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Tremper Longman: Here all the emphasis is on the positive results of adopting wisdom, and nothing is said about the punishments of rejecting wisdom and going with folly, as is the case in many of the other related passages. However, what is truly distinctive here is the appeal to tradition. The primary dynamic of the book is a father’s instruction to a son. Here we have an explicit statement to the effect that the father is simply continuing a tradition that stretches back for generations. He is speaking to his son as his own father (on behalf of himself and his mother) had earlier spoken to him. It is not only in Proverbs that we see the passing down of religious tradition, but also in the area of law (Deut. 6) and historical traditions, which themselves contain theological and ethical lessons (Ps. 78:5–8). . .

The father is vitally concerned to keep his son moving on the right path in his life. In many ways, this discourse is an admonition like the previous one. It does not mention God explicitly, but by invoking the two-path theology, it does so implicitly, since the father’s path is the one that is associated with God. The admonition to the son here is to focus all of his energies on staying on the right path and avoiding the evil path. Again, this underlines the idea that wisdom entails a lifetime of work and not a single decision.

Ray Ortlund: Proverbs 4 shows us the only path into life = Christ.  The chapter breaks down like this:

  • how to get going (vv. 1-9),
  • how to keep going (vv. 10-19),
  • and how not to get lost along the way (vv. 20-27).

David Hubbard: Scripture Outline

Call to Attention (4:1–2)

Personal Illustration (4:3–9)

Practical Exhortations (4:10–17)

Antithetic Summary (4:18–19)

More Practical Exhortations (4:20–27)

Paul Koptak: Chapter 4 consists of three lessons, each beginning with an address to the next generation. Key words and images define the theme of each section.

Grandfather’s Teaching: “Get wisdom” (4:1–9)

Key words: Get/acquire

Key image: Wisdom is like a good wife

Paths of Righteousness and Wickedness (4:10–19)

Key words: Path/way

Key image: Wisdom is like a clear and well-lit path

Anatomy of Righteousness (4:20–27)

Key word: Heart

Key image: Wisdom is like a sound and healthy body

In this chapter, the young learners are urged to acquire wisdom, walk in its pathways, and put all their members in its service. The key word “life” and its cognates appears in all three sections (4:10, 13, 22, 23).


A.  (:1) Pay Attention

Hear, O  sons, the instruction of a father,

            And give attention that you may gain understanding.”

Paul Koptak: the verbal link between the father’s “instruction” (4:1, musar) and the Yahweh’s “discipline” (3:11, also musar) indicates a tradition of teaching that begins with God and is passed from generation to generation. . .  it would be a mistake to separate the wisdom instruction of the home from the wisdom teaching of the Lord.

The picture of Yahweh teaching and correcting as a loving father (3:12) makes a theological statement that is key to all of the instructions in Proverbs 1–9, revealing the larger picture of what the parents are doing as they teach their son(s). They pass on what they have received from Yahweh, the source, the beginning of wisdom teaching. Therefore, the stress in this chapter is on the transmission of wisdom.

B.  (:2) Good Stuff

For I give you sound teaching;

            Do not abandon my instruction.”

C.  (:3-4) Generational Voice of Experience

When I was a son to my father,

            Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother,

            Then he taught me and said to me,

            ‘Let your heart hold fast my words;

            Keep my commandments and live’

David Hubbard: The intent of the illustration, which forms the heart of this speech and its major contribution to chapters 1–9, is not nostalgia. Much more is involved than tender reminiscence. At issue is the right of the parent-teacher to impose instruction in command form, admonition, upon the younger generation. That right is explained and defended, as the teacher cites the setting and content of his own education at the feet of his parents. “My mother” (see 1:8; 6:20) underscores her role in the curriculum. She was particularly solicitous of her son’s nurture, since he seems to have been frail or weak (“tender”), and as the “only” child he carried with him the survival of the family’s name and destiny (v. 3).


A.  Go For It

Acquire wisdom!  Acquire understanding!

            Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.”

B.  Make it Top Priority — Wisdom is the principal thing

Do not forsake her, and she will guard you;

            Love her, and she will watch over you.

            The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom;

            And with all your acquiring, get understanding.”

C.  (:8-9) Receive the Reward

Prize her, and she will exalt you;

            She will honor you if you embrace her.

            She will place on your head a garland of grace;

            She will present you with a crown of beauty.”


Tremper Longman: (:10-19)  Stay on the right path.

In the next discourse of father to son, the former urges the latter to stay on the right path. The assumption here is that the son has already at least initially heeded the advice of his father, and now the father gives him further encouragement to stay the course. Again, this shows that wisdom is not a once-and-for-all decision but involves a lifetime of commitment and rededication. Indeed, part of the appeal is that the son’s experience on the straight path means a minimization of problems (he does not stumble on this path). A large part of the speech is a warning against going over to the dark side, the other path, which is evil. On the surface such a move might be tempting, but in actuality it leads to trouble and heartache.

A.  (:10) Tied to Long Life

Hear, my son, and accept my sayings.

            And the years of your life will be many.”

B.  (:11-12) Tied to Security

I have directed you in the way of wisdom;

            I have led you in upright paths.

            When you walk, your steps will not be impeded;

            And if you run, you will not stumble.”

C.  (:13) Tied to Quality of Life

Take hold of instruction; do not let go.

            Guard her, for she is your life.”


A.  (:14-15) Warning Against Path of Wicked

Do not enter the path of the wicked,

            And do not proceed in the way of evil men.

            Avoid it, do not pass by it;

            Turn away from it and pass on.”

B.  (:16-17) Path of Wicked Characterized by Malicious Violence

For they cannot sleep unless they do evil;

            And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.

            For they eat the bread of wickedness,

            And drink the wine of violence.”

Tremper Longman: Verses 16–17 add some substance to the prohibition by describing the intentions of those who are evil. They are compulsive evildoers, and they want to enmesh others into their lifestyle. In particular, they want to harm others. What gives them sleepless nights is their inability to mess up someone’s life, to “cause someone to stumble.” Verse 17 employs the metaphor of eating and drinking to describe just how deeply ingrained in their lives is their desire to do evil, and in particular to hurt others. Just as ingested food and drink become a part of a person, so they eat evil and drink violence. It is a part of them.

C.  (:18-19) Contrast Between Path of Righteous and Path of Wicked

  1. (:18)  Path of Righteous – Tied to Light and Life

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,

                     That shines brighter and brighter until the full day.”

  1. (:19)  Path of Wicked – Tied to Darkness and Insecurity

The way of the wicked is like darkness;

                     They do not know over what they stumble.”

Derek Kidner: The main contrast with verse 18 is between danger and constant bewilderment on the one hand, and safety and growing certainty on the other.  Jeremiah 23:12 takes the imagery of verse 19 still further.

David Hubbard: This summary concludes and distills the lessons about the dangers of violent people by contrasting the two ways in terms of light and darkness. The figure is of two groups of travelers. One, the “just” (“righteous” or “innocent,” see ch. 10), begin life’s path at daybreak and walk it in sunlight that “shines ever brighter” until midday when the light is at its full and the day is totally established (“perfect”) in its ability to illumine every obstacle and turning of the path. Threats are almost nonexistent, so well can the daytime travelers see. The other group, “the wicked,” set out on their way at dusk, only to find themselves immersed in “darkness” so dense that they “stumble” without knowing why. Dawn and dusk may each offer the same level of light to the prospective journeyers. But their pilgrimage ends poles apart: one, secure in the ability to scan from horizon to horizon and know precisely how the land lies; the other, ambling aimlessly with every familiar landmark obliterated by the impenetrable pall and every step an exercise in fear and futility.

Paul Koptak: In a payback reminiscent of the scene in chapter 1, those who want to make others stumble now stumble themselves, because of the darkness they have both sought and created. Just as the men of chapter 1 were caught like birds unaware, these men “do not know” what they stumble over.  Not knowing or understanding the consequences of one’s actions is an essential component of sin and folly.  Once again the reader learns to avoid the way of wickedness, not only for the harm it does to others but for the harm that comes back on those who walk it. In summary, this section of instruction contrasts the benefits that come to the righteous and the woes of the wicked (for other examples, see 1:32–33; 2:20–22; 3:33–35). The contrast foreshadows the collection of righteous/wicked proverbs of contrast in chapters 10–15, but it is also basic to the theological outlook of the entire book.


Tremper Longman: Guard your heart.

As with the previous discourse, the father here encourages his son to maintain the course. He is on the straight path, and he must summon all of his resources to remain diligent and not veer off this path to go onto the other path, described as evil (v. 27). That all the son’s resources need to be marshaled to the task is underlined by the many references to different body parts that must play their role: ear, eyes, eyelids, mouth, lips, feet, and above all—the heart.

A.  (:20-21) Pay Attention

My son, give attention to my words;

            Incline your ear to my sayings.

            Do not let them depart from your sight;

            Keep them in the midst of your heart.”

B.  (:22) Path of Obedience Tied to Life and Health

For they are life to those who find them,

            And health to all their whole body.”

C.  (:23) Condition of the Heart is Critical

Watch over your heart with all diligence,

            For from it flow the springs of life.”

D.  (:24) Truth and Integrity Essential

Put away from you a deceitful mouth,

            And put devious lips far from you.”

E.  (:25-27) Don’t Get Distracted

Let your eyes look directly ahead,

            And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.

            Watch the path of your feet,

            And all your ways will be established.

            Do not turn to the right nor to the left;

            Turn your foot from evil.”

Paul Koptak: In summary, the last lesson (4:20–27) begins with the father’s instructions and ends by going back to the student’s own journey. Not only is the learner to keep the father’s instructions in the heart (4:23), he is to guard that heart as a wellspring. The movement from receiving parental instruction to walking in one’s own way is true to the life process of maturation, but it also observes the difference between remembering a parent’s teaching and developing one’s own way of living. The ethical life is not only an inheritance, it is a life work. For this reason, the father appeals to the son to take his teaching with him on the journey, here symbolized as choosing a good mate, a good path, and a good heart.