Proverbs 4:16

ESV For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
NIV For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble.
NASB For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.
CSB For they can't sleep unless they have done what is evil; they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.
NLT For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day. They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble.
KJV For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.

What does Proverbs 4:16 mean?

Solomon is condemning the lifestyle of those who ignore godly wisdom: those he earlier referred to as "the evil" (Proverbs 4:14). This verse presents a picture of those trapped by sin which is almost pitiable. It shows how rejecting our Creator doesn't lead to peace; it makes us miserable. Following God, on the other hand, gives us great peace (John 10:10; Proverbs 3:24).

This verse uses another feature common to wisdom literature, and to ancient writing. This technique is hyperbole, or "exaggeration for effect." Solomon is not saying that evildoers literally have insomnia until they corrupt someone else. Rather, the point is that "the evil" are so driven by their sin and depravity that it consumes their lives. The following verse expands on that symbolism by referring to food (Proverbs 4:17). Worse, wrongdoers aren't content to travel the broad road to destruction alone; they want to entice others to travel with them.

In the days leading up to Noah's flood, wickedness was not confined to one or two groups. The entire civilization, excepting Noah and his family, was steeped in sin. Wickedness had become contagious. When God surveyed humanity, he saw "that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). As the return of the Lord approaches, the wicked will not only follow the evil dictates of their hearts but will also lead others astray (2 Timothy 3:1–6). In the tribulation period, the false prophet will force others to engage in the wicked act of worshiping the beast from the sea (Revelation 13:13–17).
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