“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”” (2 Peter 2:20–22, NASB95)
Having moved away from the things of the world toward Christ, these false prophets have now entangled themselves even more in the things from which they first sought to escape. The real issue here is that in coming to Christ they apparently did so on their own terms, and were never truly converted and set free from the enslavement to sin. Having heard the true gospel, they embraced something less and then eventually turned away even from that. In verse 1 we read of them, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1, NASB95)
In verse 1 we read that they were bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Here in these verses we read that where they wound up was worse than where they first begun. We saw this several posts ago in the example of Jim Jones, whose religious empire collapsed around him resulting in the deaths of nearly 1,000 people and his own suicide. The way of the false teacher ends in destruction, and Peter said that this end is much more drastic than the deception with which they first began. We have read in these passages that God is swift and sure with His judgment, and time after time He has proven this so. Even in those where the destruction has not been so obvious to us, we know that God is faithful in His judgment after their death, which is where the real final execution of the penalty of judgment is exacted.
Where we often struggle in this is with our own time frames and with what we can see. But later in this letter Peter will also deal with this when we read of His reason for delay in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NASB95) If He is slow toward each of Peter’s readers and us, not exacting judgment on us immediately then we are encouraged even to trust Him to be appropriate in His timing even with these false prophets.
But it will happen unless they are truly saved. And, Peter said of those who don’t that because of their knowledge of the truth they will be held accountable to the standard of that knowledge and what they did in abusing it, especially as it pertains to all that they deceived in the process.
For these false prophets, Peter said what happened to them was according to a true proverb or possibly two proverbs. The first of them, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” is found in Proverbs 26:11. “Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11, NASB95) Verse 12 of that proverb continues, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 26:12, NASB95) These arrogant men are worse than a fool. They are like a dog that eats the very thing that it just threw up. They get so immersed in their lies that they swallow them themselves hook, line, and sinker.
Jews did not hold dogs in high regard. Neither did they hold the animal of the next example, which is the pig. The source of this proverb is a little more uncertain. It may have been from the “Story of Ahikar,” (or Haiqar the Wise, the Vizier of Sennacherib the King) which was written in the late 5th century B.C.. As the story reads, Ahikar had 60 wives, but no son. So, he pleaded to God for a son. We read,
“And he returned, and implored the Most High God, and believed, beseeching Him with a burning in his heart, saying, '0 Most High God, 0 Creator of the Heavens and of the earth, o Creator of all created things! I beseech Thee to give me a boy, that I may be consoled by him, that he may be present at my death, that he may close my eyes, and that he may bury me.’”
“Then there came to him a voice saying, 'Inasmuch as thou hast relied first of all on graven images, and hast offered sacrifices to them, for this reason thou Shalt remain childless thy life long. But take Nadan thy sister's son, and make him thy child and teach him thy learning and thy good breeding, and at thy death he shall bury thee.’”
“Thereupon he took Nadan his sister's son, who was a little suckling. And he handed him over to eight wet-nurses, that they might suckle him and bring him up. And they brought him up with good food and gentle training and silken clothing, and purple and crimson. And he was seated upon couches of silk. And when Nadan grew big and walked, shooting up like a tall cedar, he taught him good manners and writing and science and philosophy., so he adopted his nephew.”
Great, now he had his son. But, how does the proverb quoted by Peter apply? Well, as the story goes as the vizier grew old he bestowed his favor on his adopted son, and they continued to pour into him such that we read at the end of chapter 1, “And he took Nadan his sister's son with him and seated him in a parlour and set about teaching him night and day till he had crammed him with wisdom and knowledge more than with bread and water.” Chapter 2 then goes on with 66 verses with each one of them beginning with “O my son!” which was then followed by a different life instruction. The last verse of chapter 2 read, “There are four things in which neither the king nor his army can be secure: oppression by the vizier, and bad government, and perversion of the will, and tyranny over the subject; and four things which cannot be hidden: the prudent, and the foolish, and the rich, and the poor.”
Chapter 3 then begins, “THUS spake Haiqar, and when he had finished these injunctions and proverbs to Nadan, his sister's son, he imagined that he would keep them all, and he knew not that instead of that he was displaying to him weariness and contempt and mockery.” Well, as it turned out Nadan did not heed the advice of his uncle and he even conspired before the king to bring down his uncle and take his place. Then in chapter 6 the tables turned and things collapsed on Nadan. We read,
“And Sennacherib the king said, 'Take him, I have given him to thee,' And Haiqar took Nadan, his sister's son, and bound his hands with chains of iron, and took him to his dwelling, and put a heavy fetter on his feet, and tied it with a tight knot, and after binding him thus he cast him into a dark room, beside the retiring - place, and appointed Nebu - hal as sentinel over him and commanded him to give him a loaf of bread and a little water every day.”
CHAP. VII, “Striking similes. Ahikar calls the boy picturesque names. Here ends the story of Ahikar. AND whenever Haiqar went in or out he scolded Nadan, his sister's son, saying to him wisely: 0 Nadan, my boy! I have done to thee all that is good and kind. and thou hast rewarded me for it with what is ugly and bad and with killing. '0 my son! it is said in the proverbs: He who listeneth not with his ear, they will make him listen with the scruff of his neck.’”
Then Ahikar proceeded to scold Nadan verse after verse about the things that he had done and the consequence of them. In verse 28 of that scolding we read, “0 my son! thou hast been to me like the pig who went into the hot bath with people of quality, and when it came out of the hot bath, it saw a filthy hole and it went down and, wallowed in it.” The end for Nadan was drastic.
“my boy! what shall I say more to thee than these sayings? for the Lord knoweth what is' hidden, and is acquainted with the mysteries and the secrets. And He will requite thee and will judge betwixt me and thee, and will recompense thee according to thy desert,' And when Nadan heard that speech from his uncle Haiqar, he swelled up immediately and became like a blown-out bladder. And his limbs swelled and his legs and his feet and his side, and he was torn and his belly burst asunder and his entrails were scattered, and he perished, and died. And his latter end was destruction, and he went to hell. For he who digs a pit for his brother shall fall into it; and he who sets up traps shall be caught in them.”
“This is what happened and (what) we found about the tale of Haiqar, and praise be to God for ever. Amen, and peace. “This chronicle is finished with the help of God, may He be exalted: Amen, Amen, Amen.”
Nadan had been shown greatness and he rejected it, exchanging it for his own desire for glory. This proverb was evidently quite popular and was likely known to Peter’s audience, and whether or not it was what Peter actually quoted from its lesson certainly is consistent with the words of this passage.
God has declared that He will deal seriously with those who deceive His sheep. As we walk before Him and hide His word in our hearts we need to be diligent ourselves to be on guard for false teachers. They are around. They are polished. They are persistent, and they will destroy. God’s Word has been given to us to guard us against such men. It is only in His Son that we have life and it is by His Word in the power of His Spirit that we are to live. And to twist the well-known words of a lawyer from years past, “It it doesn’t fit, we must REJECT!”