I have been debating with myself about how deep to go in our study of these proverbs. I think by their very nature proverbs are meant to be quick and powerful. They are guerilla attacks for truth rather than long sieges against the strong position of the enemy. On the other hand, these proverbs of the Holy Spirit are not just quaint, pithy statements. These come out of the depths of the divine heart. If we wanted to, and if we had the minds and hearts, we could spend hours looking at many of them – comparing them to the writings of Paul or the statements of the Lord Jesus. So to answer my own question, I think I’ll let the Spirit guide us. One week we may look at a half dozens verses and the next week we will examine only one.
Again this evening, I point to the poetry of these verses – a subject about which I am far from an expert. But it seems to me that we have a pair of interlocking parallels. Verse 2 contains a contrasting parallel – “wickedness” and “righteousness.” Then verse 3 gives us another – “righteous” people and “wicked” people. But verse 3 actually provides a parallel explanation of verse 2. Why do the treasures of wickedness profit nothing? Because God casts those treasures away. And why are the righteous delivered from death, because God will not suffer that soul to famish. Those are the short and quick statements, but are their more truths or blessings if we dig a little deeper?
“Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.” I wonder how many words, Biblical and otherwise, we don’t define quite exactly? I have a friend, a friend of this church, who so loves her King James Bible, that she condemns every reference to Hebrew and Greek. Her attitude is probably due to hearing heretics attempting to attack the Word of God by twisting references to the original languages – references which most people don’t try to corroborate. But I think that lady is robbing herself of great blessings, because no translation can easy expose what is intended in the original. And sometimes we are simply not on target with our own understanding of the King James.
Take the word “treasures” as an example. Maybe you are spot on in your definition, but your neighbor may not be. Many people think it means “wealth,” and while it can, that is not the original meaning – not in English, nor Hebrew or Greek. When Tyndale first used this English word he brought it from the French word “thesaurus.” That is a word some of you might know from the cover of a book in your library. A “thesaurus” is a treasury or repository of knowledge – or of words. A “thesaurus” may be a tool for finding synonyms. I have one or two in my library and Judy has another of her own. The Hebrew word in this verse is also translated “treasure(s),” “treasury,” “storehouse(s)” even “cellars.” So Solomon was not talking necessarily about the wealth of ill-gotten gain. He was speaking about collecting or amassing wickedness whether it has value or not.
In, the wicked and their goods and deeds don’t have to be wealthy to come to naught – to nothing. Remember the words of Paul in Romans 2 – “Hey, Mr. wicked religionist – “After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds.” Those deeds, whether they produce wealth or not, not only profit nothing, but actually bring down the wrath of the Judge. With each wicked act, small though they might be, we are adding to our “wickedness account.” The interest of which will not be profitable to us.
“Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.” Should we make something of the fact that Solomon doesn’t speak of “treasures of righteousness”? In this case, I say we should – this is not speaking about a storehouse of righteous deeds. Even where that might be appropriate and intended – and maybe it is in this case – if I was to preach this scripture on Sunday morning, I would deliver a message on “justification.” I would make sure my audience could see God’s righteousness imputed to someone who by nature is wicked. And I would apply the word “death” to the subject of eternal death. I know I could tie this verse into our subject from last Sunday night – “the breastplate of righteous. ” But I would prefer to apply it to salvation.
What if, during his lifetime, a man faced a hundred situations where if he chose wickedness he could die, but if he acted in righteousness he would be saved from that particular moment of death? Would his 101st right choice guarantee that like Elijah or Enoch he would never die? No, all currently living human beings will physically die, with the exception involving the rapture. A treasury of righteous deeds, will not spare a person from physical death. Nor will a thousand righteous deeds, give that man eternal life. But the imputed righteousness of Christ, making a sinner just before God, guarantees deliverance from eternal death. That is the righteousness which you and I must have. Do you have the Lord’s gift of righteous?
“The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked.” Who will not let the soul of the righteous to famish? Jehovah; the great and gracious Almighty God. One of the contrasts I see between our verses, is that God is mentioned in the second, but not the first. It is as though there is a principle – a law, an unbreakable law – involved in verse 2. “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.” That is a simple statement of two facts – rules, laws. But in verse 3 the Lord Himself steps in to break his own established law – or perhaps to guarantee the completion of His new law. “The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked.”
“The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked.” What does the word “suffer” suggest to the student of the Bible – not to the average man, but to the Bible student? It speaks of permission – God will not allow the “soul” of the righteous to famish. It’s the word “soul” which makes me apply this righteous to salvation rather than to physical life. If the Arminian wants to believe that God will grant him righteous and then later let his soul famish, I pity him. I believe that when the sovereign God grants justification, giving the sinner Christ’s righteousness, He will never let that soul perish. And by the way, you can look his up, checking on my use of the original language – The word “suffer” and “famish” are the same Hebrew word. We could mix up those words, or use the same word twice, perhaps revealing something we’d miss. “The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to suffer.” “The LORD will not famish the suffering soul of the righteous.” The Lord not only keeps the soul of His saint, but He feeds it, giving it eternal life and strength.
“But he casteth away the substance of the wicked.” Why do the “treasures of wickedness profit nothing”? It’s not that those treasures have no one to guard and protect them. It’s not that the wicked won’t do all that they can to hang on to them. It’s that the omnipotent God will throw them into Gehenna like Jerusalem’s garbage.
And what does the word “substance” mean to you? If I say that something has substance what does that suggest? If we compare whipped cream to real cream, I would say that one has substance – weight – while the other does not. The wicked may think that there are things in his life which have substance – weight. But to Jehovah only those things which He says have weight are weighty and important. And “He casteth away the substance of the wicked.”
There is one other tiny hidden nugget in the Hebrew of this scripture. You can look it up, verifying what I am telling you. The Hebrew word “substance” doesn’t actually speak of weight or importance. The word is rendered “substance” just once, but it is translated “calamity” and “wickedness” seven times. It is different from the last Hebrew word in this sentence. But, nevertheless, this verse could very well have been translated, “God casteth away the wickedness of the wicked.”
There is only one thing which stands before the holy God – it is the holiness of God. Only in the righteousness of Christ can anyone stand in the presence of the Lord. And as the hymn says, “Only what’s done for Christ will last.”