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The Father’s Wisdom
Proverbs 4:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father,
and be attentive, that you may know understanding,
2 for I give you good instruction;
do not forsake my teaching.
Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father: Proverbs 1:8 reads, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction.” Again, the Hebrew term (שָׁמַע shama) for “hear” means more than simply taking in information through our ears. It also involves listening and paying attention, wherein we notice and act on (ready to obey) the teaching and thoughts of proverbs, responding to the advice and guidance that the proverbs contain. Those translations (GNT, NRSV, LEB) that render (banim) “sons” as “children” or the CEV as “my child,” so as to be progressive and inclusive are obscuring the intended meaning because “child” conveys the idea of dependence and inability to make decisions, as opposed to the author’s intended meaning. It is rendered “O sons” by some translations (ESV, NASB, UASV), to specify that the sons are being addressed formally, which is not found in the Hebrew text but is suggested.
Instruction (מוּסָר musar) renders the same word used in 1:8 and has the sense of teaching how something is to be done or the content of what the father teaches his sons. The father giving instructions is the teaching of a principle or established, accepted, or self-evident life-lessons that are true (Ps 50:17; Prov. 15:33; 23:12). The advice to sons is that they listen to the sound instruction of their godly parents, particularly to that of a father. He has the Scriptural duty to provide for the physical as well as spiritual needs of his family. (Deut. 6:6-7; 1 Tim. 5:8) Without this instruction, it will be far more difficult for the young ones to reach maturity! Should not a son or daughter, therefore, willingly accept the discipline of their father?
And be attentive that you may know understanding: The Hebrew verb (קָשַׁב qashab) be attentive means listening and paying close attention, giving heed (i.e., obeying), accepting the instruction as being true and responding to it favorably. Understanding (בִּין bin; בּוּנָה Bunah) is the ability to see how the parts or aspects of something are connected to one another. One who understands can see the big picture (the entire matter) and not just the isolated facts. (Prov. 2:5; 9:10; 18:15) Discernment and understanding involve comprehending, perceiving, grasping what the authors meant, identifying individual verses considering the whole, weighing, or evaluating one verse in the light of the others.
For I give you good instruction: Here, the father or teacher is offering the reason as to why he should be readily and favorably heard. The Hebrew verb give (נָתַן nathan) in this context means to place an idea into the mind of another by teaching or showing. The Hebrew adjective good (טוֹב tob) used to qualify instruction is stating the obvious positive results of paying close attention, giving heed (i.e., obeying), accepting the instruction as being true, and responding to it favorably.
Do not forsake my teaching: The Hebrew verb forsake (עָזַב azab) means to abandon, give up, turn away from, reject, desert. The Hebrew noun teach (תּוֹרָה torah) has the sense of teaching or instruction, imparting information to the student or in this case, from the father to the sons.
This instruction is meant in such a way that it includes what is necessary for a successful life. While teaching is literally the Hebrew term for the “law,” which Moses handed down, the personal preposition of “my” suggests the best rendering is my teaching or instructions. Solomon, or rather Jehovah’s inspired Word, offers the best direction, and not paying attention would be very foolish.