Chapter 4: Commentary

Chapter 4 (Lady Wisdom; see 1:20)


4:1 Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.

4:2 I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching.

     Here Solomon addresses not "my son," but "my sons." While I understand this was a common technique of ancient wisdom literature, I still like to think of it in terms of his biological sons - guy talk. Of course, Solomon had a number of wives and numerous sons - all of which eventually got him in big trouble (1 Kings 11:1-15)!
      Here he tells his sons to listen carefully to what he is saying. Solomon is saying words all young guys hate to hear - listen to what I am telling you to do, it is for your own good! I wonder if they just rolled their eyes at each other as he was talking.
      But Proverbs is all about the wisdom to see life from God's point of view. If we are ready, even today, there are people in our lives who can offer us some instruction that will change our lives - and blessed is the person who can receive it.

4:3 When I was a boy in my father's house, still tender, and an only child of my mother,

4:4 He taught me and said, "Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.

4:5 Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.

4:6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.

4:7 Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

4:8 Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.

4:9 She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor."

     The initial collection of Solomon's proverbs (chapters 1-9) is a particular group. Instead of being individual verses of wise sayings, they are short groupings which make up a complete message – in this section 4:1-9). Here Solomon addresses not "my son", but "my sons." While I understand that was a common technique of wisdom literature, I do like to think about it in terms of his biological sons – guy talk. Of course Solomon had a number of wives and numerous sons – and all that was what was eventually got him in big trouble; 1 Kings 11:1-15). He tells his sons to listen carefully to what he is saying. He tells them the same things his father, King David, told him (:4-9).
      The focus of his this lesson is to go after wisdom with all your power and ability. Here the father talks to his "sons" about wisdom as a good woman. Treat "lady wisdom" like you would treat a good woman – do not forsake, love her (:7); esteem her, embrace her (:8) – and she will absolutely take good care of you. She will protect and watch over you (:6); exalt and honor you (:8); provide you a garland of grace and a crown of splendor (:9).
      Wisdom (seeing life from God's point of view) is the key character quality in Proverbs and is generally pictured in the feminine. If the book was written from a mother to a daughter, she might have talked about wisdom as a good man. But, to keep the focus on wisdom's spiritual character quality, I suggest to guys in class that they think of "lady wisdom" as a kindly, generous, old grandmother - keeping the focus spiritual and not sexual! Seeing life from God's point of view is life changing and wisdom is available to anyone who is interested. receive it.

4:3 When I was a boy in my father's house, still tender, and an only child of my mother,

4:4 He taught me and said, "Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.

     Solomon tells to his sons (:1) to listen to what he had to say to them - because he's offering good advice and because it will help them in their lives (:1-2). In our verses he also tells them about the things his father, David, told him growing up (:3).
      Solomon said his father told him, "Lay hold of my words...keep my commands." A good dad should have meaningful and valuable things to say to his kids...and we would do well to listen.
      What David told Solomon was that he needed to do this "with all your heart." What he offered was important advice and should be conscientiously applied in our lives.
      David added that paying attention to what he said "you will live." Taking advantage of good advice might just keep us alive. It can certainly help us live better.
      But...I know a guy in recovery who had a 12-Step home group and a 12-Step sponsor in addition to a home church and a spiritual mentor. He also was in counseling with a mental health professional -- and all these folks were great sources of proper guidance.
      Yet my friend still relapsed. All the best advice in the world won't do us any good -- if we don't seriously and conscientiously apply it in our lives...one day at a time!
      Postscript: Happy to report my friend did regroup, is back in recovery and, hopefully, is listening and applying!

4:5 Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them

     This verse is part of a message Solomon shared with his sons (:1) which he, himself, had received from his father, King David (:3-4). Dad told his boy to go after "wisdom" and "understanding" -- the two most prominent character qualities in the book of Proverbs.
      Regularly showing up together (like bananas in a bunch or grapes in a cluster), wisdom usually leads the way. Clearly linked, these two qualities are defined here as "seeing life from God's point of view" (wisdom) and "realizing how right choices lead to a meaningful life" (understanding).
      Then, in our verse, father adds "do not forget my words or turn away from them." Another oft repeated truth throughout the whole book of Proverbs is that the insights of parents are related to these and other character qualities.
      It's a special opportunity to grow up as a young man or woman in a home where such guidance is a regular part of life. Yet, the reality of our world is that many haven't had such a upbringing.
      So, it's wonderful to know that the bottom line message of the Book of Proverbs is that "wisdom" and "understanding" are absolutely accessible to any and all who want them. Despite the lack of such instruction growing up -- if we want them in our lives, we can have them!

4:6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.

     This verse is part of Solomon's recounting to his son what his father, David, said to him. It involves a focused commitment to wisdom.
      Here, as throughout Proverbs, David spoke of wisdom as a woman – Lady Wisdom. Dad teaches his son to appreciate wisdom - "love her" and "do not forsake her" - like you would a good woman and she will always be there for you.
      This is solid relationship advice for anyone. To "not forsake" and to "love" another who greatly matters to us will set us up for their help and support in return. Of course, people being who we are, we can't always count on them to be there to "protect" and "watch over" us. But God's wisdom will never fail us!
      So, there is no better place to direct our focused love and commitment. And in doing so, we will be better equipped for our commitments to those about whom we care.

4:7 Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

     The value of "wisdom" and "understanding" is suggested here by David's words to his son Solomon (:4-9) - who, in turn, imparted them to his sons (:1). "Wisdom is supreme," it's number one, your highest priority. "Though it cost all you have," also go after "understanding."
      While this might sound contradictory, it is simply one of the many places in Proverbs where "wisdom" and "understanding" are mentioned almost interchangeably. While this verse is typical Hebrew poetry, where the second phrase is a restatement of the first, it also suggests the extremely close relationship between "wisdom" and "understanding."
      These two qualities are commonly mentioned together and/or in this poetic juxtaposition (see 2:2, 6; 3:13, 19; 4:5, 7; 7:4; 8:1; 9:10; 16:16; 19:8; 24:3). In fact, in a number of places "knowledge" is also added to the mix (2:6; 3:19-20; 9:10; 24:3-4).
      Confusing? It doesn't have to be. The best way to appreciate the interconnection of these three qualities is to know about bananas and grapes. While apples and oranges grow individually on trees, bananas and grapes grow as a group – in bunches and clusters. Get wisdom and along with it comes knowledge and understanding. We really can't have one without the others!
      They're sort of a package deal, get one and we get them all. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

4:8 Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.

     This verse is part of a message King David once gave to his son, Solomon (:4-9). Here, Solomon is passing it along to his sons (:1). Father tells his boy how to treat Lady Wisdom - the personification of God's wisdom - and what to expect (:6-7).
      We define Wisdom as "seeing life from God's point of view" and the two things dad tells son to do in this verse are "cherish her" and "embrace her." When we understand who Wisdom is and what she can do for us, we'll all be eager to do both!
      To "cherish her" is literally "build her up" or "exalt her" - we're supposed to raise Wisdom up and treat her really special.
      To "embrace her" is "hold her close" - we should keep her close and hold her tight.
      While raising her up and holding her close feel like contrasting concepts, taken together these two actions create a situation that sets us up for success in life.
      Because, when we treat Wisdom well, she'll "exalt" us - "raise us up to the heights." We embrace her and she'll "honor" us - literally "weigh us down with honors."
      Sounds to me like a pretty good way to live. It'll work if we work it...one day at a time!

4:9 She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor

     Wisdom will enhance one's appearance like two different types of head coverings; a "garland of grace" (see also 1:9) or a "crown of splendor." A "crown of splendor" is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament and is best understood as a royal crown, in some form or another. It is suggested to demonstrate or provide "splendor" for the wearer, which sounds like a good thing.
      The garland was probably a much more "every man" accessory. Maybe even worn frequently and/or having daily utilitarian value. It is described as demonstrating or offering "grace" to the wearer, also sounding like a good thing – a benefit – to the wearer.
      Since both head coverings are mentioned in a positive light, it would seem each was designed to make the wearer look good, even set them apart as special. That is what wisdom will do for us. She will make us look good and or even make us people with a crown's authority.

4:10 Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.

     Again and again in the first section of Proverbs (ch. 1-9; second of three usages in this chapter – see 4:1, 20) father says to son that he should listen to and receive his father's words. The command is to listen and accept his father's words. The promise is that they will lengthen his life. This verse suggests that paying attention to his father's words will set the son up to live a much longer life. Dad can spare his son a lot of missteps if his son will listen and learn.
      This is the second section of Proverbs 4 (:1-9; 10-19; 20-27). After sharing what David taught him (:1-10), Solomon spoke of the two roads one could travel (:10-19). The chapter ended with Solomon describing appropriate choices based on body parts (:20-27)!

4:11 I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.

     This is additional direction from father to son. It begins a series of wise saying about the "way" or "path" we take in life. While these terms of course meant ancient roadways, it had a figurative meaning of lifestyle or manner of life.
      Verse 11 speaks of taking the "way of wisdom" and "straight paths"– the correct way to go through life. The idea is that there are older people ("listen my son" :10) who care about us and can help us go the right way ("I can guide you").
      But we also know there are plenty of people out there who will gladly show us the wrong road (:14-17). In the Bible world, most people didn't get around that much and there weren't really that many places to go. If you did travel, there weren't maps or road signs. There wouldn't even be that many people on the road and they probably couldn't tell you much, anyway. Taking the wrong road could be disastrous!
      We really need someone who knows the right path and is willing to help us navigate it. The wise saying of Proverbs, and the people who teach them to us, can give us all the help we will need.

4:12 When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.

4:13 Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.

     When we take the right road, we set ourselves up for success. Whether we take it slow or fast ("walk" or "run"), we can be comfortable that He guards our steps. Yet, it is critical for us to consciously choose to hold on to the instruction which will keep us safe along this road. It has always been one day at a time, one step at a time.

4:14 Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men.

      Verses 14-17 are a continuation of the father-son message that began in verse 10. First, father spoke about the right way to travel (:11-13) and here notes the alternative path that is always available. In reality, there are only two ways to go through life – the way of wisdom or the path of the wicked – and we must choose one or the other on a daily basis.
      The "path of the wicked" or the "way of evil men" may look more fun or interesting. The people on that road may also appear to be a lot more exciting. But in most cases, we know to where this ultimately leads. It is unfortunate that we are so quick to go the wrong way; and once on this road, it isn't easy to get off.
      Decades ago I decided I agreed with this statement "I would rather walk with the LORD than anything else this world has to offer." It's been 40 years and my life has been richer and fuller than I ever could have imagined! There's still time and plenty of room, so come join me!

4:15 Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.

4:16 For they cannot sleep till they do evil; they are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall.

4:17 They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.

      The reason we don't want to take the road of "the wicked" or "evil men" is because of the things they do. Unfortunately, when they take this road they are not content with just messing up their own lives. They also spend so much of their waking hours doing evil and violence to others. If we hang around with them, we will either end up acting like them or we run the risk of somehow being caught up in the fallout of their actions.
      One of the reasons so many in addiction continue to live in denial is because they think they are only hurting themselves. But the realization that their life choices are so damaging to others is often the beginning of some permanent changes which addresses their addiction issues. That's when a guy shows up at Helping Up Mission!

4:18 The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

4:19 But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.

      These two verses are another comparison between the two roads ("path" and "way") – the good and bad (like :11-13 and :14-17). Here the right path is brightened by light and continues to get brighter and brighter as we pass along. We can see where we are, where we have come from and where we are going.
      The other road is exactly the opposite. We travel in darkness, never really having a sense of where we are or where we are going. Even worse, moving along that road in the dark, we will inevitably stumble and fall over things we can't see and don't know are there.

4:20 My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words.

4:21 Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart;

4:22 For they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body.

4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

4:24 Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.

4:25 Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.

4:26 Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.

4:27 Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

      These verses are a series of commands that speak of different activities and attitudes by referencing numerous body parts. Depending on the translation, body parts include: ear/listen (:20), eye/sight (:21, 25), heart/mind (:21, 23), whole body/all their flesh (:22), mouth (:24), lips (:25), eyelids/gaze (:25), feet (:25, 26).
      I find it interesting that neither fingers nor hands are mentioned here. I suppose the idea is like this: when we listen to and look at the right things, go to the right places, think and say right things, we will wind up doing right things!

4:20 My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words.

      For the third time in this chapter (:1, 10), father says to son that he needs to pay attention to what he is telling him. It is never easy for a young guy to listen to an old guy, but it is a critical concept for the young guy to experience a life of health and wellbeing.
      This is especially true for anyone who is not doing well and is not happy with how things are going in their life. If we know we want more and need better – and can just admit it – we can get help. We just need to be willing to ask and ready to receive it.

4:22 For they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body.

      This verse is part of a longer section of verses (:20-27) which talks about the value of a son taking seriously the wisdom of his father's words (20-21). Dad suggests paying close attention will transform his boy's life!
      Many of us today would pay exorbitant amounts of money to find something that would radically change our lives. Some would gladly travel to a remote part of the globe for such insight. We might even consider cutting off a body part of two, if it would really help!
      Yet this passage is clear. Simply paying attention to and applying in our lives some sound advice from those who really know us (and love us, anyway!) and who can offer us a God-perspective for life will get the job done for us just fine.
      Experiencing "life" to the full and "health to a man's whole body" sounds like such a great way to live! And we can start today if we're ready!

4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

      Make it a priority to create a security system around your own heart. Develop a heart-healthy lifestyle, and we are not talking about cholesterol, carbohydrates and fiber (although that is good, too). We are speaking of our heart in the ancient sense – the seat of our emotions. The issue is to live life every day in such a way that we strengthen and empower our daily thoughts, emotions and actions.

4:25 Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.

      Our verse is just part of a larger section in this chapter (:20-27). It's a series of directives from father to son (:20) about appropriate activities and attitudes - each mentioned in connection with various body parts.
      Verse 25 says to "let your eyes look straight ahead" and "fix your gaze directly before you." A concept not at all unfamiliar to us, it's to have a clear focus on what's ahead.
      Jesus said something similar. "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).
      The Latin phrase is oculum in metam or "eye on the prize." The Apostle Paul said it this way, "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize" (Philippians 3:13-14).
      The message is clear: we need to have a clear sense of where we are going. Yet I admit to struggling with having a clear view of what's up ahead. I also struggle with my best thinking still doesn't seem to get it done very well for me.
      So, how can this verse work for me? The truth is that I don't have to be in charge or have all the answers. I just need to be connected with the One who is and does!
      My focus needs to the straight ahead on the goal. And my goal should be to let Someone who is in charge and does know what's going on just handle all my business...one day at a time!
      I'm a slow learner, but its working!

4:26 Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.

4:27 Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

      Once again the "path" and the "way" are mentioned, in relation to "feet." Bible world roads, going up and down hills, were generally neither smooth nor level. So verse 26 indicates taking level paths or firm ways (as opposed to shortcuts) and/or doing things to level the paths we take. This verse is about choosing the right road.
      Verse 27 adds additional insight for our journey. Being on the right road, it is critical that we keep our focus and keep moving straight ahead. On many ancient roads there may have been minimal leeway to swerve either to the right or left.
      One of life's dilemmas is the need to see a path for what it is before we start walking down it. Some appear like a good idea at the beginning but later turn out to be going the wrong way. Or we can get far down the road only to find it is not smooth or level, steady or firm. These verses are about making good choices and then staying the course.