Two paths are presented to us in these verses: the way of wisdom (vv. 10-13) and the way of the wicked (vv. 14-17). The father/teacher continues his lecture on godliness.
4:10-13 — 10 Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. 11 I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. 12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. 13 Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.
When we accept our father’s words, we will live long (v. 10) and run well (v. 12). Furthermore, as wisdom guards us as we heed (v. 4), so we are required to guard her because “she is your life.” (v. 13). Verse 11 suggests that the son is already walking in the right path — the father reinforces the journey. Regarding verse 12, Waltke says, “The wise are free of debilitating moral obstacles that bring God’s judgment (see v. 19; Job 18:7).”
4:14-17 — 14 Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. 15 Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. 16 For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. 17 For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.
We have already met with similar exhortations in 1:10ff. “There is more than irony in this picture of upside down morality, where wickedness has become meat and drink and even duty. It is a warning against setting foot on a path which one might think adventurous and diverting, for it can lead as far as this. The Bible does not hide the fact that one can become as zealous for evil as for good.” (Kidner) Lawson adds these wise words: “We pray to be kept from temptation, and our practice ought not to contradict our prayers; otherwise it is evident, that as one man mocks another, so we mock God, by asking from him what we wish not to have.” (Lawson)
Perhaps we have met people like this? Whether we have or not is not important. Any fellowship with people who will not walk in the way of wisdom can easily lead to this. A seared conscience (as depicted in these verses) began with the first choice to forsake wisdom and the way of godliness. This moral depravity began with a simple defection.
Let us not form the mistaken idea, that the worse they are, we are in the less danger of imitating them, for the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Of little sins we are not afraid, but say within ourselves, ‘These sins are attended with little danger, are they not little ones? surely our souls shall not die though we fall into them.” We are as little afraid of great sins, because we think them so shocking that we cannot fall into them. Frequently does it happen, that laboring under such misapprehensions as these, men lay down their heads upon the lap of temptation, and awake like Sampson in the hands of their enemies. By these enemies they are carried captive at their will, and to this punishment God has given them up for neglecting to follow his counsels, and preferring to them the instructions of those who cause to err. (Lawson, 85-86)
4:18-19 — 18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. 19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.
Solomon contrasts the way of the righteous and the wicked. The future of God’s people who walk in wisdom can only get better. The idea being, each choice leads to other choices, from clarity to more clarity, from light to brightness, etc. They see where they are going and by the grace of God, they avoid obstacles. “Christians increase in knowledge, and grace, and happiness, in this world, and are perfected at death and the resurrection.” (Lawson)
The way of the wicked is just the opposite. Life does not get easier; every choice is complicated and more morally confused by each choice. This is probably best seen in those who are drug addicts or are in sexual bondage. The darkness becomes even darker. “Unbelievers may have some glimmerings of light in their minds and consciences, but these are not sufficient to keep them from walking in darkness…” (Lawson) “Their life course (the path) is filled with obstacles that cause them trouble…” (Longman) Jeremiah 23:12 says, “Therefore their way shall be to them like slippery paths in the darkness, into which they shall be driven and fall, for I will bring disaster upon them in the year of their punishment, declares the LORD.”