Avoiding Bad Influence – Proverbs 1:8-19
By: Northern Seminary
I don’t think my youthful misdeeds could ever be described as delinquent, but I’m blaming my friends Frankie and Freddie for getting me close to deserving that title.
Frankie and Freddie were great pals for each other, and I was just the extra they invited to join them sometimes. Like all young teenagers, I loved to be included. Frankie and Freddie were ‘cool,’ and I basked in the glory of being seen as their friend.
I should have known better.
The twosome were more mischievous than bad, at least early on. Climbing over a wall to play soccer in a stranger’s back yard probably never caused damage worse than destroying some flowers with our ball. But they had other adventures of an altogether different nature. I won’t describe them but those adventures had explosive results. No one was ever in danger except Frankie and Freddie, but even at age fourteen I could see they were being first rate idiots. I wanted no part of it, and the friendship got more distant.
What did I learn from that time? I learned that youthful exploits can easily have disastrous consequences. And I learned how easy it was to be led on step by step into activities that are very bad.
The Book of Proverbs has a serious warning about that danger.
8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
9 They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.
10 My son, if sinful men entice you,
do not give in to them.
11 If they say, “Come along with us;
let’s lie in wait for innocent blood,
let’s ambush some harmless soul;
12 let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we will get all sorts of valuable things
and fill our houses with plunder;
14 cast lots with us;
we will all share the loot”—
15 my son, do not go along with them,
do not set foot on their paths;
16 for their feet rush into evil,
they are swift to shed blood.
17 How useless to spread a net
where every bird can see it!
18 These men lie in wait for their own blood;
they ambush only themselves!
19 Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the life of those who get it.
Back in ancient times, the temptation for young men to join with gangs of troublemakers were virtually the same as today, and those gangs were dangerous. The writer of these proverbs is very blunt with his advice.
Verses 8-9 – Encouragement to pay attention to parental guidance.
Children are sure their parents never had the pressures, the temptations, or the experiences they are going through. How could they ever understand what it’s like to be young?
But parents did have those experiences, and they have wisdom the young need to hear. So verse 8 says:
“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.”
Verse 9 promises that the counsel of parents will be like fine jewelry, creating a life beautified by wisdom absorbed into the heart and lived out day by day.
Verse 10 – A warning to resist bad people who want you to join their evil ways.
“My son,” says Solomon, “if sinful men entice you,
do not give in to them.”
Sin ‘entices’ – that’s an honest statement, but it’s not always said. I grew up being told that sin was evil and horrible, and no one would ever want any part of it. That teaching didn’t prepare me for the day when sin seemed very attractive, exactly what I would want to do.
Sin is evil, and should always be shunned. That’s true. But what’s also true is that sin entices us. In the short term at least, we want what it offers, and we’re easily tempted to run to it rather than from it.
So Solomon warns against those who make wrongdoing look attractive. He calls them “sinful men,” but the Hebrew word used means criminals, not just people of poor moral judgment. In this world there are very bad people who would lure away the innocent, and especially the naïve, to behavior they will regret.
Verses 11-14 – The sales pitch used by a gang of robbers.
Solomon describes their invitation:
- It’s cruel and calculating, an encouragement to wait for “innocent blood” to come along, ambushing “some harmless soul” (v. 11).
- It is an invitation with no limits – Solomon uses vicious imagery, that they will swallow victims alive (v. 12).
- It is an invitation that cares only about selfish gain. The promise is that we can “fill our houses with plunder” and that “we will all share the loot” (vs. 13-14).
A wicked face lies behind the allurement to join the gang. Down through the ages, tales of bravado or romance have always been used to persuade young men and women to join a cause. Pirates made their escapades of sailing the oceans looking for wealth sound like great adventure. Today terrorist groups inspire people to join their cause of spreading their ‘pure religion.’ But there is nothing pure, nothing good, nothing right about what they do. Innocent people are butchered, families and cities are ruined, fear is spread, and their cause is discredited.
Many can present a great sales pitch, but what these criminals are selling no-one should be buying.
Verses 15-16 – a warning where the wrong path leads.
The writer says:
“My son, do not go along with them,
do not set foot on their paths;
for their feet rush into evil,
they are swift to shed blood.”
The father tells his son that no matter how exciting or enticing the offer these people make, only bad things will happen, and they’ll happen very quickly. “Do not go…” warns the father. These are bloodthirsty people intent only on doing great evil as soon as they can.
Verses 17-19 – Ultimately the destroyers will be destroyed.
The last verses of this section highlight the inevitability of ruin for those who seek to ruin others. Like birds which still fall into a net set out to trap them even though it is in plain view, so those who kill others still rush forward even when it’s obvious they are on a road to destruction and death. Solomon writes in verse 19:
“Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the life of those who get it.”
There are five final lessons from this passage.
- Recognize that there will be people whose goal is to use you for their own gains. I told someone recently: “Never use people, and never allow yourself to be used by” That’s one of my own proverbs, and it fits with what’s taught here.
- Avoid chasing sinful gain before it gets its hold on you. I know the way to avoid being sucked into a whirlpool – never get near it. Once you are caught in the current of a massive whirlpool, you will be dragged down. The formula for survival is never to get caught by it. Chasing sinful gain is a whirlpool to be avoided.
- Evil goals look attractive in the short-term but do great harm in the long-term. As a young man I’d buy a two pounds bag of grapes, meaning to eat just a few and save the rest for later. There was never a later, because as soon as one grape was gone the next one followed, and then the next, until they were all gone. And then I’d feel very ill, and regret every single one of those grapes. They looked and tasted nice, but two pounds of grapes in half an hour did me no good at all. Evil may look attractive, but it does great harm.
- Those who chase evil will eventually be overcome by that evil. Back a few centuries ago, highwaymen made a nice living holding up stage coaches and robbing the passengers of their cash and jewelry. It must have seemed an easy way to get rich. But there were no old highwaymen. Just one guard or one passenger with a loaded pistol, and the highwayman was dead on the ground with a hole in his chest. The evil that people perpetrate on others will destroy their own lives.
- There are moments to guide youth – never miss them. The passage of Proverbs began with the old-fashioned virtue of a father and mother guiding their children in paths of right behavior. That should not be old fashioned. Nor should it be out of date that children pay heed. If parents saw their son paddling his canoe in calm water, but the son is oblivious that he’s just upstream from Niagara Falls and any moment the current will capture that canoe and the boy will be hurtled to his death, will those parents not shout “Stop now! Stop before it’s too late.” If the son heeds the words, he lives. If not, then there’s tragedy.
Every generation must learn some lessons for itself, that’s true. But it’s also true that good parents will share wisdom and children will be wiser when they listen.
The writer of Proverbs shares wisdom in hope another generation will listen and live.