Chapter four contains the fourth father to son “talk” about biblical wisdom. Practically speaking, fearing the Lord means seeking God’s wisdom and staying in his paths. There are three aspects to this:
- Receive and retain God’s Word to enjoy God’s blessings, 1–9
- Follow righteousness and avoid wickedness, 10–19
- Be entirely and exclusively devoted to God’s Word, 20–27
Seeking God’s wisdom and staying in his paths means you must receive and retain God’s Word to enjoy his blessings. God’s wisdom in Scripture is characterized as being good, upright, sound (2b). Because of that, you must “hear,” “give attention,” and “not forsake” His Word. Each generation tends to dismiss not only their parents, but especially their grandparents as irrelevant. That is not the case with God’s wisdom! In verses 3–9 a “grandpa” speaks, showing that it doesn’t matter what point in human history one lives in, God’s wisdom is essential. The mind, heart, and will must be involved—they cannot be separated. Sadly, our proud minds, hard hearts, and stubborn wills tend to dismiss God’s Word. God’s wisdom is essential for life (4). When you prioritize God’s wisdom, he protects, helps, and graces you in life (5–9).
- Think about the legacy you’re leaving for generations that follow you. What will your children and grandchildren remember (v. 3)?
- What is the most important thing to you? How are your priorities seen in your time and attention? What you think about and plan for?
- Who do and don’t you “embrace”? Why? Now, would you describe your attitude and action if “wisdom” walked in the room as an “embrace” (v. 8)? Proverbs gives God’s wisdom! Embrace it!
This section closes the “talk” that began in verse 1 by drawing a back-and-forth contrast between one who lives for himself (“oppressor,” “perverse,” “wicked,” “scornful,” and “fool”) and one who lives for God (“upright,” “just,” “humble,” and “wise”). This passage explains and shows the real state of things from God’s point of view to encourage you not to envy evildoers but to fear the Lord.
If you live for yourself you are an abomination to the Lord (32), deserve his curse (33), experience none of his mercy but all his scorn (34), and will lose everything you lived for, gaining nothing but shame forever (35).
However, when you live life focused on God, fearing him, he makes his will and wisdom known to you (32), showers his blessings on you (33), gives grace that supplies your every need (34), and grants eternal glory (35).
- Re-read this entire chapter, remembering that this “talk” teaches that fearing the Lord involves living life focused on God, not yourself. As you re-read the chapter, think about these last verses!
- Remember, this concluding contrast is from God’s viewpoint. Your tendency is to judge by what you can see now. By seeing how things will turn out then, how should that affect how you live now? Does it?
- Think about what the world promises—it may deliver on some things, but how long will they last? What will happen to you if you live for yourself, heeding the world’s wooing? Cf. 1 John 2:15–17
- Is the momentary thrill, buzz, and excitement really worth a lifetime and possibly an eternity of suffering and regret? Listen to Jesus’ words in John 12:25–26.
- Review the tremendous blessings that come with living life focused on the Lord Jesus Christ! What are you waiting for?
What does a life focused on God, not self (3:5, 7) look like? You won’t neglect (vv. 27-28) or harm your neighbors (vv. 29-30). The “do not’s” of these verses practically describe what loving God and your neighbor looks like (cf. Lev 19:18). This is how one who fears the Lord lives with and among others. On the one hand, you won’t neglect your neighbors (vv. 27-28). Nothing specific is said here, so this is a principle that can be applied to many different circumstances. “Good” can be any act, thing, or decision—money, tools, skills, physical help, time, etc. Don’t go to the extreme of giving a “blank check”—Proverbs condemns those who are lazy sluggards. The point here is that when your life is focused on God you care about the needs of those around you, particularly brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal 6:10). On the other hand, you won’t harm your neighbors (vv. 29-30). The picture in v. 29 is someone who trusts you, who has no reason to expect you to harm him or her. If you were to unexpectedly cause harm, what would that do to the mutual love and trust between you? It would be lost! So think about how you live with those in your sphere of life—does how you live among them show that your life is focused on God, or on yourself?
- Think awhile about and on verse 27. Does God withhold good from you?
- Meditate on verse 28. Is this loving? Who knows the heart?
- Is verse 30 saying never to deal with wrongdoers?
- What needs do brothers and sisters in your church have that you can help with? Are you?
What is the practical importance of living a God-centered life, not a self-centered life? Think about this: God’s work of creation was accomplished by his wisdom (vv. 19-20). When we think of God’s act of creation our focus is usually on his great power. Great power, however, must be correctly and constructively guided, directed, focused, and aimed, otherwise destruction, not creation, will result. Because God created life by his wisdom, you must live life in his creation by his wisdom! If you don’t live by the fear of the Lord—live a God-centered life—you’re depending on yourself, you think you’re smarter than God! When you do live by the fear of the Lord (vv. 21, 26), God’s wisdom guides and guards your life to help you:
- Live correctly, v. 22
- Make decisions, v. 23a
- Avoid problems, v. 23b
- Be safe and secure, vv. 24, 26b
- Know how to respond to unexpected challenges and issues, v. 25
The things of life can never teach you how to live life, nor protect you from its many dangers and traps. The proverbs in this book will apply the fear of the Lord to dozens of situations and issues of life—live life focused on God, not yourself!
- If wisdom was essential to God’s creating all of life (vv. 19-20), what place should it have in your living life (v. 21)?
- How “smart” is it to trust the Lord of creation instead of creation? Re-read verses 19-26 and think through this.
- What is your responsibility (v. 21)? Take a few minutes to think about the admonition of v. 21b.
- What will the results of verses 22-25 be if you don’t do v. 21 or have v. 26?
Why should you live life focused on God and not yourself? Because it is essential for living! It is of greater value than anything in this world (13-18). While happiness in this world depends on getting things, wisdom brings true lasting happiness (v. 13). The effort you invest in gaining wisdom always pays off and is always valuable (vv. 14-15). What makes gold and silver so valuable is their rarity and the effort to get them; no dollar value can be put on wisdom! Nothing in this world is so valuable that it challenges wisdom (v. 15b); money buys things, wisdom gives life. Wisdom is the source of anything good in this life (v. 16). Wisdom always guides one toward true “pleasure”—peace, life, and happiness (vv. 17-18). Wealth and treasure may enable indulgence, some temporary security, the ability to live a little longer, and give some temporary pleasure, but they can be exhausted, stolen, or not fully enjoyed. Wisdom, however, is independent of circumstances and alone has the promise of life.
- Remember that biblical wisdom is the correct, skillful application of the fear of the Lord to daily life.
- What kind of effort are you putting into investing in wisdom? Is it your “business” or a “hobby”? What is the difference between the two?
- Think about the things you want in life, and think on verse 15.
- If you’re offered a new job you want to know pay, benefits, etc. Re-read these verses—what are the “pay and benefits” of wisdom?
- From verses 11 and 18, what are your responsibilities?
Living by the fear of the Lord—a reverent belief in the God of the Bible, exclusively loving, obeying, and worshiping the One you will give an account to—will involve the Lord convicting, rebuking, chastening, and disciplining you. Why does he do that, and how should you respond? God wants to make you more like Christ, and so disciplines, chastens, teaches, trains, and instructs those he loves to shape their character and protect them from folly. He reproves and corrects through his Word, pointing out sin and error. God shows his love for you by training you to be wise! How should you respond to God’s loving discipline and rebuke? Fundamentally, how you respond is a spiritual issue that shows where your heart really is—if you really fear the Lord. Don’t respond to loving rebukes by rejecting them—that is the opposite of trust and faith. Don’t resent, get upset, or hate God’s chastening—you must change your feelings and attitudes so they are in line with God.
- Think about the training and discipline people do for sports—what is ultimately play, diversion, and recreation. Are you willing to be trained and disciplined by the Lord for his glory and wise living that has benefit for this life and eternity (1 Tim 4:8)?
- When a Christian brother or sister lovingly talks to you about a sin issue, how should you respond? How do you respond?
- Whose world is this? Does he know how life should be lived? What if God just let you go your own way—what would happen?
- Ultimately how you respond to God’s discipline shows whether you believe God or you think you know what is best.
- Check out Hebrews 12:3-11.
The attention of Living a Life Focused on God, Not Self turns from your attitude and outlook (vv. 7-8) to your wallet (vv. 9-10). There are two important things to understand before considering the application of these verses for you.
First, when Proverbs was written Israel was a nation established by God under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic Law. If Israel obeyed God he would bless them in every way; if they disobeyed, he would likewise discipline them (see Deut 28). Second, remember that these are proverbs not promises. That is, generally speaking the described outcome will occur.
So, regarding your property (Prov 3:9-10), you must depend entirely on the Lord to enjoy his blessings. “Honoring the Lord” through your property and possessions means you view God as number one, he is always most important. God is worthy of your best, and living by the fear of the Lord means you desire to do your duty toward God with all you own in this world. If God grants material prosperity, he doesn’t give that for showing off, spending excessively, or greedily hoarding it. This command condemns greed, covetousness, taking advantage of others, increasing wealth by sinful means, materialism, and sensualism.
- What is “weighty” and “most important” to you? In other words, what do you honor?
- How do you spend your time? For what end and purpose? Is God honored?
- How do you use your finances? For what end and purpose? Is God honored?
- What do you use your talents and abilities for, for what ends? Is God honored?
- Is there anything in your life that shouldn’t bring God honor and show your high regard and appreciation for him?
These verses further develop the main theme of this talk (live life focused on God, not self) by teaching that only living a God-centered life brings peace and orderliness to life. One of your greatest enemies is yourself. “Do not be wise in your own eyes” (v. 7a) is another way of saying v. 5b (cf. 26:12; 28:11, 26; Rom 12:16). When you think you’re wise you’ll do things based exclusively on what you think. Egotism, conceit, pride, and smugness are the great enemies of true faith and wisdom. A fool is a know-it-all (12:15; Judg 17:6; 21:25). This is not saying don’t increase what you know! But don’t be your own compass. Remember that the “fear of the Lord” is a reverent belief in the God of the Bible, exclusively loving, obeying, and worshiping the One you will give an account to. Being wise isn’t just knowing things—it necessarily involves your moral and spiritual direction—your attitude and response to righteousness and wickedness. Separation from sin and to Christ and his righteousness is fundamental to wisdom and genuine spirituality—a God-centered life. When you trust—submit—to God, peacefulness and a well-ordered life follows (v. 8). This only makes sense—living according to the Creator of Life results in a good life.
- Note Prov 13:14, 19; 14:16, 27; 15:24; 16:6, 17
- Proverbs will cover subjects such as marriage, parents, children, what you say, work ethic, lust, immorality, anger, disagreements, and finances. What are some areas if your life that you know right now you tend to “be wise in your own eyes”?
- Why is it impossible to fear the Lord and continue in evil?
- Why is it when we’re feeling weak and empty we don’t believe and follow Christ and instead continue going our own way?
A life lived by the fear of the Lord will be Focused on God, Not on Self. That kind of wisdom is characterized by entire, exclusive, and exhaustive commitment (vv. 5-6). To enjoy the Lord’s direction (v. 6) you must trust and obey the Lord’s directions (v. 5). “Trust” involves the complete and whole reliance, commitment, and confidence of your entire self (“with all your heart”). You must be entirely focused and relying on the Lord, not riches (11:18), powerful people (Ps 146:3), worldly power structures (Jer 5:17), or your own cleverness and ingenuity (Prov 3:5). This trust must also be exclusive, not supporting yourself by your own knowledge and understanding (“lean not…” v. 5b). Your knowledge is but a thimble compared to God’s infinite ocean of knowledge. Your understanding is governed by irrational urges you cannot control. Last, this trust must be exhaustive, “in all your ways.” The root idea of “acknowledge” is knowing God. Knowing God means always obeying and always depending on God. In every aspect of and situation in life you always obey and depend on God. When you live by true faith you’ll never go out of bounds or astray (“direct your paths,” v. 6b). Don’t live by the worm’s eye view of life, live by the bird’s eye!
- Do you know what’s going to happen later today or tomorrow? Does God? Why should that affect how you live now?
- How must you trust the Lord and not your own understanding (vv. 1, 3)?
- Note how verse 6 follows the same theme/idea of verses 2 and 4. What is first required to enjoy these benefits? What will happen if you don’t do what is required (apply the opposite of vv. 2, 4, 6)?
- When do you often seek the Lord, during difficult or easy circumstances? Is that wise? Is that living by the fear of the Lord?
- If you traveled to a country whose language, customs, and geography you didn’t know, what would you do?
The entire third chapter is the third “talk” about living by the fear of the Lord (“wisdom”). Summed up, we are told to Live Life Focused on God, Not Self. There are four important truths in this chapter:
- Depend entirely on the Lord to enjoy his blessings, 1-10
- Welcome God’s love in his disciplining/training for wisdom, 11-12
- Wisdom is essential to living, 13-26
- The character and blessing of a life focused on God, not self, 27-35
Beware of the peril of leaving what is true and following what is false! (v. 1a) The preventative against this: work hard to embed God’s Word in your heart for protection and guidance (v. 1b, 3). When you do you will know God’s promise of blessing and a good testimony (vv. 1-4).
- It might be helpful to write the summary of each wisdom “talk” at the beginning of each chapter.
- What is the difference between—and danger of—believing truth in your head but not in your heart?
- When you hear truth from God’s Word that specifically addresses something wrong in your life and you say, “yeah, I know that,” but don’t change, is that wise or foolish? How does that stack up with vv. 1-4?
- Whose world is this? Has he said how life should be lived in it? Are you following his “instruction manual”? What happens if you do—or don’t?
- Remember the theme of this “talk;” how will that look with vv. 1, 3?
- How much concern, time, and effort do you have for the external things of life in comparison with your life (v. 3)?
- Don’t live life being concerned and controlled by what others want and think. Live life concerned and controlled by the fear of the Lord.
This second talk urging you to wholeheartedly seek God’s wisdom to be protected from evil concludes by declaring that the Lord’s blessing or curse depends on whether you have God’s wisdom or not. The picture painted here uses only two colors black and white, no gray. One either has God’s wisdom and is blessed of the Lord (vv. 20-21) or is without God’s wisdom and is cursed of the Lord (v. 22). It is important to remember when and to whom Proverbs was originally for, Israel, when the Mosaic Law was in force during the OT theocracy, the historical kingdom of God (cf. 1:1). With this in mind, “land” and “earth” (2:21-22) don’t refer to heaven or eternal life but where Israel would enjoy the Lord’s blessings as they obeyed him (cf. Deut 4:1). If you live by the fear of the Lord your character will be godly (“upright, blameless,” v. 21) and you will know and enjoy God’s blessings. If you reject God’s wisdom you will be without his protection from evil men and women (vv. 10-19) and become like them in character and end (v. 21).
- There is a necessary, essential close connection here—you must do good to avoid evil, and you must avoid evil to do good.
- Why do temptations appear in “grays” and not black and white?
- As “land” should be literally understood, what would “cut off, uprooted” involve for the Israelite who threw aside God’s Law of the land?
- How will your attitude and response to God’s Word affect the company you keep and your destination?
- Re-read this entire second “speech.” What changes do you need to make? How are you seeking the Lord? How is that seen in the direction of your life, who you keep company with, who and what influences you?
We now get to hear how God’s wisdom protects from evil if you are wholeheartedly seeking it (2:1-9). When you wholeheartedly seek God’s wisdom, the control-center of your life (“heart,” v. 10a) is so dominated by the fear of the Lord (“wisdom”) that you love and desire his Word (v. 10b; Ps 19:10; 1 Pet 2:2). God’s Word won’t hard to swallow but will be the tastiest food you can’t get enough of (v. 10b; Ps 1:2). As God changes you to be more like Christ you will be able to see temptations for what they really are and where they ultimately lead. God’s wisdom delivers you from evil men and their evil ways (vv. 12-15). God’s wisdom also delivers you from the evil woman and her end (vv. 16-19). When your senses are directed and trained by God’s Word you are protected from the sensually oriented temptations of evil men and women (Heb 5:12-14). God’s wisdom affects the company you keep and the direction you go (v. 20).
- Why can’t sinners correctly discern what is truly right? Why can’t they see the traps of sin?
- What are the characteristics of evil men and their evil ways (vv. 12-15)? How does his character and ways differ from God’s?
- What are the characteristics of evil women and their end (vv. 16-19)? How does her character and end differ from God’s?
- God’s wisdom protects you from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What is your responsibility in all this?
- The world tells you to follow your own path and do what makes you feel good. Where will that lead? Why is that so hard to fight against? What are you doing about it?
- What kind of company do you keep? Who influences you? Who do you allow into your heart and mind?