Proverbs 1:8-19 • Wisdom Begins at Home

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The Text

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.

Exposition

Bad company has always corrupted good character. It should be no surprise to see this theme open the book of Proverbs. The first six verses act as a prologue (or mission statement) for the rest of the book. The purpose of Proverbs is to help us grow in wisdom, understanding, knowledge, discernment, and prudence through attentive learning and careful instruction. Verse 7 provides the key to unlocking all this wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

After this brief introduction, Solomon dives headfirst into his first lecture. He gives ten speeches within the first nine chapters. Each lecture provides an urgent appeal to pursue wisdom and includes the address, “my son.” These sit-down talks between a father and his son transition into the proverbs themselves with chapter 10.

Solomon’s first speech is found immediately after the foundational assertion of verse 7 (Proverbs 1:8-33). It begins with a violent picture of peer pressure through wicked temptation (Proverbs 1:8-19). This father speaks with his son to prepare him for the dangers and responsibilities of adulthood. The first half of the first lecture fits neatly into three primary headings.

The Alarm Against Sin

Verse 8: Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. The father says, “Listen to me, Son! Look at me when I’m talking to you.”

Notice, both parents have a role to play in teaching this child about life. However, the father is the only parent who speaks in first person. Additionally, the mother’s teaching is identified with the father’s all throughout the book, suggesting that the father takes the lead. He establishes the primary focus and influence of the home. The son’s responsibility is to absorb his father’s coaching and embrace the education he has received from his mother. The following verse provides the boy with motivation.

Verse 9: for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. In ancient Israel and Egyptian cultures, garlands and pendants were status symbols of power and wealth. The garland, or wreath, on a person’s head was a sign of victory. It displayed strength, life, and triumph over one’s enemies. The pendant, or necklace, was a sign of prestige and high-class status in society.

It is important to note that these riches are not the result of Dad’s instruction and Mom’s teaching. These adornments are the instruction and the teaching. Whereas most people will judge a child by their outward appearance, Solomon says parental wisdom is what makes a child truly attractive.

The word “graceful” means “favorable.” When a child honors their parents through wise counsel, they gain more than a good attitude. They become a pleasing presence in the world, as one who lives above the world in both strength and status. The father strategically positions this incentive at the very beginning before making his plea in verse 10.

Verse 10: My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. This appeal appears again in verse 15: my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths. Twice, he says…

“Son, sinners are going to draw you in. Worthless men are going to tempt you and force you to make a choice. You will either go with the flow or remember what I am telling you now and choose a different path. One way leads to death, the other to life. So don’t be stupid. Refuse their offer and walk away.”

He then goes on to prepare the child for making the right choice. What follows is an illustration of what to expect when bad influences arrive.

The Appeal of Sin

For the next four verses, Solomon paints a picture of what sinful enticement looks like. He creates a fictitious monologue with four promises from the mouths of his son’s peers. These enticements are not unique to the violent backdrop of this scenario. Rather, they portray the axiomatic nature of sinful temptation itself. If anything, Solomon presents an extreme scenario so whatever his son encounters to a lesser degree will fall within the canopy of his warning. As a result, we have four appealing promises of sin worth evasion.

First of all, sin promises…

1. Adventure

Verse 11: If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason.” Immediately, the young man is peer-pressured into joining the crew’s criminal activity. They say, “Come with us and we will give you a night to remember!” The verb, “lie in wait” (נֶאֶרְבָה) is used all throughout the Old Testament for murder (Deuteronomy 19:11), kidnapping (Judges 21:20), and seduction (Proverbs 23:28). In this case, mindless bloodshed.

The act is undeniably evil because the gang is targeting the innocent. This is a senseless crime, undeserving and unprovoked. They attack without reason. His peers are promising excitement, danger, and the decisive thrill of taking someone else’s life.

Sin also promises…

2. Authority

Verse 12: Like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit. Throughout Scripture, Sheol is associated with death as a monstrous power that pursues people and swallows them alive (Isaiah 5:14). The promise of verse 12 is one of ability and authority. These delinquents offer the power to determine who lives and who dies. They are not afraid of anyone as they stand over their victims, weapons in hand with a sensation of dominance fueled by adrenaline.

Notice, the shift from a singular victim to the plural “them.” This isn’t an isolated event or one-time murder. Their activity quickly turns into a criminal way of life. By embodying the power of death, they elevate themselves to a position of authority over life.

Additionally, sin promises…

3. Abundance

Verse 13: We shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder. Killing a man to take his belongings is an easy way to make money. Greed and selfishness are strong motivators for sinful behavior. Bruce Waltke writes…

Powerful people see the world as a place to be conquered; vain artists as a stage from which to win applause; and the covetous as a place of transferring wealth from the bank account of others into their own. Sinners love wealth and use people. Saints love people and use wealth to help others.

Sin will always promise more than it delivers.

Finally, sin promises…

4. Acceptance

Verse 14: Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse. The “lot” was a small stone that would be thrown at random with other stones to determine God’s will (Proverbs 16:33). When they say, “throw in your lot among us,” they are inviting the boy to join them in their destiny. They want him to share in the common fate of their evil adventure. In a way, this brotherhood of murderous thieves is offering a substitute family. They also promise to share everything they steal.

On the surface, their enticement looks like a good deal. Between adventure, authority, abundance, and acceptance, it is hard to look beyond the appeal of sin because it speaks to our flesh. In a word, sin promises fulfillment. After repeating his initial warning (verse 15), Solomon reveals the repercussions of casting your lot in with the wicked. He now provides four consequences in the remaining four verses.

The Aftermath of Sin

As exciting, empowering, profitable, and fulfilling as sin claims to be, it will always under-deliver. In fact, it doesn’t just fail to give what it promises, it takes away what you have and gives you what you don’t want. Sin is far from neutral and always yields terrible results. There is no such thing as a sinful experience that cancels itself out. It will always impact your life negatively. Aside from the ultimate outcome of death, what are a few of sin’s consequences?

To begin with, sin produces…

1. Slavery

Verse 16: For their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. This verse is more than simply a restatement of fact. Throughout verses 11-14, the father presents a hypothetical scenario of enticement. In these final verses, he provides commentary to help his son think through the implications.

Instead of showing the appeal of sin, he tells it like it really is. He says, “The offer may sound exciting, but your friends are running toward evil.” The object of their pursuit is qualitatively bad. On top of that, their actions are founded on feeling not fact. It’s impulsive. They “run” and they “make haste.” They believe their own lies and assume the thrill is worth the risk. Before they have a chance to pause and think about what they are doing, it’s too late and they have already killed someone.

They obey their wicked impulses for senseless violence because they are slaves of sin (Romans 6:16; John 8:34).

Sin also produces…

2. Stupidity

Verse 17: For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird. Even a bird who sees a trap is smart enough to fly away, but the sinner is not smart enough to avoid sin because of its consequences. The way of a sinner is not only wrong, it’s stupid.

The effects of sin are obvious, even to unbelievers. Whereas every bird has the God-given instinct to avoid the fowler’s net, these sinners set traps for themselves. They believe the lie that they have control and what has happened to others will not happen to them. Sin has the power to fill the smartest man with stupidity.

At the same time, sin produces…

3. Shock

Verse 18: But these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Here are the results of their initial call for adventure in verse 11. On one hand, the situation is stupid. On the other hand, it’s shocking… because trapping themselves was never part of the plan. No one flips the narrative on purpose or turns their own cannons to fire upon themselves. But that is exactly what has happened to these young men. Like Haman who was executed on the gallows he prepared for Mordechai, the sin that promises a sensational life produces a shocking death.

Finally, sin produces…

4. Sorrow

Verse 19: Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors. Solomon’s conclusion is universal in nature. Life is taken from perpetrating victims both physically and spiritually. He says, “This is how it goes for everyone who does the wrong thing, the wrong way, for the wrong reasons.” They want more, but end up with less. Whereas, sin pledges fulfillment, it always delivers failure.


Application

Proverbs assumes that both parents will embrace their duty to instruct their children in wisdom. This is so important because good things come with parental wisdom and bad things come with personal experience. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach and instruct their kids to become wise. If you love your kids, you will prepare them for adult life. You won’t passively sit back, and watch life happen to them. You will actively instruct them and teach them to navigate the evils that lie ahead.

As a Christian parent, you know this world is full of destructive influences fighting for the heart of your child. It’s a fact, your kids will come under the influence of peer pressure, false advertising, wicked leadership, and godless philosophies. Scripture does not encourage us to ignore this fact or shelter our children from every bad influence. Our job is to teach them, provide guidance, and show them a better way. That way, when evil comes for them, they are ready for the fight and know how to handle the struggle for themselves. As our children mature into young adulthood, we should encourage them to assume the duties of a faithful adult responsibly and effectively.

Sin promises fulfillment. The human heart is pulled like a magnet to its assurances. As parents, we need to warn our kids that sin is appealing. If all we do is pray over their food, buy them toys, and teach them how to play well with others, we have not prepared them for life. They need to know the threat is real, this world will lie to them, and there are consequences for walking with sinners.

We must also communicate the enslaving nature of sinful behavior. Sin will always take you farther than you want to go. You might think you would never do something so vile and wicked. You might look to someone else and wonder how they could drift so far in their journey of sin. But the nature of sin is slavery.

You might think, “So long as I don’t cross a certain line, I can dabble without dying.” You might even convince yourself that your playful pursuits with sin are well managed. However, when you sin, you are not in control. If anything, the Christian who willfully sins has given up control. Unbelievers don’t have a choice, but the believer has been set free from sin and is without excuse. Romans 6:16 asks, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

If you wonder, “How did I get here?” The answer simple. Your master told you where to go and you went. Christian, you have got to be diligent in your war against sin.

John Owens penned the famous quote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” He also said, “Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes.” The passions of the flesh are at war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11). If you don’t take holiness seriously, don’t be surprised when your life is full of holes. Sin promises a tremendous amount of freedom, but in the end, it produces slavery.

As parents, the only thing better than protection is preparation. I hope you are taking the time to prepare your kids for the evils of life. I hope you are instructing them of the dangers of temptation, how to recognize and avoid them when they come. This wicked world is full of traps. As your child’s friends start dropping like flies, I hope your son or daughter will be smart enough to fly away.


Solomon was a prolific writer. He wrote many proverbs, but he also wrote a few psalms. One of his most famous psalms is Psalm 127. Verses 3-5 say…

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
    are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
    when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Solomon says that children are at least three blessings to a parent. They are a heritage, a reward, and a handful of arrows. That last one is a striking image because there is only one thing worth doing with an arrow. No one cares for the shaft, fletching, tip, and nock of an arrow, so they can put it under glass and admire its beauty. No one keeps it in its quiver for too long, glad to know that it’s there (and might even stay there forever). No one sets an arrow on the ground and tells it to take care of itself either. No, arrows are really only good for one thing… hitting targets.

When I was a kid, I had a compound bow and loved killing bales of hay in my backyard. Whether it’s the bullseye of a competition, tonight’s dinner, or an enemy of war, arrows are made for hitting targets. They must be straight and sharp. Otherwise, they’ll never make it.

So Dad, here’s the question: What’s your target?

What are you aiming for? What is your goal for your family, your children? How would you measure success or failure and what are you doing with your arrows? If you haven’t figured it out yet, I encourage you to sit down and determine your target.

Here are a few common answers you might hear…

  • I want my child to make more money than I do.
  • I want them to go to college or learn a trade or simply stay out of trouble.
  • I want them to not get pregnant or get someone else pregnant or become addicted to something.
  • I want my kids to get married have kids of their own, live a happy life, or love what they do.

These are all good targets, but none of them go far enough… because none of them are distinctly Christian or even biblical. These are the same goals our unbelieving friends have for their kids.

Personally, I want my kids to do well for themselves. I want them to become productive members of society and experience more happiness than sadness… but none of these pursuits are my target. Honestly, there is only one target the Christian parent has worth hitting.

When my kids stand before Jesus, I want them to hear those words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” Because that means they loved the Lord, they served the Lord, and they lived for the Lord. They lived their life well. They feared God and they gained wisdom.

Now, I can’t save my kids (and neither can you) but I can point them to the Savior. I can show them what a faithful servant looks like. And I can tell them at every opportunity…

“My son, my daughter, if sinners entice you do not consent. Do not walk in the way with them. Hold back your foot from their paths. They promise life but deliver death.”

You can throw all those other parenting books in the trash. Your kids don’t need a celebrity role-model, a robot, or a village. They need Mom and Dad with a Bible. Let’s let everyone else turn to the technologists, the neuroscientists, the child development specialists, and the creative storytellers. All you need is the Word of God and the fear of God to prepare your kids for a godly life.


Illustrations

I recently stumbled across an article titled, “14-Year-Old Boy Sentenced in Tessa Majors’ Stabbing Death in New York City.”

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tessa-majors-news-14-year-old-boy-sentenced-barnard-college-new-york-city/

Unfortunately, articles such as this one are commonplace within our society. A young kid with no criminal record and no history of violence starts running with the wrong crowd. Before you know it, they find themselves in serious trouble. Such stories are common, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this is a modern problem.


At one time in our culture, mothers were considered the primary influencers and teachers of the home.

How many classic television shows begin with the man reading his paper at the kitchen table, enjoying his coffee, and kissing his wife on the cheek as he leaves the house for a long day at the office? Upon returning home, he collapses into a big comfortable chair to watch tv or smoke a pipe. Occasionally, prime-time moms would tell their children to wait until their father got home for further instruction. He would then handle the situation with wisdom dripping from his tobacco stained lips in brilliant black and white.

Such moments would occasionally make for powerful conclusions, but raising the children, teaching them about life, correcting their behavior, warning them of danger, modeling consideration and kindness, and every other responsibility of influence fell towards the mother. At least, that was the American pop-culture standard of just a few generations ago.

Fast-forward to today.

Over the weekend, I stumbled across an advertisement for a new robot named Moxie. It is a small, blue-green machine with a digital face that expresses a wide range of emotion. The ad begins with a little boy named Riley playing on his tablet in the middle of his room, surrounded by toys. His parents nervously address him from the doorway, and he ignores them. That is, until they introduce him to Moxie.

We see the robot yawn to life as it wakes up and proceeds to befriend the child. Throughout the commercial, Moxie reminds Riley of his bedtime routine, helps him relax with breathing exercises, and feigns interest in the boy’s dentist appointment. He listens to Riley and holds his hand when a friend no longer wants to play with him. He gives the boy missions to write little notes for Mom and Dad and talk to his friends about what makes them happy.

According to the manufacturer’s website, Moxie has been, “developed by a veteran team of technologists, neuroscientists, child development specialists, and creative storytellers.” They add, “Moxie is able to perceive process and respond to natural conversation eye contact facial expressions and other behavior as well as recognize and recall people places and things to create a unique and personalized learning experience for your child.”

In the testimonials, the mother of a 6-year-old boy writes…

“Moxie promotes kindness and teaches social emotional skills that are crucial in today’s world. Moxie helps build confidence and encourage kids to stretch beyond their comfort zone and communicate their feelings. Moxie is an engaging and interactive robot that will win the hearts of all in your family.”

In a world of dwindling human interaction, even parenting has been replaced by a robot. Why would anyone awkwardly teach their child social emotional skills through interpersonal interaction? Why promote kindness, build confidence, and encourage communication the old-fashioned way, when a robot would probably do a better job?

The world’s technologists, neuroscientists, child development specialists, and creative storytellers have discovered that today’s child is a domestic orphan. Parents are not teaching their children crucial life skills and today’s youth have no reason to trust their parents. So they look to artificial intelligence. The creators of Moxie the robot are here to stand in the gap, but the Bible says that wisdom begins at home and instruction begins with Mom and Dad.


Sin will always promise you more and leave you with less.

There’s an old fable of a dog who had stolen a piece of meat from a butcher’s shop. As he crossed the river on his way home, he saw his reflection in the water below. Thinking to himself, it must be another dog with another piece of meat, he decided to double his spoils and take the other dog’s meat for himself. So he snapped at it and dropped everything he had into the water.

That is exactly what sin is like. It will promise you double and leave you with nothing.


Reference Materials

Aesop, “The Dog and the Shadow,” ed. Jack Zipes, Aesop’s Fables (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).

Allen P. Ross, “Proverbs,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991).

Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs Chapters 1-15, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2004).

Dan Phillips, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources, 2011).

Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 17, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964).

Edwin Yamauchi, “694 חָנַן,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999).

Jim Newheiser, Opening up Proverbs, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2008).

Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000).

Rowland E. Murphy, Proverbs, vol. 22, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Thomas Nelson, 1998).

Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997).

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