Hear, My Son, Your Father's Instruction
Proverbs 1:8–19 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
17th Sunday after Pentecost – September 16, 2018 (am)
It’s impossible to break the rules and have fun at the same time. You may have heard me say this before; I’ve said it many times. It’s one of the principles I’ve stressed with my own children at times when they’re feeling pressed or drawn along with a group of friends that’s looking to have fun. And that group of friends seems to reappear in every place and time, every location in every generation! What is it that makes doing wrong seem so desirable, so fun—like missing out on it is really missing out? What is the draw that leaves bright and respectful kids feeling excluded if they’re not numbered among those who are dour and disrespectful—like they are the in-group and I’m on the outs? What is it that makes a group of kids think it’s fun to gang up on another who’s alone, to make fun of him, or pick on her, or embarrass her? Ultimately, what is it that can make street gangs feel so much like a family? These questions form a backdrop for (hearing) the first lesson in wisdom from (father) to son. He understood it.Let’s hear his lesson under three headings.
The Foolishness of the Sinners’ Pursuits
The heart of the charge is: 10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. And the lesson that follows flows like an exposition of 16:29 The violent man lures his fellow and leads him in a way that is not good (Fox 85). But it’s offered with the passion of a (father) for the wellbeing of his son. And the emotion is magnified even further by the fact that these are real bad guys. These aren’t just pranksters TPing peoples houses. They’re (lying) in wait for blood! They’re (ambushing) the innocent without reason (11). They want to (bury people) alive! They want to (cave in on top of them) and (close them in) as if (they were hell itself) (12). Gruesome!
But they promise a reward: 13 we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; and they repeat their invitation: 14 throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse. Come join us; you’ll have a place, you’ll belong. And we’ll share the spoils! This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the vineyard tenants (Mar.12:1-12). They actually thought they’d receive the (son’s) inheritance if they killed him and threw him out of the vineyard! This nails the gang mentality. We’ll do something significant. We’ll do it together. And the shocking nature of what we do will confirm our greatness! This sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t just happen among guys who are willing to kill. This same lure is present on every playground at every recess everywhere! The bullies whose threat multiplies when they travel in packs; the mean girls who can cruelly crush any peer who comes into their cross-hairs, with words or tones or looks—and they’re so often perceived as the in group! If you can’t be numbered among them then you’re out!
But this same sort of brutality shows up in otherwise mature and civilized society as well. Warrenville and Wheaton residents may remember the bitter dispute that played out several years ago regarding the new location of Hubble Middle School. Parking, flooding, ground-contamination and various other issues were raised, with ugly rhetoric, to try to block that move. Similar kinds of often brutal accusation to and from otherwise decent, law-abiding people seeking to protect me and mine and ours, no matter what it costs you—that’s not an unfamiliar experience in DuPage County.
We pursue our own interests. We achieve our own ends. And if others are disregarded or displaced or even dispensed with in the process, so be it! That’s life in this world! Somehow the gain that comes from these selfish pursuits still seems worth it to us. It feels like victory whether it’s the theft of someone’s property, as here (Pro.1), or just the thwarting of their plans, as in our own experience. And the group we unite with to get it done, our gang, becomes a tight-knit, family-type circle. Our hearts are knit together by our common quest even if we were nothing to one another before—even if we had once been enemies!
This can happen even in churches. And the temptation toward it is greater than we’d imagine. Almost without realizing it we can get drawn into someone’s pet plan, some group’s desired outcome, and that becomes our top priority, our central aim. It becomes our great commission. We can’t imagine the church without it—without this new ministry, with that old pastor, without this new building addition, with that old worship style.
Gangs appear at every strata of society, in every economic bracket, and every age range. There’s something attractive about them, some lure, something that feels like family, and makes it seem like that’s where things are really happening, like they’re the in-group. But that is not so. And this (father) wants his son to realize that, and respond to it, to resist the lure, and reap the desirable rewards that come to those who spot the snare and avoid it. And what a vivid picture he paints for his son to help him recognize the foolishness of the sinners’ pursuits, and the danger. 10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. 15 … Do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, 16 for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. And here comes vivid illustration: 17 For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird—not that (birds) so intelligent. Some are. I watched a bald eagle fishing at Lund Lake over in Cantera on Friday. But the point here is that even a bird-brain has an instinct for survival and won’t get caught in a snare he just watched you lay. 18 But these men lie in wait for their own blood, even while they think they’re ensnaring others; they set an ambush for their own lives. They’re so entrenched in the foolishness of their pursuits that they don’t even recognize the fact that, as they’re having fun, pursuing unjust gain (19), they’re actually falling into the very trap they thought they were setting for others. And it (is costing them their) life! (19)
The Reward of the Parents’ Instruction
There’s no true honor here, no greatness, no significant accomplishment. The sense family you feel when you throw in your lot (14) with sinners (10) isn’t real because it isn’t lasting! It vanishes when circumstances change, like a mist in the sun. When the cops show up and the gang scatters, you’re left holding that one purse (14), with all its contents. 15 My son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths. 8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, 9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. Here is where honor lies (Fox 84). Here is significance. This garland is the victor’s crown. And these pendants are the reward of the faithful student of wisdom, the one who (hears) and obeys. We’ll see these items again in Pro. But as we’re introduced to them here they are the reward for (hearing and heeding) wisdom—evident honor!
The Call to the Beloved Son
This is father’s call to his beloved son. 8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. This is the father’s opening word in his opening lesson. And it’s a poignant word in Scripture, a poignant word from God to His people. Remember Israel’s defining confession in Deu.6? 4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall obey them from your heart!
It’s the same word here: 8 Hear, my son…. The (father) is not just telling his son to be aware of some audible event. Hear means listen, and more. It means to perceive with the ear, to pay attention and understand, to listen, and give heed, to consent and agree (BDB) and even to obey (Bible Project). He wants his son to drink in all he’s saying and insinuating about the deceptive, even if strangely desirable, life among sinners, and to pour it back out in wise and discerning, praiseworthy life in this world.
There is a contrast between beauty and ugliness in Pro., and we’re seeing that begin here already. The contrast between the garland and pendants (9) and the gruesome aim of the gang (11-12) captures the difference between the life the (father) desires for his son and that of the gang. We hear similar imagery in lesson 5: 48 Prize (wisdom) highly, and she will exalt you; she will hon you if you embrace her. 9 She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.
This is the father’s passion, vision for his son. But how will the son do it? Where will he (begin)? What is it that will set apart this (son’s) life from the lives of all those other (sons) who lie in wait for blood? (11) Answer: we were set up for this lesson (8) by the summary motto of Pro. 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Therefore, 8 hear, my son, your father’s instruction…. What sets you apart, my son, what gets you started and distinguishes you from fools is the (hearing) of wise and godly instruction through ears that have been opened by the fear of the Lord. You can almost hear the (father) saying: O, my son, know that our God exists and that He is present. Know that His instruction has been made clear, and that obeying it is actually possible. Fear the Lord, my son, and walk in His ways. Enjoy the honor that comes from living your life in His ways. Begin by worshiping the Lord, my son. Start there, and you will not quickly depart from His paths.
This is God’s Word to us today. It is so easy to be pulled into the ways of this world, to operate by its standards, to aim toward its ideals, to adopt its methods. It is so easy to go this way, even when we know the ugliness of it, even when we long for the endless beauty of obedience, and the limitless beauty of the God Who enables it. (All the) fullness of (God) dwells bodily (Col.2:9) in Christ Jesus the Lord (Col.2:6), and is available to us in Him. The fear of the Lord that is the beginning of knowledge is awakened in us only through Him, only in Him. And apart from Him, our lives will follow much more the course of the gang, than the father’s course for the son. Trust in Him today, receive Him, and so hear… your Father’s instruction (8) and walk in His paths (cf. 15).