The Wicked Cannot Sleep Until They Have Quenched Their Desire to Do Wrong
Proverbs 4:16-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
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.
For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong: They, the wicked ones, are nothing like the Psalmist, who says, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Jehovah, make me dwell in safety.” No, the wicked ones here are a special breed of evil, as they are unable to sleep unless they have wronged someone in some way. As we will notice from the parallel line of verse 16, they are not purposely laying awake, so as to commit some crime in the middle of the night, but rather they have a conscience that desires evil to the point of not being able to sleep until it has been quenched (satisfied). They cannot sleep unless they have been busy wronging another to the point where the victim stumbles.
They are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble: Here robbed (gā·zǎl) the passive form of the verb, which means to take someone’s possessions unlawfully (to seize or tear away) from them by force or threat of force against their will. In both Hebrew and English, someone can be robbed (deprived) of sleep if his thoughts or anxieties keep him from sleeping. In this case, the wicked one is being robbed of sleep because he is anxious to do evil to another. The Hebrew verb stumble (Heb. kā·šǎl) means to walk unsteadily. Figuratively, again, in this context, it refers to a weak, troubled, failing person.
For they eat the bread of wickedness: Yes, the wicked seem to sustain themselves on evil deeds. Doing what is evil is like food to the wicked one. They are incapable of sleeping unless they engage in acts of wrongdoing to the point of causing another to stumble. Their very nature is depraved! Can you really safeguard your heart while in association with them?
And drink the wine of violence: “The metaphor of ingesting food and drink is used to indicate the deeply engrained wickedness of the wicked. Again, doing what is evil is like wine to the wicked one. How foolish to walk on “the path of the wicked” or “walk in the way of evil men” (vs 14) by exposing ourselves to the violence of their companionship, the violence of their mindset! Endeavoring to be tenderly compassionate utterly is not harmonious with taking in the thinking of these wicked ones by thinking that you can convert him to the faith through your association. When a clean glove and a dirty glove come into contact with each other, it is the dirty glove that rubs off on the clean glove, not the other way.
Solomon makes it all too clear to his son; he must cling to this instruction as if it is a life preserver. Solomon goes into a bit of an outburst of warning, to get the point across that the path of the evil one is filled with sin, vile acts, and violence. How many different ways can he stress the need to avoid that path? These ones are so deplorable that they “cannot sleep unless they have done wrong.” The righteous one is very foolish if he believes that he can walk on the path of the wicked one, and at the same time, keep his heart pure. His feeding his mind on, entertaining his thinking with, cultivating violence, will only lead to sin and death. Imagine walking on the railing of Niagara Falls, and that is what it is like even considering the idea of entering the path of the wicked.