Maybe I am stuck in a mental rut, but once again I find a group of contrasting pairs. And not only that but tonight I’m going to take each of the major words and split them into additional pairs. The just man and the wicked; blessings and violence; good and bad memories. I thought about reversing the order of Solomon’s two subjects for the sake of variety, but I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity for that again later.
So we’ll begin with the just man.
“Blessings are upon the head of the JUST – The memory of the JUST is blessed.” I don’t know if Solomon was thinking like the Holy Spirit when he used the term “just.” But it is not really important, because this is explained in the New Testament. The prophet may not have understood what he was writing, but without doubt the Lord did.
There are two kinds of “just” people in the world. There are those who are just under the law and those who are just by grace. We can’t know exactly what was in his mind, but Solomon may have been thinking about the honest man – the fair and right-acting person. The law says, “Tell the truth,” and this person tells the truth. The law says, “Be generous and hospitable,” and the just woman is known to be a giving person. There is nothing wrong with this kind of behaviour – this sort of person is to be commended. So long as she doesn’t think that her good character is saving her soul.
While Solomon might have been thinking of THIS kind of just person, the Holy Spirit may have intended that we think of the justified person. In the context of the New Testament a “just” person has been declared righteous by the grace of God. Galatians tells us “No man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The JUST shall live by faith.” I am of the opinion that what we read here could be applied to both kinds of just people. But our first application should be made to those saved by the grace of God. “Blessings are upon the head of the just – The memory of the just is blessed.”
And the blessings upon the just could be taken in at least two ways as well. There are temporary blessings from God and there are eternal blessings. And there simple wishes and canned greetings too. Do you remember when Tevye got himself in trouble by promising his eldest daughter to the butcher? He dreamed up a dream to convince his wife that Tzeitel should marry the tailor – Motel. He dreamed that one of his dead relatives came back to sing to him. “Blessing on your head, Mazal tov, mazal tov. To see a daughter wed, Mazal tov, mazal tov. And such a son-in-law; like no-one ever saw; the tailor Motel Camzoil.” “Blessing on your head, Mazal tov, mazal tov.” It was a method of Jewish compliment or greeting to place blessings on someone’s head.
Matthew Henry suggests Solomon’s blessings could be viewed as either crowns or helmets. “(A crown) upon the head of the just – “(Protection) upon the head of the just.” I like both ideas, and they are certainly not unscriptural. But the poetic parallelism “Blessings are upon the head of the just – The memory of the just is blessed” seem to point to the first explanation. These blessings are a diadem placed on the head of the saved man by the grace of God.
And then John Gill came along suggesting a more off-beat application. The Head of the just is none other than the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. “I would have you know, that the HEAD of every man is Christ” – I Corinthians 11:3. If any man is just in the sight of God it is due to the Redeemer – “Blessed be His name.”
Solomon says, “The memory of the just is blessed.” If we didn’t know better, we might apply this to the ability to remember things. Wouldn’t that be nice? Sadly, that is not a wise application, because reality argues against it. No, when it comes to people who are truly just – “just” in both explanations – it is the memory which others have of them which is blessed. (And by the way, the two “blesseds” in this pair of verses are the same Hebrew word.)
There most likely have been wicked people in your life – sometimes violent people. And some of these you might be forced – because of their wickedness – to remember. But it is not with fondness you remember them. On the other hand “the memory of the just is blessed.” And there are lots of scriptures which repeat that thought. Psalm 112 – “Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies. He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour.” Perhaps we should think of this as an exhortation to live more like the “justification” we claim to possess.
Of course we know – “It is appointed unto (every man) once to die.” Have you ever thought about the fact that “just” souls shouldn’t fear or worry about death? Generally speaking, it is the wicked man – the violent man – who fears death – at least for himself. Since death is coming for all of us, perhaps our focus should not be on death itself, but on the way in which we will be remembered after we are gone. “The memory of the just is blessed.” Are we living the way that just and justified people should live?
Now let’s switch gears as Solomon does.
“Blessings are upon the head of the just: BUT violence covereth the mouth of the wicked. The memory of the just is blessed: BUT the name of the wicked shall rot.” Who are these wicked? Once again there are two ways to answer the question. There are those who are wicked in the things they do – they are violent people; disobedient, ungodly. They take automatic weapons into schools killing whomever they find. Or they over-react to that violent lunatic, calling everyone who owns a weapon “wicked.” The wicked may be thieves or bullies, dictators; vulgar blasphemers or liars. You don’t need me to help you picture a few wicked people you know – or of whom you have heard.
But there is another variety of wicked which might not immediately come to mind. There are those who are wicked by deed, but there are billions more who are simply wicked by nature. We are born into this world wicked by nature. Some, through sound discipline, keep their natures in check, outwardly living non-violent lives. Others have no control over their natures and the wickedness pours out. But in either case there is no escape from their wickedness but by way of omnipotent grace of the Lord. The wicked may be “justified freely by (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” but other than that there is no other way.
“Violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.” This statement might be considered in at least two ways. Perhaps it means that the man’s wickedness speaks for itself. No, he cannot not be forced to testify against himself in a court of law, and he may even walk away. But it is common knowledge – that former football star is guilty of murder. All his protestations to the contrary can’t change the obvious. His violence covers over whatever nice words he might utter. But there is another interpretation – the drool of his wickedness covers his mouth and drips from his chin. Like the fictitious vampire, he has blood all over his face. The end result of both interpretations is the same – his guilt is obvious.
“The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot.” Like most of the other words in these verses, can’t the word “name” be taken in several ways? There are a lot of strange names being given to babies these days. But how many people do you know who have name “Hitler?” Lots of last names, family names, are being used as first names. Can “Hitler” ever be called a “Christian name?” There are lots of evil people from history, whose names have become poison – rotted away. For example, I can’t think of a single acquaintance who has been given the name “Jezebel.” There are lots of names which have become off-limits.
But this is probably neither Solomon’s, nor the Spirit’s, meaning. Going back to Adolph Hitler – back in the 1930’s it was one of the most honored names in Germany. A name may begin in an honorable way, but if the wearer is wicked, that name will become rotten. In Ecclesiastes Solomon extended this Proverb. “All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt. And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity.” The famous name of the wicked man will one day be forgotten – rot away into dust and ashes.
We shall live and move and have our being in this world for less than a hundred years. We come into this world as children of Adam – wicked at heart. We may live our lives wickedly or we might become outwardly appealing. We may live in a just manner or we may be just by faith – or hopefully – both. But what will we leave behind when our 3 score and 10 are over? “Blessings are upon the head of the just: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked. The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot.”