Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
– Proverbs 4:23
Verses 23 to 27 end this chapter with an exhortation to practical living by wisdom. All diligence means to keep or guard the heart above all else. Solomon starts with the heart because it is the source, for that is what issues means. Jesus said that the defilement of a man wasn’t from without but within (Matthew 15:19). We must labor to grasp onto wise sayings and guard them with all diligence. We must keep them fixed in our mind that we not go astray in the evil way.
For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
– Proverbs 4:22
Wisdom keeps men from the destructiveness of the path of wickedness. Wisdom brings a wholeness and soundness to life on earth. Wisdom also brings spiritual life that delivers from death. Life and health are here seen as good rewards of wisdom and good reason to incline the ear, keep the sayings in the heart, and keep them before the eyes.
Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart.
– Proverbs 4:21
Solomon continues addressing the sensory parts here with eyes and heart. The eyes see and read the words of wisdom that are written. The eyes are also put for looking well to your goings, which is a crucial feature of wisdom. The heart often means the mind or thinking faculty. It can also refer to the emotions or the whole inner being. Wise sayings must be fixed in the mind which speaks to deliberate actions rather than heat-of-the-moment decisions.
My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
– Proverbs 4:20
Verses 20-22 rehearse the exhortation to be attentive to the wise sayings. The repetition supplies emphasis to the command and the need for attentiveness. From this we gather some of the means of obtaining wisdom are diligently applying ourselves to the words of wisdom. He mentions different sensory parts of the body to illustrate the whole-man involvement in acquiring wisdom. He starts with the ear in this verse. The command is to listen, to listen intelligently, to listen for understanding. Solomon elsewhere commanded us to “be more ready to hear” (Ecclesiastes 5:1) than we are to speak. So our immediate response to wise sayings is not to speak but to listen.
The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.
– Proverbs 4:19
The way of wickedness is contrasted with the way of the just in the previous verse. The path of the just is a path of increasing light and the way of the wicked is a way of increasing darkness. It is a deepening darkness. It is a hazardous way that causes stumbling and falls. Thus it is to be avoided by preferably avoiding the entrance to it.
But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
– Proverbs 4:18
Verses 16 and 17 reveal the progression of the path of the wicked. The way of evil men begin with what seems a bright prospect (Proverbs 1:10-14), but progresses to slavery to sin (Proverbs 4:16-17) and finally to death (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). In contrasts, the way of wisdom is like the sunrise that gives faint light at the first but continues to rise until it reaches full strength at the height of day.
For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.
– Proverbs 4:17
Eating the bread of wickedness refers to being sustained by wickedness. Eating and drinking are necessary to life and this verse rounds out the picture of those who are completely captive sin. The warning is not to enter or even come close to this way for this is where it ends. The allurements in chapter 1 promised adventure and reward (Proverbs 1:10-14) in this way, but Solomon exposes the real end of this way here. It is bondage and not freedom.
For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.
– Proverbs 4:16
Verses 16 and 17 express the way the wicked are consumed with evil. The wicked are those who go in the way of wickedness. They are so captive to their sin that they can find no rest except they have done some mischief. Mischief doesn’t sound so bad to our modern ears but it refers to evil or injury. They have to do harm to others in one way or another. This agrees with causing some to fall.
Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.
– Proverbs 4:15
Solomon gives plain warning to deal with the way of evil. He urges to avoid it, pass not by, turn, and pass away. Such instruction reveals the folly of so many who want to get as close to sin as possible without “crossing the line.” They ask how far can I go before it’s too far? Through wisdom you discern the way of the wicked and then you get far from it.