A Study in Wisdom
To contact us:
Proverbs 1:10-19 –
An Enticement to Evil
10My son, if sinful men entice you,
do not give in to them.
11If they say, “Come along with us;
let’s lie in wait for innocent blood,
let’s ambush some harmless soul;
12let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13we will get all sorts of valuable things
and fill our houses with plunder;
14cast lots with us;
we will all share the loot”—
15my son, do not go along with them,
do not set foot on their paths;
16for their feet rush into evil,
they are swift to shed blood.
17How useless to spread a net
where every bird can see it
18These men lie in wait for their own blood;
they ambush only themselves!
19Such are the paths of all
who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the life of those who get it.
In this passage, vss. 10-19, Solomon warns youth not to be enticed into evil behavior by their peers: “My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them” (vs. 10). Enticement via the ungodly is a rife modus operandi of Satan. “Almost as soon as Satan became an apostate, he became a tempter” [Bridges]. In this world, “sinful men” abound. Of course, in a sense, we are all “sinful men”, imperfect, fallen. But Solomon is referring here to those who choose to be controlled by their sinful nature, who make sin the pattern of their lives, and try to draw others into their way of life.
And with “sinful men” abounding in this world, enticement also abounds. “In a world where the true fearers of God are so sadly in the minority, those who are under their dominion cannot fail to stand exposed to many temptations and to corresponding hazards. They are surrounded, on all sides, by ‘sinners’ of every description and of every degree. They come in contact, at all points, with the infection of evil. They are in danger, at every step, from the corrupting and deadening power of all the varieties of irreligion,—that of the openly profligate, and that of the creditably sober,—that of the avowed infidel, and that of the inconsistent professor of the faith. In a [world] like the one in which we dwell, such young men as are at all inclined to the fear of God are environed with innumerable perils. Their incipient piety, when not yet confirmed into decided godliness, is like a spark of fire hovering over the surface of the ocean. Allurements on the one hand, and intimidations on the other, everywhere abound; and the Arch-Adversary plies all his wiles, to catch away whatever seeds of truth and elements of goodness have been sown in their hearts.” [Wardlaw, 25].
Solomon, by way of example, presents a sample enticement: “If they say, ‘Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood, let’s ambush some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who do down to the pit’” (vss. 11-12). This particular enticement is meant to be a specific example, illustrating a principle (temptation by peers), the warnings against which can be expanded to apply to other enticements (most of us are not tempted to join a roving band of thieves, specifically). Though here, the enticement comes from the voice of a colleague, we must note that sinful enticements can also come from internal voices, thoughts and ideas from our sinful nature, trying to draw us into sin. We must resist those enticements, as well.
The enticer says: “Come along with us.” In this particular plan, the “sinner” needs accomplices to aid in the success of the ambush. However, in general, it seems, those who do evil enjoy doing so with accomplices, whatever the plan. “Sinners have generally so much of the venom of the old serpent in them, that they do not wish to go unattended to hell, but desire to make others as much the children of the devil as themselves.” [Lawson]. This increases the prevalence of enticements to evil. If only, by nature, we habitually enticed others for good, instead, following the Apostle’s exhortation: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
The tempter sweetens the enticement with the prospect of material gain: “We will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot” (vs. 13-14). The promise of riches is a common device. “The devil told our Lord, that he would give him all the kingdoms and glories of the world, if he would comply with his persuasions. The ministers of Satan in like manner endeavor to persuade men that they will obtain much advantage by sin, that the gains of it shall fill all their treasures, and every corner of their houses.” [Lawson]. Paul, writing to Timothy, famously warns against such temptations: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
Solomon warns: “My son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths” (vs. 15). Don’t even start to walk on that path, even with the intention of later turning back. “Often has ruin followed by not refraining from the first step” [Bridges]. “Half-measures will not do. There must be no tampering with temptation—no compromise—no partial adoption of the practices of sinners, in the hope, or with the resolution of stopping and retracing your steps when you have advanced a certain length” [Wardlaw].
Solomon metaphorically describes the enticement: “How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it!” (vs. 17). The danger of this enticement is clear and obvious. Nothing is hidden here. And as such, it’s an easy trap to avoid, being in plain sight, and yet, there are those, even us, who succumb to such temptations. We ignore the obvious danger of an enticement into sin. “The sight of danger leads, when possible, to the avoiding of it. Instinct directs the bird; reason the man. Yet such is the infatuation of sin, that man in his boasted wisdom will not do what the bird will by her native instinct… But sin is self-delusive, self-destructive” [Bridges].
Though in the enticement, the plan is to ambush and rob some harmless soul, Solomon sees it another way: “These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves! Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it” (vss. 18-19). Sinners are victims of their own plan. The harm to themselves in perpetrating the sin, is as much or more as that to their victims. Victims of crimes can usually recover; perpetrators will always have the sin on their conscience. “They are themselves their surest and most pitiable victims. The vengeance of offended heaven pursues the evil-doer; secretly, silently, invisibly, but closely, constantly, unswervingly, tracking his steps. It is behind him in all the windings and doublings of iniquity; it finds him out in all the hidden haunts of vice. In a memory from which nothing escapes, it treasures up against him every act and word and thought of evil... It may not be appointed to overtake him in this world. His schemes of evil may prosper to the end. But overtake him it inevitably will; if not here, hereafter” [Wardlaw].
Proverbs 1:20-33 –
A Plea to Heed Wisdom
20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
21 on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
22 “How long will you who are simple
love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
24 But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention
when I stretch out my hand,
25 since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me,
29 since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
30 Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
This entire section (vss. 20-33) is parallel to the previous one. In the previous section, a “sinful man” entices an innocent man; in this section, a personified “wisdom” cries out that people would follow her advice: “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech” (vss. 20-21). There is no secrecy in “wisdom’s” plea. She goes where best to be heard by the most people, in “the public square”, on “the top of the wall”, at “the city gate”. It is God’s desire, for our good, that we become wiser, that we follow wise advice, not sinful enticements. “Wisdom desires to be heard, and therefore speaks not in secret; she whispers not in the ears of a few favorites, but in the public places of resort, she proclaims to everyone that will listen her interesting truths. She cries without, in every place where a crowd is likely to be collected, in the streets, in the chief place of concourse, in the gates, the place of judgment, and in every part of the city” [Lawson].
“Wisdom” admonishes specifically three types of people who are least likely to heed wise advice: “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” (vs. 22). She speaks to the “simple”, to “mockers”, and to “fools”. As we stated in our comments on vs. 4, the “simple” are those who are easily influenced, in a good or bad way. Being such, they can benefit from solid instruction, if they choose to. But they “love their simple ways”. “Mockers” and “fools” are more hardened against wise instruction, for “mockers delight in mockery”, and “fools hate knowledge”. Wisdom entreats that they would all “Repent at my rebuke!” (vs. 23). Such a repentance from their anti-wisdom leanings would lead to an outpouring of wise instruction, a drastic change to the better: “Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings” (vs. 23).
But, alas, odds are that the perennially unwise will stay that way, by their own choice: “But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke…” (vss. 24-25). The willful ignoring of the advice of “wisdom” will result in “wisdom” herself mocking the mockers, and deriding the fools: “I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you—when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you” (vss. 26-27). This is a complicated, fallen world. We must live our lives wisely, or “distress and trouble will overwhelm us.” When this happens, the personified “wisdom” has no sympathy for the “distress and trouble” of fools. She did her best to warn them; she called out in the streets and public places; she even “stretched out her hand” with earnest and sincere care.
There will come a time when it is too late to heed the advice of “wisdom”, and those who did not heed it, will regret it: “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord” (vss. 28-29). When embroiled in troubles due to lack of wisdom, it’s too late for the instruction to be of any value.
The primary failing of the doomed fool was that they “did not choose to fear the Lord” (vs. 29). This, of course, refers back to Solomon’s definition of the basis of all wisdom and knowledge: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (vs. 7). Such “fear of the Lord” drives one to the saving knowledge of faith in Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. “Fools” and “mockers” believe that they can put off repenting and turning to Christ. They put this off, so that they can continue living in their foolish and mocking ways. To put off the wise decision of turning to Christ is the most foolish act of fools. Deathbed conversions, though possible, are rare. “Sinners miserably delude their own souls by proposing to live in the indulgence of their sins, and die in the exercise of repentance. True repentance is never too late, but late repentance is seldom true. Christ is not every day hanging on the cross, nor are thieves every day converted, and sent from the place of punishment to the paradise above” [Lawson].
J.A. Alexander speaks of delayed repentance in his eloquent poem of warning:
The Doomed Man
There is a time, we know not when,
A point, we know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair.
There is a line, by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s patience and His wrath.
Oh, where is this mysterious bourn,
By which our path is cross’d?
Beyond which, God Himself hath sworn,
That he who goes is lost.
How far may we go on in sin?
How long will God forbear?
Where does hope end, and where begin
The confines of despair?
An answer from the skies is sent:
“Ye that from God depart,
While it is called to-day, repent
And harden not your heart.”
The personified wisdom continues to speak of the destruction of those who fail to heed her warnings (see vss. 30-32), but ends by detailing the benefits on those who do heed her advice: “…but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (vs. 33). It is somewhat ironic that a benefit of those who “fear the Lord”, is that they will live “without fear of harm”.
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Arnot, William. Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth - Illustrations from the Book of Proverbs. London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1873.
Bridges, Charles. An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs. New York: Robert Carter, 1847.
Clarke, Adam. The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments. Vol. 3. London: William Tegg and Co., 1854. (Originally published in 1837).
Henry, Matthew. An Exposition of All the Books of the Old and New Testament. Vol. III. London: W. Baynes, 1806. (Originally published in 1710).
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. A Commentary: Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. Glasgow, Scotland: William Collins, Queen’s Printer, 1863.
Lawson, George. Exposition of the Book of Proverbs. Edinburgh: David Brown, 1821.
Trapp, John. Exposition of the Whole Bible. Vol. 3. Originally published in c. 1660.
Wardlaw, Ralph. Lectures on the Book of Proverbs. Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & Co., 1869. (Originally published in 1844).
All of these books can be downloaded free of charge from: