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Proverbs 28:1-28

August 17, 2015

This chapter shifts its attention to being a wise and just ruler (as opposed to being a greedy and oppressive ruler).  Some of the sayings that I thought were interesting were the following:

The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion (v. 1).

This proverb runs counter to our usual cultural assumptions.  We often imagine the wicked as the bold:  they take what they want, they push aside others, they boldly take advantage of others and grasp at risky opportunities.  Meanwhile, we often think of the righteous as being a rather meek group, always careful, usually quiet, and unlikely to take chances.  But this proverb asserts the opposite.  It is the wicked who run, and it is the righteous who stand up.  Overall, this is probably the more true picture.  Those who take advantage of others typically do it secretly, in an underhanded way.  They are afraid of being caught and they are always looking over their shoulder.  Those who stand for what is right do so boldly, in the open.  They have no secrets to be afraid of, so they can take a stand, confident and clear-sighted.

The evil do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely (v. 5).

It is inherently true that those who do evil are not doing justice, but this proverb goes a step further and claims that those who do evil do not even understand justice.  I think of those who take “justice” into their own hands, seeking vengeance against those who have wronged them.  They mistakenly think they are doing justice when in actuality they are usually escalating a cycle of violence and causing even greater tears in the social fabric.  Those who give priority to their own concerns are incapable of understanding true justice, because true justice is committed to the wellbeing of all, without any selfish partiality or privilege.  But those who seek the Lord–those who are grounded in the laws given to Moses and in the stories of God’s grace–understand what justice truly is.  Justice is not punishment (though punishment may be a part of it).  Justice is everyone being given the resources and rights and dignity and protections they need in order to live a secure life; it is all of us living together in wholeness.

A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him (v. 11, NIV).

The rich (or all who have a comfortable life) always have a tendency to think that their material wellbeing is the result of their own intelligence or good sense or hard work.  In other words, the rich or well-off always seem to congratulate themselves.  But a poor person may be able to see the truth more clearly.  Wealth is not usually the result purely of one’s own efforts or wisdom; wealth is usually the result of where one started from.  If your parents have resources and connections, then you automatically have resources and connections.  The poor can work just as hard (or harder) but are unlikely to get nearly as far as those who begin with good mentors, top schools, financial stability, and cultural enrichments.  We all know this; that’s why middle-class parents try so hard to get their kids into the best schools and programs, and to get as many advantages for them as possible–so their kids will be more successful.  But becoming successful is not the same thing as becoming wise.  It is better to be poor and wise than rich and successful.  A wise life is a loving, sharing, and just life.

To show partiality is not good–yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread (v. 21, NIV).

Showing partiality is not good; it’s inherently unfair and unjust.  Most of us accept that principle.  Any yet, we fall into the temptation of showing partiality all of the time.  We give our family members and friends advantages that we do not give to others.  We give those who share our profession special protections and privileges which we do not give to those whose occupations are quite different or are less valued.  We show more deference to those from whom we might get a tip or some benefit.  As this proverb says:  We show partiality even for the sake of receiving a little extra bread.  In other words, even a small bribe is enough to persuade us to give a little privilege or look the other way.

If we truly wish to be fair and just, if we truly wish to live a life of wisdom that brings wholeness to all of society, then we need to take seriously the problem of showing partiality–whether that be for those of higher (or lower) economic status, or of a certain race or ethnicity, or occupation, or religion, or gender, or physical or mental ability, or family and friends.  It is natural to give extra attention and benefit to those closest to us, and in some cases we are morally responsible to do so.  It is also just and necessary to have accommodations for those who begin with disadvantages (for instance, in the Old Testament the poor are allowed to glean the leftover crops in the fields of others).  But the ultimate goal is that everyone is equally able to obtain what they need for their safety and happiness.


From → Proverbs

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