to let go," hence "to reject, or abhor." (On the verb, see Proverbs 1:25, where it is rendered, "set at naught.") The same verb also occurs in Proverbs 8:33; Proverbs 13:18; Proverbs 15:32. It; i.e. the way. The suffix of the verb in the original is feminine, "avoid her;" derek, "the way," being common. Turn from it (s'teh mealayv). The original is a pregnant expression equivalent to "turn aside from it, so that you do not come to stand upon it." The word mealayv, equivalent to the Latin desuper ea, has much the same force as the French de dessus and the Italian di sopra (Delitzsch). The verb satah is, as in the Authorized Version, "to turn, or go aside." Pass away; avor, kal imperative of avar, "to pass over," equivalent to Latin transire, here means "to pass on, or along," "to go beyond," like the German Ger weiter gehn. The counsel of the father is not only "turn aside from," but "put the greatest possible distance between you and it." The injunction, so absolutely stated, to have nothing to do with sin, is required, if not indeed prompted, by the knowledge of the fact that youth, confident in its own power of resistance, frequently indulges in the fatal mistake of imagining that it can dally with sin with impunity. The only course compatible with safety is to entirely avoid it.

Proverbs 4:16

This verse exhibits the extreme depravity and debasement into which "the wicked" (r'shaim) and "the evil" (raim) of Proverbs 4:14 have fallen. Their sins are not sins of frailty, but arise from premeditation and from their insatiable desire to commit wickedness. Sin has become to them a kind of second nature, and, unless they indulge in it, sleep is banished from their eyes. They sleep not; lo-yish'nu, future of yashan, "to fall asleep;" the future here being used for the present, as is frequently the case in the Proverbs, and denoting a permanent condition or habit. Unless they cause some to fall; i.e. "unless they have betrayed others into sin," taking the verb in an ethical sense (Zockler), or, which is preferable, owing to verse 16a, unless they have done them some injury (Mercerus); Vulgate, nisi supplantaverint. For the Khetib yik'shulu, kal, which would mean "unless they have stumbled or fallen," the Keri substitutes the hiph. yak'shihi "unless they have caused some to fall." The hiph. is found without any object, as here, in 2 Chronicles 25:8). (On the verb khasal, from which it is derived, see 2 Chronicles 4:12.) With the statement of the verse we may compare David's complaint of the persistent persecution of his enemies (Psalms 59:15), "If they be not satisfied, then will they stay all night" (margin). A similar construction to the one before us occurs in Virgil: "Et si non aliqua nocuisses, mortuus esses"—"And had you not, by some means or other done him an injury, you would have died" ('Eclog.,' 2 Chronicles 3:15); cf. also Juvenal: "Ergo non aliter poterit dormire; quibusdam somnum rixa facit"—"Therefore, not otherwise, would he have slept; contention to some produces sleep." Hitzig rejects 2 Chronicles 25:16 and 2 Chronicles 25:17 against all manuscript authority.

Proverbs 4:17

For (ki, equivalent to the Greek γὰρ) is here explanatory. It serves not so much to introduce another independent statement, as one which accounts for the statement made in the preceding verse, that the wicked sleep not unless they have done mischief, i.e. it states the reason why they are so conditioned. There is no comparison expressed in the original, as the rendering adopted by Schultens and others implies, "For wickedness do they eat as bread, and violence do they drink as wine," which is evidently based on Job 15:16, "Which drinketh up iniquity like water," and Job 34:7, "Who drinketh up scorning like water." The literal rendering is, for they eat the bread of wickedness, and the wine of violence do they drink. The bread of wickedness (lekhem resha) is not bread which consists in wickedness, but bread which is obtained by wickedness, just as the wine of violence (yiyin khamasim) is not the wine which produces violence, but the wine that is procured by violent dee,is. Their support, what they eat and drink, is obtained by wickedness and injustice. They live by wrong. For such expressions as "the bread of wickedness" and "the wine of violence," cf. Deuteronomy 16:3, "the bread of affliction;" Psalms 127:2, "the bread of sorrows;" and Amos 2:8, "the wine of the condemned." There is a charade of tense in the verbs, the first being perfect, "they have eaten," and the second future, "they shall drink," which Delitzsch explains as representing the twofold act—first eating the bread, and then washing it down with wine.

Proverbs 4:18

A contrast is drawn in this and the following verse between the path of the just and the way of the wicked. The former is, by an extremely beautiful image, likened to the light at dawn, which goes on increasing in brightness and intensity as the day advances, until at length it reaches its meridian splendour and glory. An exactly similar figure is found in David's last words (2 Samuel 23:4). The path of the just; i.e. their moral course. As the shining light (k'or nogah); i.e. as the light of dawn. The word nogah, from nagah, "to shine," is a noun, and properly signifies "brightness," "shining." "splendour." It is used also to designate the dawn, the light of the sun when it first mounts the horizon, and sheds its beams over the landscape, as in Isaiah 9:3, "Kings (shall come) to the brightness (nogah) of thy rising;" and Isaiah 62:1, "Until the righteousness thereof go forth as the brightness (nogah)" (cf. 2 Samuel 23:4, where the same word also occurs). Michaelis and Schultens refer nogah to "the path," and render, "The path of the just is splendid as the light." So Dathe and others; and in this sense it was understood by the LXX; "The path of the just shall shine as the light shines." The Vulgate renders, quasi lux splendens. That shineth more and more (holek vaor); literally, going and shining—a common Hebrew idiom denoting progression or increase. The construction of the participle holek, from halak, "to go," with the participle of another verb, is found in 1 Samuel 17:41, "The Philistine came nearer and nearer (holek v'karev);" 1 Samuel 2:26. "The child Samuel grew on more and more (holek v'hadel)" (cf. 2 Chronicles 17:12; Jonah 1:11). Unto the perfect day (ad-n)kon hayyom); Vulgate, usque ad perfectam diem. The Hebrew, n'kon hayyom, corresponds to the Greek, ἡ σταθερὰ, equivalent to "the high noon," when the sun seems to stand still in the heavens. The figure, as Fleiseher remarks, is probably derived from the balance, the tongue of the balance of day, which before or after is inclined either to the right or the left, being at midday perfectly upright, and as it were firm. So kun, the unused kal, from which n'kon, the niph. participle, is derived, is "to stand upright," and in hiph. "to be set," "to stand firm," "to be established," and hence the expression might be rendered, "until the steady, or established day," which, however, refers to the midday, or noon, and not to that point when day succeeds dawn, as Rosenmuller and Schultens on Hosea 6:3 maintain. The comparison is not extended beyond the midday, because the wish of the father was to indicate the full knowledge which the just attain in God, and which can knew of no decline. A similar figure of gradual development is found in our Lord's parable of the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:28), and is visible in Psalms 84:7, "They grow from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God." The verse illustrates the gradual growth and increase of the righteous in knowledge, holiness, and joy, all of which are inseparably connected in the career of such.

Proverbs 4:19

The way of the wicked is as darkness. In contrast with the path of the just is the way of the wicked, which is described as darkness itself: i.e. so deeply enveloped in gloom that the wicked are not able even to see the obstacles and impediments against which they stumble, and which are the cause of their ruin. It is a way dark throughout—a via tenebrosa (Vulgate)—terminating at length in "the blackness of darkness." As light is emblematical of knowledge, holiness, and joy, so darkness represents ignorance, unholiness, and misery (see Isaiah 8:22). Darkness (aphelah); strictly, thick darkness, midnight gloom, the entire absence of light. It is the word used of the plague of "thick darkness" that settled over all the land of Egypt, even a darkness that "might be felt," when the Egyptians "saw not one another, nor any arose from his place for three days" (Exodus 10:21-23). It occurs again in Proverbs 7:9, "in the black and dark night." In this darkness the wicked cannot help but stumble. Compare our Lord's teaching, "But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him" (John 11:10; cf. John 12:36). The expression, they know not at what they stumble, carries with it the idea that they are so ignorant that they neither know wickedness as wickedness, nor do they apprehend the destruction which it involves. "Sins, however great and detestable they may be, are looked upon as trivial, or as not sins at all, when men get accustomed to them". On "stumble" (kashal), see Proverbs 7:12; and on the destruction of the wicked implied in the stumbling, see Proverbs 1:27, seq; Proverbs 2:18-22; Proverbs 3:35.

Proverbs 4:20

The teacher here resumes his admonitions after thus citing the example of his father's teaching, and showing how it resembled the tenor of his own precepts, which, upon such a consideration, were most worthy of attention.

Proverbs 4:21

Let them not depart from thine eyes; i.e. keep them constantly in view as the guide of the whole conduct. These words are a repetition of Proverbs 3:21, just as the latter part of the verse reproduces the thought of Proverbs 2:1. Depart. The hiph. yallizu is here used instead of the kal yaluzu of Proverbs 3:21, but has the same force. In the midst of thine heart; i.e. in its inmost recesses; there the words and sayings are to be guarded as a man guards a treasure stowed away in the inmost chambers of a house. The expression implies cherishing them with an internal affection. The terms of the verse may be illustrated by Deuteronomy 6:6, Deuteronomy 6:8, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontiers between thine eyes."

Proverbs 4:22

They are life; i.e. they bring life (khayyim; the plural, as usual). Unto those that find them; i.e. to those who by effort get possession of and procure them; the verb matsa, to find, embodying the idea of activity. Health; mar'pe, derived from the root rapha, "to heal" (like riph'uth of Proverbs 3:8, which see), and hence rather "the means of health" than "health," "healing," or, as margin, "medicine," "that which restores to health;" LXX; ἴασις; Vulgate, sanitas. The moral condition is regarded as enfeebled by sickness, from which it may be restored to health and soundness by the words of wisdom. The effect of these, however, is not only to restore to health, but to maintain in health. Their tendency is to promote "a sound mind in a sound body." To their flesh; literally, to his flesh; the singular, b'saro, being used instead of the plural, which we should have expected, because what is said applies to each one of those who receive the precepts of wisdom. The all implies the completeness of the restoration; it is not confined to one part, but pervades the whole body.

Proverbs 4:23

Keep thy heart with all diligence; properly, above all things that have to be guarded, keep or guard thy heart. So Mercerus, Gescnius, Delitzsch, Zockler. This seems to be the right meaning of the phrase, mikkol-mish'mar, rendered in the Authorized Version "with all diligence," mish'mar, from shamar, "to guard," being the object of guarding; that which is to be guarded. It is as if the teacher said, "Guard riches, property, health, body, everything, in short, in which you have a legitimate interest, or which is advantageous; but before and above everything else, keep a guard on your heart." The rabbins Jarehi, Ben Ezra, Rashi, however, give a different rendering, "From everything which is to be avoided (ab omni re cavenda) guard thy heart;" but the objection to this is that it ignores the radical meaning of the verb shamar, from which mish'mar is derived, as stated above, which is not that of avoiding, but of guarding. A third rendering is," Keep thy heart with all keeping;" so the Vulgate, omni custodia serva cor tuum; and the LXX; πασὴ φυλακῇ τήρει σὴν καρδίαν; on which the Authorized Version seems to be based. Another rendering, similar to the first, except that it gives mish'mar the active signification of guarding instead of the passive one of being kept or guarded, is, "Keep thy heart more than any other keeping (prae omni custodia)." Origen, 'Hex.;' Field. Again, Aquila and Theodotion render, "Keep thy heart by reason of every commandment (ἀπὸ παντὸς φυλάγματος)," thus bringing into prominence the occasion and the obligation of keeping the heart, which is that we are so commanded. Heart (lev); here the affections and the moral consciousness. For out of it are the issues of life. The conjunction "for" introduces the reason. The fact here stated is that the moral conduct of life, its actions and proceedings, are determined by the condition of the heart. If the heart is pure, the life will be pure; if the heart is corrupt, the life will be corrupt. The heart is here compared with a fountain. The same idea which is affixed to it in its physical sense is also assigned to it in its ethical or moral sense. Physically, it is the central organ of the body; morally, it is the seat of the affections and the centre of the moral consciousness. From this moral centre flow forth "the issues of life;" i.e. the currents of the moral life take their rise in and flow forth from it, just as from the heart, physically considered, the blood is propelled and flows forth into the arterial system, by which it is conveyed to the remotest extremities of the body. And as the bodily health depends on the healthy action of the heart, so the moral health depends on and is influenced by the state in which this spring of all action is preserved. Issues; tots'aoth, from yatsar, "to go forth," are the place from which anything goes forth, and hence a fountain. For "the issues of life," the LXX. reads, ἔξοδοι ζωῆς, the Vulgate; exitus vitae. With this passage compare our Lord's teaching.

Proverbs 4:24

The following admonitions of this chapter bear reference to the outward conduct of life. They continue the subject of Proverbs 4:23 by showing how the guarding of the heart is to be done. There is the most; intimate connection between the heart as the fountain of the moral life and of the conduct of life, which, though determined by the condition of the heart, in its turn reacts upon the heart as the moral centre, and keeps it pure. Thus the subject is treated from its two sides. On Proverbs 4:24 and Proverbs 4:25 Hitzig remarks that they "warn against an arbitrary perverting of the moral judgment into which evil passions so easily betray, and admonish not to give misdirection to thought within the department of morality." A froward mouth, and perverse lips; literally, perverseness of mouth and waywardness of lips (ikk'shuth peh vulzuth s'phathayim). "Perversity of mouth" is fraudulent, deceitful speech; that which twists, distorts, perverts, or misrepresents what is true, and hence falsehood (Proverbs 4:24; Proverbs 6:12; Proverbs 19:1). The σκολιὸν στόμα of the LXX; i.e. the "tortuous mouth," in a metaphorical sense. The phrase is very similar in meaning with the parallel "waywardness of lips," which means speech which turns aside from what is true and right, the noun lazuth being derived from lazah, or luz, "to bend aside." The tongue is the unruly member (James 3:2). Speech is the index of the mind (Lapide). Vigilance over the heart is vigilance over the mouth, inasmuch as "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matthew 12:34). The admonition may have a twofold application, and may mean either do not indulge in this kind of speech yourself, exercise an unremitting jealousy over every propensity to it; or have no dealings with those who are guilty of it, as in Psalms 101:5.

Proverbs 4:25

Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids lock straight before thee. "To look right on" and "to look straight before one" is to fix the eyes steadily and unswervingly upon an object before them, not to allow the gaze to deflect either to the right hand or to the left. As a noun, the word nokakh, rendered "right on," signifies what is straight in front of one; adverbially, it has the same meaning as that given in the Authorized Version. The corresponding "before" (neged) is substantively the side of any object which is opposite one, and as a preposition is equivalent to "before," "in the presence of," like the Latin coram. The versions (LXX; Syriac, Targum) take nokakh in the sense of "right things:" "Let thine eyes look at right things;" contemplate them, aim at justice and equity. This meaning is given to the cognate adjective nakoakh in Proverbs 8:9; Proverbs 24:26; Isaiah 26:10; Isaiah 30:10; Isaiah 59:14; but in the Proverbs the word nokakh only occurs twice (here and verse 21), either as an adverb, "right on," "straightforwardly," or as a preposition, "before." Look straight. Gesenius takes this verb yashar in hiph; "to make straight," as used elliptically: "Let thine eyelids direct a way before thee;" but the meaning is the same as "Let them look straight before thee." The Syriac, Gejerus, and Holden render, "Let thine eyelids direct thy way before thee;" i.e. do nothing rashly, but everything with premeditation; examine thy conduct, and see that it is right. The verb yashar has this meaning, "to direct," in Proverbs 3:6; Proverbs 11:5, but it is here used intransitively (Mercerus). Eyelids (aph'appim); so called from their fluttering, rapid motion, here used by way of poetic parallelism with "eyes." What the command inculcates is simplicity of aim or principle, singleness of motive. The moral gaze is to be steadily fixed, because if it wanders indolently, lasciviously, aimlessly, it imperils the purity of the soul. This verse may be understood, as Zockler, as containing a command levelled against dishonest practices. The man who intends to cheat his neighbour looks this way and that how he may deceive him. Such an interpretation may be maintained on the ground that the former verse is directed against falsehood in speech; this against falsehood in action. But the former view is preferable. If you wish to keep the heart, you must be guided by simplicity of aim; look not aside either to the one hand or to the other, lest you may be led astray by the seductions and temptations which imperil the onward and upward progress of the soul. The passage reminds us of the "single eye" (ἄπλους), "simple," i.e. intent on heaven and God, of Matthew 6:22.

Proverbs 4:26

Ponder the path of thy feet; properly, make straight or level the path of thy feet. The command carries on the idea of the previous verse. Simplicity of aim in the moral life is to be accompanied by attention to the moral conduct. The sense is, remove every obstacle which may impede or render insecure the way of moral life, and thus avoid every false step. The meaning "to ponder," i.e. "to weigh," seems to be given to the verb palles, piel of the unused palas here used only in Psalms 58:3 and possibly in Proverbs 5:21. Its ordinary signification is "to make level, or even," as in Isaiah 26:7; Isaiah 40:12; and Proverbs 5:6. The LXX. keeps this in view in rendering, "Make straight paths for thy feet" (cf. Hebrews 12:13). The Authorized Version would mean, "Weigh your conduct as in a balance; before acting, consider the consequences and nature of the act." The second clause, and let all thy ways be established, is in effect only a repetition of the preceding thought, since it signifies, "See that thy conduct is correct; let all thy ways be definite and fixed." The marginal reading. "And all thy ways shall be ordered aright." gives the literal rendering to the tense; yikkonu being the future hiph. of kun, "to be established," "to stand firm." This would express the result of giving heed to one's conduct.

Proverbs 4:27

This verse, with which the teacher closes this discourse, is very closely connected with Proverbs 4:26, which it more fully explains. The command is the parallel of Proverbs 4:25. As in Proverbs 4:25, the gaze is to be concentrated. So here the feet are not to deflect nor turn aside to byways. Nothing is to be permitted to draw one off from the right way, neither adversity, nor prosperity, nor anything which can possess the power of temptation (Bayne and Wardlaw). Remove thy foot from evil. A fuller expression than "depart from evil," of Proverbs 3:7. Both the LXX. and the Vulgate add, "For the Lord knows the ways which are on thy right hand; but they are perverse which are on thy left. He shall make thy paths straight, and shall advance thy ways in peace."


Proverbs 4:1-4

A family heirloom

I. DIVINE WISDOM IS THE BEST OF FAMILY HEIRLOOMS. Solomon transmits to his son the instruction which he has received from his father. Thus he aims at making it an old household treasure. He also hands down royal power, great possessions, national fame. But wisdom is to him an inheritance more precious than all other things. The rest may go rather than that the entail shall be cut off this most prized part of the family estate. It would be well if fathers and sons had a similar opinion of the best of treasures. One labours to leave heavy legacies in his will; another aims at securing good posts for his sons; a third is proud of the unsullied family honour; but many forget that which alone secures true welfare here and eternal life hereafter. It is beautiful to see this heirloom of piety carefully guarded in the cottage of the poor; but it is more interesting to see those who might be drawn aside to lower pursuits—as, alas! Solomon was in his later days—setting the same treasure before their family as the most valuable of all possessions.

II. DIVINE WISDOM WILL NOT REMAIN AS A FAMILY HEIRLOOM WITHOUT SPECIAL CARE IN RETAINING AND TRANSMITTING IT. The estate descends from father to son by laws of inheritance or by testamentary directions. The bodily likeness, the mental characteristic, the genius, the defect, the disease, often come down through successive generations. But religion is not found in the blood; no law of inheritance will secure the succession to Divine wisdom; you cannot ensure that your son will be pious by any clause in your will. This family heirloom will pass out of the household unless it is most carefully guarded. Bad sons may follow good fathers. The religion of our parents is no guarantee of our own spiritual state, nor does our religion contain within it the promise and potency of our children's faith.

III. DIVINE WISDOM MAY BE TRANSMITTED AS A FAMILY HEIRLOOM THROUGH INSTRUCTION AND EXAMPLE. We cannot absolutely secure the inheritance because we have to deal with that most ungovernable of all elements, the free will of souls. But failure is often to be attributed to defective instruction. Home culture has been neglected, while public ministry has been most assiduous; or there has been a harsh, unwise restraint which has provoked a rebound of licence. On the whole, we may hope that good, sound home training will not be in vain. This involves two elements.

1. Instruction. There must be positive, definite teaching. We must not rely on the general influence of a wholesome Christian atmosphere, on casual words and passing advice, etc. Wisdom involves knowledge; religion depends on faith; and faith follows "hearing." It is most important that the main elements of the Christian truth should be understood and remembered by children. It is not enough to tell them to love Christ. They must know him if they are to trust and follow him.

2. Example Without this instruction is futile. Our deeds then give the lie to our words. Instruction is the light to show the way; example, the impulse to urge us to walk in it. Succession in genius is rare. The two Plinys, the two Pitts, the two Mills, are exceptional instances. But by right instruction and example we have much more reason to expect a succession in piety, because genius must be born in a man, but the wisdom of godliness is offered to all who will seek it.

Proverbs 4:9

A coronation

Wisdom is here represented as standing forth with garlands and crowns, rewarding her votary. The whole picture suggested to us by this brief verse may be taken as illustrative of the blessed experience of the people of God.

I. THE CROWNING AUTHORITY. It is ridiculous to offer a crown except with the right and power to make the coronation effective. It was held that no one could be an emperor in the "holy Roman empire" of the Middle Ages unless he had been crowned by the pope, as Charles the Great had been crowned. In our picture we have a greater than the highest ecclesiastic. The Wisdom of God, ideally personified, offers crowns and garlands with her own hands. It is really an act of God. God's wisdom is subsequently revealed in Christ who bestows the best blessings on his people. Coronation from such an authority must be effective.

II. THE SUBJECT CROWNED. He is the votary of Wisdom, and it is on account of his allegiance to his heavenly mistress that he receives his honour. Solomon seems to be referring directly to himself (Proverbs 4:8). If so, it is the more remarkable that the most magnificent king of Israel should set less value on his regal dignity than on his fidelity to Wisdom. Even Solomon is here crowned, not because he is David's son and sits on the throne of a great nation, but because he is a loyal servant of Wisdom. The same honour is open to all who follow the same course. Wisdom, Divine truth, the knowledge of God, the following of Christ—these things are the true grounds for honour; not birth, rank, power, or wealth.

III. THE ACT OF CORONATION. Wisdom stands forth and crowns her votary. She does it spontaneously. The pursuit of Divine Wisdom brings honour. Here we see that there is more than bare deliverance from ruin for the people of God. They are invited to receive honours from above. This happens in a measure upon earth in the elevation of character, the loftiness of the whole course of life, and perhaps even the worthy reputation of a true Christian. Yet we must remember that the coronation is not the world's admiration, but God's approval. This will be perfected in heaven when the saints who have borne the cross on earth will receive their crowns—only to cast them at the feet of the Lord through whose grace alone they have won them (Revelation 4:10).

IV. THE NATURE OF THE CROWNS. There is a garland as well as a crown.

1. A recognition of victory. A simple wreath has little inherent worth. But it is a token of victory. It is nobler to wear a true conqueror's wreath than an idle monarch's diadem. The pursuit of Divine Wisdom leads to victory over sin and the world.

2. A possession of wealth and honour. After the victor's wreath comes the regal crown. Observe how it is constructed.

(1) Gold of truth.

(2) Precious stones of heavenly experience. Precious stones are symbolical of celestial structures (Revelation 21:18-21). The follower of Wisdom has the heavenly mind; he minds spiritual things.

(3) Pearls of purity. True wisdom leads to holiness.

Proverbs 4:12

A free course

Religion is looked upon too much in the light of a restraint, and the Christian is often regarded by the world as hampered and shackled by irksome bonds. But the very opposite is suggested by the words of our text. We see the servant of Divine Wisdom running with freedom on his course, and at the same time carefully guarded from misadventure.

I. THE TRUTH OF GOD GIVES LIBERTY. Christ promised that the truth should make men free (John 8:32).

1. The liberty of knowledge. Ignorance is a bondage, because the ignorant man does not know how to shape his course. He is like a traveller lost in the African bush. Physical knowledge gives a certain liberty of action. Knowledge of nature helps the man of science to act where the layman would be helpless. The engineer's knowledge of his machine enables him to work it. When we know the way of peace and safety we can freely and fearlessly run in it.

2. The liberty of obedience. The wisdom of the Proverbs is practical; it is intimately connected with the fear of God. It implies more than knowledge in its followers; it requires also submission and obedience. Now, when we are in rebellion against the Law and will of God, we are continually arrested by his opposing action. But when we delight to do his will we are perfectly free. There is no liberty so great as that which comes from harmony between our wills and the will of God. We desire the very things that God commands; it must follow that we are free to seek them. Then of a certainty God will give us our heart's desire.

II. THE TRUTH OF GOD SECURES SAFETY. The follower of Divine Wisdom will not stumble.

1. He will not run in the way of danger. The narrow path is the safe path. There are gins and snares in the broad road. Though the way of life may be rugged, it is not like the flowery path of sin, in the beauty of which a deadly serpent hides.

2. God will remove the greatest impediments out of his path. He is in the King's highway. Even this road may lead over steep places and through difficult passes. But still, as it is maintained by its Lord, it cannot be left to fall into the state of an impassable road in a neglected country. God is with his people while they are treading the path of righteousness, and he will prepare their way for them.

3. There will be light to see the difficulties of the way. It is possible to stumble even on the high road. Christian men have fallen. We need to be prepared to face the difficulties which will surely meet us even while we are pursuing the Christian course. Now, God's truth is a lamp to guide us over such difficulties (Psalms 119:105). With the light of heavenly wisdom we safely pass them.

4. There will be help at hand. Christ is with his people on their pilgrimage. Like Peter sinking in the waves, they may cry, "Lord, save me: I perish!" and they will be delivered. "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe" (Psalms 119:117).

Proverbs 4:13

Holding fast

I. THE NECESSITY OF HOLDING FAST. This is to be in regard to instruction in Divine wisdom. There are difficulties in keeping to the truth of God.

1. The knowledge of it is an attainment. It is not innate; it does not come by inevitable experience; it is not received without conscious effort. What has been won may be lost. That which is not naturally a part of our being may be detached from us.

2. The truth is spiritual. Therefore it belongs to a different region from that of everyday experience in the world, and it is in danger of being thrust aside by the rude demands of material facts. The rush and roar of outward life drown the whispers of the "still, small voice."

3. It is morally exacting. God's instruction concerns our conduct, and that in a way not always agreeable to ourselves. It urges us with lofty mandates, it seeks to regulate our lives by great principles. But weakness shrinks and self-will rebels against such a yoke. Therefore unless we held fast to the instruction, we shall soon lose it. Mere negligence is enough to imperil the choice possession. By simple indifference we may let slip the truth of God (Hebrews 2:1).


1. Attention must be directed. As we have a certain command of our thoughts in the power of fixing attention on certain topics in preference to others, we can turn our minds towards Divine truth by a voluntary movement. External aids are here of use. The reading of the Bible is most helpful, not merely to obtain fresh truth, but to impress and revive the truth we already know. The ordinances of public worship are also designed with this end in view. The Christian preacher has not merely to instruct the ignorant and to lead those who know some truth to higher regions of revelation. A great part of his work consists in impressing upon men what they already know, and aiding them to hold it fast. None of these means of directing attention are sufficient without the addition of personal prayer and meditation.

2. Truth must be realized in practice. There is no better way of holding fast to instruction than by obeying it. The greatest truths are vague ideas till we commence to put them in practice. We hold best those truths which we follow most closely in life.

III. THE ADVANTAGE OF HOLDING FAST. It is our duty to hold the truth which God has revealed to us, and to attend to the commandments which he has sent us. But it is also for our own soul's profit. This is a matter of life and death. Divine truth is not a mere luxury for the leisured classes. It is a necessary of life.

1. This truth is a guide from the way of ruin. God speaks words of the utmost moment to warn us from continuing in the old course of sin, and to show us the way of salvation.

2. It is an immediate source of life. God gives his Spirit through his truth, and the Spirit of God is the quickening power of our souls. Thus God's truth is the soul's food. To lose it is to starve. To hold it fast is to secure eternal life. The words that Christ speaks to us are spirit and life (John 6:63).

Proverbs 4:14, Proverbs 4:15

Bad company

I. THE DUTY OF AVOIDING BAD COMPANY. We are all more or less unconsciously affected by the tone of the society we frequent. Even the strongest, most independent spirit cannot wholly fortify himself against this influence. As water wears the hardest rock, the constant friction of social intercourse makes itself felt in course of time upon the most resolute character. We are naturally gregarious. Without knowing it, nay, even while protesting against it, we are carried away with the current through which our course lies. Salmon swim up against the stream; but men prefer to float with the stream. Hence the great reason for choosing society of good character. It is most essential that young men just entering business in a great city should bear this in mind. The class of companions they choose will very largely affect the whole future course of their lives. Christians are called to come out from the world; but our Lord showed his wisdom, as much as his kindliness, in instituting the Church as a fellowship of his people. Thus he sought to use the social influences of mankind in favour of purity and truth as a set off against the strong current of a corrupt worldly society. It is always dangerous to be cut off from these good influences. Emigrants and others who go to the colonies and to foreign countries should be on their guard against the peculiar dangers of their isolated situation. Many a young man has been ruined for life by going friendless to a distant country, and there falling a prey to the corruptions of bad company.

II. DIFFICULTIES IN THE APPLICATION OF THIS DUTY. The early Church, seeing idolatrous rites associated with almost every political and social engagement, withdrew very considerably from public life. The logical outcome of her conduct was monasticism. We have not her peculiar difficulties to contend with. Yet the mere thought of avoiding bad company might lead us to a similar course unless we weighed well other considerations of duty. Thus there are Christians who eschew all connection with national affairs because they hold that politics are closely wrapped up with worldly and wicked practices. But if the worst is true, it is rather our duty to seek to mend matters. Since we must have government, we should see that this is of the best possible character. If all the good people forsake it, they hand the government of the nation over to the wicked, and thereby tacitly sanction bad government. So if they put a ban on all amusement, they indirectly degrade every kind of amusement, and increase the temptation of the great mass of people, who naturally seek some sort of recreation, and will have the bad if they do not get the good. We must remember also that our Lord was accused of keeping the worst of company, and that he did this deliberately for the good of those with whom he bad intercourse. We are not to be Pharisees, proud separatists, but brothers of all men, who are our fellow sinners. The important point is the motive with which men enter bad company. If this be to discharge some duty, or to benefit those who are visited, it is pure, and may be expected to ward off harm. If it be done carelessly and for selfish pleasure, there is danger in it.

Proverbs 4:18

The path of the just.


1. It has all the great leading characteristics suggested by light, viz. truth, purity, joy, life. Perhaps the leading idea is that of holy gladness. This is to be enjoyed here on earth in those pleasant ways and paths of peace through which Wisdom leads her votaries. The Christian may be a martyr, but he need not be a victim of melancholy.

2. It is open to the day. They who do evil love the darkness that hides their deeds. "The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty." Goodness fears no exposure. Cato had no fear of his neighbours looking into his garden. Daniel could afford to let his habits be public.

3. It is bright with reflected Divine light. Here is the source of the brightness like that of the dawn that reflects the sun's beams. Christ shines on the soul, and it brightens under his love as the dark hills and darker valleys take on the colours of life before the rising sun.

4. It is always giving out light around it. It is a shining light, a glistening light; not mere colour, but radiance. The true Christian is a light of the world; it is his duty to let his light shine to the glory of God.

II. A GROWING LIGHT. We must not stumble at that word "just," as though it removed the whole subject to lofty regions far beyond all possible attainments of ours. The just man in the Old Testament, like the saint in the New Testament, is not necessarily a person of fully ripened perfection, but one whose course and aim and tendency are towards righteousness. Such a man will begin with many imperfections. His course, however, will be one of growing brightness. Unless there is growth there must be death. The stagnant Christian is the dead Christian, soon to become the corrupt Christian. It is for our encouragement that we may expect growth if we employ the right means. There is growth in personal piety. Every victory over sin is so much new light gained. There is growth in grace. The richest stores of God's grace are in the future. There is ever "more to follow," and the best wine is reserved for the last. There is growth in knowledge. The light of truth is a growing light. What we know not now we shall know hereafter. "Now we see as in a mirror darkly, but then face to face." There is growth in joy and peace. The best fruits of Christian blessedness take time to ripen. The young Christian is disappointed at finding them green and acid. Time must mellow them. Now, this growth is gradual like the dawn, so that the Christian is carried on from stage to stage. But the rate is not uniform. With some there is a long twilight. With others the day hastens on with tropical speed. tie who has most of Christ will find his dawn spread most rapidly.

III. A LIGHT THAT LEADS TO PERFECT DAY. All that we now see is but the dull, chill twilight. It may be a cheerful dawn, but it is not to be compared with the rich splendour of the noon. The Christian progress is not to cease till it reaches perfection. It is far from that as yet. With some of us but a few grey streaks have as yet broken out of the old sad night. But all Christians may have the same glad hope of the full and perfect day. Heaven will be the coincidence of ripened character with perfected blessedness. And this day has no afternoon. There are no lengthening shadows to sadden us with threats of the chill evening and the dread darkness, lot "there is no night there." A greater than Joshua arrests the sun at the meridian. Or rather there will be no need of the sun, because we shall be beyond this world of successive changes in the life eternal of that new Jerusalem, where it is ever day, because "the Lord God is the Light thereof."

Proverbs 4:19

The way of darkness

The way of sin is in all respects one of darkness. It is dark in its origin, dark in its course, and dark in its end.


1. Ignorance. Most criminals are deplorably ignorant. Vicious men are generally men whose mental cultivation has been neglected by others or by themselves. Ignorance of Divine truth leads the way to wickedness. The first preventative of evil is the religious teaching of children.

2. Inherited tendencies to evil. These awful consequences of a parent's sin are a dark heritage which heavily handicaps the child from the first.

3. Satanic influences. Temptations are all dark in their origin. Evil suggestions come up from the pit of darkness.

4. The lower nature. When a man gives way to sin he sacrifices his higher to his lower self. He sinks from the sunlit mountain heights of purity to gloomy depths of baser living.

II. THE WAY OF SIN PURSUES A DARK COURSE. It is a road that runs through sombre passes, like some of those Welsh paths far in the heart of the mountains, on which the sun never shines. This is worse than the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for in the fearful path of sin there is no guiding hand and no protecting staff. The darkness of this course is exhaled from the evil committed upon it.

1. Perverted conscience. Sin distorts a man's thoughts, blinds his eyes to the highest truth, raises a mist about the old landmarks of right and wrong, and plunges the soul into a stupor of moral indifference. From neglecting to follow the light of God, the sinner comes at last to be incapable of beholding it.

2. Spiritual desertion. God's Spirit will not always strive with the sons of men (Genesis 6:3). There comes a time when God leaves the self-abandoned soul to its own devices. Then, indeed, a darkness as of winter midnight sinks upon the lost being.

3. Corrupt conduct. Following the way of evil, the sinner continues to blacken it with the guilt of his own misdeeds. He plunges into the spiritual darkness of wicked living—the degradation, the loss of the joy and purity of heavenly light that sin always induces.

III. THE WAY OF SIN ISSUES IN A DARK END. The sinner cannot see his way upon it, and therefore he is sure to stumble. Bruised and confused, he may still persist in his sombre career. But he has no prospect of light beyond. There are no Beulah heights for him at the further end of the gloomy valley. His night of sin will be followed by no dawn of blessed light. He presses on only to deeper and yet deeper darkness. If he will not return there is nothing before him but the darkness of death. The one way of escape is backwards—to retrace his steps in humble penitence. Then, indeed, he may see the welcome light of his Father's home, and even earlier the Light of the world, the Saviour who has come out into the darkness to lead him back to God. For the sinner who persists in his evil course there can be no better prospect than that described by Byron in his poem on "Darkness"—

"The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropped
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expired before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air.
And the clouds perished; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—she was the Universe."

Proverbs 4:23

On guard

I. WHAT IS TO BE KEPT. The heart. In the Bible the "heart" represents what we call the "head" as well as the affections and conscience to which we confine the word "heart;" i.e. it stands for the whole inner nature, the life of thought, feeling, and will. This is the "Town of Mansoul," and it has the various constituents of a town.

1. Entrance gates. The soul is always receiving thoughts and impulses from without. It is important to see that no adulterated article, no poison, no subject of infectious disease comes in. Debased, false, and immoral impressions must be warded off.

2. Ways of exit. The broad river bears on her bosom argosies from the busy city to many a distant port. Let us see that the cargo is of good wares, in good measure, honestly realizing professions, containing no injurious things. Some hearts export only sham products, some deadly poisons. Deeds, words, even smiles and glances carrying thought and influences out of the soul must be carefully guarded.

3. Internal thoroughfares. The town is a network of streets and passages. Busy thoughts run to and fro in the heart. Let the traffic be orderly, the road well preserved, lest pure thoughts should be smirched with the mire of an unwholesome mental habit.

4. Storehouses. Memory has her treasuries, warehouses, granaries. Let us see that they are not crowded with rubbish, left in disorder, made fever nests by the corruption of any unhealthy contents. Nourishing truths and beautiful ideas should stock them.

5. Factories. In the heart we weave fine webs of fancy—see that the pattern has the beauty of holiness; there, too, we forge great engines for future work—see that they are constructed on safe and serviceable principles.

6. Halls of amusement. Let them be places of recreation, not of dissipation.

7. Shrines for worship. See that no idol takes the place of the true God, no hypocrisy does service for the incense of spiritual prayer and praise.

8. Graveyards of dead hopes and loves; keep them beautiful with flowers of tender memory. Are there also graves of dead sins? Plant weeping willows of penitence over them.


1. For its own sake. The heart is the centre of the life; the soul is the true being, the self. To care for the health of the body while the soul is diseased and dying in sin is like sending for the builder to repair the house, but leaving the sick inmate to perish without attention. "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul"—life, heart?

2. For its fruits. "Out of it are the issues of life." In proportion as the heart is vigorous or feeble, healthy or diseased, all the organs of the body work well or ill. Take care of the heart first, cultivate right principles, see that the affections are set on things above, and then the practice of the details of morals will follow almost as a matter of course. It is a mistake to put casuistry in the forefront of moral teaching. The result of doing so is to weaken conscience, to confuse the sense of right and wrong. Let the condition of the heart be the first concern; see that truth, justice, purity, charity, are enshrined there. Let the love of God and the love of man be well cultivated, and the spiritual directory will be greatly simplified. But it is not even enough to cultivate right principles. Deeper than these is the life. Below the particular actions come general principles; beneath these lie the character, the life, the heart of all. The fundamental requisite is not to do this or that deed, nor to cherish one or another principle, but to possess the life eternal in the heart, out of which pure blood will flow through main arteries of principles to the most remote and minute and intricate capillaries of conduct.


1. Pure. Let us see that the heart above all things is cleansed from sin and kept holy. We cannot do this for ourselves. But we can go to the fountain that is opened for uncleanness, and there wash and be clean. The blood of Christ, which cleanses from all sin, not only removes guilt, but purges out the corruption and power of evil. By faith in Christ and the indwelling of the Divine Spirit that is a consequence of faith, the heart can be cleansed and preserved in purity.

2. True. The Christian is to be a servant of God. Let him be loyal—frank, too, and ingenuous and simple.

3. Tender. One has well said that we want "tough skins and tender hearts." There is much in the world to harden them. Let us seek to have them soft to receive Divine influences and to feel human compassions. The heart must be kept, not as a prisoner under hard restraint, nor like the jewels at the Tower, in useless seclusion; but like a garden, well weeded, but also sown with good seed and bearing fruit and flowers. Keep the heart thus by watchfulness, by self-control (the New Testament "temperance"), by prayer, above all by entrusting it to the keeping of God. Feeling that "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked," knowing how powerful are the temptations of the world, we may well despair of keeping the heart pure and safe. God meets us in our helplessness, and offers to keep it for us if we will put our trust and love in him. "My son, give me thy heart."

Proverbs 4:25-27

Spiritual drilling

The whole man must be drilled into form and disciplined into orderly action, just as the whole armour of God is necessary for the protection of the soldier of Christ. It is not enough for safety to wear a helmet while the breast is exposed, nor to bare the head while the lees are covered; and it is not enough for service that part of our nature is trained to obedience. We must seek to have all in right order.

I. THE HEART. This must be guarded most sedulously, and before all else. We cannot have our actions right in the sight of God while the heart is perverted. The attempt to secure this only ends in hypocrisy. The first duty of the soldier is loyalty. The first duty of the Christian is fidelity. Nevertheless, though the fountain must be pure if the stream is to be pure, its purity will not secure the water against subsequent defilement. It is not enough to think of the state of the heart, we must also consider the course of our actions. A pseudo-spirituality ends in indifference to morals, and even in positive immorality. St. Paul did not think his work done when he had laid the foundation of the Christian character. He sought the "edification," the "building up," of it by detailed and earnest instruction in Christian morals.

II. THE LIPS. The first and most ready expression of the state of the heart is in our conversation. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Now, it is important to remember that we are responsible for our words. For "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). Words are deeds. They carry influence and linger in memories and are transmitted from one to another long after the speaker has forgotten them.

III. THE EYES. The eye is one of the chief gateways of knowledge. According to the objects on which we fix it, the class of our knowledge will be determined. It is the guide in our actions. Now, it is requisite that the Christian have:

1. A straight and "single" sight (see Matthew 6:22), looking only at the truth, with no stray glances at the innumerable deceptions of low self-interest.

2. A long sight, looking at the end of the race—the Celestial City, neither allured by the fascinations of Vanity Fair nor distracted by the horrors of the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

3. An upward gaze fixed on God and Christ rather than on worldly loss or gain.

IV. THE FEET. All the life leads on to the outgoings of activity. The ultimate question is—In what way are we going? Here the requisite is that the feet should go straight on. There are many ways of wrong, only one of right; hence the breadth of the former and the narrowness of the latter. We must especially avoid the error of falling into extremes. While shunning the track to the left let us see that we do not go off on that to the right. The path of duty is between these extremes. Yet the way to find it is not by seeking for a mean and so only accepting a compromise, but by aiming at the true and the right and pressing straight on to them irrespective of all conflicting influences.


Proverbs 4:1-13

The tradition of piety

The writer, here and in Proverbs 5:7 and Proverbs 7:24, addresses his audience as children, thinking of himself as a son, who had been the object of fatherly counsels and warnings in his youth. He would hand on the torch of wisdom, the tradition of piety, to the next generation.

I. PIETY SHOULD BE A FAMILY TRADITION. (Proverbs 7:1-3.) Handed down from father to son and grandson, or from mother to daughter and grandchild, from Lois to Eunice, till it dwells in Timothy also (2 Timothy 1:5). Tradition in every form is, perhaps, the strongest governing power over the minds of men in every department of life.

II. EARLY INSTRUCTION WILL BE RETAINED, RECALLED, AND REPRODUCED. As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined; or, as Horace says so beautifully, "The cask will long preserve the odour with which when fresh it was imbued" ('Ep.,' 1.2. 69). Every higher effort of the intellect rests on memory. Our later life is for the most part the reproduction in other forms of the deep impressions of childhood.

III. THE CONTENTS OF THIS TRADITION ARE SIMPLE, YET PROFOUND. (Proverbs 7:4-9.) They are summed up in "the one thing needful." In opposition to the cynical maxim, "Get money, honestly if you can, but by all means get money," or the refrain of "Property, property" (Tennyson's 'Northern Farmer'), the teacher rings the exhortation out, like an old chime, "Get wisdom, get understanding."


1. It is iterative. It may even seem to modern ears monotonous. But this form is peculiarly part of the habit of the stationary East. Thought is not so much expansive, travelling from a centre to a wide periphery; it swings, like a pendulum, between two extremes. Generally, for all, the best life wisdom must be these iterations, "Line upon line, precept upon precept" or stare super antiquas vias—a recurrence to well worn paths.

2. It has variety of expression with unbroken unity of thought.

(1) In reference to the object of pursuit. "Wisdom" is the leading word; but this is exchanged for "training" and "insight" (Proverbs 7:1); "doctrine" and "law" (Proverbs 7:2); "words" and "commandments" (Proverbs 7:4); the same word often recurs.

(2) In reference to the active effort of the mind itself. This is presented as "hearing" and "attending" (Proverbs 7:1); "not forsaking" (Proverbs 7:2); "holding fast in the heart," and "guarding" (Proverbs 7:4); "getting" and "not turning from" (Proverbs 7:5); "not forsaking" and "loving" (Proverbs 7:6); "holding her high" and "embracing her" (Proverbs 7:8); "receiving words" and "adhering to instruction" (Proverbs 7:10, Proverbs 7:13).

(3) In reference to the accompanying promise. "Thou shalt live" (Proverbs 7:4); "She shall guard thee;" "protect thee" (Proverbs 7:6); "exalt thee; bring thee to honour" (Proverbs 7:8); "give to thy head a chaplet of delight;" "hold out to thee a splendid crown" (Proverbs 7:9); "many years of life" (Proverbs 7:10); "Thy steps shall not be hindered" (Proverbs 7:12); "Thou shalt not stumble" (Proverbs 7:12); "She is thy life" (Proverbs 7:13).


1. It is simple, intelligible to all.

2. Of universal adaptation. Easily remembered by the young, impossible to forget in age.

3. It admits of infinite illustration from experience. It is a sketch or outline, given to the pupil; he fills it in and colours it as life progresses.—J.

Proverbs 4:14-19

The two paths

I. LIFE UNDER THE IMAGE OF A PATH. It is a leading biblical image. There is much suggestion in it.

1. Life, like a path, has a starting point, a direction, and an end.

2. We have a choice of paths before us. The high road may image holy tradition and custom, the bypaths the choice of caprice or personal aberration.

3. It is only safe to follow beaten tracks. What we call "striking out an original course" may be conceited folly. "Gangin' our ain gait" is a dubious expression.

4. The selection of the path must be determined by whither we desire to arrive.

5. We are ever drawing near to some end. It alone can disclose the prudence or the folly of our choice.

II. THE PATH OF THE WICKED. (Proverbs 4:14-17, Proverbs 4:19.)

1. Religion passionately warns against it. The language of iteration is the very language of urgency and passion. What a force there is in the mere repetition of the cry, "Fire! fire! fire!" or in the warning of the mother to the little one against some dangerous object, "Don't go near it; keep away; go further off!" Just so does Divine Wisdom deal with us children of a larger growth. Again and again she clamours, "Enter not; go not; shun it; pass not over; turn away; pass by!" (Proverbs 4:14, Proverbs 4:15). This throbbing earnestness, this emotion of the Bible, gives it its hold on man; and should be shared by every teacher.

2. Religion describes it in powerful invective (Proverbs 4:16, Proverbs 4:17).

(1) The sleepless malice of the wicked. A common figure for the intense activity of the mind. As David had a sleepless ambition to build a temple for Jehovah; as the trophies of Marathon suffered not the glory-loving Themistocles to sleep; as care, or glowing study, or eager planning, breaks our nightly rest;—so the evil have no repose from their dark cupidities and pernicious schemes.

(2) They are nourished by evil (Proverbs 4:17). To "eat bread and drink wine" is a Hebrew metaphor for living (Amos 2:8; Amos 7:12). In a similar way, the "bread of misery" and the "wine of punishment" are spoken of (Deuteronomy 16:3; Psalms 127:2; Amos 2:8). They live upon villainy, as we might say. It is the root of their being. It is horrible, but true, that a man may, as it were, draw life and energy out of a perverted consciousness, as the drunkard cannot live without the alcohol which is killing him.

III. THE PATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS. (Proverbs 4:18.) There is a change of figure; for the image of the path, the image of the advancing light of morning is substituted.

1. Light as an image of moral goodness. It is universal, Suggests itself to and strikes the fancy of all It associates with it the images of beauty, of joy, of expansion, of futurity, of infinity.

2. The growth of light from dawn to noon as an image of moral progress. This is true of knowledge and of practice. The good man travels out of dimmer perceptions and out of doubts, into clear convictions of reason. At first he realizes little; his will is weak and untrained. But keeping his eyes upon the ideal of the good, true, and beautiful, he embodies more and more of it in conduct. As the sun rests not (to speak and think in the dialect of poetry) till it "stands" (see the Hebrew) in high noon, so the righteous is ever advancing towards the goal of a life in perfect unity with God.

3. The safety of the light is an image of the course of the righteous. Translated into distinctively Christian thought, this is following Christ (John 11:9, John 11:10).

4. The image serves to throw into contrast the course of the wicked. "Thick darkness" represents their mind and way. It is ignorant, full of peril, yet they are unconscious of it. Instead of growth and progress, their doom is sudden extinction (comp. Proverbs 1:27, sqq.; Proverbs 2:18, Proverbs 2:22; Proverbs 3:35).—J.

Proverbs 4:20-22


The instinct of self-preservation is the very root of all our activity. "Every individual existence strives to remain what it is," and would defend its integrity from all attack.

I. THE INSTINCT IS RECOGNIZED. As it must be by all genuine teachers. It is a fact, and cannot be properly ignored; a Divine fact, and ought not to be obscured. It includes

(1) the desire to live, the sense of life's sweetness;

(2) the desire for health and happiness.

II. THE INSTINCT IS DIRECTED. It needs direction; for all instinct is in itself blind, and men, in seeking health and happiness, ignorantly and viciously purchase disease and death.

III. THERE IS NO SECRET OF SELF-PRESERVATION BUT (IN THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE SENSE) GODLINESS. This teaches the renunciation of the immediate for the further and lasting good. A paradox is here involved, a seeming contradiction containing a unity. To lose life is to gain it; to gain it, to lose it. For in true conduct there is ever a denial of the lower contained in the affirmation of the higher, and in evil conduct vice versa (compare on this section, Proverbs 3:2, Proverbs 3:8, Proverbs 3:13, Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:13).—J.

Proverbs 4:23-27

The heart and its issues

I. LIFE CENTRED IN THE HEART. (Proverbs 4:23.) Physically, we know this is so. It is a self-acting pump, a fountain of vital force. All the physical activities are derived from it. Spiritually, it is so. The connection of the heart with emotion is recognized in all languages. It is feeling in the widest sense that makes us what we are.

II. THE HEART MUST BE, THEREFORE, THE PECULIAR OBJECT OF OUR SOLICITUDE. (Proverbs 4:23.) The sentiments, to put it in another form, are the important elements in character. These lie so close to opinion, that we commonly say either "I feel" or "I think" in expressing our opinions. To instil right sentiments about the important points of behaviour, the relation of the sexes, business, honour, truth, loyalty, is the great work of moral education, and here lies its immense value as distinguished from the gymnastic of the intellect.

III. THE EXTERNAL ORGANS MUST AT THE SAME TIME BE DISCIPLINED. (Proverbs 4:24-27.) Education must not be one-sided. The heart supplies the organs and channels of activity; but these again react upon the heart. The impulses of feeling are in themselves formless; it is the definite organs which give to them peculiar shape and determination. Hence the organs themselves must be trained to receive true impressions and to give them back.

1. The mouth—the lips. They are to be corrected of every "crooked," false expression. What wonderful variety of expression is the mouth capable of—firmness, laxity, tenderness, scorn, love, irony, hate! In controlling the mouth we do something to control the heart. Its contents must be purified from falsehood, coarseness, foolish jesting, malicious gossip, all of which tell upon the central consciousness, and disturb and obscure it.

2. The eyes. (Proverbs 4:25.) They are to be trained to a direct and straightforward expression. The leer of lust, the oblique glance of cunning expressed on the faces of others, or the clear honest light beaming from the eyes of the pure and open-hearted, not only mirror the heart, but remind how the heart may be reached by the self-discipline of the eye.

3. The feet. (Proverbs 4:26.) In like manner, they are to be trained to a straightforward walk. Even in moments of relaxation 'tis well to have an object for a walk. The mind needs self-direction and discipline even in its pleasures; otherwise it becomes dissolute, and waywardly falls into evil through sheer laxity in the spring of wilt.

(1) Action and reaction, between the inward and the outward world, expression and impression, constitute a great law of our spiritual activity.

(2) Hence self-discipline and moral education should be founded on the recognition of it. We must work from the centre to the periphery, and back again from every point of the periphery to the centre of life.—J.


Proverbs 4:1-13

The solicitude of the wise father: a sermon to parents and children

In these verses we have a peep into the royal house at Jerusalem while David was on the throne. And we have such a glimpse as we should expect to gain. We see the devout man extremely solicitous that his son should walk in the ways of Divine and heavenly wisdom. David, like the rest of human parents, and more than most of them, was under—

I. A STRONG TEMPTATION TO MAKE A FALSE ESTIMATE. So near to us is this present passing world, so powerfully do its interests appeal to us, so strong is the hold which it gains over our senses and our imagination, that we are apt to overestimate altogether its claims and its worth. And this in proportion to the height of the dignity, the measure of the power, the extent of the fortune, to which we have attained. David, as a man subject to all human passions, would be particularly tempted to weigh the worldly advantages of his favourite son, and estimate them very carefully and very highly. He would be in danger of considering—not exclusively, but excessively—what would be the extent of his kingly rule, what the revenue he would be able to collect, what the influence he would wield over neighbouring powers, what the authority he would exercise over his own people, etc. And in the thick throng of these mundane considerations there would be no small risk of other and higher things being lost sight of. So with other if not with all parents. There is a constant danger of worldly anxieties about our children absorbing, or at any rate obscuring, the deeper and worthier solicitudes. But in the case of the devout; monarch of Israel there was, as there should be with us all—

II. A WISE DISCERNMENT. David was profoundly convinced that "wisdom is the principal thing" (Proverbs 4:7), that everything is of inferior value to that. He saw clearly and felt strongly that he must induce his son Solomon to walk in the fear of the Lord, or even his brilliant prospects would come to nothing. For he knew:

1. That the fear of God was the living principle most likely to lead to temporal prosperity: he had proved that in the elevation of his own "house" and the rejection of that of Saul.

2. That no possible successes of an earthly kind would compensate for the loss of character: his own hour of disastrous folly had shown him that (2 Samuel 11:27).

3. That no circumstantial misfortunes could fatally injure a man who was right at heart with God: his own experience had illustrated that truth (Psalms 41:12). We shall be wise if we come to the same conclusions. Like David, we shall see that the outward and the visible, though they may be far more attractive and voiceful, are yet of far inferior account to the inward and the spiritual. We shall care immeasurably more for our children that they shall be wise in soul than prosperous in estate, "all glorious within" than magnificent without; we shall be tar more solicitous to see them "getting wisdom" (Proverbs 4:5) than "making money," "retaining the words" of truth (Proverbs 4:4) than gaining or keeping possession of lands and houses.

III. THE WAY OF WISDOM TOWARD THE YOUNG. If we, as parents, would walk wisely, so that we may attain our heart's desire concerning the children of our love and of our charge, we shall act as David did—we shall commend the truth God has taught us

(1) with all affectionateness of manner (Proverbs 4:3);

(2) with all earnestness of spirit (Proverbs 4:4, Proverbs 4:10, Proverbs 4:11);

(3) with all fulness of exposition.

There is a strain of parental tenderness of tone and energy of manner, as well as great fulness of utterance here. The same thought is presented, is repeated, is pressed on the reason and the conscience. David evidently yearned, strove, persisted with patient and resolute zeal, that he might convince and inspire his son with the sacred truths he held so dear.
He represented heavenly wisdom, the truth of God, as

(1) the thing of surpassing intrinsic excellency (Proverbs 4:7);

(2) a thing to be pursued in preference to other fascinations (Proverbs 4:5-7);

(3) a thing to be cherished and held to the heart (Proverbs 4:6);

(4) a thing to be highly honoured before men (Proverbs 4:8);

(5) a thing to be retained at all costs (Proverbs 4:13);

(6) a friend that would repay all attentions—that would guard and shield from evil (Proverbs 4:6, Proverbs 4:12), that would lead to honour and esteem (Proverbs 4:8, Proverbs 4:9), that would prolong life (Proverbs 4:10), that would lead in that way which is the path of life itself (Proverbs 4:13).

1. To parents, the lesson of the text is

(1) discern the one supremely precious thing to be commended to the heart of youth; and

(2) commend it graciously, earnestly, fully.

2. To sons and daughters, it is

(1) remember all the sacred solicitude that has been expended on you; and

(2) fulfil the desire of your parents' hearts. "My son, know the God of your father" (see Proverbs 4:1); this is "good doctrine" (Proverbs 4:2); it is "your life" (Proverbs 4:13).—C.

Proverbs 4:14-17, Proverbs 4:19

The prudence of piety

We may say concerning piety or virtue—the wisdom which is from God includes both—that the essence of it is in right feeling, in loving him who is the Holy One and that which is the right and admirable thing, and in hating that which is evil and base; that the proof of it is in right acting—in going those things and those only which are good and honourable, which God's Word and our own conscience approve; and that the prudence of it is in these two things which are implied in our text.

I. CHERISHING A WHOLESOME HORROR OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN. There is an insensibility and an ignorance which passes for courage, and gets a credit which is not its due. Those who do not take the trouble to know what the issues of any line of conduct are, and who go fearlessly forward, are not brave; they are only blind. We ought to know all we can learn of the consequences of our behaviour, of the end in which the path we are treading terminates. The prudent man wilt see and shrink from the consequences of evil; and if he open his eyes or consult those who can tell him, he will find that they are simply disastrous.

1. For sin is mischievous in its spirit; it gloats over the ruin which it works; it finds a horrible delight in doing harm to human souls (Proverbs 4:16, Proverbs 4:17).

2. And it succeeds in its shameful design. It does "mischief;" it makes men "to fall." It causes spiritual decline, decay, corruption—the worst of all mischief; it leads purity, sobriety, honesty, truthfulness, reverence, love, to fall down into the ruinous depths of lasciviousness, intemperance, dishonesty, falsehood, profanity, hard-heartedness.

3. It leads down to a darkness and a death of which it did not dream (Proverbs 4:19). It sinks into that awful soul-blindness in which the "eye is evil," in which the very "light is darkness" (Matthew 6:23), in which the moral judgment, all perverted, leads astray. "The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble." Their powers of moral distinction are gone; they are "altogether gone astray." Piety, virtue, may well in godly prudence shrink with wholesome horror from this.

II. CAREFUL AVOIDANCE OF THE WAY OF THE WICKED, and so of the path of temptation.

1. True it is that we must be often found in perilous places at the call of daily duty.

2. True that at the invitation of mercy we shall sometimes be found there.

3. But it is also true that the wise will not needlessly expose themselves to the assaults of sin. They will refrain from so doing both because

(1) we are not sure of the measure of our own strength; there may be some very weak places in our armour, ill-fortified parts in our character; most men are weaker than they know, somewhere. And also because

(2) we do not know the full strength of temptation. Full often sin proves to have an unimagined force, an unsuspected skill. The full strength of the allurements and enticements of evil perhaps no man knows. The number of the slain that lie on the spiritual battlefield tells with a mournful eloquence that thousands of the children of men have overestimated their own resisting power, or underestimated the insidiousness, or the fascination, or the force of the foe. Therefore, if duty does not demand it, nor mercy plead for it, shun the dangerous path, "enter not into the way of it … avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away" (Proverbs 4:14, Proverbs 4:15) Let it be considered that this is a Divine injunction; therefore let there be no hesitation about obeying. There is nothing unmanly or ignoble in prudence. It is not a virtue to be anywise ashamed of. There is ample scope for the utmost heroism of spirit and of life without exposing our young hearts to evils the very nature of which we may not know, the force of which we cannot measure, and from the consequences of which we might never be able to escape.—C.

Proverbs 4:18, Proverbs 4:19

Darkness and light

We have two perfect contrasts in these two verses—the path of the just and the way of the wicked; the one is very closely connected with light and the other with darkness.

I. SIN AND DARKNESS. (Proverbs 4:19.) We may say that:

1. Sin is darkness. It is

(1) the ignorance of the mind; it is

(2) the error of the heart—it is the soul's supreme mistake, misreading, misunderstanding every one and everything from the highest to the lowest.

2. Sin spreads darkness

(1) over the soul of the sinner himself, blinding his eyes, distorting his vision, confusing his perceptions;

(2) over the souls of others, leading them into the darkness of folly, superstition, wrong doing.

3. Sin leads to the ruin which attends darkness; it ends in making the sinner blind to the true character of his own transgressions: "They know not at what they stumble;" blind, also, to the final issue of his guilt: they know not into what they stumble—into what a "blackness of darkness."

II. WISDOM AND LIGHT. (Proverbs 4:18.) By "the just" in this verse we understand not particularly the man who is equitable in his dealings with his fellows, but the good and wise man—the man who, in the fear of God, seeks to act with rectitude in all his relations. This man is closely associated with the light.

1. Knowledge is light, and heavenly wisdom is the truest and best knowledge—that of God, and of the human soul, and of the path of eternal life.

2. That which reveals is light, and heavenly wisdom is the best and most beneficent revealing power. The wise, the "just" man is "making manifest" (see Ephesians 5:13) the highest, the most far-reaching, deep-descending truths. He does this

(1) by his direct endeavour to instruct;

(2) unconsciously, by the influence of his life. "The life is the light of men" in our case as in his who was "the Life made manifest."

3. The light of the just man grows ever stronger and more illuminating: it "shineth more and more unto the perfect day." With added opportunities of inquiry and acquisition, with multiplied privileges, with more of Divine discipline, with increase of power resulting from the exercise of spiritual faculty, there is

(1) growing light within, burning more steadily and lustrously; and

(2) advancing influence for good which flows forth in wider, deeper, and larger streams.—C.

Proverbs 4:20-27

The course of wisdom

In these verses we may trace the course of wisdom from the beginning to its full development. We have—

I. ITS BEGINNING IS THE SOUL. (Proverbs 4:20.) It commences in attention. When a man "inclines his ear unto the sayings of Wisdom," when he eagerly listens to what God says to him, when he is a disciple sitting at the feet of the great Teacher, he has taken an important step in the heavenward course. The "grace of God" is upon him (Acts 13:43).

II. ITS ESTABLISHMENT IN THE SOUL. (Proverbs 4:21, latter clause.) When the counsels of the Wise One are once fairly and fully welcomed to the soul, so that they may be said to be "in the midst of thine heart," then it may be said that the decisive point is turned. When there is the "cherishing of a cordial attachment;" when we say, "How love I thy Law!" when our heart is given to the truth of God because given to him, the gracious Lord of truth;—then wisdom is established within our soul.

III. THE NEED FOR HOLY VIGILANCE CONCERNING ITS MAINTENANCE. (Proverbs 4:23; see homily infra. Proverbs 4:26, first clause.)

IV. ONE OF ITS MANIFESTATIONS. (Proverbs 4:24.) It will show itself in clean lips; it will put far away the froward and perverse mouth. Its utterances will be pure, temperate, reverent. The child of folly is detected by his foolish, vain, culpable expressions. His "speech bewrayeth him." "By his words he is condemned." The son of wisdom is known by his blamelessness in this particular; by his words he is justified (Matthew 12:36, Matthew 12:37; Ephesians 4:29; James 1:26).

V. RESOLUTENESS IN THE RIGHT PATH. (Proverbs 4:27.) There must be no "turning again to folly" (Psalms 85:8); no turning to the right or left into either main highways of vice and open sin, or any byways of error and ill-doing. Even the pleasant path that seems to skirt the King's highway so closely that at any time we may return thereto, is a danger to be avoided. The road that leads off from that highway of holiness by ever so small an angle is a road that finds its way at last to a "City of Destruction." The best preservative from the perilous wandering is here indicated; it is—

VI. STEADFAST GAZE UPON THE GOAL. (Proverbs 4:25.) Look right on to the goal in front; be so intent on reaching that, and on attaining to the prize which awaits the winner, that there will be no temptation to depart from the straight course. We keep a straighter path by fixing our eye on the object toward which we walk than by watching the steps we take; how much more so than by looking about us on every hand! Our heavenly wisdom is to be looking "right on," "straight before us," unto Jesus, the Leader and Perfecter of the faith (Hebrews 12:2).

VII. ITS ISSUE. It issues in life and health (Proverbs 4:22, Proverbs 4:23). Long life was promised to the wise and holy under the old dispensation; now we look confidently forward, as the issue of heavenly wisdom, to

(1) a blessed life below, of spiritual wholeness, and

(2) everlasting life beyond, where the inhabitants are never sick (Isaiah 33:24).—C.

Proverbs 4:23

Man's chief treasure

"Keep thy heart above all keeping" (marginal reading). Evidently there is a precious treasure which, as the disciples of Wisdom, we are charged to keep. We ask—


1. That which belongs to us, but which is entirely without us—our money, our houses, our lands, our shares, our ships, our precious documents, our "valuables."

2. That which is more closely related to us, but is still outside ourselves—our bodily frame, the tabernacle of our spirit, and, with this, our physical health and strength; the clear eye, the healthy brain, the strong nerve.

3. Our own very selves—that spiritual nature in virtue of which we are said to be "created in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27). These are the treasures we may "keep."

II. WHICH IS THE ONE OF SUPREME VALUE, AND WHY? "Keep thy heart above all keeping." That which is nearest ourselves must be of more value to us than that which is further from us. To keep our temporal estate is to preserve that which is precious, but which is not ourselves. To maintain our health is most desirable, but our body is only our temporary home and organ; it is something we can lose and yet ourselves be. But our heart, that is our own very self. God made us, not to have, but to be, living souls: that in us, that of us which thinks, loves, hopes, worships, rejoices in the spiritual and the Divine, that is ourself, and to keep that must be the supreme duty; that is to be kept beyond all keeping. But the wise man says there is a special reason why we should keep our heart beyond all keeping; he says, "for out of it are the issues of life." In other words, a well guarded heart is the spring and source of all that is best in human life.

1. The holy thoughts and pure feelings and kind purposes which flow therefrom are, in themselves, a large part and the very best part of human life.

2. A well guarded heart will prove the source of a well regulated life—of a life of honesty, virtue, peaceableness, sobriety; and these will ensure prosperity, esteem, joy.

3. A well regulated heart will conduct to the life immortal in the heavenly land: this is the most blessed "issue" of all. With whatsoever anxiety, vigilance, diligence, we guard our temporal interests, or even our health and our mortal life, with far greater anxiety, far more eager vigilance, far more unremitting diligence, should we guard our heart—its purity, its tenderness, its devotion.

III. WHAT ARE OUR FORCES OF DEFENCE? Wherewith shall we keep these hearts of ours? What are the forces at our command? They are these.

1. The power of introspection. We can interrogate and examine our own souls, and see how we stand, what need there is for penitence and for renewal.

2. The power of self-regulation. We can acquire healthful habits, pass regulative resolutions which will

(1) keep us away from temptation, and

(2) take us where our souls will be nourished and strengthened in things Divine.

3. The power of the Divine Spirit. We can ask and gain the "might [which comes from] his Spirit in the inner man."—C.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/proverbs-4.html. 1897.
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