The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.
It wouldn’t take much to imagine a fairy tale attached to this proverb. If we ponder the meaning of the last word, a tragic version of Jack and the Beanstalk might unfold.
The Giant Dead
Go ahead and think of the “congregation of the dead” as an assembly of gruesome zombies. No one would want to have supper with them, not unless they wanted to be the main course. Think also of a cemetery, a place where the dead have surely congregated and remain to this day. Either one would be a mental picture worthy of us staying on the right path.
But one could also think of the “congregation of the dead” as something else. One commentary points out that the early church Fathers regarded the Rephaim [the Hebrew word translated as “dead”] as “the giants,” in accordance with their interpretation of Gen. 6:1–4.* So, picture with me, if you please, a spiritual version of bone-crushing, fe-fi-fo-yelling, monsters.
What could be scarier than foolishly wandering off the path of understanding, only to run into a congregation of 50ft-tall man-eaters? Not much one can do.
Sadly, there are many who wander away in their own wisdom. They think the way of understanding is too boring, too uneventful, and too safe. They believe they know a better way, so they take off on their own into the dark.
Unfortunately, Solomon uses language that implies a sense of permanence. He says that the one who wanders away “shall remain” with the dead, or giants, or whatever. By that he means a “rest as at a journey’s end; death will be his unchanging home.”**
Too often parents and grandparents say that children need to “sow their wild oats,” meaning that they should be allowed to act with indiscretion and abandon while they are still young. Tragically, many of those young people wind up trapped by the congregation of giants, never to be seen again.
Would Solomon have suggested sowing oats in a giant’s field?
*Proverbs, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 407.
**Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), Pr 21:16.