4:20-22 — 20 My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. 21 Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. 22 For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.
Many of these verses repeat themes and exhortations we have already read in previous chapters. As Kidner says, “The constant repetition of such a call …is deliberate, for a major part of godliness lies in dogged attentiveness to familiar truths.”
Several words stand out from vv. 20-27. The teacher calls us to be full hearted, full bodied in our devotion to wisdom — EAR (v. 20), SIGHT (v. 21), HEART (vv. 21, 23), FLESH (v. 22), SPEECH (v. 24), EYES (v. 25), FEET (vv. 26, 27). We must utilize every facet of our being. These physical vessels express folly or wisdom. Godliness is full bodied as is wickedness. We are not to present our “members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness” but instead to present our “members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Rom. 6:13).
4:23 — Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
The heart expresses itself in all that we do (cf. Mk. 7:15-23). The “springs of life” are found in the heart that is full of wisdom and for that reason, it must be kept, guarded “with all vigilance.” “The father is not interested in just a superficial response from his son, some kind of behavior modification; he desires that his child be wise at his very core.” (Longman) “The ‘heart’ serves as a vault within which the treasures of wisdom are to be guarded and from which they are to be withdrawn and skillfully employed…” (Hubbard)
With a strong hand must the heart be ruled, and it ought to be our constant endeavor to subject to the word of God every imagination and reasoning, every opinion and thought, every inclination and affection. A neglected garden will not be so full of weeds, as a neglected soul of vain thoughts and exorbitant passions, hateful to God, and dangerous to our own happiness and peace. (Lawson)
4:24 — Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.
“As part of the process of guarding the heart, the wise son must keep a perverse mouth/loose lips far from him.” (Longman) “Superficial habits of talk react on the mind; so that, e.g., cynical chatter, fashionable grumbles, flippancy, half-truths, barely meant in the first place, harden into well-established habits of thought.” (Kidner) Our speech expresses our hearts but it can just as well taint our hearts. “It is not enough just to restrain the heart. One must also keep track of the body’s members through which the inner life manifests itself. The list does not aim to be exhaustive but paradigmatic of practical right living.” (Waltke) That is, what we do impacts us and what we do expresses who we are.
4:25-27 — 25 Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. 26 Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. 27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.
The key verb is found in v. 26. We must “ponder” the path of our feet. As we look straight with our eyes (v. 25), we must consider or ponder where we would go. Both the goal and the steps to that goal must be weighed. The son must take care that every step conforms to the father’s words of instruction. We must not be led astray by going left or to the right; we must heed God’s word. “The wise person will have an unswerving directness, but the fool is easily distracted (17:24).” (Ross) So, the “idea is that one should not be distracted from the way of wisdom (v. 25).” (Garrett) But what if we do go astray? Lawson reminds us of our need for pardoning mercy.
From this whole directory, we may see our need of pardoning mercy; for which of us can say, ‘We have made our hands clean, or kept our tongues from every evil thing?’ But the blood of Jesus is a fountain opened to cleanse from all sin.
Without renewing grace, our labor in guarding our hearts, and restraining our tongues and fee from evil, will be as vain as to attempt washing an Ethiopian white. The old heart cannot be reformed, but God has promised to give us a new heart, and to put a new spirit within us.
With our vigilance, faith and prayer must be joined. (Lawson)