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Proverbs 4:10-19 by Robert Dean
Warning! Danger Ahead! Signs like this alert us to looming disasters. Fathers are told in Proverbs to teach children what will keep them out of blind alleys and detours. With the wrong mental attitudes they can be run over by the things that happen but by choosing to follow the wisdom in God's Word they are able to stand up and walk through life's storms with their heads held high. Listen to this lesson to learn the difference between a proverb and a promise. Accept the challenge of not growing weary and giving up but keeping on traveling the path that shines ever brighter to the end.
Series:Proverbs (2013)
Duration:56 mins 21 secs

Choose: Life or Death? Proverbs 4:10-19


In this section we have an illustration of how the Word of God is to be passed on generationally. That really forms the foundation of the first nine chapters as well as most of Proverbs, that these are the teachings of spiritual principles from father to son. The ideal circumstance is for the father to be the spiritual head of the home and it is the ideal situation for the father to take that leadership responsibility in the home for the training and education of the children for spiritual things.


This can be done in a more formal way, on a weekly basis, a nightly basis, the reading of Scriptures, talking about what is read, reading Bible stories, having various discussions as time goes by. It can also be informal teaching, and this is something that is done not necessarily in a didactic manner in a lecture format where the father is giving lectures but, as Deuteronomy 6 portrays it, just as you go through life circumstances and situations come up that are teachable moments, opportunities that God brings into the life of a family where advantages can be taken to help children understand the decision making process that you parents go through in order to determine what would be the best course of action for the family in light of the Word of God. And as the family grows what this does is build within their souls a framework for making decisions in their own life, whether it is handling finances, how we spend our time, how we evaluate our priorities, etc. The earlier parents begin with their children the easier it is. 

As we look at this next section in Proverbs chapter four the father again challenges the son in terms of his decision-making priorities and focuses his thinking upon the issues, once again, of life and death. As Christians often whenever we see these juxtapositions of life and death what we often think of it eternal life and condemnation. But within the context of the Old Testament that is not the category that they are talking about most of the time. For example, when the Israelites were entering into the land of Canaan Moses challenge to them was, "Choose today life or death." It was not eternal life as much as are you going to make choices on a day-to-day basis that are going to enhance your walk with God so that you experience all the fullness of blessing that God has for you in life, the fullness of life that God has provided for us. Death, the, is living a miserable life, a life of conflict, a life of difficulty, a life in internal unhappiness and misery.


This is not talking about externals here because as Christians we all go through times of adversity, times of difficulty, times of challenge. We face a myriad of hardship in life because we living in the devil's world, a corrupt world. There is opposition against us from Satan and his world system and there are problems just dealing with a fallen world. The fullness of life doesn't mean a perfect life, doesn't mean that everything is going to go well. It doesn't mean that most of the time everything is going to go well. It has nothing to do with the external circumstances, it has to do with how we face and handle those external circumstances. Are we going to let the challenges of life run over us, or are we going to stand form and trust in the Lord to deal with these as they come on the basis of what God has provided. 


The challenge in this next set of verses is the challenge between life and death. Proverbs 4:10 NASB "Hear, my son, and accept my sayings And the years of your life will be many." The father is saying if you listen to me and follow what I teach you, then you will have a full, rich life. This is the contrast between life and death. The challenge is how to live life well, to seize life and to stay off of the human viewpoint road and stay on the road of divine viewpoint and the Word of God. 


Proverbs 4:11 NASB "I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths." We see this again and again in Proverbs where the fathers says I'm teaching you wisdom, I'm warning you against foolishness. Why? Because he also says foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, you don't have to be taught how to act foolishly. You don't have to be taught how to be wicked; you don't have to get instruction on being a sinner because that is what we are; that is our default position.


But we live in a world where increasingly the political philosophy that dominates western civilization assumes that the role of government is to protect society, protect people, and to do away with death. Notice that the more that we get away from the Scripture and the certainty of eternal life, and that death is just an open door into a heavenly life that people in government are more and more scared of death and they try to do everything they can to keep people alive longer. Of course, this is going to go by the wayside once government takes over health care. They can't afford to keep everybody alive until they're 95 or 105 because it gets too expensive, and there's only limited financial resources so that then becomes a problem. What we have is the role of government trying to protect people to make them healthy, not to give them and environment where they can make volitionally responsible choices to live a healthy life. The government comes and tries to prevent people from feeling the consequences, the negative results of their own bad decisions. We have tried to create this utopic society.


This is the influence of progressivism, socialism, Christian socialism, Marxism; all of these things that have come along in the last 150 years, all built upon this basic assumption that man is good, man is perfectible, society is perfectible, and that it is the role of society through government to bring in this utopic environment. That is in contrast to the Word of God which teaches that we are all basically sinners, we have to learn to control the desires of the sin nature, we have to learn discipline so that we can then have a full, rich life.

The role of parents is to teach and ingrain that discipline in their children.


It is interesting that there have been several comments from people this last week from people who said that they had always believed that everything was either black or white. And yet in Scripture we read that there are areas of absolute right and absolute wrong, and there are other areas where the issue isn't a choice between that which is right and that which is wrong, the choice is between that which is good and that which is better. We can think of that in the life of Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus. Mary was the one who liked to hang out at home and take care of everybody, and she was the one to give the hospitality. Martha was the one who would sit and listen to the Lord and Mary is the one who would get distracted with these other things taking care of things at home. She made a choice that was good. There is nothing wrong with taking care of domestic things at home, showing hospitality, cleaning, doing all of those things. But Martha at times recognized that she didn't want to get distracted with that because it took her away from spending time with the Lord and focusing on truth. So it is not a choice between good and bad, it is a choice between good and better. And as we mature as believers often our choices are not between that which is right and that which is wrong, but that which is good, that which is really good, and that which is wise and skillful in our spiritual life.


So the father challenges his son. "Listen." The word in Hebrew is as it is in Greek. The biblical thinking on hearing isn't just to sit and listen and have your auditory nerves stimulated. We all do that. We can sit there and our brain is a thousand miles away, thinking about something else, something that is going to happen this week, something last week, etc. The word in verse 10 for "hear" means not only to listen, to go through the physical action of hearing, but to do what is being said to do; to respond positively and apply and obey what is going on. Hearing without obedience doesn't mean anything. You haven't heard if you don't obey. And so the challenge here to the son is to listen and obey what the father says. The parallel is "receive/accept my sayings." The word in the Hebrew is a word that means to take, or it is a synonym for accepting something into your life and making it a part of your thinking, a part of your characteristics of your life.


So the challenge of the father is to listen and to do as he says, and then the result is given in the second part of the verse: "And the years of your life will be many." We see in the New Testament with eternal life that it is not just life forever with God, but that concept of eternal life also indicates a richness and fullness of life. In saying that, depending on their background some people hear wealth, riches, success, all of those things. That is not what is included in the word. It is a fullness of life that we reach, the fulfillment that God has for us by living out His plan and purpose for our life. It doesn't have anything to do with the external circumstances of our life. The thing that makes the difference between somebody who has a rich life and somebody who doesn't is their mental attitude—how you handle your circumstances, how you are able to face the challenges of life. Because you are either going to be run over by bad things that happen in life or you are going to stand up and be able to walk through the storm with your head held high, recognizing that God is in charge and that He has a reason and a purpose for you going through those particularly challenging events. There will be people you can minister to, people you meet after you have gone through it, and you have to have a bigger, broader picture.


So what the father is telling the son is, if you want a full life, both in terms of length and in terms of its richness and fulfillment, then you need to listen to wisdom: the teachings of the Word of God so that you can have skill in its application.


Then the father reflects on what he has done. Proverbs 4:11 NASB "I have directed you in the way of wisdom …" This is not a passive role of being an example, giving guidance, but it is giving specific disciplined instruction. The word here translated "directed" in the NASB is yarah is the root word for the word torah. We think of that as the law, but is also means the instruction of God and it has the idea of having a curriculum, having order, structure. So the father has a set curriculum in his mind for where he wants to take his children from the time they are born until they leave the home.


Note: The role of parents is to prepare to children to be able to live without them by the time they are eighteen years of age. It is to prepare them to leave the next, not to be dependent upon the parents for the rest of their life. 


In parallel he says, "… I have led you in upright paths." The Hebrew word for "way of wisdom" is derekh, the word for "highway" in modern Hebrew and it means basically the same thing in the Old Testament—path, road, way. Then in the second line, "I have led you," is from the verb based on that same noun, which means I have caused you to go a certain way (hiphil stem). The word for "paths" is yashar which means to be level, to be straight, just, lawful. It is also used in Proverbs 3:6 dealing with the fact that the Lord will make our way straight, will straight our paths.


The picture we see here is that when we learn wisdom and seek to apply wisdom, and we make what we thing is the wisest decision as we go through life and we are trusting the Lord throughout all of this, then God is the one who straightens out the direction of our life. The result of this is then given in verse 12. 


Proverbs 4:12 NASB "When you walk, your steps will not be impeded [hindered] …" Why? Because you are trusting in the Lord and He is straightening out your path, removing those things that will cause you to stumble. The idea of stumbling here is not the idea of creating a stumbling block. Hindering in the qal stem means something that is narrow or a distress; in the hiphil it is to cause something to make it narrow or to cause distress, so you're steps will not be blocked, you are not going to become constricted in your life because you are going to pursue a fullness of life. "… And if you run, you will not stumble." This is the idea of Isaiah 40:31 NASB "Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up {with} wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary." Again and again in Scripture we have these same ideas emphasized, that if we walk on the basis of the Word of God, i.e. if we live our life making decisions on the basis of the values of the Word of God, then God works to straighten out our life.


Does that mean that we are not going to have adversity? Not at all. It means that if those things come into our life we know that God has allowed them and brought them into our life for a purpose, and it gives us an opportunity to trust Him and to be a witness to others in how we trust the Lord in the midst of those circumstances.


"… And if you run, you will not stumble." The idea of stumbling here has to do with stumbling as a result of weariness or being exhausted. We are strengthened by God's Word, it is the same idea as in Isaiah 40:31. This concept of growing tired and weary is then picked up in the next verse under the idea of the Hebrew word in the phrase "do not let go."


Proverbs 4:13 NASB "Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life." The challenge here is to hold fast to the teaching of God's Word. Actually it means don't give up, don't get discouraged, don't give up in the process of spiritual growth. "Take hold" is the Hebrew word chazaq which means to grab hold on to something and to hold to it tightly. There is a sense of desperation there. You know that if you let go then all is lost, so you're not going to release it. "of instruction," is the word moser which means disciplined instruction. Again we get this reminder that this father has thought out ahead of time the curriculum he wants his children to go through so that when they come out at the other end as a young adult they are self-sufficient. He is taking them through a course of training that is organized and thought out so that they are prepared as adults, prepared spiritually to face the challenges of life when they become an adult.


There are no guarantees though. There is a general proverbial truth that you train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he won't depart from it. But children have volition, and when children grow up in a pagan culture, no matter how much you may seek to shelter them from the pagan culture, it is amazing how kids just seem to absorb it from the air around them. When they become young adults they often try to see if what they believe when they are out on their own. They go and sow their wild oats, as it were. Some go through a period of that and it is not very extreme. Others never seem to come back from that. Some are like the prodigal son and go through years of self-induced misery and self-destruction before they come back. Others may not come back. That is rare, and that is why it is a proverb, not a promise.


A promise is that if you train up a child in the way he should go there would be no exception. A proverb is just simply one of the general truths that if you teach them and train them in the way they should go them most of the time, even though they may depart for a while, they will return. That is why it is the book of Proverbs, not the book of Promises. So the instruction is a guided, disciplined instruction. When we learn we have to go through a guided path of instruction. This is why in Bible class it is important that we have a pastor who teaches through the Word in a regular manner.


The phrase "do not let go" is the hiphil imperfect of rafah which has the idea of sinking down, dropping something, becoming disheartened or discouraged. In other words, take firm hold, or strongly grasp disciplined instruction and don't give up. "… Guard her, for she is your life." It is the source of life.


Then in contrast to following the instruction of the father we have the warning against following the natural inclinations of the sin nature. Notice there is nothing here about listening to instruction, it is assumed that without instruction this is the way a person will go. Notice there is a progression here much like in Psalm one. Proverbs 4:14 NASB "Do not enter the path of the wicked And do not proceed in the way of evil men. [15] Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on." So it is entering, walking and travelling in a certain direction. It is a progression from just a sitting position to fully entering into something. The prohibition is, don't enter into the path of the wicked. "Wicked" is a general term used in the Old Testament to describe the whole range of the sin nature and sins. It is used 266 times, mostly in wisdom literature, but it is used elsewhere as well. And it is used as a synonym for almost every word for sin, evil and iniquity in the Hebrew. So it is a general term that covers the whole realm of the activity of the sin nature. Don't enter; don't make the choice to even walk through the door of that path. Then further, don't walk down the path in the way or the direction of evil. The command is to avoid it, ignore it, to let it go. Don't travel on it. 


The reason for this command is given in the next two verses. It expresses the core nature of the person who is wicked, that their nature is such that this wickedness has taken control of their soul. These are the ones who have entered the path, are walking down the path, and they have given their life now to the path. It is a progression, it doesn't happen all at once. We dabble in sin a little bit, then we get comfortable with it. At first we might have been shocked, we dabble in it, then we are doing it all the time, and the next thing we know it is a part of our life. Once it takes over a person's life they are characterized this way: Proverbs 4:16 NASB "For they cannot sleep unless they do evil …" Their whole being is caught up with living in wickedness. So they can't even relax until something wicked has been done. "… And they are robbed of sleep unless they make {someone} stumble." This second part extends the idea from simply doing evil to getting somebody else involved. They want a companion in their evil. Here we have the word kashal in the Hebrew, which means, to stagger from weakness or weariness.


Then the wicked are described as having totally assimilated evil in their life. The next verse uses a picturesque metaphor of eating and drinking, which is often used in Scripture in order to express the fact that someone has taken—just as we eat food and it is converted into energy and the nutrients go through all of the body and become part and parcel of our nature—evil and it has entered into the total experience of the wicked person and they have made it a part of their own. Proverbs 4:17 NASB "For they eat the bread of wickedness And drink the wine of violence." Eating and drinking here covers all the aspects of taking something in, and it marks an intimate and real partaking of everything that wickedness and violence brings. This is not talking about eating wicked bread or violent wine. It is the bread related to wickedness and describes the nutrients that are absorbed from the bread, and the wine is characterized by violence. So it is the wickedness and the violence that is coming into the life of the person.


Often we have verses in Scripture that express this idea of eating and drinking as taking something into someone's life. For example, in Jeremiah 15:16 NASB "Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts." Jeremiah is reflecting upon the words that God has revealed to him. "I ate them" means that he believed them and made them part of his life.

God uses the same metaphor in Ezekiel 3:1 NASB "…Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel." In other words, assimilate what I have revealed to you and then on that basis go and relate to the Israelites what I have revealed to you.

It is used in the New Testament in John 6:51 NASB "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." The idea is taking in Christ and it is a metaphor for belief, as we will see.

The parallel in Proverbs 4:17 says, "drinking the wine of violence." The word for "violence" there is the Hebrew word hamas. This isn't the word for the party in the Middle East, the HAMAS Party. That is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. This is just an ironic similarity here that the Hebrew word for violence is hamas, and it just means that sin leads to some sort of violence, whether it is in the soul or out of the soul. What happens when you start down this process is you just get a little bit and you want more until this sin dominates your thinking.


Alexander Pope expressed it in a couplet in this way:


"Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace."


We get familiar with sin, we get comfortable with sin, and then we embrace the sin.


One more note on this metaphor of eating and drinking. This often confuses people. For example, in John 6:51 people ask what Jesus meant when He talked about eating this bread, meaning himself, drinking His blood. That has been used by the Roman Catholics to justify transubstantiation in the Mass. But of we look in John 6 we see that the idea of eating and drinking is just a picturesque way of talking about believing.


In John 6:40 and 47 (all the same discussion, the same bread of life discourse) Jesus says, [40] "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." In John 6:53 Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves." Eating the flesh, drinking the blood is just a metaphor for talking about belief. Belief is accepting something as your own—accepting the truth. John 6:47: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life." Verse 54 uses the eating and drinking metaphor: "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." Often metaphors are further explained when we just look at the passage and come to understand some of the parallel terms. 


The result of taking in the Word of God and following the path of wisdom is that it illuminates the path around us. It illuminates our lives and it illuminates the lives of those around us. Proverbs 4:18 NASB "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn [Heb. bright light], That shines brighter and brighter until the full day." It increases. That is the idea of wisdom on the spectrum. As we grow and mature we make wiser and wiser decisions. The term "full day" seems to have the idea of until we stand before God's judgment seat when this life is over. And so the path of the just continues to illuminate those around them until their life comes to an end.

This is a thought that is expressed by the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:15, 16 NASB "so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world …" This is a great verse for this generation. We live in a crooked and perverse generation but we need to grow and mature so that we can shine as lights in the world. How do we do that? By "holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain."

But in contrast to the illuminating walk of the wise believer we have the darkened walk of the disobedient believer or the unbeliever. Proverbs 4:19 NASB "The way of the wicked is like darkness…" The word here is a thick darkness such as descended upon Egypt as part of the ten plagues. The same word is used here in the Hebrew. It is a thick darkness in which there is no discernment of anything.  "… They do not know over what they stumble." This is the same word we found earlier in verse 16 where they want to make others stumble.


So the choice is ours. This is what this section is all about. Do we want to choose life or do we want to choose death? Our life is the result of the decisions that we make. We are the result of our decisions.