What happens when we depart from God's ways? According to this passage in Proverbs there is a very serious consequence for us when we do this. Even worse is what awaits us if we go even further than this and reject God's reproof after we've left his ways.
What is at stake here? Well, what drives this particular proverb is the idea of "forsaking the way." "The way," refers to God's way - the way of his commandments. Several times the phrase, "the way of the Lord" is used to refer to this. If you want to understand it better you can turn to the 119th Psalm which calls it by various names like, "the way of righteousness," "the way of Your testimonies," "the way of Your precepts," "the way of Your statutes," as well as what we've already said as the way of God's commandments. This way is the commands and the things God calls us to be and to do in His Word. When we "forsake" this way, we are doing the following. We no longer listen carefully to God's Word - we don't pay heed to it or obey it. But the core idea here is no longer listening or paying attention to someone. That Someone here is God. In case you do not know what this means - it means as you listen - you do so in order to respond and obey God.
What happens when we forsake God's way? The Word here says that we face "grevious punishment." The word translated for this is the Hebrew word "ra" - and it simply means, bad things! When you no longer walk with God, listen to Him, or obey Him - bad things are going to eventually happen in your life. This is the case no matter whether you are His or not. If you take a close look at the progress (or regress) of the world around you, you can see that ignoring and forsaking God's ways has never led to a world of peace and blessing. By its very nature this world works best when God's ways and paths are followed. When they are ignored - or worse - shunned, things go bad. This is a fait accompli - an established fact!
Now a second warning is also issued at this point - and I think it is a reminder that God's rebuke and reproof are proofs of His love - not hate. When we forsake God's way, we will face bad things, but when we go further and ignore His loving reproof of those ways and continue in rebellion - we are headed toward death. It is God's great mercy and love that arrests us in our rebellion with disciplinary action. He allows difficulties and problems to come to us to turn us from the insanity of abandoning His ways. But when we are too stubborn to listen - we are moving toward death itself. What is terrifying is the warning in 1 John that there is a sin leading unto death - a point at which a disciplinary measure from God involves having a person die. Wisdom tells us to respond to His discipline and His reproof quickly - so that we will not have to go that far.
One last comment on this passage. These two truths are just that - truth. But they had their most astounding fulfillment in the cross of Jesus Christ. It was there that we saw the most grievous punishment imaginable. It had nothing to do with the Roman scourage or the nails in the hands of our Savior. It had little or nothing to do with the agony of the cross physically as Jesus gapsed for air as His torn and bruised body slowly died on the cross. But it had everything to do with why Jesus sweat blood the night before in the garden. It had everything to do with the agony of the wrath and judgment of God upon sin. Calling it a grevious punishment seems too small in light of what it truly cost Christ to pay for our sin before His holy Father. That is why we should never take sin in our lives lightly. Yes, our sin was paid in full by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross - but we should always view that truth with both trembling and a sense of honor to God for what He did for us. Otherwise we will take sin too lightly - and risk thinking that forsaking His way really is not that bad - and it really won't cost us much. There is foolish talk that reaches to the heavens themselves - and the kind of talk that will give rise to actions that will in the end yield that grevious punishment and stinging rebuke.