Saturday, November 03, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (31)

The Western world has no lack of powerful people. Still, the rulers of today’s first world countries are constrained to a much greater extent than many of us think by the political systems in which they operate and by the vagaries of public opinion.

All Western leaders test the political climate with internal polling before making significant moves. Canada’s Justin Trudeau, for instance, rarely makes even a public statement without his entire inner circle weighing in. Donald Trump, often accused of being unilateral and arbitrary, accepts the rulings of lower court judges and the limitations of working through Congress.

I suspect the Israelites of Solomon’s day might not recognize our leaders as real “rulers” at all.

Assorted Proverbs (Proverbs 16:1-33)

Off With His Head

In the centuries immediately before and after Solomon wrote Proverbs, royalty operated under no such constraints. Abishai heard Shimei curse King David, and his instinctive reaction was “Let me go over and take off his head.” Why? Because that was what kings did when they encountered political dissent: they summarily dispatched the dissenter. Often, upon ascending to the throne, the monarchs of the Gentile nations would exterminate their own families in order to consolidate power and ensure their rivals wouldn’t later stab them in the back. Patricide was not unheard of, and regicide was a regular event. Pekah, for instance, deposes Pekahiah and is in turn struck down by Hoshea within six verses of a single chapter in 2 Kings.

Thus, when we come to Proverbs 16, we may find some of Solomon’s advice to his sons a little irrelevant to our own lives, most of which are rarely bloody or chaotic. Five of its 33 verses (v10, 12-15) have to do with either how to be a good king or how to relate to one.

A Useful Reminder of Centuries Past

This is information you and I are unlikely to ever have use for, except perhaps by distant application, but it would have been very helpful indeed for Solomon’s sons, many of whom were crown princes, to have clear teaching about how to safely relate to their brother, the king of Israel.

After all, when you grow up with someone, you may be used to treating them with casual familiarity. But best not to get too comfortable when dealing with a newly-crowned king who may still harbor a childhood grudge or two, especially when he has a sea of swords at his disposal. Discretion is indeed the better part of valor.

All scripture is profitable, but not all scripture was written to us. These verses are a useful reminder of centuries past in which God’s word applied literally to situations we no longer face:
“Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right.”
When you have decisions to make that affect thousands and could mean life or death for you and those around you, honest advisers are a wonderful thing. Being forced to parse every sentence uttered in your presence in search of hidden agendas seems like it would be mentally and emotionally exhausting. It would be hard not to become wildly paranoid. In such a climate, an honest man you could trust to have your back would be a precious asset indeed.

A Messenger of Death
“A king’s wrath is a messenger of death,
and a wise man will appease it.”
Trying to apply this proverb literally to modern authority relationships in the West seems a bit laughable. My boss’s wrath is no “messenger of death”. He can’t even fire someone without doing a year’s worth of documentation first, all the while courting the approval of our Human Resources manager. In fact, if I were a woman or the member of a protected employee class, he’d put his position at risk simply by addressing me the wrong way. However, the same verse might be very meaningful to a Christian trying to navigate the complex and dangerous internal machinations of the modern Saudi Arabian or Turkish political machines.
“In the light of a king’s face there is life,
and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.”
The trend toward “flat” organizations — corporate structures not based on visible power hierarchies — is just one indicator of how thoroughly our society rejects the concept of authority in both principle and practice. The Left promulgates the myth of a utopia where everyone has his say and can act autonomously.

In fact, the idea that any individual might legitimately wield the sort of power described in this proverb appalls more than a few of us: “ ‘Like the clouds that bring the spring rain’? You’ve got to be kidding!”

I cannot help wondering if our generation’s easy dismissal of God’s authority is somehow related.

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