As we proceed deeper into this book, we find more verses bearing themes we’ve already addressed. Common subjects are expressed in slightly different ways; some of them are more profound or provoking than their earlier cousins. For the most part there isn’t any need but to read them and continue forward. I will try to stop at each major subject, but I can’t promise complete success. Every week I read the chapter before us, asking the Lord for direction, and usually He highlights a verse or two, and I proceed from there. And yesterday, it was verse 9 which seemed to rise to the surface in my mind.
“The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” This is not one of those outstanding scriptures which we embroider onto silk, frame and nail on the wall over the picture of grandma and grandad. But it seems to me to be a sort of hinge which might be used to open some other doors. This is one of those special hinges which can swing in either direction. If we are going one way we push on it, and it opens into the sun light. But when we are going from the sunshine into the darkness, we still push on it because it swings in both directions. And either in the sunshine or the darkness, we find related scriptures.
But first, consider the verse itself.
“The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” The Hebrew words “light” and “lamp” are different – not related linguistically – not varieties of each other. But obviously they are related visually and by definition. As John Gill points out, they are different only in intensity. A lamp in the days before modern technology couldn’t produce very many lumens – units of light. It certainly couldn’t be compared to the light of the sun, which was the brightest thing known at the time. And as far as Solomon was concerned the sun would never go out, but the lamp with the tiny flame was vulnerable to the next puff of wind.
The character, or the source, of each of these luminaries is suggested in the verse. The brighter light is fueled by righteous, and the source of righteous is the eternally holy God. There is no righteous in fallen man; even his best is nothing but filthy rags. But a dirty, oily rag might be set on fire, and it might burn with a lot of smoke from a small flame. But quickly it burns out. “The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.”
If we wanted to make a sermon out of this verse, we should probably compare the end of each light. The lamp of the wicked is temporary, so we might conclude that the light whose source is the eternal God is eternal as well. “The light of the righteous (might) rejoice” among other things, in its eternal, heavenly blessedness. Thus at first glance, the rejoicing belongs to the light itself, but that “the lamp of the wicked shall be put out” will ultimately end in “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
But another application, after skewing the verse just a little bit, might be to suggest that others will rejoice in the light of the righteous. When Godly people are around, the blessings of the Lord follow, even falling on the ungodly. A righteous soul will find blessings in his surroundings, but two righteous people will have three times God’s blessing. Didn’t Solomon bring this idea out in Ecclesiastes a week or so ago? But in contrast to the light of the righteous, few rejoice in the lamp of the wicked, and those who do will not do so very long.
Proverbs 13:9 is a simple verse, which we might not ordinarily consider very deeply. It is surrounded by far more spectacular verses. And yet it is not without merit for meditation.
But now let’s use its precepts to consider other scriptures here in this chapter.
“The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” And “a wise son heareth his father’s instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke.” There is light in the instruction of a righteous father, “but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” Isn’t the general character of verse 1 similar to that of verse 9? Is there a comparison between good and bad? And what about verse 2 – “A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth: but the soul of the transgressors shall eat violence.” There are divine blessings for the righteous man, but the tiny flame of the wicked quickly turns into a problem. And doesn’t verse 3 have a similar poetic parallellism? “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” As we learned in a lesson from Proverbs 12, a righteous person guards what he says, and there are blessings in doing so. But people without the Holy Spirit cannot control their lips, and inevitably they say destructive things. “The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.”
Remember, our hinge verse tells us that righteousness is good but wickedness is destructive. And so does verse 6 – “Righteousness keepeth him that is upright in the way: but wickedness over-throweth the sinner.” The righteous man can say that God’s word is “a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” But “the way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.” Isn’t verse 15 a simple restatement? “Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard.” “Every prudent man dealeth with knowledge: but a fool layeth open his folly” and so his lamp shall be quickly put out. Verse 20 is perhaps better known than our first text, but it says the same thing. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Then going back to an earlier lesson – “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” And “the righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want.”
Again, what is the source of this righteousness? It is the grace of the Almighty. No one should boast about these blessings if they should be bestowed upon us. If we are righteous, and if we display any righteousness, it is due to the salvation of the Lord.
Some of these verses are designed for ingress and some for egress – some are going in and others going out. Some put the negative first and the positive second, but the door between them is the same. For example, verse 4 – “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” Again, what was our original text? “The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” Verse 7 – “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.”
“Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.” If you like – “by pride comes nothing but contention; but with the well-advised is wisdom.” By the grace of God, the well-taught saint of God shines with the light of the Lord. But the proud and wicked man creates nothing but contention. “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.” “Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.” “The lamp of the wicked shall be put out, but the light of the righteous shall be rewarded.” “A wicked messenger falleth into mischief: but a faithful ambassador is health.” “Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured.” “Evil pursueth sinners: but to the righteous good shall be repayed.”
In a round about way, more than a dozen verses in this chapter alone, repeat the general theme of verse 9. “The lamp of the wicked shall be put out, but the light of the righteous shall be rewarded.” “The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” How can anyone read this chapter without seeing what Solomon was saying? How can anyone hear these words without being struck by the importance of living a godly, righteous life? And again, how can these blessings be ours? Only by humble submission to the God of all grace.