Proverbs 1:4
We may regard the opening words as a general index of the contents, as a designation of the object, and a statement of the value and profit of the teaching, of the book.


1. And first, this in general includes the information of the understanding and of the memory by wisdom. This Hebrew word (chokmah) denotes, strictly, all that is fixed for human knowledge. We may render it "insight." In other places in the Bible, the judge (1 Kings 3:28), the artist (Exodus 28:3), or the man of skill and renown in general, are thus said to be men of insight, craft, or cunning, in the original and good sense of those words. Applied to religion and conduct, it means insight into the principles of right conduct, the knowledge of how to walk before God, choosier the right and avoiding the wrong path - the knowledge of the way to peace and blessedness.

2. The training of the will. The word rendered "instruction" denotes moral education or training. Here, then, is the practical side of the matter. Not only sound intelligence is aimed at, but pure feeling, right affections, the will guided by the polar star of duty. All this is general.

3. But next, particulars, falling within this great scope, are pointed out, viz. "the attainment of justice and right and fair dealing." The first is all that pertains to God, the supreme Judge - his eternal order and will. The second refers to established custom and usage among men - to law, in the human sense. The third, an expressive word, signifying literally what is straight, points to straightforward, honourable, and noble conduct.

4. But the book has a special object in view, and a special class: "To hold out prudence to simple ones, and knowledge and reflectiveness to boys. Each of these words has its peculiar force. The Hebrew expression for the first class is literally the open ones," i.e. those who in ignorance and inexperience are open to every impression, good or bad; simple-minded ones (not fools, which is another idea), who are readily governed by the opinions and examples of stronger minds. They need that prudence, or caution, which the hints of proverbial sense may supply, to enable them to glide out of danger and avoid snares (for the word rendered "subtilty" denotes smoothness, like that of the slippery snake). Boys, or youths also, stand in peculiar need of "thoughtfulness" - a habit of reflecting with attention and forethought upon life and different modes of conduct. The Book of Proverbs, all must see, is specially adapted for these classes. But not for them alone.

5. The book is a book for all. The wise man may listen and gain instruction; for men "grow old, learning something fresh each day." And the intelligent man may obtain guidance. For although by middle life the general principles and maxims of wisdom may have been stored up, still the applications of them, the exceptions to them, form a vast field forever growing acquisition. Knowledge is practically infinite; we can think of no bounds to it. New perplexities continually arise, new cases of conscience present themselves, old temptations revive in fresh combinations; and the records of others' experience continually flash new light from angles of observation distinct from our own.


1. It is a collection of proverbs. Condensed wisdom. Landmarks in the field of experience. Beacons of warning from dangerous shores. Objects of interest in life's travel. Finger posts The "wit of many, the wisdom of one." A portable property of the intellect. A currency honoured in every land. "Jewels five words long, that on the outstretch'd forefinger of all time sparkle forever." They may be compared to darts, to stings, to goads. They arouse the memory, awake the conscience; they fix the floating impressions of truth in forms not easily forgotten. These Bible proverbs are in poetical form; and of them it may well be said, with George Herbert, "A verse finds him who a sermon flies."

2. The mode of speech is often figurative. The word rendered "dark saying" means a profound saying, enigma, "thing hidden" (Matthew 13:35; Psalm 78:2), "obscure allegory" (Augustine). An example of this parabolic way of speaking is found in Agur's discourse (ch. 30.). The power of it, like the power of pictures and of all sensuous symbols and poetical images, lies in the fact that the form "half reveals and half conceals the soul within," and thus excites the curiosity, fixes the attention, stimulates exertion of thought in the listener. The best preachers leave much for the hearers to fill up for themselves. Suggestive teaching is the richest; it makes the pupil teach himself, Such is the method of our Lord in his parables; but not the only method; to be combined, as with him and here, with the direct mode of statement. The application is: "Take heed how ye hear." "To him that hath it shall be given." All wisdom is of God; the teacher and the disciple are both listeners at the living oracle of eternal truth. Knowledge is essential to religion, and growth belongs to both (Luke 17:5; Ephesians 4:15, 16; Colossians 1:11; Colossians 2:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Peter 3:18). - J.

To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
The word is sometimes taken in an ill sense, for a crafty wit to deceive others. Sometimes in a good sense, for understanding to prevent dangers that crafty men might bring upon us. So it is taken here. Compare "simple" with the Latin "fatuus," a fool. Simple comes from a verb which signifies to allure or seduce one that wants understanding of God's truths and will, and so is easily allured to any error or wickedness by good words, as giving credit everything, because not able to examine things for want of judgment. He falls into danger for lack of knowledge. The word also signifies one who wants foresight to prevent danger.

1. The Scripture contains a store of heavenly knowledge sufficient to inform simple persons. Note the store of heavenly mysteries in the Scripture; the clearness of them; the variousness of them.

2. Subtilty for preventing of dangers is best learned out of the Scriptures.

3. We are naturally simple, and easily led into error.

4. The way to keep us from errors is the right understanding of Scripture.

5. Most danger of going astray is in the time of youth.

6. Bare knowledge is not enough, but discretion must be laboured for also. Knowledge is imperfect, and will need further augmentation by deliberation. And knowing men do things rashly oftentimes, being disturbed with passion.

(Francis Taylor.)

This term suggests the very point of Solomon's advice. The young man who comes from a quiet home, where he has been under wise guidance, is really simple, unsophisticated, unused to the ways of the world, unfit to meet its temptations, and needing much good counsel and warning from those who are experienced in the world's ways. "Simple" here is not "silly," but guileless, unsuspecting, easily drawn aside, over-trustful. It is familiarly said that "experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in no other." Solomon urges on the young man that if he would be willing to learn, he might be saved from many bitter and even degrading experiences. There is an evil sense attaching to the word "subtilty," from its association with the serpent that tempted Eve; but the better meaning of the word comes to view through Solomon's connecting it with other good and suggestive terms. He thinks that the young man, at the very outset of life, needs "wisdom," which we may take in the general sense of "culture"; an "instruction," that is, "discipline," "training," and "understanding," or the power of weighing, distinguishing, discriminating: and "wisdom," in the further sense of "thoughtfulness," the habit of looking things well round before we decide on our action. Impulsiveness is a constant weakness in young people. They act before they think. And "Justice," or the first principles of righteousness, by which all proposed conduct should be appraised, and "judgment," or the self-estimating which is virtually the same as a cultured and active "conscience," and "equity," or the various adjustment of "principles" to the different relationships of men, and the various circumstances in which they may be placed; and "discretion," or that kind of reticence which keeps the young man from being duped by false advisers.

1. Expect subtilty in those who would tempt you astray. Here the word takes its bad form, as crafty, designing, making good appearance in order to deceive; keeping back part of the truth: and so leaving a designedly false impression. See temptation of Eve. There is a good "suspiciousness," which is a safeguard.

2. Show subtilty in not readily yielding to the tempters. Here the word is used in a good sense. Be on your guard. Do not give your love to the first person who seeks it. Beware of the plausible man, and the flatterers. Be forewarned and so you will be forearmed. Keep your own counsel. See underneath, and do not be caught by mere outside glitter.

(Robert Tuck, B. A.)

wrote on the door of his academy, "Let no man unskilled in geometry come hither." Solomon writes the very reverse on the door of his school, "Let the simple man come hither."

(G. Lawson, D. D.)

There are many more shining qualities in the mind of man, but there is none more useful than discretion; it is this, indeed, which gives a value to all the rest, which sets them at work in their proper times and places, and turns them to the advantage of the person who is possessed of them. Without it, learning is pedantry, and wit impertinence; virtue itself looks like weakness; the best parts only qualify a man to be more sprightly in his errors, and active to his own prejudice.

(W. Addison.)

A father that had three sons was desirous to try their discretion, which he did by giving to each of them an apple that had some part of it rotten. The first eats up his apple, rotten and all; the second throws all his away, because some part of it was rotten; but the third picks out the rotten, and eats that which was good, so that he appeared the wisest: thus, some in these days, for want of discretion, swallow down all that is presented, rotten and sound altogether; others throw away all truth, because everything delivered unto them is not truth, but surely they are the wisest and most discreet, that know how to try the spirits whether they be of God or not — how to choose the good and refuse the evil.

(J. Spencer.)

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