Friday, October 29, 2010

Proverbs 29 – On Anger, Discipline and Sovereign Justice

“The poor and the oppressor have this in common:

the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.”

~Proverbs 29:13 (NRSV).

As the collection of the proverbs copied by Hezekiah’s men—the Further Wise Sayings of Solomon—concludes here we’re again given more helpful images of the contrasts between Wisdom and Folly. Thirteen of the 27 verses are contrastive “but” proverbs.

Anger Against Wisdom

“Anger” is a key word and concept in verses 8-11 and 22-23. Mockers are known to be malicious, even against themselves, but wise people are characteristically patient. It’s not a wise idea to resolve issues with this sort of arrogant fool in court; if we did that we could as easily be entrapped to their way or feel the wrath of their reputation.

The ‘malicious one’—who we met originally in Proverbs 26:17-28—hates people with integrity. They want vengeance even if the person with integrity has done them no wrong (verse 10). The foolish, hence, cannot rein in their anger; they do not control themselves and they will feel the full weight of the punishing consequences (verse 22).

Discipline and Diligence

Familial proverbs in verses 3, 15 and 17 combine with proverbs on masters and servants in verses 19 and 21. Both subjects highlight the importance of prompt, appropriate and fair discipline—or ‘relationship management’.

We already know that the foolish growing or grown child inflicts shame on the parent, but that a wise and diligent child otherwise brings joy.

The “rod of correction” (verse 15) is important here, despite the imagery around corporal punishment. It is more important that correction is issued consistently (i.e. every time) and with consistency (i.e. method), on time and with good feedback. If parents cannot issue corporal punishment sensitively and entirely free of their own anger then they should do without it. Discipline is about teaching, not anger (though there wouldn’t be many parents who haven’t lost their temper with their children on occasion).

Likewise, “servants” (which we can call ‘employees’) need to be shown by example, so that the design for leadership intervention is modelled off innovation, and that based in due diligence (verse 19). If a leader doesn’t do this they can only blame themselves for the consequences in verse 21.

The Firm Threads of Justice

There are two tight collections of proverbs attending to justice (verses 4-7 and 24-26) as well as individual proverbs in verses 2, 12, 14 and 16. It is arguable with due cause that even verses 13 and 15 combine in this section to produce another, third, collection.

Justice is a key theme running right through Proverbs. Indeed, with righteousness and equity, the three make a triad of both wise means and ends (see also Proverbs 1:3 and 2:9).

We’ve discussed before how nations groan under oppression, but they rejoice under a proactive administration (verse 2). ‘Boomerang justice’ for the wicked is highlighted in the quatrain of verses 5-6. Sow in wickedness; reap also what the wicked reap: disaster.

The righteous get just reward for looking after the affairs of the poor and needy, including their justice (verse 7). They rule with consistency and are not found tolerating lies (verses 12 and 14). Those not ruling with such diligence are bound to have officials who follow suit (verses 12 and 16).

Good leaders, then, lead exactly how their organisations (or nations) are to become. They are building, or supporting the growth of, a productive, caring culture.

Sovereign Nuances in True Justice Based in Wisdom

We need to understand, finally, how important it is to trust in the establishment of God’s justice and God’s timing (verse 25-26). It is best to exercise patience and self-control. Godly leaders are followers after Wisdom, whether they fervently or actively follow the Lord or not, but by virtue of their actions they’d be seen as friendly to God in any event, and therefore their sense of justice is a Divinely and Sovereignly-backed justice as they abide in Wisdom—which is the way life generally works.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

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