“Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.” (Proverbs 1:17).
This proverb stands in the middle of a warning passage, and really can’t be understood in isolation (unlike many of the proverbs in the last half of the book). So let’s look at the context, verses 10-19:
10 My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.
11 If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause:
12 Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit:
13 We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil:
14 Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse:
15 My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path:
16 For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.
17 Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.
18 And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives.
19 So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.
If we look at verses 10-16, leading to our text in question (verse 17), I find it helpful to break the statements down into three voices.
The wise father says:
- Don’t consent to go with sinners (verse 10).
- Don’t even go in their direction (verse 15).
- They are violent (verse 16).
The sinners say of their victims:
- We’ll kill them without cause (verse 11).
- We’re going to completely destroy them (verse 12).
- We’ll get rich at their expense (verse 13).
The sinners say to their prospective partners:
- Come with us, be our partner (verse 11).
- We’ll make you rich (verse 13).
- We’ll share everything with you (verse 14).
Verse 17 has had a lot of different interpretations, but in context, the sense is pretty clear. A bird is smart enough not to fly into a trap when it has been put out right in front of him. My son, be as smart as the bird. Those who would entice you to destroy others will destroy you as well. Or, to use another expression, they talk out of both sides of their mouth.
Will you be their partner, and give them no cause to hate you? They’ve already told you how they treat people who have given them no cause to do evil. Will you share finances equally with them? They’ve told you how honest they are in their financial dealings. Open your eyes.
As my daughter said when discussing this in family devotions today, “Be a bird-brain,” as wise as the birds. Those who deal treacherously with others will deal treacherously with you. You can see the net as they spread it. They’ve told you exactly who and what they are. They are evil, violent, greedy, and treacherous. Don’t step in their net when you can see them spreading it.
The wise father goes on to say that the violent and the greedy destroy themselves as well. They will destroy you, for they are treacherous, they will destroy themselves, and if you become like them you will also be self-destructive.
There are many applications. If a person gossips to you, they will gossip against you. Don’t trust them. You can see the net being spread.
If a person wants to cheat on his spouse, he’ll cheat on you, too. It’s amazing to me how many people, having had an affair with a married person, encouraged a divorce, and married the adulterer, are then shocked and amazed when he cheats on them, too. You know exactly how much integrity he (or she) doesn’t have. You can see the net, and you walked into it? Oh, of course, it wouldn’t happen to you, would it, because HE is different. Some people walk into the net even when they see it….
If a person wants to be selfish with you, he’ll be selfish towards you. If he wants to be malicious towards others with you, he’ll be malicious towards you. If he wants you to join him in fraud, he’ll defraud you. You can see the net being spread — will you walk into it?
Not everyone who wants to be on the same side as you is on your side. Those who won’t walk in the way of the Lord are never on your side, really. Don’t take their way. Open your eyes, and see if the net is being spread. If it is, then you know.