These are the proverbs of Solomon, one of the most renowned kings in the history of Israel. The word translated “proverb” is the Hebrew word “mashal.” The root of the word contains the idea of “compare”—it is translated throughout Scripture as “parable” just as often as “proverb.”
This gives us some insight into the nature of these sayings. Proverbs are not prescriptions. It is not about a formula for how to manipulate circumstances and bend them to our will. That might be wishful thinking, but doesn’t work in reality. The proverbs are, in a sense, “comparing” our human perceptions to the reality of God’s world; trying to connect the two by providing principles that shape our perspective and inform our choices such that we live constructively—that is to say, wisely.
Like parables, the proverbs are meant to guide us “to wisdom”, that is, into a way of living. A way of thinking and perceiving. It is about molding and shaping our perceptions, values, and character into something that is consistently in tune with God, not just as a rule-follower but as someone who understands and practices the essence of the divine. One who sees the world through God’s eyes, and acts accordingly.
Ecclesiastes might be thought of as a philosophical foundation for wisdom. It shows the way to properly view the many aspects of life we cannot control, the “hebel” or vaporous nature of all that surrounds us. The main thing Ecclesiastes shows us is the importance of choosing to trust God, and make good choices based on that trust.
Proverbs will reiterate the philosophical foundations of Ecclesiastes, then zoom in and expand upon the practical application of trusting God and choosing a true perspective within certain areas of life. Proverbs leads us to choose a true perspective in all areas of life, and creates a foundation from which we can choose actions that are constructive, beneficial, and fulfilling.
There are only three things we control in life: who we trust, our perspective, and what we do—our actions. Ecclesiastes makes this reality abundantly clear. Trying to control what we cannot leads to complete futility. Trusting God, however, provides a foundation for constructive living. Proverbs teaches us how best to steward the choices we have—how to trust God, how to choose His perspective, and the key actions to take that lead us to the path of wisdom.
In the sixth chapter of Proverbs, Solomon uses a handful of analogies to encourage his audience to choose the path of wisdom over the path of wickedness. The former leads to life and the latter to death. This is a basic theme of scripture. Humans have been granted stewardship of their choices, the ability to make an impact by the actions they choose to take. One of the fundamental choices we make on an ongoing basis is binary: life or death.
This is the basic daily choice God gave Adam in Genesis 2:17. It is the daily decision God placed in His covenant/treaty with Israel (Deuteronomy 30:19). It is the opportunity New Testament believers are invited into in their walk, choosing daily whether to walk in the Spirit (which leads to life) rather than the flesh (which leads to death).
Proverbs 6 is centered around how holistically the path we choose each day affects us. Choices of wisdom and wickedness each come with significant consequences.
Solomon starts with a lender-borrower analogy to talk about how wickedness leads us to forfeit our choices and opportunities. He talks about fleeing the traps of wickedness like a gazelle escaping a hunter or a bird escaping the snare. Then, he uses the example of the ant to talk about diligence and self-governance. All of these illustrations are about the efficacy of human agency, the part we have to play. Our opportunity to make daily choices.
We get to choose our path each moment. We have been assigned responsibility to steward our choices. Wisdom is the path to stewarding well and wickedness is the path to avoiding, forfeiting, and perverting those opportunities.
The path we choose affects us. Wisdom is living in alignment with God and His created order. Wickedness is an abomination, a life of wasted opportunity, dysfunction, and separation (death).
The temptation to choose wickedness seems sweet in the short term. But its long-term effects are ruin. It is the path of separation (death), full of empty promises. Solomon warns to avoid these mirages, to keep distant from them, and to be alert.
Like a good parent, God wants the best for us. He watches over us, guides us, and cares for us. But He does not force us. He allows us the freedom to choose that which He has entrusted us to steward. We lose our choices only by choosing to forfeit them to another agent. We align ourselves with God and His glory by having the courage to choose the path of wisdom.