Proverbs
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Kings

In America, we don’t have a king, so we might be tempted to skip this chapter or these portions of Scripture when we come across them. What Proverbs is talking about is leadership, specifically in government. It’s not as if governments that don’t have kings are excluded, rather the Bible is taking a top-down approach. From the throne of the monarchy all the way down to the smallest village’s local official, these are the principles and responsibilities of leadership in government. I’ve never met a king, but I once met the President.

A friend of mine who works in the Secret Service called me one day and told me the President was coming to town. He asked me if my family and I would like to come, see Air Force One land, see the President, the presidential limo, and its accompanying entourage of other vehicles, and be witness to the details of this spectacle of presidential travel. And, if the timing works, my family and I might get to shake the President’s hand. It was, at least up to this point, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My family and I traveled to the airport where the President was going to land. We checked in through security, wands, metal detectors, and ID’s. It was serious and we understood. My friend came to get us and took us on a little VIP tour. It was incredible. We met the driver of the president’s limo, which is more like a well-decorated tank with a Cadillac logo on the front grill. He opened the door to what they call “The Beast.” I remember the door being as thick as any vault door I’ve ever seen. My family and I took our picture in front of the limo with the small American flag and presidential seal mounted to the front fenders. Then we walked outside and waited. After a brief wait, Air Force One landed. All at once, what had been a somewhat calm atmosphere, perked up. Secret Service personnel were everywhere, and I could even see a sniper in the distance. There wasn’t a lot of pomp and circumstance, but there were tons of moving parts. One of those strange airport vehicles with stairs on them drove over to the airplane and the door opened. Then all at once, there was the President. It was a strange feeling to see a guy in person who you feel like you’ve seen thousands of times, but in reality, you’ve never really seen. He talked with a few local political folks and gestured that he was going to come say hello to the group of about 30 people waiting behind zip-tied, parade-type, guard rails. The President made his way down the line shaking each person’s hand. When he reached me, I said, “Mr. President, it’s an honor to meet you. This is my family.” One by one I introduced my kids to the President as my wife snapped photos. He called Ruby “curly-top” and gave a mischievous smile to my son, who was wearing jeans and cowboy boots. He asked my kids if they got out of school for this and they explained that they were homeschooled. I introduced him to my wife and he looked at me and said, “Sir, you have a beautiful family.” And with that, he made his way into the car and was off to give a speech. My friend later told me, “Dude…you got major face time with the President.” It was a neat experience. As we drove home, my older kids asked me what I thought about the President and did I vote for him? It was a riveting discussion about honor, respect, and disagreement. That day was a priceless civics lesson through the lens of a biblical worldview. The Bible has a lot to say about government, kings, rulers, and presidents. I originally intended to write about kings in another chapter. I was planning to combine it in a discussion of other smaller characters in Proverbs. But as I studied, I realized verses about kings, rulers, and government officials were all over the book. Government in Proverbs warrants its own chapter.

Some scholars see Proverbs as a king training his son and successor. There are definitely multiple kings mentioned: Solomon, Hezekiah, Agur son of Jakeh, and Lemuel. Princes are mentioned as well, but these lessons aren’t just for kings. The wisdom of Proverbs is for royalty and commoners, presidents and citizens alike. The Proverbs focused on kings are meant to inform government leaders of their responsibilities to God and their nation, inform citizens of the proper expectations they should place on their leaders, and warn either group of the danger of disregarding their duties before God.

Proverbs gives brief character sketches of good kings and bad kings. A good ruler or leader recognizes that it is by the grace and wisdom of God that he is in a position of power, so he rules with love, faithfulness, truth, and justice. By contrast, a bad king seizes power and goes for an ego trip. He lies, oppresses the people by over-taxing them, and corrupts justice through bribes and favoritism to the rich.

ROYAL RESPONSIBILITY

At the outset of his rule, Solomon was a great king. He prayed, “O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude” (1 Kings 3:7-8). Solomon recognized that he was simply a servant and that the throne and the position of authority over the people was a gift from God. A good ruler not only realizes the gift of power, but desires the gift of wisdom to come with it. This type of leader realizes God through wisdom ordered the world, so a good king needs wisdom to order his kingdom.

“By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.” (Proverbs 8:15-16)

“The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.” (Daniel 4:17)

“The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:32)

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1)

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” (1 Peter 2:13-14)

Solomon’s son Rehoboam failed to learn the lesson of wisdom from his father. When he inherited the throne, the power went straight to his head. The kingdom had prospered greatly under Solomon, but the people were wary of taxation. Older men counseled the new King to cut taxes and win the people’s affection. Rather than cutting taxes or even keeping them the same, the arrogant King declared, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:14). A young fool had come to the throne and within a very short time, the nation split into two.

“When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.” (Proverbs 28:12)

“Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor.” (Proverbs 28:15-16)

“When the wicked rise, people hide themselves.” (Proverbs 28:28)

“When the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Proverbs 29:2)

“By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down.” (Proverbs 29:4)

“Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: a slave when he becomes king…” (Proverbs 30:21-22)

“Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.” (Ecclesiastes 4:13)

“Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning!” (Ecclesiastes 10:16)

The earth trembled and the kingdom could not stand. It was like a slave – an unprepared, uneducated commoner – had ascended to the throne. The Bible isn’t affirming a ruling class, it is warning against power and authority that isn’t matched with character and integrity. In Rehoboam’s case, his opportunity and skills took him further than his character could sustain him. When being a king or president, boss or leader becomes a power trip rather than an opportunity to humbly serve God’s people, things won’t stand for long. “Outward power will always unveil the inner resources, or the lack thereof.”

A good government official realizes they have been put in place by God and serves the people with love and faithfulness. In general, David, Solomon’s father, was that type of king and ruler. As a young man, David had been anointed king by the prophet Samuel, yet he would spend the next decade running for his life from the current King. All the while, God was taking the kingdom from Saul and giving it to David. David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). In 1 Samuel chapter 22, the Bible says that while David was hiding in the cave at Adullam, “…everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them” (1 Samuel 22:2). In this passage, David exemplifies the Lord Jesus, when Christ welcomes “all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). David was trained as a shepherd and he loved, cared for, and protected his sheep. When David eventually ascended to the throne, he loved, cared for, and protected God’s people. He certainly was not flawless, but his spiritual legacy garnered God’s grace for generations to come. In the incredible book “A Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards, he writes of David during that time, “There in those caves, drowned in the sorrow of his song, and in the song of his sorrow, David very simply became the greatest hymn writer, and the greatest comforter of broken hearts this world shall ever know.”

“Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king, and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.” (Proverbs 20:28)

“He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.” (Proverbs 22:11)

“If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.” (Proverbs 29:14)

As the kingdom was being taken from Saul and given to David (See 1 Samuel 15:26-28), King Saul became more erratic, violent, and eventually even consulted a witch for access to the, by then, deceased prophet, Samuel. He lied and refused to take responsibility. He became paranoid, threw spears at David who was faithfully trying to comfort him in his distress. Saul is the story of a once-promising king who fell into spiritual and emotional madness. Rather than leading the people in a path of fidelity to God, he failed to love and faithfully serve them. The story of King Saul is a tragedy.

A wise king fearlessly searches out the truth. Proverbs 25:1 is a transition in the book; it reads, “These also are the Proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.” Wisdom mattered to Hezekiah. A couple of generations after this king came Josiah. A brief but wonderful summary is given of this ruler. The Scripture says, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left…while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father” (2 Chronicles 34:2-3). It was during his reign that the Book of the Law of the Lord was rediscovered. The King searched out what the Lord would have him do. God was honored by this humble King. Josiah even read the Book of the Covenant for all to hear. He made a public commitment to God’s standard. A righteous ruler is committed to truth. He doesn’t lie and won’t stand for falsehood or evil. Truth and justice matter. “Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a prince,” Proverbs 17:7 says. In the love and faithfulness that a good king has for his people, he is dedicated to the establishment of justice. This is a reflection of the character of God shown in the duties of leadership in government.

“An oracle is on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment. A just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work. It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right. A king’s wrath is a messenger of death, and a wise man will appease it. In the light of a king’s face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.” (Proverbs 16:10-15)

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. As the Heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable. Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel; take away the wicked from the presence of the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness.” (Proverbs 25:2-5)

Proverbs chapter 16 is a pairing of Proverbs about God and kings. A balance, scales, and weights are mentioned. This is about business honesty. “Some merchants used two sets of weight stones, one for buying and one for selling.” A righteous ruler would make sure that honesty and integrity were practiced in business and in the courts. To do otherwise would be an unthinkable abomination. In “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Christian and his friend Faithful stand before the judge called “Lord Hate-good.” This judge is part of the corruption of his city. Eventually, this judge on the words of lies from “Envy” and “Superstition” condemns Faithful “to the most cruel death that could be invented.” In the role of judge, a ruler is often asked to make decisions of real consequence. A judge must be above corruption or sway of bribery. Justice is blind in the sense of equal application of the law for rich and poor, powerful and powerless. An honorable judge or ruler is devoted to having clarity of mind and sight to distinguish fact from fiction, the genuine from the artificial, and the wise counselor from the butt-kisser. Like a silversmith (25:4) removes the worthless dross from silver and a farmer winnows the wheat from the chaff (20:8), a righteous, loving king will examine the facts and give justice to his people. A wicked ruler spoils and robs the people of justice.

“A servant who deals wisely has the king’s favor, but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully.” (Proverbs 14:35)

“A king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.” (Proverbs 19:12)

 “The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion; whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life…A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes…A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.” (Proverbs 20:2, 8, 26)

“When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” (Proverbs 21:15)

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS

God has high and clear expectations for kings, judges, presidents, and all government officials. In keeping with that, citizens should have equally high expectations for leaders. Not separate expectations, but the same. What God demands of leaders, citizens should as well. The citizens of every nation are on firm footing when they expect honesty, “righteousness, justice, and equity” (Proverbs 1:3) from their government and leaders. To illustrate this point, the wise teacher of Proverbs goes to the extremes of the socio-economic scale. He starts with kings, essentially saying these principles apply to everyone from the top down, even the guy on the throne. When Proverbs addresses issues of justice, it goes to the other end and starts at the bottom. Starting with the poor means that nobody, even the bottom rung of society is excluded from the protections of justice. It’s a mirror reflection of the instructions to the king. The poor are equally entitled to justice. A bad king, ruler, president, or judge spoils justice, particularly for the poor, because they are easy, vulnerable, under-resourced targets. By advocating so strongly for the lowest class, those with a social position higher up the “ladder” would have confidence that their kings and as a whole, their nation were comprehensively committed to fair execution of the law.

Kings and citizens both recognized their need for each other. Kings knew that without people they weren’t really a king. John Maxwell said, “He that thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following is only taking a walk.” You can easily apply that to kings. If you’re sitting on the throne with no citizens, then you’re just relaxing in a fancy chair. If you think you’re in a parade with no spectators, you’re only riding down Main Street. Yes, people need kings, rulers, and presidents. But conversely, kings, rulers, and presidents need people. Kings should never forget their dependence on their people.

“In the multitude of people is the glory of a king, but without people a prince is ruined.” (Proverbs 14:28)

“Three things are stately in their tread; four are stately in their stride…a king whose army is with him.” (Proverbs 30:29, 31)

This symbiotic relationship that God established is intended to help foster a loving, committed, and respectful relationship between kings and their kingdom. Citizens should speak respectfully of the king, knowing he has been placed in his position by God and is ultimately responsible to God for all of his actions. Resting on that truth prompts restraint.

“My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise.” (Proverbs 24:21)

“If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.” (Ecclesiastes 5:8)

“Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king.” (Ecclesiastes 10:20)

Even in the New Testament context, both the Apostle Paul and Apostle Peter affirmed these truths.

“Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:2-7)

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)

KINGS AND KINGDOMS BEWARE

The tragedy of our fallen world is that citizens are often plagued by foolish, self-serving, wicked leaders. Certainly, no leader is without fault, but at times good leaders are overthrown by violent, rebellious citizens. Human history is filled with revolutions, coups, civil wars, assassinations, and uprisings. The 20th century alone is filled with violent clashes: The Boxer Rebellion in China, the Mexican Revolution, the Communist Revolution in Russia, the Spanish Civil War, the Cuban Revolution, the Iranian Revolution, Iraqi Revolution, the more peaceful uprising in India, and many more seem to have shaped the 20th century. Even in the new millennium, the Arab spring, multiple civil wars on the continent of Africa, Brexit, the Occupy Wall-Street movement, and others have reminded us that people need leaders and leaders need people. When that mutual respect, understanding, and submission to God is erased, that society is headed for chaos and collapse. In the Bible, the book of Jeremiah is a testament to God’s anger, judgment, and sadness at the rebellion of kings and people. As a result, God destroys the nation using the mighty Babylonian army.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

These realities of our fallenness are simply part of the world we live in. Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6). Broken, fallen, and sinful people are governed by equally immoral leaders. This reality leads to uprisings, oppression, revolutions, abusive dictatorships, and even the rest of our less violent frustrations with government. This brokenness births within the human heart a longing for justice, peace, and harmony. Throughout the course of human history that longing in mankind has motivated communism, fascism, democracy, theocracy, and even anarchy. We want a just, righteous, and perfect leader. We want a holy King. Thankfully, that King has come. Two thousand years ago, a boy was born. His mother was told, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Jesus is that King.

At the time of Christ’s birth, the “king” was Caesar Augustus. He was emperor of the Roman Empire. The title “Augustus” associated Caesar with the divine. “It was under Augustus’ rule that decisive strides were taken forward making the Caesars gods.” In a more local context, Herod the Great was the ruler over Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth. Through the visit of the wise men, he learned that the “King of the Jews” had been born. When the wise men failed to return to Jerusalem and report the location of this new King, Herod sent troops to the little village of Bethlehem and murdered all of the baby boys that were two years old and under. He was a violent, cruel king. One of his grandsons, Herod Agrippa I, inherited the same murderous rage and god complex. He killed his own father Aristobulus in his rise to power. Sounds like a pleasant family. In the early days of the church, Agrippa martyred James and arrested Peter with intentions of killing him as well. By a divine miracle, Peter was spared death at that time. Acts records the story of Herod Agrippa delivering a speech while seated on his throne. The audience began to shout, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” (Acts 12:22). The Bible says that, “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12:23). The historian Josephus corroborates this story with a riveting account. He writes, Herod Agrippa I:

Put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another (though not for his good) that he was a god; and they added, ‘Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.’ Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery.

Shortly thereafter, Josephus notes, Herod:

Fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in the most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, ‘I, whom you call a god, am commanded to presently depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death…When he said this, his pain was become violent…And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life.

THE KING OF KINGS

Jesus was born into a world ruled by corrupt leaders. The early church began and thrived under the persecution of a series of maniacal rulers, but the King had come. The Christmas carols “It came upon a midnight clear,” “O Holy Night,” and “O come, O come Emmanuel” each speak of a world that waits. The advent of Christ is the arrival of that King and His everlasting Kingdom. The King of all kings has come. The prophet Isaiah, wrote of the coming Messiah, “The government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:6-7). That leads us right to the Gospel. Every king, president, councilperson, mayor, congressman, man and woman across the globe and throughout history must come and bow in submission to the King of kings. Our own part in the broken systems of this world brings us to our desperate need for a king. The Good News is that a kind, faithful, eternally loving, and eternally saving King has come. Unlike the selfish despots of history, King Jesus died to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He rose victorious over the grave, ascended to Heaven, and, as a conquering King, returned triumphantly into Heaven. Salvation is welcoming the true, rightful, and eternal King to the throne of our heart. King David wrote:

“Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the king of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
The Lord, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!”
(Psalm 24:7-10)


Claire, Belle, Maverick, Ruby, Mavis,

I have always had a problem with authority. I don’t like to be told what to do. Ever. Just ask my mom. Or your Dad. It’s like if someone is about to tell me I have to do something, my insides instantly say no! I don’t even have to hear what that thing is, and my flesh automatically shouts NOOOOOOO! It’s like nails on a chalkboard. I wish I could say I’m exaggerating but I’m not. Being a follower of Christ really smacks that feeling in the face and tells you to get your crap together. Being a Christ follower is about ultimate submission. I pray that you learn this lesson early and that the Lord doesn’t have to discipline you into submission. The Lord is our ultimate King and He has designed His Kingdom in a very orderly fashion.

You as children are to obey your parents, I as a wife am to submit to your Dad, while we are both to submit to the Lord. There are going to be many people in life that you have to submit to. Some that you aren’t going to agree with. Some that you are going to think are dumb and unqualified. And yet the Lord tells us to submit. You are going to have teachers and bosses. Police Officers and Parents. Coaches and eventually spouses. I remember one time, I had an Assistant Principal that was out to get me. I swear it didn’t matter what I wore to school, I was her target. I could have on the same outfit as the next girl and I was the one being reprimanded. So I took it as a challenge, I would push the envelope even more every day, just to get a rile out of her. My poor mother; this Assistant Principal was her boss.

What I didn’t know then was that Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” I was in direct disobedience to the Lord because I didn’t submit to the person that was in authority over me, that He put there. She wasn’t asking me to partake in sin. She wasn’t asking me to go against the Word of God. She was simply trying to make me comply with the rules of the school. Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” I should have submitted. Thankfully the Lord has been kind in teaching me this lesson and didn’t smite me like He probably should have and had every right to. Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” The Lord is in charge. I am to trust that. If you are following Christ, you are to believe those things and let those things affect the way you live your lives. Don’t be a stink like I was.

Love,


Questions for Reflection

Have you ever met the President or other prominent government official?

If you could meet any President or world leader, living or deceased, who would it be?

In what ways do you feel like the government has upheld its responsibility to God and the people?

In what ways do you feel like the government has failed?

In 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Paul writes, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.”

In relation to government, how does the Bible tell Christians to act?

Are you praying regularly for “kings and all who are in high positions?” If not, why not?

What does longing for God’s Kingdom mean to you?



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