Cleave To That Which is Good
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Turn, please, to the book of Proverbs, that portion of the Word of God which we are considering together, asking the Holy Spirit to minister this portion of the Word to our hearts once again. We would like to remind you that we are looking at the first division of the book of Proverbs, which has been labeled Thirteen Lectures On Wisdom . These were delivered by Solomon to his son. We want to think with you about lecture number 8, which is entitled, Cleave To That Which Is Good . It is recorded in chapter 4, verses 20-27.

If we wanted to interpret this eighth lecture in the light of the seventh lecture which was entitled Shun Evil Paths , we might entitle this eighth lecture Cleave To That Path Which Is Good For You because that is the interpretation rightly placed upon the paragraph. Follow in your Bibles with me as I read Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 20:

Proverbs 4:

20 My son,[we are reminded when we read those two words that they introduce these thirteen lectures on wisdom], 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.

A Prescribed Path for Every Believer

After the reading of the paragraph, you recognize the reason I suggest that it might be interpreted in the light of our last lesson, Shun Evil Paths , because the word path is referred to more than one time in this paragraph by direct statement and by inference. The suggestion of this particular passage of Scripture as far as the theme is concerned is found in verse 26. Notice the words, please:

Proverbs 4:

26 Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.

A great many times when we read that verse, we suggest to our minds that it is telling us that we should stop and think about the path we are traveling and decide whether or not we ought to be on that path: “Ponder the path of thy feet.” There is a sense in which that is very good advice. We ought to keep close account and take stock of our lives constantly and see whether we are in the right place at the right time. Actually, according to the original text, that is not the real meaning of that verse. Rather, it suggests to us that for every believer there is a prescribed path that he ought to travel, a prescribed path that he ought to follow.

As a matter of fact, Solomon is advancing in verse 26 the very same thing the Apostle Paul advanced in his letter to Timothy. Turn to Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 4, which you will recognize as the swan song of the Apostle Paul. He had come to the end of his life. He was ready to leave this life. He records his feelings in verse 6:

II Timothy 4:

6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Notice particularly the words, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course…” The Apostle Paul felt that for him there was a course very plainly marked out and it was his obligation to follow that course to the best of his ability. The author of the book of Hebrews advances the same idea in chapter 12. It is a familiar verse. Notice Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 1:

Hebrews 12:

1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Paul speaks of a course which had been prescribed for him which he had finished. The author to the Hebrews speaks of a race prescribed for every one of us and informs us the manner in which we should run it.

Go back to Proverbs, chapter 4, and notice with me verse 26:

Proverbs 4:

26 Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.

I would like to call to your attention that the word path in that verse of Scripture comes from the Hebrew word magal , which is translated by the word track , the idea being a race track or a cinder track that a track team might use. The word ways in this passage of Scripture is a word that is taken from the Hebrew word derek . It means “a course of light.” We have the practical and the figurative aspects presented to our attention in verse 26. Notice again:

Proverbs 4:

26 Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.

In the Septuagint version of the Old Testament—the Old Testament translated from Hebrew to Greek—when the scholars translated the word path , they used the Greek word that is the very same word the Apostle Paul used in his letter to Timothy when it was recorded, “There is a course which I have finished.” This passage of Scripture should suggest to our thinking that there is a prescribed path for every believer, and it would behoove the believer to find out exactly what that path is and where it is located.

A Predetermined Path

If you are thinking, you are probably wondering about that word ponder . I have saved it for the moment to consider with you because I believe that in this paragraph we have presented to us not only a prescribed path—a path that is laid out for you—but a path predetermined that is prepared so that every individual has a path that is not only prescribed in the sense that God says, “Go this way,” but a path that must be prepared by the individual and kept in good order if he is to run the race well.

The word ponder comes from the Hebrew word palac , which means “to roll flat and to make smooth.” Sometimes when you are observing people who are running a race, you recognize that difficulties are encountered. Sometimes the difficulties are encountered because of the condition of the track. Other times the difficulties are encountered because of the individual himself. At the moment, we are suggesting that the individual should be careful that the path he is running is in good order so that he might run the race well. There may come a time in your life when you will find it necessary to get out the roller, so to speak, and roll the path flat. There may come a time when you need to make the rough places smooth.

We call to your attention again the Septuagint version of this particular passage of Scripture for it records it, “Make straight paths for thy feet, and order thy ways aright.” This particular phrase in the Septuagint , “Make straight paths for thy feet, and order thy ways aright,” finds the words make straight coming from the Greek word orthos , which literally means “to make level.” We are reminded that there is a need for us to make straight paths for the feet of those who are to run the race.

This brings to our attention another New Testament text which I think would be well for us to notice. Turn again to the Hebrew letter, chapter 12, verses 12-13, where the Apostle said:

Hebrews 12:

12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

Here the emphasis is placed not only upon the need of making straight paths for your feet for your own concern, but to make straight the paths for your feet because you are concerned about others because it could be that some other individuals will want to follow the path that you follow. If you leave the path in an uneven condition, you could be responsible for their falling by the wayside.

Going back to the book of Proverbs, noticing the last part of verse 26: “…let all thy ways be established,” we call to your attention that the word established comes from the Hebrew word kuwn, which literally translated means “to make proper, to make perfect, to make right.” We are speaking of a course of right as well as a literal path which an individual may follow.

This should bring to our attention what we have attempted to lay before you, that not only is there a prescribed path, perhaps prescribed from the very foundation of eternity for each individual, but it is the responsibility of each individual to prepare the path that is prescribed for him. This makes the difference between fatalist and predestinationist. It makes the difference between those who believe in the elective grace of God and those who are fatalists, simply excusing all of their faults and all of their shortcomings by a simple statement: “What is to be will be, and nothing can be done about it.”

We are reminded when we talk of making the path smooth of what we read in Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 1, when we were instructed that if we were to run the race that is set before us, then we must lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us.

A Prepared Person

That brings to our attention, as we meditate farther in the paragraph in Proverbs, chapter 4, that not only is there a need for a prepared way, even though it is prescribed from the very beginning of eternity, there is a need as well for a prepared person to run that prescribed way. A prepared person can run a much better race than an individual who is not prepared. Practically the entire paragraph that we have read is given over to the preparation of the person involved, and it begins where all preparation ought to begin. It begins with the heart, for if you are not prepared on the inside, you most certainly will not be prepared on the outside. All too many people make an effort to put forth their energy on the preparation of the outside and accomplish absolutely nothing. Begin on the inside and the outside will gradually adjust.

Notice, please, verse 23:

Proverbs 4:

23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.

The New English Bible , emphasizing the physical aspect of this verse, says, “It is the source of life.” Living Letters emphasizes that your heart will influence everything else in your life. I do not believe it could be better said than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said it as is recorded in Matthew, chapter 15. You will notice exactly how He emphasized that the condition of the heart would regulate the condition of the outer life, that indeed out of the innermost being flows the issues of life. The Lord Jesus Christ had just spoken a parable. His disciples wanted to know the meaning of that parable and the Lord Jesus said, in verse 16:

Matthew 15:

16 …Are ye also yet without understanding?
17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

The Pharisees, of course, were making the mistake of thinking that the outside contaminated the inside. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Correct your thinking. Make things different from the way you have been considering, and recognize that the inside defiles the outside.” If you are going to prepare yourself to run the race that is being described here in Proverbs, chapter 4, then make that preparation beginning with the heart.

Guard Your Heart

Notice the first thing concerning the heart that is brought to your attention in Proverbs, chapter 4, is that you should keep the heart with all diligence. This word keep comes from the Hebrew word natsar , which means “to guard your heart with all diligence.” Various Bible scholars have suggested translations for this particular statement, such as, “Keep your heart with all diligence” and “guard above every treasure your heart.” But I see in this verse of Scripture a play upon words because the word diligence comes from the Hebrew word mishmar , which means “to guard,” so you might read the verse: “Guard thy heart with a guard. Post a guard at your heart for out of your heart are the issues of life.”

Guard Your Mouth

In a moment we are going to discover what it is that we can use to guard our hearts, but we want to go on in our description of preparation as the wise man does from the heart to the mouth. He reminds us that the next thing we need to be conscious of in our preparation is our mouth because our mouth is the opening from which comes the issues of our heart. Notice what he has to say in regard to the mouth of the believer in this particular portion of the Word. Notice verse 21:

Proverbs 4:

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 [Notice carefully] Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.

Reference is made to mouth and lips in the same verse. We are talking about the same thing, but a different usage. A froward mouth is brought to our attention. We remind you that the word froward comes from the Hebrew word iqqshuwth , which may be translated by the word distorted , and by the word false . If you are going to prepare yourself to run the course that God has prescribed for you, put a guard on your heart and then check your mouth. Put away from you a mouth that distorts the truth, a mouth that speaks false things.

We would remind you that though there are some believers not given to outright lying, they are given to the very bad habit of distorting the truth. Individuals who distort the truth are as guilty in God's sight of lying as the individual who tells an outright lie.

You will also notice in the verse a reference to perverse lips. The word perverse comes from the Hebrew word lzuwth which may be translated by the word rebellious and the word complaining . There are some individuals who would not distort the truth; there are some individuals who would not have anything to say about anything that is false, but they are constantly speaking rebellion against the revealed Word of God and are constantly complaining about the path in which God has led them. Keep in mind if the path was prescribed for you from eternity, then there is no reason you should spend your time rebelling about that which is on the path and complaining about the roughness of the same. It is in God's plan and it is in God's purpose.

Guard Your Eyes

The writer of this passage of Scripture moves from the mouth to the eyes of the individuals concerned, suggesting that if we are to run the race, if we are to follow the course that is prescribed for us, then we are going to have to be very definitely concerned about what we do with our eyes. Remember the Scripture says, “It is the desires of the eyes that bring about the downfall of the individuals.” Look at verse 25:

Proverbs 4:

25 Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.

When the word eyelids is used in the text, oftentimes people wonder exactly how you could see through your eyelids, and of course you can't. The word is used because the suggestion is that you are not to be looking to the right or to the left.

In the book of Proverbs and in the Psalms you will find poetry of thought oftentimes repeated in a slightly different way. Just as you find two words that rhyme with each other, you find two thoughts that parallel each other, and we would call to your attention that the phrase, “look right on,” which is the first that is brought to your attention there in verse 25, comes from the Hebrew word nabat which means “to look intently.” It doesn't mean “to take a passing glance;” it doesn't mean “to look superficially,” but it does mean “to look down the path intently,” to notice what there might be in the path that would hinder your running the race as you approach the particular thing in mind. Carefully examine the path that you are to follow.

The phrase “look straight before you,” seems to be a mere repetition, but we remind you that it comes from the Hebrew word that means literally, “to keep the goal in sight.” As you travel the path that God has prescribed for you, guard your heart, watch your mouth, notice what you do with your eyes, and keep your eyes going straight ahead, the goal in sight so that you won't waver to the right or to the left.

Pull Back Your Feet from Danger

The last thing that the wise man gets to in the preparation of the man who is going to run the race is his feet, as is brought to your attention in verse 27:

Proverbs 4:

27 Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.

One paraphrase of this passage of Scripture presents it in a way that has impressed me to remember it. Perhaps it will you: “Don't sidetrack. Pull back your feet from danger.” How often we do get sidetracked. I am wondering if I were to ask the question, “How many of you feel that sometime in your life you have been sidetracked from the path that God prescribed for you,” how many of us would have say, “Yes, I have been sidetracked.”?

Perhaps some of us now are in that very state—sidetracked, not following the course which God had prescribed for us. The danger is not only of being sidetracked, but the danger is of not removing our foot from evil quickly enough. We step on that evil thing that is about to bring our downfall, and before we gain our balance, we have fallen. Thank God, those who have fallen can rise again because no individual needs to remain in a fallen state.

Means of Preparation

We have talked to you about a prescribed path. We have talked to you about a prepared person. We have talked to you about a prepared path. I want to say just one or two words more, and that is in reference to the making of the preparation about which we have been speaking. What are the means of preparation? Are there any?

You recognize the usual exhortation at the beginning of this lecture that you found at the beginning of all the other seven lectures at which we have looked in this series of messages. Notice verse 20:

Proverbs 4:

20 My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
21 Let them not depart from thine eyes…

We do not tarry with these particular exhortations because we have looked at them before in detail. The value of them is found in verse 22, where we read:

Proverbs 4:

22 For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.

This, too, we have noticed as being the value of heeding the words of wisdom which actually represent doctrine—the Word of the living God. There is one phrase that has not been brought to our attention heretofore in this series of lectures, and it is really the secret of the preparation of all life for whatever task God may have in mind. Notice verse 21:

Proverbs 4:

21 …keep them in the midst of thine heart.

This is a reference to the Word of God. This is a reference to the truth that is taught from the Word of God. You will notice the first exhortation concerning the word that is presented. It is brought to your attention by the word keep . It comes from the Hebrew word shamar , which means “to preserve in your heart in a very special way.”

Not only are you told to preserve these things in your heart, you are told to preserve them in the midst of your heart. The word midst is a Hebrew word, tavak, a medical term which speaks of a bisection. The suggestion is if some way somebody could cut your heart right down the middle, if you have been following the suggestion that the wise man has been making, they would find, figuratively speaking, hidden in your heart the Word of God. But we are all aware when the Holy Spirit of God uses the word heart , He is not speaking of the organ that pumps the blood through your body exclusively. The heart could include the soul. It could include the brain. It could include the seat of affection. It could include that with which you are able to comprehend truth. The idea is that the Word of God should be in the very midst of your being.

The Word will Guard your Heart

What has all of this to do with preparing you for the way and for preparing the way for you? The Psalmist has answered it very well in Psalm 119, when he said:

Psalm 119:

9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.

And again he said:

Psalm 119:

11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

When there are rough places in the way, apply the Word. That is the reason it is so important for you to know. If you want to be prevented from failing in the race, then hide this Word in your heart and this Word will guard your heart.

Conclusion

Remember, we said that we would talk to you about the guard. This is the guard of your heart, out of which the issues of life come, for the individual who is saturated in the Word of God will find the prescribed way easily followed and will come to the end of that way and be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished my course.”


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