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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Proverbs 4

Verse 1

"In this chapter, there are three hortatory discourses (Proverbs 4:1-9; Proverbs 4:10-19, and Proverbs 4:20-27), exactly similar to the ones in Proverbs 2 and Proverbs 3. The subject is the praise of Wisdom, and the description of the blessings which she confers."[1] These are labeled the sixth, seventh and eighth discourses by Walls,[2] but the sixth is called the "seventh" by Deane."[3] We do not consider these divisions either very clearly marked or very important.

THE SIXTH DISCOURSE

Proverbs 4:1-9

"Hear, my son, the instructions of a father,

And attend to know understanding:

For I give you good doctrine;

Forsake ye not my law.

For I was a son unto my father,

Tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.

And he taught me, and said unto me:

Let thy heart retain my words;

Keep my commandments, and live;

Get wisdom, get understanding;

Forget not, neither decline from the words of my mouth;

Forsake her not, and she will preserve thee;

Love her, and she will keep thee.

Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore get wisdom;

Yea, with all thy getting get understanding.

Exalt her, and she will promote thee;

She will bring thee to honor, when thou dost embrace her.

She will give to thy head a chaplet of grace;

A crown of beauty will she deliver to thee."

In spite of the fact of these verses being delivered in the form of a father's instructions to a son, "The entire chapter may be read (and should be read) as though God was speaking to all men everywhere."[4]

"Forsake ye not my law" (Proverbs 4:2). Deane reminds us that, "The word law here, as also in Proverbs 1:8, is from the Hebrew [~Torah]," which is the technical word for the Pentateuch, or the Law of Moses. The marginal alternative reading counsel should be ignored. The proof of this is found in the reference here, in Proverbs 4:3,4, by Solomon, the author of these lines, to the instructions which his father David had given him, a sample of which may be read in 1 Chronicles 22:12-13, where the Law of Moses is clearly stated to be precisely that doctrine that Solomon here professes to be delivering to his own son. Therefore, we can find no agreement with Tate's remark that, "The authority mentioned here is the discipline of the teacher."[5] No! The true authority of these words is that of God Himself as revealed to Moses in the Pentateuch.

"My father ... he taught me" (Proverbs 4:3-4). "These words underline the great Old Testament principle that truth and history are maintained through the family, and our own age could well re-learn this lesson."[6]

"With all thy getting get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7). Kidner's comment is, "What it takes is not brains or opportunity, but decision."[7] We might add that persistence and determination are also involved; and as James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible, 1929, translated it, "At any cost get knowledge."

We should exercise care, however, to remember the Biblical revelation of what knowledge, or wisdom, really is. It is not merely what some would call a good education. The true wisdom is to know Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30) and to obey him. This type of wisdom does not come in the form of university degrees, but from the faithful obedience of humble and contrite hearts.

Verse 10

THE SEVENTH DISCOURSE

"Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings;

And the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom;

I have led thee in the paths of uprightness.

When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened;

And if thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.

Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go:

Keep her; for she is thy life.

Enter not into the path of the wicked,

And walk not in the way of evil men.

Avoid it, pass not by it;

Turn from it, and pass on.

For they sleep not, except they do evil;

And their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.

For they eat the bread of wickedness,

And drink the wine of violence.

But the path of the righteous is as the dawning light,

That shineth more and more unto the perfect day.

The day of the wicked is as darkness:

They know not at what they stumble."

"The years of thy life shall be many" (Proverbs 4:10). "The Hebrew in this line actually means, `thy years shall be multiplied'."[8] The fact of the life of Solomon having been cut short indicates that he did not follow his own good advice.

In this section, two ways of living are presented; and then they are compared. "Proverbs 4:10-13 describe the way of wisdom; Proverbs 4:14-17 describe the way of the wicked; and Proverbs 4:18-19 present a comparison of the two ways."[9]

"Thy steps shall not be straitened" (Proverbs 4:12). "The word `straitened' here is a derivative from an old English word strait which does not mean straight, but `strict' or `narrow.'"[10] The way of wisdom is "the narrow way" (Matthew 7:13-14), or the straitened way. This really should surprise no one, for the truth is always narrow, exact and minutely perfect. For example, the exact ratio between the diameter and the circumference of a circle is so precise that no exact statement of it is possible. It is placed at 3.1416159+!

"She is thy life" (Proverbs 4:13). "Here is another parallel between Wisdom personified in Proverbs and Jesus Christ the Incarnate Wisdom of John 1:4."[11]

"Enter not ... walk not in ... avoid ... pass not by ...turn from it ... pass on" (Proverbs 4:14-15). The object of all these impressive verbs is the way of the wicked. There is no way that language could more forcibly warn God's servant against the way of wickedness.

"They sleep not except they do evil" (Proverbs 4:16). "This and the following verses exhibit the extreme depravity and wickedness"[12] of hardened sinners. In a metaphor they are said to eat the bread of wickedness and to drink the wine of violence. They cannot sleep unless they have first exerted themselves in the perpetration of evil; and upon those days when they have not caused someone to fall, they cannot sleep at all! "The Bible does not hide the fact that one can become just as zealous for evil as for good."[13] Iniquity of the worst kind can become the food and drink of those who depart from the way of Truth.

"The path of the righteous ... is light ... the way of the wicked ... darkness" (Proverbs 4:18-19). There is nothing in these verses that is hard to understand or that requires any emphasis from scholarly comment. The most common metaphor in the New Testament is that which contrasts the way of God's children who, "Walk in the light as He is in the Light," and that of the sons of the devil who revel in "The works of darkness."

Verse 20

THE EIGHTH DISCOURSE

"My son, attend to my words;

Incline thine ear unto my sayings.

Let them not depart from thine eyes;

Keep them in the midst of thy heart.

For they are life unto those that find them,

And health to all their flesh.

Keep thy heart with all diligence;

For out of it are the issues of life.

Put away from thee a wayward mouth,

And perverse lips put far from thee.

Let thine eyes look right on,

And let thine eyelids look straight before thee.

Make level the path of thy feet,

And let all thy ways be established.

Turn not to the right hand nor to the left:

Remove thy foot from evil."

"My son, attend to my words" (Proverbs 4:20). It is just as reasonable to construe these words as being spoken by the teacher (or the father) during a given speech as it is to make them invariably the beginning of another discourse. Such an address could have come in the middle of an exhortation as the attention of the listener diminished and needed to be stimulated.

"Let them not depart from thine eyes" (Proverbs 4:21). This is exactly the same as Proverbs 3:21, another example of the constant repetition in Proverbs. "The repeated message is that, `it is not enough to hear wise instruction; it must be assimilated, pondered and kept at the center of man's being.'"[14]

"Keep thy heart with all diligence ... etc." (Proverbs 4:23). Here is another favorite verse which many have committed to memory. The heart, as the word is used in the Bible, means the mind, which is the center of human intelligence, emotions and the will. "The fact here stated is that the whole moral conduct of human life, and its every action, attitude and purpose are determined by what one thinks and believes."[15] The great corollary of this is that "thought control" is the prerequisite of all moral rectitude and uprightness. See Proverbs 23:7.

"The last verses of this discourse are put together around the discipline of (1) the heart, (2) the mouth, (3) the eyes, and (3) the feet."[16] This is true, but if one takes charge of his mind and controls his thoughts he is not likely to have much trouble with the other organs mentioned. The attainment of such power is greatly aided by the admonition of the apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8). "Whatsoever things are true ... honorable ... just ... pure ... lovely ... of good report ... any virtue ... any praise, THINK ON THESE THINGS"!

"Let thine eyelids look straight before thee ...turn not to the right hand nor to the left" (Proverbs 4:25,27). These instructions have found their way into the vernacular as, "Keep your eye on the ball, and stay in the middle of the road."! The great goal of earthly existence, for every wise man, is that of receiving at last the blessed welcome of the Lord, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." Looking straight ahead means that men should not allow sensual, earthly, selfish, or material temptations to turn their eyes and their purpose away from the true goal and toward such other considerations. The mention of the right and the left hand is a warning against extreme positions. It should always be remembered that there is a ditch on either side, (the right or the left) of the road!

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 4". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/proverbs-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.