One of the first steps in wisdom is learning who to listen to. Whose voice will I accept as wise and virtuous? Which opinions will I learn to take with a grain of salt? How will I learn to filter the bombardment of information and pressure in this life? Solomon’s first answer at these questions comes quickly in Proverbs. Mom and dad should be voices of wisdom into their children’s lives, and youth should learn to listen to what they have to say.
As voices of wisdom, parents are supposed to prepare their children for what is coming their way and offer commentary. It does no good for a parent to allow a child to raise themselves, or sift through competing voices themselves. Parents are designed by God to warn children and provide clear input on the ways that are foolish and the ways of God’s wisdom. So we see in this passage that parents encourage their children to listen to them and then spell out how sin and foolishness will entice their children. As a result, we see what kinds of arguments foolishness will use to look like wisdom and be appealing in its ugliness. The enticement is powerful.
Foolishness tells the young man that they will lie in wait for blood. They will take the first unsuspecting pedestrian, trap and beat them, and take their goods. This is violence both for the sake of it (“ambush the innocent without reason”) and for the sake of unjust gain (“fill our houses with plunder”). This is both the allure of violence, possibly especially for young men, and the promise of gain without work. And though we are not all allured by a life of random violence, how many of us are tempted by gain without work? If I can simply take it from another – no matter how violent or legal the means – and not have to work for it, isn’t that an easier way of life? Why wait to have what I can have now?
The fool continues to draw in his bait. The young man is promised community when the sinner says, “throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” (vs 14). The promise of a group of people who will take care of your needs, provide protection and a sense of belonging touches a deep need within every human. What family and the family of God is intended to provide, the fool promises to give. And though fools and thieves are liars, their false promise is nonetheless a temptation for many. God built us to desire community, and he built the family and the Body of Christ to meet that need.
Don’t listen to them. Don’t walk down that path. The advice is straightforward, and it is the voice of reason and wisdom in our lives if we listen to it. And it isn’t just about joining gangs or throwing in our lot with violent thugs. The voice of wisdom reveals what is being manipulated in every human heart with this appeal of the fool: “Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain” (vs. 19). All of us need to watch our step. I need to be aware of those ways in which I am tempted by greed and the collection of things in this life that cause me to step on other people. Have I walked over someone at work? Have I short-changed someone in a business deal? Have I harmed a neighbor just to make my lot bigger or better? Have I hurt a family member just to get my way? Any way in which I am tempted to enlarge myself and my fiefdom at the expense of my neighbor is greed, and it will end up costing me my own life.
Begin listening to the voice of wisdom. You may think you have a better plan or that you are too smart by half for the fool. But you are wrong. They end up setting a trap for their own lives and doing themselves in. The path of the fool leads to your own destruction no matter how hard you try to manage it. Listen to Mom and Dad Wisdom, and you will avoid the path of the fool.