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Proverbs 4:20-27


4:20 My child, pay attention to my words;

listen attentively 1  to my sayings.

4:21 Do not let them depart 2  from your sight,

guard 3  them within your heart; 4 

4:22 for they are life to those who find them

and healing to one’s entire body. 5 

4:23 Guard your heart with all vigilance, 6 

for from it are the sources 7  of life.

4:24 Remove perverse speech 8  from your mouth; 9 

keep devious talk far from your lips. 10 

4:25 Let your eyes look directly 11  in front of you

and let your gaze 12  look straight before you.

4:26 Make the path for your feet 13  level, 14 

so that 15  all your ways may be established. 16 

4:27 Do not turn 17  to the right or to the left;

turn yourself 18  away from evil. 19 

1 tn Heb “incline your ear.” The verb הַט (hat) is the Hiphil imperative from נָטָה (natah, Hiphil: “to turn to; to incline”). The idiom “to incline the ear” gives the picture of “lean over and listen closely.”

sn Commentators note the use of the body in this section: ear (v. 20), eyes (v. 21), flesh (v. 22), heart (v. 23), lips (v. 24), eyes (v. 25), feet (v. 26), and hands and feet (v. 27). Each is a synecdoche of part representing the whole; the total accumulation signifies the complete person in the process.

2 tn The Hiphil form יַלִּיזוּ (yallizu) follows the Aramaic with gemination. The verb means “to turn aside; to depart” (intransitive Hiphil or inner causative).

3 tn Or “keep” (so KJV, NIV, NRSV and many others).

4 sn The words “eyes” and “heart” are metonymies of subject representing the faculties of each. Cf. CEV “think about it all.”

5 tn Heb “to all of his flesh.”

6 tn Heb “more than all guarding.” This idiom means “with all vigilance.” The construction uses the preposition מִן (min) to express “above; beyond,” the word “all” and the noun “prison; guard; act of guarding.” The latter is the use here (BDB 1038 s.v. מִשְׁמָר).

7 sn The word תּוֹצְאוֹת (totsot, from יָצָא, yatsa’) means “outgoings; extremities; sources.” It is used here for starting points, like a fountainhead, and so the translation “sources” works well.

8 tn Heb “crookedness.” The noun עִקְּשׁוּת (’iqqÿshut) refers to what is morally twisted or perverted. Here it refers to things that are said (cf. NAB “dishonest talk”; NRSV “crooked speech”). The term “mouth” functions as a metonymy of cause for perverse speech. Such perverse talking could be subtle or blatant.

9 tn Heb “crookedness of mouth.”

10 tn Heb “deviousness of lips put far from you.”

11 tn The jussives in this verse are both Hiphil, the first from the verb “to gaze; to look intently [or, carefully],” (נָבַט, navat) and the second from the verb “to be smooth, straight” (יָשָׁר, yashar).

12 tn Heb “your eyelids.” The term “eyelids” is often a poetic synonym for “eye” (it is a metonymy of adjunct, something connected with the eye put for the eye that sees); it may intensify the idea as one might squint to gain a clearer look.

13 tn Heb “path of your foot.”

14 sn The verb is a denominative Piel from the word פֶּלֶס (peles), “balance; scale.” In addition to telling the disciple to keep focused on a righteous life, the sage tells him to keep his path level, which is figurative for living the righteous life.

15 tn The vav prefixed to the beginning of this dependent clause denotes purpose/result following the preceding imperative.

16 tn The Niphal jussive from כּוּן (cun, “to be fixed; to be established; to be steadfast”) continues the idiom of walking and ways for the moral sense in life.

17 sn The two verbs in this verse are from different roots, but nonetheless share the same semantic domain. The first verb is תֵּט (tet), a jussive from נָטָה (natah), which means “to turn aside” (Hiphil); the second verb is the Hiphil imperative of סוּר (sur), which means “to cause to turn to the side” (Hiphil). The disciple is not to leave the path of righteousness; but to stay on the path he must leave evil.

18 tn Heb “your foot” (so NAB, NIV, NRSV). The term רַגְלְךָ (raglÿkha, “your foot”) is a synecdoche of part (= foot) for the whole person (= “yourself”).

19 tc The LXX adds, “For the way of the right hand God knows, but those of the left hand are distorted; and he himself will make straight your paths and guide your goings in peace.” The ideas presented here are not out of harmony with Proverbs, but the section clearly shows an expansion by the translator. For a brief discussion of whether this addition is Jewish or early Christian, see C. H. Toy, Proverbs (ICC), 99.

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