Proverbs 25:1—5

The first group of verses in Proverbs 25 deals with the difference between God and earthly kings.  Verse 1 gives us brief background information—

These are more proverbs of Solomon, compiled by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah.

Bible scholars have a name for chapters 25—29:  “The Hezekiah Collection,” because they were collected and preserved by godly King Hezekiah, king of Judah.  Who was this man?

Hezekiah was known as one of the southern kingdoms greatest leaders.  He was a not only a great and capable king, but he was also a religious reformer.  Thanks to his efforts, a great revival broke out in Judah such as hadn’t been experienced in the land for a long time.  Among Hezekiah’s contemporaries was a prophet of some renown by the name of Isaiah.

What is interesting about verse 1 is the picture it gives us of “the men of Hezekiah.”  They are seen “compiling” various proverbs of Solomon.  The word suggests careful copying and learning.  A revival in the land accompanied this renewed interest in the Word of God.   Adeney had correctly observed:  “A revival of religion should lead to a revival of learning.” Each time a revival broke out in the Old Testament, it involved vigorous preaching and studying of the Scriptures.

Another interesting thing about Hezekiah and his men is that they were not above learning from other wise men, in this case, Solomon.  Even though he was king of the land, and even though Solomon was long gone, Hezekiah gained knowledge from what Solomon had written that led to what was arguably the greatest revival in Judah’s history.

1.  God and kings contrasted, verse 2

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

This verse tells us how God and how kings acquire glory.  What stands out is that they are more or less opposite.

First, God is glorified by “concealing a matter.”  In other words, things are purposely hidden from the understanding of human beings by God.  Why would God do this?  Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us—

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

It is in the nature of human beings to look for answers to every question in life.  Where did he come from?  What does his future hold?  Man is always striving to know things, and when answers are elusive, he makes them up.  God stifles man’s quest for knowledge so that in his frustration man will come to realize his limitations and insufficiency.  There are many things known only to God and indiscernible to human beings  There are many things about God the beyond human the human capacity to understand.  McKane put it succinctly—

When it is supposed that everything is known about God, it is no longer possible to worship him.

Faith becomes routine and ordinary when God becomes just like us; when there is no boundary between Him and His creation.

In contrast to what brings glory to God, the glory of a king is for him to know what is going on in his kingdom.  The phrase, “to search out a matter” means “to expose problematic issues and people.”  The truly wise and righteous king should never clothe himself in a veil of secrecy or surround his administration with an impenetrable wall; that alone is God’s glory.  A king’s charge is to secure the welfare of his subjects, but he must not do it God’s way.  God and kings promote the well-being of their subjects in very different ways, and wise the king that understands that.

God heaps mystery upon mystery upon human beings, limiting their knowledge and understanding so that they may seek out answers in Him.  The king, on the other hand, by careful research, exposes the truth of a matter for all his subjects to see, thereby preserving the integrity of his office.  Any political leader loses the confidence of his people when they perceive him to be clueless.

2.  State of the king’s heart, verse 3

As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable.

At first blush, this verse seems to exalt a king’s wisdom.  In fact, many older commentaries view this verse as very positive, that is, the wisdom of kings is beyond the understanding of us ordinary folk.  However, this proverb is actually complex and two-pronged.

First, it serves as a warning against being taken in and deluded by the favor of the king.  His motives are not easily discerned but his mind is.   The person who is favored by the king one day may become his enemy the next.  The heart of the king is as unfathomable as the heights of heaven and the depths of the earth.  Or, to put it another way, no king should be trusted or his words taken at face value.

Second, on a more positive note, there is an admonition here for the king.  A righteous and wise king ought to have wisdom greater than that of his subjects.  The leader of a nation must be resourceful, inscrutable, able to see into the heart of a matter and make sound judgments.  Everything a king does ought to enhance his standing before the people.

3.  Stability through righteousness, verses 4, 5

Remove the dross from the silver, and a silversmith can produce a vessel; remove wicked officials from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.

These two verses form what is known as an “emblematic parallelism,” and serve to illustrate something important in regards to the king and his administration:  as only the best vessels are made from refined silver, so only the most worthy of individuals should make up the royal cabinet.

Since a man is known by the company he keeps, how important is it for a king to have officials who mirror his own integrity and honor?

Verse 4 is difficult to translate, but its sense seems to be that if the king removes the wicked officials from his service, his throne will become righteous.  Greenstone’s observation is instructive:

The king may have perfect ideals and his conduct may be irreproachable, but he may be misled by unscrupulous courtiers.

One thing we learn from Hebrew history is that when the king’s court is pure and stocked with godly men, it is able to exert considerable force for good on the population.  Jesus Christ, as King of Kings, similarly speaks of His coming kingdom at the Day of Judgment when all sinners and rebels and workers of iniquity will be purged from the land.  As they say, it only takes one bad apple to ruin a barrel of good ones.

Finally, verse 5 indicates that a strong throne is established through pure moral authority, not by force and certainly not by deception.  How many thrones and administrations throughout history have been done in or rendered impotent because of a collapse of moral authority?  Clarkson has wisely pointed out:

Justice is imprinted upon the nature of a man.

While all people are indeed sinners, deep down in their heart of hearts they yearn for justice and they recognize when it is present and when it is not.  Citizens of any kingdom in every age will forgive their political leaders many faults, but definitely not this one.  Why must the king surround himself with morally pure servants?  It is because they shape the nature and character of the kingdom.  A nation rises or falls to the moral level of those leading it.  Some verses in Isaiah serve to illustrate this—

See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her—but now murderers!  Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water.  Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.   (Isaiah 1:21—23)

Isaiah has used very poet language to describe the political and moral situation of his day.  Because the rulers were despicable men, the city itself, taking on their sense of morality, had become (like)  “a prostitute.”  That is not to say every single citizen had corrupted themselves, just that the overall nature of the city had become corrupted.  The prophet goes on to describe in some detail what will happen to such a population—

I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.  (Isaiah 1:25)

Without elaborating on the eschatological significance of what Isaiah wrote, there is a principle here:  God will, in His own way and in His own time, take matters into His own hands when a  nation turns its back on Him and on its people.  Taking our cues from Hebrew history once again, we notice how time and again the Lord brought a series of natural disasters and man-made calamities upon His people when they wandered from His Law; locusts, drought, earthquakes, hail storms, and even foreign invaders were all used by God to get the people’s attention—starting with the king—with the purpose of bringing them back to Him.   God is absolutely sovereign and will use anything at His disposal to restore moral righteousness and justice in the land for the benefit of His people.

While there are no theocracies today, the principle is clear.  God desires leaders of nations, be they kings or prime ministers or presidents, to practice sound morality and ethics and to provide for the well-being of their people.  That well-being starts with the freedom of God’s people to do the work to which we have been called: win the lost.   When political leaders exercise their authority in way contrary to God’s will and to the detriment of their people, they unwittingly open themselves and their nation up to a supernatural backlash that is often disguised as “freak accidents” or “once in a generation” catastrophes.

There is a certain comfort in another Proverb–

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

Make no mistake about it and don’t be taken in by circumstances that appear to be contrary:  God is in control of every political leader and He will have His way with them, eventually.  Every king who rules against God’s wishes will rue the day he ever presumed to take matters into his own hands.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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