“One who has isolated himself seeks his own selfish desires; he rejects all sound judgment.”(Proverbs 18:1)

The immediate question is why the text associates selfishness with pursuing isolation. Isn’t it okay to isolate yourself from crowds to spend time with the Lord as Jesus did? What’s wrong with not wanting to be with people if that just happens to be your personality? First we should keep in mind that Proverbs’ literary genre is proverbial wisdom. This means it’s written with short memorable phrases that are not meant to apply to every circumstance. A modern example would be the saying “practice makes perfect.” In general this saying makes sense, but there are times when natural skill makes perfect in a way that practice alone cannot achieve. Similarly, Proverbs isn’t saying that all cases of isolation are selfish but it’s merely saying that those consistently driven toward isolation often do seek their own desires. 

There are two kinds of isolation: (1) from people or (2) from God. Clearly there are times when isolation from people is appropriate because Jesus Himself did so (Luke 5:16), but it wasn’t true isolation because Jesus was drawing near to God and eventually returned to the people. True isolation of the sort that Proverbs is speaking of here involves removing yourself from God and people. This sort of isolation cannot be good because we’re made to be social creatures. Isolation leads to selfishness because it essentially says: “I don’t need anyone but myself.” When the only immediate person is yourself, you’ll naturally only seek your own desires. Sound judgement tells us that we’re made to socialize with God and others, so a person who seeks isolation is rejecting all sound judgement.

Furthermore, I believe that it’s also referring to people who consistently isolate themselves from others in order to devote themselves to God. As admirable as this sounds, it is in fact the opposite of what Proverbs teaches us. How are we to let our light shine for others to see if we are isolated from the world (Matthew 5:16)? Are we not social creatures by nature? There’s nothing admirable about keeping the blessings of communion with God to yourself. That’s just a subtle form of selfishness. There are seasons in which it is morally permissible to seek God in isolation, but we must always return to our community afterwards (Heb 10:25). No one in Scripture ever permanently isolated themselves from God’s community or the world so we should be careful not to go extreme in the other direction because that too can lead to a “holy” selfishness.