The Proverbs of Solomon – Proverbs 24:17-18

 

After the Lord instructed him to love his neighbour, one of Israel’s lawyers said, “And who EXACTLY is my neighbour”? Luke 10:29 tells us that what prompted the question was the man’s desire NOT to obey – “But, he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” After relating the story of the good Samaritan, the Lord’s answer to the man’s question was – Our neighbor is anyone within arm’s length who is in need.

We have in these verses of Solomon just the reverse. “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.”

Who is my enemy?

Christians shouldn’t have enemies in the sense that we choose to hate people. If there is someone whom you hate, wishing evil for him, you are in sin. And in accord with a message to which I was listening last night, remember – “Against thee (Jehovah), thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight.”

But obviously, we have no control over the hearts of others. So Christians may have enemies in the sense that others choose to hate us. They may hate us for righteousness’ sake – because we are servants of Christ. Because we no longer join those people in their sins. Because we witness to them of our Saviour. May it never be said that someone hates us for our sins against that person. Sadly that may be more frequent than we dare to admit. There are many scriptures which speak about “enemies,” but remember that if there they are it must be by their choice, not ours.

In this particular case, some man who hates us has fallen.

Why did he fall?

Someone might think: what a silly question. This man wants to be my enemy. Who cares why or how he fell. If he is my enemy he deserves to fall flat on his face. Actually there is some merit in the question. He wasn’t pushed – not by another enemy He was not pushed by God, even though it was a part of the Lord’s permissive will. And, thank the Lord, we had nothing to do with it. We are not worthy of the name of Christ if we tripped the man.

Clearly, the scripture says that he stumbled. A couple years ago I was briskly walking home from an appointment and caught the toe of my shoe on an uneven slab of sidewalk. I fell to the ground, tearing up my shoulder, my knee and badly hurting my hand. It still hasn’t completely recovered, and probably never will. I could have blamed God for the tree root which lifted up the sidewalk. I could have sued the city for not knowing and fixing the problem. I could have blamed the hundred people who have walked that route and never reported the problem. But ultimately, the fault was entirely my own. And of course, I haven’t reported the problem to anyone either.

But enough about me – getting back to our scripture – it is the nature of sinners to stumble. That drinker or pot smoker will eventually be involved in an auto accident – it may not be fatal; it may never be reported – but there will be an accident. If we read through any list of sins, putting our heads together we could describe unpleasant results for every one of them. The liar will eventually be caught in his lies. The cigarette smoker may escape lung cancer, but there will be other physical problems – guaranteed. The greedy person may satisfy his lusts over and over again, but there will be that day when he really needs something but he will have wasted his resources. And that man who hates US, that enemy of ours, will some day pick the wrong man to hate, and it will come back to bite him. The sinner will eventually stumble. And even if we don’t even see it, remember that he will some day stand before the Judge of all men. It is guaranteed that your enemy will fall. That is nothing about which to rejoice – it is simply a fact.

But let’s say that we have heard that our enemy has taken a fall, why did our hearts rejoice for a moment?

Why were we glad?

Because the heart of every man is evil – we are all basically alike – enemies or friends. We are all essentially self-centered, selfish people. This one who is our enemy has stumbled – yea! We may rejoice in his fall, but it is because we are wicked ourselves. We are looking in the wrong direction – we are looking toward our hurt feelings or to his ugly face. We aren’t being obedient to the command to be looking toward Christ Jesus. Why can’t we see that man through the person of our Saviour?

Even though verses 17 and 18 are our text, did you pay attention to the preceding and following verses? “A JUST man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief. Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.” And verse 19“Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked; For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.” Our enemy has stumbled and fallen, but we – justified saints – may fall seven times as often. Shouldn’t I preach on that and the fact that we rise up again and again – by the grace of God? In the ability to fall we are no different from our enemy, so don’t get too full of yourself. Thank God, He is there with His hand outstretched to lift us up. Isn’t that something the wicked man could use?

I also included verses 19 and 20, because they point out an opposing sort of problem. Don’t rejoice over the fall of the evil man, and furthermore, don’t fret because he has yet to fall. He has nothing substantial in his life, for which we should yearn. Besides, he will soon fall.

I hope the Lord will forgive me, but for the sake of a lesson, for a moment I will disagree with Solomon. Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.” What might happen if we saw our enemy fall, and we ran over to help him to his feet? What if we took the opportunity to ask if he was injured, and if we could be of help? What if we showed him a little concern, if not even a tiny bit of God’s love? Perhaps that man has chosen to be our enemy because we haven’t yet had an opportunity to be a blessing to him. If his fall affords that opportunity, maybe we should thank God he has stumbled.

Why should I NOT be glad?

“Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him.” What more do I need to say than this? You, who were once an enemy of God by your choice, are now one of His children – a saint. You should have no more desire to rejoice in the fall of others than a dove should have dining in a pig sty.

Job, in his final defense before his unhelpful friends listed many things in which he had never stumbled. “If I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much… If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless… If I have walked with vanity, or I my foot hath hasted to deceit…. If I have REJOICED at the destruction of him that HATED me, or lifted up myself when evil found him… Let thistles grow instead of wheat (in my fields) and cockles instead of barley” Job 31.

As a general statement we should not rejoice in the fall of our enemy, because we are children of God.

A bonus question might be: WHY is the Lord wrathful?

“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.” Christians have no business of rejoicing at the fall of someone whom the Lord appears to hate. These verses speak of God’s “displeasure,” which is one thing, but then we read of His “wrath.”

The wrath of God should terrify us more than the roar of the lion or the silent charge of the tiger. That volcano may be exploding toward the west – away from you – but it is still the most terrifying earthly thing you have ever witnessed. But that volcano is nothing more than the little finger of God. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” II Corinthians 5: 10 – which we know so well – is immediately followed by the words, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…”

That enemy of yours, is probably a lost man, standing at the edge of the Lake of Fire. Pity him and reach your hand down to try to lift him up, fearing God’s wrath, even though it is not directed toward you. That man may not accept your hand, but that is not your problem – reach anyway. Paul quoting the Old Testament said in Romans 12:20 “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” That man may soon face the full effects of the wrath of God, maybe you can do something about that.

Finally, to where might God’s wrath turn?

“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.” I think we have to admit – there is God’s wrath and there is God’s wrath. This is not referring to God’s eternal wrath, but to the effects of His displeasure in this life.

To what did Solomon and the Holy Spirit want us to think in saying “God’s wrath might be turned away?” I think there are two possible answers. So this man has fallen, but he just might rise again. God may have judged him and stripped him from his power, just as he did Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel, but he later resumed his throne. When our enemy was on his face down on the cement, you laughed and rejoiced, but he heard you. Where will you hide now that he is back on the throne? “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.” That is one way to interpret Solomon’s statement.

The second, and the first to come to my mind, is that the Lord may turn his anger toward us. We have no business rejoicing in the fall of anyone else; revenge is not in the bailiwick of the Christian. And the Lord may choose to teach us to remember who we are and how we got here. That enemy of ours may fall, but we may stumble seven times before that man fall again.

Rather than rejoice, reach down and help him to his feet. You may help the man to become a friend rather than an enemy. In fact, you may help him to become a friend of God, so to speak.