The Teacher as Model Disciple*
1Hear, O children, a father’s instruction,
be attentive, that you may gain understanding!
2Yes, excellent advice I give you;
my teaching do not forsake.
3When I was my father’s child,
tender, the darling of my mother,
4He taught me and said to me:
“Let your heart hold fast my words:a
keep my commands, and live!
5Get wisdom,* get understanding!
Do not forget or turn aside from the words of my mouth.
6Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
love her, and she will safeguard you;
7The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom;
whatever else you get, get understanding.
8Extol her, and she will exalt you;
she will bring you honors if you embrace her;
9She will put on your head a graceful diadem;
a glorious crown will she bestow on you.”
The Two Ways*
10Hear, my son, and receive my words,
and the years of your life shall be many.b
11On the way of wisdom I direct you,
I lead you on straight paths.
12When you walk, your step will not be impeded,
and should you run, you will not stumble.
13Hold fast to instruction, never let it go;
keep it, for it is your life.
14* The path of the wicked do not enter,
nor walk in the way of the evil;
15Shun it, do not cross it,
turn aside from it, pass on.
16For they cannot rest unless they have done evil;
if they do not trip anyone they lose sleep.
17For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
18But the path of the just is like shining light,
that grows in brilliance till perfect day.*
19The way of the wicked is like darkness;
they do not know on what they stumble.
With Your Whole Being Heed My Words and Live*
20My son, to my words be attentive,
to my sayings incline your ear;
21Let them not slip from your sight,
keep them within your heart;
22For they are life to those who find them,c
bringing health to one’s whole being.
23With all vigilance guard your heart,
for in it are the sources of life.
24* Dishonest mouth put away from you,
deceitful lips put far from you.
25Let your eyes look straight ahead
and your gaze be focused forward.
26Survey the path for your feet,
and all your ways will be sure.
27Turn neither to right nor to left,
keep your foot far from evil.
* [4:1–9] The teacher draws a parallel between his teaching the disciples now and his father’s teaching him in his youth (vv. 3–4): what my father taught me about wisdom is what I am teaching you. The poem implies that the teacher has acquired wisdom and has in fact been protected and honored as his father promised long ago. Thus the teacher has the authority of someone who has been under wisdom’s sway since earliest youth.
There are two sections, a call for attention and introduction of the speaker (vv. 1–3) and the father’s quoting of his own father’s teaching (vv. 4–9). Beginning with v. 5, the father’s words are no longer quoted, wisdom herself becoming the active agent; she becomes the subject, not the object, of the verbs. Three Hebrew verbs are repeated in the two parts, “to forsake” in vv. 2 and 6, “to keep/guard” in vv. 4 and 6, and “to give/bestow” in vv. 2 and 9. Each verb in its first appearance has the father’s words as its object; in its second appearance each verb has wisdom as its subject or object. The teaching process is like that in 2:1–22 and 3:1–12: heeding the words of one’s parent puts one in touch with wisdom, who completes the process and bestows her gifts.
* [4:5, 7] Get wisdom: the same Hebrew word “to get” can mean to acquire merchandise and to acquire a wife (18:22; 31:10); both meanings are in keeping with Proverbs’ metaphors of acquiring wisdom over gold and silver and of acquiring wisdom as a personified woman, a wife.
* [4:10–19] A central metaphor of the poem is “the way.” The way of wisdom leads directly to life (vv. 10–13); it is a light that grows brighter (v. 18). The wise are bound to shun (vv. 14–17) the dark and violent path of the wicked (v. 19). Singleness of purpose and right conduct proceed from the heart of the wise as from the source of life (vv. 23–26), saving them from destruction on evil paths (4:27; 5:21–23). As in 1:8–19 and 2:12–15, the obstacles to the quest are men and their way. Elsewhere in chaps. 1–9, the obstacle is the foreign woman (2:16–19; chap. 5; 6:20–35; chap. 7; 9:13–18).
* [4:18] Till perfect day: lit., “till the day is established”; this may refer to full daylight or to noonday.
* [4:20–27] Acquiring wisdom brings life and health. The learning process involves two stages: (1) hearing the teacher’s words and treasuring them in the heart; (2) speaking and acting in accord with the wisdom that one has stored in one’s heart. Seven organs of the body are mentioned: ear, eyes, heart, mouth, lips, eyelids (“gaze,” v. 25), feet. Each of the organs is to be strained to its limit as the disciple puts wisdom into practice. The physical organ stands for the faculty, e.g., the eye for sight, the foot for movement. The figure of speech is called metonymy; one word is substituted for another on the basis of a causal relation.
* [4:24–27] In vv. 20–21 the faculties of hearing (ear) and seeing (eye) take in the teaching and the heart stores and ponders it, so in the second half of the poem, vv. 24–27, the faculties of speech, sight, and walking enable the disciple to put the teaching into practice.