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Called in Two Directions: Proverbs 1:8-33

Editor’s note: This is part four in a brief series on the book of Proverbs that Fred Zaspel is writing (see part one, two, and three). In this series, he will be noting an overview, certain themes, and specific texts in the book of Proverbs.


8 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. 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.

20 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? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.

24 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; 33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Context

Children have basically two ways to learn about life: they can listen to and heed their parents’ instruction, or they can go it on their own and learn from experience. To cast it in more theological terms, they can learn by faith, or they can learn just by the hard experience of life.

With most of us it’s some combination of both. But how much grief could have been avoided if we all had just listened and taken heed rather than trying it out on our own!

  • A child is warned not to play with fire – it’s dangerous. He could have just trusted his parents and learned the lesson “by faith,” but instead he learns the hard way – and hopefully lives through it without being maimed.
  • He is warned that sticking something in that electrical outlet will hurt him. Again, he could just take them at their word and learn by faith, or he can learn it by hard experience – again, and hopefully live through it.
  • A teenager is warned about the danger of alcohol or drugs – that only a fool would mess with that stuff. But he knows better – until he finds out he doesn’t. He could have just taken his parents at their word, but no, he had to learn by hard experience – and hopefully without life altering regrets.
  • He is warned about hanging out with the wrong friends, but no, he had to learn by hard experience.

The examples could go on. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15), and wise parents want desperately to disabuse their children of it. It sometimes seems a terribly up-hill struggle, but because we love our children we don’t let up – we teach and warn diligently with prayers that God will use our efforts to spare them a life of heartache.

That’s what Proverbs 1-9 is all about. Beginning at 1:8 we have a series of lectures or admonitions from the father in which he exhorts his son about both wisdom and folly. “Pursue wisdom, and you will find that it is in your own best interest. Reject folly, and spare yourself the regret.”

Each of these lectures in chapters 1-9 begins with a call to the son to listen and pay attention:

*1:8 “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching”

*2:1 “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you…”

*3:1 “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments”

*4:1 “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight”

*4:10 “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many.”

*4:20 “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.”

*5:1 “My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding.”

*6:1 “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger…”

*6:20 “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.”

*7:1 “My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you.”

After this call to his son to listen, and before he gets into the body of the lecture, the father often inserts a kind of “motivational clause.” We saw that last time in verses 8-9: “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.” That is, “Listen up! This is valuable counsel. You want this. It will be good for you.”

The Call of Sinners

Now one way the sage prompts his son to think about life is by presenting specific scenarios and leading him to think them through – to consider the choices and corresponding consequences. That’s what he does in this first lecture. Here the son is being called in two very different directions: in verses 10-19 the father exposes the call of sinners, and in verses 20-33 the call of wisdom.

First, the call of sinners to join them in their sinning (vv.10-19). In verse 10 the father begins with a brief summary of what he wants to say: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” That is to say, “Son, sinners always want company. But when they entice you to join them in their sin, you must have your response speech all prepared. It goes like this: “No!” “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.”

Some of you who are old enough may remember Nancy Reagan’s campaign against drugs. “Just say ‘No!’” was the slogan, and the liberal media of course mocked her for being so simplistic. Well, that is the counsel here exactly: “My son, when sinners entice you, do not consent.” “Just say ‘No!’”

Simplistic or not, it’s really very necessary counsel. When I was a young boy my dad had my brother and me memorize this verse. He drilled us on it many times. He would have us recite it, and he would explain it to us with specific case scenarios. In those days it was the King James Version, and I still remember it well: “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” And I have to say, that exercise proved good for me. On many occasions at school when I was pressured to do something wrong this verse would pop into my mind: “Just say ‘No!’” I had been warned – “conditioned,” if you will – about just these kinds of situations. So I wasn’t caught by surprise, and I wasn’t at a loss for a response. You need to have this speech already prepared in your mind lest you be caught off guard in the pressure of the moment.

And this is not for young children only!

Now of course the verse is broad in its purview – “If sinners entice you” is a broad, catch-all kind of reference. And it demands some specific application. And that’s what the father provides in verses 11-14.

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.”

Here the father not only gives specific application – he also exposes how the sinful mind works. It’s the same old same old – instant gratification, “never mind values, this will be great!” The specific situations are countless, but the principle is the same – “This is what I want, so let’s do it.” Here the father not only gives specific application – he also exposes how the sinful mind works. Click To Tweet

And so in verse 15 the father repeats the exhortation of verse 10: “My son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths.”

Then in verses 16-19 he explains just why his son should refuse to participate in sin. Notice the explanatory conjunction “for” at the beginning of verses 16 and 17.

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.

Simply put, “Don’t go along with them because: 1) it’s wrong (v.16), and 2) it’s foolish (vv.17-18). “Think this through: it won’t end well for you.” It’s just the message he presses throughout Proverbs – it’s wise to be righteous, it’s foolish to be sinful. For your own good don’t go along with them in their sin. Just say “No!”

So in verses 8-19 the message is, “If you are wise you will reject the call of sinners.”

The Call of Wisdom

The message of verses 20-33, in turn, is just the flip side of that: “You’d be a fool to reject the call of wisdom.” Notice verses 20-21:

20 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:

Here wisdom is personified as a street preacher in the marketplace, the main street of life, calling out and offering freely the wisdom to live. But the personification may not be simply poetic. Bruce Waltke suggests that the sage was a recognized office or function in ancient Israel and that Jeremiah 18:18 just may hint of it:

Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.”

Notice we have specified for us here the priest, the prophet, and the wise – the sage as a street preacher.

At any rate, the point is that wisdom is readily available from God’s spokesmen. Verses 22-23 summarize wisdom’s invitation:

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”

Notice here (v.22) the three classes of people he summons. The simple, the scoffer, and the fool. The simpleton, as we have seen, is the uncommitted – open to wisdom or folly and easily led or misled. The scoffer or mocker is the arrogant “free thinker,” the guy who thinks he has it all together himself. He doesn’t need to hear from any counsel other than himself, and in fact he will mock wisdom when it’s offered him. The fool has a settled antipathy to wisdom, and in Proverbs we find that it is a waste of time to counsel him. But here Wisdom makes its offer nonetheless: “How long will you be foolish? Listen, I can show you how to live!”

But in verses 24-25 Wisdom’s offer is rejected. “I have called, and you refused to listen.” And so in verses 26-28 Wisdom expresses her response:

24 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.

Now the point here is not that wisdom desired this unhappy outcome – after all, in verses 20-23 she made her offer freely. It’s just that if you reject the offer of wisdom it is only right that you bear the consequences of it. There is a moral order to the universe built in by God himself, and wisdom is sympathetic with it in all its out-workings. And so (v. 27) she warns that there will be awful consequences of rejecting her offer. Ruin will come, and then, cry with regret as you will, it will be too late.

Verses 29-31 explain.

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.

That is, you are responsible for the choices you make, and you will be held accountable for them. Choose wisdom, and you will have life. Choose folly, and you will have judgment and ruin. It’s a “You reap what you sown” kind of warning. Choose wisdom, and you will have life. Choose folly, and you will have judgment and ruin. Click To Tweet

Verse 32 gives a warning to the simple: “For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them.” Don’t be complacent like the fool, or like the fool you will regret it. There is no true neutrality in this – you either commit yourself to wisdom, or you will share the fate of the fool.

And so in verse 33 the sage concludes his sermon with a final offer and incentive: “but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Just as there are unhappy consequences to folly, so there is value and benefit to wisdom. Heed the call of wisdom, and you will not be made to face the disaster of fools.

There are two ways, two offers, two choices – folly and wisdom. And there are two outcomes. You cannot remain neutral. Choose wisdom before it is too late. You can listen and learn by faith that it is wise to be righteous. Or you can learn the same yourself the hard way. But know that wisdom’s counsel will prove true in either case.

Final Considerations

This is a wonderful model of parenting. Parents, this is what you should be doing with your children – present the two ways and the two outcomes. Explain it carefully, illustrate it, and press the need for decision and resolve. Show your children the way of wisdom, and warn them against the way of folly. Take the time and effort. Make them see that when sinners call it’s in their own best interest to refuse. And show them that only a fool would reject the call of wisdom. Lead them to think through both ways. Caution them that they can listen and learn the easy way, or they can refuse your teaching and learn the hard way. And as you counsel them in this way, it just may spell the difference for them for life and for eternity.

But keep in mind that all this is not for young children only. It’s for all of us. We must resolve in our hearts ahead of time that when sin presents itself, our response will be, “No!” We have to condition our hearts with the conviction that it’s always wise to be righteous, and always foolish to sin. We must heed the call of wisdom.

But we can’t say this without considering the bigger picture. We have seen already that this “wisdom” theme in Scripture points us ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t want our children to follow “wisdom” generally – we want them to follow Christ. He is the ultimate expression of God’s wisdom, and all the fulness of wisdom is found only in him.

More than that, God’s wisdom crystalizes, as we have seen, in the message of Christ crucified in place of sinners. The simple fact is that you and I will never live wisely or well enough to earn God’s favor. It’s too late – we’ve already failed in that project. But Jesus lived that life of wisdom perfectly, and he went to the cross offering that perfect life in sacrifice to God in the place of sinners. And it is here and only here that can we achieve fellowship with God. And only by union with Christ can we be enabled to live wisely to God’s honor.

And all this about wisdom “crying in the streets” and making herself available to everyone – we who have read our New Testament at all cannot help seeing that offer come to climax in our Lord’s free gospel offer: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

You may have lived like a fool, but our Lord says he can save you. He can rescue you from the consequences of your foolish sin, and he can change the whole direction of your life. His offer is not that if you first improve then you can come; his offer is “Just come as you are – I will take care of everything.” Come to Christ, acknowledge your lostness without him. Confess that he is your only hope of rescue. Own him as your redeemer. Bow before him as Lord. Submit to his yoke. And go from there to experience the freedom of God’s children.

The offer is free, and you are called to come. But note well that to refuse the offer will be to your eternal regret. To take him up on the offer and receive him will be to your eternal joy. If ever we display wisdom, it is in coming to Jesus Christ.

Fred Zaspel

Fred Zaspel (PhD, Free University of Amsterdam) is one of the pastors at Reformed Baptist Church in Franconia, PA. He is also the executive editor of Books At a Glance and adjunct professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books including The Theology of B. B. Warfield and Warfield on the Christian Life.

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