A Choice of Paths
Text: Proverbs 4
Once again Solomon admonishes his readers to pay careful attention so that they will be able to reason well. What he is offering is good, sound teaching that should not be carelessly discarded. These teachings are the same ones Solomon’s father, David, had taught him when he was young. He also told his son to hold on to the teachings, to keep the commandments of God, and live.
Of great importance is to acquire wisdom and reasoning. Efforts must be made toward this goal.
Then he taught me and said to me,
"Let your heart hold fast my words;
Keep my commandments and live;
Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
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.
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.”
Proverbs 4:4-9 form a small chiasm given by King David. The outer set emphasizes holding on to wisdom because it will give you life and honor. The second level is an emphatic command to gain wisdom and reasoning. The inner three lines then form the core point which is a list: don’t forget or turn away, don’t forsake, love. The two lines at the end form a secondary conclusion: Wisdom gained and retained will bring you grace and beauty. A crown is an honor that makes the recipient look good.
Recall that Proverbs 1:7 told us that the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord. Now we learn that the beginning of wisdom is to acquire it.
The Upright Path
Again there is a call to pay attention so that the reader may live long. Solomon has directed us to the way of wisdom which is illustrated as an upright path. “Upright” translates the Hebrew word yosher, which means straight, true, or honest. This is a path that goes where it appears to be going. There are no hidden turns or meandering ways. Such a path is easy to follow. You can walk it without hindrances (Psalms 18:36). You can run down it without stumbling (Proverbs 3:23).
This is what true wisdom is like. It is straightforward, honest, and without any hidden agenda or subtle traps. It tells you the direction you need to go in life and then takes you there at the speed you are most comfortable.
With such an advantage, you are best off holding on to Solomon’s teachings (Proverbs 3:18). Keeping those teachings true protects your own life.
The Path of the Wicked
The illustration of a path continues. The path of the wicked is one we should not follow. We should not even start going down the path. Even better avoid the path and not get close to it.
Why? Those on this path are looking for someone to prey upon. Doing evil and causing others to sin is how the wicked find rest and relaxation (Psalms 36:4; Isaiah 57:20; Micah 2:1). Wickedness and violence is their food and drink; it is what the wicked feast upon (II Peter 2:14).
The way of righteousness is compared to the light in the early morning. At first, it is barely seen, but it gradually grows brighter until eventually it is full daylight. Those striving to be righteous are the same way. A person’s righteousness starts out weak, but it grows stronger as he continues to follow God’s teachings.
In contrast, the way of the wicked is always dark, so dark that those walking can’t even see what they are stumbling over. In other words, the wicked don’t understand right and wrong. They don’t know why their actions cause them trouble.
Take the Straight Path
Pay attention again and don’t lose what you learn. Make them a part of you. What Solomon is teaching will give you life, both now and in eternity. It will even improve your physical health (Proverbs 3:8). What follows is a list of how to stay on the straight path, involving the heart, mouth, eyes, and feet.
The heart is where the blood of the body is pumped from and life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). We cannot live without it. So is it with our hearts -- the things we desire – as the heart goes, so goes our life (Matthew 12:34-35; Mark 7:21-23). We have to guard against wickedness or we will lose our life. In other words, avoiding sin is more than not committing wicked actions. It is a battle against what we desire. If we wait until the action to stop sin, we have already lost because the impulse to sin will constantly be there.
Along with protecting our hearts, we must also control our mouths. Lying has to stop (Ephesians 4:25). Not just the outright lies but also the twisting of the truth that makes other people make the wrong decisions. Just as we tread a path that is straight and clear, our speech has to be honest and straightforward as well. As James 1:26 points out, if we can’t control our tongue, we are not just deceiving others, we are deceiving ourselves.
Next, we have to control our eyes. Your eyes have to be fixed on where you are going because where you look is the direction you follow (Hebrews 12:1-2). “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23).
Finally, we have to control our behavior. We cannot engage in sinful behavior and think we can easily get back on the path (Romans 12:9; Ephesians 5:15; Hebrews 12:13). We cannot deviate from the straight path (Deuteronomy 5:32; Joshua 1:7). Therefore, we need to think about where we are going. Proverbs 4:26 begins with the Hebrew word palac, which means to make level or even. Following the path of righteousness is hard enough without putting obstacles in our way. Our steps need to be placed on the firm ground of righteousness (Psalms 37:23; II Thessalonians 3:3).
- How are the paths of wisdom and wickedness different?
- Why such strong warnings to stay away from the path of the wicked?
- Sometimes new Christians get discouraged. They see older Christians and think they will never be strong like they are. Is this true? What is the answer?
- Explain Job 31:1 in light of Proverbs 4:25.