4:1 In the first nine verses, Solomon rehearses the sound teaching which his father had passed on to him, and urges his children to spare no effort in gaining true insight. The book of Proverbs teems with earnest exhortations to the young to listen to instruction from a wise father.
Ver. 1. The instruction of a father.—A religious home:—
I. The love of a religious home. Two kinds of love for the offspring.
1. The natural love.
2. The spiritual love, which has respect to the spiritual being, relations, and interests of the children.
II. The training of a religious home.
1. The parent’s teaching is worth retaining.
2. The parent’s teaching is practical.
3. The parent’s teaching is quickening to all the powers, intellectual and moral.
III. The influence of a religious home.
1. The susceptibility of childhood.
2. The force of parental affection. Religious homes are the great want of the race. (David Thomas, D.D.)
Doctrine and law form the staple of this appeal. By “law” understand “direction,” for life is an ever-bisecting course, and full of points that must bewilder inexperienced travellers. Do not venture upon great sea voyages without proper instruments and without being taught how to use them. So in life. Be enriched with doctrine or wisdom, and cultivate that tender filial spirit which gratefully yields itself to direction. It is at once wise and lovely for youth to consult the aged, and to avail themselves of accumulated experience. Any other spirit is vain, self-conceited, frivolous, and unworthy. Why should the father be anxious to instruct and direct the son? Because he has seen more of life, more of its mystery, its peril, its tragedy; therefore his heart yearns to preserve the young from danger. The father’s position is one of moral dignity and supreme benevolence. Having suffered himself, he would save his children from pain. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Attend to know understanding.—Knowing understanding:—
I. Young men have need often to be called upon to get true knowledge.
1. Because of their own backwardness to the work.
2. The impediments and diversions from attaining true wisdom.
3. There are many things to be believed, beyond the power of corrupted reason to find out.
4. There are many practical things to be learned, else they can never be done.
5. There are many faculties of the soul to be reformed.
6. There are many senses and members of the body to be directed to many particular actions, and each to its own. Uses:
1. To blame young men that think their parents and teachers over-diligent.
2. To urge children to attend to their parents instructing them in piety.
3. To persuade parents and teachers not only to instruct, but also to incite to attention.
II. Every young man has need to be called on to look after true knowledge.
1. Because there is no disposition to this wisdom in the best by nature.
2. There is much averseness, because the principles of faith are above nature, and of practice against nature. (Francis Taylor, B.D.)
I. Let our own children receive instructions. This charity must begin at home.
II. Let all young people take pains to get knowledge and grace. They are in the learning stage.
III. Let all who would receive instruction come with the disposition of children. Let prejudices be laid aside. Let them be dutiful, tractable, and self-diffident. (Matthew Henry.)
Ver. 1.—Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father. This exhortation is identical with that in ch. 1:8, except that the address, “ye children,” indicating a new departure, is now used instead of “my son,” which has been hitherto employed (see ch. 1:8; 2:1; 3:1, 21), and “of thy father” is altered to “of a father.” The verb is the same, occurring here, of course, in the plural number. The appeal is evidently intended to rouse attention. Attention is especially necessary to secure a knowledge of Divine truth. Ye children (bhânîm). This address occurs again twice in the second group of admonitory discourses—in ch. 5:7 and 7:24, and also in the appeal of Wisdom personified in ch. 8:32, and, with these exceptions, nowhere else in the Proverbs. It is used by David, and it is possible that when the teacher penned these words he had in mind Ps. 34:11, “Come, ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” The similarity in the address serves to connect the teacher of wisdom with David, and thus to identify him with Solomon, while it also leads to the conclusion that the advice which follows in vers. 4–19 is in substance that which David had given his son. On “instruction,” see ch. 1:8. Of a father (âv). It is difficult, owing to the want of the pronominal suffix, to determine accurately whether the teacher is referring to himself or to his own father in the expression. The following verse (2) would indicate that he is speaking of himself in his capacity as a teacher or instructor of youth. But it is quite possible that he may be referring to his own father, whose advice he had received, and which he is now about to lay before others in vers. 4–19. Though attention to paternal advice in general, i.e. instruction given by any father to his children, is not intended here, still the passage may be regarded as embodying the principle that attention to parental advice is incumbent on children, and a disregard of it is the mark of ingratitude and depravity. Rabbi Levi understands the phrase as referring to our heavenly Father. Attend (hakshivu, hiph. imperative of kāshāv). On the force of this verb as signifying “earnest, absorbed attention,” see ch. 1:24. To know understanding (lâdāāth bînâ); i.e. in order that you may know or gain understanding. The infinitive marks the design or object of the attention (cf. the Vulgate, ut sciatis). The expression corresponds with lâdāāth khokmah in ch. 1:2, and just as this signifies “to appropriate to yourself wisdom,” so the one before us has the same force, and signifies the gaining or appropriation of understanding, i.e. the faculty of discernment or discrimination. Hitzig renders, “to know with the understanding;” i.e. to know intelligently, but this does not seem to be the meaning of the phrase.
4:1. Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, And give attention that you may gain understanding,
This chapter falls out into three sections—each an exhortation to acquire wisdom and each marked off by a call to listen from father to son (vv. 1, 10, 20). The call we meet in this verse is very much like the other familial calls to wisdom we find in the book of Proverbs (e.g. Prov. 1:8; 3:1; 5:1, 7; 7:24), yet it is distinctive in that it is in the plural (but see also 5:7; 7:24; 8:32).
Debate has raged over this uniqueness, some suggesting that this refers in a metaphorical way to a teacher/disciple relationship rather than a literal father/son relationship. Such debate, however, is unnecessary, for many a father has more than one son. The mention of ‘mother’ in verse 3 also lends to an understanding of this in a familial sense (cf. Prov. 1:8; 6:20). While the literal familial relationship of father and son is surely the meaning here, the wider application may extend to such teacher/disciple relationships and even to that of God the Father over us, His children.
There is not much new material presented in this verse. The ‘instruction’ and ‘understanding’ spoken of here have already been introduced in Proverbs 1:2. The call to ‘give attention’ is also familiar (Prov. 1:24; 2:2; 4:20; 7:24).
This repetition, however, is not useless in the least. This teaches us a basic principle of pedagogy: we learn best by repetition. The way of God with His children is still ‘precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line’ (Isa. 28:13, kjv). In an age that chases that which is new and different, we dare not lose the value of reminder (Rom. 15:15; 2 Tim. 1:6; 2 Pet. 1:12, 15).
1 The indefinite and plural address, sons (bānîm), is unique in the introductory admonitions of the prologue’s eleven lectures (cf. 1:8[10, 15], 2:1; 3:1, 20; 4:10, 20; 5:1; [6:1], 20; 7:1), but not without analogy within the lectures and addresses (5:7; 7:24; 8:32; cf. Ps. 34:11). Although it must be admitted that the vocative plural of bēn never occurs in Proverbs with the pronominal suffix, raising questions about the force of the indefinite construction, the pronominal suffix is used with the vocative in 1 Sam. 2:24; 2 Chr. 29:11; Isa. 43:6. If this argument is valid, the indefinite a father’s instruction (mûsār ʾāb; see 1:2, 8) points to the kind or class of instruction as that of a father to a son, not as typically the identity of the father as the one addressing his son (cf. 1:8; 6:20; 13:1). Ultimately the father’s instruction derives from God (see 2:1–6). Fox comments, “Parental authority is a channel for communication of God’s will. The two sources of authority reinforce each other, and in places where only one is mentioned, the other is not thereby excluded.” The speaker is the father, not the mother, because the “I” of 4:2 identifies himself as a son in v. 4. These two indefinite constructions suggest that the pl. “sons” is diachronic (i.e., a reference to the lineage of sons), not synchronic (i.e., a reference to the contemporary sons of a father). That notion suits this lecture, which pertains to inheriting the good and reliable sagacity of the fathers. Newsom observes:
There is always a measure of identification between father and son, so that a son understands and thinks “when I grow up, that’s what I will be.” The father-status already exists as a potentiality in the son. That identification is, of course, vital in negotiating the intergenerational division of patriarchal society.… Chapter 4 speaks of the transformation of the sons into the fathers in the chain of tradition. The male subject is to a certain degree apportioned between father and son.
And pay attention (wehaqšîbû; see 2:2) is a synonymous parallel to šāmaʿ. To “know” knowledge that gives insight (ledaʿat; see 1:2) is better than “to know knowledge” because the noun daʿat is a better parallel to mûsār “instruction” than the verb, and because hqšb is always followed by a noun referring to the words of teaching, never by a verb (2:2; 4:1, 20; 5:1; 7:24; 17:4; 29:12).
1 The first discourse begins with a double call, stressing the importance of receiving the teaching. The “instruction” (mûsar) is the moral instruction introduced previously (cf. 1:2); it adds self-control and guidance to wisdom.
The significant feature of this discourse is that the teaching is traditional. The plural “sons” suggests that disciples (pupils) are in view and that the father is a teacher (Toy, 84). But the use of “mother” in v. 3 and the fact that the teacher-pupil relationship was modeled on the parent-child relationship suggest that a father-children relationship is indicated. Alden, 45, perhaps goes too far in identifying David and Bathsheba as the parents.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (A. Farstad, Ed.; p. 801). Thomas Nelson.