Proverbs 4:1-27

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“Sons” or “children” are exhorted to hear, listen, or heed a father’s “discipline,” corrective admonition, or instruction, and to be attentive. The objective is for them to “know insight,” to possess the essential understanding or discernment to live uprightly. (4:1)

Sons or children would benefit from paying attention to their father, “for” he would give them “good instruction” (a “good gift” [LXX]), or teaching that would assist them to act wisely and to avoid conduct that could harm them and others. They were admonished not to forsake his “law,” or the instruction he had imparted to them and which should have been obeyed like an authoritative command. (4:2)

The father had received teaching from his own father and, therefore, could impart vital lessons to his sons or children, lessons that would assist them to act wisely. He referred to the time when he was a “son with [his] father” or, as rendered in the Septuagint, a son “obedient to [his] father,” and “tender” (or delicate as he would have been as a young child) and the “only one,” unique one, or specially loved one like an only child “before” or in the sight of his mother. The expressions of the father indicate that he was the object of his parents’ deep affection and that he valued the teaching he received from them. According to the Septuagint rendering, the father spoke of being “beloved” before the “face” or in the sight of his mother. (4:3)

The Septuagint rendering indicates that both father and mother spoke to the son and taught him, but the extant Hebrew text focuses on the father’s role. “And he taught me and said to me.” The fatherly exhortation was, “Let your heart hold fast to my words.” In the Septuagint, the admonition relates to what both parents had taught the son. “Let our word be firmly fixed in your heart.” The father’s exhortation indicated that the son was to have the parental instruction as a permanent deposit in his “heart,” mind, or inmost being and that it should serve as a guide in his life. (4:4)

Each son or child could choose to obey or to disregard the father’s commandments. The father wanted each child to benefit from his instruction and gave the exhortation, “Keep my commandments and live.” These commandments provided sound guidance and served to protect an obedient son or child from a course that could lead to a premature death. Therefore, for a “son” or child to obey the father’s commandments contributed to a longer life than would have been the case if he foolishly chose to disregard the commandments or precepts. (4:4; see the Notes section.)

The fatherly exhortation to each son or child was, “Get wisdom; get understanding,” earnestly desiring to have the wisdom that would serve as a dependable guide for a noble life and the essential understanding or insight to make the right choices. Each son or child was admonished not to “forget” nor to “turn aside” from the “words,” instruction, or advice, that had proceeded from the “mouth” of the father. His words should not be disregarded as if there were no remembrance of what he had said. (4:5; see the Notes section.)

For a son or a child (a pupil or a learner) not to forsake wisdom would signify for the person to adhere to wisdom and to let it serve as a guide in life. Wisdom would then “keep” (hold on to or cleave to [LXX]) the one living in harmony with its guidance, preserving the individual from the calamitous consequences of senseless conduct. To love wisdom would denote to value wisdom highly as if enjoying an intimate relationship with it. When that is the case, wisdom would function as a guard or protector, shielding the person from the ruinous outcome experienced by those who pursue a foolish course of life. (4:6)

The “beginning of wisdom” is to “get wisdom.” This suggests that the acquisition of wisdom is an ongoing process that has its start with sound teaching received in youth, responsiveness to this teaching, and a desire to possess wisdom as a guide in life. The exhortation to “get wisdom” continues with the words, “and with whatever you get, get insight” (or understanding), which would include the capacity to discern the right course to take. (4:7; see the Notes section.)

For a son (a child, pupil, or learner) to “elevate” (salál) wisdom is to consider it to be of inestimable value and to conduct his life according to this high esteem. When that is the case, wisdom “will exalt” the individual, causing others to see the benefits that come to one whose life is guided by wisdom and who avoids senseless actions. In the Septuagint, the rendering for the Hebrew word salál is a form of pericharakóo, which can denote “to surround with a wall” or “to secure.” The thought appears to be that the wisdom the son had received from his father’s teaching should have a secure place in his life and should always be heeded. When wisdom is “embraced,” it will bring honor or glory to the individual who conducts himself as having wisdom as a highly esteemed and trusted companion and guide. The individual will enjoy a good reputation and noble standing in the community. According to the Septuagint rendering, wisdom may embrace the one who honors it. The act of honoring would be evident from letting wisdom function as a dependable guide like a beloved and trusted companion. (4:8)

The dignity with which wisdom favors its possessors is likened to beautiful ornamentation. Wisdom “will place a wreath of grace [or an attractive wreath] on your head,” and bestow on you a “crown of beauty.” Others would be able to see the benefits that come from having wisdom as a dependable guide for one’s life. (4:9; see the Notes section.)

The father admonished his son to “hear,” to listen, or to be responsive to and to accept his words, choosing to act accordingly. The “years of [his] life” would then “become many.” This would be because the son would shun conduct that could be ruinous to his well-being and lead to a premature death. The Septuagint concludes with two parallel expressions directed to the son. “And the years of your life will be increased, that for you the ways of existence may become many.” (4:10)

The father purposed to teach his son in the “way of wisdom,” the way in which he should live to avoid the problems and calamities that result from pursuing a foolish course. Moreover, the father had as his objective to motivate his son to “tread in the tracks of uprightness” (“strait paths” or tracks [LXX]) or to conduct himself uprightly. (4:11)

When pursuing the ways his father taught him, the son would not be cramped in his step or course of life as if he had to negotiate a narrow path in difficult mountainous terrain. The ways according to which the father taught his son to conduct himself were not treacherous. These ways were comparable to roads that were free from hazardous obstacles and on which the son could run without stumbling. According to the Septuagint, the son would “not become weary” if he ran (if he earnestly followed the ways that he had learned from his father). (4:12)

The father encouraged his son to take hold of “discipline” or instruction, not letting it go or not releasing his grip on the admonition that he should continue to follow. This “discipline” or instruction imparted wisdom of great value, and the son was to safeguard wisdom as one would guard a precious treasure. It would be “life” for him (“for [his] life” [LXX]), protecting him from engaging in senseless acts that could shorten his life. (4:13)

After having exhorted his son to let wisdom guide his life, the father admonished him not to enter the “path of wicked ones [impious or godless ones (LXX)]” and not to walk in the “way of evildoers.” He was to shun their morally corrupt course of life. According to the Septuagint, the father’s concluding exhortation may be rendered, “Do not be zealous for the ways of transgressors.” The son was not to seek the seeming success that lawless ones attained by their corrupt dealings. (4:14) Regarding the “path of wicked ones” or their debased course of life, the fatherly admonition was, “Avoid it; do not go on it. Turn away from it, and pass on” or continue leading an upright life. The Septuagint rendering represents the father as admonishing the son not to enter the place where transgressors may encamp but to “turn from them and pass by.” (4:15) The reason for the exhortation is that corrupt dealings are a way of life for godless ones or transgressors. “They cannot sleep unless they have done wrong.” Not a day passes without their plotting to take advantage of fellow humans. If they have not succeeded in causing someone to “stumble” or to suffer loss and to profit therefrom, they cannot sleep, apparently on account of being disappointed about having failed to attain their base objective. The Septuagint concludes with the thought that “sleep has been taken away” from them and that they cannot fall asleep. (4:16)

Engaging in lawless activities is like food and drink for the wicked. They consume the “bread of wickedness [impiety or godlessness (LXX)]” and drink the “wine of violent deeds [unlawful wine (LXX)].” (4:17)

The way or course upright persons follow and the way the wicked pursue ultimately end differently. In the case of the righteous, their way or course of life is like a shining light that becomes ever brighter “until the day is established,” or the zenith of brightness is attained. Illuminated by wisdom, the course of life righteous persons follow progressively becomes ever clearer to them. The direction of their life is purposeful and leads to the attainment of noble goals. According to the Septuagint, the “ways of the righteous shine like light. They advance and illuminate until the day is established.” The Septuagint rendering suggests that the righteous proceed in their course as on illuminated paths and themselves function as bearers of light from the start of the day until its end. Their words and deeds reveal that wisdom illuminates their course of life as if they were traveling well-lit paths. (4:18)

The way of the wicked is one of gloom, a way of life devoid of the sense of security and well-being that upright persons enjoy. Their course of life is one enveloped in darkness, with no prospect of an ultimate favorable outcome. “They do not know over what they stumble.” Without the guidance of wisdom, they, in their state of ignorance and moral corruption, do not recognize the obstacles in their life that can prove to be ruinous to them. The Septuagint represents the impious or godless ones as not knowing “how they stumble” or as not recognizing the things regarding their life that lead to unfavorable outcomes. (4:19)

The father exhorted the son to pay attention or to be responsive to his “words” and to incline his “ear” to his expressions, choosing to listen to and to follow the teaching that was imparted to him. (4:20)

At all times, the son should have his father’s words before him, not letting them escape “from [his] eyes” so that they would motivate him to conduct himself uprightly. In order for him to be prompted to conduct himself according to his father’s words or the lessons he had imparted to him, the son was to keep them “in the midst of [his] heart” (like a secure treasure in his mind or his inner self). (4:21; see the Notes section.)

To find the wise sayings or words would mean to want to have them as a possession and to heed them. These sayings are “life” to those who find them, for they provide the sound guidance that promotes the well-being of all who choose to follow it. In the case of the individual, the wise words are “healing” to “all his flesh” or his entire organism, directing him away from the harmful activities that could ruin the quality of his life and lead to an untimely death and also showing him the course of conduct that would contribute to the enjoyment of a longer and better life. (4:22)

Above everything to be guarded, one should safeguard the heart, “for from it [are] the sources of life.” From the “heart,” mind, or the inmost self (when guided by wisdom) originate the promptings for the upright conduct that contributes to “life” or well-being. Therefore, the “heart” needs to be guarded from yielding to temptations that could hinder it from providing “sources of life.” One who failed to resist these temptations would ultimately suffer ruin. (4:23)

The father’s admonition to the son was for him to remove “crookedness of mouth” (a “crooked mouth” [LXX]) and to “put far away” from himself “perverseness of lips” (“unrighteous” or “unjust lips” [LXX]). His mouth and lips were not to be used to express deception and lies. (4:24)

The son’s eyes needed to be focused straight ahead of him to attain noble objectives. He should not be casting glances elsewhere, for this could lead to his being tempted to stray from a course of moral rectitude. According to the Septuagint, the son’s “eyelids” should incline to “righteous” or “just things.” (4:25) The fatherly admonition directed the son to make the “path of [his] foot” level (“make straight tracks for your feet” [LXX]), suggesting that he should remove all obstacles that could impede him from conducting himself uprightly. All his ways (or all the courses of his life) would then be “established” or secure as if he were walking on level and solid ground. According to the Septuagint, he was exhorted to “straighten” his ways. (4:26) The son was not to deviate from the right course of life, inclining or choosing to swerve to the “right or the left.” He was to turn his foot away from evil (an “evil way” [LXX]). (4:27; see the Notes section for the additional words in the Septuagint.)

Notes

In printed versions of the Septuagint, the words “keep the commandments” (verse 4 in the Hebrew text) are found in verse 5. There is no reference to getting “wisdom” and getting “understanding.” The Septuagint rendering continues, “Do not forget” (with apparent reference to the commandments) “nor disregard the expression of my mouth.”

The wording found in verse 7 of the extant Hebrew text is missing from the Septuagint.

In verse 9 of the Septuagint, the “expression” of the father’s mouth (verse 5), which imparted wisdom, appears to be the subject of the concluding phrase, “and it may protect you with a crown of delight” or an impressive crown.

In certain contexts, the Hebrew word for “eye” (‘áyin) can mean “fountain” or “spring.” This may explain why the Septuagint rendering conveys a different significance for the initial phrase of verse 21 (“that your fountains [possibly meaning sources linked to the heart (the mind or the inner self) that motivate right conduct] may not leave you.”

After the corresponding words of the extant Hebrew text in verse 27, the Septuagint continues, “for God knows the ways on the right, and twisted are those on the left.” In view of the earlier admonition to the son not to “incline to the left or to the right,” the additional text indicates that God is fully aware of the paths on the right that lead away from the course of moral rectitude and the crooked paths on the left. As to what God will do for the son if he does not turn away to the right or to the left, the Septuagint says, “He himself will make your tracks straight, and he will guide your goings in peace” (or in a manner that assures a good outcome for your course of life).