Proverbs 4


The preceptor calls his pupils, and tells them how himself was

educated, 1-4;

specifies the teachings he received, 5-19;

and exhorts his pupil to persevere in well-doing, and to avoid

evil, 20-27.


Verse 1. Hear, ye children] Come, my pupils, and hear how a

father instructed his child. Such as I received from my father I

give to you, and they were the teachings of a wise and

affectionate parent to his only son, a peculiar object of his

regards, and also those of a fond mother.

He introduces the subject thus, to show that the teaching he

received, and which he was about to give them, was the most

excellent of its kind. By this he ensured their attention, and

made his way to their heart. Teaching by precept is good; teaching

by example is better; but teaching both by precept and example is

best of all.

Verse 4. He taught me also, and said] Open thy heart to receive

my instructions-receive them with affection; when heard, retain

and practise them; and thou shalt live-the great purpose of thy

being brought into the world shall be accomplished in thee.

Verse 5. Get wisdom] True religion is essential to thy

happiness; never forget its teachings, nor go aside from the path

it prescribes.

Verse 6. Forsake her not] Wisdom personified is here represented

as a guardian and companion, who, if not forsaken, will continue

faithful; if loved, will continue a protector.

Verse 7. Wisdom is the principal thing] reshith

chochmah, "wisdom is the principle." It is the punctum saliens in

all religion to know the true God, and what he requires of man,

and for what he has made man; and to this must be added, under the

Christian dispensation, to know Jesus Christ whom he hath sent,

and for what end HE was sent, the necessity of his being sent,

and the nature of that salvation which he has bought by his own


Get wisdom] Consider this as thy chief gain; that in reference

to which all thy wisdom, knowledge, and endeavours should be


And with all thy getting] Let this be thy chief property. While

thou art passing through things temporal, do not lose those things

which are eternal; and, while diligent in business, be fervent in

spirit, serving the Lord.

Get understanding.] Do not be contented with the lessons of

wisdom merely; do not be satisfied with having a sound religious

creed; devils believe and tremble; but see that thou properly

comprehend all that thou hast learnt; and see that thou rightly

apply all that thou hast been taught.

Wisdom prescribes the best end, and the means best calculated

for its attainment. Understanding directs to the ways, times,

places, and opportunities of practicing the lessons of wisdom.

Wisdom points out the thing requisite; understanding sees to the

accomplishment and attainment. Wisdom sees; but understanding

feels. One discovers, the other possesses.

Coverdale translates this whole verse in a very remarkable

manner: "The chefe poynte of wyssdome is, that thou be wyllynge to

opteyne wyssdome; and before all thy goodes to get the

understandynge." This is paraphrase, not translation. In this

version paraphrase abounds.

The translation in my old MS. Bible is very simple: Begynnynge

of wisdam, welle thou wisdam; in al thi wisdam, and in al thi

possioun, purchas prudence. He is already wise who seeks wisdom;

and he is wise who knows its value, seeks to possess it. The whole

of this verse is wanting in the Arabic, and in the best copies of

the Septuagint.

Instead of keneh chochmah, get wisdom, the

Complutensian Polyglot has keneh binah, get

understanding; so that in it the verse stands, "Wisdom is the

principle, get understanding; and in all this getting, get

understanding." This is not an error either of the scribe, or of

the press, for it is supported by seven of the MSS. of Kennicott

and De Rossi.

The Complutensian, Antwerp, and Paris Polyglots have the seventh

verse in the Greek text; but the two latter, in general, copy the


Verse 8. She shall bring thee to honour] There is nothing, a

strict life of piety and benevolence excepted, that has such a

direct tendency to reflect honour upon a man, as the careful

cultivation of his mind. One of Bacon's aphorisms was, Knowledge

is power; and it is truly astonishing to see what influence true

learning has. Nothing is so universally respected, provided the

learned man be a consistent moral character, and be not proud and

overbearing; which is a disgrace to genuine literature.

Verse 9. A crown of glory] A tiara, diadem, or crown, shall not

be more honourable to the princely wearer, than sound wisdom-true

religion-coupled with deep learning, shall be to the Christian and

the scholar.

Verse 10. The years of thy life shall be many.] Vice and

intemperance impair the health and shorten the days of the wicked;

while true religion, sobriety, and temperance, prolong them. The

principal part of our diseases springs from "indolence,

intemperance, and disorderly passions." Religion excites to

industry, promotes sober habits, and destroys evil passions, and

harmonizes the soul; and thus, by preventing many diseases,

necessarily prolongs life.

Verse 12. Thy steps shall not be straitened] True wisdom will

teach thee to keep out of embarrassments. A man under the

influence of true religion ponders his paths, and carefully poises

occurring circumstances; and as the fear of God will ever lead him

to act an upright and honest part, so his way in business and life

is both clear and large. He has no by-ends to serve; he

speculates not; he uses neither trick nor cunning to effect any

purpose. Such a man can never be embarrassed. His steps are not

straitened; he sees his way always plain; and when a favourable

tide of Providence shows him the necessity of increased exertion,

he runs, and is in no danger of stumbling.

Verse 13. Take fast hold] hachazek, seize it strongly,

and keep the hold; and do this as for life. Learn all thou canst,

retain what thou hast learnt, and keep the reason continually in

view-it is for thy life.

Verse 14. Enter not into the path of the wicked] Never associate

with those whose life is irregular and sinful; never accompany

them in any of their acts of transgression.

Verse 15. Avoid it] Let it be the serious purpose of thy soul to

shun every appearance of evil.

Pass not by it] Never, for the sake of worldly gain, or through

complaisance to others, approach the way that thou wouldst not

wish to be found in when God calls thee into the eternal world.

Turn from it] If, through unwatchfulness or unfaithfulness,

thou at any time get near or into the way of sin, turn from it

with the utmost speed, and humble thyself before thy Maker.

And pass away.] Speed from it, run for thy life, and get to the

utmost distance; eternally diverging so as never to come near it

whilst thou hast a being.

Verse 16. Except they have done mischief] The night is their

time for spoil and depredation. And they must gain some booty,

before they go to rest. This I believe to be the meaning of the

passage. I grant, also, that there may be some of so malevolent a

disposition that they cannot be easy unless they can injure

others, and are put to excessive pain when they perceive any man

in prosperity, or receiving a kindness. The address in Virgil, to

an ill-natured shepherd is well known:-

Et cum vidisti puero donata, dolebas:

Et si non aliqua nocuisses, mortuus esses.

ECLOG. iii. 14.

"When thou sawest the gifts given to the lad, thou wast

distressed; and hadst thou not found some means of doing him a

mischief, thou hadst died."

Verse 17. For they eat the bread of wickedness] By privately


And drink the wine of violence.] By highway robbery.

Verse 18. But the path of the just] The path of the wicked is

gloomy, dark, and dangerous; that of the righteous is open,

luminous, and instructive. This verse contains a fine metaphor; it

refers to the sun rising above the horizon, and the increasing

twilight, till his beams shine full upon the earth. The original,

holech vaor ad nechon haiyom, may be

translated, "going and illuminating unto the prepared day." This

seems plainly to refer to the progress of the rising sun while

below the horizon; and the gradual increase of the light

occasioned by the reflection of his rays by means of the

atmosphere, till at last he is completely elevated above the

horizon, and then the prepared day has fully taken place, the sun

having risen at the determined time. So, the truly wise man is but

in his twilight here below; but he is in a state of glorious

preparation for the realms of everlasting light; till at last,

emerging from darkness and the shadows of death, he is ushered

into the full blaze of endless felicity. Yet previously to his

enjoyment of this glory, which is prepared for him, he is

going-walking in the commandments of his God blameless; and

illuminating-reflecting the light of the salvation which he has

received on all those who form the circle of his acquaintance.

Verse 21. Keep them in the midst of thine heart.] Let them be

wrapped up in the very centre of thy affections; that they may

give spring and energy to every desire, word, and wish.

Verse 23. Keep thy heart with all diligence] "Above all

keeping," guard thy heart. He who knows any thing of himself,

knows how apt his affections are to go astray.

For out of it are the issues of life.] totseoth

chaiyim, "the goings out of lives." Is not this a plain allusion

to the arteries which carry the blood from the heart through the

whole body, and to the utmost extremities? As long as the heart is

capable of receiving and propelling the blood, so long life is

continued. Now as the heart is the fountain whence all the streams

of life proceed, care must be taken that the fountain be not

stopped up nor injured. A double watch for its safety must be kept

up. So in spiritual things: the heart is the seat of the Lord of

life and glory; and the streams of spiritual life proceed from him

to all the powers and faculties of the soul. Watch with all

diligence, that this fountain be not sealed up, nor these streams

of life be cut off. Therefore "put away from thee a froward mouth

and perverse lips-and let thy eyes look straight on." Or, in other

words, look inward-look onward-look upward.

I know that the twenty-third verse is understood as principally

referring to the evils which proceed from the heart, and which

must be guarded against; and the good purposes that must be formed

in it, from which life takes its colouring. The former should be

opposed; the latter should be encouraged and strengthened. If the

heart be pure and holy, all its purposes will be just and good. If

it be impure and defiled, nothing will proceed from it but

abomination. But though all this be true, I have preferred

following what I believe to be the metaphor in the text.

Verse 24. A froward mouth] Beware of hastiness, anger, and rash


And perverse lips] Do not delight in nor acquire the habit of

contradicting and gainsaying; and beware of calumniating and

backbiting your neighbour.

Verse 26. Ponder the path of thy feet] Weigh well the part thou

shouldst act in life. See that thou contract no bad habits.

Verse 27. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left] Avoid all

crooked ways. Be an upright, downright, and straight-forward man.

Avoid tricks, wiles, and deceptions of this kind.

To this the Septuagint and Vulgate add the following verse:


ειρηνηπροαξει. Ipse autem rectos faciet cursus tuos; itinera

autem tua in pace producet. "For himself will make thy paths

straight and thy journeyings will he conduct in prosperity." The

Arabic has also a clause to the same effect. But nothing like

this is found in the Hebrew, Chaldee, or Syriac; nor in the

Vulgate, as printed in the Complutensian Polyglot; nor in that

of Antwerp or of Paris; but it is in the Greek text of those

editions, in the editio princeps of the Vulgate, in five of my own

MSS., and in the old MS. Bible. De Lyra rejects the clause as a

gloss that stands on no authority. If an addition, it is

certainly very ancient; and the promise it contains is true

whether the clause be authentic or not.

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