Today, in this thirty-one day journey through the book of Proverbs, we move to chapter four. This chapter is nicely divided into three sections, each of which takes the form of instruction from father to son. This is an often-used construct within Proverbs, and one we have already seen several times. Each of the sections today begins with “hear, O sons,” “hear, my son,” or simply “my son.” Interestingly, this chapter contains no mention of God or any other facet of religion. This shows that wisdom is not merely spiritual, but is practical as well. As we have seen in previous chapters, there is no distinction made between head knowledge and heart knowledge. Hence all pursuit of wisdom, whether it contains the name of God or not, is equally spiritual and practical.
A Precious Possession
The first nine verses of this chapter speak of wisdom as being the most precious possession. The author shares with his son how his own father, David, taught him wisdom when he was only a young child. “When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me…” This shows us the value of wisdom being taught from one generation to the next. The Bible often places great importance on the wisdom gained by our elders and we are to pay them special respect and to give them our attention so we can learn from them. This is doubly true within the structure of family, for parents have the primary role in providing sound instruction to their children. What David taught Solomon, so many years before, was this: “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.” From a young age, Solomon was taught the importance of attaining wisdom.
Before this morning I had never considered why Solomon had chosen wisdom as a gift from God when the Lord offered him anything. It becomes clear, though, when we see that David cried out to his son to get wisdom and understanding above anything else. Solomon’s request for wisdom clearly flowed directly from his father’s emphasis on wisdom as being of utmost importance. He taught his son that wisdom is “the principal thing” which refers to a possession of first importance. Solomon heeded his father’s admonition and chose wisdom. What an encouragement this is to fathers who seek diligently to instruct our children in the ways of wisdom!
Verse 9 contains one of my favorite metaphors in the entire Scripture. “She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” This graceful garland is otherwise and more poetically translated as “a garland of grace.” Wisdom is beautiful and precious, and it is like a crown visible to others.
Path To Life
Verses 10-19 portray wisdom as a path to life. A path or road is a common metaphor in Old Testament writings, and continues to be common through the New Testament and even to our day. “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.” Wisdom allows us to walk uprightly, so that we will not stumble through the paths of life.
In direct contrast, there is the path of the wicked. “Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” The wisdom that allows us to walk in uprightness will keep us from turning towards the way of the wicked. This way “is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” The darkness of folly leads the fool to constantly stumble his way through a life that is little more than a downward path to death. But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”
These verses contain a vivid and even shocking description of evil, sinful men. “For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” What a humbling description of evil men! The author portrays them as people unable to sleep until they have not only sinned, but until they have made someone else sin with them. Their nourishment, which they feed on constantly, is wickedness and violence.
The chapter concludes with a final passage which speaks of the path of uprightness that leads to life. The father tells his son that his words – the wisdom which he gives his son – are life and health. The son is to keep them in the midst of his heart and to never let them depart from his eyes. His final exhortation is, “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” Only with wisdom can we keep our eyes fixed on the goal and only wisdom can preserve us from heading in wrong directions.
Reading through this passage we can well imagine Solomon sitting with his son beside him, or even on his knee, pleading with the boy to walk the path of wisdom. As a father it is so easy to see your child’s folly and to wish you could help him understand how to be wise, but children so often need to learn lessons the hard way. I was moved by the earnestness of David to Solomon as he pleaded “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” And Solomon, having learned from his father, spoke the same words to his son. The earnestness of the father to the son is the earnestness of our Father to His children. God calls to us, “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” and has given us this book for that very purpose. Get wisdom so it can be a garland of grace; a crown of glory!