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Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ proverbs-2.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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Discourse 2. The Source Of True Wisdom Is YHWH, And Those Who Truly Seek Wisdom Will Find YHWH Himself, And He Will Then Reveal His Wisdom To Them. And This Wisdom That God Gives Them Will Deliver Them From All Who Are Evil (Proverbs 2:1-21 ).
We now learn that those who receive Solomon’s words and seek for true wisdom, will come to the place where they understand the fear of YHWH and find the knowledge of God. For it is God Who gives such wisdom, and it is He Who, whilst showing the upright (His holy ones) the way to walk, will also act as a shield on their behalf. And this He partly does through the impartation of His wisdom. Thus he makes clear that we are to see in the teaching which follows the words of a Father (the One Who is to be ‘feared’, Proverbs 2:5 compare Proverbs 3:12) Who is giving guidance to His children, although the idea of fatherhood as regards God is implicit rather than explicit.
So there are three stages by which truth comes to the young man. Firstly it comes from God Himself (Proverbs 2:6-9). Secondly it is communicated through Solomon as father of the nation under God (Proverbs 1:1). And thirdly it is communicated through a man’s own godly father and mother (Proverbs 1:8). This last is, of course, the ideal. But sadly not all parents give good teaching to their children. Nevertheless, overriding this chain is the fact that God Himself also communicates with the young man (Proverbs 2:6-11). Neither Solomon nor parents would prevail were it not for the voice of God in the heart.
We should note that in this passage there are three conflicting voices which call to the young Man 1:1 ) the voice of his mentor urging him in the upright path, 2) the voice of the one who speaks perverse things who seeks to led him astray (Proverbs 2:12), and 3) the voice of the foreign woman who flatters with her word and seeks to ruin him sexually (Proverbs 2:16), and we might add a fourth, the voice of Him from Whose mouth comes knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6). In a clamorous world it is important to heed the voice of God’s wisdom.
A feature of this chapter is the emphasis on two ways in which a man can walk, one the way of life and righteousness (Proverbs 2:7-9 b, Proverbs 2:19, Proverbs 2:20), and the other the way of sin, darkness and death (Proverbs 2:12-13; Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 2:18). A major emphasis in Solomon’s teaching is the need to walk in the right way.
Solomon Calls On His ‘Son’ To Receive His Words With A View To Attaining A True Knowledge Of God Which Will Cause Him To Reverence Him (Proverbs 2:1-5 ).
The first voice that speaks to the young man is the voice of his mentor, which echoes the voice of God (Proverbs 2:6). He calls on him to apply his heart and mind to understanding the fear of YHWH and finding the knowledge of God. And this he will do by seeking earnestly after wisdom and understanding, partly as divulged by his mentor.
This can be seen as presented chiastically:
A My son, if you will receive my words, and lay up my commandments with you (Proverbs 2:1).
B So as to incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding (Proverbs 2:2).
C Yes, if you cry after discernment (Proverbs 2:3 a).
C And lift up your voice for understanding (Proverbs 2:3 b).
B If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures (Proverbs 2:4)
A Then will you understand the fear of YHWH, and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:5).
In A the young man is to receive his words and lay up his commandments and in the parallel he will through them understand the fear of YHWH and find the knowledge of God. In B effort is required in achieving this (‘incline -- apply’), and in the parallel the same is true (‘seek’). Centrally in C he is to cry out and call for discernment and understanding. (BCB can also, of course, be seen as progressive).
‘My son, if you will receive my words,
And lay up my commandments with you,
So as to incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding,
Yes, if you cry after discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hid treasures,
Then will you understand the fear of YHWH,
And find the knowledge of God.’
Once again we have the introductory, ‘my son’, typical of a wisdom teacher. Fatherly advice is being given. And it is being given in words, words which he shortly explains are from the mouth of God (Proverbs 2:6, note the for/because’ which relates Proverbs 2:6 to what has gone before). Note here that the purpose in seeking wisdom is to be in order to understand the fear of YHWH, and in order to find the knowledge of God, and that great effort must be exerted to that end. In Israel all wisdom had as its end the awareness and knowledge of God. That is where Israel’s wisdom teaching differed from much other wisdom teaching. And as a surrogate father speaking to his son Solomon calls on him to receive his words, and lay up his commandments ‘with him’. They are to be his constant companion and guide, with a view to his inclining his ear towards wisdom, and applying his heart to understanding.
Thus he is to receive, learn, and meditate upon them. He is to ‘cry after’ understanding and discernment because he is so eager for it, seeing it as the equivalent of silver and as a hidden treasure which must be desperately sought for. The reference to silver and to hidden treasures (men would often bury gold in the ground for safety, only to be unable to retrieve it later), indicates the aims of everyday men and women to whom such goals were achievable. Solomon is bearing in mind the limits of their ambitions. He is bearing in mind what most men seek. But from Solomon’s point of view, ‘silver was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon’ (1 Kings 10:21).
However, the point is clear. Man’s greed must not be for wealth, but for God. Note the progression of thought. The young man is to ‘incline his ear and apply his heart/mind’ to wisdom and understanding; then he is to ‘cry after’ discernment and understanding (as Wisdom cried after him - Proverbs 1:20-21), and finally he is to ‘seek’ and ‘search for’ wisdom and understanding as men seek silver and search for buried treasure. This verse may well have been in Jesus’ mind when He taught the parable of the buried treasure (Matthew 13:44).
Note also the contrast with the greedy and violent men in Proverbs 1:13 who sought ‘all precious substance’ and to ‘fill their houses with spoil’. There they wanted ill-gotten gain and would do anything to obtain it. But here the search is to be for the precious substance of truth. The seeker after truth is to have the same eagerness for truth as the sinner has for wealth, but in his case it is to be an eagerness to obtain the discernment and understanding which will enable him to understand the fear of YHWH and to find the knowledge of God. His longing is to be that he might be a true servant of God.
It is important to note the final goals, which are so very different from other wisdom literature. Paradoxically the aim is to understand God’s awesomeness and hiddenness and holiness (the fear of YHWH), whilst at the same time coming to know Him as He is (the knowledge of God), not theoretically through theology, but practically through experience of God. Whilst He is far off, He is to be seen as ever near. As Solomon would say elsewhere, ‘even the Heaven of Heavens could not contain Him’ (1 Kings 8:27). And yet now he confirms that He reveals Himself to those who seek Him. This is the wonder of our God.
Prologue To The Book (Proverbs 1:8 to Proverbs 9:18 ).
It was common throughout the 3rd to the 1st millenniums BC for collections of wisdom saying to have a prologue preparing for the ‘sayings’ that would follow. Those sayings would then be introduced by a subheading. Proverbs thus follows the usual precedent in having such a prologue in Proverbs 1:8 to Proverbs 9:18, followed by general sayings in Proverbs 10:1 ff headed by a subheading (Proverbs 10:1). It was also common for such a prologue to be addressed to ‘my son’, or similar, with constant references being made to ‘my son’ throughout the prologue. And this is interestingly a feature of Proverbs 1-9, where it occurs fifteen times. One difference, however, lies in the fact that the ‘son’ was usually named in other wisdom literature, something which does not occur in Proverbs. Indeed, in Proverbs ‘my son’ is sometimes replaced by ‘sons’ (Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 5:7; Proverbs 7:24; Proverbs 8:32). It is addressed to whoever will hear and respond.
The Prologue consists of ten discourses, and divides into two. It commences with five discourses, each of which follows a similar pattern, an opening appeal followed by two further subsections, and closing with a contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous, the wise and the foolish. We can compare how there are five ‘books’ to the Torah, and five books of Psalms. Five is the covenant number. Each of the subsections is in the form of a chiasmus.
From chapter 6 onwards the pattern changes. Initially we find a description of three types, whom we could describe as the naive, the foolish, the wicked (Proverbs 6:1-19), and this is followed by Proverbs 6:20 to Proverbs 9:18 which are centred on the contrast between the seductive power of the strange woman, and the uplifting power of woman wisdom, all continually urging the young man to turn from the enticements of the world and choose wisdom.
The prologue may be analysed as follows;
The Five Discourses.
1). Discourse 1. Addressed To ‘My Son’. Those Who Seek To Walk In The Fear Of YHWH Will Listen To The Instruction Of Godly Authority, And Will Avoid The Enticements Of Sinners Motivated By Greed. Wisdom Is Then Depicted As Crying Out To Be Heard, Longing For Response, Promising Inculcation Of Her Own Spirit, And Warning Of The Consequences Of Refusal (Proverbs 1:8-33).
2). Discourse 2. Addressed To ‘My Son’. The Source Of True Wisdom Is YHWH, And Those Who Truly Seek Wisdom Will Find YHWH Himself, And He Will Then Reveal His Wisdom To Them. This Wisdom That God Gives Them Will Then Deliver Them From All Who Are Evil, Both From Men Who Have Abandoned The Right Way, And From The Enticements Of Immoral Women (Proverbs 2:1-22).
3). Discourse 3. Addressed To ‘My Son’. The Young Man Is To Trust In YHWH, To Fear YHWH And To Honour YHWH, And In View Of Their Great Value Is To Find YHWH’s Wisdom And Obtain Understanding Which Will Be His Protection And Will Through YHWH’s Chastening Activity Restore Him To Man’s First Estate. In View Of Them He Is To Observe A Series Of Practical Requirements Which Will Result In Blessing For The Wise (Proverbs 3:1-35).
4). Discourse 4. Addressed to ‘Sons’. Wisdom And Understanding Are To Be Sought And Cherished, For They Produce Spiritual Beauty, and Lead Those Who Respond Unto The Perfect Day (Proverbs 4:1-19).
5). Discourse 5. Addressed To ‘My Son’ (and later ‘Sons’). He Is To Avoid The Enticements Of The Strange Woman Whose Ways Lead To Death, And Rather Be Faithful To His True Wife (Proverbs 4:20 to Proverbs 5:23).
A Description Of Three Contrasting Failures.
6). Discourse 6. The Naive, The Fool And The Scorner Illustrated. The First Addressed To ‘My Son’ Is A Call To Avoid Acting As A Surety For Others, The Second Addressed To ‘You Sluggard’, Is A Call To Shake Off Laziness, And The Third, Unaddressed, Concerns A Worthless Person And A Troublemaker (Proverbs 6:1-19).
A Contrast Between The Strange Seductive Woman And The Pure Woman Wisdom.
Discourse 7. Addressed To ‘My Son’. He Is Urged To Observe The Commandment And The Torah Of Father And Mother, Avoiding The Enticement Of The Adulterous Woman, And Being Aware Of The Wrath Of The Deceived Husband (Proverbs 6:20-35).
Discourse 8. Addressed To ‘My Son’. After Appealing To Him To Observe His Words Solomon Vividly Describes The Wiles Of A Prostitute And Warns ‘Sons’ Against Her (Proverbs 7:1-27).
Discourse 9. The Call of Ms Wisdom As The One Who Seeks Response, Gives Men True Instruction, Ensures Good Government, Enriches Men Physically and Spiritually, Was Present With God During Creation, And Blesses Men And Brings Them Into Life So That They Find God’s Favour (Proverbs 8:1-36).
Discourse 10. The Appeal Of Woman Wisdom Contrasted With The Allure Of Woman Folly (Proverbs 9:1-18).
Solomon Stresses That The Source Of True Wisdom Is God, And That He Gives It To His Own, In Order to Maintain True Righteousness, And Enable Them To Appreciate It And Walk In It (Proverbs 2:6-11 ).
In Proverbs 2:1-5 the concentration has been on earnestly seeking after God through gaining wisdom and understanding. Now the concentration is on God’s activity as He imparts that wisdom, and on His word (what comes from His mouth) which gives that knowledge and understanding. And what He achieves by this is the storing within the upright (those who fear Him, that is, who truly believe in Him and submit to Him) sound wisdom, so as to guard the paths of justice and preserve the way of those who are set apart to Him. Were He not to do so moral chaos would take over and His people would be left floundering. And the reason why that has not happened is because God has safeguarded it. Truth must ever be guarded, and here we learn that it is God Who watches over it.
The passage can be presented chiastically:
A For YHWH gives wisdom, out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6).
B He lays up sound wisdom for the upright, He is a shield to those who walk in integrity (Proverbs 2:7).
C That he may guard the paths of justice, and preserve the way of his saints (holy ones) (Proverbs 2:8).
B Then will you understand righteousness and justice, and equity, yes, every good path (Proverbs 2:9).
A For wisdom will enter into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul, discretion will watch over you, understanding will keep you (Proverbs 2:10-11).
Note in A the emphasis on wisdom, knowledge and understanding repeated in the parallel. In B He lays up sound wisdom for the upright, and in the parallel that sound wisdom is described. Centrally in C YHWH guards His people’s way.
For YHWH gives wisdom,
Out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.
He lays up sound wisdom for the upright,
He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
That he may guard the paths of justice,
And preserve the way of his loyal ones,
Then will you understand righteousness and justice,
And equity, yes, every good path.’
What then is the source of true wisdom and knowledge of life? The answer is that it is found in YHWH their God. It is YHWH Who gives wisdom, and He mainly does so through His words. For it is ‘from His mouth’ that wisdom and understanding come. We note from this that Solomon does not see himself as simply passing on ‘wisdom teaching’. He sees himself as having sifted it and brought it into line with God’s word, and as having only accepted what he sees as ‘words from God’. Humanly speaking in this lay his genius. But he recognises that what he has to teach has been entrusted to him by God, and that it is God Himself Who, through him and others, is storing up sound wisdom for the upright. By this God is acting as a shield to protect His truth, on behalf of those who walk in integrity. The shield is the small shield carried by the infantry to ward off arrows and missiles. God as the shield of the righteous wards off falsehood and evil ideas.
That this is the meaning of ‘He is a shield’ here comes out by comparison with the parallel. He is a shield by storing up sound wisdom. Elsewhere He is, of course, also a shield Who protects His people directly (e.g. Genesis 15:1; Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalms 3:3; Psalms 18:2 etc.), but that is not the thought here. Here He is a shield in protecting truth on their behalf, and protecting truth within them. And this is confirmed by the fact that He ‘guards the paths of justice’, and ‘preserves the way of His loyal ones’ (those who are loyal to covenant love), so that they will ‘understand righteousness and justice, and equity, yes, and every good path.’ He ensures the means of sound understanding of His ways. We can compare with this Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:16, ‘all Scripture, being God-breathed, is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness’. Solomon sees his teaching concerning wisdom as being the same.
Thus Solomon sees himself as very much a part of God’s activity in preserving the truth about Him and His ways, a truth now revealed in the Book of Proverbs. He is not passing on some good ideas propounded by men, some generally accepted ‘wisdom teaching’, but truth as it has come from the mouth of God, which he himself has, under God’s hand, sifted out, partly with the help of that body of wisdom teaching.
‘The paths of justice’ are explained in terms of ‘righteousness, justice and equity’, words which indicate obedience to the Torah (righteousness), true justice for all (justice), and fair-minded judgments (equity). Note how the reference to ‘righteousness, judgment and equity’ parallels ‘righteousness, judgment and equity’ in Proverbs 1:3 b. Here then is a fulfilment of Solomon’s aims, but whilst Solomon’s words may inculcate them as in Proverbs 1:3 b, in the end such ideas are taught to us by God.
‘For wisdom will enter into your heart,
And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul,
Discretion will watch over you,
Understanding will keep you.’
Solomon intends his teaching to have a real and significant impact in men’s lives. Wisdom (the spirit of wisdom - Proverbs 1:23) will enter their hearts, their inner beings. Knowledge (the knowledge of God’s ways) will be pleasant in their inward lives. They will bring about genuine spiritual experience. They will have a new heart and right spirit created in them (Psalms 51:10). God will put His instruction within their inward parts and in their hearts will He write it (Jeremiah 31:33; compare Ezekiel 36:27). To use Jesus’ words such people will be born from above (John 6:3). James spoke of being ‘begotten again by the word of truth’ (James 1:18). Peter spoke of being ‘begotten again -- through the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). For note in context that it is YHWH’s wisdom which will enter the young man’s heart, and the knowledge of God that will be pleasant to his soul (Proverbs 2:5-6). No wonder then that it will be so effective. God-given wisdom is not general wisdom. It is wisdom about God and His ways revealed by God. Solomon certainly has in mind his own teaching, but as a teaching that has been formed on the anvil of God. And it is this truth that will enter into the heart of the one who truly seeks God (Proverbs 2:2-6), and will be pleasantly refreshing to his soul. He will receive the poured out ‘spirit’ of God’s Wisdom (Proverbs 1:23). And the consequence is that the one who receives it will be watched over by Discretion, and preserved by Understanding. Truth will be his preserver, delivering him from false steps. Note the personification of ‘discretion’ and ‘understanding’, which can be seen as like twin sheep dogs preserving the flock. It is thus not only wisdom that is personified. Discretion and understanding are also personified. And it is because he has received the wisdom and knowledge of God that he will be guarded by discretion and understanding. He will thus be discreet and understanding when he faces up to the temptations of life which are now to be described, a discretion and understanding communicated to him by God.
Deliverance From Sinful Men (Proverbs 2:12-15 ).
The giving of wisdom, knowledge and understanding will deliver the young man from the way of evil. This is necessary for the second voice that speaks to the young man is that of ungodly men. In consequence the great need of the godly man is to be delivered from those who would lead him in wrong paths. This is important because the world is full of people who seek to lead astray those who are seeking to truly follow God. At first the descriptions might appear to be describing people who are obviously particularly evil, but that is to misinterpret them. The greatest danger comes from those who might outwardly appear to be respectable, but who nevertheless are pleased when they can corrupt a godly person. They can be very persuasive, and even appear good and rational, but their wisdom is not that of God but of the world. And the way of deliverance is to hold tightly to God’s revealed wisdom which will be a shield to his mind and heart, to know God, and to understand the fear of God. ‘How shall a young man make his way clean? By taking heed to it according to Your word’ (Psalms 119:9).
‘To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the men who speak perverse things,
Who forsake the paths of uprightness,
To walk in the ways of darkness,
Who rejoice to do evil,
And delight in the perverseness of evil,
Who are crooked in their ways,
And wayward in their paths.’
Note the chiastic pattern of ideas:
· ‘To deliver you from the way of evil -- who are crooked in their ways --paths’.
· ‘From men who speak perverse things -- and delight in the perverseness of evil’.
· ‘Who forsake the paths of uprightness -- who rejoice to do evil’.
· And centrally they ‘walk in the ways of darkness’.
Here then it is made clear that the ways of sinfulness are the ways of darkness. Men who walk in sinfulness, walk in darkness and do not know the way in which they are going. They have left the straight path, and follow crooked ways. Thus the purpose of the wisdom that comes from God is to deliver men from coming short of goodness. It is to ‘deliver them from evil’ (Matthew 6:13), to deliver them from darkness. Men and women are constantly prone to allow their standards to slip, or even to allow them to disappear altogether, and they are constantly hampered by men who ‘speak perverse things’, whether religious or secular. The New Testament is full of examples of this. But the point is that constant attention to God’s wisdom, as revealed in His words, will prevent this happening.
‘To deliver you from the way of evil.’ Evil is the opposite of good. It is that which is harmful rather than being helpful. In a sense it is the lack of good. Thus the evil man is not necessarily someone who seeks to cause great harm. He is rather someone who acts selfishly and thoughtlessly and without regard for good, and the good of others. And he seeks to justify himself in his own eyes by bringing others down with him. Thus he ‘hates’ the godly man and has no greater delight than to trip him up. He wants to make others as selfish as himself. By this means he comforts himself. And his way can seem very attractive. Note that the deliverance is from ‘the way of evil’. This fits in with the overall emphasis in the chapter on the two ways, the way of good and the way of evil.
‘From the men who speak perverse things.’ The young man is also to be delivered from the men who have chosen the way of evil. That is, in context, from those who speak contrary to God’s wisdom. They distort the truth and seek to make wrongdoing and selfishness palatable. They try to tone down God’s requirements. They misrepresent God’s ways. In many cases they even seek to cast doubt on God’s truth, sometimes subtly, sometimes more openly. They ‘delight in the perverseness of evil’. As James points out, ‘the tongue can no man tame, it is a restless evil full of deadly poison’ (James 3:8), and not more so than when what it says seems sweetly reasonable, but takes men and women away from God’s truth.
‘Who forsake the paths of uprightness.’ Often such men have once had high standards. But they have allowed those standards to slip. They have forsaken the paths of uprightness. They can now do what once they would never have thought of doing. They have forsaken the way of the wisdom of God, and replaced it with the wisdom of the world. Their consciences have become dulled, and by their lives they encourage others to do the same.
‘To walk in the ways of darkness.’ Such people walk in the ways of darkness. They have turned away from the light of God’s word (Psalms 119:105). They stumble on trusting in worldly wisdom. They do not allow God to illuminate their darkness (2 Samuel 22:29). They ‘grope in the dark without light’ (Job 12:25). They have toned down God’s word, turning away from its light. They walk contrary to God’s wisdom. They reject the light. As Ecclesiastes 2:13-14 puts it, ‘Then I saw that wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, and the fool walks in darkness.’ It is those who walk in God’s wisdom who are truly wise and can therefore see. But those who turn their back on that wisdom walk in the ways of darkness. Their minds are full of the world’s wisdom which is not illuminated by God (compare 1 Corinthians 2:20-25). That is why, when Jesus came as the light of the world, He promised that those who followed Him would not walk in darkness. They would have the light of life (John 8:12).
‘Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the perverseness of evil.’ Such people delight in what they see as their own wisdom. They find it amusing, and rather daring, that they fall short of God’s requirements as revealed in His wisdom and His word. They consider His standards too high. And rather than being ashamed of their failure and weakness, they enjoy what they see as their freedom from God’s shackles. They delight in it. They laugh at what they see as allowable wrongdoing, dismissing it as rather amusing. They delight in the perverseness of evil.
‘Who are crooked in their ways, and wayward in their paths.’ Instead of keeping to the straight path of God’s wisdom, they walk a crooked way, which leads them into byways which come short of God’s requirements (compare Isaiah 59:8). They deviate from truth, both morally and intellectually. They water down God’s word, and deviate from its standards. They no longer listen to God when He says, ‘this is the way, walk in it’. They allow their consciences to become atrophied.
Deliverance From The Temptations Of Women (Proverbs 2:16-20 ).
Solomon was very conscious of the fact that one of a man’s greatest dangers in walking in the way of wisdom was the allurement and attraction of women. It is a subject that he brings up a number of times in the prologue in some detail (see also Proverbs 5:1-23; Proverbs 6:24-35; Proverbs 7:6-27; Proverbs 9:13-18). And it was an attraction that would bring about his own downfall (1 Kings 11:1-8). Indeed he was clearly aware of his own weakness. In a day when women were more closely guarded, and allowed little freedom in meeting with men, the great dangers for a young man lay in prostitutes and loose women who sought openly to attract men, or lonely and sexually experienced wives who would seek to take advantage of young men whom they fancied. Solomon deals with both.
For the young man in the Western world today the dangers are far greater, for he lives in a world where there is more freedom in sexual matters, where women dress themselves in a manner that will cause men the maximum temptation, and where incitements to succumb abound, both in real life and on the internet. For modern man Solomon’s words must be seen in that light. (It is, of course, equally true that in the same way men can allure women, and cause them to fall in a similar way. But that is not a matter that Solomon deals with, for in his day women were not allowed the same freedom as men, and were more protected from their wiles).
On the other hand we must not overlook the contrast between the godly woman Wisdom who calls to men with the truth (Proverbs 1:22-33), and the ‘strange (and therefore foreign) woman who comes with her own deceptive appeal, bringing flattering words. It may well be a warning against ‘foreign wisdom’ of the wrong kind. Indeed this deliberate contrast is brought out in chapter 9 where woman Wisdom is contrasted with woman Folly.
Note how these verses parallel Proverbs 2:12-15, which were spoken of being delivered from those who encouraged evil:
‘To deliver you from the way of evil (Proverbs 2:12) ---- to deliver you from the foreign woman (Proverbs 2:16).’ ‘From the man who speaks perverse things (Proverbs 2:12) -- from the stranger who flatters with her word (Proverbs 2:16).’ ‘Who forsake the paths of uprightness (Proverbs 2:13) --- who forsakes the friend of her youth (Proverbs 2:17).’ ‘To walk in the ways of darkness, --- who are crooked in their ways, and perverse in their paths (Proverbs 2:13; Proverbs 2:15) --- ‘her paths (incline) unto the dead, -- nor do they attain to the paths of life, that you may walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous (Proverbs 2:19-20).’
There is thus a deliberate repeated pattern. As we have observed, the young man is faced with conflicting voices. First we had the voice of his mentor urging him in the upright path. Then the voice of the one who speaks perverse things. Now we have the voice of the foreign woman who flatters with her word. And he is faced with conflicting choices. On the one hand ‘the way of evil -- the ways of darkness --crooked ways -- perverse paths -- paths to the dead’ and on the other ‘the paths of uprightness -- the paths of life -- the way of good men -- the paths of the righteous.’ In a clamorous world it is important which voice we heed, and which way we choose. The importance of our choices comes out in the warnings given.
Once again the passage may be seen chiastically:
A To deliver you from the strange woman, even from the foreigner who flatters with her words, who forsakes the friend of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God’ (Proverbs 2:16-17).
B For as for her house it sinks down into death, and her paths to the dead (Proverbs 2:18).
B None who go to her return again, nor do they attain to the paths of life (Proverbs 2:19).
A That you may walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous (Proverbs 2:20).
In A he is to be delivered from the ‘strange woman’ who forgets the covenant of her God, and in the parallel he is rather to walk in the way of the good man, and keep the paths of the righteous (those who observe the covenant). In B her house sinks to death, and her paths to the dead, in the parallel none who go to her return again, nor attain to the paths of life. The ‘strange woman’ is the one who is outside his normal sphere of life. She opens up a new world, and a very dangerous one. She is the opposite of woman Wisdom.
‘To deliver you from the strange woman,
Even from the foreigner who flatters with her words,’
Who forsakes the friend of her youth,
And forgets the covenant of her God.’
Another purpose of God’s wisdom is to deliver the one who is conversant with God’s wisdom, and who walks in the fear of God, from the openly expressed attractions of seductive women. Such a man will not dally with those who seek to sexually allure. He will heed the warnings of God. In the modern day that will involve keeping away from places where such allurements may be offered, and learning to flee from whatever arouses youthful desires (2 Timothy 2:22). Avoidance is better than cure.
In those days the greatest danger came from those women who made themselves available to men, and were skilled in the art of allurement. They were ‘strange’ in that they were outside the young man’s normal sphere of life. They were often foreign women (see Ruth 2:10) who, being separated from their husbands, were either lonely, or had to seek to live somehow. That the problem was widespread in many countries over many centuries comes out in the Egyptian Instruction of Ani, who declares, ‘Be on your guard against a woman from abroad, -- a deep water whose windings you know not, a woman who is far away from her husband’ (ANET Pritchard p.420). The Torah forbade an Israelite woman to be a prostitute (Deuteronomy 23:17), but unquestionably some were. There is no specific sanction against such, except for the laws on adultery, whilst other older women who were lonely might well have sought sexual consolation.
‘The foreigner who flatters with her words (who causes her words to be smooth).’ In the words of Proverbs 5:3, ‘her mouth is smoother than oil’. Compare Psalms 5:9 d; Proverbs 5:21. She knows how to be persuasive and make sin seem delectable.
‘She forsakes the friend of her youth’, that is, her natural husband. And she ‘forgets the covenant of her God’. Thus she betrays both man and God, as is so often the case when men break God’s covenant, for God is concerned about man’s behaviour towards man, as well as towards Himself. This last phrase is especially significant in that it establishes God’s wisdom firmly in the covenant. The idea in mind may be the marriage covenant (Malachi 2:14). But there is no suggestion that she is married. It is therefore more likely, in view of the personal nature of it (‘her God’), that it has in mind the covenant to which Israel subscribed, and included therefore the command not to commit adultery (Exodus 20:14). It is that which is an essential part of God’s covenant. Thus the writer’s assumption is that those who follow wisdom will observe God’s covenant. Whilst the covenant is rarely specifically mentioned in Proverbs, it clearly lies at the back of much of the teaching concerning wisdom in Israel, and is almost certainly in mind in Proverbs 6:23, ‘the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is a light’, where both commandment and torah are words regularly used of covenant requirements, e.g. Exodus 24:12; Deuteronomy 30:10 ’; Jos 22:5 ; 1 Kings 2:3; etc.
‘For as for her house it sinks down into death,
And her paths to the dead,
None who go to her return again,
Nor do they attain to the paths of life,
That you may walk in the way of good men,
And keep the paths of the righteous.’
The one who follows the way of adultery, and succumbs to the temptations offered by women, will find that it quickly leads to the grave. Such a woman’s house sinks men into death, and her paths lead them on the way to the place of the dead, filled with corpses (rephaim). Once having succumbed it is unlikely that he will return to the good way, or begin to walk the paths of life. Thus the clear message is that sin leads to death, whilst the way of the good man (the man whose heart is set on God) leads to life. In mind is not only physical death but the death of the spirit within. There may also be in mind here sexually transmitted diseases which actually caused death. To associate with such women was to court disease. But the overall idea is that such behaviour takes a man away from the Lord of life. Such people are dead while they live.
And what they lose are the paths of life. They no longer walk in the way of life. They will no longer enjoy wholesome life. They will know nothing of the joy of the Lord, or of the rejoicing of a truly good life (compare John 10:10). Whilst they may appear to be gaining for a time in lustful pleasure, in the end they will lose all that is good. Their consciences will become atrophied. In contrast are those who walk in the way of good men, and observe the paths of the righteous, that is, those who walk in the covenant.
‘That you may walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous.’ ‘That’ refers back to ‘to deliver you’. He will be delivered ‘with the consequence that’ he will walk in the way of good and righteous men.
Note the two contrasting groups of ideas, such people ‘sink down into death’, are ‘led into the land of the dead’, and ‘do not return again’. In other words they take the way of hopelessness. And what they miss by this is ‘attaining the paths of life’, ‘walking in the way of good men’, and ‘keeping the paths of the righteous’, all ways which lead to God and to a wholesome and God-fearing life. Note especially that this is strictly linked to moral living. It is not just a wholesome life, it is a righteous life. In this it goes beyond much wisdom teaching. This idea of the two paths is expanded on in Proverbs 4:10-27, and a parallel thought is found in Proverbs 5:5-6 where ‘her feet go down to death, her steps take hold on Sheol (the world of the dead), so that she does not find the level path of life’.
The Contrast Between What Happens To The Upright, And What Happens To The Wicked (Proverbs 2:21-22 ).
Each of the first three chapters of Proverbs, together with Proverbs 4:1-19, ends with a contrast between what happens to the upright, and what happens to those who are not. In Proverbs 1:32-33 the contrast is between the simple/naive and the fools, as against those who hear and respond to wisdom. Here the contrast is between the wicked and the treacherous as against those who are upright and morally mature. In Proverbs 3:33-35 the contrast is between the wicked and the righteous, the scorners and the lowly (humbly accepting), the fools and the wise. In Proverbs 4:18-19 the contrast is between those whose lives reveal light, in contrast with the wicked whose lives reveal only darkness. Thus the simple/naive and fools reveal themselves as wicked and treacherous and in darkness, whilst the wise reveal themselves as upright and morally mature and in the light.
‘For the upright will dwell in the land/earth,
And the perfect (those who are true) will remain in it,
But the wicked will be cut off from the land/earth,
And the treacherous will be rooted out of it.’
The word eretz can mean either earth or land. In view of the references to death and the grave consuming the wicked (e.g. Proverbs 2:18) it probably here means ‘earth’ as a generality, or alternatively ‘the land’ as representing what was their world (the land of the living, or the land as given to them by YHWH). The idea of ‘expulsion from the land’ was not in mind here. The expulsion was by death. Thus the upright and the morally mature will live long and satisfying lives on the earth (compare Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:16). The wicked and the treacherous will be cut off from the land of the living and rooted out of it. This is the constant message of Proverbs.
‘The upright (straight)’ are those who walk in the straight path. They walk in accordance with God’s instruction. In direct contrast are the ‘wicked’, i.e. the non-upright, those who deviate from the straight path. The latter are defined elsewhere in terms of violence (Proverbs 10:6; Proverbs 12:6; Proverbs 24:15), greed (1-.3; Proverbs 21:10), deceit (Proverbs 12:5) and perverse speech (Proverbs 10:32; Proverbs 11:11; Proverbs 15:28; Proverbs 19:28). Not all the wicked have all these faults. Wickedness is any deviation from the straight path. Wickedness is thus revealed in us all. But the wicked in Scripture are those who continue in that path, Some are violent, some are greedy, some are deceitful and some use perverse speech, but all come under the general term of ‘wicked, non-upright’. The perfect (those who are true) contrast with the treacherous. The ‘perfect’ walk in God’s ways and seek to do His will, the treacherous choose crooked paths, and rebel against His will.