Shun Evil Paths
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Proverbs, chapter 4, and follow as we read the paragraph beginning with verse 10 and going through verse 19:

Proverbs 4:

10 Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many.
11 I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths.
12 When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.
13 Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.
14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.
15 Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.
16 For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.
17 For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.
18 But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
19 The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.

Review

We have said that the first division in the book of Proverbs is related to thirteen lessons on wisdom which Solomon delivered to his son. These thirteen lessons on wisdom all begin with an address to “my son”: “Hear, O my son…”

We did suggest to you that every time you see the words, “my son,” you do not find a new address, but you do find each one of the thirteen lessons on wisdom beginning with the words, “hear, my son.”

We would remind you of what we have already noticed thus far in our study. The first lecture deals with the subject of shunning evil companions. The second lecture deals with the search for wisdom. The third lecture we entitled Trust and Obey . The fourth lecture shows the relationship between chastening and wisdom. The fifth lecture shows the relationship between wisdom and fear. The sixth lecture was an autobiographical sketch, representing events that Solomon took out of his own life to use as illustrations in the teaching of his son. We have now come to the seventh lecture which we have entitled Shun Evil Paths .

If you listened as we read the Word, I think you know why we suggested to you that this would be a fitting title for the message. I never read this particular lecture on wisdom without being reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ found in Matthew, chapter 7, where we have the New Testament version of the Old Testament lecture in the book of Proverbs. Notice the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, beginning with verse 13:

Matthew 7:

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

The Lord Jesus Christ, in this passage of Scripture, spoke of two ways—a broad way and a narrow way. He talked to the people who traveled on the way. He talked of the end of each individual way mentioned. The Holy Spirit of God is pleased to use the same method in this particular message here in the Old Testament.

Because we want you to carry away with you as much of the truth as you can, we are not going to look at this passage of Scripture verse-by-verse as we do in some chapters. Rather, we are going to glean the material from all of the verses and assemble it under subject headings so that you can think about it in concrete and definite ways.

May I suggest to you the first thing that we would bring to your attention is that the paths which Solomon had in mind when he was talking to his boys were designated in very striking, definite and simple ways, so that there would be no misunderstanding about what he was talking about.

Paths of the Wicked

He first called attention to the paths of the wicked in verse 14:

Proverbs 4:

14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.

Paths of the Just

He brought to attention, as well, the paths of the just, when he reminded us, in verse 18:

Proverbs 4:

18 But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.

The Lord Jesus Christ was addressing unsaved people more than He was saved, but the Spirit of God in the message which is being delivered through Solomon, the wise man, is addressing not only the unsaved, but the saved as well because sometimes those walking in the pathway of the just can wander into the pathway of the wicked. Though they will not be lost, because God has paid the penalty through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ for all sin, they find themselves in some of the same predicaments that the individuals who walk on the wicked path find.

There is, to my mind, an interesting use of words here in these verses of Scripture. For example, when we speak of the word path , we recognize that it comes from the Hebrew word orach , which speaks of a well marked path. The path of the wicked and the path of the just—both of those words path come from this same one Hebrew word, which indicates that the path of the wicked is very well marked and the path of the just is very well marked. So the individual who said, “I didn't know what I was getting into when I did this stupid thing,” is not facing facts as they actually are. The individual who says, “I would like to walk in the right path, but I don't know how to find it,” is not facing facts as they really are. Both paths are well marked.

The path of the just is referred to by two other phrases in our paragraph, and I think it would be wise for us to notice them. If you will look at verse 11, you will read the words:

Proverbs 4:

11 I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths.

The path of the just is referred to as the way of wisdom . We have learned in our study of Proverbs that wisdom is personified. It is an Old Testament name for Christ and the pathway of the just is the path that Christ would take. You will notice that this time instead of the word path being used, the word way is used. You are going to discover that this word way represents a manner of life which develops when one travels the path of the just. So when we speak of the way of wisdom as being related to the path of the just, we are talking about the way of Christ. We have the right to ask ourselves the question, “What would Christ do in a given situation?”

We are well aware that some liberals have made a playground of this suggestion, but there is no reason for Bible-believing Christians not to recognize its importance, even though this has been done.

The suggestion is also made that the path of the just is called the right paths . The way that that is presented to us in our English text, we might be thinking of going in the right direction or the right paths, and that does not convey the full meaning of the word. Here the word paths comes from the Hebrew word magalah , which means “prepared paths.” The word right comes from the Hebrew word yosher , which means “uprightness.” So when we speak of right paths , we are speaking of prepared paths of uprightness. It is not a matter of there being several paths or several ways or several roads all going in the same direction, and all you need to do is pick out the road you wish. That is not the thought. The thought is, “I have led you, my son, in prepared, designated paths of righteous living.”

After the Spirit of God designates the paths in the manner which I have suggested, He is pleased to present a description of these paths to which we have referred, so we speak of the paths designated and then pass on to speak of the paths described. The paths are described in a twofold way. They are described first in the terms of the travelers, those who travel the paths. Then they are described in the terms of the paths themselves. We suggest that you look first at the paths as they are described in the terms of the travelers.

Those Who Travel the Wicked Path

Notice first those who travel the wicked path. What kind of individuals are these who travel the wicked path? It is already suggested that they are wicked, and we remind you that the word wicked comes from the Hebrew word rasha , which means such people are morally wrong. They are condemned. They are guilty and they are ungodly. This leaves nothing to your imagination. Everything is very cleanly stated. They are men who are not born again. They are men who are morally wrong, men who are ungodly. You do understand, do you not, that we are speaking of these individuals who travel the path of the wicked consistently. There are, as I have already suggested to you, those who occasionally make a detour on the path of the wicked. We are not talking of them. Not only are they wicked who travel this path, but they are referred to as well by the phrase, evil men . Notice in verse 14:

Proverbs 4:

14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.

This may seem like empty repetition to you, but when you examine the verse in the original text, you discover that the phrase for evil men comes from the Hebrew word rah , which has a very interesting translation—“good for nothing.” These evil men are good for nothing. They can accomplish absolutely nothing. The most worthless thing in the world is a man who was meant to be used for the glory of God and is being used for self and Satan. He is good for nothing. These evil men, these wicked men, are described in the light of their ambition, which is described in verse 16:

Proverbs 4:

16 For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.

This indicates what a hold wickedness has upon the men to whom we make reference. It is their ambition not to do one good deed a day, as the proverbial Boy Scout is taught to do, but to do at least one evil deed before they fall to sleep at night. They are not content with doing one evil deed themselves, but they would like to involve other people in their mischief as well, so we read in verse 16 that they cannot sleep at night unless they have caused someone else to fall, unless they have caused someone else to stumble.

We do not often think of unsaved people as being motivated in this fashion, and some of them are not even aware of it, but they do walk, as we are told in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, according to the course of this world, according to the prince of this world, who is Satan himself, following his every direction. So he sees to it that there is at least one bad thing they can commit and at least one person they can cause to fall.

I want you to keep that in mind in the light of the advice and direction to which we will be looking before we are through with our discussion. Notice something else that is said about them by way of the things which they think about and the things which they do, in verse 17:

Proverbs 4:

17 For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.

Bible scholars are divided on the exact interpretation of this verse, whether it is suggesting that their whole life is made up of wickedness and violence, or whether they eat the bread that is gained through their wickedness and they drink the wine that is provided through their violence. There can be no definite opinion as to how the verse should be interpreted, so I suggest that we accept both interpretations because both are true when we examine other passages of Scripture. This is the ambition of the individuals who travel the wicked path, but I would like for you to look down at verse 19, as I suggest to you what seems to me to be the sad condition of these individuals who travel this wicked path:

Proverbs 4:

19 The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.

That last statement is a sad statement, it seems to me: “They know not at what they stumble.” They stumble and they don't even know why. Oftentimes when an individual who is unsaved—walking the evil path—tells you that he doesn't know why he does what he does, and he tells you he cannot explain some of his actions, before you dismiss it too hurriedly and say, “Oh, you know why you did that,” recognize that he is walking in darkness and he does not even know what has tripped him up.

Those Who Travel the Path of the Just

I would like for you to notice the path of the just in the terms of the people who travel this pathway. What kind of path is this just path in the light of those who travel it? Let me suggest to you that the word just comes from the Hebrew word tsaddiyq , which means “righteousness.” This tells us immediately who it is that travels this path consistently. They are individuals who are righteous. Most of us who are familiar with our Bibles know that no one can be made righteous save he who is made righteous through Christ.

There are some individuals who outwardly may travel the path of the just from time to time because they reform. They go to church; they straighten up and live a bit different, but it doesn't last because their righteousness is of their own making and not the imputed righteousness of Christ. The condition of these righteous people is presented to us in verse 12. Individuals who consistently walk in the path of the just are addressed with the words:

Proverbs 4:

12 When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.

When you are going down the path of the just, you are told your steps will not be straightened. The word straightened , comes from the Hebrew word yatsar , and very literally translated it means “to be in distress.” When you are in the path of the just, you will not be distressed. You will notice there in verse 12: “…when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.” This word stumble is a very interesting word, especially to some of us. It comes from the Hebrew word kashal , and it means “not to turn your ankle even if your bones are weak.” That may make it more interesting.

When some folk with strong bones turn their ankle, they are rather surprised, but some of us, who for whatever reason have weak bones that are consistently turning, spraining or breaking, our ankle bones are something else. It can be right bothersome, but spiritually speaking, when you are walking in the pathway of the just, you have the assurance that even though you are prone to turn your ankle, ordinarily speaking, you don't have to be concerned about it walking down the right pathway, the pathway of the just.

Pathway of the Wicked

We have been looking at these paths in terms of the folk who travel them. I would like for us to look at them in terms of the pathways themselves, for Solomon speaks of these two paths in the terms of the pathways themselves. He speaks first of the pathway of the wicked, reminding us that the path of the wicked, as we have already suggested to you, is represented by a way . Look again at verse 14:

Proverbs 4:

14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.

Now, notice down in verse 19:

Proverbs 4:

19 The way of the wicked is as darkness…

I say the Holy Spirit chooses words wisely because I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scripture in the original text, and instead of repeating the word path again, this time He uses the word way . In using the word way , He selects a word which comes from the Hebrew word derek , and it refers to a course of action that is a manner of life which individuals have adopted and are following, so that there is no question in anybody's mind that what may have started out as an innocent little venture has become a way of life. That is the reason we are going to see before we are through why some of the advice is given concerning these two paths.

The way of the wicked is also referred to as the way of darkness . There are six different words for darkness in the Hebrew text. The one that is used here is aphelah. This Hebrew word refers to that darkness that is caused by the setting of the sun. Individuals who are walking along the path of the wicked are walking along a pathway that gets darker the farther down the path they go. Just as you can recognize the approach of night, just as you are inclined to say, “Night is about to fall,” you can say, concerning the pathway of the wicked, “It is getting darker.”

There is more than just mere words to this because individuals who die without Christ oftentimes talk about the darkness that is settling upon them as they realize they are leaving this life and entering that eternal night of darkness. The Bible speaks of individuals who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior being sent into outer darkness.

I don't believe there could have been a better word chosen by the Holy Spirit to describe the path of the wicked than this. It is a path of darkness and it gets darker the farther you go and it winds up in eternal darkness. That is the reason individuals who apparently, when they first begin on this pathway of wickedness, have some qualms of conscience and then a bit later seem to have no qualms of conscience at all, being able to walk the path of darkness without a great deal of distress and without a great deal of fear.

Pathway of the Just

Look with me now at the second path to which we have already made reference—the path of the just, but this time in the terms of the path and not in the terms of those who travel it. Look at verse 18:

Proverbs 4:

18 But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.

I'm sure your ability of retention is good enough that you can already recognize a contrast. The path of the wicked is one of darkness, but the path of the just is one of shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The word shining comes from the Hebrew word nogahh , which means “illumination,” and so we recognize immediately that the path of the just is an illuminated path. There are many ways to provide illumination, so we are interested to find that the word light comes from the Hebrew word owr , which really is a reference to the sun. The suggestion is that the path of the just is lighted in such a fashion that it reminds you of the first dawning of the day.

Those of you who have made any trips know that special thrill that comes with getting up, perhaps before daylight, and getting on the road because you want to get a few miles behind you before the traffic gets heavy. As you drive along, you find the darkness receding and the light beginning to make its appearance. From the first rays of dawn which thrills your soul, you drive on and soon there is the light of day, but there is not the light of perfect day until the sun has reached its zenith. At the very zenith of its course, you know what real light is. The Spirit of God says that the path of the just is exactly like that.

You begin to walk with the Lord and you may feel that you do not have a great deal of illumination. There are problems. There are rough places and you wonder if perhaps you will be able to make the way. You remember, of course, to depend upon the Word which is a lamp to your feet. That is, it lights up the area immediately ahead of you, and it is a light unto your pathway. It lights up the road down in the distance somewhat, and as the Word of God becomes more familiar to you and you become more a companion of it, the sun begins to shed its rays of light in increasing intensity until today is brighter than it was yesterday. As you go along down the pathway of the just, you look forward to that hour which is expressed in verse 18 of chapter 4, “…the perfect day.”

Believe me, Beloved. The perfect day is coming. One day the Lord Jesus Christ will come and when He does, the perfect day will have arrived. That is the reason the prophet in the Old Testament is pleased to describe the coming of the Lord with the phrase, “The sun shall rise with healing in His wings.” We all know what the healing rays of the sun are able to do for a weary land. One day the sun shall rise with healing in His wings and we who have been traveling the pathway of the just will enter into that perfect day, the faint gleam of which we have seen from the very first day that we began our walk with God.

Directions Regarding the Two Paths

There is one last thing that I would like to think with you about and that is related to the directions that are given in regard to these two paths. Think with me, if you will, concerning some travelers who ask some directions. Here are two ways. They are very well marked, but they are not sure which way they should take, and so they seek some advice from an individual who might know which way is the best way, and then the advice is given.

Keep in mind that this is the advice that is given by a father to his son, and every father ought to take heed to what I am about to say. Whether you are asked or not, it is your responsibility to give directions concerning these two paths. Don't think for a moment that your children will unconsciously strike upon the right path. I must admit that in the grace and mercy of God sometimes that happens, but the instances are very, very rare, and it is not something which we should presume. Every father should give the directions concerning these paths, both by precept and by example. Notice verse 11, where Solomon said:

Proverbs 4:

11 I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths.

Beloved, these two principles are basic. There are many fathers who have directed by precept; that is, they have taught; they have been sure that their children have been exposed to the direction concerning which path ought to be taken. They are the kind of folk who see to it that the church is supported and their children attend Sunday School and church. They want the best for their children. Oftentimes I have had young couples say to me, “We have not been in attendance at church in a long, long time, but we are expecting a baby. As soon as the baby is old enough, we are going to send him to Sunday School.” That is teaching by precept, not by example. You will notice that Solomon led his son. If you want to be successful in your teaching, then teach by precept and by example.

What kind of direction was given to this young man concerning these two paths? Notice the reading beginning with verse 14, and recognize that Solomon mounts in intensity as he speaks of the path of the wicked. He said:

Proverbs 4:

14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.
15 Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.

If you think upon each phrase of direction he gave, you recognize mounting intensity. You will recognize, too, the Hebrew idiomatic manner of expression on expressing truth in the form of couplets. I would like to call to your attention those couplets as they are paraphrased so that the truth might be a bit clearer to you.

Notice the couplet, “Enter not, go not in the way…” Taylor and his paraphrase of this portion of the Word has very aptly summarized those two directions by saying, “Don't do as the wicked do.” That is the first thing you need to know. Don't do as the wicked do. Don't enter into the path of the wicked and go not in the way of evil men. Don't do as they do.

If you took the time to point out the examples of men who have traveled the pathway of wickedness, your children would have more reason not to follow the path of the wicked. There is ample evidence so that you don't need to take them on the path of wickedness to show them what you are talking about.

You will notice the next couplet where the father said, “Avoid it. Pass not by it.” It has been very aptly summarized in the phrase, “Avoid their haunts.” Avoid the haunts of the wicked. I would like to remind you that it is not a sign of false piety to refuse to go to places that are designated as haunts of wickedness, which men have so designated and which you in your own heart know are not right. God's advice is not to see how clean you can stay if you enter in to this sort of thing. God's advice is to avoid their haunts.

The third set of couplets: “Turn from it. Pass away.” This is very aptly summed up in the words, “Turn away and go somewhere else.” I like that. When you are talking about the pathway of the wicked, if you are tempted to follow it, turn away from it. Go somewhere else.

Beloved, we as parents oftentimes fall short here. We suggest to our children and our young people that they turn away from the pathway of the wicked, but we don't give them any place else to go. You might have arthritis in your knees and are not too interested in going any place, but they don't. They have a lot of iron and energy in their knees, and they want to go and they want to do. Your whole relationship to them could well be one of negation—just a constant warning to turn away from the path of the wicked. If you have ever been faced with the question when telling them to turn away from the pathway of the wicked, “Well, what can we do?”, you will pretty well know that you have fallen short in the direction that has been given.

Solomon gathered his sons about him and said, “Boys, I have something to say to you. There are two paths ahead of you—the path of the just and the path of the wicked. If you take my advice in regard to them, you will have a long life.” I wonder why he could speak so forcefully. One reason that he could speak so forcefully is plainly recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes—because he traveled all these paths and he knew that there was nothing but darkness at the end of the path of the wicked. He knew how much brighter and how much lighter the path of the just grew as he traveled it.

Conclusion

Follow Solomon's advice. Take the path of the just and avoid the path of the wicked. You will be faced with it. Not only tomorrow, but every day of your life if you are very active.


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