Saturday, July 03, 2010

Proverbs 28:28-29:2

Proverbs 28:28

“When the wicked arise, men hid themselves; but when they perish, the righteous increase.”

This connects back with 28:12 which had a similar point: “When the righteous rejoice, there is great glory; but when the wicked arise, men hide themselves.” In both places the word translated “men” is literally ‘Adam’. And while there is a different word used to describe Adam hiding himself (Gen. 3:7), the parallel is there, and the same word is used when Cain describes his exile (Gen. 4:14).

The second half of the proverb continues some of the allusions: first, the word for “when they perish” has all three letters in the word ‘Adam’ and sounds and looks similar. But when the wicked perish, the righteous “increase” or “multiply,” the same word used in Genesis for men and animals are supposed to do under the blessing of God (Gen. 1:22, 28).

Peter Leithart points out that this suggests that the story of the Fall is not merely the story of Adam’s failure and shame, but it suggests that Adam hides because Sin and Death have begun to rule. They have listened to the voice of Satan and given him authority, and this drives them into hiding. In some ways, human history continues in this state until Jesus comes to be lifted up so that these wicked rulers may be cast down and the righteous may be revealed and come out of hiding. So that they might multiply and fill the earth.

This proverb may be a simple description of fact: when the Nazis are in power, the Jews hide. But part of the conclusion of this proverb also implies that the way to “multiplying” in obedience and righteousness is through making sure that the wicked die/perish.


“He who is often rebuked and hardens his neck will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”

This echoes 28:14: “Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.”

The archetype of “hardness” is Pharaoh who hardens himself to the correction and rebuke of Yahweh (Ex. 7:3, 13:15). He was suddenly destroyed in the sea and that without remedy. But this specific phrase “hard neck” is what later describes the people of Israel that God brought out of Egypt (Ex. 32:9, 33:2, 33:5, 34:9), the generation that died in the wilderness for their hard hearts and unbelief (Ps. 95:8, Heb. 3:7ff). God likewise destroyed generations of Israel in the time of the judges who persisted in their hardness. (Judg. 2:19).

The point of the proverbs is that at some point correction and rebuke are no longer valuable. There is no hope for certain kinds of fools (cf. 6:15). Perhaps this really only at death where there is no more hope of remedy, but certainly humanly speaking there are points at which people seem truly beyond remedy because of the depth of sin and deception. Clearly this is a warning about the nature of refusing to listen to correction. Disregarding instruction and correction once can seem harmless enough, but the implication is that this kind of “hardness” is hard to back out of. The phrase “no cure/remedy” suggests that “hardness of the neck” is like a cancer, a disease that if allowed to grow is ultimately fatal (cf. 2 Chron. 21:18). By contrast the tongue of the wise brings healing (Prov. 12:18).

This suggests that while Israel was offered the wisdom/healing of God through the law and the covenant, they ultimately clung to the hardness disease of Pharaoh and were destroyed in the wilderness. And the same warning applies to Christians who have been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gifts.


“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”

This proverb is like 28:12 and 28:28. The word for “authority” is the same word used for “multiply” in 28:28. Here instead of hiding, the people “groan” when the wicked rule. Again, there seems to be an allusion to the Exodus story where the same word is used to describe Israel’s groaning because of their slavery (Ex. 2:23). Interestingly, this is the word used to describe the groaning that God heard. When they groaned and cried, it came up to God.

The proverb contrasts the responses of “the people” rejoicing and groaning, and the difference is between the wicked ruling and the righteous multiplying. The implication is that authority and numbers are related. Sometimes numbers precede authority and sometimes authority precede numbers, but they frequently go together and this is consistent with God’s original commissioning of Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:27).
There is also an implied difference between the ruling of the wicked and the righteous based on the responses of the people. The people rejoice because the righteous use their authority to serve and bless while the wicked use their authority to crush and grab. Again, the wicked rule like Pharaohs fearful of competition and threat, while the righteous rule like Christ, leading through self sacrifice.
We might also use this proverb to suggest a kind of litmus test for all sorts of communities. Are the people “rejoicing” or “groaning”? In your family, school, business, church, nation? Of course sometimes people groan out of laziness and hardness of heart, but a wise ruler/authority knows when he is generally heading in the right direction because there is the right tone among the people, the right kind of joy.

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