Proverbs 23:26

My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.
– Proverbs 23:26

The word for heart means the cardiac muscle in a person’s chest. It has a wide range of figurative uses in the Hebrew Old Testament. It can refer to the whole inner being of man, the immaterial being. It can refer to the mind and understanding. It can refer to the will. It can refer to the feelings, or emotions, and more. Modern day westerners presuppose a reference to the heart being about affection and feelings. The word appears over 90 times in Proverbs and could seldom be thought to refer to emotions. When you couple this verse with similar calls to wisdom, particularly in the fatherly addresses, it is plainly an admonition to give thoughtful attention (Proverbs 1:8, 33; 2:1-2; 3:1, 21; 4:1-2, 4-5, 10, 10; 5:1, 7; 6:20-21; 7:1-3, 24; 8:1-6, 10-11, 32-33). The second phrase seals that understanding by calling for observation.

The word for observe means to be pleased with, or to accept. The word is translated, delighteth, in Proverbs 3:12. The call is clearly a call to hearken to wisdom and to recognize and embrace the rightness of the ways of the teacher. The picture of instructing in and imparting wisdom to another is a picture of master and apprentice, or discipling (Proverbs 13:20).

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Proverbs 23:19

Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way.
– Proverbs 23:19

Verses 19-21 warn against excess. The saying begins with the exhortation to hear, which the word means to listen with intelligence. This common exhortation in Proverbs emphasizes the necessity of deliberate listening and paying attention to the instructions of wisdom in order to be wise (Proverbs 4:10-23). Proverbs teaches true wisdom is alien to us and must be acquired. Wisdom requires keeping our heart, or mind, straight in the way of wisdom.

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Proverbs 23:12

Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.
– Proverbs 23:12

The word for apply means to enter and signifies the deliberate pursuit of instruction and knowledge. The word for instruction means discipline. It is a holistic view of training, including both positive instruction and correction. The word for knowledge means understanding and positively refers to the truth about God. Wisdom teaches we have to lean into the instruction and correction of wisdom in order to acquire wisdom. Wisdom teaches us not to follow our hearts but rather to apply our hearts to seek out the wisdom of God (Proverbs 2:2-6; 5:1-2; 22:17).

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Proverbs 22:17

Introduction
The next section in Proverbs begins in Proverbs 22:17 and goes through Proverbs 24:34. This section is titled, “The Words of the Wise,” per 22:17. Solomon did not write these proverbs but rather collected them as wise sayings from his predecessors. The collection has over 70 proverbs that are typically two to three verses in length, and do not follow the two-line structure of the Proverbs of Solomon. The collection features three sections—22:17-21; 22:22-24:22; 24:23-34—touching on various wisdom themes common to Proverbs. The first section is a short introductory section, calling for attention to wisdom and enumerating blessings of wisdom that treasures up wisdom, deepens trust in the Lord, creates stability in the life, and fits the lips to speak sound wisdom to others.

Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge.
– Proverbs 22:17

The word for bow down means to stretch, or bend. The word for hear means to listen with attention. You must think about what you hear and strive for understanding. The word for apply means to set and the word for heart indicates the mind. The word for knowledge means perception, or understanding. Wisdom continually calls us to listen and exercise all our faculties to understand and retain the words of wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-5; 3:1; 5:1-2; 8:33-34; 23:12). Wisdom teaches effort must be expended and wisdom sought for diligently (Proverbs 2:2-6). The reminiscent exhortation to hear gives three imperatives to the prospective learner—bend your ear and listen to “the words of the wise,” and commit your faculties to “my knowledge.” We might also add, expect repetition.

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Proverbs 22:11

He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.
– Proverbs 22:11

The word for pureness means clean and can refer to ceremonial, physical, or moral cleanness. The word for grace means kindness, or favor. Wise speech is marked by honesty (Proverbs 16:13), appropriateness (Proverbs 15:23), and beauty (Proverbs 10:20; 25:11). The first phrase indicates purity of motives and the second indicates purity of speech. The proverb teaches honest and gracious speech wins favor.

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Proverbs 21:2

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.
– Proverbs 21:2

This proverb is similar to Proverbs 16:2 (see commentary). The word for right means straight, or upright. It can have a moral tinge, but also gives the sense of being correct. The first phrase is a wisdom observance that men think the way they are going is correct. Unless a man is bent on deliberate self-destruction, he thinks the way he is going will lead to some happiness. The seventeenth century French mathematician Blaise Pascal put it this way: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” 1

The proverb is a wisdom observation about our fallible self-knowledge, self-evaluation, and self-direction. Man is incompetent of himself, which is why we need wisdom and wise counsellors (Proverbs 11:14; 12:15; 15:22; 19:20-21). The word for pondereth means to balance, as in to measure by weight with a scale. The contrast of the second phrase with the first is that man follows his heart but only Yahweh truly knows the heart, or mind. Man cannot always accurately assess his motives and objectives, but God always knows what is in the deep, dark waters of our hearts (Proverbs 20:5).

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Notes:

  1. Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W. F. Trotter (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958), 113, #425.

Proverbs 21:1

Introduction
Chapter 21 continues the Proverbs of Solomon, which form the largest section of this book and continues through the next chapter. The proverbs in this chapter touch on God’s sovereign omniscience, righteousness, justice, rewards, laziness, moderation, pride, and home life.

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
– Proverbs 21:1

The phrase, rivers of water, refers to channels, or watercourses, like what might be dug for irrigation or drainage. A gardener, or farmer, digs such channels in order to direct the water where he wants it to go. The image is analogous to God’s control, even over kings. He turns the king’s heart to accomplish the purposes of his will. The word for heart has a range of meaning and Proverbs often uses it in a way comparable to our use of mind. The proverb does not speak to how God does this, but leaves that mysterious. Other proverbs speak to God determining outcomes even though men plan and act according to their own hearts (Proverbs 16:9, 33; 20:24).

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Proverbs 20:9

Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?
– Proverbs 20:9

This proverb is a rhetorical question that anticipates a negative answer. Though “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness” (Proverbs 20:6) and “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes” (Proverbs 16:2), wisdom teaches us God weighs the spirits and ponders the hearts of all. Wisdom concludes, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness” (Proverbs 30:12).

The word for heart means the inner being, including the mind, will, emotions, etc. The first phrase asks whose inner intentions and motivations are clean, or innocent. Being pure from my sin points to the outward acts being morally good, or upright. This proverb speaks of rich theological truth we refer to as the depravity of man. Man is a fallen and corrupt creature who cannot keep from sin, nor purify himself from its defilement (1 Kings 8:46; Proverbs 21:4; Job 9:30-31).

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Proverbs 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
– Proverbs 17:22

The word for merry means glad, or joyful. The word for medicine means a cure, or healing. The word for heart generally means the mind as elsewhere in Proverbs. Our state of mind affects the state of our bodies (Proverbs 14:30). This can be reflected in more severe cases of dealing with diseases, but also in ongoing cases of poor health. There is “a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4), in other words, a time and place for lightheartedness. The lifting of spirits can come in various ways, but it is beneficial (Proverbs 12:25; 15:13; 18:14). Fat bones are an image of health and vitality (Proverbs 3:8; 15:30; 16:24). Dry bones are obviously the opposite picture.

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