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God’s Word for You

Proverbs 24:17-20 when your enemy falls

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, May 17, 2019

17 Do not be pleased when your enemy falls,
  when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice,
18 or the LORD will see it, and be displeased,
  and turn away his anger from him.

This is a proverb that troubles some readers. This is a warning not to gloat over an enemy’s downfall or misfortune. Job said, “If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over trouble that came to him… then let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley” (Job 31:29,40). Why does God caution us like this? The answer is simply that it is God’s place to punish and to send revenge, not man’s (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). Whenever mankind gets a taste for revenge, he forgets to stop, and the innocent suffer. Right now our nation is in a dizzying spiral of self-righteous piety with no anchor, no faith in God at all. Men and women are crying out for retribution on the immoral, and the very men and women crying out are no more or less moral than the ones they are crying out against.

What does verse 18 mean? At face value, it seems to say that if the Lord sees one of us gloating at our enemies as they are being punished by him, he will turn aside his anger at our enemy and the punishment or calamity will cease. Perhaps this is the case. But most understand this to mean that if God sees us gloating over our enemies, he will turn aside a portion of his wrath and send it onto us. This is what happened when Edom rejoiced over Israel’s suffering (Ezekiel 35:15; Lamentations 4:21-22). This is also what Christ warns about in Revelation 1:7 regarding those who gloated over him as he was dying on the cross.

17 Do not be pleased when your enemy falls,
  when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice,
18 or the LORD will see it, and be displeased,
  and turn away his anger from him.

This is a proverb that troubles some readers. This is a warning not to gloat over an enemy’s downfall or misfortune. Job said, “If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over trouble that came to him… then let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley” (Job 31:29,40). Why does God caution us like this? The answer is simply that it is God’s place to punish and to send revenge, not man’s (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). Whenever mankind gets a taste for revenge, he forgets to stop, and the innocent suffer. Right now our nation is in a dizzying spiral of self-righteous piety with no anchor, no faith in God at all. Men and women are crying out for retribution on the immoral, and the very men and women crying out are no more or less moral than the ones they are crying out against.

What does verse 18 mean? At face value, it seems to say that if the Lord sees one of us gloating at our enemies as they are being punished by him, he will turn aside is anger at our enemy and the punishment or calamity will cease. Perhaps this is the case. But most understand this to mean that if God sees us gloating over our enemies, he will turn aside a portion of his wrath and send it onto us. This is what happened when Edom rejoiced over Israel’s suffering (Ezekiel 35:15; Lam. 4:21-22). This is also what Christ warns about in Revelation 1:7 regarding those who gloated over him as he was dying on the cross.

19 Do not get angry about evildoers,
  or become envious of the wicked.
20 For there will be nothing for the evil man in the end,
  the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

Perhaps there is a hint of this warning in Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins. When the Bridegroom finally arrived, the foolish (wicked) girls said, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out” (Matthew 25:8). They had nothing when the moment came; they had no faith, and so the door of heaven was shut (Matthew 25:10). The journey of faith is different for each person. Who can say whether a wicked man goes to war because he has a lust to kill, but then in the terror of that war repents his sin and clings to Christ? He knows, and the Lord knows. Who can say whether a stingy miser who kept growing her wealth all her long life but neglected ever to use any of it for the glory of God might repent at the end of her life? She knows, and God knows. Who knows whether the mass murderer ever repents, and perhaps comes to know Jesus in prison before he dies? God knows, and that is enough.

When I was in the Seminary, one of my classmates pressed a professor about knowing the condition of everyone’s soul at the time of their death, and how we could be certain who we could perform funerals for. Can we know, he wondered, whether they are hypocrites or truly Christians? Our professor said simply, “Bury your people. God knows the ones who are his.”

As for the living, you and I should let our lights shine. Rejoice in the forgiveness Christ has won for you, and let your joy be magnified by the prism of God’s love. Give your whole worship to God alone. Use his name to praise him, thank him, pray to him, and proclaim his gospel of forgiveness. Be anxious to worship him and to cherish his holy word. Submit happily and joyfully to those in authority over you, and husbands and wives submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). Be a friend to your neighbor, correcting where necessary but never with irritation and never without humility. Be content with what you have and help others to be content and protect what is theirs. Be a lover of the truth without exaggeration. Use your words to uphold, uplift, and guide the people around you. And do all of these things out of love for Jesus, who loved us first.

Perhaps there is a hint of this warning in Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins. When the Bridegroom finally arrived, the foolish (wicked) girls said, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out” (Matthew 25:8). They had nothing when the moment came; they had no faith, and so the door of heaven was shut (Matt. 25:10). The journey of faith is different for each person. Who can say whether a wicked man goes to war because he has a lust to kill, but then in the terror of that war repents his sin and clings to Christ? He knows, and the Lord knows. Who can say whether a stingy miser who kept growing her wealth all her long life but neglected ever to use any of it for the glory of God might repent at the end of her life? She knows, and God knows. Who knows whether the mass murderer ever repents, and perhaps comes to know Jesus in prison before he dies? God knows, and that is enough.

When I was in the Seminary, one of my classmates pressed a professor about knowing the condition of everyone’s soul at the time of their death, and how we could be certain who we could perform funerals for. Can we know, he wondered, whether they are hypocrites or truly Christians? Our professor said simply, “Bury your people. God knows the ones who are his.”

As for the living, you and I should let our lights shine. Rejoice in the forgiveness Christ has won for you, and let your joy be magnified by the prism of God’s love. Give your whole worship to God alone. Use his name to praise him, thank him, pray to him, and proclaim his gospel of forgiveness. Be anxious to worship him and to cherish his holy word. Submit happily and joyfully to those in authority over you, and husbands and wives submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). Be a friend to your neighbor, correcting where necessary but never with irritation and never without humility. Be content with what you have and help others to be content and protect what is theirs. Be a lover of the truth without exaggeration. Use your words to uphold, uplift, and guide the people around you. And do all of these things out of love for Jesus, who loved us first.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



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