Nations have leaders, but to be a great nation it is up to the individuals to make it so. Character counts individually and corporately.
My bible helps puts the last verses in this chapter together because of the mention of kings. They bracket the individual character by the national concerns. “A nation perishes is its people lack righteousness” (ESV Study Bible notes). I whole heartedly agree! But I wish I could go through all the proverbs and gather them into categories. It would make it so much easier deciding what fits where. I will bow to the Spirit’s decision on how HE put them together. I’m certain He had His reasons. Let’s see where He takes US with them today.
I was just thinking that my form is SO different from other blogs. They all seem to have everything studied out and their conclusions in place before they begin. I like to take you on the journey with me each day. I’m curious if you find this distracting or refreshing. Either way, it seems to be what the Lord has for me to do. Enough side tracking. I’m off and running!
The king is nothing without the people. Can you imagine ruling a kingdom of one? I have heard it said that “every man’s home is his kingdom” but even there he needs someone to “rule over.” That turns out to be his family. The husband is called to be the head of the family, therefore making him the “king of the castle.” Yet that castle rises and falls by the actions of its members. The choices of the children or wife can topple a home as surely as the actions of the father. And a “ruthless king” destroys ‘his subjects.” So the characteristics described in the “sandwiched” verses applies to the subjects as well as to the king.
Oh boy do I understand this first characteristic! I was a hot tempered child. Sometimes I still get “hot under the collar” but I have learned how to “turn the heat down” in my actions. Growing up, it seemed that my oldest brother liked nothing more than to see me explode. Actually, I think he liked watching everyone explode. He poked and prodded until, KABOOM, lava spewed from his target. My explosions were often physical, my younger brother’s was a scream, and my youngest sister’s was a call for help. When he tried to torment my older sister, I stepped in between them. MANY a door had to be rehung (quickly while our parents were away) in our houses. I wonder why my parents never figured out that he was an instigator and dealt with him for it. It was always the rest of us who exploded that got the brunt of the attention. “Just ignore him and he will leave you alone.” NOT! Sorry, I think I’m venting.
A hot tempered king can drag his people into wars over perceived slights. A hot tempered subject may require the king’s attention to deal with the “fallout.” I wonder how many of the disputes brought to David arose from hot tempered participants. I have a feeling Solomon saw through such conflicts quickly. The story of the two women and the living child is proof of his ability to see beyond the surface.
The next characteristic dealt with isn’t a personal problem, or at least I don’t think it is. But I get to hear it in action nearly every day. My husband and his mother were both very envious of their siblings. They both claim their parents favored the others and they got little or nothing from them. I can see SOME of their points but their stories leave me wondering. My mother in law tells a story of her father “whipping” her with a kindling stick “with a smile on his face.” Problem is, she was being punished for something she did (slamming the door) instead of just being “his favorite whipping” target. My husband tells me stories of how his mother always took his youngest brother’s side when he would “squeal like a girl” at their treatment of him. His mother “couldn’t stand to hear him scream” so she got onto the other boys, who were tormenting him. I won’t say some of their treatment of their brother wasn’t justified but his actions needed to be addressed too. He learned that all he had to do was cry out and mom was there to rescue him. He is 57 years old now and STILL using that tactic. My mother in law sees it MUCH more clearly now. We have discussed some of his antics and I have told her how I would have handled it. NOT that I am a perfect parent. My “favorite” story is of him being tasked with bottle feeding the calves and dumping their milk on the ground instead. She took over the task after his behavior was found out and several calves died. I told her I would have whipped his butt, then stood over him as he completed the task properly, every day if necessary. Sorry, time to get off that “soap box” too.
Envy in a king is another reason he might choose to go to war. He wants what the other kings have. This could be territory, fame, or fortune. I wonder if this is what motivated Rehoboam to proclaim he would load the people with an even heavier burden that his father, Solomon, had. He wanted a greater name for himself. His fame would be for dividing the nation instead. Probably not what he had in mind for his legacy.
Envy eats away at the heart just as sure as unforgiveness and bitterness. In individual lives has led to MANY crimes. Envy of what another has is probably one of the biggest motivators behind theft. “They have what I want.” “I deserve it just as much if not more.” Murder is another crime often set in motion by envy and for the same reasons. Just taking what the other has in this case though isn’t enough to satisfy the desire. The individual has to be wiped from the earth to prevent them from ever gaining superiority again.
Oppression of the poor also happens on individual and national levels. Jesus speaks of an individual turning away his neighbor when he asks for bread while there is plenty in the individual’s cupboards. We are to care for our neighbors as best we can. The early church was very good at this. They all contributed and shared what they had. BUT if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. Paul addressed this with the church in Thessalonica. Some were enjoying the fruits of everyone else’s labor. But to the person who is truly in need, ignoring him is devaluing him. God DID NOT make ANY man inferior to another or expendable! He loves us all and calls for us to do the same.
Oppressing the poor on a national level can be seen in the laws passed and the attitude of the rulers. Sometimes it is because the ruler is so removed from the daily concerns of the poor that they have no concept of what their life is like. Marie Antoinette’s famous line “Let them eat cake” is one such example. The poor were starving and crying for bread. She assumed that they must have other kinds of food, like cake, that they could eat instead. After all, her table had plenty to choose from. An example from our time is the city and county government’s attempts to remove the homeless from visible areas. They don’t address the needs that made these people homeless, only the fact that they are in public view. At least there are some programs in place for those in need. They usually require the person to be willing to work on some level, again going back to Paul’s lesson. “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” Mahatma Gandhi.
God says the we will ALL reap the rewards of our behavior. Sometimes those “rewards” don’t come until after death. The righteous need not fear death. God welcomes them into His home. The wicked cannot enter there. No matter what schemes they have concocted in their lives, there will be an accounting and just payment meted out. Individually we are accountable for our actions. The choice is ours to make.
A wicked king will often be toppled by his subjects. Some plot for his demise may be carried and then the people finally free. There were several examples of that end in Israel’s divided kingdom’s history. The northern kingdom had nine assassinations while the southern kingdom had six. I can think of a few more that should have been removed because of their abominable behavior.
Under a wicked king, individual behavior is often altered. Think of all the kings that brought idol worship into Israel. Solomon proved this out. After he brought his wives idols in the people started worshiping them too. When a godly king came in he had to rein the people in and it was NOT easy. But there was no hope for the nation unless the changes went all the way down to the individual. This leads directly into Solomon’s words; “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (verse 34). If only he had heeded his own insight.
Solomon was filled with the wisdom of God. He used it in ALMOST every area of his life. It is his most famous legacy. Yes, he did many acts with that wisdom, including building the first Temple, but choosing wisdom first is his claim to fame. Leaders from all over the known world came to him to hear his wisdom. But his sin lead to the fall of his nation. If only… That too is his legacy.
Wisdom presents itself to everyone. We ALL have the opportunity to make wise choices. We can choose to follow the “wise” path or the “foolish” one. And just because you chose one path last time doesn’t mean you have to keep following that same path, especially if it is a foolish choice. There is no time like the present to make a new start.
Our last verse brings to memory of the two servants of Pharaoh that were in prison with Joseph. I don’t know what got them there but one found favor with Pharaoh while the other didn’t. The fate of the second was the end of his life. He had no opportunity to redeem himself. I’m sure the first servant made CERTAIN to stay on Pharaoh’s good side after he was restored. He even had enough favor that he was able to bring up Joseph’s name and accomplishments to Pharaoh.
The individuals in the home have the same opportunity to either gain favor or wrath from the head of the household. Seldom does wrath fall on the child who is well behaved. There are some exceptions to this, especially with an abusive “king.” But the child, or even adult, who acts shamefully incurs wrath. When the actions are a ‘first time offense’ there is usually more of a corrective intent involved in the punishment. Habitual offenders incur greater wrath with each offense. Sometimes it gets to the point where one individual is cut off from the family or undergoes severe punishment.
Taking that last concept of ‘first time offender’ and ‘habitual offender’ into consideration, we see God’s actions with Israel. Even while wandering in the desert, He gave them one chance after another, until finally He had enough. They were NOT going to inherit His promise. They were cut off from the Promised Land. Another “If only…”
Father God, how many “If only…” moments have I made in my life? I PRAY I have listened and learned my lessons. I know there are still areas where I need more work. Please be gentle, but if I don’t listen, do whatever it takes to get my attention! I want to walk wisely and have Your favor. Help me make wise choices in ALL areas of my life. Lead me Holy Spirit. I will do my best to listen AND obey.