What is a proverb?


As a boy I remember a women whose son had gone astray claiming God's promise from Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."  She was certain that because she had raised her son in the Christian faith, God's promise to her was that her son would eventually turn back to faith in Jesus.  Every Wednesday night at prayer meeting she would make a point of claiming what she thought was God's promise and asking for our prayers.


This poor woman was deluded through a misunderstanding of the book of Proverbs into believing that the proverbs are actually promises.  This leads to a quid pro quo attitude toward God: if I do this then God is obligated to do that.  The idea that we can obligate God to do for us as a result of something we do for him is little different that paganism.  In pagan religions people are constantly trying through their actions to force the gods to give them what they want.  When the pagans do that we call it idolatry.  When Christians do it we call it claiming God's promises.  The end result is the same---reversing the natural order of creation and making the creator subject to his creation.


What is a proverb?  It is a generalization based on the human experience.  Most of the time, if a person acts in a certain way, then certain results will follow---but not all the time.  For example, Proverbs 10:27 says: "The fear of the LORD prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened."  Is this God's promise or merely a general principle of life?  I can think of several wicked men who have lived long lives, and I can think of several godly men whose lives were cut short.  If this is a promise, then God is a liar.


Job certainly understood this.  In his sixth answer Job points out that the prosperity of the wicked refutes the idea that suffering is the result of sin.  "Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?  Their seed is established in their sight with them, and their offspring before their eyes.  Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them.  Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf.  They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance.  They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ.  [Notice the parallel here to Psalms 150.]  They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.  Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.  What is the almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?"  Job 21:7-15.


Chapter 1

What is the point of Proverbs?

The proverbs of Solomon

      the son of David, King of Israel;

To know wisdom and instruction;

      to perceived the words of understanding;

To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgement, and equity;

To give subtilty to the simple,

      to the young man knowledge and discretion.

A wise man will hear, and increase learning;

      and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:

To understand a proverb, and the interpretation;

      the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.


What then is the point of Proverbs?  The question is answered in the first six verses.  A person studies the Proverbs "to know wisdom and instruction," "to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgement, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.  A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels."  The point of Proverbs, in other words, is to benefit from the wisdom and experience of others.  By increasing your knowledge of how the world works you can avoid the pitfalls of the inexperienced.


Let us return to the unfortunate woman and her errant son.  Proverbs doesn't promise that since she raised her son right he'll end up right.  It simply says that is the probable outcome.  Some children turn out all right even though they were raised poorly; other children turn out poorly even though they were raised all right.  But the overwhelming majority of children who are raised right turn out right while those who were raised poorly turn out poorly.  A more accurate translation would have made this more clear: "Train up a child in his own way: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."  If you ponder on that for a while you will see it is more a threat.  If you let your child grow up in his naturally evil way then don't expect him to behave differently when he is grown.  Or in the words of Solomon, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him," Proverbs 22:15.  In still another place Solomon says, "Withold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.  Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell," Proverbs 23: 13,14.


To properly understand Proverbs you must have the correct view of human nature.  Mankind is evil, sold unto sin.  The ancient pelagian heresy is that man is basically good, that mankind, given the right circumstances, conditions and incentives, is somehow perfectable.  This is the basic view of the world.  This is also the basic belief of totalitarians who believe that the human condition is the result of social conditioning, and if they can just change the social structure they can create a new kind of man.  Totalitarians are willing to sacrifice millions in this vain attempt because they have too high an opinion of man. 


The biblical understanding of the human condition is that even the good things we do are simply papering over our bad behavior.  Even the most precious newborn baby is cursed and under the penalty of sin.  "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.  By one man's disobedience many were made sinners."  Rom 5:12,19.  God operates on the representative system.  When Adam---as mankind's representative---sinned, that sin was passed on to all mankind.  The judgement of Adam's sin, death, is common to us all.  Sin so pervades our being that even "our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."  Isa 64:6.  Some people think that God will weigh their good deeds against their bad deeds, and if they have done enough good works they'll get into heaven.  Unfortunately for them their good works and evil deeds will all end up on the wrong side of the scale and God will say to them the same as he said to Belshazzar, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting,"  Dan 5:27.


The human condition as found in the book of Proverbs is that the young are simple, inexperienced, and easily led astray into sinful acts.  In fact, evil men and women seek out the young to lead them astray,  (see Proverbs 1:10-19; 2:12-19; 5:1-23; 6:24-35;7:6-27;9:13-18.)  Evil begets evil, and the wicked derive pleasure from causing others to fall into sin,  (4:14-16, Rom 1:28-32.)  Proverbs, then, is written to guide people away from sin, to teach them how life works, and to give to the young the benefits of an older man's experience. 

The Poetry of Proverbs



The Proverbs were written (mostly) by Solomon.  The first 24 chapters were written by Solomon directly.  Chapters 25 - 29 were compiled 300 years later either from other---and now lost---writings of Solomon or from oral traditions.  Chapter 30 was written by Agur, the son of Jakeh.  Beyond that we know nothing of him.  Chapter 31 was written by King Lemuel.  Some people assume that King Lemuel was another name for Solomon, others say perhaps Hezekiah.  Still others say Lemuel may be a Gentile king.  We cannot know for sure who King Lemuel is.


When we say that Solomon wrote Proverbs, we aren't asserting that each and every saying came from his fertile mind.  To the ancients a person could be said to have written something if he merely wrote down what others said.  For Solomon to have written the first 24 chapters of Proverbs simply means that he wrote them down.  We cannot know for sure how many of the Proverbs were his original compositions and how many were simply compiled by and edited by him.  What is known is that of the three thousand proverbs Solomon spoke only a few are known to us today; and of the one thousand and five songs we have almost none, (I Kings 4:32.)



Proverbs is written in style of poetry foreign to our western ear.  We expect poetry to have meter and rhyme, to have lines with set numbers of syllables and whose emphasis follows a consistent pattern.  In addition, the last syllable of succeeding or alternating lines usually sound alike.  But the poetry of Proverbs isn't like that.  Instead, the poetry is based on the balance and contrast of ideas. 


Proverbs is a book of poetry, but not a book full of meter and rhyme.  Jewish poetry is characterized by parallelism.  This means that the poetry involves a complex set of relationships between words, phrases, sentences, and concepts.  Parallelism is most evident in the couplet, as in Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction."  Jewish poetry uses comparison and contrast, juxtaposition and amplification.  The point of the poetic phrase lies in the connection between two ideas, some contrasting and some complementary.  Jewish poetry is also characterized by its terseness.  The writing is as spare as it can be to get the point across.  The parallelism of the poetry combined with its compactness creates a subtlety and richness of thought.


Some proverbs are so terse that they are difficult to understand.  The book of Proverbs calls these the "dark sayings" of the wise, " Proverbs 1:6.  Dark sayings don't reveal their meanings all at once.  The meaning has to be teased out over time, and the benefit of the dark sayings lies in the effort made to understand and apply them.  My favorite example of a "dark saying" is the following: "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou be like unto him.  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit," Proverbs 26:4,5.  I struggled with this one for years.  It seems totally contradictory.  The answer lies in the second part of each verse.  When you answer a fool, (a godless, proud, and self-sufficient man,) don't play his game.  Don't answer him with regard to earthly things.  Instead, answer him in a way that focuses on eternity and man's proper relationship with God. 


Let's say a man is behaving like Nebuchadnezzar, showing off his company, his house, his cars, his trophy wife.  You could accuse him of being too acquisitive, of not caring enough for the poor, of behaving in a boorish fashion.  Or you could ask him what good all this will do when he stands before his maker.  Which response would be more likely to point out the essential problem, that he is living his life without regard for eternity?  A wealthy farmer was once proudly showing his holdings to the local pastor.  The pastor was unimpressed and remarked, "Show me all this in a hundred years."  The next Sunday the wealthy farmer was in church. 

Character studies in the book of Proverbs


Biblical poetry works on many levels.  Several couplets compare the wise man with the foolish man.  Others compare the simple man and the wise man.  Some characters are not directly compared in couplet form, but the parallelism reveals itself when entire passages are compared against each other.  For example, Wisdom, personified as a woman crying out to the simple and the fool in Proverbs 8, is contrasted with the strange woman, an immoral woman who calls out to and seduces young and inexperienced men.  Another common contrast is between the wise man and the fool.



Proverbs doesn't contain characters as such, but does revolve around certain character types: the simple man, (1:4;)the wise man, (1:5;) the man of understanding, (1:5;) the foolish man, (1:5;)  the scornful man, (1:22;) the evil man, (2:12;) the strange woman, (2:16;) the wicked man, (2:22,) and the wise woman, Proverbs 1:20-33; chaps 8, 9.)   To understand the proverbs we must understand what the writer means by these terms.


What kind of man can be said to be wise?   Wisdom comes in two flavors: worldly and godly.   Worldly wisdom is something that usually comes with age and experience, (Job 32:1-9; I Kings 3:5-12.)  It is characterized by discretion and sound judgment.  This wisdom loves knowledge and instruction, (vs. 1:5,) and accepts reproof, (vs. 9:8,9.)  Godly Wisdom is characterized by loving what God loves and hating what God hates, (vs. 8:13.)  It involves reverence for and a focus on God instead of self, (vs. 9:10.)  The wise man gives God his due, and God is due everything.  Proverbs often illustrates Godly wisdom by comparing it with the foolish, (godless,) man; the simple man, on the other hand, is a man lacking in worldly wisdom, (experience.)


The foolish man is a godless man.  This man lives for self, (Phi 3:18,19.)  He is proud, despising knowledge and instruction, (1:7,) putting himself in the place of God, (Isa 14:12-14.)  The fool is godless, proud, greedy, thoughtless, arrogant, intemperate, and given to sensuality.  The fool may be spoken of as a "son of Belial," a phrase whose actual meaning is "Man of worthlessness, recklessness, or lawlessness."  Nabal, a man whose name literally means "Fool," was described by one of his servants as a "son of Belial" and remarked that "a man cannot speak to him."  I've known a few people like that myself; the more successful a person is, the more likely they are to become so impressed with themselves that there's no sense dealing with them.


While the wisdom usually goes hand in hand with age and experience, the simple man is typically young and inexperienced, naive and lacking in discretion.  Solomon was a young man lacking the discretion needed to rule his people; his prayer in I Kings 3 was a request for God to give him the judgment and discretion that usually accompanies the aged.  But age and experience are not always synonymous with wisdom.  In I Sam 25 we find the story of Nabal.  While Nabal's flocks were in Carmel amongst David's warriors, they were protected so that nothing missing or harmed.  David sent a message to Nabal asking for reasonable compensation for the protection his herds and servants had received, and Nabal refused.  Nabal not only refused, but was also arrogant toward and dismissive of David.  Only the personal intervention of Abigail, the wife of Nabal, prevented David's taking revenge upon Nabal.  Clearly Nabal had all the prerequisites usually thought to bring wisdom, but the Bible says he was "churlish and evil," as well as being a "son of Belial."


The scornful man may be thought of as a variant of the foolish man.  The focus is on specific actions and attitudes displayed.  Fool is a general term, and scorner the more specific.  A scornful man is a man who thinks and acts in a way that is disrespectful towards authority.  The scornful man does not accept rebuke, (9:7,8;13:1.) Because authority is from God, those who mock authority are guilty of blasphemy, (Job 34:7, where Job is accused by Elihu of "drinking up scorn like water," or delighting in mocking God with his refusal to acknowledge his sin.)


The evil man is another variant of the fool.  This man actively does harm.  He rejoices to do bad things, and enjoy bad behavior in others, (Proverbs 2:12-15.)  Not only that, but they actively try to cause others to stumble, (Proverbs 4:14-17.)


The strange woman is used to balance out the personification of wisdom as a women.  Just as Wisdom calls out to the simple, to the scorners and to fools, offering to reveal herself to them and instruct them, (1:20-23,) so also the strange women calls out the young and simple, offering a life of pleasure and excitement, (7:4-27.)  The seductiveness of sin is revealed in the way she entices her victims. 


In Proverbs chapter 7 the illustration of the young, simple man and the strange woman gives us a perfect illustration of the seductiveness of sin.  First, the young man makes himself available.  He seeks out temptation at a time when he is likely to succumb, (vs. 8,9.)  The strange women tells him it's not really wrong; she gives him excuses for his behavior, (vs. 14.)  Then the young man is enticed by the pleasures of sin, (vs. 16, 17.)   The young man is convinced of his importance, (vs. 15,) and that the sin doesn't really mean anything anyway, (vs. 18.  The simple man allows himself to be convinced he won't get caught, that no one will notice, (vs. 19.)  Finally the simple man is worn down and succumbs, (vs. 21.)  If the young man had simply avoided passing by the strange woman's house, then he would never have had the opportunity to succumb.  Proverbs teaches us that you cannot avoid temptation by cozying up to sin.


The wicked man is the same as the evil man---an actively bad man.  The wicked man and the evil man are both fools, but not every fool is actively evil.  Foolishness is simply godlessness.  The fool says in his heart that their is no God.  The fool is a practical atheist who may believe in a God but then acts as though God does not exist.  The most salient characteristic of the fool is pride, which is placing himself in the place of God.  The evil, wicked man is actively opposed to God and justifies his actions simply because they are what he wants to do. 


Wisdom is personified as a woman beginning at Proverbs 1:20-33.  Gradually it becomes apparent from the text that the Wisdom of Solomon is the same as the Word in the Apostle John's writings.  Wisdom is seen as with God before the world began and as the agent through whom God created the universe, (Proverbs 8:22-31.)  The man who finds wisdom finds life, while the man who "sinneth against me [wisdom]" does damage to his own soul and brings about death, (Proverbs 8:35,36.)  In Proverbs 9 Wisdom has built a house, furnished a banquet, and called for her guests.  This is remarkably similar to Jesus going to prepare a place for us, calling us to him, and then throwing a great wedding feast.  Almost everywhere else in the bible God is described in masculine terminology; Proverbs contains the only extended passages where God is described in feminine terms.


A Father's Instructions to his Son

The first nine chapters of Proverbs are a father's advice to his son.  Since the writer of Proverbs is Solomon, the voice here is that of his father, King David.  Keeping this in mind helps us to understand the principles behind what the writer says.  It would be easy for us to look at all the exhortations to avoid loose women and come to conclusion that women were somehow more evil than men, that women are somehow a necessary evil.  If we understand that we have a father teaching his son about life, we can then discern the underlying principle: avoiding the presence of temptation is the way to avoid sin, and avoiding sin  is the prescription for a long and fruitful life.


Once we get past the first six introductory verses, Proverbs chapters 1-9 is generally divided up into fifteen maschil (didactic or instructive) songs.  Some of these fifteen songs are divided up into subsections illustrating the main point through comparison and contrast. 



















































Chapter 2

Maschil 1 (1:7-19)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge:

            but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

My son, hear the instruction of thy father,

            and forsake not the law of thy mother:

For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head,

            and chains about thy neck.

My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.

If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood,

            let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause:

Let us swallow them alive as the grave;

            and whole, as those that go down to the pit:

We shall find all precious substance,

            we shall fill our houses with spoil:

Cast in thy lot among us:

            let us all have one purse:

My son, walk not thou in the way with them;

            refrain thy foot from their path:

For their feet run to evil,

            and make haste to shed blood.

Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.

And they lay wait for their own blood;

            they lurk privily for their own lives.


"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction," (Proverbs 1:7.)  The first verse of this first instructional song presents the theme of the entire book of Proverbs.  The fear of the LORD does not mean the terror over a vengeful God, but means reverence for Jehovah, the self-existent one.  The fool is the center of his own universe and therefore despises any instruction that inhibits his own self-will.  Reverence for God is the basis for true self-knowledge.  Only God is self-existent.  Our existence is dependent upon the prior existence of God.  Our existence is the result of God's divine decree, (Genesis 1:26,27.)  This being the case, we should desire to love God and obey his commands. 


"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God,” (Psalms 14:1.)  The fool may be rational, intelligent,  educated,  wealthy, and powerful.  The fool may be a religious person and live an exemplary life.  In short, the fool may have and be everything the world counts as desirable.  But "The LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart," (I Sam 16:7.)  While the fool may acknowledge God with his mouth, yet the fool says in his heart, "There is no God."  Jesus said, "Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man," (Mat 15:18-20a.)  The denial of God is the root of sin.


The fool is not necessarily an atheist.  He may not deny the existence of God.  He simply acts as if God does not matter.  He believes himself to be self-sufficient.  He is an independent and powerful force.  He makes things happen.  Everything he is and everything he has he got by his own will.  And so he thinks and acts as though God did not exist, as if God will not one day call him to account.


Stephen Charnock's writes of practical atheism.  He writes "We deny his sovereignty when we violate his laws; we disgrace his holiness when we cast our flith before his face; we disparage his wisdom when we set up another rule as the guide of our actions than that law he hath fixed; we slight his sufficiency when we prefer a satisfaction in sin before a happiness in him alone; and his goodness, when we judge it not strong enough to attract us to him."[1]  By this definition we are all fools at one time or another.  We all continue in sin.  Sometimes we do not recognize our actions as sin, the prince of this world having blinded our eyes.  In this instance it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to a knowledge of our sin.  Sometimes we know we are sinning and continue in our sin anyway.  It is this attitude that Stephon Charnock calls practical atheism.


I have a problem holding grudges.  I didn't really consider myself to be an unforgiving person.  I was perfectly willing to forgive as long as the person who wronged me asked for my forgiveness.  My forgiveness required others to acknowledge how they had wronged me.  I thought this was behaving in a Christ-like manner.  After all, I had to acknowledge my sinfulness before God and throw myself on his mercy.  When I sin, I still have to confess my sins, (I John 1:9), but I cannot remember all my sins.  Sometimes I sin knowingly and sometimes I sin in ignorance.  My fellowship with God is restored even though I only confessed those sins I was aware of.  It never occurred to me that other people may have wronged me in ignorance, or that I, not being God, could have been in the wrong myself.  I was asking of others that which God did not require of me.  I was asking others to come to me on bended knee, asking forgiveness for wrongs they didn't consider themselves to have committed.  I did not have the mind of Christ who being in very nature God, made himself to be a servant and suffered for my sake, even though I was in the wrong.  Once I understood my sin, I was required to confess it, to repent of it, and to forget all those wrongs both real and imagined, or else I would be guilty of acting as though God did not see, as though God could not act, as though my desires were more important than his.  To acknowledge sin and continue to live in it, to cherish it, to rationalize it, is to be a practical atheist.


"My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be ornaments of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck," (Proverbs 1:8,9.)  The second verse of this song, although simple in structure, points out the proper relationship between a parent and child.  It also contains a valuable lesson in parenting.  The verse consiste of two phrases, each saying the same thing, yet each using slightly different words.  These differences are most illuminating.


My son,

[My son,]



forsake not

Hearing = Forsaking not






Instruction = Law

of thy

of thy




Father = Mother





To hear is to forsake not.  It is not simply to acknowledge instruction, but to follow it.  This is the attitude Jesus wanted to find in his disciples.  "If ye love me, keep my commandments.  He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.  If a man love me, he will keep my words," (John 14:15,21a, 23a.)  Jesus didn't necessarily want an emotional response from us, he wanted us to do what he said.  People get confused by this word love.  In the English language it means so many things and nothing at the same time.  In Greek it has a precise meaning.  The passages quoted above translate the word agapao as love.  Agapao means love in a social or moral sense.  Jesus is saying, in effect, "If you realize your moral obligation to me and you will do what I say."  But God's response toward us is slightly different.  "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love," (John 15:10.)  The word here is agape, not agapao.  Agape is a broader word, meaning among other things affection or benevolence.  Jesus says that if we obey him, he will be benevolent toward us.  Benevolence is not obligation.  Our obedience will not obligate God towards us in a moral sense, the way Jesus life, death, and resurrection---not to mention the common grace shown to the world---obligates us to him.  But God will look upon us kindly when we obey his will.


Notice the way instruction is compared with law.  The word for instruction doesn't merely mean teaching.  It is more properly known as chastisement.  In a figurative sense it means instruction, reproof, warning, and restraint.  The instruction of the father is designed to curb a child's tendency toward sin and guide him toward correct behavior.  Instruction is compared with law, and law means the Torah, the five books of Moses.  In other words, the instruction, the reproof, the warning, and the restraint was all based on the perfect Law of God. 


Parent's are expected to give their children religious instruction.  That is the thought that underlies this entire verse.  This instruction is to contain the law of God.  The law of God constrains evil behavior, convicts of sin, and serves as a valuable guide to correct living.  This is what is known as the three uses of the law.  The Lutheran Confessions describe the uses of the law in this manner: "The law has been given to men for three reasons: (1) to maintain external discipline against unruly and disobedient men, (2) to lead men to a knowledge of their sin, (3) after they are reborn, and although the flesh still inheres in them, to give them on that account a definite rule according to which they should pattern and regulate their entire life." 


It is significant that this responsibility to provide religious instruction and to chastise children who stray is placed squarely on the parents and not the religious leaders.  Parents cannot abdicate this responsibility to their church, to their pastor, or to their schoolteacher.  Children learn from their parents, and if parent's do not lay down the law to their children they are teaching them that the law is unimportant and that morality is personal and situational instead of absolute.  Parents represent God to their children, so if parents are uninvolved in their religious and moral instruction then children are likely to learn that God is uninvolved and perhaps even impotent.  Parents who fail to place Godly boundaries on their children will raise children who disrespect both them and God.


Parenting is not the job of only one parent.  Children are exhorted to live according to the rule of both parents.  Much damage has been done by so-called Christian psychologists who interpret scripture by the light of the latest pseudo-scientific psychological mumbo-jumbo.  These well-meaning people divide parenting responsibilities into differing roles.  Proverbs, on the other hand, apportions the most important role---that of laying down the law---equally between the father and the mother.  Understanding this helps us understand other Proverbs, such as: "A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother," (Proverbs 10:1.)  Understanding that both parents are involved in parenting helps us understand that both parents rejoice over wise children, and both parents are sorrowful over their arrogant and irreligious children.


Children are exhorted to obey their parents instruction, i.e. the law.  This law will be an ornament of grace unto their head and chains about their neck.  The word ornament means something attached, like a wreath, while grace means something of beauty.  The only other time this word for chain is used is when the children of Israel removed the golden chains from off their camel's necks and donated them towards the building of the temple.  The law taught by the parents and obeyed by their children becomes a beautiful adornment.  Obedient children are a joy to be around.  Their evil tendencies have been curbed by the law.  The law has adhered to their lives and become a crown of honor and a necklace of great value. 


"My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.  If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse," (Proverbs 1:10-14.)  While Proverbs contains many warnings against falling into sexual sin, it is significant that the first exhortation is against falling in with evil men.  While the son is warned against evil men who may attempt to entice him into a life of crime, this is an understatement.  The word "if" can sometimes mean "when."  Solomon is describing for us the way evil men think and act.


Sinners actively seek out and recruit others.  They employ a variety of means to create others like themselves.  When they talk of lying in wait for blood and swallowing the innocent alive as the grave, they are saying they are immune from punishment.  People don't commit crimes with the expectation of being caught.  They expect to get away with their crimes.  Evil men also expect to be rewarded for their actions.  They covet what is not rightly theirs.  They are greedy, and seek not to meet their needs, but to satisfy their lusts.  They profess a desire to share equally from a common purse, but if they were honest they would admit that covetousness and sharing cannot coexist.  Notice the assumption that morals are relative.  Within our little group we will share, but we will rob, plunder, and murder anyone in our way.  The same rules don't apply to us as apply to everyone else.


Evil men are doing the devil's work.  "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour," (I Peter 5:8).  The devil works through men not only to keep men for himself, but to draw them deeper into evil.  This is especially true of those who are young and simple, those who have not put on the full armor of God.  The devil seeks to inoculate them against the possibility of their being saved by drawing them into a life of evil, a life of seeking only their own benefit and disregarding others.


While the illustration given is of an inducement to armed robbery and murder, the same arguments and temptations are dangled about us every day.  Why not cheat on your taxes, why not steal supplies from work, why not fire people just before they are ready to retire,  why not take bribes, why not condemn the innocent?  Why not sin if we can get away with it and if we can fulfill our desires?  When we act like this we act as though God cannot see or cannot act.  We act as though there were no God.


"My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy feet from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.   Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.  And they lay wait for their own blood: they lurk privily for their own lives.  So are the says of every one that is greedy of gain: which taketh away the life of the owners thereof," (Proverbs 1:15-19).  Solomon here gives us the whole point of ethics: to avoid the possibility of evil.  While morality is absolute, ethics is a personal and cultural artifact.  Solomon is exhorting us to an ethical separation, not a physical one.  Many people confuse the two. 


Jesus was accused of being a drunkard because he dined with sinners, (Matt 11:19).  The Pharisees were amazed that Jesus would claim to be the Messiah, yet eat and drink with sinners, (Matt 9:10-13).  People read in II Corinthians 6 where Paul says "Come out from among them, and be ye separate," (II Cor 6:17), and assume that means physical separation.  This is an error.  The scriptures clearly teach that the whole of creation, including our own physical selves, have been corrupted by sin and are awaiting an ultimate redemption, (Romans 8:18-23).  We cannot sanctify ourselves through physical separation; we must instead choose an ethical separation.  We must not live in the way sinners live and walk in the way sinners walk, (Proverbs 1:15). 


The great preacher J. Vernan McGee told the following story that illustrates this.  One day little Johnny's mother was looking for him.  She called out to him and heard a muffled reply.  She called out again and asked where he was.  Little Johnny replied, "I'm in the pantry, standing by the cookie jar."  Johnny's mother called out again and asked him what he was doing in the pantry by the cookie jar.  Little Johnny replied, "I'm resisting temptation."  J. Vernan McGee then pointed out the place to resist temptation is not next to the cookie jar, but well away from it.  This is exactly Solomon's point.  You don't resist evil by flirting with it.  You can love the sinner but not sit around watching him sin.


Solomon also points out that sinner's do not realize what they are doing.  They think they are getting away with their evil ways, but evil generally fails in the long run.  Solomon is speaking temporally, of course.  We can probably all point to one man or another who has lived a godless life and has prospered.  Yet if we really think about it, we can think of a multitude of people who lived godless lives and who have suffered miserably as a result.  Sinners truly are setting a trap for themselves.  The devil has them right where he wants them, and when the time is right he devours them.


Chapter 3

Mashcil 2 (1:20-33)

Wisdom crieth without;

      she uttereth her voice in the streets:

She crieth in the chief place of concourse,

      in the openings of the gates:

      in the city she uttereth her words, saying,

How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity:

      and the scorners delight in their scorning,

      and fools hate knowledge:

Turn you at my reproof:

      behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you,

      I will make known my words unto you.

Because I have called, and ye refused;

      I have stretched out my hand, and no man regardeth.

But ye have set at nought all my counsel,

      and would none of my reproof:

I also will laugh at your calamity;

      I will mock when your fear cometh;

When your fear cometh as desolation,

      and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind;

      when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer;

      they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.

For that they hated knowledge,

      and did not choose the fear of the LORD:

They would none of my counsel:

      they despised all my reproof.

Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way,

      and be filled with their own devices.

For the turning away of the simple shall slay them,

      and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.

But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely,

      and shall be quiet from fear of evil.


"Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth on the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?  Turn you at my reproof," (Proverbs 1:20-23a).  In the previous Maschal we saw sinners going about recruiting others to sin.  Now we see a woman going about openly calling to sinners.  She is out in the streets, she is in the chief places of business, and she is in the seat of judgment.  She is not hidden away in some monastery or in some church building; instead, she is out where everyone can see her. 


The world has a very clear message: sin pays.  Likewise also Wisdom has a clear message.  She knows to whom she wishes to speak, and her message gets right to the heart of the matter.  She address those who are young and inexperienced, those who are disdainful of any authority but their own, and those who are proud and act as though God did not exist.  "How long," she says, will they love their sin?  Wisdom is very clear about what sin is and who is committing it.  She is also very clear about the temporal results of sin, and her words are to serve as a warning, a reproof, and a punishment.  Just as sinners attempt to recruit others by proclaiming evil to be good, so also Wisdom goes about announcing evil to be just what it is: evil. 


Wisdom doesn't coddle sinners, she doesn't comfort them while they sin, and she doesn't tell them things will all work out in the end.  Instead she boldly goes about in the world proclaiming evil to be evil, sin to be sin, and sinners to be sinners.  All to often we Christians seek to avoid this type of confrontation with evil.  We hide inside our evangelical communities.  We have created for ourselves a counterfeit version of mainstream culture and then wonder why the mainstream culture doesn't buy what we are selling.  Wisdom doesn't stand off by herself in some cloistered church and pronounce damnation upon evil men; no, instead she is an active participant in the culture.  She is wherever the people are.  She is out in the streets with the common folk.  She is up in the skyscrapers with the businessmen.  She is in our law firms and our courtrooms.  She is a full participant in the culture, and as a result she can speak with authority to the culture[2].


What often happens among Christians is that we get so concerned by the sin in the world that we ignore the sin in our own midst.  Many churches have become very Corinthian and accept all manner of sin, even the type of sin that drew harsh reproof from the Apostle Paul.  But many other churches, secure in their asceticism, ("Touch not, taste not, handle not," Colossians 2:21,) bind grievous burdens on their members backs, (Matthew 23:4). 


Let me give you some examples.  Many churches have a dress code.  I've known people who were seeking the truth of God's word be turned away from churches because the women weren't wearing dresses and the men weren't wearing suits and ties.  Some churches have a less restrictive dress code for members and visitors but won't allow a man to be an usher unless he is wearing a coat and tie.  Some churches impose rules dictating the length of a man's haircut and legislate against facial hair.   All too many Christians judge someone's spiritual condition by their outward appearance instead of looking on the heart, (I Sam 16:7).


In all too many cases Christians today see sin where none exists, (smoking, dancing, styles of music, etc.,) and make excuses for real sin.  Witness the explosion of divorce within the church today.  Whereas divorce used to be rare and was treated as a shameful thing within the church, today it is often ignored.  This is despite the clear teaching of Jesus that divorce is against the will of God, (Matt 19:3-9).  But more to the point, churches celebrate the wedding of the divorced Christian who remarries, even though that individual is, according to the direct words of Jesus, (Matt 5:32; 19:9), an adulterer.  Many churches make the same mistake when they allow pregnant single women to marry in the church.  The bible reserves harsh words for fornicators, (Acts 15:20; Rom 1:29; I Cor 6:9,13,18;7:2), yet I’ve known churches to throw baby showers for single mothers instead of dealing with this very public sin.  It is one thing to be forgiving, but sin does have consequences.  Private sins may be dealt with privately, but public sins must have public consequences.


Some of you might think I am being unreasonably harsh on the poor young woman while ignoring the same sin of the young man.  Not at all.  The sin of both parties must be dealt with.  Both the man and the woman are guilty of fornication, and the sin of both has become public knowledge.  The bible is very clear on the steps towards restoration of fellowship, yet forgiveness does not imply the lack of consequences.  I am condemning the actions of those churches who hide their eyes from obvious sin, for whom forgiveness is applied before proof of repentance is obtained.  And what is repentance but a turning away from sin, not merely sorrow at being caught.  Who has been offended by sin?  God.  From whom is forgiveness required?  God.  The young man or woman who apologizes to friends, parents and the church may merely be embarrassed.  The young man or woman who can say with David, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight,” (Psalms 51.4a,) has truly repented.  Anything less is suspect.


"Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.  Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regardeth," (Proverbs 1:23,24).  The message of Wisdom is less an invitation than a warning.  Wisdom has already been out in the world.  Her message has not been hidden.  Sinners have experienced reproof, sort of a warning shot across the bow, but have failed to head the warning.  Wisdom is a sentinel warning of danger, but sinners are ignoring the message.  Even though judgement is now falling on them, Wisdom is still calling for sinners to repent and change their ways.  The picture is like that of a lifeguard reaching out to a drowning man, but the drowning man pushes the lifeguard away.


One of the interesting things about verses 23 is that that it is one of the first hints that Wisdom, as personified in Proverbs, is actually a representation of Christ.  We see Wisdom offering to "pour out my spirit unto you."  This passage is repeated again in the book of Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh;

      and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

      your old men shall dream dreams,

      your young men shall see visions:

      And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit,

      (Joel 2:28,29). 

The passage in Joel is repeated by Peter in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost where the full Gospel message is proclaimed for the first time, (Acts 2:14-40).   As we shall see again, when Wisdom is personified, Wisdom is actually Christ speaking.


For some time I had a few problems with the idea that God would be represented as a woman when God always refers to himself elsewhere using male terminology.  I had fallen victim to the same wrong-headed thinking that has plagued the church for millennia.  Over time, however, it became clear that God did not create Adam in his own image and Eve as an afterthought.  Instead, Moses writes that God made "man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them," (Genesis 1:27).  The bible clearly indicates that neither gender is the sole recipient of the divine image---that neither gender is more representative of the divine character.  So why doesn't God represent himself more often as a female?  It actually has nothing to do with the divine nature at all.  Instead, it is a matter of the earthly roles given to men and women and the way those roles reflect heavenly realities.[3]  All Christians, members of the church militant and the church triumphant, (saints living and saints dead,) are collectively called the bride of Christ, (Ephesians 5:31,32; II Corinthians 11:2; Revelations 19:7,8; 21:2, 9,10; 22:17).  When Paul described the role relationships in a marriage, he emphasized these relationships were an earthly illustration of the church's heavenly relationship with Christ as our heavenly bridegroom, (Eph 5:31,32).  So God ordinarily refers to himself as male, although as a spirit he is neither male nor female; when God wants to emphasize certain aspects of his character and role that in human terms are more normally the province of women, God refers to himself as female.


Another more difficult problem is that Proverbs is a book of earthly wisdom.  How could God, being holy, involve himself in something earthly and profane?  Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah when he writes:

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

      and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?

      hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

(I Corinthians 1:19,20).

If God declares the wisdom of this world to be foolishness, then how can God be represented in Proverbs as promoting it?  And if God is actually promoting godly wisdom as described in I Corinthians, then all the Proverbs are actually promises.  Since these promises do not come true 100 percent of the time, then God does not keep his promises and is found to be a liar.


This is a serious problem.  On the answer depends the reliability of scripture and the character of God.   To clear up this matter we must look at the entire passage in I Corinthians:

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness;

      but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

      and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?

      hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God,

      it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

For the Jews require a sign,

      and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

But we preach Christ crucified,

      unto the Jews a stumblingblock,

      and unto the Greeks foolishness;

But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks,

      Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men;

      and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

(I Corinthians 1:18-25).


Paul is saying that to the world, the cross is foolishness.  The word in the New Testament doesn't mean pride and self-sufficiency as in Proverbs, but instead means silliness or absurdity.  God did something entirely unexpected at the cross, something the world, in all its wisdom, can never understand.  To the world the idea of God dying is absurd.  The story of Jesus death, burial and resurrection seems a silly little fairy tale.   Paul is not saying in I Corinthians that worldly wisdom is something to be disregarded, but is instead saying that worldly wisdom will never lead to saving faith.  Just as the world would be foolish to reject the wisdom of the cross, so also Christians would be foolish to neglect the wisdom of Solomon.


"But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.  Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me, (Proverbs 1:25-28).  In the previous verses Wisdom has called out to sinners and been rejected.  Wisdom reproved sinners and gave them a chance to repent, offering the gift of the spirit to them.  That offering was rejected, and now Wisdom has withdrawn her offer.  She no longer desires repentance, but seeks only to judge. 


This seems harsh to many people today.  Their conception of God is different from the reality, and they would rather hang on to their comforting misconceptions than get to know God as he is.  God is truly loving, merciful and gracious.  God is also holy and just.  God offers himself to sinners and earnestly desires their repentance.  Eventually, however, God must judge sin.  He will either judge sin in the person of Jesus Christ on the cross, or he will judge individual sinners.  Ultimately the choice is up to the sinner, but sin will be judged one way or the other.


This passage is interesting in the way it illuminates the New Testament concept of the unpardonable sin.  What is it, many people wonder, and have I committed it?  Examine the progression here.  First God calls to sinners and is rejected.  Then he reprooves them for their sin and they still reject him.  Finally God rejects them.  He no longer calls to them, he no longer offers forgiveness.  Instead he laughs at their destruction.  If you wonder if you have committed the unpardonable sin, if your heart is still so tender that God can speak to you, then you obviously haven't committed any sin that God cannot pardon.


How can a good God laugh at the destruction of the wicked?  How can God be that cruel and vicious?  If that is your position, then perhaps you need to heed the words of Paul, "Let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.  But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say?  Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?" (Romans 3:4-6).  Paul states the matter clearly.  First, we must assume that if God does it, it is altogether good and righteous.  Second, God cannot judge sin without judging sinners.  Sin has temporal consequences and eternal punishments.  The temporal consequences of sin are what Proverbs is teaching us to avoid.  The eternal punishments of sin are what were laid upon Christ at the cross. 


"Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.  therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.  For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.  But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil," (Proverbs 1:28-33).  Wisdom begins here by justifying her decision to judge.  Why does she do this, when she is under no obligation to do so?  Because she is using the destruction of the wicked as an opportunity to call others out of a life of sin.  She states her case clearly---they hated knowledge, they did not fear God, they wouldn't follow any counsel but their own.  They followed their own path to destruction despite all efforts to turn them from it. 


Wisdom declares the end of the wicked by saying their own schemes will be their undoing.  Notice, however, that the fall of the wicked began not with wicked schemes but with little baby sins.  The sinner simply choose one path over another.  As Jesus said, "Enter ye in at the strait [narrow] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to desruction, and may there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it," (Matthew 7:13,14).  The time to avoid a life of sin is when you are young and are establishing the patterns of your life, not when you are old with a seared conscience and a lifetime of sin behind you.  Even then God is able to save, but generally those firmly established in sin would rather go to Hell than admit their folly. 


Wisdom also points out that fools would rather live lives of ease instead of turning away from sin.  The gospel of Matthew has an especially poignant illustration of this:

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?  And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.  He saith unto him, Which?  Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?  Jesus said unto him, If thou wild be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and five to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.  But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.  When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, who then can be saved?  But Jesus beheld them, ans said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible,"

(Matthew 19:16-26).


Jesus plainly states that in human terms it is impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Why?  Because rich men are generally fools.   They are proud, arrogant, and self-sufficient.  They don't need God in this world, so they think that they will have no need for God in the next.  This is what Wisdom means when she says that the prosperity of fools will slay them.


Wisdom winds up by repeating her offer.  See the ultimate fate of sinners and the wicked and turn to me instead.  I, Wisdom, will cause you to dwell in safety and without fear of evil.  What does she mean?  We know that given the general theme of the book this generally means that a righteous life will generally have certain temporal benefits, but this meaning is broader.  It extends outside the temporal realm and into the spritual.  Wisdom is offering a live without fear of divine judgement.  What we do here, the choices we make here, to have a effect upon our eternal destiny.  This does not mean that works of righteousness will save us, but that a turning away from sin and toward God will.


The rest of this work is still being written.  Please check back for updates.

[1] Stephen Charnock, B.D., Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Vol I,  1853, Reprinted 1979, Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, MI p. 93

[2]For more on the subject of the culture wars, see "Beyond Culture Wars" by Michael S. Horton, Moody Press.  See also "Kingdoms In Conflict" by Charles Colson, Harper Paperbacks, and "The City of God" by Augustine.

[3]It is clear from scripture that much of what goes on in this life, as real as it is, serves merely to illustrate a higher spiritual reality.  Hebrews chapters seven and eight are particularly clear about this.  Hebrews chapter seven describes how the Aaronic priesthood was no substitute for the ultimate priesthood of Jesus Christ after the order of Melchisedec.  Hebrews chapter eight describes how the old covenant was a mere shadow of the heavenly realities, (Hebrews 8:5).  Many people have taken this to mean that this world, this life, is somehow unreal and that whatever happens in the material world, since it is a mere shadow of heaven, doesn't matter, that we can sin without consequence.  The Apostle Paul refutes this idea in Romans chapter six by pointing out that we who are believers in Jesus have two natures, one earthly and one spiritual.  When we sin we are following our old nature and are slaves to sin.  When we yield ourselves unto God, then we are living by Grace.


The Art of Seduction, a short exploration of Proverbs 7.

Last updated on December 31, 2005