Get Wisdom Early (v. 1)
Our Father directs much of his word to children. It is as if he says to us: “Look; remember me while you are young; the seeds of sin are sown early. They bear bitter fruit. I am all your joy and peace. Give yourself to me while you are young; walk with me all your days. I will bless you richly, throughout your life and in heaven with me forever.” For the Lord thus to give us his word when we are young is one of his most wondrous gifts. He is promising to be our guide and helper at the very beginning of our journey. Unless our hearts are cold and stubborn, we shall receive his invitation with humility and zeal, O, with hearts flooded by thankfulness and love. What else is it but heaven on a silver platter for our God and Savior to give us such joy and peace without passing through so many of those miserable and devious paths upon which sin and Satan snare and wound so many young people? It is true that the Lord often recovers children that wander from the paths of righteousness, but there is no guarantee that he will do so. His covenant with us works in two ways. On the one hand, he pledges to be our God and offers us his grace through Jesus Christ. If we respond in faith and turn from our sins, all is well. But if we treat his kindness with ingratitude and contempt, the chastening and curses of the covenant will surely come upon us. Some of the hardest, bitterest lives are led by those who had God’s word when they were young but cast it into the street as if it were trash. Choosing to go your own way is deadly.
Solomon never forgets to whom he is speaking: covenant children, whether younger or growing up into adults. Often we find him addressing his son; Proverbs is an inspired, father-son talk. His fatherly plea is repeated at important points in the opening section (10:1,17; 12:1,15), and here is showing us the way to grow up wise and blessed. The very first step – and it is never too late to begin, even if like many in our day, we wandered from God early or never heard his precious gospel – is to hear a father’s instruction. It is not easy to bend our ears to our parents. For this reason, Jesus Christ took our flesh upon himself and listened to his Father’s word. He was subject to his parents so that he might sympathize with us in the struggle and “save us to the uttermost” in this most difficult relationship (Luke 2:51; Heb. 7:25). He learned obedience (Heb. 5:8). Are we better than he? If we ask him, he will help us listen and plug our ears against the world’s deceits. He will heal the chaffing of our hearts against his authority. Admittedly, parents are not as kind or patient as they should be, and their guilt over past sins and fears about the future often make them too rigorous with us. Nevertheless, ask the Lord for “ears to hear,” really listen, take into our hearts what they tell us, and submit to their instruction.
A scorner, one who has only disdain for God’s word, will not hear a rebuke. He thinks he knows what is best for him and turns a deaf ear to all who oppose him. You can usually identify him by the friends he has – others who will not listen and who demand the right to do their own thing – or his attitudes and words toward God’s word. But if we will not listen to our parents, or to our pastors and teachers, we cannot listen to God. We are not listening to him. He has put them over us; they stand in his place toward us. Pray for them. They have a great trust and responsibility. Resolve to make it a joy rather than a burden to them – by listening, hearing, obeying (Heb. 13:17). As you grow older, interact with them. Inquire as to the reasons for their counsel and applications of God’s truth. The Lord has made them custodians of his truth and of your soul, not infallible tyrants. If both you and they are yielding God’s word its rightful authority, you will have peace in your relationship with them. The Lord will richly bless you, for listening to parents is the way we learn to listen to our God.
Guard Your Tongue (vv. 2-6)
Even when we are young, words are a reliable gauge of the condition of our heart. Think of words as fruit that will be eaten (v. 2). It is true that men today think little of their words, but they are also blind to the connection between the heart and words, words and destiny. “Forsake the foolish, and live” (9:6). Words are important. The world was made by God’s word (Ps. 33:9), and he rules the world by his incarnate Word, our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:3). We shall eat every word we speak; they will come back upon us. If this fruit is pleasant – words of peace, love, wisdom, and godliness, we shall eat good. Join this idea with the listening of verse one. Listen to instruction; take it into your heart; the fruit will be pleasant. The Lord will honor you for honoring him (1 Sam. 2:30). Respect shown to your parents – “yes ma’am;” “father, I will do what you say, I will bend my will to yours because I respect God’s word to me through you” – and you are sowing seeds that will bring joy to you throughout your life. Hardened sinners, however, will eat violence. The parallel shows that Solomon is thinking of relationships. Disrespect to parents comes from a soul or life that violently attempts to escape God’s authority, even if it is only with sullenness or quiet rebellion. This, too, will bear fruit, but you will not want to eat it. Practice rebellion early; reap its consequences later – in your adult relationships, in your children, in a wife with whom you fight, a husband that tyrannizes, and children that ignore you even as you rejected your parents. What goes around comes around, as the saying goes. This is because God rules the world; his covenant is sure. Repent early; repent often. Grace will abound unto pleasant fruit forever (Rom. 5:21).
This is a strong incentive to guard our mouth (v. 3). The thoughts of the heart flow out of our mouths in a river of words. It is not enough, however, simply to be silent or guarded. A reserved personality is not necessarily virtue, and shyness is sometimes a very thin veil for pride. We must certainly not withhold our tongues from speaking good (Ps. 39:2). No, we must go to our Savior and ask him to cleanse the spring of our words. If our hearts are purified by grace, our words will be seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6). It is only from our Lord Jesus that such fruits of righteousness come to us (Phil. 1:11). None ever guarded his lips as he did: when reviled, he did not revile again; when cursed and condemned, he forgave and saved. For this the Psalmist worships him as having “grace poured into his lips” (Ps. 45:2). He will pour grace into our lips if we fly to him for cleansing. The most profane will become pure; the filthiest lips will become clean when he touches us and heals our leprosy (Matt. 8:1-4). Let our lips not be wide open, always saying what we feel, without hearts cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. Destruction lies in this path: the unbelieving cries of Israel at Kadesh Barnea, the treacherous advice of Balaam, and Jezebel’s lies. The first-century Jews gave the rebel shout – “Our lips are our own: who is lord over us” (Ps. 12:4) – when they cried out “Crucify him.” For their words, his blood was upon them and their children. The prideful words of Peter strongly call every believer to guard our hearts and words. How we must pray: “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips (Ps. 141:3).
In each of the cases of wide open lips above, evil desire gave birth to evil words and schemes. Israel wanted the land of promise without having to fight in faith. Jezebel coveted Naboth’s vineyard for her husband. The sluggard often resorts to words rather than work, schemes rather than honest industry (v. 4). His heart is inclined to vanity; he sets his desires on things the Lord has not promised or he does not need. He will get nothing – good. Israel was judged for forty years in the desert; Jezebel and Ahab were violently destroyed. The Lord here teaches us to set our hearts only on that which pleases him; if it cannot be done for his glory according to his word, we must not seek it. If it is good, such as the covenant he has made with us for our children, the promise to take care of us, or his pledge to “fill the whole earth with the knowledge of his glory as the waters cover the seas,” diligence is the only way to obtain what he has promised: diligence in work, faith and trust, love and hope. God’s promises are like a mighty river that is able to saturate and satisfy us all our days, but if we would obtain them, we must pursue the means he has appointed. Diligence in seeking his kingdom and living in fellowship with him are the way to obtain abundance of good and blessing from his hand. If we are lazy, unbelieving, dreaming of blessing without willingness and obedience (Isa. 1:19), we shall be disappointed.
The righteous are watered with the river of life and grace that flows from his throne; the wicked are taken away by the floods of his judgment (Rev. 22:1; Matt. 7:27). Would we be fat and satisfied by God’s blessing? We must hate lying (v. 5). The righteous sometime lie: Abraham, David. But when the Lord brings them to their senses, they repudiate their sins. David also prayed: “Remove from me the way of lying” (Ps. 119:29). Loving truth, we hate lies. Brought into the open before God, we would be done forever with Adam’s hiding and excuses. The Holy Spirit here calls us to examine our hearts before the Lord. Are we telling the truth: about God, the world, ourselves? Are we pretending we are better than we are, hiding behind rules as if they were the reality of virtue? Are we like a clock whose hands point one way but its gears are out of kilter and wildly rotating? Our Father calls us to integrity: moral wholeness, an outward life that reflects the true state of our heart. This comes only from our Lord Jesus. To encourage truth in us, which is the more difficult as we like to appear upright in the eyes of men, Solomon reminds us of the true state of the wicked: loathsome, shameful. The Lord Jesus has brought us out of the tomb of sin and death, but many of its grave clothes still cling to us. Let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ, being clothed with his righteousness and seeking righteousness in life by his gracious Spirit (Rom. 13:14).
As we seek to be found in him – not having our own righteousness but his (Phil. 3:9) – he will keep us on the way (v. 6). He will guard and hold us fast. Storms will come, but we shall be founded upon the immovable and eternal rock that is Jesus Christ. Sin will not overthrow us, as it does the sinner. The worst lie the wicked tells is to himself: that it shall be well with him, that none will find him out, that he will be the one to escape God’s judgment. To lie and live habitually in sin, however, is like taking a lit stick of dynamite into one’s soul. Long or short, the fuse will reach the powder, the corruption within us. The more evil our age, the more we must believe God’s promises: that if we seek first his kingdom and righteousness, he will take care of us, provide for us, protect us, and exalt us in due time. This is not because there is anything good in us that would mark us out for a better destiny than the wicked. It is God’s grace that makes men differ (1 Cor. 4:7). Any sense of God’s righteousness always leads us to put our hands upon our lips, as it did Isaiah, confess our impurity, and speak the truth about ourselves before God and others (1 Cor. 11:31). It is by “mercy and truth that iniquity is purged; by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil” (Prov. 16:6). How deeply humbling it is when we are brought to see something of God’s majesty and holiness, but he brings our sinfulness into the light not to cast us into despair but to encourage us with the hope of mercy and bind himself to be our keeper forever.
Learn the Truth about Wealth (vv. 7-11)
False words and easy money have drowned the souls of many young people in perdition. Is there not often a connection between lying and laziness? The sluggard craves; he does not want to work his way to prosperity but manipulate and scheme, even lie. Even if unbelieving men come by their wealth honestly in the eyes of men, how quickly their gold corrupts their soul (James 5:2-3). They believe wealth is an end in itself: to possess, enjoy, preserve them against evil days ahead. This love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). It is the reason David prayed: “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness; turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quick thou me in thy way” (Ps. 119:36-37). The world preaches a different gospel: indulge, gratify, and possess. Solomon urges his son to remember something very important about money and its possessors. Obtain as much of this world’s goods and pleasures as possible, but it is all for nothing; your soul will not be satisfied (v. 7). This verse may either be taken as a warning against those who pretend to be rich when they have nothing – like those who buy more house or car than they can afford, work to acquire the trappings of wealth to impress others – or it might be taken simply as a warning that unless we are rich in faith toward God, we are wretchedly poor, even if we have many possessions. Both are true, though the former is preferable.
Appearance and deception are very much in the forefront here. One can have real wealth, yet be very poor in the things that count most and for eternity. Many self-deceived souls crave the esteem and honor that come from wealth, so they pretend to have what they do not truly possess. Against both, Solomon encourages open-handed generosity and heavenly mindedness. Though he was rich, our Lord Jesus became poor (2 Cor. 8:9). He emptied himself of all his outward claims to glory and divinity (Phil. 3:6); he gave himself for our poor sake on the cross. He is now very rich: exalted, extolled, and very high. In his giving away, he lost nothing but gained the honor his Father promised him for his obedience, suffering, and death. His life of sacrifice is our model. What God gives us in one hand, we should share with the other hand. Our greatest riches, though we be poor in the eyes of the world, are humility before God and contentment with godliness (1 Tim. 6:6). We put on no show for the eyes of men. Nothing must obscure the lowliness of the cross. Should we be blessed with much of this world’s goods, God would have us care for our families, support his church and kingdom, and look for opportunities to share our Father’s liberality with the poor and needy. This is true riches: to be rich toward God, well invested in his eternal kingdom, content, like our Savior, with giving, serving, and self-denying that he may be glorified. Then, we are very rich, even if we have very little. Living in a covetous and gaudy age, even believers are tempted to forget where true riches lie: that if we believe God’s promises and Christ dwells in us by faith, we are heirs of his eternal kingdom. Such a conviction makes us very free in sharing, very content with little, very indifferent to much (1 Cor. 7:31).
Yet if we are enslaved to what God gives us, how tenaciously we try to hold on to it (v. 8). Wealth is not possessed by its owner as much as it possesses him. It often brings him into trouble: vexation over taxes, fear of loss, envy and greed of scheming rulers and pretending friends, forgetful of his constant dependence upon God. The poor does not know these troubles. He has his own, to be sure, and he can become bitter if he is not rich toward God (James 2:5). When we are tempted to envy the wealthy, let us remember that they have their own set of miseries, not the least of which are the artificiality that wealth often produces, the sterility and coldness of soul, and the very skewed view of life that afflicts them. The poor man, though he may struggle for his daily bread, is in a better position to learn his daily dependence upon God and rejoice in our Father’s small gifts. While we ought not to entertain romantic notions about the poor, for we see how rare is the contented poor man, yet we must also take our Savior seriously: “a rich man shall hardly enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23).
It is righteousness that makes us truly happy, not money (v. 9). Solomon reminds his son that we live in God’s world, and the Lord of all has established this rule: “Blessed are the undefiled, who walk in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 119:1). If only we believe that our happiness lies in holiness! Then, whether we possess much or little, we would not set our heart upon our goods but upon our God. Think of this: the righteous man has light – God’s own presence with him through the indwelling Savior. He has comfort in God’s promises of which the rich man knows nothing, unless his heart is so humbled by God’s goodness to him that he dedicates all he has to God’s service. The light of God’s countenance and word does not fluctuate with markets and governments; it is as constant as God himself (1 Kings 8:56; Ps. 119:160). The light of the wicked – his lies, schemes, trust in his wealth – will be put out. God will put it out. It was never lit. It was only the appearance of light, goodness, and virtue. How blind we are to what is truly valuable! Even the disciples were surprised when Jesus spoke about the rich man. If someone is wealthy, he must be blessed of God. This is not necessarily true. God often fills the belly of men in this life only to cast down their pride and expose their delusion in hell forever (Ps. 17:14; 73:18-19). Let us seek the light that is only found in fellowship with God and contented obedience to his word.
There is yet a deeper danger associated with wealth: pride (v. 10). The godly have ever felt this to be a significant temptation. Consider David’s comments in Psalm 30. “And in my prosperity, I said I should never be moved” (v. 6). What honesty from this godly man! We are so giddy. The bills are paid. We have a little set by. We think we have taken the world by the horns, beaten the system, and secured ourselves against trouble. The Lord touches us just a little, as he did David, and we quickly confess: “Lord, by thy favor thou has made my mountain to stand strong: thou did hide thy face, and I was troubled” (v. 7). Wealth can nurture the root of pride so that we are never brought to feel our need of God. As bad as grinding poverty can be, abundance can be an equal or greater temptation. Did not the Lord warn the Israelites against this (Deut. 4-9)? We are prone to forget God in all times, but especially in good ones. The pride of wealth breeds contentiousness, strife, trouble. A rich man dies; the vultures, otherwise known as his sweet children, quickly circle, eye one with another with suspicion, and position to get as much as possible for themselves. But with the lowly is wisdom. It is interesting that Solomon does not say “with the poor.” While that may be the expected contrast, poverty does not always bring humility. It often brings a different kind of contentious pride: greed, bitterness, discontent. How we must pray for the Lord of glory to humble our hearts before his majesty! Only then can we ever be led to see that our good lies in his mercy and fellowship, that all our wisdom in this world is to be governed by him, led by him, and joyful in him. Wealth can make us neither happy nor contented; only his face shining upon us in Jesus Christ. He was joyful in doing his Father’s will, though he had no place to lay his head. He will share his joy with us as we devote ourselves to God’s commands (John 15:9-11).
Heavenly wisdom considers all facets of a question. If God warns of the dangers of riches, it does not conclude that a vow of poverty is virtuous or that the rich should be vilified. There is too much of knee-jerk ethics in the body of Christ, simplistic solutions to multi-faceted issues. Solomon is not encouraging his son to pursue poverty. In God’s general providences, how can diligence in one’s business leave one poor? Trustworthiness and integrity are shining virtues that often bring earthly blessing. It is riches “gotten by vanity” against which he warns (v. 11). This would be wealth pursued as the summum bonum of life, obtained through trickery or theft, or the attitude that the best way to get ahead is to grind others in the dust. Wealth obtained in this fashion will be diminished. Consider the wealthy man who dies with a prosperous estate. Thought his is not always the case, we often hear of his heirs squandering what he accumulated over a lifetime. No man knows what will be after him (Eccl. 3:22; 6:12; 10:14). Vanity, foolishness, will bear bitter fruit. The Lord of Hosts exercises a continual war against ill-gotten and vainly used wealth. It will not bring happiness to its possessors or to its heirs. But if we gather by honest labor, the Lord promises to increase us.
Here is a novel idea, especially since a growing percentage of the men of the West are now supported from cradle to grave by messiah-governments. Work hard; work diligently. This is more than a matter of sweat, though perhaps we shall see a resurgence of the attitude that physical labor, what is called menial labor by a jaundiced society, is a thing of great nobility. It is not the only legitimate work, but vast numbers of men would be far happier in the mechanical and agricultural arena that trying to make themselves comfortable in a white collar world for which they were never gifted by the Lord. Whatever the work to which God has called us, it is honest labor if we do it “heartily as unto the Lord,” with his pleasure our chief reward, always with an eye to laying our life’s work before him one day for his approval. Such work bears fruit now and in eternity. The labor of the righteous follows after them (Rev. 14:13). Faithfulness with apparently small talents opens the door to the reception of more talents with which to serve the Master. However men may think of it, all legitimate work among believers is nothing else but an extension of Christ’s work. His life is in us. He has been raised from the dead and made very high so that we will feel deeply that our labor is never in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). He considers the smallest, most seemingly insignificant work, if done for him, as done unto him. He will bless it. He will reward it. It will increase and bear fruit through heaven’s endless glory and joy. Let us be encouraged to serve our Lord with greater fervency and purposefulness. He is always near us, always ready to help us.
12 Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
13 Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.
14 The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.
15 Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard.
16 Every prudent man dealeth with knowledge: but a fool layeth open his folly.
17 A wicked messenger falleth into mischief: but a faithful ambassador is health.
18 Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured.
19 The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul: but it is abomination to fools to depart from evil.
20 He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
21 Evil pursueth sinners: but to the righteous good shall be repayed.
22 A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.
23 Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment.
24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
25 The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want.
Fulfillment or Frustration? (vv. 12,19)
By these two verses, which are bookends to the verses between them and illustrative of the main point he wishes to make, Solomon tells his son that he has a choice to make. By pursuing wisdom with a sincere and upright heart before God, he may expect, like the man who diligently and patiently gathers by hard work (v. 11), a life of accumulated wisdom and blessing. On the other hand, if he does not yield himself to God’s word, he may expect a life of gradually increasing sorrow and unrealized expectations: like a man who pursues wealth as an end in itself only to find that he is trying to fill a cup with a hole in the bottom. For many, youth is a time of great hope. The future pleasantly rises before us; the sun seems never to set, life a bundle of great expectations. But this is true only in the path of godliness. For the wicked, the fool who will not live by God’s holy word but insists upon following his own thoughts and feelings, his hope will make him sick. He hopes for what he will never attain: peace in prosperity, joy in life.
When we do not establish all our happiness in God, we grow sick with waiting. Granted, what we wait for is futile in the first place, but in our blindness we set our heart upon the vain imaginations of our heart, only to find, sooner or later, that something is dreadfully wrong. Life is not what we think it to be. We are not gods and creators, able to shape life according to our whims. Thus, many of the modern psychoses and all its bitterness are briefly summarized by Solomon’s poignant diagnosis: a sick heart: mental blindness, spiritual uncertainty, emotional distress, and life chaos. This disease inflicts those who set their hearts upon the delusion of finding peace and happiness apart from God. Even if they seem to succeed, no true joy or lasting peace do they find, for apart from God, their lives are nothing but a blank, a black tunnel into which the little light that occasionally falls through his common grace only exposes the meaningless of life without him. To have legitimate desires with confident expectation of their realization, we must walk uprightly with our God (Ps. 84:11), departing from evil (v. 19), unlike the fool who would rather go to hell on his own terms. The very thought of surrendering to God is distasteful to him.
If we would not have God send us a strong delusion (2 Thess. 2:11), and thus make us sick at heart, we must make sure all our desires are toward him: to walk with him, please him in all things, worship him with all our hearts, and practice that sincere and undefiled religion that are sure proofs that his favor rests upon us. Then, since our desires, like our Savior’s, are defined by “not my will, but thine be done,” then we shall be full of sap and energy, like one who eats of the tree of life. This tree represents the grace, peace, and joy our Father gives to us through his Son, who gave himself on the cross that we might be readmitted to the garden of God. Desires that flow from this tree will never be disappointed; we may wait long to eat fully and eternally, but this deferral does not make us sick. Our Savior feeds us with sufficient manna along the way to our eternal home to cheer our hearts with his presence and promises. In each stage of our pilgrimage – whether raising a family, fighting against sin, speaking of our Savior’s cross, or simply grace for daily faithfulness – we partake of him as our vine and thus receive fresh sap for our warfare, understanding, and peace. There is no sickness in this deferred hope because our Savior gives us “strength to strength” and “grace to grace” along the way: enough success to know we walk with him and sufficient hardship to lead us to seek him with our whole hearts. Either way, in heaven later or on earth now, we have him. He is sufficient; he is all our sweetness (v. 19).
The Choice Explained and Illustrated (vv. 13-18)
That we may be full of good hope and sufficiently strengthened to wait for God’s promises, we must often return to the word of God. It is the only soil in which the tree of life grows and union with our Savior is enjoyed, as he taught us (John 15:1-8). Our choice is very simple. If we despise God’s word, we shall be destroyed. Now, no one, at least within the precincts of Christ’s holy church, will ever say he despises God’s word. All will heap praise upon it and swear it is the love of their life. Do we not despise God’s word, however, when we turn a deaf ear or cold heart to its preaching, read it only when the fancy strikes us, and cannot bring ourselves to think upon it due to our appetite for the world, sin, and our own thoughts? Solomon does not contrast “despise” with “love,” for all will readily express warm feelings for the sacred Scriptures. Instead, he writes “fear” (v. 13). This places our choice of fulfillment or frustration at a much higher level. To fear God’s commandment is to believe that our very lives and happiness, our strength and hope, depend upon it. It is to treat the word of God as we would treat God himself: utmost reverence, sincerity without hypocrisy, asking him to search us by his word as by a heavenly candle, and aiming with all our strength, heart, and mind to abide by his every word. Thus, to fear the commandment is to fear God. We do not fear God if we do not fear his word, trembling before his threats and warnings, yielding to his commands, and fervently believing his promises, since he himself is speaking to us in it. Our destiny – a sick heart or a tree of life, frustration or fulfillment – is no mystery. “But to this man will I look, even to him that is of a poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:2).
The Holy Spirit shows us how serious this choice is in the next line, where he says that wisdom’s law is a fountain of life to deliver us from death (v. 14). It will not do to say: “Well, I will have a little fun now, pay a little lip-service to God, and perhaps give more serious attention to him later.” Later is not likely to come if your soul dies, if it is so sick, diseased by sin and corrupted by the world. Yes, God may recover you, but remember Solomon is speaking to those who have the tree of life, like Adam and Eve, clearly pointed out to them, to covenant children and those who are blessed to have the heavenly manna handed to them by pastors, teachers, and parents. This is wisdom: to make him all our good, to live by his word, and to turn from the fool’s stubbornness. It is the law of health. Wisdom, whether plainly stated in Scripture or so clearly drawn from Scripture principles that only the most rebellious would resist, is as much a law of God as the Ten Commandments. To say, “Well, I do not see this as you do, and since you do not have a chapter and verse, I am free to go my own way,” is to spit ungratefully in God’s grace. The snares of death are all around us. He has not only given us specific commands and prohibitions but also a host of truths by which we may be preserved from folly and a sick heart. Thus, whether the wisdom pertains to relationships, finances, or the wise governance of families and human affairs, we must take seriously that death – separation from God, blindness, and frustration – everywhere lurks. Our only security is to be governed by God’s wisdom.
This is also a very personal decision – meaning not that each man is free to decide according to his own preferences but that the decision itself will determine personal joy or misery. Who would not want favor – God’s and man’s, his blessing upon the totality of our lives (v. 15)? Who would not want to be prudent, so that instead of our life constantly telling everyone how stupid we are, it shows that we are dealing in knowledge? Is our stock and trade the knowledge of God and his word that gives prudence and discretion in one’s affairs, or the folly that makes a mess of everything we touch (v. 16)? Do we honestly want the sinner’s hard way: obstacles at every step, frustration and misery, feeling that God himself opposes you, getting out of one scrape only to fall into a worse one? Many people live in this way and experience these things. Fools make them out to be heroes, and in our culture their escapades are celebrated and their consequences pitied. Fools always admire other fools who shake their fist in God’s face and would rather brave the rough seas of rebellion than quietly submit to his word and be brought to a safe, quiet haven. If we want the Lord’s smile to light our way, his pleasure and blessing upon us, if we would avoid the sinner’s hard way, heralded though it is by worldlings, there is only one wise choice. We must enroll in God’s school and learn his word, grow in grace and knowledge, and turn from our own desires and thoughts.
Even for his older son, Solomon frequently uses concrete illustrations; he never contents himself with platitudes and principles. Thus, to illustrate this choice played out in personal experience, he brings forward a messenger or ambassador (v. 17). A messenger was highly valued in the ancient world, having to be knowledgeable in several languages, various local customs, and the trusted emissary of those who sent him to do business on their behalf. But what happens to the messenger who, though he be outwardly esteemed, pleasing in appearance and manner, is nonetheless a fool, who lives not by God’s word but by his own desires? He will fall into mischief. The heart principles that govern him, his ultimate allegiances – whether to self-promotion, personal wealth, or private intrigue – will come out in the end. A faithful messenger, however, one who lives by truth and equity, who is more concerned about pleasing his superiors than anything he might gain to himself by dealings on the side, is health: to himself and to those who send him. Solomon shows us that the choice we make – wisdom or folly, fulfillment or frustration – is worked out in the very real world of calling. The same is true of shame and honor (v. 18). Refuse instruction and you will be impoverished and exposed. Regard or keep reproof, hold instruction close to your heart and live by it, and you will be honored. When unbelieving men obtain some semblance of these blessings, it is only because they borrow from the righteous those principles of character and habit that are truly satisfying and ultimately blessed only in the life of the man who fears God.
Solomon will have his son know that true religion is not a matter of flipping a moral switch in his life when he must finally settle down and be serious, and it is certainly not a Sabbath morning principle. Fearing God and his word is the tree of life in every setting and season of life. It satisfies us because on this path we walk with God. The wrong decision will not simply make your heart sick, as if he is talking only about spiritual principles; it will ruin your life. God guards this path and every single step of it: a man’s family life, his calling, his finances, and his society. In his word alone do we learn legitimate desires and the way to obtain them. If we follow our own thoughts, however enthusiastic we are about our expectations, and we shall be diseased and frustrated.
Do You Want a Godly Future? (vv. 20-24)
Solomon intends these five wisdom sayings to encourage us to choose righteous desires that fulfill rather than the fool’s folly that disappoints. Sin confronts us in the world through people, especially the friends we choose. If we make fools our companions, the soul’s horror and discomfort with sin quickly fade into acceptance then imitation (v. 20). “Evil company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). Association with evil makes us comfortable with evil. Do not religiously indifferent or compromised friends, as they often seem to be doing just fine and even enjoying life without the restrictions of moral conviction or principles, wear away at our own convictions? Evil pursues sinners (v. 21); if you are in the company of those who are not walking closely with God, their evil will pursue you. Moral principles, like a cold virus, spread quickly from their host to those around them. And like the virus, it can be more severe for the one who catches it than the one who passed it. Professing Christians often choose foolish friends due to the desire to be accepted, loneliness, or even to win them to Christ. Some in the church cannot make close friends among the godly, for those trying to walk with the Lord sense that something is wrong and fear getting too close to them. It is a fool’s dream, however, to think friendship with the world is safe. This choice, too, is a foolish hope that will make your heart sick. If you want wisdom, God’s promise of good hope and good end (Jer. 29:11), your friends must be those who help you toward Christ and holiness, encourage and hold you accountable to God’s word. Their wisdom will rub off on you. If you cannot find such friends, probe your own heart. Can you make this confession: “They that fear thee will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in thy word” (Ps. 119:74)? If not, the problem lies with you, not with others. If godly companions cannot be found, it is better to walk alone, like Elijah by the stream or David in the cave, until the Lord sends a wise friend to you. Pursue righteousness, even if you must forsake the whole world in its rebellion against God, and he will repay you with good. He always grants the godly desires of the righteous (Ps. 84:11), though his faithfulness is so magnificent that his gifts are always purer and more delightful than anything we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).
Desires have a future aspect to them (v. 22). Fools live for the present: thinking only of the gratification and pleasure of the moment. God is so opposed to this careless, self-loving way of life that he gives away all the wicked has to the righteous: in time, over history, for the good of his church. The wicked hopes in his riches, his technology, his earthly securities; they are heart-sickening hopes – always deferred, never realized – that will curse them but bring true blessing to those who are of a humble and contrite heart before the Lord. What comfort to know that our merciful Father is ruling men and nations to frustrate the desires of the wicked and to bless the righteousness far more than we can conceive!
Living with the future in mind begins in youth. Indeed, a young person’s choice to pursue wisdom can only be made with the light of our heavenly inheritance already spreading its rays in our heart. To see a young man or woman walking with the Lord gives good hope that our Savior has already established his eternal kingdom in his heart! Such a man thinks of the generations after him. He wants to leave them an inheritance. This is likely of material possessions, for Solomon’s financial wisdom certainly leads us to save, avoid all but the most necessary debt, and practice moderation that gradually increases one’s means. Remember his principle in this section: godly desires are granted over time, prosperity through diligent labor (v. 11). And since a godly man thinks of his offspring with love and desires to do them good, he is willing to deny himself so that he may be a blessing to them long after he is with the Lord. While our treasure is not in this life, we should desire to leave those after us in better condition than we have been. By this, Christian families grow in wealth, ability to do good and contribute to Christ’s kingdom, and even the stability to weather the vacillations of the economies of the city of man. And yet, as not many of us are wealthy by the world’s standards, by far the greatest inheritance we should seek to pass to our children is a vibrant hope and faith in the living God and the example of holy fear and love for his word. Many a poor father has been the benefactor of eternal riches to his children by his prayers, godliness, and faithfulness. Let us of slender means never forget that God is able to take our seed or two and bring forth a tremendous harvest for his glory and the good of many generations to come.
Hearing this, we ought to feel our deep poverty (v. 23)! Even though the Lord provides what we need, we cannot think wisely about the future or prepare for it unless we are diligent in our labors. But who is diligent except the man who feels his dependence upon God. The poor man works ever so hard because he knows he will go hungry otherwise. His industry is the means by which he is provided with life’s necessities. Yesterday’s sweat is not sufficient for today’s sustenance. This is truer respecting the things of God. Let us feel our poverty of righteousness, our need of God’s help, and we shall be about our Father’s business with great zeal. Let us feel our sinfulness, and we shall often be suing for peace and righteousness through Jesus Christ before the throne of grace. Diligence in pursing legitimate desires is a law written into the very fabric of God’s universe, and of our individual lives. Without wisdom, however, which is to fear the Lord (1:7), destruction comes. A rich man thinks: “I am done; I have all I need; no more diligence is required.” Even if he completes his life without want, what a bad lesson he has taught his children. He has done them much harm, teaching them to rest on their laurels and tempted them to pursue crooked means to sustain wealth that was once obtained by honest industry. If we would be blessed and not destroyed, we must be deeply persuaded of our constant need of God, that blessing comes in the way of diligence, and that only in union with Jesus Christ, the living vine and tree, can we be strong in his service and a means of blessing for generations to come.
Hearing Solomon’s calls to godly desires and diligent pursuit of God’s promises reminds us of the need for strong discipline. We are too tyrannized by the moment and too much in love with ourselves to live for the future and practice self-denying diligence. This is especially true when we are young. Then, the habit must be deeply engrained in us, or we shall likely never learn it. God’s merciful way to imbibe these principles is through a father’s corporal discipline (v. 24). By the rod we learn the painfulness of sin. We are taught to seek our Father’s pleasure through obedience. We also learn that we cannot say what we please or live according to our corrupt desires. These, after all, can never be granted and will never be satisfying. Thus, a father who loves his son and would secure for him a godly future chastens him often. This prepares his son for our heavenly Father’s chastening. It also teaches him to distinguish the world’s playing at love – do what you want, express yourself, do not let anyone tell you what to do – with divine love – life in the Father’s house, joy in his service, growing blessing through self-denial and diligence. Whatever the blind experts say, a father who will not chasten his son by the rod of correction hates him. He also hates himself, for he is securing to himself and his posterity a future of frustrated hope and sick hearts. Without spanking, you are forming your child’s earliest shoots of character and life all crooked – that you can serve God and yourself; that sin has no serious consequences; that I can have the future I want on my terms. These are dreadful delusions with which to feed your children’s heart and breed great weakness and immaturity for generations to come.
God Alone Satisfies Us (v. 25)
For only the righteous can be satisfied. How else can we learn righteousness, given our sinful nature and fallen world, than to have our folly chastened out of us when we are young? Our weakness, vanity, and compromise as adults is often traceable to the lack of consistent, strong discipline when we were young – or hateful, angry discipline – more than to any other source. Our Father would have us eat to the satisfying of our soul. He would have all our fountains, all our good and joy, to be in him. He knows what the fool’s ultimate destiny is, the consequences of all his misplaced hopes and vain desires: emptiness, judgment, hell forever. Life without God is bitter, meaningless, and futile. There is no point and no future in such a life, other than to magnify God’s justice and show to us all that our only wisdom is to yield ourselves to his word. To learn this, we must come to him early and often, love and fear his word, and learn through discipline and diligence that the only way to grow up wise and blessed is to yield ourselves wholly unto God, to establish our complete happiness in him. Then, we shall eat: of him, of his pleasant word, of the leaves of the tree of our Savior’s cross, of the eternal joys of his house forever. We shall have him for our God and Guide, our Keeper and Friend, our Savior and King. In him alone are all our happiness, security, and peace in this world.