Ever had one of those moments when you’re reading your Bible and you come across a verse that leaves you asking yourself, “Now, why does it say that?” I had one of those recently as I came to Proverbs 24:17-18, where Solomon says,
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles;
Or the Lord will see it and be displeased,
And turn His anger away from him.”
Maybe it was because I had been especially engaged in the reading of Psalm 83 a few moments before, where the psalmist pleads for God’s intervention regarding his enemies. In a very real way, his pleas have become my pleas. Like him, I sincerely believe that we are now being confronted by a hostile, militant culture – a society made up of men and women who are determined to silence (if not completely do away) with anything that has to do with God, His ways, and His people. And so, I have been praying (and I’m still praying):
O God, do not remain quiet;
Do not be silent and, O God, do not be still.
For behold, Your enemies make an uproar,
And those who hate You have exalted themselves.
They make shrewd plans against Your people,
And conspire together against Your treasured ones.
They have said, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation,
That the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
For they have conspired together with one mind;
Against You they make a covenant:
Shrewd planshave already been made(and are being made even now) against those who hold to God’s truth as set forth in the Scriptures. The reality expressed in Psalm 2, is the reality in which we live today, “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!'” Like the writers of Psalm 2 and 83, we have to keep in mind that ultimately those who persecute God’s people do so out of their animosity to God Himself (see also, John 15:18-21); and we pray appealing to God as they did, “Your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate You have exalted themselves.”
Incidentally, we know that at issue in Proverbs 24:17-18 is not the Lord’s position toward evil and injustice. Psalm 7:11 is clear enough on that matter: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who shows indignation every day.” And Paul declares unequivocally in Romans 1:18, that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
Why then does the Lord have Solomon say what he says in Proverbs 24:17-18? What is the lesson He would have us take to heart, the attitude He would have us exhibit in respect to our enemies, particularly if and when we discover they are experiencing God’s judgment? On the one hand, as one writer reminds us, to rejoice when our enemy “is down and out is uncanny and unpleasant… [It’s to have an attitude that] is measured with an eery, impersonal coldness.” That is displeasing to the Lord, as verse 18 makes clear.
Interestingly, Psalm 83, the very prayer I mentioned earlier that pleads with God to take up the cause of His people and deal with the enemy, at the same time models the right attitude which we are to have in respect to our enemies – one that is undoubtedly pleasing to the Lord. Notice, how after requesting that God meet out some pretty severe consequences (verse 9-15), the psalmist ends with this request on behalf of his enemies:
Fill their faces with dishonor,
That they may seek Your name, O Lord.
Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever,
And let them be humiliated and perish,
That they may know that You alone, whose name is the Lord,
Are the Most High over all the earth.
That is an interesting request; for Psalm 9:10 declares, “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, LORD, have not abandoned those who seek You.” It appears that after all that he is asking the Lord to do to his enemies, the writer of Psalm 83 ultimately prays not for their complete destruction but for their salvation – “that they may seek Your name, O Lord. . . . that they may know that You alone, whose name is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth.”
It’s an approach to one’s enemies that has a familiar New Testament ring to it:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.(Matthew 5:43-48)
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.(1 Timothy 2:1-7).
“While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8).
May we, like the psalmist, continue to pray for our Lord’s personal intervention and His thwarting of the evil schemes of those who resist His will. At the same time, may we demonstrate hearts of compassion for all who are lost, even our enemies.
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”