Wait, …What?

Proverbs 12:21

No harm befalls the righteous, But the wicked are filled with trouble.

Sometimes when I’m reading through scripture, and in particular Proverbs, I will do a double take on statements that are made.  This particular verse is easy to miss and in fact I was already reading the next one when something brought me back to it.

At first glance it makes sense.  Good things happen to good people and bad people have troubles (perhaps of their own making).  But it isn’t that easy now is it?  We all know good people, even (and especially) devout believers of Christ, that are suffering many trials.  I mean, think of all the martyrs who died for Christ.  For that matter, consider Christ himself, who died a horrible death on the cross.  On the flipside, evil people prosper every day.

So we have to look deeper into the meaning here.

We have to break up the Proverb and look at each piece individually.  For that purpose, lets do a word study with the aid of this link that shows a number of different translations of the verse.

Harm: also seen as “mischief,” “trouble,” “ill,” “lasting harm”
Befalls:  also seen as “comes to,” “happens,” “overcomes”
Righteous: also seen as “upright men”

For one thing, I think the harm being described is “lasting” and overwhelming.  We are told elsewhere in scripture that we are never given more than we can handle.  So we are put in some harm’s way, but we are also given the strength and guidance to overcome it.

In addition, I’ll point out that the subject is “righteous.”  None of us other than Christ can claim total righteousness and he chose to accept the cup he was given on our behalf.  With that said, it seems silly to include a Proverb that doesn’t apply to anyone.  That would be like saying “everyone born on September 31st gets a free smoothie.”  It just doesn’t apply so why put it in there?  So it makes you wonder if there are varying degrees of harm that come to people who are not fully righteous.  But that’s a slippery slope too, because I don’t believe the Bible teaches us that our lives will get easier as we become more holy.  In fact, the Bible promises persecution to the Saints.

So what’s the deal here?  As usual, I think the answer must be in the eternal perspective of Christ.  This life is but a breath and eternity is a long time.  So if you are a believer in Christ, then he makes you righteous.  If you are righteous, no lasting harm can come to you because you will someday pass from this Earth and enter the Lord’s Kingdom in heaven.  The wicked, on the other hand, will land a place filled with “trouble” and then some.

With that said, I have to admit, this conclusion annoys me a bit.  I feel like it can’t be that simple.  But that’s ok too.  This is a good example of the depth of the Word of God.  That a seemingly simple Proverb can be this elusive just speaks to the complexity of it’s teaching.  We’ll never fully understand it, but we are blessed with the opportunity to continually delve deeper into it.  Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

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One thought on “Wait, …What?

  1. I agree with your interpretation. But I also think that Proverbs is often trying to be imminently practical. In this case, I think the author is suggesting that if you are righteous in deed and life style that you can expect benefit to come your way. I completely agree that this is _not_ a blanket statement. But that it will go well with us if we seek to live righteously vice wickedly. We can see many examples in life where this is true: If my son is righteous to my daughter, he gets to watch a DVD. If he is wicked to her, he sits in time out or gets a spank. If I work hard at my job, I’m less likely to get burned at promotion time. Again this isn’t always the case. But you get what I’m saying.

    Of course as you say ‘good people’ still get trials and tribulations. That is definitely seen throughout life (and scripture) and I completely agree, like I said earlier, with your interpretation. I just think this verse can communicate both things.

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