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Proverbs 4

New International Version

1 Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. 2 I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. 3 For I too was a son to my father, still tender, and cherished by my mother. 4 Then he taught me, and he said to me, 'Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live. 5 Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. 6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. 7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. 8 Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. 9 She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown.' 10 Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. 11 I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. 12 When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. 13 Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. 14 Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. 15 Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. 16 For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble. 17 They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. 18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. 19 But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. 20 My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. 21 Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; 22 for they are life to those who find them and health to one's whole body. 23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. 24 Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. 25 Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. 26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. 27 Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.
English Standard Version

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, 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. 7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. 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.” 10 Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. 11 I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. 12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. 13 Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. 14 Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. 15 Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. 16 For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. 17 For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. 18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. 19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. 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. 23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. 24 Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. 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.
King James Version

1 Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. 2 For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. 3 For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. 4 He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. 5 Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. 6 Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. 7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. 8 Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. 9 She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. 10 Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many. 11 I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. 12 When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. 13 Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life. 14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. 15 Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. 16 For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall. 17 For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. 18 But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. 19 The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble. 20 My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. 21 Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. 22 For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh. 23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. 24 Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. 25 Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. 26 Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. 27 Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
New American Standard Bible

1 Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, And give attention that you may gain understanding, 2 For I give you sound teaching; Do not abandon my instruction. 3 When I was a son to my father, Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, 4 Then he taught me and said to me, 'Let your heart hold fast my words; Keep my commandments and live; 5 Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. 6 'Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; Love her, and she will watch over you. 7 'The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding. 8 'Prize her, and she will exalt you; She will honor you if you embrace her. 9 'She will place on your head a garland of grace; She will present you with a crown of beauty.' 10 Hear, my son, and accept my sayings And the years of your life will be many. 11 I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. 12 When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble. 13 Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life. 14 Do not enter the path of the wicked And do not proceed in the way of evil men. 15 Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on. 16 For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble. 17 For they eat the bread of wickedness And drink the wine of violence. 18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. 19 The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble. 20 My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. 21 Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart. 22 For they are life to those who find them And health to all their body. 23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. 24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth And put devious speech far from you. 25 Let your eyes look directly ahead And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. 26 Watch the path of your feet And all your ways will be established. 27 Do not turn to the right nor to the left; Turn your foot from evil.
New Living Translation

1 My children, listen when your father corrects you. Pay attention and learn good judgment, 2 for I am giving you good guidance. Don't turn away from my instructions. 3 For I, too, was once my father's son, tenderly loved as my mother's only child. 4 My father taught me, 'Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live. 5 Get wisdom; develop good judgment. Don't forget my words or turn away from them. 6 Don't turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you. 7 Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment. 8 If you prize wisdom, she will make you great. Embrace her, and she will honor you. 9 She will place a lovely wreath on your head; she will present you with a beautiful crown.' 10 My child, listen to me and do as I say, and you will have a long, good life. 11 I will teach you wisdom's ways and lead you in straight paths. 12 When you walk, you won't be held back; when you run, you won't stumble. 13 Take hold of my instructions; don't let them go. Guard them, for they are the key to life. 14 Don't do as the wicked do, and don't follow the path of evildoers. 15 Don't even think about it; don't go that way. Turn away and keep moving. 16 For evil people can't sleep until they've done their evil deed for the day. They can't rest until they've caused someone to stumble. 17 They eat the food of wickedness and drink the wine of violence! 18 The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. 19 But the way of the wicked is like total darkness. They have no idea what they are stumbling over. 20 My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. 21 Don't lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart, 22 for they bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body. 23 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. 24 Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech. 25 Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. 26 Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. 27 Don't get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.
Christian Standard Bible

1 Listen, sons, to a father's discipline, and pay attention so that you may gain understanding, 2 for I am giving you good instruction. Don't abandon my teaching. 3 When I was a son with my father, tender and precious to my mother, 4 he taught me and said: "Your heart must hold on to my words. Keep my commands and live. 5 Get wisdom, get understanding; don't forget or turn away from the words from my mouth. 6 Don't abandon wisdom, and she will watch over you; love her, and she will guard you. 7 Wisdom is supreme--so get wisdom. And whatever else you get, get understanding. 8 Cherish her, and she will exalt you; if you embrace her, she will honor you. 9 She will place a garland of favor on your head; she will give you a crown of beauty." 10 Listen, my son. Accept my words, and you will live many years. 11 I am teaching you the way of wisdom; I am guiding you on straight paths. 12 When you walk, your steps will not be hindered; when you run, you will not stumble. 13 Hold on to instruction; don't let go. Guard it, for it is your life. 14 Keep off the path of the wicked; don't proceed on the way of evil ones. 15 Avoid it; don't travel on it. Turn away from it, and pass it by. 16 For they can't sleep unless they have done what is evil; they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble. 17 They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. 18 The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until midday. 19 But the way of the wicked is like the darkest gloom; they don't know what makes them stumble. 20 My son, pay attention to my words; listen closely to my sayings. 21 Don't lose sight of them; keep them within your heart. 22 For they are life to those who find them, and health to one's whole body. 23 Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life. 24 Don't let your mouth speak dishonestly, and don't let your lips talk deviously. 25 Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead. 26 Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all your ways will be established. 27 Don't turn to the right or to the left; keep your feet away from evil.

What does Proverbs 4 mean?

The call to listen to wisdom is repeated often in the book of Proverbs, especially in the early chapters. Here, Solomon continues to urge this perspective. He speaks to his "sons," which might suggest he is speaking to a wider group such as students. The first part of this passage explains the benefits of godly wisdom, in the way it provides defense against the consequences associated with sin (Proverbs 4:1–9).

Solomon then moves on to a series of "do / do not" comments. A life of sin is something to be actively avoided, not just passively ignored. Those walking in worldly sin are portrayed as trapped and miserably addicted to their own depravity. What's being discouraged here is the example of "the evil," meaning those who choose sin over wisdom. They are like people trying to walk on a jagged, difficult, dark path. In contrast, those who follow "the path of the righteous" walk in bright light and security (Proverbs 4:10–19).

This chapter ends with a series of instructions on how to avoid straying into this path of the wicked. Emphasis here is on being deliberate, thoughtful, and careful. Much of the language used involves this concept of paying attention, rather than being careless. Similarly, a person's words and speech should be focused and direct, not manipulative or deceptive. It's notable that Scripture warns against turning from the path of wisdom, regardless of which direction one goes. "Do not swerve to the right or to the left" implies that God's wisdom is already perfect. We can't improve on it, nor can we "do better," even if we're convinced our direction is right (Proverbs 4:20–27).