Proverbs 1:17 "Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird."
For the first time in his collection of proverbs, Solomon references the animal kingdom. When God gifted Solomon with wisdom, He gave the king insight regarding God, man and creature. Each of his three books of the Bible include healthy references to Nature. From the beginning, wise men like Job have used the creatures of Nature to illustration basic but important truths. Solomon, the wisest of all men, made it one of his hobbies to observe Nature in order to enhance his teaching and counsel. He knew the animal kingdom of his country well and undoubtedly learned much of the world’s animal kingdom through his travels and through his imported personal zoo (1 Kings 10:22). Nature held a special place in Solomon’s mind and in his writings. 1 Kings 4:33, “He spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowls, and of creeping things, and of fishes.”
It should be of no surprise that the first member of the animal kingdom that Solomon used as an illustration for his young son was the bird. Given the size and simplicity of the bird, there may be no greater contrast to the wisdom that Solomon had made as the theme of his book. In Job 35:11, Elihu spoke the obvious truth that God made man “wiser than the fowls of heaven.” Solomon seized that truth and used it as an illustration of how foolish a man would be to consent to the sinners he had been exposing in chapter one. For six verses, this animal lover had been describing the strategy of the sinful. He had exposed statements and phrases that the wicked would use to lure the simple into their mischievous plans. For six verses, this bird-watcher had essentially described the net sinners use to catch their prey, those they would then use to help them do evil.
With the net of the wicked exposed, the young reader should be able to easily identify the danger that awaited him if he walked into that enticing net. And before any young man contemplated joining sinners, Solomon provided a visual to consider; an illustration to remember. He wanted his audience to see an ignorant creature with a small brain had enough sense to avoid an obvious threat. The Wise Zookeeper painted a quick picture of a fowler spreading a net in the sight of any bird only to see that bird fly away and easily avoid the fowler’s attempt to catch it. The Wise Bird-watcher told his young audience that it would be a waste of time and effort for anyone looking to catch a bird to spread the net in its sight. No bird would be so foolish to walk into such an obvious threat.
The young person who hears a moral sales pitch containing statements similar to that which Solomon detailed in this passage is in the same spot a bird would be in if a fowler spread a net before its little eyes. If that young person doesn’t flee with haste, then his foolishness is even greater than that of an ignorant bird. The young person who consents to the crowd that spreads its net before him is deemed by Solomon to be worse than a “bird-brain.”
Birds, according to Solomon, get into trouble because of their hastiness. To catch a bird, a fowler must take it by surprise because even a bird has enough sense to avoid what it can see is designed to trap it. Solomon was writing a book for his son so that his son wouldn’t be taken by surprise. He was equipping his son to be able to identify threats awaiting him in a dangerous world. This illustration is not an illustration of identification of a threat; it was an illustration of avoiding the threat. It wasn’t good enough to give Rehoboam the tools to identify a moral threat; he would need the tools to ultimately avoid that moral threat. Giving knowledge was only one of Solomon’s goals. Giving wisdom was the ultimate goal and wisdom is taking the knowledge available and making the right decision.
Solomon’s first illustration in the animal kingdom was a poster on the walls of Rehoboam’s mind intending to motivate him to rise above the common sense of a mere bird. Proverbs 1:17 is a visual every man, woman, boy and girl should remember when facing an obvious moral threat. May it motivate us to be wiser than a bird and may it deter us from becoming more foolish than a “bird-brain.”