In this post we are going to consider Proverbs 1:8-19. Please take the time to find the passage in your Bible and read it before this post. (Comments below follow the New King James Version.)
As mentioned before, Proverbs 1:1-9:18 contain the prologue of the book. The first 7 verses contained an inscription (v. 1), the purpose of the book (vv. 2-6), and the foundation of the book (v. 7).
The prologue proper begins in verse 8 and extends to 9:18, and it consists of 12 separate poems. In the weeks to come we will attempt to consider one poem per post, unless such an approach hinders us from sufficiently understanding the passage.
The first poem in the prologue begins in verse 8 and extends to verse 19. This poem can be divided into two smaller units. Verses 8-9 describe the benefits of wisdom, and verses 10-19 describe a choice with which young people are confronted (which will certainly apply to those who are not-so-young).
The Benefits of Wisdom 1:8-9
1:8 My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; 9 for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck.
The verses above are addressed to a “son,” who is admonished to pay attention to the instruction of his “father” and “mother.” Evidently, Solomon used this form of instruction to capture the attention of his son. Even though this passage is addressed to a child (we don’t know his age), it is very easy for us, the contemporary reader, to take the instruction personally so that we might apply it to our lives.
Furthermore, even though this passage is addressing the child, let’s first consider this passage from a parental perspective.
Parents have an important task – they must teach their children how to obey parental authority. All of the “children obey” passages in Scripture, have the underlying assumption that the parents are actively teaching their children how to obey them. The degree to which a child obeys his/her parents early in life often dictates the degree of submission to other authorities when the child becomes an adult. This is especially true when it comes to God’s authority. If a child learns to despise his parental authority (those whom he sees), he will not submit himself to an authority he cannot see.
Furthermore, the instruction from parents in this passage assumes comprehensive instruction. Solomon was not merely concerned that his son would obey his instructions when it came to matters revolving around clothing, chores, or other daily issues. The command to follow the instruction of the father and mother assumes that the father and mother were teaching the child how to live life in accordance to God’s standards. Since Solomon was living under the Mosaic Law, he was appealing to his son to listen to his wisdom, so that the child would learn how to wisely live in obedience to God in light of the Law which had been entrusted to the nation of Israel.
Raising children involves more than simply providing for the material and emotional needs of children. It also involves nurturing and instructing children in the good and rights ways of the Lord (Yahweh). In other words, parents have the responsibility to train their children in a variety of life aspects (the practical, secular, and spiritual issues encompassing every aspect whether thoughts, desires, and actions). The children must be trained so that they learn to view their entire lives as being lived in the sight of God. Therefore, all of their choices are to be seen and measured with respect to their relationship to Him.
Two common modes of training are instruction and discipline (rod). Obviously, the passage above highlights the instructional aspect. However, a wise parent does not hesitate to use the latter (discipline) if the former (instruction) has not been heeded. This discipline, when performed properly, is not a form of punishment – it is a loving and controlled method of correction and instruction. Receiving appropriate pain (not abusive bruising or worse) because of disobedience teaches children that there are negative consequences when one chooses to follow evil. When parents remove or shield children from consequences, they are subtly teaching the children that actions have no real consequences, which results in apathy or indifference in the heart of the children.
Lastly, the training of a child should never be performed under the assumption that proper training guarantees a good and right outcome – proper training does not guarantee that the child will live before God by choosing the right and good ways. Since parents can’t guarantee the salvation of their children, neither can they guarantee that their children will live in a way which pleases and honours God simply by imparting correct instruction to them. In this verse the father pleads with his son to hear and accept parental instruction, which indicates choice. If the child neglects to hear, he becomes a fool and experiences many of the consequences of being a fool mentioned in this book. If the child listens and heeds the instruction, it will be an ornament of grace around his neck – those who walk in wisdom will be “winners” in life (from God’s perspective). Regarding the issue of the “ornament on your head,” Lane said (18):
“The promise is of victory and power, for a garland was placed on the head of a general returning victorious from battle and a chain or necklace hung round the neck of a king on his coronation. So a son or child of God who heeds his heavenly Father’s word will have victory and power in his personal life…”
Having considered verses 8-9 from a parental perspective, let’s consider the verses from the perspective of the one being addressed (the son). Lane said (17):
“the chief characteristic of youth is vulnerability; the young are ignorant of the ways of the world and lack the power of self-control. They need first to be protected from falling into disaster before they have hardly begun…”
While this is true, it should go without saying that a young person who has not been properly instructed will later become an adult without the proper foundation which adequate preparation gives. It is a sad commentary about our age that adults are often ignorant of the ways of the world and lack the power of self-control. Therefore, many adults would benefit from this passage as well. So while Solomon addressed this passage to a son, its application extends beyond childhood.
On a general level, it is wise for youth to consider and obey parental instruction (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 3:20). God uses the instruction of parents to guide and guard the youth (even if the parent is not a believer and therefore, lacks significant spiritual insight).
On a more specific level, this passage implores the young son to follow spiritual instruction which will help him to live wisely before God. The passage alerts the reader that he needs to know how to apply God’s truth in his/her life (that’s wisdom). When the reader follows God’s instruction, he will be a success in life (from God’s perspective, not necessarily from the world’s perspective).
Reader, do you want to be successful in God’s eyes? If so, listen and heed the instructions which are given within the book of Proverbs. Verses 8-9 were written in order to prepare the heart to receive God’s instructions. Wanting God’s wisdom is the first step in receiving God’s wisdom.
That brings us to the warning passage in this poem, recorded in verses 10-19.
The Choice Before the Youth – Ungodly Influences 1:10-19
10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. 11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause; 12 let us swallow them alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down to the Pit; 13 we shall find all kinds of precious possessions, we shall fill our houses with spoil; 14 cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse”—
15 My son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path; 16 for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. 17 Surely, in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird; 18 But they lie in wait for their own blood, they lurk secretly for their own lives. 19 So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its owners.
This section is composed of two smaller units. Verses 10-14 begin with a warning and then describe a potential temptation; then verses 15-19 begin with a warning and give the reason for the warning.
Verses 10-14 begin with a general warning: do not yield to the enticement of sinners. Then in verses 11-14 we find an example of enticement. While the Bible does warn of the danger in having wrong friends (2 Samuel 13:3; 2 Chronicles 10:6-15; 1 Corinthians 15:33), these verses focus upon the temptation which comes from the wrong friends. The wrong friends (i.e. those who are disposed to do wrong) will entice others to join with them in their evil deeds. Verse 10 warns the youth of those who might “entice” him into joining forces with them in an evil venture (v. 14). The word “entice” means “to allure, persuade, entice, or seduce” which may not necessarily carry tones of subtlety, but merely persuasion. Here, the persuasion is wrong because the object of the enticement is to encourage the youth to participate in evil.
Godly parents seek to instill in their children a sense of right and wrong. Along with this parents must teach children to beware of unrighteous friendships which result in luring a person into evil actions. Companionship can be a powerful influence in one’s life to pursue good ways or evil (Psalm 1:1-3). Young people must learn early in life to discern between right and wrong, and to discern the righteous from the wicked, so that they refrain from establishing intimate relationships with those who will influence them to do that which is evil.
The specific enticement in verses 11-14 involves the acquisition of quick wealth by means of joining forces with others in attacking and robbing an unsuspecting victim. In verses 11-12 the evil plans are disclosed: “lie in wait” and “lurk secretly.” In verse 13 the lure is described as “find all kinds of precious possessions.” The proposed aggressive action is justified by the financial gain they would experience.
Verse 15 begins the second mini section and like verse 10, it begins with a warning for the young. Verse 15 says, “My son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path.” In essence, the command is the same as, or an extension of, verse 10. The son was commanded to not be enticed by sinners. Being enticed by sinners results in walking “in the way with them” and walking in “their path.” The metaphoric language is used to show that yielding to the enticement of the wicked results in doing or acting like the wicked.
Finally, verses 16-19 speak of the consequences of the sinner’s actions. According to verse 16, the wicked are quick to “run to evil.” Solomon then contrasted the unsuspecting wicked to wary birds. It is a “vain” thing to set a snare in “the sight of a bird” – the wary bird will be alerted to the danger. However, in contrast, the wicked are blinded to the future hazards before them. They “lie in wait for their own blood.” In other words, though the wicked hasten in their sinful actions in order to find gratification, ultimately, their choices lead to their harm. The reason why the son (or anyone for that matter) should not yield to temptation is that ultimately, a sin which promises a quick and pleasant reward ultimately results in harm to the perpetrators. In other words, sinners are so focused upon the bait that they fail to see the hook. They are blinded by the lure of immediate gratification, that they cannot see the harm that will come to them.
Solomon ended in verse 19 by saying, “So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its owners.” In other words, there are consequences to sin. Those who are greedy for gain rationalize unrighteous means of acquiring what they desire only to find that their life is sapped out of them, slowly but surely.
Furthermore, think about what Solomon said in verse 19. If you think about the enticement in verses 10-14 you will agree that the temptation to kill for the purpose of gaining wealth is a rather extreme example. You would think that Solomon would use a more subtle temptation, one which more people could relate to, because most people would not be tempted to kill someone to make a quick profit.
Furthermore, while the enticement in verses 10-14 is not so subtle, many enticements are subtle. Therefore, we should not necessarily understand vv. 11-19 to be showing the exact content of temptation, but merely the character of their seductions. That seems to be the point. Sin (greed) blinds us and encourages us to perform wicked deeds. The allure of gratification has the power to warp our sense of reason.
Greed and covetousness are powerful motivators to commit acts of violence, we witness this same thing today in our society – much of violence is motivated by greed. The idea is that the sinners assure the novice that their task will be “easy pickings” and will not endanger them, thus the temptation is not only for financial gain, but for financial gain which has no risk. Sinners who seek financial gain at the expense of others are deceived into thinking that they are invincible.
Verse 19 ends with a general warning about the sin of greed, of which the Bible has much to say.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)
“You shall not covet …” (Exodus 20:17)
“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Tim 6:6–10)
This “no risk” venture (vv. 11-13) is that which makes the temptation to band together against the innocent seem like such an insignificant thing (v. 14). The temptation is found in the fact that this young man’s small “investment” in this company of rogues will bring fast, easy and profitable dividends.
Understanding their methods of deception should cause the young man to be wary of the sinners’ temptations and thus be on guard. But the instruction is not merely to be on guard but to disassociate with those who lure a person into such a lifestyle. This can be seen in verses 15 and following where the ultimate consequences of their actions are discussed. Verse 15 contains the warning to keep away from these associations. Verses 16-19 discuss the reason why. The reason why is assumed: sinners will be caught, those who choose to associate with them will be caught and there will be no escape.
The reason to disassociate is because the sinner’s purpose is one of bloodshed and violence. But God is a just God and the divine retribution will make sure that his blood-thirsty purposes will bite him back. EBCOT states:
There are two ways to interpret v. 17 within the context. One is to see a comparison with the folly of birds who fall into a snare even though forewarned–likewise the wicked fall into the snare God lays because they are driven by lust. The other is to see a contrast between the natural behavior of birds when forewarned and the irrational greed of robbers. In other words, it is futile to spread out a net for birds that are watching, but these men are so blinded by evil that they fail to recognize the trap (v. 18). The blind folly of greed leads to their doom–retribution is the law that will take away their lives…
The temptation in verses 11-14 focuses upon the temporal benefits of walking in the way of sinners, but the reader must understand the ultimate consequences should he choose to associate with the likes of these. Often times, one merely thinks of the temporal gratification which can be gained through wicked actions and fails to look into the future to imagine the consequences of such behaviour. God gives us ample warning as to what we can expect beyond the temporal benefits. The wise person will heed the warning and admit that the consequences are not worth the little pleasure disobedience will bring. God ensures that ultimately, sin has its full “reward.” Should the reader decide to go along with an attractive “business agreement” to share in financial gain with sinners, he will also share in their demise.
 Waltke (pp. 38-39): “‘Dedicate a youth according to what his way dictates, and even when he is old he will not depart from it’ (22:6) expresses the truth or promise that parental rearing affects a youth’s behaviour for his entire life, but it does not express the whole biblical truth about child pedagogy. Rather, it is a single component of truth that must be fit together with other elements of truth in order to approximate the more comprehensive, confused pattern of real life. The book assumes the youth’s responsibility to accept the sage’s teaching (see 1:4) and threatens apostates with death (e.g., 1:20-33; 2:12-15; passim; cf. Ezek. 18:20), assuming some parental failure. Were parental training the whole truth about the child’s rearing, why is the book addressed to youth instead of to parents?