Proverbs 16:17

ESV The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life.
NIV The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives.
NASB The highway of the upright is to turn away from evil; One who watches his way protects his life.
CSB The highway of the upright avoids evil; the one who guards his way protects his life.
NLT The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe.
KJV The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul.

What does Proverbs 16:17 mean?

Solomon describes the life of an upright person as a highway. Scripture often uses this metaphor, in part because a person's life is not a single step; it is a journey. Each choice is a step that moves us in a certain direction and creates the conditions for our next choice. Doing what is right often disagrees with our selfish human nature. This is why Jesus referred to righteousness as a "hard way" that few people choose (Matthew 7:14). Peter refers to this journey as a sojourn (1 Peter 2:11), and he urged his Christian readers to keep their conduct honorable (1 Peter 2:12).

Those encouragements fit Solomon's description of the "highway of the upright" as one that avoids evil. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul declares that every believer is newly created, with a life that doesn't follow the paths of sin. Although believers sin (1 John 1:8–10), their lives are not characterized by sin. Instead, their new life is characterized by righteousness. The apostle John writes: "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning" (1 John 3:9). As believers walk in newness of life, following Christ's light (Psalm 119:105), they guard their souls from sinning.

As other proverbs have pointed out, this righteous path of belief in Christ keeps a person from dire consequences. These include both earthly complications of sin (Proverbs 12:28), and eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23; 6:23; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
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