Increasing vs. Ruling

Proverbs 29:2 – “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.”

I find this to be a fascinating contrast. As many proverbs do, this proverb contrasts the righteous and the wicked. The result of the contrast is straight forward – because of the thing the righteous do the people rejoice, but because of the thing the wicked do the people groan. So far, so good.

But what is this proverb really contrasting? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to say that when the righteous rule the people rejoice and when the wicked rule the people groan? Seemingly, if when the wicked rule the people groan, then it would be better for the righteous to rule so that the people would rejoice. If this were the case, then we would be saying that one type of rule of man by man is better than another. But, that’s not what this proverb is saying.

We must pay careful attention to the action of the righteous and the wicked that is being contrasted – increase vs. rule. The righteous increase. The wicked rule.

The word increase here is the same word used over and over in the Old Testament in the phrase “be fruitful and multiply.” The word increase is often used in the context of bearing children. Before Jesus, this was predominantly understood in the physical sense – for the righteous to increase, to be fruitful and multiply, was to have more children. After Jesus, we gain a spiritual understanding of “increase.” We cannot multiply or produce other believers. Only the Holy Spirit can do that (John 3). But having been born again by the Spirit, we are able to bear the fruit of the Spirit as we abide in the true vine, which is Christ. The fruit born is not for ourselves, but it is to be eaten by others. As those who have been made righteous in Christ bear the fruit of the Spirit, others come to know, to experience, Jesus. The righteous increase and the people rejoice.

But, the word rule means to rule or to make someone lord. It has the idea of one person taking authority over another person. It can even have the connotation of superiority of the one ruling. Remember how the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked for her two sons, who were of the twelve, to sit on the right and left of Jesus when he was on his throne. The other 10 disciples were upset at this request. Jesus responded, “You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.” (Matthew 20:25) The wicked rule. They take authority over others. They lord their power over them. They bear down on them. And, the people groan.

So, the proverb is not comparing one type of rule to another – the rule of the righteous to that of the wicked. Rather, the proverb is comparing two fundamentally and altogether different actions – increasing versus ruling. Bearing fruit versus lording it over another. Serving versus taking authority over another. On the one hand the people rejoice. On the other hand they groan.

In Matthew 20:26-28, Jesus goes on to say, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.”

Judges 9 is a worthwhile passage to read in connection with this proverb. The chapter contains a parable of trees seeking a king to rule over them. The trees go to a variety of other trees asking for that particular tree to rule over all the trees. But, the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine all say they cannot stop bearing their fruit to rule over the other trees. But, then the trees ask the bramble to be king, to rule over them. You know what’s interesting about bramble? It’s prickly. It has thorns. Many consider it a weed because of its tendency to grow in neglected areas and its sharp, tough thorns. (Perhaps all of the above explains why we get the type of people we do to run for president!) See, the parable is contrasting bearing fruit and serving with ruling and lording it over. When you know your purpose, the fruit God has called you to bear, that your life is to be a living sacrifice, carrying about the death of the Lord Jesus, to bring life to others, to reconcile them to God, you cannot be turned from that purpose to rule over others.

Later in Proverbs 29:25-26 it says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.” How important this is with what has happened this week in Charlotte and Tulsa and the election season that is upon us. We don’t need to seek after so-and-so to lead us. We shouldn’t think that so-and-so will get us on the right track.

No, we need to trust Jesus, to seek him and his kingdom. He is the Lord! Then we will have justice and every other thing he has promised us.

Contrasting the Righteous and the Evildoer

Psalm 37 presents a contrast between the one that follows the Lord and the wrongdoer, wicked, and evildoer.

The psalmist says to the one following the Lord that he should not fret because of the evildoer. Rather, the one who follows the Lord should:

  • Trust the Lord
  • Do good
  • Delight himself in the Lord
  • Commit his way to the Lord
  • Be still before the Lord
  • Wait patiently for the Lord
  • Refrain from anger
  • Forsake wrath
  • Be generous and give
  • Turn away from evil
  • Do justice
  • Utter wisdom and speak justice

Those that do this are considered righteous and meek. It is these individuals that will inherit the land and have abundant peace. In other words, these are the individuals that will have eternal life, abundant life.

This is in contrast to the evildoer. The evildoer:

  • Carries out evil devices
  • Plots against the righteous
  • Gnashes his teeth at the righteous
  • Draws the sword
  • Bends the bow
  • Slays the righteous
  • Borrows and doesn’t pay back
  • Seeks to put the righteous to death

Over and over the psalmist says that the evildoer shall be cut off and that the evildoer has no future.

This is a picture of the righteous as the ones who love their enemies and return evil with good in contrast to the wicked who hate their enemies and return good with evil.

The evildoers are called transgressors. They are rebels. Indeed, they have gone the way of Satan, who is the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. So, we see the evildoers in this psalm speaking lies about the righteous and seeking to do violence against them.

But, how does the Lord deal with these evildoers? Verse 15 says, “their sword shall enter their own heart.” The Lord allows the violence of the evildoer to return upon himself. The evildoer destroys himself with his own weapon and plans for evil.

The self-destruction of the evildoer, even Satan, is a recurring theme throughout scripture.

  • “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.” – Esther 7:10
  • “Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his [Goliath’s] sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it.” – 1 Samuel 17:51
  • “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” – Proverbs 26:27
  • “The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made.” – Psalm 9:15

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57) What gave Jesus the victory? His death. He defeated death with death.

Evil, wickedness, violence always returns upon the head of the one who does it. So, Jesus calls us to a way of peace, a way of dying, picking up our cross and dying to self. It is these that inherit eternal life.