Book of Proverbs: 31 verses from 31 chapters in 31 days – Day 4: Guard your heart

Day 4: Guard your heart (4:23)

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

Before we attend to our verse for the day, it is worth recapping the earlier part of the chapter, which is repeating and reinforcing what has already been said, particularly the paramount importance of getting wisdom and understanding, and avoiding the path of the wicked and evil men, and what happens (whether blessing or cursing, life or death, honour or shame) if we, or specifically the son Solomon was trying to influence, chooses or not the way of wisdom: e.g. “Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her” (4:8). Wisdom is referred to (as in chapter 3) as “she”, something we will return to later when we find a whole chapter is devoted to lady wisdom.

We are also reminded here of the importance of the heart, e.g. “let them (my words) not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart” (4:21). “Heart” is referred to 82 times in Proverbs in a large array of different contexts. The word’s first appearance is “so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding” (2:2). “Heart” (Hebrew lebab) occurs 724 times in the Old Testament, indicating its importance as that which determines how we respond to or determine what to do in our life’s journey. It denotes a person’s centre for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities. In the Ancient World the heart represented the origin of our thoughts and centre of our being. The Great Command includes loving YHWH with all our heart.  

Two modern renditions of our text are “keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts” and “be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts”. The point is that the heart is where our choice of everything we do, think, say, sense, feel etc. begins, and if we invite harmful “stuff”, whether thoughts, opinions, influences, habits, decisions etc. that take us away from the path God has for us, we are on a slippery slope that leads to destruction. Just as we pursue wisdom with all diligence, so should we be guarding our heart. Our chapter ends reminding us of the need to follow the straight path and not to turn away from it. “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil” (4:24-27).

Prayer: we thank you Lord for your words of life. May they not just be in our heads but dwell in our hearts. We are sorry for the times when our hearts have turned away from you. We thank you for reminding us of the importance of keeping our hearts with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life, and giving us the grace to do so. May we be those who love you with all our hearts.

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