Like the Light of Dawn
Proverbs 4:10–19 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
25th Sunday after Pentecost – November 11, 2018 (am)
When we’re really sold on something and want someone else to try it, we can be very insistent!
No, no, you’ve really got to try it! Just one little taste! Here, have some! My wife is one of these. Here! You’ve got to taste this!
Or: This is the warmest coat I’ve ever had. Just feel this lining. If you need a warm coat you can’t do better than this.Here, try it on!
Or: He’s the best teacher in the department. Really! Just sit in on one of his lectures; that’s all it takes! Here, listen to this recording.
Or: This park has the funnest roller coasters, not that one! I promise! Just come with me this Saturday. You’ll see!
When we’ve experienced something and know it’s better than any alternative—really know it—we want others to experience it. And we’ll press them until they do. And the closer we are to the person we’re trying to convince—the more we love them—the harder we’ll press.
In Pro.4:10-19, the father knows that the way of wisdom (11) is superior to the way of evil (14). In fact, there’s no comparison; one is life (13) and the other is death! So, the father is pressing his son to take hold of wisdom and not let go. And he’s not so much telling him how to do it as why to do it. He’s taught his son the way of wisdom (11a). He’s led him in the paths of (wisdom) (11b). But now he’s just reminding him of the blessing that way of life—the benefits of a life given to wisdom, the good fruit wisdom bears, the dividends it pays.
Some of the richest metaphors in this collection appear in this passage. And the life the father suggests is awaiting his sonalong the way of wisdom is a pretty desirable life! Let’s hearthree words of wisdom in this text.
The Way of Wisdom and Its Light – 11-13, 18
Following his increasingly familiar introduction and charge: 10 Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many, the father begins by reminding his son that he knows what is right. He’s heard this before: 11 I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.This isn’t new to you. And you know the benefits it brings!12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.
Walk and run here are metaphors for (living) daily life(Ehrlich in Fox 179). When you’re giving your life to the pursuit of wisdom, you won’t be getting in your own way. You won’t behindering your own progress. Wisdom is a lighted path, as we’ll see (18), so you’re less likely to catch your foot on something or to be seized by some threatening presence hiding in the darkness. Have you noticed the newly lighted bike path along Butterfield west of Batavia Road here in Warrenville? Your immediate impression is one of increased safety. And if youhave to run (12), which suggests danger perhaps, or a threat, or some sort of challenge requiring hard work (Fox 180), you’re less likely to stumble (12).
This is how wisdom lengthens your life (10). It guides you along paths better lit, and less plagued with snares—fewer threats, and those that do appear are more easily managed because you’re better equipped by the father’s words to assess them and handle them. So: 13 Keep hold of instruction, my son; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.
The Way of Wickedness and Its Darkness – 14-17, 19
And the alternative is laced with death. Where wisdom is equated with uprightness (11) and is increasingly soaked in light(18), the path of the wicked and… the way of evil (14) are twisted (cf. 12:8) smothered in deep darkness (19). 14 Do not enter (this) path…, the father is saying, and do not walk in (this) way…. 15 Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. His instruction couldn’t be clearer. And his concern is unmistakable.
The way of the evil is more alluring than you’d ever expect!The father knows this, and wants his son to know it. The thrill of evil can get under your skin. It can sneak into your mind and heart and live there. The darkness encroaches and soon you begin to love it more than the light, just like Jesus said (Joh.3:19 … people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil). It becomes like food and drink to you, and soon you feel like you can’t live without it. You have to be strong. You have to be fierce. You even have to be cruel. You have to speak sharply; your words need to cut. It they don’t, someone might take advantage of you, or think you’re weak. They may outdo you, unseat you from your place of security.
That’s what we see here (16-17). Those who enter the path of the wicked (14) are drawn further and further down that pathlike iron to a magnet or a moth to a flame. 16 … They cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. They can’t help themselves! 17 For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. (Walking) in the way of evil kicks up an appetite that can’t be satisfied with other things. It’s like an addiction; you need more and more. It becomes your food. You can’t get to sleep without it—it’s hard to sleep on an empty stomach!
This is a dark path! But we don’t always recognize how easy it is to start down this path. Have you ever laid awake at night thinking over and over again through a situation where it feels like someone got the better of you—your spouse, a boss, maybe one of your kids, a friend, or even a teacher? You think about what you should have said, or could have said. You plan out how you’re going to even the score—not strike back (Christians don’t do that!), but—how you’re going to return things to normal, reestablish equilibrium. Essentially you’re planning how you’re going to win, how you’re going to recapture lost ground.
That’s where it starts. We feel the need to be our own protector, or own provider, our own promoter, and pretty soon people become competitors more than collaborators, then obstacles more than associates, and pretty soon they’re outright enemies more than friends. The ones we want to stumble (16) may not be merely innocent victims or even disloyal accomplices in evil; they may just be committed colleagues or talented teammates. But they’ve become a threat to ourfulfillment so they’ve also become an interruption to our sleep.This is one of the many ways it starts. This is one trail-head on the path of the wicked. And these are some of the first steps along the way of the evil. 14 Do not enter (this) path…, the father is saying to his son. 19 (It) is like deep darkness…. You’ll stumble and you won’t even know why, or how! 14 … Do not walk in (this) way…. 15 Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on—run for your life!
Perhaps this is what v.12 has in mind: if you run (from evil), you will not stumble (12). The wicked are trying to make you stumble (16). Meanwhile they themselves stumble and (don’t) even know why (19). But you have a promise that (running) in wisdom will keep you on your feet—you will not stumble!10 Hear, my son—hear, (God’s people!)—and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many!
Learning to Love the Light – 18
And that’s really what we need to do, isn’t it? Listen, and learn to love wisdom. Listen. And learn to love the light. We need to learn that walking a lighted path really is more rewarding, more fulfilling, than walking in the darkness.
Jean and I have had the opportunity to drive through some beautiful farm country a little west of here over the past couple of days—rolling hills of harvested earth. We’ve driven some in the day time, and some at night. Which did we enjoy more? Which nourished our souls more deeply? It was driving in the light that allowed us to see the sights, pick out our favorite scenes, notice subtle details, contrasting landscapes in the distance—see oncoming cars soon enough to get back in our lane! Driving in the light lengthened our life, more than once!
We stopped by the Church building Friday night to pick up something I’d forgotten, and I walked into the middle of a game of Laser Tag. It was pitch dark. And took me a minute to remember that this Youth event was happening. The kids were having a blast! So were some adults, whose names can be provided for a price, or kept secret for a slightly sweeter price! Running in the darkness can be a thrill. Games of Ghost in the Graveyard after the late sunset on warm summer nights are among my fondest childhood memories. But funner yet wassunrise the next morning, and a whole new day of play! After an intense game of Laser Tag everyone looks forward to the lights coming on, finally being able to exhale, and check the scoreboard!
It’s the light we love. It’s the light we look forward to. It’s the light that illumines the shadows and reveals any hidden dangers. And what this father is telling his son is that choosing wisdom, (keeping) hold of (her), is what turns on the light! That’s what we read in the familiar and sweet affirmation here: 18 … the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
Imagine arriving at a fork in the road late at night, barely able to read the road signs in the darkness. The one on the right is clearly marked, Wisdom. The other sign says Wickedness, but the it’s rusted and bent to the point where it’s unreadable. Beneath it is a piece of paper stuck on a branch, and written on it is the word Adventure, with an arrow pointing to the left.
We’ve talked enough this morning about what we’ll find down the road to the left. But what v.18 says will happen as we choose the way of wisdom is that, with our first step, we’ll note a bit of light in the air, like we see at the first sign of dawn. We’ll notice dark silhouettes around us that we may not recognize, but at least we know something is there. As we take a second step, it seems to be lighter and easier to see around us already. Then we take another step, and the same thing happens again. We can still see the early part of the way of (wickedness) and it’s still pitch dark over there. But our road is noticeably lighter. So, we take another step and continue to see better!
After we’ve walked a while on this road, the sun has fully risen and 18 … shines brighter and brighter until the full day!We don’t even have to strain our eyes any longer to make sure we’re still on the path. We’re not shuffling our feet to discover any tree roots sticking up from the ground that would surely trip us if we failed to notice them. We’re walking at a comfortable pace with our eyes on the beauty of the landscape and the sky. Off in the distance we can still see the way of (wickedness) with its many travelers moving from tree to tree for cover, hiding in wet ditches and circling around behind one another to gain some advantage. The light that illumines our path also seems to make theirs fully visible to us, but they still see only darkness with diminishing hope for any light of dawn (18).
Once you start walking it, it is not at all hard to fall in love with the way of wisdom. In fact, the way of (wickedness) can begin to lose its allure altogether. We want the way of wisdom!We’re captivated by it! We tell stories about it—it becomes our identity—and we look forward to hearing other’s stories. Even the heroes of the Bible take on new life for us. We begin to understand on ever deeper levels what was happening when Joseph ran from Potiphar’s house, or when David refused to kill Saul as he slept, or when Paul and Silas were singing hymns in the Philippian jail at midnight, having been beaten and incarcerated without just cause or due process!
But we also begin to recognize that this is no merely human wisdom. This isn’t just a moral decision to do better. We don’t just choose this wisdom. We surrender to it! We bow before it in humility and worship. This wisdom isn’t from earth; it’s from above! It is born of God, and its light is lit in heaven. In fact, it is born into this world in the incarnate Son of God, who is the Light of the world (Joh.1:4-5).
When this wisdom is exhibited in us, God gets the credit, not us. It’s the light of His wisdom, embraced by faith, that shines all around us, and within us by His grace. It produces all sorts of good fruit (Jam.3:17). And it sweetens not only our lives, but all those around us It’s just like Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: Mat.5:16 … Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
We absolutely fall in love with the Light, and we’ll never need to leave it again. One of the clearest descriptions of heaven in the final chapter of the Bible is that night will be no more! (Rev.22:5) Come into the light of the wisdom of God by faith in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is our Access to the wisdom of God.
And now let’s celebrate together in Communion Him Who has opened this way.