This chapter can be divided into three parts. Each section begins with a call to the sons to hear— verse 1 (“Hear, O sons,…”), verse 10 (“Hear, my son, and accept my words…”), and verse 20 (“My son, be attentive to my words”).
4:1-3 — 1 Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, 2 for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. 3 When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
There are three generations in this section. There is the speaker (the son’s father) who refers to the son (#1), the father of the son (#2, v. 1), and the father of the father (#3, v. 3). This is either wisdom speaking to the young man or wisdom speaking through the mouth of the father. Chapter four perpetuates a good family cycle.
Wisdom calls us to heed our parents. God tells us to “hear” our father’s instruction. He tells us not to “forsake” our father’s teaching. One writer says, “Parental authority is a channel for communication of God’s will. The two sources of authority reinforce each other, and in places where only one is mentioned, the other is not thereby excluded.” (Fox, 178, cited in Waltke, 276)
Parental authority is given by God; they are supposed to raise their children in the Lord (Eph. 6:4). In this morally dubious world, one wonders where a naïve young person can receive good instruction. The Bible’s answer is to heed our parents. The general idea is that if we forsake any of their good teaching (as long as they are words that do not go against God’s word), we jeopardize our lives (v. 4). Hubbard says, “’Parents know best’ is not an affirmation that would have cued laughs from an audience of Israelites. They expected such teaching and were expected to give it heed at the time and to cling to it throughout the years…” (Hubbard, 81)
4:4-6 — 4 he taught me and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. 5 Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. 6 Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.
The father recalls his days of youth (perhaps Solomon recalling David, his father). Israel’s idea of godliness, wisdom, and good instruction being passed down from generation to generation continues in this recollection. Godly parents instruct their children who in turn will instruct their own. The grandfather’s words are used to beseech the teacher’s or father’s son to do the same. In obeying, we will “live”; we will be “kept” and “guarded.”
There is something in these verses that is amiss in our generation. Parent’s wisdom are to be cherished, held fast and embraced. Forsaking them was not an option for a young man of wisdom. Every young man or girl will have to seize his or her parent’s words; if they are not contrary to God’s Word, then they must be held fast. Their authority and experience are God’s own teachers for us. Though they are not infallible, they have been appointed to this task. Should they abuse their authority, God will hold them accountable. Should the naïve person forsake their teaching, he will reap the repercussions — the opposite of life and safety (“live” “guard”). “Wisdom is not a once-and-for-all decision; it is a process. It is not ‘once wise; always wise.” One could lose one’s wisdom unless it was ‘guarded.’” (Longman)
Solomon communicates to his children the instructions which his father had given him. We do injustice to our children, if we do not endeavor to leave them that estate which our forefathers acquired for their posterity. It is a more grievous iniquity, if the fathers transmit not to their children those pious instructions, which in their tender years they received from their own parents. Families are reckoned honorable, when a rich estate passes from father to son, through many generations; but it is a far more lovely sight, to behold the same faith dwelling in a rising family, that dwelt in their mother, and father, and remote ancestors. (Lawson, 77)
4:7 — The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.
The simple way of stating this verse is, “What it takes is not brains or opportunity, but decision. Do you want it? Come and get it.” (cf. Kidner) The first step is to prize her (v. 8) and go for it. “Whatever he treasured in his heart as more precious than wisdom and in which he invested his time, energy, and resources must be given up to get wisdom.” (Waltke) Wisdom must be the goal, the prize; everything should be used to get it and everything set aside which might impedes our pursuit of it.
4:8-9 — 8 Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. 9 She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
In treasuring our wise parent’s instructions, we will be lifted up and honored. The student will be graced and honored. The fundamental axiom is that heeding parents is good and not harmful. This is probably the issue vexing many of us. Parents do err and are not infallible. But in general, what they have to say will do us good. To obey will not harm us; to forsake them can lead to death. Their instructions will in the long run do us good.
There are some who think it necessary, in particular cases, to forsake wisdom, lest their strictness should expose them to damage. But David here tells Solomon and us, that this must be a dangerous error. The way of duty and of safety is still the same. (Lawson)