STUDIES ON PROVERBS
Previously, Solomon spoke of “my son” but now it is “children,” plural, not restricted to sex, nor even to Solomon’s children. He gives his own personal testimony of being taught by his parents, so that this is partly autobiographical.
Proverbs 4:1 “Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.” “Ye children…a father,” being somewhat abstract, may mean that Solomon is acting the part of spiritual father: i.e., an instructor. Paul contrasted instructors and fathers in 1 Corinthians 4:15, for an instructor only teaches the truth, but a father is the instrument of the new birth. Solomon seeks to instruct his hearers so that they come to accept divine wisdom which is necessary to salvation. Note the proper order: “hear…know understanding.” The reason so many know so little truth is that they refuse that whereby faith comes, (Rom. 10:17).
Proverbs 4:2 “For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law.” “Doctrine” means teaching, or that which is taught. Because some doctrines are deep and mysterious, many people assume that all doctrine is incapable of being understood by any but theologians and philosophers. “Good” implies that some doctrine is not good, as the N.T. teaches, (Matthew 15:9; 16:11-12; Eph. 4:14; Col. 2:20-23; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 13:9; Rev. 2:14-15). “It is a law indeed, but that law is founded upon unquestionable principle of truth, upon good doctrine, which is worthy of all acceptation. If we admit the doctrine, we cannot but submit to the law,” [M. Henry].
Proverbs 4:3 “For I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.” This is autobiographical. David had many sons by several wives and concubines, (1 Chron. 3:1-9), but Solomon had a special place in the affections both of David and Bathsheba. “Only beloved” does not mean that Solomon was the only son of David and Bathsheba. For there were three others, (1 Chron. 3:5), not that these were slighted by their mother. Isaac was also called Abraham’s “only son,” though several other sons are named, (Gen. 22:12, 16). The Hebrew word that appears in these three places appears only twelve times. It signifies one peculiarly beloved, as occupying a special place. Bathsheba certainly knew that Solomon was to succeed David as King, (1 Chron. 22:6-10; 1 Kings 1:15-21), and so that he was a special person in God’s sight. David used almost the exact words here of Solomon in 1 Chronicles 29:1. It is natural for parents to love their children, but when God has chosen to use one in a special way, this especially endears that child to godly parents.
Proverbs 4:4 “He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.” Thus Solomon’s teaching of his son is but a continuation of what his father taught him. Good practices ought to be passed on from generation to generation. Apparently David had been less strict with his older sons, (1 Kings 1:6), and they turned out badly, Absalom and Adonijah both trying to usurp his kingdom, (2 Sam. 15:1ff; 1 Kings 1:5ff.) But he was stricter with the younger sons, and Solomon especially turned out well, (1 Kings 3:3). There is little evidence of any real piety in Absalom or Adonijah. Later Solomon will emphasize the value of early training and teaching of children, (Prov. 22:6). The good old way is still the best way for the souls of men, (Jer. 6:16). Novel and “progressive” teachings are generally destructive of the soul, for there is no new truth. Someone has well said “If it’s new, it can’t be true.”
Proverbs 4:5 “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.” This is by now a familiar refrain in Proverbs, but this is in reference to what David taught Solomon. “My words,” (v. 4), and “words of my mouth” may refer to the Psalms, many of which were entitled “Maschil” or instruction, (Ps. 32), title, et al. And two Psalms, (Ps. 72 and 127), are specifically said to be “for Solomon.” Young people, as they come into their late teens, tend to think parents very ignorant, but they learn shortly that the parents are not so dumb after all. “When I left for college, I thought my father was the dumbest man I knew. But when I returned from college after four years, I was amazed how much he had learned in four years,” [Mark Twain].
Proverbs 4:6 “Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.” Again wisdom is personified, and treated as a beautiful and desirable woman whose presence guarantees one’s safety. Indeed, (2 Thess. 2:10), love of the truth is shown to be necessary for salvation. What then of those who are contemptuous of this Divine wisdom? In rejecting and forsaking it, they sin against their own soul, (8:35-36). The wisdom of God, having the omniscient (all-knowing) One as its author, and being directed to man for his good, cannot but be a blessing to all who receive it, for it saves men from temporal and eternal harm.
Proverbs 4:7 “Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” Nothing is so important as the pursuit of wisdom and understanding: with wisdom, all good things will eventually come: without it, though one may have many good things, they will eventually be lost and do one no lasting good. Conversely, the world thinks that riches is the one needful thing but wisdom gives so many things that money cannot buy—pardon, peace and paradise, to name three, (see Prov. 16:16). On the other hand, how much would the whole world be worth if one lost his own soul because he was not wise unto salvation? (Matthew 16:29).
Proverbs 4:8 “Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honor, when thou dost embrace her.” Promotion and praise are gifts of wisdom to those who receive it, and this promotion and praise is of the lasting kind. Satan, because this world is under his domination, (Luke 4:6), can give men worldly promotion and the praise of men, but this is all so very temporary, and then eternity shall reveal their degradation and shame. It is not enough just to pay lip service to God’s wisdom: we must exalt and embrace it. See the similar statement in 1 Samuel 2:10 which simply traces this principle back to its source.
Proverbs 4:9 “She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.” (Prov. 3:22). Some suggest that the first phrase refers to the gift that wisdom bestows in the present life, while the second the gift of wisdom in the life to come. Certainly it is true that we receive grace now and glory to come, whether this is the present meaning or not. But Psalm 84:11 shows both grace and glory as present possessions of all who walk uprightly. “Head” and “crown” both suggest the mental attainment of right understanding and spiritual truth.
Proverbs 4:10 “Hear, O my son, and receive my savings; and the years of thy life shall be many.” Referring back to Proverbs 3:2. All of God’s commandments tend to longer one’s life, and the violation of them shortens life. “Receive wisdom’s sayings, and the years of they life shall be many, as many in this world as Infinite Wisdom sees fit, and in the other world thou shalt live that life the years of which shall never be numbered,” [M. Henry]. It is natural for parents to be concerned that their children live long and well. Unfortunately, children often think they know better what is best for them than their parents do, but it is always “want—to” speaking instead of “know—so.” Book learning, however extensive it may be, is not as valuable as learning by experience, and most parents have at least twenty years more practical knowledge than their children.
Proverbs 4:11 “I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths.” Here are the two sides of right teaching: instruction and example. Both are necessary. Many people teach without setting an example: “Do as I say, not as I do,” but this is hypocritical, and produces a worse generation of hypocrites. This was what was wrong with the Pharisees, (Matthew 23:1-4). “Way” and “path” are both suggestive of the daily walk, so that this has to do with practical knowledge, not merely with the theoretical.
Proverbs 4:12 “When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straightened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.” So far from one’s pathway being narrow and dangerous, the Lord will enlarge it for those following wisdom’s teachings, (Ps. 18:36). Yea, one may even run without danger of obstacles tripping one up. “As ‘goest’ refers to the ordinary course, so ‘runnest’ to extraordinary undertakings, wherein the believer has to put forth more than common energy,” [Faussett]. Wisdom both smoothes and broadens our pathway for us.
Proverbs 4:13 “Take fast hold of instruction: let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.” Referring back to Proverbs 3:18. How easily do the words of wisdom leak out of our minds, as water out of a leaky vessel, (Heb 2:1; marginal reading). One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to steal the Word away, (Matthew 13:19). Hence the need to continually refresh our knowledge of the truth, and practice it daily. “Obedience to God’s law is life; every departure from it is a step towards death,” [Faussett]. People are not saved by keeping the law, but they are saved by Christ who kept it for us, and who is our Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption, (1 Cor. 1:30).
Proverbs 4:14 “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.” “Path” and “way” suggest the daily practices of the unsaved. The child of God has no business walking in fellowship with the wicked, for their ways will become his if he does. Man is a social creature, and, unfortunately in some cases, he is imitative of others. “‘Enter not’ forbids the first step towards union with the wicked in their ways. ‘Go not’ forbids further advance in the same evil alliance, if we have been overcome temporarily by the deceitfulness of sin,” [Faussett]. It is uncertain whether these are the continued teachings of David to Solomon, which began in verse 4, or whether Solomon has resumed his own teachings. It is incidental, since both are inspired by God.
Proverbs 4:15 “Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, pass away.” This and the preceding verse contain no less than six warnings to keep clear of evil. One is not to dally with temptation, nor to debate about whether it is really evil or not, nor to delay to flee from it. It is a wise maxim that says “If it’s questionable, it’s wrong.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 plainly obligates us to: (1) Test all things. (2) Retain the good. (3) Reject all that even appears evil. It doesn’t have to be clearly evil: if it appears so, it must be rejected. Joseph wisely practiced this rule, (Gen. 39:10-12). The best remedy for all temptation is to flee from it.
Proverbs 4:16 “For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.” Sad to see the wickedness of man apart from the restraining grace of God. “Mischief is rest and sleep to them. Mischief is meat and drink to them; they feed and feast upon it,” [M. Henry]. This is similar to Psalm 36:4, It is common for men upon their beds to make plans for the next day. What the character of those plans are will be determined by the character of man himself. “The children of darkness make sin their element. The children of light should learn similarly to give themselves no sleep till they have done or devised good (Ps. 132:4; Prov. 6:4),” [Faussett]. Sadly, sinners always try to talk others into joining them in their sins. Sin, like leaven, is permeative.
Proverbs 4:17 “For they eat the bead of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.” This means, not only that their enjoyment is in wickedness and violence—it is a refreshment to them—but also that their livelihood is also by them. So vicious are the wicked that they often “eat up” the righteous by their violence toward them, (Ps. 53:4). The danger of fellowshipping with these who delight in wickedness is such that one cannot win with them, for, as Matthew Henry says: “Thou wilt ruin thyself if thou dost concur with them (chp. 1:18) and they will ruin thee if thou dost not.” Sin pays wages, but they are the wages of eternal death, (Rom. 6:23).
Proverbs 4:18: “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Contrasted with the path of the wicked, (v. 14), which is darkness, (v. 19). But the Lord came that His people might not walk in darkness but have the light of life, (John 8:12), for in Him is no darkness at all, (1 John 1:5), and the more we trust Him and follow Him the more light He leads us into. He is the Daystar (the Sun), (2 Pet. 1:19), Who enlightens us so that we walk in the light as we follow Him, (1 John 1:5-7). Salvation makes us children of light and of the day, (1 Thess. 5:4-8). The perfect day—i.e., the sun at the zenith, shining through a cloudless day—looks forward to the time when the Sun of righteousness shall arise, (Mal. 4:2), to shine clearly and unmistakably as He rules over the whole earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. Then shall we also shine forth as the sun, (Matthew 13:43).
Proverbs 4:19 “The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.” Wickedness has a blinding effect, (Deut. 28:28-29); it blinds men to the spiritual dangers about them. When one is in darkness, he may be but a step from death and not know it: so also is spiritual darkness, except that the danger is spiritual death, not merely physical. Those who walk in spiritual darkness are but a step from tumbling into the bottomless pit of hell, yet how merrily and unconcernedly do they go tripping through life. As the path of the just shines more and more unto brightness, (v. 18), so the path of the wicked is one of increasing darkness until it ends in the blackness of darkness forever, (Matthew 22:11-13; 25:30; 2 Pet. 2:17; Jude 12-13).
Proverbs 4:20 “My son, attend to my words: incline thine ear unto my sayings.” Here is a fresh call to attend to a father’s pious instructions, which are so necessary to be instilled in one while he is yet young and his character still moldable. He who refuses to hear the instruction of his father hurts himself most of all, for in refusing to take advantage of the experience of his elders, he dooms himself to make the same mistakes over again that the older man has already experienced. If only we would learn from the preceding generation, how much sorrow we would avoid.
Proverbs 4:21 “Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart.” We must view them, and review them in order to get the practical benefit of them. Few if any things are learned the first time we hear them, hence the need of repetition, (Isa. 28:13). “As the ‘ear’ was mentioned in v. 20, so the ‘eyes’ and ‘heart’ in this verse, as three avenues for the entrance of knowledge into the man,” [Faussett]. The truth must be in the heart for it to have any practical bearing on us. In this way only will it be a motivating principle in us. The eyes read it, the mind ponders it, but only the heart can put it into practice.
Proverbs 4:22 “For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.” (see 3:8, 18, 22; 16:24). The truth is here shown to have two uses: (1) Food that gives life, as Jesus taught, (John 5:39). (2) Medicine that purges sickness and promotes health. It has a cleansing, purging effect, (Ps. 119:9; Eph. 5:26). Because he is a liar and there is not truth in him, (John 8:44), Satan does his best to substitute other things for Truth, for he well knows that this is the only instrument for salvation, sanctification and edification, (2 Tim. 3:15-16). Alas how many preachers and churches have allowed the Word to be taken away and some worthless bauble substituted for it.
Proverbs 4:23 “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” This recognizes what is our greatest need, and gives command to strictly guard that which is the motive center and power plant of all our doings. This reminds us of Matthew 15:16. To leave the heart unguarded is to surrender the whole citadel of the soul. “As the heart is the center of motion to the circulation of the blood, which is the (animal) life (Lev. 17:11, 14), so spiritually, as the seat of the desires and affections, it is designed to be the center and fountain of the heavenly life,” [Faussett]. Sin has so corrupted the heart, however, that it cannot perform its ordained function until it has been cleansed and changed in the new birth.
Proverbs 4:24 “Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.” This will be the result of keeping the heart with diligence: it will control man’s whole life and conduct. All sin stems from a bad heart, (Matthew 15:19; Acts 8:21-23). Lips only speak what is in the heart. “Froward” means “distortion” for it is speech that has departed from God’s law of purity, truth and love. People sin quicker and easier with the mouth than in any other way, (Jam. 3:2ff), and the mouth will be the last member to be conquered, unless it be the unbelieving heart. The mouth is generally the index to the heart and manifests its state.
Proverbs 4:25 “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.” Note the emphasis placed on the different parts of the body in verses 20-27. These can be used either for good or for evil, and if they are not sanctified to good they will naturally turn to evil uses. Jesus warned about lustful looks, (Matthew 5:28-29). Right use of the eyes is declared in Isaiah 45:22; Hebrews 12:2; 2 Peter 3:12-14. “Be straight forward in thy aims and thy walk in life, making thy home above, and its statutes thy aim; just as the runner in a race looks straight to the goal, and turns not to the right hand or to the left,” [Faussett].
Proverbs 4:26 “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.” We are not to rashly and thoughtlessly walk through life: to do so is to end up in hell. “Walk circumspectly,” (Eph. 5:15), but to walk uprightly, (Gal. 2:14), requires thought as to the ways and ends of our walk. Too many think only of present momentary pleasure, with no regard to the end of the matter.
Proverbs 4:27 “Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” “The image is from the king’s highway (Num. 20:17; Deut. 2:27). God’s holy law is our heavenly King’s highway,” [Faussett]. Remember Jesus’ warning about the strait and narrow way, (Matthew 7:13-14). All temptations are attempts to turn us aside into sinful byways instead of walking in the King’s highway of righteousness. Wisdom leads us into right ways: sin turns us to the right or to the left hand unto evil. Let us ponder the path we tread.
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