"The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death"
This is a fascinating verse outlining one of the main benefits of being a wise person – the avoidance of things that will bring about death physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially, relationally, and so on.
the teaching of the wise is a fountain of life
The word translated teaching in this verse is the word law or torah. It is usually a negative command, such as, don't do this or watch out for that. This is the nature of law; it marks the edge of something or the boundary between things. In this case the commandments of the wise mark the absolute boundaries between behavior that is profitable and beneficial and behavior that is detrimental or potentially lethal.
What many of the commandments of wisdom point out is that the line between benefit and harm is much earlier than we would expect. He says don't take the path to the harlot’s house. He says don't go with the angry man. He says don't co-sign for others debts. Don't delegate an important assignment to a fool. He says don't trust the dreams or the fears of a sluggard. They’re all pretend.
It is important to say that the Ten Commandments make up a basic moral boundary structure in the mind of the observant Jew and, therefore, these crucial commandments would form the basis of the commandments of the wise. One cannot violate basic morality with any hope of retaining the title of wisdom.
The fountain of life allusion in this verse seems to be the continual nature of the commandments to bring about continued life – just like a fountain continues to bubble forth water. So when you follow the commandments of the wise, you continue to enjoy relationships, productive work, profit, pleasure, etc. – all the things that make up life.
So a question to ask is are you enjoying all these things bubbling up in your life or instead are you seeing a continual flow of trouble and difficulty in your life? It may be that there are some commandments of wisdom that you are not following. Look for them.
to turn aside from the snares of death
If we are to become wise, one of the first steps is to start avoiding the snares or traps that will destroy life.
The message of this proverb is that avoidance of traps is one of the primary purposes of the commandments. There are lots of traps. The word trap is the word moqesh which means trap, snare, ensnared, bait, lure. If one is to succeed at life, one has to realize that saying no to some things that look enticing is essential. One has to say no to opportunities and people that look like they will be quick ways to profit.
One has to say no to certain kinds of people: the sexually enticing and aggressive; the big talking lazy person; the violent person; the angry person; the proud person; and many others. One has to say no to short cuts to money, sex, and power. One has to say no to fears and pressures. One has to say no to certain types of food and pleasure. All of these are eager to trap a person in an endless cycle of death. The wise person becomes disciplined enough to say no to these foolish things so that they can say YES to life.
In other words, if you just avoid these cages, then your life will be a constant bubbling of things that bring you joy and love.