Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil,
and they make haste to shed blood.
For in vain is a net spread
in the sight of any bird,
but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
they set an ambush for their own lives.
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
The primary literary device of the first nine chapters of Proverbs is a father giving wise teachings to his son. After reading the purpose and thesis of the book in the first seven verses, we now move into the first fatherly speech. Here the father (Solomon) pleads for his son (the reader of Proverbs) to refrain from becoming associated with sinners. Sin is the ultimate foolishness, and godly wisdom flees from sin at all costs.
HEAR, MY SON // VERSES 8-9
These first two verses tie themselves heavily to the Shema, which means hear in Hebrew. Multiple times a day, the people of Israel would pray the words of Deuteronomy 6:4 as a means of reminding themselves of their covenant with the LORD. Read the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and note the similarities between our present verses in Proverbs:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of you house and on your gates.
In Deuteronomy, the LORD commands His people to diligently teach their children the commands of God. In fact, they were supposed to incorporate God’s laws into their daily life. When they awoke and went to sleep, they called to talk about God’s commands. As they traveled, they were to speak about God’s word. When they sat at home after a long day, the LORD’s precepts were to be on their lips. None of this came easy, which is why God commands them to do it diligently. Discipline was required to be a people who constantly spoke about God’s law.
Some people view the final commands as being literal. They believe that Israel was literally required to bind God’s commands to their hands, stick them to their foreheads, and write them on every doorpost and gate. I believe these commands are simply a call to remind ourselves of God’s word. We are so prone to forget God’s grace and love, and we are even more forgetful of His laws. Therefore, God is saying to do whatever is necessary to be known by the words of our God. The Israelites, and us today, are a people of God’s Book. We devote ourselves to it, and it is the great marker of our lives. We live and die for the Bible because it is the word of God.
Of course, many Christians today (especially in the Bible Belt) are almost completely biblically illiterate, despite owning dozens of Bibles. Why is this? I believe that the mark of the beast in Revelation 13 is a sort of anti-Shema. Just as followers of the LORD were supposed to brandish God’s word as though it were blazing across their right hand or forehead, so the followers of the beast (aka the Antichrist) are marked by their worldliness. 1 John 2 and 4:1-6 tie the Antichrist explicitly to worldliness and disobedience of God’s commands. The call between the Shema and the Mark of the Beast is clear: by what will we be known? Will we be marked by our saturation in things of this world or by God’s word? Many read the Bible, but few are saturated in it. As people who have been saved by God, do we long to hear from God in His Word? Do we excitedly speak about it to each other while at home or traveling? Is God’s Word such a component of our lives that we might as well have it tattooed on our forehead or hand? Or are we marked by the wisdom of this world, which James calls unspiritual and demonic?
The author of Proverbs is knowingly tying his writings to the rest of Scripture. He is recycling and revamping the language of the Shema to apply to his pleas. But while the Shema urged God’s people to obey God’s commands, this author now asks us to take head to wisdom. In fact, by calling this wisdom the teaching and instruction of a father and mother, the author is identifying the Proverbs as an aspect of diligently teaching children God’s commands. Just as God’s laws were supposed to be like a tattoo across our hand and head, wisdom is meant to adorn us like a garland or pendant. The message is clear: God’s people should be known by our wisdom. After all, the wise person fears and obeys the LORD.
DO NOT CONSENT // VERSES 10-14
Now that the author has tied his pleas for wisdom directly to God’s commands in the Torah, he begins his first proper urging: do not consent when sinners entice you. Verse 10 is the thesis, while 11-14 poetically describe the sinners attempting to woo someone to join them in sin.
The two sins presented here are murder and theft. “Let us ambush the innocent without reason” describes bloodlust, violence for the sake of violence. Houses filled with plunder is an appeal to greed. These men are begging the son to forgo all his inhibitions against sinning. Though there certainly are examples of people pulling others into a spiral of violent and brutal destruction, all sin is equally harmful even if not blatantly so. The sins of gossip and slander are ambushing the innocent with words rather than knives, but the hurt is no less real. All sin is destructive by nature, even though it seems pleasurable in the moment.
THEY SET AMBUSH FOR THEIR OWN LIVES // VERSES 15-18
The father now returns to his original plea, warning his son not to walk with sinners. These words are reminiscent of Psalm 1:1-2:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
Those who are blessed keep company with God through His word, rather than with sinners. Neither Psalm 1 nor Proverbs 1 advocates the complete disassociation with sinners. Jesus was, after all, condemned by religious leaders for eating meals and befriending sinners. Instead, these passages are warning us against becoming one of their number and taking counsel from them because their end is ruin. Though their feet run to shed blood, they are actually sprinting toward their own blood. While setting an ambush for the innocent, they’ve set an ambush for themselves. Solomon warns that even birds are smart enough to avoid nets when they watch them being spread, but these men “like unreasoning animals” will be destroyed by what they do not understand (Jude 10).
Or to use the images of Psalm 1 again. The blessed man will be firmly planted like a tree, but the wicked will be blown away like chaff in the wind.
THE END OF SIN // VERSE 19
Here is the summation of sin’s end: “it takes away the life of its possessors.” Sin is the ultimate lie, and it’s one that humanity keeps believing. Satan first led Adam and Eve to sin by promising to make them like God, but their disobedience brought death into the world instead. Cain thought that killing Abel would make fix his anger, but he was driven into the wilderness instead. The people of Babel thought they could lift themselves up to God, but they were scattered across the planet instead. The people of Israel thought they could forge a greater god than the LORD, but God destroyed their idols and disciplined them time and time again. The biblical examples are gigantic, and we keep adding to their number. Romans 6:23 keeps playing in our head, but we don’t really believe it. Sin promises the greatest blessings that this world offers, but it only ever pays out damnation, an eternity’s worth of divine wrath.
And we keep buying the lie. Over and over again. We continuously fall into the snare of sin. Thank God for the gospel! Without the blood of Christ, we are hopeless to repeat our dive into sin’s depths time after time. In this life, we are all Cain with sin crouching at our door, ready to devour us. We must master it through the indwelling Spirit. As followers of Christ, we cannot be content with keeping pet sins that we think aren’t hurting anyone. All sin is violent at its end. All sin leads to death. Let us therefore obey the words of Paul in Colossians 3:5-8:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Killing sin only comes through embracing God’s holiness. Just as all sin is an attempt to usurp God’s throne by believing we know better than Him, so the death of sin can only come through fearing God and obeying His commandments. Thus, we do not kill sin by merely trying harder to fight it. We kill sin by loving and honoring God more. Sin comes from the earthly and worldly lie that we know more than God, so kill it by fixing your eyes on the Eternal One and glorifying His hallowed name.
Will you be known by your love for God and His word? Or will you live for the momentary pleasure of sin? Will you love God or love the world? There are only two choices. Which will you take?