Saturday, April 06, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (53)

We are coming to the final few Solomonic proverbs assembled by the men of King Hezekiah. Probably at this point the transcribers had run out of bigger themes to explore. All forty-five which remain are two-liners that appear unrelated to one another.

Their brevity is no reflection on their quality. More than a few of the most famous and familiar proverbs you will hear quoted by Christians come from this section of the book.

The “Men of Hezekiah” Proverbs (Proverbs 28:1-10)

The Origin of Mob Rule
“When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,
but with a man of understanding and knowledge,
its stability will long continue.”
When you see presidents under investigation, judges overruling laws made by the elected representatives of the people, functionaries and clerks who wield more effective power than the electorate, billionaires who influence election results, and corporations that dictate their terms of operation to the governments which confer upon them the legal status of personhood, you know there is a some sort of systemic rot at work.

Solomon lived in an era of top-down rule. Theoretically, of course. The idea that one man could govern unilaterally, freed from the sclerotic paralysis of bloated bureaucracy, has a certain whimsical appeal today — until we read the books of Kings and Chronicles more carefully and come to recognize that when a land really becomes corrupt, it makes no difference what system of government it operates under. Monarchies are just as subject to this iron rule of thumb as democracies and republics. In the very next generation, when Solomon’s son Rehoboam refused to lighten Israel’s tax burden, the people revolted under Jeroboam and ten tribes became a new nation, a state of affairs which lasted for hundreds of years. Rehoboam had no more real power to exercise than poor President Trump, trying to get his promised wall built against not only the machinations of the Deep State and the ceaseless negative clamor of the Democrat/mass media/social media alliance, but also a cabal of scheming Republican backstabbers and a massive number of wind-sniffing fair weather friends more interested in contemplating their navels than implementing the expressed will of a supposedly democratic people.

At some point we come to recognize these failures of polity are moral, not merely procedural. The system is corrupt, but so are the people casting their votes and complaining about the results: self-indulgent, self-absorbed, godless, immoral, greedy, paranoid, deeply divided and foolishly chaotic. Our lands have transgressed. We have sinful governments because we are sinful people.

Where is the man of “understanding and knowledge”, who recognizes only generalized repentance can make a difference and has the courage to call for it? I suspect we will not see another until the end of this present age.

The Guy You Don’t Want Collecting Taxes
“A poor man who oppresses the poor
is a beating rain that leaves no food.”
When our company’s management has ordered layoffs in times past, it’s usually in order to reach a specific target for accounting purposes. The downsizing process is unpleasant, but it is not mean-spirited, nasty, or directed at particular individuals. It’s not personal, and the pain stops when the desired number has been reached. Rich men, even those who oppress the poor, are too used to working with big numbers to go after every penny there is to be had, and too busy and indifferent to target you for sport. So they neglect to close loopholes in their tax laws, overlook significant exceptions to their “rightsizing” initiatives, and will happily bribe you if the cost of fighting with you is too high. Most importantly, they go away and leave you alone once they have gotten what they came for. Even if circumstances compel the elites to put the squeeze on you today, they are usually smart enough to recognize they need to limit the damage so they still have a functional employee or taxpayer base to ravage again next year.

A poor man is the worst sort of oppressor. He lives next door. He’s watching you to see how he can better his own lot at your expense, and it makes a great difference to his life if he succeeds or fails. He intends to curry favor with the men upstairs, and he is going to do it by climbing there on your back. He knows every hiding spot and every trick his fellows might employ to avoid being completely cleaned out, and he will take great delight in ratting out his peers to show what a smart and useful fellow he is. There are no brakes on his nastiness, because he doesn’t have to worry about factors like morale, or whether a particular level of oppressiveness might cause the minions to work-to-rule. He does not comprehend such issues at all.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, the master is gracious and forgives a servant a debt of ten thousand talents, a fabulous sum. Unfortunately the servant has no perspective, choking out and imprisoning a fellow laborer for the measly sum of a day’s wage. This may be a parable, but is not an unrealistic real-world scenario.

Obedience and Mercy
“If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.”
Prayer is a two-way street. We do not hear voices giving us instructions when we pray — at least I don’t — but real, meaningful prayer requires a consciousness of personal accountability and failure that is informed by the word and standards of God, not man. We come to God as supplicants, not to give him orders. It was the tax collector that went down to his house justified, not the Pharisee. We all fail in many ways. When we refuse to regard God’s revealed will, we stop recognizing how short we fall, and stop asking for forgiveness. Men and women who feel no sense of their own spiritual inadequacy have nothing useful to say to God.

So the man who refuses to heed the command of scripture to live with his wife in an understanding way finds his prayers hindered. The woman who cherishes wickedness in her heart makes the heavens deaf to her cries.

Those who exempt themselves from God’s rule also exempt themselves from God’s mercy.

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