Day 159: About Kings (Proverbs 16:10-15)

10 An oracle is on the lips of a king;
his mouth does not sin in judgment.
11 A just balance and scales are the Lord's;
all the weights in the bag are his work.
12 It is an abomination to kings to do evil,
for the throne is established by righteousness.
13 Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right.
14 A king's wrath is a messenger of death,
and a wise man will appease it.
15 In the light of a king's face there is life,
and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.
Proverbs 16:10-15

If you have seen the musical Hamilton, you will probably agree that Jonathan Goff’s portrayal of King George is a highlight of the show. He delivers some of the most hilarious lines of the entire production: “You’ll be back, soon you’ll see, you’ll remember you belong to me… and when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.” He is childish, petulant, and unhinged, and audiences love every minute he is on stage.

Proverbs has a lot to say about kings. This is to be expected—it was mostly written by kings. Solomon is credited with Proverbs 1-24; Hezekiah (or the men of Hezekiah) with Proverbs 25-29; and Lemuel (not an Israelite king) with Proverbs 31.

In our country today, we don’t really have a grasp on the power of a king in ancient times. Cultures such as Egypt, Babylonia, and later Rome considered their rulers gods. Israel wasn’t there, but still their kings had immense authority. We’ve seen in our reading so far how they could impose taxes, call men to war, conscript their own people into forced labor, all without any human checks or balances on their power. With Saul and David, we saw the tragic consequences of this unchecked authority. With Solomon and the kings who came after him, we are about to.

Proverbs 16:10-15 is one of two passages in Proverbs (the other is 25:1-6) in which verse after verse is about the authority of human kings. Kings speak oracles, and there is no sin in their judgments (10). To even think about doing evil is an abomination to a king (12). They delight to speak righteousness (13). Angering a king is a death sentence (14), but earning the kings favor is like much-needed rain.

The modern reader can’t help but look at these attributes and think, “Yeah… right. ‘No sin in their judgments?’ Really? ‘Delight to speak righteousness?’ Have you SEEN some politicians’ Twitter feeds lately?”

No. In our country (and I praise God for this!) we don’t ascribe godlike status to our leaders. They are not absolute sovereigns. There are limits and checks and balances on their power. And because we have the right to vote for our leaders, we also have the right to criticize their policies, and ultimately vote to replace them if we don’t like them.

What we DON’T have the right to do is question God over how that person ever got in office in the first place. Or to assume that there is simply NO WAY this person or that person could be God’s man or God’s woman for the job. If they are in that position, that means they are the person God has appointed.

Obviously, just because God has put them in that position, that doesn’t mean that they are going to honor God. They may be godless, corrupt, or evil. They may be good-hearted but incompetent. God may favor a nation that honors Him by blessing them with good leaders, or He may judge a nation that turns away from Him by raising up bad leaders. When God chose to judge Jerusalem and Judah because they had become obsessed with material wealth and consumed with idolatry (see Isaiah 2), one of the ways God judged them was by giving them immature, selfish, childish leaders:

“And I will make boys their princes, and infants shall rule over them.” Isaiah‬ ‭3‬:‭4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We have to remember that while our leaders wield tremendous authority, they nevertheless are under the authority of God, even when they don’t acknowledge him. Look at what else Proverbs says about kings:

  • “By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.” (Proverbs 8:15-16)
  • ‭‭“Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king, and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.” (Proverbs 20:28) Remember that “steadfast love” (chesed) is almost exclusively used to describe God. See Day 123: My Favorite Hebrew Word (Psalm 106-107)
  • ‭‭“If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.” (Proverbs 29:14).

And, crucially for this discussion:

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭21‬:‭1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Solomon was using an image as familiar to farmers in our day as it was to farmers in his. A farmer controls which crops will get watered at what time. By opening one gate and closing another, he could direct a stream of water to a specific irrigation channel. Solomon taught that a king’s heart was like that stream of water in God’s hand.

For that reason, the Bible consistently commands us to submit to the authority of our leaders, because God is the one who is directing their hearts. Proverbs 24:21 tells us to “fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who would do otherwise.”

Jeremiah told the exiles in Babylon to seek Babylon’s well-being, and by implication, its pagan king (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to both pray for the king and to give thanks for him (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Considering Paul was speaking of the Roman emperor, this was a tall order.

Bill Edgar, former President of Geneva College, put it this way:

The reality behind our prayers for kings brings great comfort. The Lord reigns. Assyria is a mere rod in God’s hand (Isaiah 10:5), and the nations are but a drop in the bucket (Isaiah 40:15).

“The King’s Heart” (blog post), geneva.edu

Of course, we still can criticize and critique and cast our ballots in this country. But as we roll into another election year, let us as Christians contain our criticism to the policy and not the person.





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