Posted: 10 Apr 2011 12:00 AM PDT
ON PROVERBS 28, I WISH to make two observations:
First, this chapter, typical of others in this book, devotes considerable attention to rulers. "When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order" (Prov. 28:2). This acknowledges the joint responsibility of ruler and people. "When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding" (Prov. 28:12; cf. also Prov. 28:28). The skills of ruling are never merely administrative and personal, but are tied to the deepest questions of public justice. "Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked man ruling over a helpless people" (Prov. 28:15). This puts a similar thought in highly dramatic form. "A tyrannical ruler lacks judgment, but he who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long life" (Prov. 28:16). This reflects the danger of corruption in any government, especially one that is unconstrained by competing branches and electoral limitations. Indeed, this passage puts into proverbial form something more comprehensively set out in Deuteronomy 17:18–20.
Second, people sometimes charge that the Bible's Wisdom Literature seems so cut off from the rest of the Bible's plot-line that they do not know how to integrate it with the whole. Sermons and Bible studies on Proverbs or Ecclesiastes are always in danger of degenerating into thin moralizing that could easily be slotted into some other religious framework. One understands the problem, but there are more links between Wisdom Literature and the rest of the canon than is sometimes acknowledged. From this chapter I mention three:
(1) Rather exceptionally, three times this chapter refers to the Law of God. "Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them" (Prov. 28:4)—which illustrates the social implications of law-keeping. "He who keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father" (Prov. 28:7)—a contrast both startling and suggestive. "If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable" (Prov. 28:9)—which demonstrates that under the terms of the old covenant, faithfulness to God was shown in obedience to the Law.
(2) "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy" (Prov. 28:13)—with dramatic echoes and advances in
(3) "A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him" (Prov. 28:11); "A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper" (Prov. 28:25). Read James.
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