The beginning of the book of Proverbs contains 10 lessons of wisdom (Ch. 1-9). This blog post will examine the fifth lesson from Proverbs 4:1-9.
Here in this fifth lesson we are actually learning the grandfather’s lesson that was first given to him. Linking the generations, Solomon quotes directly from his father's lecture and we get a personal glimpse into the family tree. Solomon urges his son to take part in the family legacy that’s being built. By quoting his father David, Solomon implies that he too, like his son, once sat in the seat of the student. The tradition of gaining wisdom from the previous generation is being passed along and this teaching and tradition deserves to be preserved. Gaining wisdom in this way is the son’s most valuable spiritual inheritance. He will carry on the family’s name and legacy.
Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
pay attention and gain understanding.
I give you sound learning,
so do not forsake my teaching.
(Prov 4:1-2, NIV)
The word “listen” in verse one means to pay careful attention. The goal is to gain insight and understanding, not just hear what is said. In college, sometimes I would audit a course without doing the work for credit. This is not the idea here behind the command. The father is urging his son to take this work very seriously. The phrase “sound learning” in verse two implies a good teaching that has been tried and tested and proven. In other words, whenever this teaching has been applied it has brought blessing. And, it implies whenever it was neglected it has brought pain and heartbreak. It is sound. Next, Solomon relays to his son what it was like when he was a young child who was precious and cherished in the home of his father David.
For I too was a son to my father,
still tender, and cherished by my mother.
Then he taught me, and he said to me,
“Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live.
(Prov 4:3-4, NIV)
These words have such gravitas. Here Solomon is giving us a glimpse into his own childhood when he grew up with a loving mother and a father as his mentor. The father was willing to teach and the student was ready to receive it. Commentator Bruce Waltke calls this a “beautiful cameo of the pious Israelite home in which the father was an inexperienced child who depended on the gentle care of his father and mother’s tenderness.” *
We are told elsewhere that Solomon’s father, King David, was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14). He was Israel’s greatest king. Solomon carried royal DNA. But, King David had also made significant mistakes including adultery and murder, which brought him life-long consequences. These are regrets that he explained to his son as warnings not to go down those same sinful and foolish paths. This is like an alcoholic father who is dying from cirrhosis of the liver telling his son not to drink alcohol.** Family patterns and cycles must be broken. David’s similar instructions to Solomon are found elsewhere:
“Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn.”
(1 Kgs 2:3)
Learning from mistakes and breaking dysfunctional family patterns is a large part of good parenting. These final words are words to live by. Next, after preparing the soil, Solomon gives his son the essence of their grandfather’s lecture:
Get wisdom, get understanding;
do not forget my words or turn away from them.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will watch over you.
(Prov 4:5-6, NIV)
The lesson here is simple yet profound, Solomon is encouraging his son to “get” or "acquire" wisdom at all costs. The word “get” (which occurs 4x here for emphasis) means “to purchase, or to acquire goods through a financial transaction.”
What in the world does this mean? The key to unlock the meaning of this lesson is to understand the image of an ancient wedding. Wisdom is personified as not just a woman here, but a bride for whom a dowry price would be paid. In this case, she will cost the son everything he owns. As such, this can only be done out of true love. The word “love” here means to cherish and set your sincere affection upon something, upon wisdom, just as you would set your affection on your own wife.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will give you a garland to grace your head
and present you with a glorious crown.
(Prov 4:7-9, NIV)
The phrase “the beginning of” signifies either a starting point or the chief thing. The case is being made that because wisdom is supreme, she is worth all the son owns. For the New Testament parallel, she is like the pearl of great price. (Matt 13:45-46) Solomon concludes this lesson with another powerful motivation. The benefits of wisdom are compelling and attractive, she will care for you and you will wear a crown. Again, this is wedding imagery as a bridegroom would wear this on his head during the ceremony (Song 3:11).
Lesson # 5 is a "heart to heart" talk. Son, do you really want wisdom? Do you want the benefits of following God’s instructions? If we are honest, often the truth is - we want the benefits but do not want to do the hard work that it takes to acquire wisdom. The price for wisdom is too high. It will cost you nothing less than your very heart. This is a gut check. Do you really love and want wisdom? This is your spiritual birthright, provided you desire and are willing to take hold of it. Derek Kidner puts it bluntly,
“What it takes is not brains or opportunity, but a decision. Do you want it? Come and get it.” ***
Next we will examine Lesson # 6.
* Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 278.
**I am indebted to Professor Peter Hook at Philadelphia Biblical University for this insight. OT Poetic Books. Course Notes. 2000.
*** Derek Kidner. Proverbs. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. (Downers Grove, IVP, 2009), 67.