“Argue your case with your neighbor directly,
and do not disclose another’s secret;
or else someone who hears you will bring shame upon you,
and your ill repute will have no end.”
~Proverbs 25:9-10 (NRSV).
It’s an incredibly powerful concept, that of credibility and reputation—a good name. Like an odious stench clings to a soiled ‘perfumed’ garment, so is our repute in tatters after the use of poor judgment. This includes cowardly gossip. We’ve all been there.
Part of growing in wisdom is learning from our mistakes, and though the abovementioned quatrain suggests the scourge of a bad reputation will cling forever, we do know that our contexts change, and the future is unknown—reparation, and the writing of new pages in our personal and interpersonal history, is not beyond us, given genuine repentance.
Something we haven’t seen a lot of as yet in Proverbs—certainly in one tight and neat collection—is the appearance of the comparative proverb. We’ve seen plenty of the contrastive proverbs earlier, but not these that help us see images of likeness that fortify our understanding in almost familial comparison.
There are eleven such “like...” proverbs out of the 28 verses in total in this chapter.
Leaders and ‘Kings’
It is a good thing to bear in mind the right and wrong approaches to ‘royalty’ in life. Such people hold positions of authority over us and it only the fool that will disregard the appropriate respect for these.
The leader’s prerogative is to “search things out,” but equally their minds are “unsearchable” (verses 1-2). In the same way we don’t put ourselves up before the presence of our leaders—we, instead, wait to be called. How shameful it is to be ‘put down’ in their presence (verses 6-7).
The ‘king’ over ourselves, personally, really speaks to our self-control. Verses 27-28 highlight the nature of issues where ‘excess’ becomes us. We imagine a walled city of ancient times being overrun by the enemy; collapse is imminent and that’s never pretty, so best we restrain ourselves so far as the desires are concerned.
Approaches to Conflict
As ‘kings’ hold court, so are we to understand that conflict is always better settled at home, before the scrutiny of nobles is compelled and judgments are made binding (verse 8-10).
Living in harmony with our neighbours is well advised. We daren’t outstay our welcome (verse 17). Likewise, it would be a stupid folly to bear false witness against someone we must live next door or across the road to (verse 18). This approach has no vision for the future.
When we do meet with trouble, how useless to us is the “faithless person?” Liabilities like this linger for us. As does a nagging spouse—never will there be rest (verse 24).
The right approach to our enemies is to quench their thirst and feed their hungry stomaches per the quatrain in verses 21-22. When we do this there’s the very real possibility that our grace might compel a self-generated sense of repentance on their behalf. In other words, our genuine forgiveness of ‘enemies’ actually encourages theirs.
Beautiful and ‘Fitting’
Verses 11-13 and 25 carry the message of ‘peace with Wisdom and God’ to the reader. A good word at the right time, especially from afar; there’s hardly anything better. How much more pertinent is a “wise rebuke to a listening ear,” as the edification is accepted with humble delight.
What is not fitting (in verse 20) is the practice of singing “songs to a heavy heart,” as we’re advised instead to—per Romans 12:15—“rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.