“Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil, men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.” — Proverbs 2:9-15
Once God gives wisdom, that wisdom then protects the person to whom it is given. These seven verses introduce us to the two major threats the son will face: evil men and forbidden women. The wisdom God gives is deeper than mere intellectual comprehension of right and wrong: it is joy deep in the heart, found in keeping God’s word. It is a joy that runs so deep that the temptations of this world, and those who bring them, do not hold sway over the joys of living in God’s truth.
What evil people do is flip the script on what is right, just, and fair. They twist the truth in a knot in an attempt to justify evil and condemn righteousness. Then, they try to pull you into that same way of evil with them. God’s wisdom, in contrast, gives you a proper understanding of goodness, righteousness, justice, and equity, and wise people will try to pull into the way of life.
So, let’s learn how to spot the way of evil from these verses. What are the marks of an evil person?
- Perverted speech – This word in Hebrew literally means “to turn over; to be upside down.” The idea is that the speech of the evil person is aimed at twisting the word of God towards selfish and sinful purposes. This is speech that seduces others toward a life that is disobedient to God’s word.1 This began with Satan in the Garden of Eden when he questioned God’s words in an attempt to pull Adam and Eve away from trusting God and toward trusting themselves. Evil people do the same thing. Be careful who you are listening to! God’s wisdom will protect you from this trap.
- Walk in the ways of darkness: This might seem obvious, but I’ve found that many people end up in trouble by overlooking the obvious. Through compassion, your heart might go out to someone who has given themselves over to a life of disobeying God. Then, before you know it, you are caught up in the same sinful patterns as that person. If you meet someone with a hard heart who has actively rejected the truth of God once taught to them, be careful. Some seemingly upright people are full of wickedness in their hearts (e.g., the Pharisees), and some seemingly wicked people are the very ones God is calling to himself (e.g., so many of those Jesus called to himself in the Gospels). Even though this can be difficult to discern at times, it is often obvious. Don’t ignore the obvious and end up in a trap.
- Rejoice in and delight in evil: Truly evil people do not just sin, but they take great joy in their sin. Just like a godly person delights in God’s wisdom and in living according to God’s word (although still battling sin), an evil person delights in breaking God’s commandments (although still sometimes doing the “right” thing). Their joy is found in the very things God condemns. Watch for what people get excited about. If a person is not delighting in God’s word, they are delighting in something else. God’s wisdom will help you spot the person who takes joy in sin.
- Devious in their ways: Evil people live deviant lives. That doesn’t mean deviant from what is considered normal by the culture, but deviant from God’s word. The person who loves God cannot keep on sinning (1 John 4:4-10). A life marked by sin, by crooked paths, is not the life of a wise person who is in Christ. Be wise and have discretion. Do not be deceived by those who try to convince you otherwise.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). One way the Father delivers you from evil is by pouring out his spirit of wisdom into your heart. As you give yourself to learning his word, his Spirit will direct you into the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3). Don’t be a fool: listen to God’s word, not to evil people.
1Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 110.