“He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the ways of his saints. 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 ways are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.” ~Proverbs 2:7-15
Previously in the book of Proverbs, Solomon has told his son that he should not consent to join forces with evil men, for they will end up destroying themselves (1:10-19). But now he expands upon this subject from another perspective. He says that the same Lord who alone gives wisdom (more here, here, and here) is the One who guards his saints by that same wisdom.
Here is the testimony of one taught of wisdom and guarded by it, revealing how the store of the Lord’s wisdom protects his saints: “With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.” ~Psalm 17:4
And here is another: “The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.” ~Proverbs 11:5-6
This is further clarified by the apostle Peter when he said, “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19); and it is made evident by God himself near the beginning of history, “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
Now, we know that, by definition, sin is revealed to be sin by the law of God. Thus, as the apostle Paul describes in Romans 7, we are revealed to be sinners by the law of God. We are by it shown to be enslaved to our lusts as our desires are demonstrated as being directed against the will of God. If it were not for this revelation of his law, we would not know sin. The law was given that we might learn to rule over it — but through it we can only come to see that we are indeed enslaved to the sinfulness that rules us. There is no possibility, then, of receiving life by the law, but only certainly of just judgment. (Romans 7, Galatians 3, etc.)
Thus it is both that “Scripture imprisoned everything under sin” (Galatians 3:22) and that, “Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them” (Psalm 119:129). What Paul describes in Romans 7 is consonant with both the words of the psalmist in the 119th Psalm and Solomon’s words here in Proverbs 2. They all speak to the response of the regenerate heart to the law of God, a response that is impossible to the one whose heart is yet under the dominion of sin:
“I hate the double-minded, but I love your law. You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word…teach me your statutes. I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!…My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law…I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law…Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” ~Psalm 119:113-114, 124-125, 136, 162-163, 175-176
It is true that the word “law” does not appear in the passage in Proverbs under consideration; however, the law of God is the only way to define the terms Solomon uses here. Righteousness, justice, and evil can actually only be defined by the law of God, as revealed in Scripture. Justice is one of the fundamental themes of Proverbs, so it is valuable to consider its relation to righteousness here, as it is set forth as one of the primary purposes and results of wisdom.
In a very real sense, all sin is injustice, for all sin is sin because it is contrary to the law of the Creator, which is the standard of justice. Scripture speaks very bluntly to the Lord’s hatred of all perpetration of injustice. Indeed, God hates it so much that it is for the removal of it from earth that Christ came, as the apostle John makes clear: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning since the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 2:8; see also 1 John 2:2, Romans 8:20-22, and Ephesians — particularly 1:9-10, 19-23, 2:8-12, etc.). Thus, when Proverbs 2:8 says that God guards the paths of justice, it is most definitely in this context which is laid out consistently and coherently throughout all of Scripture — and it is in this light that we ought to understand it.
Not long after the establishment of the covenant with Abraham, which, as Hebrews makes clear, was with Christ as the promised Redeemer, “The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him'” (Genesis 18:17-19).
The God who stores up sound wisdom for the upright is the God who is concerned with seeing justice done on earth; and he is also the God who made a covenant with men for their salvation, a salvation that would be extended across all the earth. This passage also contains in it how he guards justice and watches over his people, even as Solomon later asserts. When one keeps the commandments of the Lord, the Lord will keep that one. “Keeping” the commandments is a guarding of them, treasuring them, loving them, maintaining them — even so the Lord God keeps those who love him.
Our salvation, because it is covenantal in nature, is a legal matter that has real consequences in and for us, as for the world — our obedience is a legal matter that has real consequences in and for us, as for the world — so it is written. And what is this salvation but God’s saving, guarding, and keeping his children, both from the paths of evil and the way of injustice, as well as from the eternal consequences of such treason against God Most High?
So we see that when knowledge becomes pleasant to the heart, the resulting discretion will keep a man from taking delight in evil (vs. 14). His very inmost heart and desires will be changed — changed by God — and he will be enabled to rule over that sin that previously held the entirety of his person, including his will, mind, and emotions, imprisoned under slavery to sin and fear and death.
As an example of how this wisdom from God can very practically be a guard from the ways of darkness, we need look no further than the concept of training — a concept which is used often enough in the New Testament to describe a characteristic trait of a mature believer. The results of good training is that the trainee comes to possess a “second nature” reaction to the things facing him in whatever task he is engaged. As a result of effective training, especially if it is for some sort of dangerous situation, people are often preserved alive because they were equipped to respond to something (even if they have never actually experienced it before) in a way that they can avoid or mitigate the danger level to themselves and others. This is very similar to the passage under consideration, as God equips his children with wisdom, discernment, and discretion in order to preserve them from going apart to those who pervert truth, rebel against the Lawgiver, and walk in darkness. Once a man’s taste for darkness and evil has been changed though the grace of God, his first response will be to flee evil, rather than to desire the company of those who love injustice.
And so it is that it is attributed to God for keeping us and not to ourselves or to our own strength. It is God alone who empowers us to obey by changing our desires and our will by making us alive in Christ Jesus and setting his Spirit within us. Here, as in everything, we must acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of light, with whom there is no variation or even a hint of changeableness. It is all of him and it is all to his glory and he shall fill all in all.