Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is your life.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)For she is thy life.—Comp. 1John 5:12, “He that hath the Son hath life.”
THE TWO PATHS
Proverbs 4:10 - Proverbs 4:19.
This passage includes much more than temperance or any other single virtue. It is a perfectly general exhortation to that practical wisdom which walks in the path of righteousness. The principles laid down here are true in regard to drunkenness and abstinence, but they are intended to receive a wider application, and to that wider application we must first look. The theme is the old, familiar one of the two paths, and the aim is to recommend the better way by setting forth the contrasted effects of walking in it and in the other.
The general call to listen in Proverbs 4:10 is characteristically enforced by the Old Testament assurance that obedience prolongs life. That is a New Testament truth as well; for there is nothing more certain than that a life in conformity with God’s will, which is the same thing as a life in conformity with physical laws, tends to longevity. The experience of any doctor will show that. Here in England we have statistics which prove that total abstainers are a long-lived people, and some insurance offices construct their tables accordingly.
After that general call to listen comes, in Proverbs 4:11, the description of the path in which long life is to be found. It is ‘the way of Wisdom’-that is, that which Wisdom prescribes, and in which therefore it is wise to walk. It is always foolish to do wrong. The rough title of an old play is The Devil is an Ass, and if that is not true about him, it is absolutely true about those who listen to his lies. Sin is the stupidest thing in the universe, for it ignores the plainest facts, and never gets what it flings away so much to secure.
Another aspect of the path is presented in the designation ‘paths of uprightness,’ which seems to be equivalent to those which belong to, or perhaps which consist of, uprightness. The idea of straightness or evenness is the primary meaning of the word, and is, of course, appropriate to the image of a path. In the moral view, it suggests how much more simple and easy a course of rectitude is than one of sin. The one goes straight and unswerving to its end; the other is crooked, devious, intricate, and wanders from the true goal. A crooked road is a long road, and an up-and-down road is a tiring road. Wisdom’s way is straight, level, and steadily approaches its aim.
In Proverbs 4:13 the image of the path is dropped for the moment, and the picture of the way of uprightness and its travellers is translated into the plain exhortation to keep fast hold of ‘instruction,’ which is substantially equivalent to the queenly Wisdom of these early chapters of Proverbs. The earnestness of the repeated exhortations implies the strength of the forces that tend to sweep us, especially those of us who are young, from our grasp of that Wisdom. Hands become slack, and many a good gift drops from nerveless fingers; thieves abound who will filch away ‘instruction,’ if we do not resolutely hold tight by it. Who would walk through the slums of a city holding jewels with a careless grasp, and never looking at them? How many would he have left if he did? We do not need to do anything to lose instruction. If we will only do nothing to keep it, the world and our own hearts will make sure that we lose it. And if we lose it, we lose ourselves; for ‘she is thy life,’ and the mere bodily life, that is lived without her, is not worth calling the life of a man.
Proverbs 4:14 - Proverbs 4:17 give the picture of the other path, in terrible contrast with the preceding. It is noteworthy that, while in the former the designation was the ‘path of uprightness’ or of ‘wisdom,’ and the description therefore was mainly of the characteristics of the path, here the designation is ‘the path of the wicked,’ and the description is mainly of the travellers on it. Righteousness was dealt with, as it were, in the abstract; but wickedness is too awful and dark to be painted thus, and is only set forth in the concrete, as seen in its doers. Now, it is significant that the first exhortation here is of a negative character. In contrast with the reiterated exhortations to keep wisdom, here are reiterated counsels to steer clear of evil. It is all about us, and we have to make a strong effort to keep it at arm’s-length. ‘Whom resist’ is imperative. True, negative virtue is incomplete, but there will be no positive virtue without it. We must be accustomed to say ‘No,’ or we shall come to little good. An outer belt of firs is sometimes planted round a centre of more tender and valuable wood to shelter the young trees; so we have to make a fence of abstinences round our plantation of positive virtues. The decalogue is mostly prohibitions. ‘So did not I, because of the fear of God’ must be our motto. In this light, entire abstinence from intoxicants is seen to be part of the ‘way of Wisdom.’ It is one, and, in the present state of England and America, perhaps the most important, of the ways by which we can ‘turn from’ the path of the wicked and ‘pass on.’
The picture of the wicked in Proverbs 4:16 - Proverbs 4:17 is that of very grossly criminal sinners. They are only content when they have done harm, and delight in making others as bad as themselves. But, diabolical as such a disposition is, one sees it only too often in full operation. How many a drunkard or impure man finds a fiendish pleasure in getting hold of some innocent lad, and ‘putting him up to a thing or two,’ which means teaching him the vices from which the teacher has ceased to get much pleasure, and which he has to spice with the condiment of seeing an unaccustomed sinner’s eagerness! Such people infest our streets, and there is only one way for a young man to be safe from them,-’avoid, pass not by, turn from, and pass on.’ The reference to ‘bread’ and ‘wine’ in Proverbs 4:17 seems simply to mean that the wicked men’s living is won by their ‘wickedness,’ which procures bread, and by their ‘violence,’ which brings them wine. It is the way by which these are obtained that is culpable. We may contrast this foul source of a degraded living with Proverbs 4:13, where ‘instruction’ is set forth as ‘the life’ of the upright.
Proverbs 4:18 - Proverbs 4:19 bring more closely together the two paths, and set them in final, forcible contrast. The phrase ‘the perfect day’ might be rendered, vividly though clumsily, ‘the steady of the day’-that is, noon, when the sun seems to stand still in the meridian. So the image compares the path of the just to the growing brightness of morning dawn, becoming more and more fervid and lustrous, till the climax of an Eastern midday. No more sublime figure of the continuous progress in goodness, brightness, and joy, which is the best reward of walking in the paths of uprightness, can be imagined; and it is as true as it is sublime. Blessed they who in the morning of their days begin to walk in the way of wisdom; for, in most cases, years will strengthen their uprightness, and to that progress there will be no termination, nor will the midday sun have to decline westward to diminishing splendour or dismal setting, but that noontide glory will be enhanced, and made eternal in a new heaven. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. That blaze of growing glory, possible for us all, makes the tragic gloom to which evil men condemn themselves the thicker and more doleful, as some dungeon in an Eastern prison seems pitch dark to one coming in from the blaze outside. ‘How great is that darkness!’ It is the darkness of sin, of ignorance, of sorrow, and what adds deeper gloom to it is that every soul that sits in that shadow of death might have been shining, a sun, in the spacious heaven of God’s love.John 1:4.Proverbs 8:1; which is an instruction into the mind and will of God, concerning the salvation of men; into the grace of God, showing that salvation, in all its branches, is of pure grace; into the person and offices of Christ, and into the business of salvation through him; into the doctrines of peace, pardon, righteousness, and eternal life by him. This should be "taken fast hold of"; in order to which, men should take heed unto it, attentively hear it; they should come with a cordial affection to it, and an eager desire after it, or they will never lay fast hold on it; for taking fast hold, as it supposes a careful attention to the Gospel, so a reception of it in the love of it, and an eagerness to be possessed of it: such may be said to take fast hold on it, who receive it into their hearts, and not into their heads only; head knowledge of the Gospel instruction is not hold fast enough, it must be heart knowledge of it; it is taken fast hold on when it is mixed with faith when heard; when it is digested and incorporated as it were into men, and becomes the ingrafted word; when men are led experimentally and practically into it, and are not hearers only, but doers of it; and, being thus taken fast hold of,
let her not go; the instruction of wisdom, or the Gospel of Christ; do not drop it, nor depart from it, nor waver about it; nor be languid in a profession of it, nor indifferent to it: "be not remiss" (x), as the word signifies; or let not thine hand be remiss, or let not thine hand go; having, as it were with both hands, took fast hold of the Gospel, hold it fast, neither drop it through negligence and carelessness, nor suffer it to be taken from thee by fraud or force;
keep her, for she is thy life; which may be understood either of the Gospel, Wisdom's instruction, which should be kept as a rich treasure, and not parted with at any rate; since it is the means of quickening dead sinners; of showing sensible ones the way of life by Christ; of producing faith in them, by which they live upon him; and of maintaining and supporting the spiritual life in them, and of reviving and comforting them under the most drooping and afflictive circumstances; a man would as soon part with his life surely as part with this! Or else, seeing the feminine gender is here used, which does not agree with the word translated "instruction", but with "wisdom", mentioned Proverbs 4:11; so Aben Ezra; therefore Christ may be here meant, who is to be kept as the pearl of great price, being more precious than rubies and all desirable things, and especially since he is the "life" of his people: he is the author and maintainer of their spiritual life; he is their life itself, it is hid with him; and because he lives, they live also: all the comforts and supplies of life are from him, and he is their eternal life; it is given through him and by him, and ties greatly in the enjoyment of him.Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Verse 13. - The short but urgent admonitions in this verse may be explained by the knowledge which the father has of the temptations to which youth is exposed and the liability of youth to fall into them, as well as by the fact that Instruction, or Wisdom, is the bestower of life. This latter conviction is the reason why he urges "taking fast hold" of Wisdom. The tenacious grasp with which the shipwrecked sinking sailor lays hold on any spar or plank floating near will illustrate the kind of grasp with which Wisdom is to be held. It is no less a virtue to keep and hold fast a good thing than to get it at the first beginning (Muffet). Instruction (musar), usually of a disciplinary nature (see Proverbs 1:3), here more particularly the instruction of the father, but in a wider sense wisdom generally, with which it is synonymous, as appears from the feminine, "let her not go, keep her," musar being masculine; or the feminines may refer back to "Wisdom" in ver. 11. So Mercerus and Buxtorf. For she is thy life (ki hi khayyeka); i.e. she brings life to thee. Wisdom is represented as the bestower of long life, in Proverbs 3:2, 16, 18. Just in proportion as Wisdom is retained and guarded, so is life secured, and so far as the hold upon her is lost, so are the hopes of life diminished. Life depends upon the observance of her precepts. Proverbs 4:5, the father further explains that wisdom begins with the striving after it, and that this striving is itself its fundamental beginning:
7 The beginning of wisdom is "Get wisdom,"
And with [um, at the price of] all thou hast gotten get understanding,
8 Esteem her, so shall she lift thee up;
She will bring thee honour if thou dost embrace her.
9 She will put on thine head a graceful garland,
She will bestow upon thee a glorious diadem.
In the motto of the book, Proverbs 1:7, the author would say that the fear of Jahve is that from which all wisdom takes its origin. יראת יהוה (Proverbs 1:7) is the subject, and as such it stands foremost. Here he means to say what the beginning of wisdom consists in. ראשׁית חכמה is the subject, and stands forth as such. The predicate may also be read קנה־חכמה ( equals קנות), after Proverbs 16:16. The beginning of wisdom is (consists in) the getting of wisdom; but the imperative קנה, which also Aq., Sym., Theod. (κτῆσαι), Jerome, Syr., Targ. express (the lxx leaves Proverbs 4:7 untranslated), is supported by 7b. Hitzig, after Mercier, De Dieu, and Dderlein, translates the verse thus: "the highest thing is wisdom; get wisdom," which Zckler approves of; but the reasons which determine him to this rendering are subtleties: if the author had wished himself to be so understood, he ought at least to have written the words ראשׁית החכמה. But ראשׁית חכמה is a genitive of relation, as is to be expected from the relativity of the idea ראשׁית, and his intention is to say that the beginning of wisdom consists in the proposition קנה חכמה (cf. the similar formula, Ecclesiastes 12:13); this proposition is truly the lapis philosophorum, it contains all that is necessary in order to becoming wise. Therefore the Greek σοφία called itself modestly φιλοσοφία; for ἀρχὴ σὐτῆς the Book of Wisdom has, Proverbs 6:18, ἡ ἀληθεστάτη παιδείας ἐπιθυμία. In 7b the proposition is expressed which contains the specificum helping to wisdom. The בּ denotes price: give all for wisdom (Matthew 13:46, Matthew 13:44); no price is too high, no sacrifice too great for it.
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