Prudent: Wise or judicious in practical affairs; discreet; circumspect or sober. Some might equate this word to being "street-wise". The individual who is prudent has learned who and what can be trusted, when each needs to be put to practical use, and what can be counted on to deliver the best results. There is another definition of the prudent man or woman: thrifty or frugal. I guess this might be why the word is used in this passage - it is kind of like a prudent person who is street-wise knows when to expend their energies and when to let things go because the energies expended will just be way too much!
A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered. (Proverbs 22:3 MSG)
Simpleton: An ignorant, silly or foolish person; numskull. I like the last definition because it kind of points out the ways the simpleton works - with his or her brain asleep! Now this is a direct contrast to how the prudent operates - for the prudent is always on alert. There is something quite dangerous about letting one's mind be lulled into a place of laziness or slumber. There are times we need to "shut off" for a while, but when it becomes a way of life for us, we open ourselves up to every whim of silliness around!
So, here we are presented with two individuals - one who has attentiveness to their ways and another who just flies by the seat of their pants. The difference - one will actually be able to duck quick enough to avoid disaster (natural, spiritual, or emotional)! The other will simply be hit head-on. Perhaps even knocked out by the blows.
Just a little further in this chapter we find the words: In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls, but those who would preserve their life stay far from them. (vs. 5 NIV) On my vacation this year, I enjoyed some time out in nature. I took many a "marked" path, but none of them did a good job of telling me ahead of time what the dangers were on the path which I would eventually traverse. It was not until I was fully engaged in the path, already committed to the journey, that the hazards became apparent.
It had rained heavily in the area the days before we began or trek. So much of the pathway was wet, slightly muddy, and had some newly "gutted" waterways crossing them. The normal soft leaf covering was wet, matted down by the rains, and provided some challenges to gain footing at times. The truth be told, the path had more hazards than it did "plainly marked out footing".
If you were following me that day, you probably observed me criss-crossing from one side of the path to the other - a technique I learned years ago to make a steep and hard climb a little easier. I could have lunged up the huge stepped stones on occasion, but I chose the smaller stones and often went off the path in order to avoid those stones. Why? Two reasons actually - the stones were wet, so they could be slippery; and the stones made me work a whole lot harder than I wanted to! I took the longer route because it made the climb the easiest.
In the area I live, most trails are marked with a difficulty level, so the one engaging in the hike knows ahead of time what type of climb they might encounter. Here they were not. So, I took each trail in faith. I kind of think life is like that a little - sometimes we get the well-marked trail which gives us plenty of warning about the amount of effort which will be required of us to traverse from one point to another; other times we get the trails which have no markings, give us no warning of their dangers, and which present some unknown hazards to the one on the journey.
The simpleton trods ahead; the prudent examines the path as it is presented. The simpleton takes the steps which will do nothing more than tire and present unwanted "slipping" points. The prudent will examine the course and see the shortest distance may not be the best for preserving strength, stamina, and avoiding injury.
We are afforded many paths in life - we can face them as the simpleton or the prudent. The choice is ours. Not every path will be well-marked, giving us every chance to declare it too hard for us to traverse. I think God might just do this on purpose, for if we knew the end from the beginning, let alone the way we'd have to traverse to get there, we probably would pull back and declare the path just way too hard for our travels! Just sayin!