Ponder the Path of Your Feet
Proverbs 4:20–27 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
26th Sunday after Pentecost – November 18, 2018 (am)
Having urged his son to choose the path of the righteous (18) and not the way of the wicked (19), this father in Pro.1-9 now wants his son to stay on that path. Through the familiar language of his opening call, he says: 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. And then he gives the reason why: 22 For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. In the final v.27 here he gives his closing charge, repeating the core idea of Lesson 7. And in between he gives that Lesson—read vv.23-26.
The [healing] promised here is physical, emotional, and spiritual—the whole person (Ross 75). And we might also say it is relational, communal. So, this life and healing come not only to individual people, but to the whole community of those who listen and follow these words. We see this insinuated in the plural of v.22—they are life to those who find them. But it goes back to singular in the second line (ESV fn.2); it should read: and healing to all his flesh. So, [the father’s words] are life to those who find them, and healing to [the] flesh [of every single one of them].
This sounds very much like the biblical concept of peace, shalom, life the way it ought to be—was meant to be. That’s what this father wanted for his son. And that’s the promise of this passage for all of us who will be attentive to [his] words and [not let them] escape from [our] sight. Is this you?
Let’s give ear the father’s instruction here. We can do so by answering two questions.
What does the father want the son and to hear in this lesson?
He wants his son to hear four parallel charges: keep your heart with all vigilance (23); put away devious talk (24); look directly forward (25), meaning, don’t get distracted by the temptations to your right and left (Fox 187); and ponder the path of your feet (26), pay attention to where you’re going, and to how you’re getting there.
Now, there’s a sense in which keep or [guard] (BDB) your heart is foundational to the other three. The heart here represents the mind, emotions, and will—the whole inner being (Kidner 65). And if this son was going to hear and obey his father’s charges, it’s going to require an inner realignment, a [straightened] heart. Jesus Himself said it is out of the abundance of the heart [that the] mouth speaks (Luk.6:45), so the only way to put away crooked, devious speech (24) is to drain and refill the heart.
[Looking] directly forward (25) is talking about fixing your eyes unswervingly on some goal (Garrett 76) that’s captured the attention of your will—another function of the heart.
Ponder the path of your feet—mind/think about your way.
So, the heart feeds all of these activities—it is undeniably foundational to them all. And we also see here that the heart gets first attention. The father says: 23 Keep your heart with all vigilance…—that means above every charge (YLT) or above all else (NIV), [ahead of] all else. The heart must be guarded more zealously than anything else (Fox 185). Why? 23 … for from it flow the springs of life, literally the [outgoings] of life (YLT). It is the source of life (Fox 186), we might say. I like the TNIV: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it—[guarding] [mouth], eyes, feet….
Clearly, then, we start with the heart. And equally clearly, right direction of our [mouth], eyes, and feet is inextricably linked to our heart. But our [mouth], eyes, and feet all need attention in addition to our heart! They each receive their own command here, so they each require individual attention. As we’ve seen in Pro., the heart is the place where we hold on to the commands of God’s Word, the instruction of the father. So, [keeping] your heart (23) means [keeping] [the father’s words] within your heart (21). But that doesn’t just mean you remember the words he spoke. To listen, be attentive (20), means you hear and heed, you listen and obey.
So, bottom line: keep your heart with all vigilance calls this son to hold on to his father’s teachings and honor them. And the next three imperatives give him categories in which he can see how he’s doing, by which he can test the condition of his heart, the content of his heart.
What should we hear from this lesson?
Let’s just go in order. First, we hear: 23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. We should hear a call to be attentive to [the] words of our Father (21) and [not let them] escape from [our] sight (21). We should hear a call to keep them within [our] heart (21). And we should recognize that this is what distinguishes those who are on the path of the righteous (18) from those on the way of the wicked (19). The psalmist wrote: Psa.37:30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. 31 The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. In fact, he loves God’s law! Psa.19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. It’s all here! Psa.119:11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. [Keeping our] heart with all vigilance is what [keeps] us in the way of the righteous (18). That’s the way God’s Word works in us.
How about the next one: 24 Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. This sounds a lot like Eph. 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. But Pro. also has much to say about our words. How about Pro.6:12 A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, but it doesn’t stop there. He 13 winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, 14 with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; 15 therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing. This is the way of the wicked (19).
But this can still be hard. It is not easy even for the righteous to bridle their tongue. Jam.3:2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. I struggle with this one. And so often it’s the silliest little things that draw out sharp words—traffic, little inconveniences at home. I can have the hardest time being patient with small interruptions. In bigger things I seem much more quickly drawn to speak in ways that honor the Lord. I stumble over little things! Two days ago, I was praying about this in the car while driving to an appointment—when I’m late, other drivers seem to be particularly mindless—and Friday was hard! But last night as I was finishing my preparations and heading to bed, a software glitch erased my entire sermon, irretrievably. I was just immediately aware that this was a test from the Lord, and a huge one in comparison to patience with traffic! But because I knew it was out of my hands, no crooked words even came to my mind, not to mention my lips. It was in the Lord’s hands. I knew that because His Word has persuaded me it is true. Psa.27:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. 8 The Lord is the strength of his people…. So, I sought the Lord to clear away the distracting weariness of life in a world where such things can happen and help me reconstruct a sermon—to give me words that will build up his people, [strengthen] them. And He did. That’s what I need to remember in traffic!
Next: 25 Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. This one is huge, isn’t it? Think about where your eyes look. What is that saying about your heart? We need to say with Job 31:1 I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at [anything displeasing to the Lord]?Say with the psalmist: 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let [my] foot be moved; he who keeps [me] will not slumber. 4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Look to Him!
Finally: 26 Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do your feet want to go where they shouldn’t go? Where have you found yourself in the past week or two that you know you don’t belong? What is that saying about your heart?Ponder the path of your feet, but do so knowing that the strength to walk away from where you don’t belong is in the hands of your God, and He assures you of that in His Word. 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. That’s the way God’s Word works in us! If we’re going to obey this father’s closing charge—27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.—it’s only going to be because we have put our trust in the Lord with all [our] heart, and [are not leaning] on our own understanding (3:5). It is only going to be because in all [our] ways we are [acknowledging] him, [so that] he will make [our paths straight] (3:6).
Are you doing that? Are you listening to the instruction of God in Scripture? Are you [being] attentive to [his] words? Are you [inclining] your ear to [his]sayings and [not letting] them escape from your sight? Are you [keeping] them within your heart? (20-21)
If you are, then you will be [finding] life in them, and healing to all [your] flesh (22), because God has given you His Word that this is what happens when you do! If you will 23 keep your heart with all vigilance, for [springs of life] will flow from it. For John records that it was 37 … Jesus Himself Who once stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” And when we come to Him by faith, He then takes up the work of [keeping our] heart with all vigilance…! That is good news!
As we close, please take a moment to think about what you’ve said with your words, what you’ve looked at with your eyes, where you’ve gone with your feet, and what that says about your heart. Take a moment and bring that to the Lord. Lift your eyesto Him. That is where your help comes from to hear and obey His words.