Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 16:17
"The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who watches his way preserves his life"
This is the Hebrew word mesillah, which means highway, path, steps, course. It clearly means that Solomon sees that the consistent actions of the upright person are to depart from evil. It is so consistent that it is a well-worn path. When an upright person is presented with the chance to do evil, he always gets away. The upright person does not linger and consider what to do. There are the consistent marks of leaving any opportunity to do evil.
Now remember that evil is defined in the Old Testament as violating one of the Ten Commandments. It has nothing to do with an emotional reaction against something. Evil is crossing the line of God. There is a theory that is prominent today that an evil in a culture is just what is emotionally unacceptable. This is not true. What is evil is that which does not conform to God's standards. What is evil is that which is beyond God's boundary line. He has given us the Ten Commandments to help us understand where selfishness must stop. Selfishness moves from foolishness to evil at the lines marked out in the Ten Commandments. This is true even though in our culture we see nothing wrong with lying, with adultery, with coveting, with swearing, with rebellion. In fact, our mainstream media actually applauds when these boundaries are crossed.
This is the Hebrew word yashar, which means straight, right, upright. This is the person who is doing the right thing. What is the right thing to do? What Solomon is talking about here. Run away from evil when it is presented to you as an option. When you find yourself asking the question, "What should I do?" the first part of that answer is to run away from any evil choice and then see which choices are left. Too often we want to keep the evil choices as options and that is why we remain confused.
This is the Hebrew word shamar, which means to keep, watch, preserve, be careful.
Solomon is saying if you want to have a protected life – a life preserved from all kinds of troubles and difficulties – then build into your way of living that you always move away from evil. All of us will be presented with opportunities to lie, steal, linger over another’s goods greedily, rebel, commit adultery. When these are presented, the right thing to do is always to get away. Even though it may seem like a solution when it is presented, it is not.
Notice that God tells us, through Solomon, that the way to preserve your life from extra difficulties that do not have to come your way is to depart from evil. It is like God is saying that in the course of your life you may have difficulties, but you will multiply the number of those if you do not develop the reflex action of getting away from the temptation to break the Ten Commandments. It will seem that you are taking the slow road to success or prosperity at times, but you will preserve your life.