A sermon on Proverbs 1:8-2:22 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 9/11/2005

How should parents teach their children about right and wrong?

Imagine that you are a parent speaking to your son. You start listing rights and wrongs:

Imagine your son asks, “Why? Why should I do what is right and avoid what is wrong?” What do you say? Do you say, “Because I told you so”? Do you say, “Because the Bible tells us so”?

Today’s text includes three discourses on right and wrong. In two a father speaks to his son; in the other, personified Wisdom speaks to the gullible, the simple. Although they talk a lot about right and wrong, they don’t say, “This is right because I told you so.” Nor do they say, “This is right because the Bible says so.”

How do they argue? How do they persuade the son and the gullible to follow their teachings? Their primary means is to say, “There are two possible forks you can take in the road of life ahead of you. Although it may not look this way from your perspective, one leads to true joy, true pleasure, true life; the other leads to pain, death, and sorrow. Seeing who God is, responding to Him, and following Him is the path to joy. Rejecting God leads to death and sorrow. So, my son, pursue your greatest joy! Follow the path to true life!”

Is that they way you would answer your son or daughter? Would you be comfortable answering that way? Do you believe that following the right path leads to the greatest joy?

Let’s look at this text and see how the author justifies such statements, so that we might follow the path of life and pursue our greatest joy.

Today’s text begins with a two-verse overview in 1:8-9, followed by three addresses:

1:10-19: The Temptation to Easy Money

1:20-33: The Temptation to Delight in Ignorance

2:1-22: True and False Pleasure

Before we look at today’s text, recall what we saw last week. Proverbs 1:7 is the interpretive key for the entire book:

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

We also defined wisdom as seeing who God is, seeing how He rules world, and responding accordingly. Thus, the goal of Proverbs is attaining wisdom. Changing behavior is not the ultimate goal. Thus, in the imagined conversation with your son, if you are following the example of Proverbs, your goal is to help your son to see God, to understand the fear of the Lord, and to respond to Him. In New Testament terms, the goal is to make your son Christlike – from the inside out. Your goal is for your son to have a changed heart, and then, because of that changed heart, to live like Him.

As we will see today, we change, in part, by listening to the teachings of the wise around us – like our fathers – and listening to the appeal of wisdom. For God is the source of their wisdom, and in following God you find life.


Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching, 9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. Proverbs 1:8-9

Note first that this training in morality takes place within the family, within the home. Church and school are supplemental to education that takes place from parent to child. Parents are the ones responsible for the education of their children – not the state, and not even the church.

Second, note that although the father is the one who speaks in this discourse (and in other discourses in the prologue to Proverbs), the mother is intimately involved in her son’s teaching also. The father and mother work closely together to train the child in the way he should go.

The initial command is, “Hear!” Why? Why should the son listen to his father and mother? Because instruction is a garland; good teachings are pendants. As Waltke points out in his commentary, we might expect the son to say that the changed behavior that results from listening to instruction will be a garland. But that is not what he says. The instruction itself is a garland. What does this mean?

Deuteronomy 6:6-8 is helpful here. Moses said,

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

The commandments of God adorn the Israelites, and are to be passed down from father to son – as the instruction of the father in Proverbs adorns the son and is passed down. The commandments should hang as a sign from their hands, and hang as an adornment between their eyes.

So Moses says something very similar to the father in Proverbs. Why does Moses say this? I think the idea is similar to the twofold purpose of a wedding ring today. The wedding ring adorns you, declaring to others, “I am promised to another.” The wedding ring also serves as a reminder of your vows when you are tempted to violate them.

Just so with the father’s instruction, and the commands in Deuteronomy. If you are “adorned” with instruction, you declare the truth of God’s wisdom with your words and your life, and you are reminded when tempted of the truth of God’s wisdom. The idea is that the truth of who God is and of what He intends man to be is always before your eyes, always flowing out of you to those around you and always reminding you to walk in that truth.

The next three discourses provide examples of how this is done.

The Father’s Warning

As I read Proverbs 1:10-19, ask yourself: What is the temptation here? Why should the son avoid this temptation?

10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. 11 If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; 12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; 13 we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; 14 throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse"- 15 my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, 16 for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. 17 For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, 18 but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. 19 Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.

What is the temptation? It is threefold:

First, the temptation to easy money: That is, getting money apart from the ways God provides. We see this in verse 13:

we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder.

What ways does God provide for us to get money?

Those three ways all glorify God. All three are good both for the one who gives, and for the one who receives. But the gang proposes another way: Stealing. This looks a lot easier. It looks like less work. It looks like a way to get rich, fast. And if money is your goal, why not get it the easy way?

But easy money is not the only temptation. The second temptation is to wrong companionship. That is, fellowship outside of the oneness we have as God’s people (today, what we have in Christ). Note that in verse 11 the gang calls out, “Come with us,” and then repeat again and again, “let us.” In verse 14 they say, “Throw in your lot with us – we will all have one purse.” This is the typical appeal of a gang. “Here you’ll find relationship! You’ll belong! You’ll be one with us! We’re all in this together! Join us!”

The final temptation is to wrong excitement: That is, excitement outside of that provided in following God and serving Him. Note how part of the gang’s appeal is expressed in verse 11: They will lie in wait for blood, they will ambush the innocent. They’re saying, “They’ll never know we’re there! We’ll swallow them alive! Won’t it be great!”

Think now: Money. Companionship. Excitement. Are these wrong desires? No. And the father does not argue against these desires. How does he argue?

In verse16, he says these actions are evil. But then in verses 17-19 he presents a very interesting argument in order to explain why his son should not walk in this way. Not only is it wrong. Such behavior is stupid! He argues that even a bird can avoid an obvious trap – and this is a real obvious trap. In what sense?

Ultimately, the gang is not ambushing the innocent; instead, they are ambushing their own lives. They are killing themselves!

Imagine that you are lying in wait with the gang, hiding in the bushes, planning to waylay a passing stranger. You see someone come along; you jump out; you pull out your knife; you stab him in the chest - and as victim falls down, you look into his eyes and see – yourself! You just stabbed yourself. You just killed yourself.

The father summarizes this lesson in verse 19: “Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.”

To be greedy for unjust gain is to lose your life. Do you see? When the gang members plan the robbery, they know there is some risk. They might get caught and imprisoned for their crime. But what the father says is that it doesn’t matter if the robbery succeeds or not.  If they are caught, they lose. If they succeed in the robbery, they lose. Obtaining the unjust gain leads to the loss of their life. This is the trap. This is the obvious trap that only someone more stupid than a bird would fall into.

Do you see how the father is arguing? “This may look pleasant, but ultimately it is not. This is the road to death.”

Finally, consider: Who entices us like this? The picture in your head is probably that of a street gang, kids from a poor area, from broken homes, tempted to join the street gang for the companionship they’ve never known. And that surely is one application of these verses..

But these verses apply to many more settings. Indeed, considering that in verse 13 the gang says they will fill their houses with plunder, perhaps the youth gang is not even the primary image in mind. These are not highway bandits living in caves.

So in addition to the gangs, think: Enron. Think: Accounting scandals. Think: Government corruption. Think: All manner of white collar crime. All these include not only the appeal of easy money, but also wrong companionship and illicit excitement: “Come on, we’re all in this together. Everybody else is on board – you join us too. Keep quiet, and you’ll get your share. Hey, we’re smarter than those regulators and stockholders. See how we’ve got them wrapped around our fingers!”

The temptation to easy money cuts across all ages, all social classes.

Money, companionship, excitement: All these are good gifts of God. But to seek them first is the road to death. Jesus says:

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33

God knows your needs. A life following Him gives the best companionship, the best excitement, and the most joy from possessions (Mark 10:29-30). Those greedy for unjust gain do not gain life. They are on the path to death.

Wisdom’s Call

Now the scene changes. Wisdom, appearing as a person, a woman, calls out from every prominent place in the city:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22 "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” Proverbs 1:20-22a

The Hebrew word translated “simple” by the ESV is the word rendered “gullible” in Waltke’s translation that we used last week. Remember, there is nothing wrong with being gullible or simple. In Hebrew, this word does not have negative connotations. But the gullible person, the simple person needs to learn! To love being gullible is wrong. If the gullible does not learn, he will become a scoffer, a fool, hating knowledge, delighting in scoffing. Thus, wisdom says,  

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

The answer: Always! So, you gullible, watch out! That’s where you’re headed!

How does the love of being gullible express itself today? Three ways:

A lack of interest in God: “Maybe there is a God, maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. I just live out my life the way I want to live.”

A lack of interest in God’s Word: “No, I don’t want a copy of the Bible. Hey, I’ve got TV to watch. Why read something that would make me think if I can watch Desperate Housewives?”

A lack of interest in spiritual truth: “No, I don’t really have any spiritual beliefs. I just go to work, then piddle around my house, and take care of my family. This is what is real. This is what is important. Why speculate about things I can never know?”

People who talk like this love being gullible. They love mind-numbing activities. They are in great danger – and have no idea.

Verse 23 shows the positive benefit of listening:

If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you. (emphasis added)

Who is the speaker? Wisdom. So “my spirit” is “the spirit of wisdom”. This sounds like Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in 1:17-19a: 

17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. (emphasis added)

We need that spirit of wisdom. That is, we need to see who God is, to see how He rules the world; we need to respond accordingly.

For the gullible, there are only two choices, two alternatives: They might listen and thus obtain that spirit of wisdom; they might see who God is and respond. Alternately, they might continue in their love of being simple, and close their ears to the voice of wisdom.

Verses 24-32 describe the outcome of this other possibility as if it is already chosen.

Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, 25 because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, 27 when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. 29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, 30 would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, 31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. 32 For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them. Proverbs 1:24-32

Verses 24 and 25 pile on the words, describing the rejection of wisdom: The gullible refused to listen, did not heed her voice, flouted or ignored her counsel, did not consent to her reproof. So wisdom says, “There will come a time when you will want me, but it will be too late.” Again, verses 26 and 27 pile on the descriptions of the destruction which is coming: terror, calamity, distress, anguish - like a whirlwind, like a hurricane without the National Hurricane Center forecast – no warning at all; suddenly a great wind whips up, the rain falls in torrents, the sea surges and your house and all your possessions are gone. Wisdom says, “This is the end of the road you are on! Look ahead! I’m telling you! Believe!”

Verse 29 is key: By being content to remain gullible, in effect the simple have hated knowledge. They did not choose the fear of the Lord. As we saw last week, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. To reject God, to reject His word, implies that you have no true knowledge, no genuine guidance, no real protection when the day of destruction comes.

Verse 31 reminds us that in bringing this destruction on the simple who become fools, God is being perfectly just. They “eat the fruit of their way.” They get what they deserve. If you go down a path, you get whatever is at the end of the path. For at some point, it is too late to turn back. And verse 32 tells us most explicitly what is at the end of the path: Death. The simple, the gullible are killed by turning away from wisdom.

A lack of interest in God, a lack of interest in God’s Word, a lack of interest in spiritual things, puts you on the path that leads to eternal death. This is a huge temptation in our day, especially in our American culture, where we act as if we need and have a right to entertainment. In our culture, it is easy to move from entertainment to entertainment, never considering what is at stake. Thus the title of Neal Postman’s classic analysis of present-day American culture, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

So the father and wisdom have argued so far that the desire for easy money leads to death. A lack of interest in spiritual matters leads to death.

True and False Pleasure

Let’s turn now to chapter 2. Here, the father draws out explicitly the result of the two ways or two paths. This image is picked up again and again in the rest of the book of Proverbs. The words “way” and “paths” are used in parallel. They are very frequent in this passage:

Verse 8: God guards the paths of justice, and watches over the way of his saints

Verse 12: Understanding will “deliver you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, 13 who forsake the paths of uprightness (or straight paths) to walk in the ways of darkness . . . v15 men whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways

Verse 18 Speaking of the adulteress: ”Her paths [sink down] to the departed 19 none who go to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life.

Verse 20 says that by listening to the father’s words, by being attentive to wisdom, by searching for understanding as for hidden treasure, “so you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.”

Thus, there are two ways: The way of life and the way of death. The path to life, and the path to death.

It is tempting for us to read “lifestyle” when we read the word “way.” But “way” means more than “lifestyle.” The word “way” is not just descriptive; it is not simply a label for “the way he lives.” The idea also includes the results of that lifestyle.

This is the image. You are walking down a trail, and come to a fork. Ahead of you are two ways, two roads, two paths. One looks attractive: the way is sunny, easy, and smooth. The other looks difficult: storm clouds gather in that direction; there is a steep climb in the first half mile; the path narrows and looks treacherous.

You cannot see far down either path. Each path bends after a half mile or so, and you can see no farther. Which do you choose?

Surely the temptation is to choose the path that looks easy at the beginning. But where do the paths lead? What is around the corner?

In these discourses, the father and wisdom join voices to say, “I’m going to tell you what is around the bend. You see that easy-looking path? There are grizzly bears around the corner! That path ends in death. What about the rough path? It surely looks hard. And there are challenges on it, definitely. But this is the only way to a beautiful, peaceful mountain valley. I know what is ahead! Listen to me! Don’t take the path to the grizzly bears! Take the path to the valley!”

You might be thinking, “But Coty, if I come to a fork like that, I’ll explore the easy path first, and then turn back if it turns out to be dangerous. What’s the problem with that?” The problem with that is twofold. First, you are warned. Wisdom cries out, the father teaches you. Why are you rejecting their advice? Second, how do you know you will be able to turn back? Once the grizzly bear towers over you, it’s too late to turn around.

We just completed a sermon series on the book of Revelation. In that book, again and again we see that that fundamentally there are only two types of people: those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world, and those whose names are not. Those whose foreheads are marked by God, and those whose foreheads are marked by the beast. Those who are headed to – indeed, who become – the new Jerusalem, and those who are headed to the lake of fire.

The image in Proverbs is similar. Here too all humanity is divided into two: those who take the path of life and those who take the path of death. The difference between Revelation and Proverbs is one of perspective. Revelation shows the picture from God’s perspective: Those in the New Jerusalem, those on the path of life, were chosen by God the Father in Christ before the foundation of the world. Proverbs paints the picture from man’s perspective: You, gullible one, are standing at the fork in the road. Wisdom tells you the end result of each path. Which will you take? Think! Look ahead! Don’t just look at the immediate return!

Friends, this is pure Christian hedonism. Wisdom and the father say, “Pursue your greatest joy! Don’t do something you will regret for all eternity! Look beyond the short run! True joy, true delight is found in the way of life – not in the way of death!

That is the overall message of this important image of two paths. Look now at the structure of chapter 2. The entire chapter is one long sentence in Hebrew, divided into six sections:

·        (Verses 1-4) If you listen to wisdom and seek it,

·        (Verses 5-8) then the Lord will give you wisdom,

·        (Verses 9-11) and you will delight in knowledge and live it out,

·        (Verses 12-15) and you will be guarded from the evil path, from those who delight in evil,

·        (Verses 16-19) and you will be guarded from the temptation to easy sex,

·        (Verses 20-22) with the result that you walk in the path of life, while the wicked walk down the path to death.

Let me elaborate a bit on this structure with a few observations:

In verses 1-4, note the increasing level of activity on the part of the son: The father tells him initially to “receive” his words. This is passive. Then, in verse 2, he is to make his ear attentive to wisdom. This is more active. He doesn’t just sit back and receive words, but he directs his ear to the right words. Then in verse 3, he is to “call out for insight”, and in verse 4 to “search for it as for hidden treasure.” He is not passive at all. He actively searches. He knows this is where true joy is found, and so he seeks wisdom with all his heart. Unlike the simple, the gullible, who is content to remain without wisdom, the son is exhorted to have no contentment at all until he finds wisdom.

Verse 4 uses the same image Jesus paints in Matthew 13:44 (the text for the sermon at the first public service of this church two years ago):

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

This man knows the treasure is valuable – more valuable than all his other possessions combined. He knows that he must have this treasure. This is way to true joy! So he sells all that he has – joyfully! – in order to obtain this hidden treasure.

Jesus says, “Seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7). The father says, “Seek wisdom! This is your greatest joy!”

What will he find as a result of this intent seeking, as for hidden treasure? Verse 5 tells us. The fear of the Lord! Knowledge of God! All true knowledge and wisdom come from Him, as verse 6 says:

For the Lord gives wisdom.

And what is the response to such knowledge? Verse 10 tells us that such knowledge will be “pleasant to your soul,” or “pleasant to your appetite” (as Waltke renders it). Why is it important that knowledge be pleasant? This joy, this delight, is part of the way that “understanding will guard you.” Verses 12 to 19 describe temptations by other sources of pleasure, by the easy-looking path. When you know that the path of life, the path of wisdom, the path of knowledge of God is pleasant, then you can fight the temptation: “That is not the way to joy! That is the way to death! Evil cannot have anywhere near the pleasure that is mine through the knowledge of God.” Thus, we cut off temptation at the root by knowing that the right path is the only way to true joy.

Verses 16 to 19 contrast the pleasure of true knowledge with the supposed delights of easy sex. We will examine this subject in greater detail on October 16, when our text will include chapters 5 and 7, but consider the image presented here. Once again, there are two paths. In this case, the easy, attractive road alluringly leads to easy sex. The gullible might argue, “Hey, no one will be hurt – this is natural activity between consenting adults. After all, I’m just relaxing, enjoying life.” But the father says, “Her paths [sink down] to the departed.” This is the way to death.

Here, the father meets head on the temptation to begin down the wrong road with the intention of just going a few yards, and then turning back. For this is one of Satan’s favorite lies in the area of sexual temptation: “Oh, of course you won’t have sex with her. But surely it won’t hurt to go sit beside her! Just talk a bit.” And one step leads to another. And another. And another.

So to the son who is tempted to say, “I can go that way a little! I can always turn back!” the father says,

19 none who go (in) to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life.

The image in verses 18 and 19 is of a road descending to the adulteress. It’s real easy to go down the road – and since it gets steeper and steeper, you go faster and faster as you near the bottom. But when you turn around and look back – the road is steep indeed. Without help, you will never get back. You can’t return to the fork in the road. You cannot regain the path to life.

All temptation to easy sex is like this:

·        The temptation to sexual relations and sexual thrills outside of marriage;

·        The temptation to allow lust in your heart;

·        The temptation to look at pornography.

That seemingly bright, sunny path is inhabited by grizzly bears around the corner.

The father concludes:

21 For the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it, 22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.

There is no middle way. There are only two paths. All mankind will be divided into the upright and the wicked. Those with integrity and those who are treacherous.

Note carefully:

But the biblical truth – explicit throughout the New Testament and implicit here in Proverbs – is that eternity is a lot longer than our present life!

Now, some of you might be thinking, “There are people who start down the evil path and turn back. Indeed, I did that by God’s grace.”

Yes, praise God, there are people who have walked down that road and returned. That’s why I said, without help, they can never get back.

The father’s point is not that God never intervenes to save a hardened sinner. Instead, the father’s point is this: “Don’t presume on God’s mercy. There is a point of no return for you. Don’t try to get as close to that point as you possibly can without crossing it! Instead, seek wisdom! Pursue the hidden treasure of knowledge of God! See God, see how He rules the world, and respond – in part by becoming like Him! That’s where true joy lies!”


Two paths. Two ways. And ultimately only two.

Do you have ears to hear? During our service we read Jesus’ parable of the sower from Mark 4. Jesus begins that parable by saying, “Listen!” He closes the parable by saying, “He who has ears to hear, he must hear.” The seed – that is, the Word of God – went forth and landed in four different types of soil. Some landed on the path, where the birds ate it. Jesus explains that the birds stand for Satan, taking away the Word before anything happens. Other seed fell on the rocky, shallow soil, where it sprang up quickly, but dried in the sun. Jesus explains that some people appear to respond to the Word, but fall away when persecution and tribulation come. Other seed falls among the weeds. It too springs up, but is choked by the weeds. Jesus explains that the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and other desires choke the Word, negating any response. But some falls on good soil and bears much fruit – even a hundredfold.

You have heard the Word. Will you be that good soil? Will you listen? Will you respond? Will you walk on the path of life?

Your greatest joy is found on that path, in Jesus Christ. Not in money. Not in sex. Not in excitement or companionship outside of God’s kingdom.

The most exciting, fulfilling life possible – the fulfillment of your reason for existence – awaits you in following Jesus Christ.

Will you listen? Will you seek Him as hidden treasure? Will you forsake all else because of your joy and follow the way of wisdom – to Christ?

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 9/11/05. Bruce Waltke’s The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Eerdmans, 2004) was exceptionally helpful throughout. Apart from this commentary, I would have taken a completely different approach to preaching this series. For arguments backing up my assertion that the compiler of Proverbs did believe in an afterlife, see Waltke, 104-107.

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