Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Second Group of Admonitory or Gnomic Discourses
7. Report of the teacher of wisdom concerning the good counsels in favor of piety, and the warnings against vice, which were given him in his youth by his father
1 Hearken, ye children, to a father’s instruction,
and attend to know understanding:
2 for I give you good doctrine;
forsake not my law.
3 For I was also a son to my father;
a tender and only (son) for my mother;
4 and he taught me and said to me:
“Let thine heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments and thou shalt live!
5 Get wisdom, get understanding;
forget not, turn not from the words of my mouth!
6 Forsake her not and she shall preserve thee;
love her and she shall keep thee.
7 The highest thing is wisdom; get wisdom,
and with all that thou hast gotten get understanding!
8 Esteem her and she will exalt thee,
will bring thee honor if thou dost embrace her.
9 She will put upon thine head a graceful garland,
a glorious crown will she bestow upon thee.
10 Hearken, my son, and receive my sayings;
and the years of thy life shall be many.
11 In the way of wisdom have I taught thee,
I have guided thee in right paths.
12 When thou goest thy step shall not be straitened,
and when thou runnest thou shalt not stumble.
13 Hold fast upon instruction; let not go;
keep her, for she is thy life.
14 Into the path of the wicked enter thou not,
and walk not in the way of the evil.
15 Avoid it, enter not upon it;
turn from it, and pass away.
16 For they sleep not unless they sin;
their sleep is taken away unless they have caused (others) to fall;
17 for they eat the bread of wickedness,
and the wine of violence do they drink.
18 But the path of the just is like the light of dawn,
that groweth in brightness till the perfect day.
19 The way of the wicked is as darkness,
they know not at what they stumble.
20 My son, attend to my words,
incline thine ear to my sayings.
21 Let them not depart from thine eyes:
keep them in the midst of thine heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them,
and to their whole body health.
23 Above all that is to be guarded keep thy heart,
for out of it flow the currents of life.
24 Put away from thee perverseness of mouth,
and waywardness of lips put far from thee.
25 Thine eyes should look straight forward,
and thine eyelids look straight before thee.
26 Make straight the path of thy foot
and let all thy ways be established.
27 Turn not to the right or to the left,
remove thy foot from evil!”
GRAMMATICAL AND CRITICAL
Proverbs 4:2. [נָתַתִּי, an “affirmative” perfect (BÖTT. § 947, f.), anticipating a sure result, and so confirming confidence; not merely have I already given, etc.; it will always be found true. See like instances in Proverbs 4:11.—A.].
Proverbs 4:10. [A masculine verb agreeing with a fem. subject, the more readily because the verb precedes. The same thing recurs in Proverbs 4:25; in 5:2; 7:11; 10:21, 32; 15:7: 16:3; 18:6.—A.]
Proverbs 4:13. The fem. suffix in נִצְּרֶהָ refers strictly to חָכְמָה [מוּסָר being masculine], which idea, on account of its close relationship, could be easily substituted for מוּסָר (comp. 1:3; 15:33), and all the more readily because this idea was constantly before the poet’s mind as the main subject of his discourse. Like anomalies in the gender of suffixes may be found, e.g., in Isa. 3:16, Judg. 21:21. [To emphasize the injunction the form of the verb is expanded from the simple נִצְרָהּ by doubling the middle radical by Dagesh forte dirimens, and by attaching the suffix in its fullest form. See BÖTT. § 500, 12; §§ 1042, b, 1043, 6.—A.].
Proverbs 4:14. [FUERST takes תְּאַשֵּׁר in its more common causative and therefore transitive sense, supplying as its object לִבְּךָ; he reaches, however, the same result. The third declarative use of the Piel we have not found given here by any modern commentator.—A.].
Proverbs 4:16. [For the form given in the K’thibh יִכְשׁוּלוּ, see GREEN, § 88, BÖTT. § 367, β.—A .]
Proverbs 4:20. [The paragogic Imperative usually and naturally takes its place at the beginning of the clause; הַקְשִׁיבָה here, and in Proverbs 4:1 follows its object as well as the vocative בְּנִי. BÖTT. § 960, c.—A.].
Proverbs 4:21. יַלִּיזוּ fut. Hiphil from לוּז with a doubling of the first radical, as in יַלִּינוּ from לוּן. [Verb עו treated like a verb עע,—GREEN, § 160,1; BÖTT., § 1147, B. 3.—A.].
Proverbs 4:25. [HOLDEN makes לְנֹכַח an object and not an adverbial modifier—“behold that which is right.” This can hardly be reconciled with the strict meaning of נֹכַח. For the peculiar יַיְשִׁרוּ, in which the first radical retains fully its consonant character, resisting quiescence, see STUART, § 69, 2; GREEN, § 150, 1; BÖTT., 458, a, 498,12.—A.]
1. The address to the sons, i.e., the pupils or hearers of the teacher of wisdom, in the plural number, appearing for the first time in Proverbs 4:1, and then recurring twice afterward, in 5:7 and 7:24 (as well as in one later instance, in the discourse of the personified Wisdom, Proverbs 8:32) announces the beginning of a new and larger series of proverbial discourses. This extends to the end of chap. 7, and is characterized by a preponderance of warning, and also by the clear and minute delineation of the by-paths of folly and vice which are to be avoided, that now takes the place of the tone, hitherto predominant, of positive appeals to strive after wisdom and the fear of God. A starting point for these admonitory discourses is furnished by the communication made in the preceding chapter, concerning the good instructions which the author as a child had had urged upon his notice by his father. The negative or admonitory import of these teachings of the father is now more fully developed in the discourses, some longer, some shorter, of the next three chapters. And among these special prominence is given to sins against chastity, which had not, it is true, been expressly named by the father, but still must now come under consideration as involving dangers especially seductive and ruinous for the son, as he grew up from boyhood to youth. To these therefore the poet reverts no less than three times in the course of the admonitions which he attaches to his account of the precepts of his father as given in chap. 4. (viz., 5:3 sq.; 6:24 sq.; 7:5 sq). And in each instance the transition is made in a peculiarly natural way, and with a far more complete delineation of the repulsive details than had been earlier given on a similar occasion (Proverbs 3:16–19). Of the older expositors e.g., EGARD, J. LANGE, STARKE, and of the more recent ELSTER are in favor of extending the father’s admonition from Proverbs 4:4 to the end of this chapter. In favor of these limits may be adduced especially the fact that Proverbs 4:26, 27 form a peculiarly appropriate conclusion for the father’s discourse,—far more so not only than Proverbs 4:9 (with which JEROME, BEDE, LAVATER, the Würtemberg Bible, and most commentators of modern times, e.g., EWALD, BERTHEAU, HITZIG, [MUENSCHER, KAMPH.] would close the discourse) but also than Proverbs 4:20, (to which point e.g., UMBREIT would extend it). Against those who would regard Proverbs 5:1–6 as also belonging to the father’s address (HANSEN, DELITZSCH) we have the substance of these verses, which, at least from Proverbs 4:3 onward, seem no longer appropriate to an admonition addressed to a boy still “tender” (see 4:3); we have besides the still more weighty fact that chap. 5 forms an indivisible whole, from which the first six verses can plainly not be separated, on account of the reference to them contained in Proverbs 4:8. It is furthermore by no means necessary that the address “ye sons” (5:7) should stand at the very commencement of the discourse where the poet resumes it. In reply to HITZIG who, for the sake of restoring a symmetrical relation of numbers, in the present chapter once more pronounces certain verses spurious (Proverbs 4:16, 17 and 27), see the special remarks on these verses.
2. Proverbs 4:1–3. Hearken, ye children. It seems quite certain that this address, occurring only here and in Proverbs 5:7 and Proverbs 7:24, is occasioned by the fact, that the author designed to represent himself in and after Proverbs 4:4 as himself a son and the object of his father’s counsels and warnings. The aim was to present the example of the one son plainly before the many sons; for this is the relation in which the teacher of wisdom conceives of his hearers or readers. For this reason again he does not say, “my sons,” but “ye sons, ye children,” here as well as in Proverbs 5:7.—To a father’s correction, i.e., to the instruction of a man who is your spiritual father; not to the instruction of your several fathers. For, just as in Proverbs 1:8, the author does not intend in the first line to exhort to obedience to parents, but simply to obedience in general.—To learn understanding. The לָדַעַת בִּינָה here corresponds with לָדַעַת חָכְמָה in the superscription, Proverbs 1:2, and is therefore to be similarly understood. HITZIG’S idea “to know with the understanding” is evidently needlessly artificial.
Proverbs 4:2. For good doctrine, etc. לֶקַח, something received, handed over (see on 1:5); the author here describes his doctrine in this way because he himself received the substance of it from his father. The LXX here translate the word outright by δῶρον (Vulg. donum).
Proverbs 4:3. For I also was a son to my father, i.e., “I also once stood in the relation to my (actual) father, in which you stand to me, your paternal instructor,” (BERTHEAU). [MUENSCH. less forcibly makes כִּי temporal: when I was, etc.]—A tender and only (son) to my mother, strictly, before my mother, in her sight; comp. Gen. 17:18. The mention of the mother is probably occasioned here, as in 1:8, by the poetic parallelism; for in what follows it does not occur again.—Tender, רַךְ, not equivalent, as sometimes, to “susceptible of impressions, tractable,” as the LXX conceive in translating it by ὑπήκοος; but the expression, in connection with יָחִיד, “an only one” (comp. Gen. 22:2), indicates that the child has been to his parents an object of tender care; comp. Gen. 33:13, where Jacob speaks of the tenderness of his children. Furthermore the LXX, doubtless in remembrance of the fact that Solomon, according to 1 Chron. 3:5, was not the only son of his mother, renders יָחִיד by ἀγαπώμενος (beloved). That several ancient manuscripts and versions have substituted for לִבֵּנֵי אִמִּי ,לִפְנֵי אִמִּי, the sons of my mother, doubtless rests upon the same consideration. The earlier exegesis in general thought far too definitely of Solomon as the only speaking subject in the whole collection of proverbs, and therefore imagined itself obliged in every allusion to a “father” or a “mother” of the poet, to think specifically of David and Bathsheba. This is also the explanation of the fact that the LXX in the verse following exchanged the singular, “he taught me and said,” for a plural (οῖ έ̓λεγον καὶ ἐδίδασκόν με), and accordingly represented all that follows as instruction proceeding from both parents.
3. Proverbs 4:4–9. Let thine heart hold fast my words. The father’s instruction begins quite in the same style as all the other admonitions in this first main division of the Book of Proverbs. At the end of Proverbs 4:4 the Syrian Version adds the words “and my law as the apple of thine eye,” which is, however, plainly a supplementary gloss from Proverbs 7:2, in which passage also the expression occurs, “keep my commandments and thou shalt live,” BERTHEAU regards the addition as original here also, in order thus to do away with the peculiarity of three members in Proverbs 4:4 (which is surrounded by nothing but distichs), and to make of the three clauses four. But the triple structure owes its origin simply to the fact that the first member, as an introductory formula for the following discourse, must necessarily be made to stand outside the series of clauses which are otherwise always arranged in pairs.
Proverbs 4:5. Get wisdom, get understanding, literally, “buy wisdom, buy understanding.” The doubling of the verb makes the demand more vehement; as UMBREIT explains it, an “imitation of the exclamation of a merchant who is offering his wares.”—Forget not, turn not from the words of my mouth. The zeugma appears only in the translation, not in the original, since the verb שָׁכַח elsewhere, e.g., Ps. 102:5, is found construed with מִן. In the idea of forgetting there is naturally involved a turning aside or away from the object.
Proverbs 4:7. The highest thing is wisdom. This is the interpretation to be here given, with HITZIG (following MERCER, DE DIEU and some older expositors), to the expression רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה. It is usually rendered “The beginning of wisdom,” [e.g. by the LXX, Vulg., LUTHER] and the following clauses, “get wisdom, etc.” are taken as the designation of that in which the beginning of wisdom consists, viz., in the “resolution to get wisdom” (UMBREIT), or in the instant observance of the admonition which relates to this (comp. ELSTER on this passage [and also KAMPH.]). But as the beginning of wisdom the fear of God is every where else designated (see Obs. on 1:7); and for the absolute use of רֵאשִׁית in the sense of præstantissimum, summum (the highest, most excellent thing) we may compare on the one hand Job 29:25, and on the other Gen. 1:1.—And with all that thou hast gotten get understanding. The beautiful verbal correspondence in the Hebrew phrase is well indicated in the above rendering [in which the ambiguity of the E. V. is avoided; with is not to be taken in the sense of in connection with, but with the expenditure of, or at the price of,—German um or für]. For the thought comp. 3:14 sq.
Proverbs 4:8. Esteem her. The verb סִלְסֵל which occurs only here,—the Pilel of סלל,—might possibly, as an intensive formed from this verb, which as is well known signifies “to heap up, to build a way by mounds and embankments,” express the idea of enclosing with a wall, of a firm surrounding and enclosure. So the LXX understood it, translating by περιχαράκωσον αὐτὴν; so also the Chald., Syr., Vulg., and several modern interpreters, e.g., BERTHEAU,—all of whom find expressed in the word the idea of a loving clasp and embrace. It is however probably simpler and more in accordance with the sense of רוֹמֵם in the parallel clause to take the word, as ABEN EZRA, LUTHER, and most modern interpreters do, in the sense of “to exalt, esteem;” [So H., M., N., St. agreeing with the E. V.]. With this conception also the second clause best agrees, for in this there is added to the exhortation to prize and honor wisdom, the other admonition to love her.—If thou dost embrace her. Wisdom here appears personified as a loved one or wife, whom one lovingly draws to him, and embraces; comp. 5:20; Eccl. 3:5.
Proverbs 4:9. She will put upon thy head a graceful wreath. Comp. 1:9.—Will she bestow upon thee. The rare verb מִגֵּן which again in Hos. 11:8 stands parallel with נָתַן, according to this passage and Gen. 14:20 undoubtedly signifies to offer, to give, to present some one with something (construed with two accusatives). The old translations took it sometimes in the sense of protecting (LXX ὑπερασπίσῃ σου; Vulg.; proteget te; so the Syriac), as though it were a denominative from מָגֵן, shield. With this, however, the “glorious crown” does not correspond, which is evidently introduced as an ornament, and not as a protection and defence.
4. Proverbs 4:10–19. The father instructs his son concerning the way of wisdom (Proverbs 4:11, 18) in which he should walk, in contrast with the ruinous path of impiety (Proverbs 4:14, 19).—So shall the years of thy life be many. Comp. Proverbs 3:2. [WORDSWORTH says “This word חַיִּים is plural in the original, as in 3:2, as if Solomon would comprehend the future life with the present, and add Eternity to Time.” He forgets that the abstract idea of life is never expressed by the singular of this noun except as its slat. constr. חֵי is used in formulas of adjuration, e.g., Gen. 45:15, 16; 1 Sam. 1:26, etc. See Lexicons generally, and BÖTT. § 697, 2, § 689, B. a. A.]
Proverbs 4:11. In the way of wisdom, i.e., not “in the way to wisdom,” but in the way in which Wisdom walks, here also again as it were personified,—a way which is lovely and peaceful (according to 3:17), a way with “right paths” (lit., “paths of straightness,” comp. 2:9, 12) as the 2d member and the following verse describe it (comp. Job 18:7).—[Proverbs 4:12. The peculiar significance of such promises to an inhabitant of Palestine, see illustrated, e.g., in HACKETT’S Illustrations of Scripture, p. 20.—A.].
Proverbs 4:13. Hold fast upon instruction; let not go; keep her; she is thy life, as the bestower of long life; 3:2, 16, 18; see below, Proverbs 4:23.
Proverbs 4:14. And walk not, etc. אִשֵּׁר properly, to go straight on, here used of the bold, arrogant walk of the presumptuous; comp. 9:6; 23:19. To translate אַל־תְּאַשֵּׁר by “do not pronounce happy” (comp. 3:18) as the LXX, Vulg., and Syr. propose, contradicts the parallelism with “enter not” in the first member.
Proverbs 4:15. Avoid it. On פָּרַע to abhor, reject, comp. 1:25.—Turn from it and pass away,—i.e., even if thou hast entered upon it (עָלָיו) still turn aside from it and choose another way, which carries thee by the ruinous end of that one.
Proverbs 4:16, 17. For they cannot sleep unless they sin, etc. HITZIG thinks that in this reference to the energy of the wicked in sinning there can be found no appropriate ground for the warning in Proverbs 4:15; he therefore declares Proverbs 4:16, 17 a spurious interpolation, and at the same time inverts the order of the two following verses, i.e., makes the 19th the 18th; he then connects the כִּי, “for,” the only genuine fragment remaining of Proverbs 4:16, immediately with the דֶּרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים etc., of Proverbs 4:18 (19); “For…. the way of the wicked is as midnight, etc.” Since however no ancient MSS. or translation exhibits anything that favors this emendation, and since a certain irregular movement, an abandonment of that order of ideas which would seem simpler and more obvious, corresponds in general with the style of our author (comp. 1:16 sq.; 3:3 sq.; 8:4 sq.), we may fairly disregard so violent a treatment. Besides, the substance of Proverbs 4:16, 17, so far forth as they depict the way of the wicked as a restless, cruel and abominable course of procedure, is plainly quite pertinent as the foundation of a warning against this way. And that subsequently the concluding description of this way as a way of darkness (Proverbs 4:19) is not introduced until after the contrasted representation of the way of the pious (Proverbs 4:18), is an arrangement favorable to the general rhetorical effect of the whole, like several which we have already found, especially in Proverbs 3:34, 35, and also at the end of chapters 1 and 2—Unless they have caused (others) to fall, i.e., unless they have betrayed into sin; the object—viz., others, in general—does not need to be here distinctly expressed. For the Hiphil יַכְשִׁילוּ, which should be the reading here according to the K’ri, in the ethical sense of “causing to stumble” in the way of truth and uprightness, comp. especially Mal. 2:8, where the “causing to fall” is brought into even closer connection than in our passage with the idea of “turning from the way.” [The K’thibh would require the translation “they have stumbled,” i.e., (figuratively) sinned].—For they eat bread of wickedness, and wine of violence do they drink. Against the translation of SCHULTENS, MUENTINGHE, UMBREIT, ELSTER, [KAMPHAUSEN]: “for wickedness do they eat as bread, and violence do they drink as wine” (comp. Job 15:16; 34:7), may be adduced the position of the words, which should rather stand somewhat in this way—for they have eaten wickedness as bread for themselves—if designed to convey the meaning of a mere comparison. The expressions “bread of wickedness, wine of violent deeds,” plainly conveying a stronger meaning, remind us of the “bread of affliction,” Deut. 16:3; of the “bread of sorrows,” Psalm 127:2, and likewise of the “wine of the condemned” (יִיִןאֲנוּשִׁים) Am. 2:8.
Proverbs 4:18, 19. Like the light of dawn that groweth in brightness till the perfect day, literally, “that grows and brightens (familiar Hebrew idiom, as in Judges 4:24; Esth. 9:4; comp. EWALD, Lehrb. 280 b.) even to the establishing of the day.” נְכוֵֹן (const. state of the part. Niphal of כוּן) lit., the established, the (apparently) stationary position of the sun at noon (comp. the Greek το σταθερὸν τῆς μεσημβρίας, which however the LXX do not here employ). For נֹגַהּ, used of the brightness of the rising sun, comp. Isa. 60:3; 62:1 . The comparison of the path, i.e., the moral course, of the just with the light of the rising sun, bright and ever brightening, is most appropriate. If the whole path is light, a bright, clear knowledge of salvation, illumination by the heavenly light of divine revelation (comp. 6:23; 28:5; Isa. 2:5, etc.) there can naturally be no idea of stumbling and falling suggested (comp. John 11:9, 10); rather will he who walks in this way attain more and more to perfect clearness in the inward state of his heart and conscience, and therewith also in increasing measure to outward prosperity.—The way of the wicked is as darkness, the exact opposite to that of the righteous. אֲפֵלָה strictly “thick darkness,” midnight gloom. The degree of this darkness and its evil consequences for him who walks in it, the 2d clause clearly depicts; comp. John 11:9, 10, and for the general subject, the previous delineation of the sudden destruction of the ungodly, 1:27 sq.; also 2:18, 22; 3:35.
5. Proverbs 4:20–27. The father’s admonition closes with an urgent warning to the son against forgetting this counsel, with a special reference to the ruinous consequences which such a forgetting will ensure.—Let them not depart from thine eyes. The meaning is “depart, escape,” just as in 3:21. BERTHEAU’S interpretation is needlessly artificial,—“let them not withdraw them” (3 Plur. without a definite subject), i.e., let them not be withdrawn.
Proverbs 4:22., For they are life to those who find them: comp. 3:2, 16; 4:13; and especially for the use of “find” in the sense of to attain or to be blessed with anything, see 3:13; 8:35.—And to their whole body health. Comp. 3:8, where רִפְאוּת is found instead of the מַרְפֵא of our passage.
Proverbs 4:23. Above all that is to be guarded keep thy heart. מִכָּל־מִשְׁמָר literally, “more than every object of watching,” for this is beyond all question the sense of מִשְׁמָר, and not, as ABEN EZRA and JARCHI take it, “a thing against which one must guard,” which would not correspond with the radical meaning of שָׁמַר. The heart as the chief object of moral watchfulness, is plainly nothing but the conscience, the pure moral consciousness of man, the ἀγαθὴ συνείδησις, 1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 1 Pet. 3:16. So HITZIG, with unquestionable correctness, referring to Ps. 51:10; Job 27:6; 1 Sam. 25:31.—For out of it (flow) currents of life. Lit., “issues of life” BERTHEAU) i.e., of life in the physico-organic as well as in the ethical sense; of life so far forth as it manifests itself in the normal course and movement of the functions of the bodily organism, just as also in the full development of the spiritual powers and their working upon external nature. Comp. remarks on 2:8 sq. HITZIG also, who translates תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים not quite appropriately by “paths of life,” admits the fact that the expression rests upon the recognition of the heart as the seat and fountain of the blood, and therefore also as the central home of the entire life of the physical being (in accordance with Lev. 17:11; Deut. 12:23; and in opposition to BERTHEAU, who denies this reference). So also UMBREIT, except that he, with a view somewhat partial and obscure, conceives of the heart as the “seat of the sensibilities,” and the life that flows from it as the “general sensation of being.” [“All vital principles are lodged there, and only such as are good and holy will give you pleasure. The exercises of religion will be pleasant when they are natural, and flow easily out of their own fountain.” JOHN HOWE, Delighting in God.—A.]
Proverbs 4:24. Put away from thee perverseness of mouth, etc. “Following the first clause of Proverbs 4:23 the 24th and 25th verses warn against an arbitrary perverting of the moral judgment, into which evil passions so easily betray, and admonish not to give a misdirection to thought (the acies animi) within the department of morality” (HITZIG).—Let thine eyes look straight forward, etc. A prohibition not of an indolent “gazing about” (BERTHEAU), but of the false and evil look of the self-seeking, who does not intend honorable dealing with his neighbor, but seeks in all his course and dealing to outwit, to deceive and overpower him; comp. 6:13; 10:10; 16:30; Ecclesiast. 27:25; Matth. 6:23.
Proverbs 4:26. Make straight the path of thy foot. plainly something that is possible only in connection with eyes that look straight forward and and correctly; this is therefore the necessary practical consequence of the course commended in the preceding verse. He only who is from the heart honorable and upright is able also in the individual forms of his moral action to avoid every false step.—Let all thy ways be established. יִכֹּנוּ does not mean “let them be sure” (BERTH.), but “let them be definite, fixed,” which can be the case only with a course rightly regulated, straightforward, and’ sure; comp. Ps.119:133; Heb. 12:13. The latter passage plainly contains an allusion to our verse, the first member of which according to the LXX reads: Ὀρθὰς τροχιὰς ποίει σοῖς ποσίν.
Proverbs 4:27. Turn not to the right or to the left, keep thy foot far from evil. This fuller explanation of that fixedness and certainty of the way which is demanded in Proverbs 4:26 completes the father’s admonition in a way altogether appropriate, and is therefore neither to be declared, with HITZIG, a spurious addition, nor is it, in agreement with BERTHEAU, to be deprived of its position and meaning as a concluding appeal, by receiving into the text as genuine the two verses which appear after it in the LXX (and Vulgate): Ὀδοὺς γὰρ τὰς ἐκ δεξιῶν οἶδεν ὸ θεός, διεστραμμέναι δέ εἰσιν αἱ ἐξ ἀριστερῶν. Αὐτὸς δὲ ὀρθὰς ποιήσει τὰς τροχιάς σου, τὰς δὲ πορείας σου ἐν εἰρήνῃ πρόαξει. These two verses, whose substance appears to be a mere repetition from Proverbs 4:26, and 27, seem to owe their origin to the design to secure here again, as in the preceding section (Proverbs 4:10–19) a full decade of verses. In opposition to this view, arbitrary and theoretical, that the structure of the paragraphs or strophes in the chapters before us is uniformly equal, i.e., always consisting of ten verses—a view to which even BERTHEAU attaches much importance—see, above, the Exeget. Notes on chap. 3, No. 1.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
The counsel given by the pious and wise father to his son begins with the appeal to him to hold fast his words (Proverbs 4:4), and ends with an earnest warning against a course made insecure and dangerous by disregard of these words (Proverbs 4:20–27). Obedience to the word of revealed truth as transmitted within the community of the children of God, and bequeathed by parents to their sons,—this is the general statement of the import of the demands of this chapter as a whole, so far forth as it may be reduced to a single brief expression. It is essentially, as MELANCTHON says, “adhortationes ad studium obedientiæ et ad diligentiam regendi disciplinam,” that are contained in this passage. The whole is a chapter on the right (Christian) training of children, an exhibition of the nature of that chief manifestation of the Hhokmah [practical wisdom], which in the general superscription of the book (1:3; comp. 1:7) was designated as מוּסָר or discipline.1 To this chief end, the holding his son to discipline, to obedience, and the cherishing of his wholesome words and teachings, all the other prominent ideas which find expression in the father’s discourse are made subservient; the exhibition of wisdom as he one costly jewel, whose acquisition is above every other, and if necessary, at the cost of all other possessions, to be sought and secured (Proverbs 4:5–9; comp. Matth. 13:44–46); the emphatic admonition to be subject to “discipline,” and lot to let it go. even because it is the life of the true and obedient child of God (Proverbs 4:13); the clear delineation of the two paths; the way of darkness in which the ungodly walk, and the way of light in which the pious and wise are found Proverbs 4:14–19); the counsel to guard with all diligence not merely the word of truth received into the heart (Proverbs 4:20–22; comp. the ἔμφυτος λόγος Jas. 1:18), but also the heart itself, as the seat of the conscience, and the source of all life and prosperity (Proverbs 4:23); and finally the commendation of a life of honor and integrity, without turning to the right hand or to the left, as the salutary result of that inward disposition which is both pure and sure (Proverbs 4:24–27). That a pure heart, i.e., one purified by the grace of God, and with this a firm heart, i.e., one firmly rooted in truth as its ground, is the source and common fountain for the successful development of all the main activities and functions of human life, those belonging to the sphere of sense, as well as to the psychical and spiritual realms, and that this must more and more manifest itself as such a centre of the personality, sending forth light and life;—this thought, expressed in Proverbs 4:23 in a way peculiarly vigorous and suggestive, unquestionably presents the most profound, comprehensive and controlling truth, that the father, in the course of his counsels and warnings, gives to his son, standing before the portal of the school of life, to be borne with him on his way (comp. the advice of Tobias to his son: Tob. 4:6).—Yet we must also mark as one of the most noteworthy of the fundamental ideas of this discourse, the designation, contained in Proverbs 4:7, of wisdom as the “chief thing,” which is to be sought above all things else, and to be prized above all possessions and treasures. Yet this passage probably requires a different conception and application from that which is usually found,—so far forth as the thought which has already been expressed, e.g., above, in Proverbs 2:3 sq., “that one must practise wisdom to become wise” (comp. MELANCHTHON on this passage; STARKE, and of recent writers, especially ELSTER), probably does not correspond with the true import of רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה; the expression being designed rather to serve for the designation of wisdom as the highest end of all human counsel and action.
HOMILETIC AND PRACTICAL
Homily on the entire chapter: The two paths in which youth can walk,—that of obedience and that of vice (or the way of wisdom and that of folly; the way of light and that of darkness; comp. the minute picture of the two ways in the Ep. Barnabæ, § 18–20).—Educational Sermon: The fundamental principles of a truly Christian education of children, exhibited according to the standard of the counsels of a sage of the Old Testament to his son. 1st principle: True wisdom (which is equivalent to the fear of God) the highest end of all regulations adopted in the educational action of parents (Proverbs 4:4–9); 2d principle: As means to this end, an earnest insisting both upon the reward of walking in the light, and upon the punishment for walking in darkness (Proverbs 4:10–19); 3d principle: Results to be anticipated simply from this, that God’s word be received and cherished in a susceptible and good heart (Proverbs 4:20–27).—Comp. STÖCKER: Warning against evil companionship: 1) the simple command that one must avoid evil company (Proverbs 4:1–19); 2) the way in which this can be done (Proverbs 4:20–27).—STARKE: How David admonishes Solomon: 1) to the reception οf wisdom (4–13); 2) to the avoidance of impiety (14–19); 3) to the practice of piety (20–27).
Proverbs 4:4–9. STARKE:—Should the case arise, that one must lose either true wisdom or all temporal good, forego rather the latter; for wisdom is better than gold (Proverbs 16:16; Matth. 19:29). Honor, accomplishments, graces, esteem, each man desires for himself. If thou wouldst attain this wish of thine, then seek wisdom; she gloriously rewards her admirers.—[Proverbs 4:4. BRIDGES:—This heart-keeping is the path of life. GOULBURN:—Endeavor to make your heart a little sanctuary, in which you may continually realize the presence of God, and from which unhallowed thoughts and even vain thoughts must carefully be excluded.]—Berleb. Bible:—The two conditions of the Christian life: 1) its commencement, the seeking and finding of wisdom (Proverbs 4:7, according to the common interpretation); 2) its continuance, dependent upon preserving wisdom, and thereby being preserved, advanced, and brought to honor by it (Proverbs 4:8, 9).—[Proverbs 4:7. TRAPP: Make religion thy business: other things do by the by].
Proverbs 4:10–19. HASIUS: To set one’s foot in the way of good is ofttimes not so difficult as to go vigorously forward in it. The power of temptation is great; the tinder of vice is naturally in us; even a little spark can kindle it.—ZELTNER: Impossible as it is that a stone fall into the water and remain dry, so impossible is it that a lover of evil company be not betrayed, Ecclesiast. 13:7; 1 Cor. 15:33.—[Proverbs 4:18. ARNOT: The sun is an emblem not of the justified, but of the justifier. Christ alone is the source of light: Christians are only its reflectors. The just are those whom the Sun of righteousness shines upon; when they come beneath His healing beams, their darkness flies away. They who once were darkness are light now, but it is “in the Lord.”]—STARKE: The pious can avoid the snares of destruction through the light of the Holy Spirit; but the ungodly stumble in darkness and fall into the pits of death. As one from darkness walks on in darkness, so from light into light (Proverbs 4:18; comp. Prov. 12:28; Ps. 84:7; Job 5:12–14).—Berleb. Bible: The soul in its conversion to God must 1) hear His word; 2) receive the influence of this word, and by it be directed to the way of truth; 3) be guided by God in this way; 4) under God’s guidance and protection learn so to run in this way that it shall nowhere stumble nor fall.—[Proverbs 4:19. EMMONS: Sinners are in such darkness that they are insensible to the objects that are leading them to ruin; thus they stumble a) at the great deceiver; b) at one another; c) at Divine Providence; d) at their common employments; e) at the nature and tendency of their religious performances; f) at the preaching they hear; g) at the blindness of their own hearts.]
Proverbs 4:20–27. J. LANGE:—The inner spiritual life begins with the heart. As is the heart so are all its issues; for “from the heart proceed evil thoughts,” etc., Matth. 15:19; 12:35.—Berleb. Bible: The heart must keep the doctrine, and the doctrine the heart. Both are so intimately connected that neither can be without the other. … Nature herself in the natural heart shows with what care we must keep the spiritual (ethical) heart. In this we can never be too precise, too sharp, or too careful. If we guard our house, much more must the heart be guarded; the watches must there be doubled, etc.—In this all the duties of a door-keeper combine, reminding us who goes in and out, what sort of thoughts enter into the heart, what sort of desires go out, etc. Self-denial is the best means to such a keeping of the heart. It must stand as porter before the heart’s door; and the cross and the patience of Christ is the best door of the heart, well preserved with bolts and bars against all intrusion or violence.—SAURIN (sermon on Proverbs 4:26):—On the needful attention which each should give to his ways.—Calwer Handb.:—Threefold counsel in regard to the way and means of continuing in the right path: 1) give good heed to thy heart; 2) put away a perverse mouth (Proverbs 4:24); 3) let thine eyes look straightforward (Proverbs 4:25–27).—VON GERLACH:—The first and most immediate thing proceeding from the heart is words, then deeds. Let the former be above all things truthful and sincere; the latter circumspect, well considered, and then executed with certainty and confidence (Proverbs 4:26, 27). Comp. Rom. 14:23; and SENECA’S well known maxim: Quod dubitas, ne feceris.—[ARNOT: We cry to God in the words of David, Create in me a clean heart, and He answers back by the mouth of David’s son, Keep thy heart. Keep it with the keeping of heaven above, and of the earth beneath,—God’s keeping bespoken in prayer, and man’s keeping applied in watchful effort.
Proverbs 4:27. TRAPP: Keep the king’s highway: keep within God’s precincts, and ye keep under His protection.—BRIDGES: Though to keep the heart be God’s work, it is man’s agency. Our efforts are His instrumentality.]
In this particular, BOHLIUS certainly took the correct view, that in his otherwise remarkable classification of the contents of the first nine chapters according to the seven principia ethices divinæ deductiva (Daath, Binah, Sechel, Tuschijah, Musar, Msimmah, Ormah), he assigns to the 4th chapter the Musar (or the colligata informatio, as he explains the term). See Ethica Sacra, Disp. VI., p. 65 sq.
Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.