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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary
Proverbs 4

 

 

Verse 1

Proverbs 4:1 Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.

Ver. 1. Hear, ye children.] Audite senem, iuvenes, quem iuvenem senes audierunt: Hear me, now an old man, O ye youths, whom old men once gladly heard, when I was but a youth. With this speech Augustus pacified his mutinous army: -

Aspice, vultus

Ecce meos, utinamque oculos in pectore posses

Inserere, et patrias intus deprendere curas.” {a}

“Behold my looks; and oh that thou couldst see

Mine anxious thoughts and careful heart for thee!”


Verse 2

Proverbs 4:2 For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law.

Ver. 2. For I give you good doctrine.] The common cry is, "Who will show us any good?" and every man will lend both ears to a good bargain. The doctrine here delivered is good every way, whether you look to the author, matter, or effect of it, and is therefore worthy of all men to be received, as the Hebrew word (a) here used for doctrine importeth. The Vulgate renders it, Donum bonurn tribuam vobis: I will give you a good gift, even that good part that shall never be taken from you.


Verse 3

Proverbs 4:3 For I was my father’s son, tender and only [beloved] in the sight of my mother.

Ver. 3. For I was my father’s son,] q.d., I that am now so famous for wisdom, was once as wise as a wild ass’s colt. But I had the happiness to be taught and tutored by the best and wisest man in his generation, and therefore you should the rather regard my doctrine. Plato praised God that he was pupil to Socrates, Bucholcerus that he was bred under Melanchthon, Mr Whately under Mr Dod’s ministry, and I under Mr Ballam’s, at Evesham. Holy David was far beyond any of these, as being divinely inspired, and rarely qualified. Such a heart so well headed, and such a head better hearted, was not to be found among the sons of men, for he was "a man after God’s own heart." His counsel to his son therefore must needs be very precious and ponderous. See some of it, for a taste, in 1 Chronicles 28:9-10.

Tender and only beloved.] Filius a φιλος. The Greeks commonly called their children φιλτατα, the Latin chari, darlings, as he in Plautus, Domi domitus fui usque cum charis meis. (a) I was hardly handled at home, together with my dear children.

In the sight of my mother.] Who had other children; [1 Chronicles 3:5] but Solomon she loved best, because he had most grace. And as a special fruit of her love, she gave him excellent counsel in her "Lemuel’s lesson." [Proverbs 31:1-31] His fall was therefore the more blameworthy, because he had been so piously educated.


Verse 4

Proverbs 4:4 He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.

Ver. 4. He taught me also.] As Cato taught his own children, and took it for no disgrace, though so great a man. "Nurture" is as necessary for children as nourishment, [Ephesians 6:4] which they that neglect to bestow upon them. are peremptores potius quam parentes - not parents, but parricides. One cause of Julian’s apostasy was his two heathenish tutors, Libanius and Jamblicus, from whom he drank in great profaneness. Doubtless David had Nathan the prophet, and the best he could get, to breed up his son in the best things, but yet so as himself had a main stroke in the business.

And said unto me.] Jacobus Valentinus, (a) and some others, grounded an opinion from these words, that Solomon received this whole book of Proverbs following from his father David; but that is no way likely. The substance of his father’s doctrine he briefly sets forth in this and the five following verses, and then proceeds in his own words.

Retain my words.] As the good stomach doth food; as the good earth doth seed; that is, bene occatum, et occultatum, saith one.


Verse 5

Proverbs 4:5 Get wisdom, get understanding: forget [it] not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.

Ver. 5. Get wisdom, get understanding.] Compara sapientiam, compara intelligentiam - so Chrysostom. Comparate saeculares, comparate vobis biblia, animae pharmaca. Get you Bibles by all means, whatever they cost you. You may better want bread, light, &c., than the knowledge of the Scriptures. Augustine makes mention of some that neglected the means of knowledge, because knowledge puffeth up; and so would be ignorant, that they might be humble, and want knowledge, that they might want pride. This was to do as that foolish philosopher that plucked out his eyes to avoid the danger of uncleanness; or as the silly friar, to whom Sir Thomas Moore wrote thus, -

Tu bene cavisti ne te ulla occidere possit

Litera: Nam nota est litera nulla tibi. ”

But men must get knowledge, and lest it puff them up, swelling them beyond measure, they must get humility laid on as a weight to keep them down.

Forget it not.] For so much a man learns as he remembers. The promise also of salvation is limited to the condition of "keeping in memory what we have received." {1 Corinthians 15:2}


Verse 6

Proverbs 4:6 Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.

Ver. 6. Forsake her not, &c.] Wisdom is her own reward. If she forsake us, it is because the desertion is first on our part. But she cannot but be "justified of her own true children." [Matthew 11:19] Falling stars were never but meteors; temporaries were never Christians indeed. What wonder though some hold falling from grace, since they mistake common grace for true grace? Hence Bellarmine saith, That which is true grace, veritate essentiae, only may be lost, not that that is true veritate firmae soliditatis: which latter being rightly understood, may be called special, as the other common grace.

Love her, and she shall keep thee,] viz., From recidivation and utter apostasy, caused by the overflow of iniquity. [Matthew 24:12 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11] This to prevent, let knowledge and affection, like two individual twins, grow up together, and mutually transfuse spiritual vigour into each other.


Verse 7

Proverbs 4:7 Wisdom [is] the principal thing; [therefore] get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

Ver. 7. Wisdom is the principal thing.] Say the world what it will, a drachma of this wisdom is worth a pound of wit. Let others censure with the scribes, let me wonder with the multitude. And for wealth he is rich, not that hath the world, but that can contemn it. As for honour, virtue is a thousand escutcheons. And that is the true nobility, whereof God is the top of the kin, religion the root. For without this, well may a man be notable or notorious, but truly noble he can never be. (a) Lastly, for learning, the Greeks express learned and good by one word, (b) as if they were not learned that are not good; and the Scripture calls a wicked man generally a fool.

With all thy getting get.] With any pains; for any price. This gold cannot be bought too dear. Make religion thy business, other things do by the by; as Aristotle studied philosophy in the morning, that was his εργον; but eloquence in the afternoon, that was his παρεργον. Or as Caesar, swimming through the waters to escape his enemies, carried his books in his hand above the waters, but lost his robe. (c)


Verse 8

Proverbs 4:8 Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her.

Ver. 8. Exalt her, and she shall.] Have a high and honourable esteem of her and her children. Rabbi Solomon, out of the Talmudists, renders it, Search for her, minutatim in ea singula consectans, do it diligently, as holding every parcel of her precious, as men do the very filings of gold.


Verse 9

Proverbs 4:9 She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.

Ver. 9. A crown of glory.] The psalmist shows by prophesying [Psalms 138:4-5; Psalms 119:72] that even kings, coming to taste the excellence of the comforts of godliness, and to feel the power of God’s word, should sing for joy of heart, and greatly acknowledge the excelling glory of God and godliness.


Verse 10

Proverbs 4:10 Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many.

Ver. 10. Hear, O my son, and receive.] How slippery an age youth is, and how easily it slips into sinful courses and companies the wise man well knew; and therefore ceaseth not to inculcate and repeat the same thing over and over. Liquidae sunt puerorum memoriae.


Verse 11

Proverbs 4:11 I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths.

Ver. 11. I have led thee in right paths.] Impli ambulant in circuitu, The wicked walk the round. So doth the devil, that great peripatetic. [Job 1:6-12] "How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter?" [Jeremiah 31:22] "How long wilt thou run retrograde, or turn aside unto crooked ways?" [Psalms 125:5] "The ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous shall walk in them; but the transgressors shall fall therein." [Hosea 14:9]


Verse 12

Proverbs 4:12 When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.

Ver. 12. And when thou runnest.] Having a good mixture of zeal and knowledge; so that thy zeal doth quicken thy knowledge, and thy knowledge guide thy zeal. For that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; "And he that (so) hasteth with his feet (being indiscreetly zealous) sinneth." [Proverbs 19:2]

Thou shalt not stumble.] Or if thou do, thou shalt recover thy stumbling, and so get ground. But say thou do so stumble as to fall; in falling forwards is nothing so much danger as backward. So he that is earnest in good, though he may carry some things indiscreetly, yet is far better than an apostate.


Verse 13

Proverbs 4:13 Take fast hold of instruction; let [her] not go: keep her; for she [is] thy life.

Ver. 13. Take fast hold of instruction.] Nam magnum certamen sustines adversus haereticae et epicureos, saith a Jewish doctor upon this text: Heretics and epicures will seek to wring it from thee, by wrench and wile. Therefore "hold fast the faithful word, as thou hast been taught." [Titus 1:9] Hold it as with tooth and nail against those gainsayers that would snatch it from thee. For "there are many unruly and vain talkers," and so there are many loose and lewd walkers too, that would bereave thee of the benefit of what thou hast learned; but "hold fast that which is good." Let it not go, Ne languescas; surcease not, slake not, give not over striving against sin and sinners.


Verse 14

Proverbs 4:14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil [men].

Ver. 14. Enter not into the path of the wicked.] Qui male vivunt, et peius credunt, saith one, which live ill, and believe worse. Qui aequo animo malis immiscetur, malus est, saith another. (a) He that is well content to keep company with those that are naught, is himself naught. The river Dee, in Merionethshire, running through Pimblemeer, remains entire, and mingles not her streams with the waters of the lake. See 1 Corinthians 5:9-11.

And go not in the way.] Ne tibi placeat via malorum; so the Vulgate. Think not thyself happy in their company, applaud not their way. Verbum eundi significationem felicitatis habet in multis linguis. (b) The Hebrew word to go signifies also to be happy; and Solomon haply here would take it in both senses.


Verse 15

Proverbs 4:15 Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.

Ver. 15. Avoid it, pass not by it.] As ye would not come near a carrion carcass; as the seaman shuns sands and shelves (the apostle’s simile, 2 Thessalonians 3:6); as ye would be loath to come near those that have the plague sore running upon them. Evil men endanger good men, as weeds the grain, as bad humours the blood, or as an infected house the neighbourhood. Nemo errat sibi ipsi, sed dementiara spargit in proximos, (a) Entireness with wicked consorts is one of the strongest chains of hell, and binds us to a participation both of sin and punishment. Hence so many words about it here: Abundans cautela, &c. This heap of words is not without great use and emphasis; there is earnestness, and not looseness in this repetition.


Verse 16

Proverbs 4:16 For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause [some] to fall.

Ver. 16. For they sleep not.] So much are they set upon it. Or as empty stomachs can hardly sleep, so neither can graceless persons rest till gorged and glutted with the sweetmeats of sin, with the murdering morsels of mischief. The devil, their taskmaster, will not allow them time to sleep; which is very hard bondage. "They have eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease to sin." [2 Peter 2:14]

Unless they cause some to fall.] Protagoras, as Plato relates, boasted of this, that whereas he had lived threescore years, forty of them he had spent in corrupting of young men that conversed with him.


Verse 17

Proverbs 4:17 For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.

Ver. 17. For they eat the bread of wickedness.] As Tartarians feed upon dead carcasses of horses, asses, cats, dogs, yea, when they stink, and are full of maggots, and hold them as dainty as we do venison. (a) As spiders feed upon aconite; (b) as Mithridates, and the maid in Pliny, upon spiders; or as the Turkish galley slaves upon opium - they will eat near an ounce at a time, as if it were bread (the tithe whereof would kill him that is not accustomed to it), and can neither sleep nor live without it.


Verse 18

Proverbs 4:18 But the path of the just [is] as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.

Ver. 18. But the path of the just is as the shining light.] He sets forth betime in the morning, and travels to meet the day. He proceeds from virtue to virtue, till at length he shine as the sun in his strength. [Matthew 13:43]


Verse 19

Proverbs 4:19 The way of the wicked [is] as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.

Ver. 19. Is as darkness.] That little light they had by nature they imprison, {κατεχοντωυ, Romans 1:18} and are justly deprived of. And as for those sparkles of the light of joy and comfort that hypocrites have, it is but as a flash of lightning which is followed with a thunder clap, or like the light smitten out of the flint; (1.) they cannot warm themselves by it, nor see to direct their ways; (2.) it will quickly go out; (3.) and after that they must "lie down in sorrow." [Isaiah 50:11]

They know not at what they stumble.] They stumble sometimes at Christ himself, and at his word, "being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed." [1 Peter 2:8] A shrewd sign of reprobation. The Vulgate renders it, Ne sciunt ubi corruant. They know not how soon they may drop into hell, which even gapes for them. [Isaiah 14:9]


Verse 20

Proverbs 4:20 My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.

Ver. 20. My son, attend to my words.] Still he calls for attention, as knowing our dulness and fickle headedness. It fared with the prophet Zechariah as with a drowsy person, who, though awaked and set to work, is ready to sleep at it. [Zechariah 4:1] It fares with many of us as with little children, who, though saying their lessons, yet must needs look off to see the feather that flies by them.


Verse 21

Proverbs 4:21 Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart.

Ver. 21. Let them not depart.] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 3:21"}

In the midst of thy heart.] As in a safe repository, a ready repertory.


Verse 22

Proverbs 4:22 For they [are] life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.

Ver. 22. For they are life.] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 3:22"} {See Trapp on "Proverbs 3:16"}

And health unto all their flesh] Sin is the cause of sickness. [1 Corinthians 11:20] "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." [John 5:14] But "the joy of the Lord is a man’s strength"; [Nehemiah 8:10] and such "a merry heart doeth good, like a medicine." [Proverbs 17:22] As sin is a universal sickness, [Isaiah 1:5-6] like those diseases wherein physicians say are corruptio totius substantiae, a corruption of the whole substance, as the heretic, &c.; so grace is a Catholicon, a general cure, like the herb Panace, whdch is said to be good for all diseases; whence also, saith Pliny, it hath its name. (a)


Verse 23

Proverbs 4:23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life.

Ver. 23. Keep thy heart.] Filth free, as much as may be; keep a constant counterguard against all inroads made by flesh, world, and devil. Keep the heart always supple and soluble, for else thou canst not be long in spiritual health. Quod sanitas in corpore, id sanctitas in corde. Keep it ever well in tune, and then all shall go well. If in a viol I find the treble string in tune, I make no question of the bass; that goes not out so easily. So here.

For out of it are the issues of life.] That is, as of natural, so of spiritual actions, Hinc fons boni et peccandi origo, saith Jerome. It is the fountain; [Matthew 15:19] the root; [Matthew 7:17-18] the treasury or storehouse; [Luke 6:49] the primum mobile; the great wheel; the Pharos that commands the haven; the chief monarch in this Isle of Man that gives laws to all the members. [Romans 7:1-25] Keep it therefore with all custody, or with all caution; or if the devil cast poison into it (as he will), cleanse it after. It is in vain to purge the stream, where the spring is defiled; but if the spring be clear, the streaans will soon clear themselves.


Verse 24

Proverbs 4:24 Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.

Ver. 24. Put away from thee a froward mouth.] To the keeping of the heart, a careful watching over the mouth, eyes, feet, &c., doth much conduce. For these outward parts abused, as they receive defilement from the heart, so they reflect defilement also upon it. They stain the soul, and dispose it to further evil. Christ had a pure heart; therefore his eyes were not bewitched, nor his ears enchanted, "neither was there any guile found in his mouth."

And perverse lips put far from thee.] Because it is a duty of no small difficulty, [James 3:2-12] therefore he redoubleth his exhortation. "The words of the wise are as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies." [Ecclesiastes 12:11]


Verse 25

Proverbs 4:25 Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.

Ver. 25. Let thine eyes look right on.] E regione, vel in rectum. Let them be fixed upon right objects. Get that stoic eye of our Saviour; get a patriarch’s eye; be well skilled in Moses’s optics; [Hebrews 11:27] have oculum in metam, which was Ludovicus Vives’s motto. Do as mariners that have their eye on the star, their hand on the stern. A man may not look intently upon that which he may not love. The disciples were set agog by beholding the beauty of the temple. [Matthew 24:2] If therefore thine eye offend thee, or cause thee to offend, pull it out of the old Adam, and set it in the new man. If thou use it not well, thou wilt wish that thou hadst pulled it out indeed, as Democritus did.


Verse 26

Proverbs 4:26 Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.

Ver. 26. Ponder the path of thy feet.] Viz., By the weights of the word. Look to thine affections, for by these maids Satan woes the mistress. Take heed where you set gunpowder, since fire is in your hearts. Augustine thanks God that his heart and the temptation did not meet together. Walk accurately, tread right, ακριβως ορθοποδειν; [Galatians 2:14] step warily; lift not up one foot till you find firm footing for another, as those in Psalms 35:6. The way of this world is like the vale of Siddim, slimy and slippery: Cavete. Beware, We have an Eve, a tempter (each one) within us, our own flesh, saith Bernard. And Nemo sibi de suo palpet: quisque sibi Satan est, saith another father. We have enough to watch for our halting; the devil also casts his club at us that we "may stumble and fall, and be broken, and snared, and taken." [Isaiah 8:15]


Verse 27

Proverbs 4:27 Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.

Ver. 27. Turn not to the right.] Keep the king’s highway; keep within God’s precincts, and ye keep under his protection. The heathen orator (a) could say, A recta conscientia ne latum quidem unguem discedendum; A man may not depart a hair’s breadth all his life long from the dictates of a good conscience.

Remove thy foot from evil.] Bestir thee no otherwise than if thou hadst trod upon a snake. "Abhor that which is evil"; [Romans 12:9] "abstain from all appearance," all shows and shadows of it. [1 Thessalonians 5:22] Run from the occasions of it; "come not near the doors of her house." [Proverbs 5:8]

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Proverbs 4:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/proverbs-4.html. 1865-1868.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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