by Sam E. Stone
Solomon presents instruction as a father to his son throughout the book of Proverbs (see 1:8, 10, 15; 2:1; 3:1, 11, 21). Chapter 4 begins, “Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.” He then contrasts two possible ways to live. The way of wisdom is straight and leads to the abundant life, while the way of the wicked is filled with violence. Verses 18 and 19 highlight the differences between the two, and the closing verses of the chapter exhort the reader to choose wisdom.
Guiding Your Steps/Proverbs 4:10-15
Solomon’s command comes with a blessing: Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. The fact that long life is a reward of right living is emphasized in Proverbs (see 3:16; 2:21). Following in the path of wisdom and righteousness brings this assurance: When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Good counsel should be tightly grasped (4:13). Note how the writer uses varied expressions to teach the same truth.
Solomon’s own life is a perfect example of the importance of choosing the right path. In the book of Ecclesiastes he confesses that, for a time, he forsook the Word that had been the guide of his youth (note especially chapters 2 and 12). He sought pleasure, wealth, and power—but found that none of these brought lasting happiness. Now he warns all who come after him not to make the mistakes he did. Speaking of the evil way, he said, Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.
Guarding Your Heart/Proverbs 4:20-27
Holy living can help one’s physical health as well as his soul. Solomon declared, My words . . . are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. Paul wrote, “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
God’s Word is to be kept within our hearts. The psalmist commended those who seek the Lord with their whole heart (Psalm 119:2). Here heart describes the central organ that controls all of a person’s activities, and thus his character. Jesus taught that every action begins in the heart (Matthew 15:18, 19; 12:34).
The underlying theme for this section is found in v. 23: Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Keil explains, “The heart is the instrument of the thinking, willing, perceiving life of the spirit; it is the seat of the knowledge of self, of the knowledge of God, of the knowledge of our relation to God, and also of the law of God impressed on our moral nature.” All of life is rooted here. No wonder the psalmist emphasized the need to preserve the heart’s purity (Psalm 73:1).
A key indication of one’s choices is found in what he says. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. This principle is emphasized in the New Testament as well (see Ephesians 4:29; James 3:6). But our text mentions other areas besides the mouth. The ears and the eyes are also used both to get and keep wisdom. Eyes that look straight ahead are evidence of a truthful mind. We speak of “looking a person in the eye” to convey truthfulness, sincerity, and conviction.
Make level paths for your feet means to remove whatever hindrances may be in the road (Proverbs 4:11, 12). Isaiah declared, “The path of the righteous is level . . . the way of the righteous smooth” (26:7). Hebrews 12:13 confirms this. One who swerves from the path has fallen into bad behavior.
A wealthy man was hiring a driver to take him across a dangerous, winding mountain road. “How close can you get to the edge of the road and still keep me safe?” he asked each potential driver. “Within three feet!” declared one candidate. Another said, “I can do better than that. I can drive within a foot of the edge!” A third man said, “Sir, if I am your driver, I’ll stay as far from the cliff’s edge as possible.” He got the job! Staying as far from evil as we can is the right choice for all of us to make.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.