Why isn’t the world flocking to the Lord for salvation? Of course there is man’s native depravity and the hatred of the Lord which automatically comes from that. But these two things are expressed in a variety of ways often in an effort to deny the reality. We hear, “The churches are filled with hypocrites.” “The miracles of the Bible, and the Bible itself, are not logical.’ “Christianity is so negative; all I ever hear is ‘Don’t to this, don’t do that.’” There are probably a couple dozen answers to my question. Some of those are uttered by the unbeliever himself. And others are either not recognized or not spoken.
And one of the unspoken answers is suggested in this pair of proverbs. Why should someone turn to the Lord for salvation, when he has no concept of his need for salvation? If that man refuses to recognize sin – HIS sin in particular…. If he has no perception of the holiness of God, or of God’s hatred toward sin….. If he doesn’t admit to God’s omnipotence and sovereignty…… Why should he give a second thought to running into the City of Refuge to avoid the avenger of blood? If that sinner perceives himself to be in a secure place, he will not beg to enter the Ark, even when the storm clouds are building and the ground under him is rumbling and gurgling. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit. Before destruction the heart of man is haughty.”
Sinners have lots of strong cities with high walls behind which they hide.
But of course, they would never admit to actually “hiding” there. This is their city; the place where they live and work, worship and recreate. In this city, they have friends like themselves and families like themselves. Some of them have wealth in the city’s banks and businesses. Some of them have political power and an incumbency which will keep them in office until they die. Perhaps they think that all strong cities have walls, so they don’t think much about what protects them. And again, they would never think of themselves as “hiding” behind those walls – but isn’t that what walls are for?
Verse 11 says, “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city.” And the high wall which he has built fills him with haughty conceit about his safety. The rich man doesn’t have to worry about mortgage payments, so he doesn’t need the Lord to put a roof over his head. The rich isn’t concerned from where his next meal will come so there are no prayers for his daily bread. And his wealth gives him opportunity to buy and to enjoy the luxuries of the world, forgoing any reason to set his affections on things above his strong city. As a rich man, he is even insulated from people outside his walls but still within the outer walls. Sometimes, he isn’t concerned about his employees. He doesn’t really care about the needs of people around him, except in an academic sort of way. He’s not evangelistic with his wealth.
This verse could have said, “The educated man’s diploma is his strong city.” He has an education, a library and degrees which stack up as high as the tower of Babel. That foolish sermon about Jonah and whale will never breech the walls of his strong city. And the preacher’s ranting about the sinfulness of man has been previously destroyed by the philosophers and psychologists whom he has studied. This man takes his son to the city park with the lake and its sandy beach. He shows his little boy how to build a sand castle with a wall around it. How long does that last? He takes him to school and places him in front of other semi-educated people who he expects to teach his son to build other walls to hide behind. And, O how proud he is of his strong city – it’s not just pride, it is absolute conceit – haughty conceit. He won’t let those purveyors of faith and fables break down the walls of his strong city.
Next door to this man lives the city mayor – a man of power and authority. He can tell those religious “outsiders” that they can’t put a cross in the park or a copy of the Ten Commandments in the court house. In Calgary before we moved away, city planners would look at plans of developers for new subdivisions. They would tell the developers to leave four large lots for churches to buy and build upon. But often those lots were on the corners of one intersection; and no fifth church could buy and build anywhere else in the community. Or sometimes they were all confined to one cul-de-sac. The denomination with the most money got the lot and opportunity to compete with the other big three. So in each subdivision there would be a Catholic building, an Anglican, and two other Protestants. And in this, the people with power strengthened their city against the onslaught of the God of truth.
And of course another major strong city is religion itself. “The religious man’s false doctrine is his strong city,” and that doctrine is a high, broad wall of conceit. How many times, going door-to-door, have we introduced ourselves, and the home owner replied, “I have my own church,” before immediately closing the door. For how long did WE hide behind the wall of religion before the Holy Spirit broke it down and drew us to Himself?
Strong cities are never strong enough to keep out the omnipotent God.
There was a little community in southern Alberta north of Kalispell, Montana, in the Crowsnest Pass. It was a wicked mining community filled with brothels, bars and other shady businesses. In 1903 at 4:00 A.M., Turtle Mountain to the south, dropped 82 million tonnes of limestone in 100 second, onto the city, burying and killing a great many people. Their bodies remain beneath the rubble. The town was not rebuilt – at least not on that site. The hearts of many of those people were filled with pride before the destruction came.
In 79 AD Mt. Vesuvius exploded and the walled and beautiful city of Pompeii was destroyed never to be rebuilt. Did Saddam Hussein think that his capital sufficient to protect him? Did Hitler believe that Berlin could never fall, or that his bunker was safe?
Perhaps more spectacular are some of the cities described in the Bible. The walled city of Jebus could not withstand the army of God under David. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had high walls of self-satisfaction, immorality, and corrupted religion, but the destruction which fell on those cities was greater than that of Mt. Vesuvius. Oh, the arrogance of those Sodomites, thumbing their noses at the Omnipotence before their destruction.
And then there is the history of Jericho. At the time of Joshua it was the eastern fortress for the protection of Canaan. It’s walls were thick and high; they had been tested over the years and had not failed. The Jerichoans had their religious walls, their walls of prosperity, their power, their experience. And when the foolish servants of Jehovah marched around their walls; they laughed themselves silly. Until on seventh day, when the conceit of those unbelievers fell – along with their impregnable wall. History contains hundreds of examples of fallen cities and crushed conceit like Jericho.
In typical Solomonic fashion, this pair of proverbs ends in a contrast to the beginning.
“The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit. Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility.” There is nothing intrinsically wrong or evil in wealth, education, position and even religion. If such things as these are permeated with real humility, they can be extremely powerful and godly – even religion. Abraham was a wealthy man and Moses and David were politically powerful. And all three of them, despite periodic lapses, could be described as humble servants of God.
Am I wrong in saying, “Everyone loves humility – in others” ? Even the proud man loves humility in others. In fact, he loves in others more than most people because it magnifies his own position. He may think that he is humble. Isn’t it easy to think we possess humility, when in fact it’s just the opposite? I’m not prepared to be dogmatic on this point, but it appears that true humility is as much a gift of God as repentance and faith or the fruit of the Spirit.
The question is: “Do I really want to be humble?” Am I willing for God to tear down my wall and expose my city as the puny little thing that it is. Am I willing to acknowledge my sin and submit to the Lord’s grace? Humility precedes honor – at least that honor which is the blessing of God.
What Solomon is saying is that we need to seek the gift of humility from the Lord and stop hiding behind false walls.