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God’s Word for You

Proverbs 26:18-19 Like a madman

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 14, 2020

18 Like a madman shooting firebrands and deadly arrows,
19 is someone who deceives a neighbor
    and says, “I am only joking!”

The poetry of this proverb is obscured a little bit by a language problem. The Hebrew words rimah and ramah sound very much alike, and it’s easy to see how they would be the subject of wordplay. Both words could mean “shoots” (“shoot” in the Bible is always a reference to what you do with a bow and arrow). The term rimah probably doesn’t mean “shoot” here, but rather “deceive” or “deal treacherously.” Since another word (yareh) means “shoots” in verse 18, it would be possible to take the piel-stem form of rimah in verse 19 as “someone who keeps shooting his neighbor (with arrows) and saying, ‘I am only joking!’” The ridiculous scene helps to show that deceiving a neighbor, lying to him or dealing falsely with him, is madness. Often in the Bible a neighbor is anyone on earth, but here the idea is really the person who lives next door to you. If you can’t be civil and neighborly with your next-door-neighbor, who in the world will ever trust you to do anything?

Obviously, the madman in this example breaks the Fifth and Eighth Commandments with violence and lies. This transgression is not lessened if another man only violates the Eighth. Now, it is not sinful to joke. There are many examples of puns and wordplay throughout the Scriptures. The prophet Micah records God’s judgment on the nations using many puns or paranomasia (Micah 1:8-16). This very proverb is another example of that kind of wordplay, which might be why Solomon phrased it thus. Laughter is heard on the lips of the righteous (Psalm 126:2; Ecclesiastes 3:4). Jesus himself is not above using humor to make a point (Luke 6:41-42). So, although the Bible warns us not to use obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place (Ephesians 5:4), humor itself is not forbidden in the Bible.  A joke that delights, humor that teaches, or something funny shared by family or friends that reinforces the bond of love and trust are all good things. But a joke that wounds or hurts is contrary to God’s will.

The sinful nature will usually laugh at another man’s misfortune. The successes of the Greek comedies, Shakespeare, Vaudeville, the Three Stooges and Saturday Night Live stand as a testimony to this fact. But when we leave the arena of entertainment and think about our lives and our neighbors, we need to think in terms of helping them and being a friend to them. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

At the same time, the Christian must also remember that it is not the purpose of the Law of God to save man. The Law reveals a perfect way to heaven, but no man, woman or child is capable of perfect obedience to the Law, and that means that under the Law, we are all condemned. Anyone who attempts to achieve salvation through obedience to the Law subjects himself to all its curses, as Paul explains: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’” (Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26). The point is that we cannot make anyone seem to be holy or righteous by forcing them to comply outwardly to the Law of God. You cannot shoehorn anyone into eternal life. Salvation is found in no one else apart from Jesus (Acts 4:12). Why mention all this? Because there is no point in objecting to the way someone uses humor if they are not a Christian. One thing to remember is that a comedian—whether professional, amateur, or just a funny friend—is someone who has the most tender of hearts. Comedians are constantly searching for approval and soaking in laughter as if it were that approval. By not laughing at a rough joke, you modify their sense of what’s funny. But only by sharing the gospel and the love you have for Christ will you make a true difference in their heart. This, truly, is another look at what it means to love your neighbor.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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