Lecture 10: Proverbs 4
I. Review of Lessons 1 - 4:
As already covered, the prologue consists of ten lessons in the home from the parents to the children, specifically the son but this doesn’t exclude the daughter. Presumably the son is growing in wisdom. We had two interludes where Solomon personifies his wisdom as woman wisdom and she addresses the uncommitted youth, those who had grown up in covenant homes but had never made a real commitment to the God of Israel. And so before they enter the city, she makes her appeal to them to make a decision to commit them-selves by faith to the God of Solomon’s wisdom. They are the youth as home and also the youth of marriageable age and both are being appealed to. We have already considered lesson 1 in Proverbs 1:8-19 in which you have the competition between accepting the traditions of the parents and their inheritance and wisdom verses the sinners who were only committed to their own world view. Then we had the 1st interlude of chapter 1:20-33 in which woman wisdom appeals to them to enter fully into Solomon’s wisdom. The 2nd lesson in chapter 2 was to safeguard the youth against the wicked men and woman in terms of accepting and memorizing the sayings with affection; plus paying attention to it and crying out in prayer and careful study. That was an important chapter. The 3rd lesson was an alternation of covenant obligation that the youth were being encouraged to take and keep the wisdom and God in turn would reward that faith with wealth, health and prosperity. In discussing this point, we argued that you have to see the total viewpoint of Proverbs. It assures us that even if we fall as righteous people, we will rise, but it is terminal for the wicked. The 4th lesson was chapter 3:13-35. It was with this kind of wisdom that God created the world. This wisdom is so much better that material prosperity because money will put food on the table but will not give you fellowship around the table. It can give you a house but not a home and the love you really want. We looked at lessons 5, 6 and 7 roughly. They all dealt with warnings against adultery because that was the way of death.
II. Lesson 5 Part B - Proverbs 4:1-9
A. Heritage of the Family
It is arguing that this is a proven heritage within the family and the father sets the model. It follows: ‘Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. I am giving you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. For I too was a son to my father, still tender, and cherished by my mother; then he taught me, and he said to me, Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown.’ This time, he starts off with a plural: sons. This is probably diachronic, chronologically addressing his son and grandson. This is passing on a heritage of the plural. This is a typical introduction of the address to the sons with the admonition to listen and with motivation of him having exemplified what he is teaching in accepting his father’s wisdom. The main lesson is the grandfathers’ lesson to the son which also has admonition and motivation.
B. First and Second Admonition
The first admonition is verse 4, ‘then he taught me, and he said to me, you take hold of my words with all your heart; and keep my commands, and you will live.’ Living is the motivation here. But this is not just living a life on earth; it refers to eternal life here. This is the way that God knows and he is present in it with his spirit and therefore you have his life which will never die. You are participating in something eternal whereas the way of the wicked (Psalm 1) perishes because God is not present there. So outside the pail of God’s presence, there is death. The second admonition in verses 5 and 6 says to get wisdom, get understanding and don’t let it go. Don’t forget my words or turn away from them. Persevere in the faith and do not forsake wisdom and the second motivation: she will protect. Love her and she will watch over you. In this way you are protected and that is what supports your life in the first motivation. The third motivation is verses 7-9. The beginning of wisdom is to get wisdom. A decision is required for wisdom; I am going to get wisdom and that is going to be my motivation. Therefore, make that decision as a commitment though it costs all you have and get understanding. Now Christ has replaced wisdom and so you need to get Christ; he is wisdom incarnate. Wisdom is like the pearl of great price. Cherish her and she will exhort you and embrace her and she will honor you. She will give you a garland for your head and provide you with a glorious crown. Beside life and protection, there is exhortation and victory.
III. Lesson 6 – Walk the Way of Righteousness - Proverbs 4:10-19
Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction; do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. And the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.
B. The Way
I began this by trying to link it with the preceding lecture. Van Louis said, ‘the steps that we make and the path we take depend not only on what we have inherited but also on where we want to go.’ You have to decide that you will stay on this path. Looking at the composition of what was in the poet’s mind when he composed this; the dominant point is in the semantic domain of ‘way’. It is the dominant metaphor for the prologue of these different ways: the way of wisdom and then the way that is not wisdom. There is no third way. You have either entered through Pilgrim’s Progress, the wicked gate or on the path to the celestial city or you are on the path of destruction. This is the dominant motif; I’ve listed the synonymous noun you have here. You have ‘way’ repeated three times and in fact it forms an inclusion around the passage in verse 11 and 19. I instruct you in the way of wisdom and then in 19, but the way of the wicked; so you have the dichotomy of the two ways. It also makes reference to tracks (paths) in 11b. It refers to the ruts in a road but the NIV uses paths instead because many people wouldn’t understand the idea of tracks. In verse 12, you have steps and verses 14 and 18 you have paths. So you see that the dominant metaphor is the semantic domain of ‘way’ and then the synonymous terms of tracks, paths and steps. The ‘way’ refers to your basic character or disposition of your heart. It is not something you do but instead something that proceeds from within. It deals with your context and with whom you associate and with whom you honor and do not honor. It also deals with your conduct and what decisions you make in life. It deals with the consequences because ‘way’ has an end. For example, if you go through the Damascus gate in Damascus, you will end up in Damascus, etc. There is an end to it and this is the significance of this metaphor. There are verbs of motion: lead, walk, run, stumble, stop, enter, take a step, do not travel, and do not turn aside. So there are only two directions you can go and two ways.
C. The Structure
The structure is the typical address, admonition and motivation in verses 10-13 and the motivation is life which is all embraced. There is a warning not to go on the path of the wicked, the motivation is addition because once you enter it, and there is a progressive hardening into sin. And I have already mentioned Psalm 1, do not walk in the way or stand in the way of sinners and do not sit in the seat there. There are also verbs of motion but it is a slowing down so you are walking, then standing and then you are sitting. And so there is a progressive hardening. Then you have a katabasis or catabasis (from Greek κατὰ "down" and βαίνω "go") which is a descent of some type, such as moving downhill, the sinking of the winds or sun, a military retreat, or a trip to the underworld or from the interior of a country down to the coast, but then there is an anabasis of intensification: do not walk in the council or in the behavior of this way. You see the progressive hardening of something. At first you are taken back and surprised at what can happen with sin but eventually you are hardened and get used to it. So this is the warning; once you start that path, there is a danger that you will harden to things that will happen. Thus in this way, sin is addictive and that is what you become to desire all the time. The addiction becomes so bad that you are completely changed into another person. The conclusion and summary of verse 18 and verse 19 of developing light and darkness shows that the path of the righteous is like the morning sun shining ever brighter to the full light of day but the enveloping darkness becomes a deep darkness where they no longer understand what makes them stumble. The Proverbs are straight forward and pretty much right and wrong or black and white. You are either wise or you are wicked. It is recognizing that you grow in wisdom and is likened to the morning light and it keeps shining brighter and brighter until you are in full light. This is a helpful verse that temporizes something of the sharp black and white picture of the book.
D. The Epiphora
Another poetic effect known as epiphora (Greek) that is a repetition at the end; the repetition at the end of the stanza is about stumbling. Along with the stumbling it also includes an escalation. For the wise will not stumble (verse 12); when you run you will not stumble. In verse 16, the wicked are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble. You have progressed making others stumble. The wicked don’t know why they are stumbling; they don’t understand their own culture they are now living in. They don’t understand that they have taken the light of Christ out of their culture and they don’t know why they have the violence they are experiencing such as suicides, shooting, raping etc. They trust to find a solution in science and sociology instead of in the Bible.
IV. Lesson 7 – Proverbs 4:20-27
My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight; keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. You have an exhortation to stay on the righteous path. In this poem, the key motif divides the body up into parts and each body part has to be committed. In 20b, he talks about the ear; then the eyes. In 21b it talks about the heart and that is also in 23a. In 22b, you have the whole body and in 24, you have the mouth and lips. In verse 25 you have the eyes or the pupil of the eye and finally the foot and so in 26a there is the path for your feet. Finally you are to keep your foot from evil. So it breaks the anatomy apart with each part being devoted to the righteous path. In regards to the eye and ear, it is talking about the receptive organs of taking in wisdom. The feet has to do with the active aspect of paying attention and the central point is the heart which is taking it in and giving direction to the body. In Hebrew thought and phycology all life emerges out of the heart. In 1st Samuel 25 when Abigail befriended David against the wishes of her husband who was inebriated and didn’t have any sense and brought death upon the family. She went and befriended David and gave him gifts and saved the family with gifts. But the following morning, she told her husband what she had done. The Scripture says that his heart died and his body became like stone and ten days later he died. So his heart died and ten days later he died. His heart died because his body became like stone. So you can see how to conceptualize the heart as the source of the life that energizes the body. This is the Hebrew phycology of the time. I don’t think we have a better word for the heart as it is a combination of the way you think, feel, a basic disposition of your orientation of life and this leads to volition of what you are doing. This includes the basic commitment we have in life and the decisions we make in life; all of this is heart. This is why we talk about a need of a new heart, a new orientation, a new spirit and all that we call in the New Testament, regeneration or new life. But at this point, Solomon doesn’t have that kind of theological vocabulary; however, this is the way we would express it in the church today.
So verse 23, everything flows from the heart and it forms all your actions. So how do you guard your heart? You need to guard your emotions, guard what you read and what you are watching on television, the people you associate with along with the language you use. For just like the medusa that had a hideous face with snakes of hair as the myth says, if you looked full faced at her, your heart would turn to stone and we all have a medusa box in our living room that will turn our hearts to stone. This is why it is so important to have time with the Lord each day confessing your sins daily. Learn to orient your day around God in prayer and reading of the Scriptures. Discipline yourself in your daily time with God and this will help guard yourself from straying from the righteous way.