Proverbs 4 – “Hold on to Wisdom; Take the Correct Path”

rock-climbingHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
In Proverbs 4 a father delivers three messages to his sons. The first is to pursue Wisdom and never let her go, the second is to avoid the wicked by taking the correct path, and the third is to stick to that path because it is a source of life.

II. Photo
The father warns his son to hold on to Wisdom for dear life: “Hold fast to discipline; do not let go; Keep it; it is your life” (v. 14).

III. Important Verses

v. 7: The beginning of wisdom is — acquire wisdom; With all your acquisitions, acquire discernment.
v. 8: Hug her to you and she will exalt you; She will bring you honor if you embrace her.
v. 16: [the wicked] cannot sleep unless they have done evil; Unless they make someone fall they are robbed of sleep.
vv. 18-19: The path of the righteous is like radiant sunlight, Ever brightening until noon. The way of the wicked is all darkness; They do not know what will make them stumble.

IV. Outline

1-9. Lecture 1
    1-2. Introduction (exordium)
    3-9. Lesson: hold on to wisdom
10-19. Lecture 2
    10-13. Introduction (exordium)
    14-19. Lesson: avoid the path of the wicked
20-27. Lecture 3
    20-23. Introduction (exordium)
    24-27. Lesson: stick to the proper path

V. Comment
Proverbs 4 consists of three lectures: vv. 1-9, 10-19, and 20-27. Until now the lectures have been addressed to “my son,” but vv. 1-2 is addressed to “sons.” This is also the case with 5:7, 7:24 and 8:32. Yet, while these addresses are in the plural, the lectures themselves are directed to a single person. This might indicate that the the father, who is incidentally speaking to one child, is actually addressing all young men.

The father begins the first lecture by recalling how his father once taught the very same lesson to him (vv. 3-4a): “Once I was a son to my father, the tender darling of my mother. He instructed me and said to me…” The lesson is to hold on to personified Wisdom by  “acquiring” (qeneh, appears 4x),  “loving” (‘ehav), and “embracing” (chabeq) her. All of these suggest a love engagement, and the outcome is that “She will adorn your head with a graceful wreath; Crown you with a glorious crown (‘ateret)” (v. 9). This verse might be related to Song of Songs 3:11, a verse where the word ‘ateret “crown” appears in the context of love: “O maidens of Zion, go forth And gaze upon King Solomon Wearing the crown (‘atarah) that his mother Gave him on his wedding day, On his day of bliss.” But, it must be pointed out that the word ‘ateret “crown” appears 23 times in Tanakh, and the vast majority of its occurrences are not sexual.

The second lecture (vv. 10-19) begins with a powerful motivation: “Hold fast to discipline; do not let go; Keep it; it is your life” (v. 13). The lesson is to avoid the path of the wicked, much like Prov. 1:15. While Mic. 2:1 and Ps. 36:5 describe how the wicked plot evil in their beds, v. 16 shows the extent of their addiction: “For they cannot sleep unless they have done evil; Unless they make someone fall they are robbed of sleep.” As Fox writes (p. 181), “The wicked have a need to cause harm: their ‘peace of mind’ depends upon it.” On a side note, it is interesting that this section has the word kashal “stumble” at its beginning, middle, and end (vv. 12, 16, 19).

The last lecture (vv. 20-27) exhorts the son to stick to the correct path. While it is very much related the previous lectures, it is unique in that it emphasizes the different parts of the body: the ears (v. 20), eyes (v. 21, 25), heart (v. 21, 23), flesh (v. 22), mouth (v. 24), lips (v. 24), eyelashes (v. 25), and feet (vv. 26-27) are all mentioned in this section.