1 Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
2 for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
3 When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
4 he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
5 Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
6 Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
8 Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
9 She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
10 Hear, my son, and accept my words,
that the years of your life may be many.
11 I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered,
and if you run, you will not stumble.
13 Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.
14 Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of the evil.
15 Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
16 For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
17 For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know over what they stumble. – Proverbs 4:1-19 ESV
One of the things that makes wisdom so unique and invaluable is that it can be passed down from one generation to another. It is like a priceless heirloom that is willed from grandmother to granddaughter, or a valuable piece of property that becomes a permanent part of the family’s inheritance. While wisdom itself isn’t communicable or transferable, a love for wisdom can be. And a parent that models a lifestyle based on the wisdom of God creates a strong incentive for their children to do the same. Wise parents tend to raise wise children.
Solomon inherited his high regard for wisdom from his own father, King David. Solomon had grown up in the royal household and while his father had been renowned for his exploits as a warrior, David had also been a poet, musician, and a man well acquainted with wisdom. He had learned a great deal from God over his long and prosperous reign. And some of his thoughts concerning wisdom were recorded in his psalms.
The godly offer good counsel;
they teach right from wrong.
They have made God’s law their own,
so they will never slip from his path. – Psalm 37:30-31 NLT
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. – Psalm 51:6 ESV
There is little doubt that David passed along his love for wisdom to all his children, but he was particularly diligent about preparing Solomon, the designated successor to his throne. He knew from firsthand experience just how difficult the job of ruling and reigning as God’s shepherd could be. He was leaving Solomon a thriving kingdom and a well-stocked treasury. The majority of Israel’s enemies had been conquered and there would be little need for Solomon to worry about going to war. He could simply lead the nation into further prosperity and help encourage them to honor and reverence God.
But David knew that Solomon would need wisdom in order to lead well, and wisdom was accessible only from God Almighty. So, when David was nearing death, he called in his son and issued a series of wise warnings.
“Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT
And David made sure that Solomon understood that wisdom was the byproduct of an intimate relationship with God.
“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. So take this seriously.” – 1 Chronicles 28:9-10 NLT
Yahweh and wisdom are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. And, eventually, Solomon passed on this insight to his own son.
For I, too, was once my father’s son,
tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.
My father taught me,
“Take my words to heart.
Follow my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom; develop good judgment.
Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.
Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.
Love her, and she will guard you. – Proverbs 4:3-6 NLT
Notice how Solomon’s description of wisdom mirrors David’s words concerning God. They are almost interchangeable. Solomon knew that his own wisdom had been a gift from God. When he had ascended the throne, God had visited Solomon in a dream and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you” (2 Chronicles 1:7 ESV). Amazingly, God was offering to grant whatever Solomon wished for. He could have asked God for anything. But Solomon’s response reveals that David had done a good job of inculcating a love for wisdom into his life.
“You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” – 2 Chronicles 1:8-10 ESV
And God willingly and graciously granted Solomon’s request.
“Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” – 2 Chronicles 1:11-12 ESV
In a sense, Proverbs 4 contains Solomon’s last will and testament to his own son. He is passing on what had been down to him by his own father. For Solomon, a love for wisdom was the greatest gift he could leave his son.
Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!
And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
If you prize wisdom, she will make you great.
Embrace her, and she will honor you. – Proverbs 4:7-8 NLT
He was leaving him a well-established kingdom, great wealth, and a good name. He would lack for nothing – except wisdom. Because that was the one thing Solomon couldn’t put in a vault for posterity or place in his son’s hand like a scepter or crown. All Solomon could do was pass on his love and appreciation for the wisdom God had given him. And he reminded his son that he had done his best to share all that he had come to know about wisdom.
I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness. – Proverbs 4:11 ESV
Now it was going to be up to his son to use his inheritance – wisely.
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life. – Proverbs 4:13 ESV
But Solomon knew that his son would face all kinds of temptations. His excessive wealth could make him self-sufficient and prideful, and lead him to no longer depend upon God. If he was not careful, his power could become an intoxicating brew that numbed his senses and blurred his spiritual vision. Rather than viewing his sovereignty as a gift from God, he could use it to abuse those under his care. That’s why Solomon strongly encourages his son to avoid taking the wrong path.
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. – Proverbs 4:14-15 ESV
Life is a matter of daily decisions. Each of us faces a never-ending succession of choices that must be made. We can choose the right path of the wrong one. We can pursue God and, therefore, the way of wisdom, or we can walk the path of the unrighteous and find ourselves going deeper and deeper into the dark woods of despair and wickedness.
For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day.
They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble.
They eat the food of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence! – Proverbs 4:16-17 NLT
Solomon greatly desired for his son to choose the right path – the way of righteousness, so he attempted to scare the “hell” out of him.
…the way of the wicked is like total darkness.
They have no idea what they are stumbling over. – Proverbs 4:19 NLT
And he provided his son with a more attractive and preferable alternative.
The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,
which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. – Proverbs 4:18 NLT
Like any good parent, Solomon knew he couldn’t make his son choose the right path. All he could do was remind him of all that he had tried to pass along and encourage him to stay the course. It is not unlike the words of encouragement that Paul passed on to Timothy, his young “son” in the faith.
But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance.
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:10, 14-17 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.