8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
9 for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck.
10 My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
14 throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—
15 my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths,
16 for their feet run to evil,
and they make haste to shed blood.
17 For in vain is a net spread
in the sight of any bird,
18 but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
they set an ambush for their own lives.
19 Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
it takes away the life of its possessors. – Proverbs 1:8-19 ESV
Many have deemed verse 7 as the thesis statement for this rather diverse collection of wisdom sayings that Solomon helped author and compile.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV
That phrase, “the fear of the Lord,” is a recurring theme throughout the book of Proverbs and conveys the idea of the reverential awe and affection that a child of God displays for his Heavenly Father. But it also describes the healthy respect that each child of God should have for His holiness and power that manifests itself in willful obedience to His will. God was not to be taken lightly and His commands were non-optional. His love and patience were never to be construed as tolerance or a disregard for sin. God is holy and completely sinless. He cannot and will not tolerate sin among His people. His inherent sense of justice demands that all sin either be confessed and atoned for or its perpetrator be condemned and appropriately punished.
The primary audience for Solomon’s collection of wise sayings were his own people, the Jews. He had gathered and compiled this rather eclectic mix of time-tested truths in order to help his people grow in wisdom and live godly lives. But he asserted that any increase in knowledge was dependent upon a healthy fear of the Lord. The Jews, of all people, should have understood that their God was just and righteous. Their centuries-long relationship with Yahweh should have convinced them of the nature of His holiness and prompted them to live their lives in keeping with His laws and precepts. Through the sacrificial system, they had been given ample opportunity to take advantage of His merciful offer of atonement from sin. They had repeatedly experienced His grace and forgiveness, both personally and corporately. So, they knew the value of having a healthy fear of the Lord.
But Solomon knew how easy it was to forget the goodness and graciousness of God. He was fully aware that his collection of wise sayings would be of no benefit unless his people maintained a right relationship with their God. As the apostle Paul would later declare, any wisdom that is not based on a healthy respect for God will prove to be nothing more than the foolishness of men.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:18-23 ESV
The prophet Isaiah records a stunning and somewhat sobering statement from the lips of God concerning those who gave Him lip service, but whose hearts are far from Him. In other words, they were going through the motions of worship but their hearts were not in it.
“These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” – Isaiah 29:13-14 ESV
Solomon had received the gift of wisdom from God Himself. He knew its value and appreciated the impact it could have on living a fruitful and fulfilling life. But he also knew the danger of elevating wisdom for wisdom’s sake. The apostle Paul also understood the insufficiency of human wisdom apart from a reverence for God. He even quoted the words found in Isaiah when addressing the believers in Corinth.
For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? – 1 Corinthians 1:10-20 ESV
So, as Solomon begins his book of Proverbs, he establishes the fear of God as the foundational basis for all that will follow. And then, as he directs his words to a particular audience: His own son. As a parent, Solomon understood his God-given responsibility to impart wisdom to his children. As a king, he also understood the need to prepare the successor who would one day take over the reins of his kingdom. And as the divinely appointed sovereign over the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God, he knew that he must train his heir to reign righteously and in keeping with the commands of Yahweh. Solomon had received similar council from his own father, David, while the king was lying on his deathbed.
“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT
Solomon begins his address to his young son by warning of the very real dangers that lie ahead for him. He wanted his son to know that there would be very real and potentially deadly temptations lurking in his future.
My child, if sinners entice you,
turn your back on them!
They may say, “Come and join us.
Let’s hide and kill someone!
Just for fun, let’s ambush the innocent!” – Proverbs 1:10-11 NLT
Solomon wastes no time in describing the potential dangers his son will face. But he doesn’t begin with the rather benign temptations to lie or steal. He doesn’t warn his son about the kinds of peer pressures that young people normally face. No, he cuts to the chase and describes for his son a scene in which his friends attempt to convince him to commit murder. Solomon paints a rather bleak and shocking picture of a lifestyle marked by wanton evil. He doesn’t describe childlike indiscretions or innocent mistakes made by uninformed minors. No, he fast-forwards to the more egregious sins that will accompany adulthood.
Solomon warns that these “friends” are anything but friendly. They are sinners and their intentions are purely evil. He describes in great detail their proclivity for abusing others in order to satisfy their own sinful passions and line their own pockets.
“Let’s swallow them alive, like the grave;
let’s swallow them whole, like those who go down to the pit of death.
Think of the great things we’ll get!
We’ll fill our houses with all the stuff we take.
Come, throw in your lot with us;
we’ll all share the loot.” – Proverbs 1:12-14 NLT
But Solomon warns his son to have nothing to do with such people.
My child, don’t go along with them!
Stay far away from their paths. – Proverbs 1:15 NLT
He realizes that his son’s decision to avoid such people will begin long before he meets them. The ability to choose the right kind of friends begins early in life. Solomon wanted his son to choose the right path instead of the wrong one. And that decision would begin in childhood. This need to prepare children for the future by warning them to choose the right friends and to walk the right path is recorded in a later proverb.
Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road;
whoever values life will avoid it.
Direct your children onto the right path,
and when they are older, they will not leave it. – Proverbs 22:5-6 NLT
Solomon wanted his son to make wise choices. He wanted his son to choose the right path. And he knew that his son would face plenty of temptations to surround himself with the wrong kind of people who would lead him in the wrong direction. It would all start out subtly and innocently enough, but before his son would find himself on “a thorny, treacherous road.”
Again, there is another proverb that echoes this sentiment.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. – Proverbs 14:12 ESV
And that is exactly what Solomon warns his son.
But these people set an ambush for themselves;
they are trying to get themselves killed.
Such is the fate of all who are greedy for money;
it robs them of life. – Proverbs 1:18-19 NLT
Driven by their greed and insatiable desire to satisfy their own sinful passions, these kinds of people inevitably end up on a path that leads to destruction and death. And Solomon wants his son to avoid that fate at all costs. But it all begins with a fear of the Lord. And that awareness of God’s holiness, coupled with a knowledge of His desire that His people live set-apart lives, results in a desire to choose the right kind of friends who have chosen to walk the right path.
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