Chapter 28: Commentary

Chapter 28 A continuation of the third and final section of Proverbs attributed to Solomon (25:-29:27). Typically one-verse proverbs, sometimes addressed to "my son," they tend to be loosely grouped around themes and formatting.

28:1 The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

     While I understand this wise saying from my own experience, the guys here at Helping Up Mission have offered further enlightenment. Time after time, I've heard one share about living foul ("the wicked") and feeling the need (rightly so!) to literally watch his back because of the people who might be (or were!) looking for him. When we don't live right or tell the truth the reality of having to face the consequences of our choices is always out there.
      But the reverse is also true. If we are living right ("the righteous"), we don't have to fear the consequences of our bad decisions and our good choices set us up to experience the benefits of them. Walking around all day "bold as a lion" sounds like a pretty good way to go. And it is possible when we choose a lifestyle of just doing "the next right thing."

28:3 A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.

     The comparison is to a driving rain that leaves no crops. In the Biblical world, rain was critical for a family's survival. That year's harvest was essential for a family to be able to stay in their home and keep their lands. It typically rained in Israel from November through March and nary a drop the rest of the year. So rain, which should be so good for crops but instead destroys them, is such an incredible waste of good water and destroys a family's very staff of life.
      This verse compares a ruler that oppresses the poor to this driving rain. The Biblical directive for a ruler is to care for those placed under his oversight – that is why he is there. So, when a ruler uses his power to oppress the poor, it is so very wrong. Both the ruler and the rain are supposed to be good and help people. But some driving rains actually destroy crops, not help them grow. The poor (:6, 8, 11, 27) are a focus in this chapter. The text is clear, how wrong it is to mistreat the poor.
      The variant reading of this passage is: A poor man who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops (dependent on the translation). This may even be worse, one poor man who oppresses another poor man is so wrong on so many levels. They are both in this thing together (poor) and for one to oppress another just because he can, still helps neither of them. What a waste of energy and nobody wins.

28:4 Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.

     This verse notes that our relationship to "the law" is key to our relationship with those around us. Of course, "the law" here is not the law of the United States or the law of the State of Maryland.
      Instead it refers to the Law of God - His Word. It represents God's message to us about our relationship with Him. This verse suggests that my attitude toward God's Word will ultimately dictate my relationship with others.
      If I do not pay attention to what God thinks and says, I will wind up on the side of "the wicked" - "praise" of those who do inappropriate things. Conversely, if I pay attention to what God says, I will not be comfortable with those who do wickedly and will, on some level, actively "resist" them.
      Of course, the key to my own spiritual condition is not my friends. It is my commitment to God's message and plan for my life. But a visible indication of that commitment can be detected in my daily interaction with others. My mother used to say that my friends indicated what kind of person I was – the old "if you lay down with dogs, you will get up with fleas" wise saying. This verse reminds me that my relationships with others are also clear indications of my attitude toward God and what He says.

28:5 Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.

     "Right" is the central concept in this wise saying. It discusses the relationship of two different types of people and their understanding of "what is right."
      "Evildoers do not understand what is right." Their lives are characterized by doing hurtful and harmful things and they're unable to grasp what "right" really means.
      On the other hand, "those who seek the LORD understand it fully." Their God-focus leads to a different lifestyle along with a different understanding of "what is right."
      While the verse characterizes the difference between the two as their "understanding" or lack thereof - the real difference between them is who they are!
      In each case their actions are based on their choices. Both already made decisions to either do hurtful things or seek God's things. No surprise that their understanding of right will be colored by their thinking.
      Unfortunately, so much of the time, I focus on people's behaviors and classify them on that basis. But the Bible always go beyond what people do, looking at their choices and attitudes, instead.
      Descartes once said, "I think, therefore, I am." What and how I think is the central piece in determining who I really am - my behaviors are simply an outcome of being that person.
      While this might sound fatalistic - it's not! People decides to change their thinking all the time. The New Testament Greek word metanoia, meaning "change of mind," is frequently translated "repent."
      And folks do that all the time, too! History is full of wonderful stories of people who chose to live one way and then decided there was something better - and changed!
      The "evildoers" of our verse can likewise!

28:6 Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse.

     This is another of those "better...than" wise sayings. It discusses two opposite characters ("the poor" and "the rich") and offers an interesting contrast between them.
      The first line is not just about "the poor" - but "the poor whose walk is blameless." While having little of this world's goods, the lifestyle of these men and women is positive, helpful and supportive of others. Not perfect, they're good people.
      The second line speaks of "the rich whose ways are perverse." Their MO (modus operandi) is morally twisted, crooked, distorted and warped - hardly something they'd want to put on a resume, but that's who they are.
      While it might seem hard to believe that being "poor" is better than being "rich" might not surprise us that being "blameless" is better than being "perverse."
      So, for me, this verse is a reminder that stuff - whether I'm rich or poor - is not really what's important. What really matters is character.
      My character helps me make better decisions - that's good.
      My good decisions are a reason others would help and support me - that's even "better."
      God (who's not even mentioned) honors this character and these choices - and that's best of all!

28:9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.

     There are two major methods of our connection to God. Prayer is when we talk to God and the Bible is the best way God speaks to us. "The law" in this verse is primarily understood to be the first five books of the Bible (Genesis – Deuteronomy). While other books of the Old Testament had probably been written by the time this proverb had been composed, it was the law that was universally known to the ancient Israelites at that time.
      So this verse says when we refuse to listen to what God is saying to us, He will not listen to us. It is not because He is mad at us or hates us, but because He loves us. If we don't listen to Him, we will not think or do right and that will keep us from being in a place of continual contact with Him. Like a good parent exercising tough love, He reminds us that we need to listen to what He says in order to be in a place to receive answers to our prayers from Him.

28:13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

     We have two choices to address the sins in our lives: one, we can just try to conceal or cover over our sins; two, we can confess and admit them.
      Just as there are two choices we can make, there are two consequences based on our choices: not prosper or find mercy.
      God makes it clear that He will not allow us to continue in our sins and that it will cost us to continue to try to live that way. He is also very ready to extend His mercy to any and all who will just be honest about their sins and commit themselves to do the right thing – with His help and empowerment.

28:14 Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.

     This wise saying contrasts two very different people: "the one who always trembles before God" and "whoever hardens their heart." One is "blessed" and the other "falls into trouble."
      To "always tremble before God" is to "always be extremely fearful" or "always be supremely reverential." Clearly the focus isn't walking around afraid of people, places or things - but having a healthy respect for my place in God's universe.
      It should be noted that the words "before God" are not in the ancient text. But they are a reasonable understanding of this verse's message, as suggested by the translators here.
      Either way, this person is one with a true understanding of Someone bigger than him or herself. Consequently, they're "blessed" or "happy" as they live out being such a person.
      On the other hand, "whoever hardens their heart" is someone "cruel" or "severe" in their heart. They can be that way toward God or others.
      The consequences of being this person is that he or she "falls into trouble," or the normal translation for that word - "falls into evil."
      Every day we have the opportunity to choose whether we want to look at life from the perspective that God is out there and has a wonderful plan for my life. Or the alternative - there's nothing more out there and, then, there's really no reason to care.
      It's our choice and we have to right to choose what we want. But we'll also have to live with the consequences!

28:15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked man ruling over a helpless people.

     Both lions (19:12; 20:2; 22:13; 26:13; 28:1; 30:30) and bears (17:12; 18:14; 30:21) are mentioned multiple times in Proverbs. Solomon's father, David, mentioned fighting both a lion and a bear (1Sa 17:36-37) and both also appear in Daniel's visions (chapter 7).
      Ancient Israelites would have known about both animals, but probably by reputation and not personal experience. Still, their ferocity would have been legendary. Although the roar of a lion can be heard as much as 5 miles away, to be able to hear him roar would not have tended to be a good thing.
      A charging bear is even scarier because he was not just in the area but was coming after you! Since some species of bears have been clocked at 30 mph for even a quarter mile, seeing any bear coming would have been terrifying. This was a wise saying the ancients could understand.
      The comparison of this proverb related these two wild animals to a wicked man ruling over helpless people. It is reasonable to assume that the person confronted by the lion or the bear had done nothing to antagonize them. That poor guy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As guys sometimes say about life around HUM, "it wasn't personal, just business!" Not a terribly comforting sentiment.
      So the wicked ruler does what he wants, just because he can. Anyone who gets in his way is just collateral damage. It isn't right but is a lot like when the lion or bear attacks someone who just happens to be there.

28:23 He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.

     This verse continues the concepts of 27:5-6. Here a man who rebukes another is eventually appreciated more than someone who flatters the same person. While motives, attitudes and relationships between the participants does affect the scenario, it could generally be said that a good man can accept and appreciate an honest rebuke. The same good man would probably also recognize unadulterated flattery and would not take it as true. In the end, a good man will benefit from the rebuke and be little affected by the flattery. But beyond that, his response to the rebuke will probably be appreciation for the man who gave the rebuke and his response to the flatterer will probably be lack of confidence in both his words and his character.

28:24 He who robs his father or mother and says, "It's not wrong"—he is partner to him who destroys.

     We all know that destroying other people's things is awful to do. But this verse indicates that robbing father or mother, and denying it, is just as evil. Sadly we often don't think that stealing things from family is really that big of a deal – after all what is family for?!?! This verse simply reminds us that such behavior is so very wrong.
      Admittedly, some of us have grown up in homes which are quite dysfunctional and we, ourselves, were abused. That is terribly wrong and can never be excused. But turning around and stealing from them is to not act any better than they did.
      Yet homes like this are unusual and most of us grew up in families that loved us and supported us. This is the situation that the writer addresses. To steal from the very (and maybe only) people who have invested so much of us, and who would generally give it to us if we really needed it, is very destructive. If we would do that to them, we would be willing to do almost anything to anyone.

28:25 A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.

     The first man in this verse, described as "greedy," is also translated "proud." This is a guy who is full of himself and he will regularly stir up problems with others around him. What he always wants is more for him.
      The second guy in this verse in the man who trusts in the LORD. As he continues to live that way, he prospers (sometimes translated "is made fat"). What the greedy/proud are always striving for is what comes naturally to those who trust in the LORD.

      This verse suggests that Jesus knows the stuff you need to prosper and, as you trust Him, He will provide for and prosper you. Just for the record, I don't think this verse promises that you will become rich, important, famous or powerful. I am none of the above, but I have a great life and feel prospered and blessed.

28:26 He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.

     A modern wise saying says: "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client." To trust in ourselves – to lean on our own understanding (3:5) – is a really bad idea. Almost anyone who thinks they are the smartest person in the room is a fool – and the rare person who happens to be the smartest person in the room at the moment still doesn't know everything and will regularly need advice.
      Completely opposite of trusting ourselves is walking in wisdom. Our definition of wisdom is "seeing life from God's point of view." He does know all and will give us the advice we need to keep safe and happy. His wisdom will empower us to see things like He sees them, think like He thinks, feel like He feels and act like He would act. Trust God or myself – only a fool would do the latter.

28:27 Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.

     The focus of this verse is "the poor" and the interaction others have with them. One of the most common characters in Proverbs, God has a lot to say about treatment of the poor.
      In the first part of this verse are "those who give to the poor" and, once again in Proverbs it's a good thing to treat them in an appropriate fashion. Those who do "will lack nothing."
      Since the poor have nothing to offer, while not mentioned, it would have to be God who makes this happen. Of course, He's not a "genie in a bottle" who give us everything we want. But, the fact is those who care about the poor will do okay.
      The second part of this wise saying addresses "those who close their eyes" to the poor. Obviously it's not that they don't see them - just that they choose to ignore their needs.
      Here, it doesn't say where these "many curses" are coming from - the poor, others who are watching or from God, Himself. Either way, this is not a great place to find ourselves.
      This wise saying is very clear that not caring about the poor is devastating. It will cost any of us who refuse to pay attention. The bottom line for this wise saying is simple - we should appreciate what we have and share it - especially with those less fortunate.
      Paying attention to the poor is the right thing to do. It's good for them, it's good for us, too!