I remember sitting in a Dallas Seminary classroom listening to a lecture on the Dynamics of Leadership by the late Dr. Howard Hendricks who made this profound statement. “The person you will be in five years is determined primarily by two things: the books you read and the people you surround yourself with.” I have never forgotten this piece of wisdom.
What are you reading? Who are you surrounded by?
Background: The book of Proverbs was originally written as a training manual to prepare the king’s son to gain the wisdom to be Israel’s next king. It was also used to equip other boys to serve in the royal court as well. The book’s purpose was later expanded to serve as a wisdom manual for all of God’s people, including you and me. The book of Proverbs is divided into two major sections. The first section contains ten lessons of wisdom made up of didactic (teaching) poems (These make up chapters 1-9). Each new lesson begins with the words, “My son …” The second section contains the anthology of proverbs, those short pithy sayings (These make up Chapters 10-31).
The first of ten lessons of wisdom centers around the dangers of following after the wrong crowd. It begins with an exhortation:
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. (Prov 1:8-9, NIV)
In the scriptures we read that it is the parents’ responsibility to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Deut 6:4-8, Eph 6:4). Without this important spiritual instruction, there is great danger for the individual and for the society as a whole. This principle is stated elsewhere, “Where there is no vision, the people cast off all restraint.” (Prov 29:18) Bruce Waltke states,
“When the moral fiber of a nation is not formed by this sort of catechesis, society unravels and anarchy ensues.”*
I can’t think of a more relevant need for our nation right now than a compelling moral vision. The stakes are high, therefore, the son should “listen” and not “forsake” (abandon) his parents’ instruction. The reward for obeying his parents’ teaching is likened to an adornment of clothing. In a literal sense, this could be a kind of jewelry that was part of their culture. For example, the well-known archeological find of two silver amulets found in the 7th century with Numbers 6:24-26 inscribed on them was a chain of this kind. Like a wedding band, this jewelry was a symbol of their values. Symbolically, this could also mean that the one who followed these instructions would have noticeable eye-catching beauty. Next, we see a warning, a call to resist the gang’s invitation:
My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood, let’s ambush some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot.” (Prov 1:10-14, NIV)
The word for “sinful men” (in v 10) is the Hebrew word “hattaim” and it means those who “miss the mark.” The root of this word has to do with a “disqualifying” error. (see also Prov 8:36 and Judges 20:16) Their motivation was greed and envy (found in v 19 for “ill-gotten gain”), a desire for material goods. This group of thugs reminds me of the team of thieves put together in the movie “Ocean’s 11,” a film about Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney) who assembles a group of con artists to rob a Las Vegas hotel vault. Sinners work together, and sinners love company.
There is nothing wrong with precious goods, but there is something wrong with taking someone else’s precious goods and claiming them as your own. This is called “stealing” and it’s prohibited in the ten commandments (Ex 20:15). The word “entice” here is the idea of being seduced, as in being baited with a hook and a lure. Imagine the voice of this band of sinners calling out, “Wouldn’t you like their home?” “Wouldn’t you like their spouse?” “Wouldn’t you like their goods?” Notice how they flaunt their injustice, underscoring the monstrosity of their deeds against what is right. They are going after “innocent blood” and “harmless souls.” This is clearly evil, and so the father offers a strong admonition:
My son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into evil, they are swift to shed blood. (Prov 1:15-16, NIV)
The father warns his son that they are “swift.” Proverbs 1:15 says they “rush.” This is a “get-rich-quick” scheme. But, nothing worthwhile in life comes quickly or easily. You can’t build a home or a career or a family “in a hurry.”
I remember one time when someone stole my car stereo. They smashed the back window of the car in and ripped it out of the dash. I remember how tedious it had been to purchase it and install that stereo myself … and now in a moment, it was gone. I have been robbed a few times in my life and it has always struck me how quickly the thief, in just a few minutes, can take what takes someone quite some time to save up for and purchase.
The father is warning his son, “Do not go!” “Stay away from them!” “Do not set foot on their paths…” The word for “paths” here (Heb “derek”) is a metaphor for their lifestyle. Do not experiment with this way of life! Why not? These evil men are seeking immediate wealth outside the limits of the law rather than through hard work and delayed gratification taught elsewhere (Prov 16:29). Solomon says:
“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (Prov 13:11, ESV)
Next, the sage introduces another motivating reason to resist:
How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it! These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves! Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it. (Prov 1:17-19)
It’s a trap! Even in nature, the wise bird can see the net, but here the father says these sinners are more foolish than the animals. The book of Proverbs teaches the principle of retribution (see Prov 5:21-23, 10:2-3) The father is warning his son that these sinners are enticing you to death. The lesson is that sin begets harm. (Gal 6:7) Therefore, it is not just wrong, it is stupid to go with them. The unjust gain clings to the criminal until it destroys him. All their own devices will boomerang against them. These sinners are only pursuing their own demise, because justice will prevail. What they plan for others will come upon them. We see poetic justice for sinners illustrated elsewhere in the Scriptures. For example, recall Haman, the evil villain in the book of Esther. He set up the gallows to hang the innocent Mordechai, but he was hung on his own gallows (Esther 7:10).The irony is they are plotting for their own downfall.
What do we learn here? The lesson for God’s people today is straightforward: Do not be enticed by sinners. Do not be outwitted by evil men. Stand against the schemes of the devil. Who we become is determined in large part by the company we keep. As Christians we have our discipleship programs for good, but sinners have a discipleship program of their own going on. We need to resist.
As parents, when my kids ask my wife and I if they can go somewhere, we typically ask a few standard questions, “What will you do there?” “What time will you be home?” And perhaps the most important question we ask is, “Who else will be there?” We always listen carefully to their answer to this last question. Why? Because we know other kids are influential. As parents, we must raise our children to be able to say “No” to sinners. “No! I’m not going to join you in that.” “No. I’m not going to laugh at that joke.” “No. I’m not going to participate with you…”
The wise will follow the teaching of their mother and father, listen to their parents and pay attention to what they say (1:8-9). Resist the enticement of sinners.
There is another voice which calls out as well, this is the voice of Wisdom (1:20-33). We will pick it up there, next time in Part 2 of this first lesson of wisdom.
*Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 187.