RPM, Volume 16, Number 32, August 3 to August 9, 2014

Wicked Troubles

Proverbs 15:25-29

By D. Marion Clark


Troubles; we've all got them. Sometimes we keep quiet about them; sometimes we moan loudly. We write songs about them. Indeed, much of the world's great literature, music and art have sprung from troubles. But sometimes we bring our troubles on ourselves (and on others). That is the case of the wicked as our proverbs this morning will note.


25 The LORD tears down the proud man's house but he keeps the widow's boundaries intact.

The Scriptures often speak of God's animosity towards the proud. They really bother him. In contrast he favors the humble. Here are a couple of examples:

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble
(Luke 1:51-52).

6 Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly,
but the proud he knows from afar
(Psalm 138:6).

The primary reason he despises pride is that springs from man's desire to compete against God for glory, and there are scriptures which speak to this. But oftentimes the Bible connects pride with plain old meanness. Proud is synonymous with wickedness. Again, a couple of examples:

1 O LORD, the God who avenges,
O God who avenges, shine forth.
2 Rise up, O Judge of the earth;
pay back to the proud what they deserve.
3 How long will the wicked, O LORD,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?
4 They pour out arrogant words;
all the evildoers are full of boasting.
5 They crush your people, O LORD;
they oppress your inheritance.
6 They slay the widow and the alien;
they murder the fatherless.
7 They say, "The LORD does not see;
the God of Jacob pays no heed"
(Psalm 94:1-7).

19 Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud
(Proverbs 16:19).

This is the proud person that our proverb is speaking of. The proud man's house is built either on the land of the widow or by swindling people like her to get his wealth and property. This is why the proverb speaks of keeping the widow's boundaries intact. It is referring to her land being protected from the proud land barons. The contrast in the proverb is not simply between the proud and the humble, but the oppressor and the oppressed. It is between the oppressor who acts out of his pride that he is strong and the oppressed who because of being in humble circumstances is vulnerable to abuse.

This proverb lets us know clearly what God thinks of the corporate executives who have grown wealthy while deceiving investors and running their companies into bankruptcy. It also impresses upon us to consider how wealth and development may impact the poor and vulnerable. Scripture does not teach that wealth and development are bad; but such verses as this remind us that increased wealth and power have increased potential to do harm. It also shows the heart of God. The plight of the poor, particularly as represented by the widow and the orphan, matters so much to God that James could make this statement: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).

26 The LORD detests the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are pleasing to him.

Translations differ somewhat on how the latter half of this proverb ought to be rendered. For some reason, the NIV does not indicate the "those" of the pure are sayings, spoken words and not "thoughts." It is the only translation that does so. The other translations render the phrase in one of two ways: those like the NIV which read "the words of the pure are pleasing," and those which read "pleasant or gracious words are pure." Whichever one we choose the basic meaning is the same: God is pleased with the words of those whose hearts are right with him. What is pleasant is by definition what is pleasant to God; and what is pleasant to God is only what is pure.

It is a shame the NIV doesn't put in the term "words" or "sayings," because the proverb loses the force of what it is saying. It is a more ancient form of the expression, "Don't even think about it!" It is a warning to the wicked that despite what kind of outward show they might make, God detests what is really inside them and that they are not fooling him. It is an encouragement to those who strive to please him that he delights in their humble speech. It is not eloquence that attracts God; it is a pure heart.

Do we understand that? Because we are oftentimes fooled ourselves. Consider the worship service. When is God pleased with worship? Is it when the choir sounds professional and the minister or worship leader has the timing of the service elements down? Is it when big checks have been placed in the offering plates? Is it when the preacher was especially entertaining or moving? Could be, if these things come from pure hearts earnestly seeking to please God. These same things could mean nothing to God, even arouse his anger, if they spring from the desire to fool God, to gain attention for oneself, or to get something for oneself. While we are going through the motions, God is examining our thoughts, even those we don't express to ourselves. God will not be mocked.

On the other hand, he turns humble offerings of worship and service into delightful offerings that he gladly receives from those whose hearts are pure, just as parents joyfully receive the humble gifts their children make for them. Yes, we should do our best in worship and service to God, but always remember that God judges our motivation.

27 A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live.

The second half of the proverb clarifies the problem of the greedy person - it is the lengths he will go to satisfy his greed, such as receiving and giving bribes. What is wrong with the practice of bribery? It makes a mockery of justice; it is the weapon of the rich to oppress the vulnerable, and we know what God thinks of that.

It is also an attempt to get ahead without honest work. It reinforces bad character - dishonesty, laziness, further greediness. This is how it unfailingly brings trouble to a greedy person's family. Our present corporate fiascos illustrate well what can happen. One person could be the greedy executive who makes millions at the expense of the company employees and investors. He may bring lots of money to his family, but also shame, controversy, and undoubtedly bad values that harm his family. Another person could be an investor who out of greed bought bad stock and ends up bankrupt.

Greed clouds either smart thinking or ethical thinking or both. You don't come out ahead, whatever your bank account or property values might say. He who hates bribes, i.e., who values honest labor lives a valuable life. He passes on good values to his family. His labor benefits employees and investors. He imparts to his family the joy of living a meaningful life as opposed to a self-entertaining life. He is appreciated for the good he does and not for being the victor who can punish his opponents.

It is important to note what does not define a greedy person. It is not greed to want to do well financially. All of us, especially those of us responsible for the welfare of our families, ought to give care about earning a living in which we provide for ourselves and those dependent on us. It is natural to desire a measure of security and comfort. The greedy person, however, defines and measures success in terms of money and possessions. Acquiring wealth is what makes for him a meaningful life. That is why his values get warped. The ability to get ahead of others financially is a prized virtue. Indeed, he admires this quality in his opponents who outwit him. He teaches his children the value of fighting for their portion of the spoils. Such is the trouble that such a "virtue" brings to a family.

28 The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.

This proverb is similar to the one of verse 2: The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. I like that word, "gushes." It is such an accurate description of what takes place. The verse two proverb contrasts the wise and the fool, while our present one contrasts the righteous and the wicked. Interestingly enough, the wise and the righteous handle speech the same way, as do the fool and the wicked. Evidently, the proverbs see a link between wisdom and righteousness, and folly and wickedness. The connection is not that the righteous are smart and the wicked dumb, but rather the righteous possess godly wisdom and the wicked godless folly.

In their godly wisdom, the righteous weigh what they are going to say. Simply put, they think before they speak. What do they think about? Any number of things. Is what they have to say the truth or at least what they have given good consideration as to its truthfulness? They consider if their thoughts need to be spoken. Sometimes it is better to let others speak. Sometimes it is better to be quiet because you know the person hearing will not understand or twist your words. Very likely they think about how to say their thoughts to avoid misunderstanding and enhance the effectiveness of what they say. Righteousness has to do with how we treat others; thus the righteous person cares that his speech does good and doesn't merely serve as an instrument to make himself look good and hurt others. In brief, the righteous person is aware of the power of speech to do good and evil. Thus he weighs what he says.

The wicked may intentionally or unintentionally use speech to do harm. The implication of this proverb is that such a person is dangerous with speech merely because he is foolishly wicked. Put money in his hands and he will use it in some harmful way. Give him anything and he will spoil it somehow. So with speech. He is constantly saying stupid, harmful things. He is like a broken faucet spewing polluted water. His jokes are vulgar or spiteful. He embarrasses those he is around with his remarks. He delights in tossing out insults. He likes to "speak his mind," let people know where he stands, which is usually in the mud. He doesn't think, i.e. in terms of how to use speech for good. What he thinks about is being witty, which means for him being mean-spirited. They are effective with words, effective in making others feel miserable.

29 The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

God is far from the wicked in the sense that when they pray to him, he might as well be far away. Do what they may, he will not listen. They can be philanthropists who make huge contributions for good causes; he hangs up a sign "Gone on vacation." They can be faithful church goers; he sits on the far pew away from them. They can challenge him, shake their fists at him, call on him to show himself; he puts them on hold with the message, "Your call is very important to me."

The prayers of the righteous? He picks up the phone before the first ring is through; he waits at home just to make sure he doesn't miss a call. Indeed, he follows the righteous around just so he can listen anytime. And though he is guiding the development of millions of galaxies, he tells each one that he has plenty of time for him or her.

Who are these "special privileges" righteous? Jesus gave the best answer. Listen to Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about a himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The key to getting through to God, the mark of righteousness that gets his attention is humility. You would think it would be doing some kind of special work; but no, Jesus reveals the secret of the true righteous - they know they cannot earn their righteousness, and that if they are going to get God's ear, it will be by appealing to his mercy, not their deserving.


What have we learned about God and ourselves? Evidently God cares very much for the oppressed and lowly, and for the righteous who are humble in heart. He is not merely sorry that wicked people do wicked things; he doesn't simple feel bad. God is angry with the wicked; he detests their thoughts and behavior, and he brings judgment against them. Now, if you are like me, you immediately think, "What about the wicked who seem to prosper and the oppressed who remained oppressed?" Solomon and all the other biblical writers were aware of this problem and that is what much of Scripture and most of the prophets address - the injustice that is rampant in the world. Nevertheless, their consensus is this: God despises injustice; he does bring judgment in direct ways that we see clearly and in indirect ways that may not be obvious to us; but ultimately a complete and dreadful judgment will come on the proud, the wicked, the greedy and the fool. God will not consider mitigating circumstances; indeed, he will not listen at all to the excuses or the pleas of the wicked once judgment begins. No clever lawyer will be able to help, no petitions from friends in high places.

God's attitude towards the wicked and the vulnerable should cause us to examine our own attitudes and practice. I struggle with this. I struggle with any attempt to be righteous, but especially in this matter of what is called "mercy ministry." This is the type of ministry that would describe the various work among the poor, the invalid, and all who are vulnerable to the unjust practices in the world. I don't like getting caught up in their problems. I can how most of their troubles result from their own sins or foolishness. They seem to be always taking, always wanting more. Either they are depressing to be around because they are harping on their troubles, or uncomfortable because of their uncouth manners. But Jesus was friends with these people. That is what bother the religious leaders so much. He said that God desires mercy over well-done religious acts. Apparently, when I examine myself as to how well I have been pleasing God lately, this is the measure I need to go by. How well am I extending mercy to those in tough circumstances?

Furthermore, if God defends the oppressed and foils the wicked, in what way am I engaged in such activity? I get enraged whenever I think someone is taking advantage of me; do I have the same reaction when I learn of others getting the same treatment? Do I do anything about it?

Finally, consider the incredulous irony of all this. We've got this clear: God hates the wicked; he keeps as far distance as possible from them; he has not interest in their prayers. Who fits that category of the wicked? Scripture tells us every single person on the planet:

For we have already accused everyone, both Jews and Greeks, of being under the power of sin.

10 As it is written,
"Not even one person is righteous.
11 No one understands.
No one searches for God.
12 All have turned away.
Together they have become worthless.
No one shows kindness, not even one person!
13 Their throats are open graves.
With their tongues they practice deception.
The venom of poisonous snakes is under their lips.
14 Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood.
16 Ruin and misery mark their ways.
17 They have not learned the path to peace.
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes."
19 Now we know that whatever the law says applies to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God
(Romans 3:10-19).

So what does this wickedness-hating God do? In God the Son, he dwells among us, serves us, and dies for us. He tears down our pride by humbling himself. He reconciles his enemies to himself when we were not praying for redemption. He was merciful to both the widow and the proud man, to both the morally respectable and the proud wicked. Make no mistake: God will judge the wicked who do not repent. God demands that we live righteously. But God out of his own mercy redeems all who turn to him through his Son. All salvation really requires is humility.

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