People from around the world are watching with deep interest what will happen on November 03, 2020 during the U.S. federal election. Our exposure, as Canadians, to the U.S. primarily comes through the various American outlets that are so accessible to us, and have deeply influenced our own culture in subtle and not so subtle ways. Many in the U. S. are holding their collective breath as they wonder how people will respond to the outcome of this election. Meanwhile, in Canada, laws are silently passing that will have significant future ramifications to our ‘religious liberties.’ Some may wonder how these things will all play out. One of the deepest concerns is that people will not respond in wisdom, but rather in a condition that reveals the sinful expressions within the human heart. How do we respond in life when things don’t go the way we want them to? Do we fret? Stew? Vent? Are we filled with anger? Despair?
One of the N.T. writers, James, who is deeply influenced by wisdom literature explains that we ought to be slow of speech, quick to listen and slow to anger (cf. James 1:19). The wisdom writers talk about restraint as a part of divine wisdom.
Yet, this kind of wisdom seems to be in short supply today. People are shouting to be heard, but not listening to one another. Rather than hearing another point of view, we are so filled with anger that it quickly leads to violence. We are seeing a greater expression of this today, both in Canada and the U. S., where people are expressing themselves in more violent ways, often at the expense of innocent people. So, how should we as followers of Christ respond? What does the wisdom literature have to say to us regarding our involvement with the political process, especially when there are so many divisive issues? Here in Proverbs 24 we will see a contrast between the behavior of the wise and those that the Scriptures describe as foolish. Let’s look at two ways in which wise people deal with evil in our world and the political ramifications that come from that.
A WISE PERSON WHEN DEALING WITH EVIL IS TO ADVOCATE FOR OTHERS RATHER THAN BEING ENVIOUS OF THE WICKED.
One of the great temptations of life is to desire the easy life of wealth and indulgence at the expense of integrity in one’s life. Moral values are often ignored in the process of acquiring the trappings of a ‘successful life.’ Many envy those who live with no regard for God and others, but are a god unto themselves. One of the questions that taunts the godly person is: What difference is it making by doing the ‘right thing,’ often at personal expense when others are doing the ‘wrong thing,’ and are prospering in life?
A. One of the great temptations in life is to be dissatisfied with what God has given us and envy those who have life easier.
One of the great secrets of life is learning to be content with one’s lot in life and seeing what we have as a gift of God. Yet many envy and fret because it seems the wicked are defying God, and yet living prosperous lives. We see the exasperation in such expressions found in Psalm 37 where this theme is being stated and in Psalm 73, where the Psalmist expresses his frustration:
For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.[i]
How often are people upset when they see the injustices of life. People being exploited by others and not being punished. To see people gaining at the expense of others. There is the temptation then to join in, cut corners, to play the game of whatever it takes to get ahead, but as we read on in these Psalms and Proverbs we will see that there is heart ache ahead for the wicked and deliverance for the righteous. We are warned against desiring to follow in the steps of the wicked. “Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble (Proverbs 24:1-2).”
How often young people are attracted to the gang for a sense of belonging, acceptance and acquiring, apart from the difficult and diligent means of hard work to build a life. We can see from the first chapter the father warning against the invitation to join the company of the wicked who are mocking the straight and narrow way:
My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them.
If they say, ‘Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood, let’s ambush some harmless soul; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths.[ii]
That temptation is still before young people today and some have fallen into this trap which ultimately leads to destruction both for themselves and others. Yet, we also see what happens to older people who feel that they have been cheated by life. How many bitter and resentful people are there who feel that life has not turned out the way they wanted it. Paul Koptak gives us a proper perspective and the kind of attitude that we need to develop in order to be free from such heart attitudes.
Looking at what we do not have, we forget that so many have so much less. As an antidote, these sages recommended acquiring the treasures of wisdom and using them to look out for others, holding back those who are heading toward death. In our envy of those who have so much, have we neglected those who are worse off than ourselves?[iii]
When we shift from getting to giving something powerful happens within our souls. We are free from the unhealthy compulsions of ‘things.’ When we are in the process of enriching others, we discover that we are enriched.
So, why is it so easy to fall victim to this temptation of envying others? Bruce Waltke states that this happens because of the state of our upside-down world as it pertains to values.
The prohibition, do not envy evil people assumes a morally topsy-turvy world. No one is tempted to join morally repulsive people unless they [wicked] were successful in their quest for easy money.[iv]
God challenges the people in Malachi’s hour who were struggling with materialism and questioning if it really paid to serve God.
‘You have spoken arrogantly against me,’ says the LORD. ‘Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
You have said, ‘It is futile’ to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?
But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.[v]
Three times in the thirty sayings we have this warning against envying the wicked (23:17, 24:1, 19). We also see that we are not to fret because of evildoers (vs. 19). Why? Because the wicked have no future. “Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked, for the evildoer has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out (Proverbs 24:19-20).”
Ultimately, all that is evil will come to an end. There is a day of reckoning, a day when God will judge humanity. There are moments even in this life, where God ends the power and policies of the wicked. Often it comes suddenly because all the warning signs are ignored.
The wisdom literature teaches that prosperity and power do not come from doing what is evil but living wisely; and in Proverbs that means that the ‘fear of God,’ is what is shaping our thoughts and actions. Community, prosperity in society and influence for good comes from doing what is right in God’s sight, though there are situations and times where this isn’t currently happening in people’s lives. However, as a general principle this is how life works. The great tragedy today is that we have forgotten this. In our political decision making we have focused on the wrong agendas. We are consumed with the economy to the neglect of morality and ethics. Rather than learning to trust God we have trusted in our own understanding (cf. Prov. 3:5). Rather than building relationships and healthy community, the lack of wisdom has contributed to its erosion. O. T. scholar, Tremper Longman insightfully relates: “Wisdom implies the ability to say the right thing and act the right way to build up community and not destroy it.”[vi]
To offset those warning texts about not allowing the wicked to influence us either by fretting over their initial successes or by wanting to emulate or copy their behavior; we read what really brings blessings both to us as individuals and to our society.
“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures (Proverbs 24:3-4).” Here the idea of house is not just the physical place where we live, but relationships within our houses. The treasurers are not just physical things of value, but the expressions of God’s Spirit manifesting his fruit in our homes. And what is the result of a wise or Spirit-filled life in relating to others? It can best be described as the ‘fruit’ or result of God’s Spirit at work in the human heart. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… (Galatians 5:22).”
This is the person who treats others with love and brings joy and peace into situations. We need to learn to be forbear and show kindness to each other. We also need to express goodness to others, being faithful and trustworthy. To enrich relationships we should demonstrate gentleness and restraint in our actions. These are all qualities that strengthen interpersonal relationships. These are the treasures that are so rare and beautiful that adorn godly homes, churches and communities. This is what it means to live wisely which as the New Testament writers understood as being endued with God’s Spirit.
Earlier in the book of Proverbs we see that God utilized his wisdom to build the entire universe.
“By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; (Proverbs 3:19).” God is calling us to build our lives, families and relationships in accordance with his wisdom. We ought not take the short-cut of folly to advance our lives.
So, what is being conveyed here by warning us against envying the wicked and not embrace their values and find ourselves in their company? There are inherent dangers when we cultivate wrong associations. They have unhealthy influences upon our values. Michael V. Fox shows some of the dangers that can happen as a result.
The wicked will bring upon themselves a punishment of such force that others in their company will be afflicted by it. The wicked will teach their associates to do evil, for which the latter too will suffer. And the evildoers’ propensity to harm others will one day turn against their confrères [colleagues].[vii]
B. Aside from the benefit of having an enriched home, we also see the value of wisdom prevailing in times of conflict.
The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength. Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.[viii]
Bruce Waltke points out that “the text in v. 5 is problematic.”[ix] How it is translated varies in different bible translations. In the New American Standard Bible it reads: A wise man is mightier than a strong man, and a man of knowledge than he who has strength.
Scholars agree that the focus in on wisdom and knowledge and what it produces. Tremper Longman points out that this is a
…better-than proverb, [where] we learn that wisdom is more important than strength. Again, as is the case with better-than proverbs, it is not a matter of strength being wrong or bad, but that wisdom is better. Indeed, the value of wisdom is not that it necessarily avoids war, but that it can provide the strategy through which strength can finds its most efficient expression and thus lead to victory.[x]
In other words, battles are not just won by numbers and strength, but rather, good strategies and tactics are even more important. Wisdom is more important than strength.
C. There is also an explanation of the downside of being wicked (also described as a fool).
Wisdom is too high for fools; in the assembly at the gate they must not open their mouths.
Whoever plots evil will be known as a schemer.
The schemes of folly are sin, and people detest a mocker.[xi]
A couple of things are easily seen from these Proverbs.
1. Fools lack wisdom and should not speak in the place where decisions are rendered. What they have to contribute lacks substance and help. The assembly at the gate was the judicial and legislative places of governance in ancient cities. Here we see when people are morally deficient they ought not to speak to guide communities, otherwise disaster follows. Often the morally deficient are scheming in private. “They may not plan beneficial community strategy in a public place like the gate, but they do plot and secretly scheme in a way that is destructive to the community.”[xii]
2. The second aspect is that if their advice is taken be assured that the schemes will be exposed for what they are. These decisions have negative consequences that cause others to detest them for it.
D. Here we will see the warnings against being envious of those who are wicked.
Instead of plotting violence and making trouble, the wise need to be advocating on behalf of those who are struggling. We are challenged therefore to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. One of the reasons people don’t stand up against what is evil, or falter in times of trouble is that they are weak, fearful and indifferent. But this is no excuse for not doing the courageous and right thing.
If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!
Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?’[xiii]
Here is a call to exert moral courage in addressing issues of injustice. When people are being abused and taken advantage of, we who are strong need to contend on their behalf. Paul Koptak concludes that “there are no valid excuses for standing idle when it is possible to help.”[xiv] This principle of the strong helping the weak, the struggling, the poor, oppressed and the victim is restated in the New Testament. Paul in writing to the Romans challenges them and us to stand up for those who are unable to stand for themselves.
We who are strong ought to bear with the failing of the weak and not to please ourselves.
Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.[xv]
We need to realize that if it is in our power to help others we ought to do what we can. This lack of involvement as the book of James points out is what is called the ‘sin of omission.’ Often as Christians we may think everything is okay in our lives if we don’t do the wrong thing, but sin is far more insidious than that. If we have the power and ability to do the right thing and don’t do it, that is also sin. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them (James 4:17).”
A WISE PERSON DEALS WITH EVIL IS BEING FILLED WITH HOPE RATHER THAN GLOATING OVER THE MISFORTUNES OF OTHERS.
One of the many definitions of evil is misfortune. How often we struggle in times of misfortune in our lives, but what sustains a person in such a time is hope. But how can we sustain hope during misfortune? Here we see how wisdom plays a significant part in the realm of maintaining hope and strength in difficult times. The wisdom writers start by sharing an analogy of the power of being confident in regard to the future. If you believe that your tomorrow will be better than today, it empowers you to live better in the time of testing.
A. The wisdom writers use an analogy to foster and encourage the pursuit of wisdom.
Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.
Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.[xvi]
There is nothing worse than having experienced the loss of hope. Another devastating experience is when hope or longings are delayed. It can bring discouragement and distress to our souls. Without hope we struggle. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).”
What we are hearing from Proverbs 24:13-14, is that like the sweetness of honey, so wisdom brings that sweetness into our lives. Wisdom inspires hope because it promises to us an amazing future. Earlier we were warned against envying the wicked because they do not have a future hope. Wisdom will ultimately produce good outcomes, though for a season we may be tested.
This is reinforced in the next couple of proverbs:
Do not lurk like a thief near the house of the righteous, do not plunder their dwelling place; for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.[xvii]
Having just explained the value of wisdom in bringing about a future hope, despite momentary misfortunes and challenges that come into our lives as God’s righteous people, here we see the promise that the righteous are able to survive their present challenges:
From the proverb, the sages understood that the righteous wise would suffer in life, but they also have the endurance to withstand the attacks of life. Life may beat them down, but they have hope (previous passage) because of wisdom. They see beyond the present misfortune. The number ‘seven’ is to be understood not literally but rather as a symbolic number for completeness, meaning the righteous will always get up. On the other hand the wicked will fall easily.[xviii]
So, what should be our attitude when the wicked fall?
B. Here we find a warning against gloating over the fall of the wicked.
We should never rejoice over those God brings down, even though they may have caused us much pain.
Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.[xix]
It seems to suggest that we should gloat or God will stop dealing with them. But that understanding is not consistent with Biblical thought. What is the idea that is being conveyed here? Bruce Waltke relates: “One may legitimately hope for God to right wrongs (2 Tim. 4:14 and should celebrate when God’s righteousness prevails, but one must not nurse malignant revenge (cf. 2 Sam. 1:10; Job 31:29; Ps. 35:11-14; Luke 19:41-44).”[xx] We need to remember that Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he foresaw its destruction because of their sinful rejection of him, as their Savior. Robert Alden raises the question.
How do we reconcile this passage with other portions of Scripture such as the songs of Moses and Miriam (Ex. 15) and numerous psalms which rejoice in God’s triumph over enemies? The difference is one’s attitude; diligently resolving to praise God for his victory rather than the defeat of the enemies.[xxi]
The apostle Paul picks up on this theme of handling life’s injustices and evil what our attitude ought to be.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.
On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.[xxii]
C. The consequences of associations and participation with the wicked.
How often do good people find themselves in trouble simply because they were in the wrong place with the wrong crowd and find themselves suffering the same consequences as the wicked? Or as Proverbs 24:19-20 warn, we ought not to fret because of evildoers. Why? Because they will eventually be removed. Their lamp will go out. In other words, “evil has no staying power”[xxiii] as Richard Clifford points out.
We have now concluded the thirty wise sayings with these final two. These sayings began with a call to fear God and walk in wisdom and that is how they conclude but with the addition of also ‘fearing the king.’
Fear the LORD and the king, my son, and do not join with rebellious officials, for those two will send sudden destruction on them, and who knows what calamities they can bring (Proverbs 24:21-22)?”
The two that bring calamity or judgment in this text is the Lord and those in authority.
So what are we to learn from these wisdom texts? Paul Koptak summarizes it so well. Surprisingly, the sages instruct us to practice emotional indifference to the wicked, or at least to refuse to indulge our reactions to their fortunes. If we are not to envy their rise, neither are we to be glad at their fall. Perhaps this response is important because there is an ever-present danger of becoming like them in attitude and action. If we are not to plot violence, neither are we to seek vengeance for it (24:15-18). Leave those who do violence to God and the king, and they will take care of it (24:21-22).[xxiv]
So how does this affect our service to God and country? We need to understand biblical wisdom, for in it there is hope, peace and stability for the future. In the book of James we have a description of two kinds of ‘wisdom.’ Like these proverbs, James challenges us not to be filled with envy and selfish ambition which he describes as a ‘wisdom’ that is earthly, unspiritual and demonic. “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:16.” Let us pray that in the days ahead that this kind of ‘wisdom’ will not prevail in us, nor others, for those outcomes will produce much disorder and evil. It will facilitate much social unrest.
[i] Psalm 73:3, 13-14 New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Proverbs 1:10-11, 13,15.
[iii] Paul Koptak, Proverbs, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 567.
[iv] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 268.
[v] Malachi 3:13-15.
[vi] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 436.
[vii] M. V Fox, Proverbs 10–31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Vol. 18B, (New Haven; London: Yale University Press., 2009), 743.
[viii] Proverbs 24:5–6.
[ix] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, 272.
[x] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, 437.
[xi] Proverbs 24:7-9.
[xii] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, 437.
[xiii] Proverbs 24:10-12.
[xiv] Paul Koptak, Proverbs, 562.
[xv] Romans 15:1-2.
[xvi] Proverbs 24:13-14.
[xvii] Proverbs 24:15-16.
[xviii] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, 439.
[xix] Proverbs 24:17-18.
[xx] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, 285.
[xxi] Robert Alden, Robert Alden, Proverbs: A Commentary of an Ancient Book of Timeless Advice, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1983), 174.
[xxii] Romans 12:19-21.
[xxiii] Richard Clifford, Proverbs, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1981), 215.
[xxiv] Paul Koptak, Proverbs, 568.