Words of the Wise Cont'd: Take a Stand Against Evil (Proverbs 24:5-22)
Saying 21: Wisdom Over Strength (24:5-6). True strength lies in wisdom rather than mere brute force. While the verse might seem to apply to rulers only, since only they would be waging war, "the majority of the thirty sayings are clearly addressed to someone who is not in high office. A metaphorical sense that one should engage life with discernment rather than by exercise of force is therefore likely" (NAC). Consider the Christian life as one of waging spiritual warfare. Here we have the third proverb advising a "multitude of counselors" (the first two being 11:14 and 15:22).
Saying 22: Fools Contribute Nothing (24:7). The NKJV and other versions show the fool here as not speaking up at the city gate, where community decisions were made—wisdom being beyond him (so that he is out of his element). However, other passages show fools having much to say all the time, no matter the setting. Do civil government meetings today proceed with fools keeping silent? The New American Commentary offers a slightly different translation of the verse: "Wisdom is too high for a fool; let his mouth stay shut at the gate." Either way, the point is that fools have nothing worthwhile to contribute. By contrast, the wise, though often reserved in speech, have a responsibility to contribute wisdom in critical situations.
Saying 23: Disapproval of Evil Men (24:8-9). Plotters and troublemakers will eventually be discovered and subject to public scorn.
Saying 24: Test of Adversity (24:10). The verse uses a play on words: "If you faint in the day of adversity [sarah], your strength is small [sar]." While trials can expose one's lack of mettle, the point of the proverb is to encourage people to muster courage to make it through the hard times (compare Jeremiah 12:5). God is ever there to see us through.
Saying 25: Preservation of Life (24:11-12). This saying makes clear the responsibility before God to do what we can to rescue those in mortal peril. On one level, as we have opportunity we must work to prevent murder in all its forms, including genocide and abortion. As Christians we do not take up arms in such causes—nor can we individually crusade around the earth to stop all unjust killing in this age. But, as God empowers us, we are to proclaim and teach His will in these matters and do what we can to stop such things from happening. If we lived in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust and knew what was going on, it would be our responsibility to hide and deliver neighboring Jews slated for the gas ovens. The passage also applies to helping those who are jeopardizing their own physical lives through vice or imprudence. On another level, the saying concerns those in spiritual peril, stumbling toward destruction. We are to warn this world of its fatal path (like watchmen, as in Ezekiel 33:1-11) and proclaim the way of salvation—and we must especially help spiritual brethren who are neglecting their salvation (compare Galatians 6:1-2).
Saying 26: Good Future of Wisdom (24:13-14). Honey is sweet and enjoyable, and so is wisdom and the life to which it leads. This way leads to a wonderful, profitable outcome with hope not cut off—wording also used in saying 14 (23:17-18).
Saying 27: Treatment of the Righteous (24:15-16). As Expositor's notes on this verse: "It would be futile and self-defeating to mistreat God's people, for they survive—the wicked do not! The warning is against attacking the righteous; to attack them is to attack God and his program, and that will fail (see Matt 16:18). The consequence, and thus the motivation, is that if the righteous suffer misfortune any number of times (='seven times,' v. 16), they will rise again [seven being symbolic of completeness]; for virtue triumphs in the end…. Conversely, the wicked will not survive—without God they have no power to rise from misfortune. The point then is that ultimately the righteous will triumph and those who oppose them will stumble over their evil" (note on verses 15-16).
Saying 28: Misfortune of an Enemy (24:17-18). This proverb warns against gloating over an enemy's downfall, with the threat that God will be unhappy with us and cease to afflict the enemy. We should not take this to mean that we should avoid gloating just to make sure God keeps afflicting the enemy—for that amounts to silently cheering on the affliction. The implied threat in God relenting from afflicting the enemy is that the enemy will return to troubling us. In the meantime, instead of gloating we should just be thankful for God's protection and leave all to His judgment—praying that God will use any affliction He brings on our enemies to lead them to change for the better.
Saying 29: Envying the Wicked (24:19-20). The words of verse 19 are nearly the same as King David's in Psalm 37:1. We must not fret over the wicked, or being envious of them (compare 3:31; 23:17-18; 24:1-2), because they are doomed if they will not reform.
Saying 30: Fear God and the King (24:21-22). In this last of the 30 sayings of the wise we are told to fear God and the king, a phrase the apostle Peter likely quoted from in 1 Peter 2:17. In the same proverb we are instructed to not associate with "those given to change." The latter phrase probably means more than merely the fickle. Given the context, it is taken by some to mean revolutionists or "the rebellious" (NIV)—those who subvert society. They will be brought to ruin by both God and king.