Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways. For the froward is abomination to the Lord: but his secret is with the righteous. Proverbs 3:31–32
Have you ever envied the ungodly? They have little concern to keep the Sabbath day, to be honest in business, to keep their word, or to care for the needy. This opens the door for riches and a lifestyle that many of us would like to have but are denied as we strive faithfully to serve the Lord.
This envy is addressed in the proverb before us.
There are several elements found in this proverb. There is a contrast made between the oppressor and the froward on the one hand, and the righteous on the other hand. We are instructed neither to envy the oppressor nor to choose any of his ways. The reason is that the oppressor and his ways are an abomination to the Lord, whereas His secret is with the righteous.
Let us now hear this wisdom of the Lord.
The wicked oppressor!
An oppressor is one who is violent, who wrongs others for the sake of personal gain, whether monetary or position or power. These people are found on every level of life. There is the politician who comes to power by smearing the name of others. There is the businessman who builds an economic empire by cheating others. There is the worker who brings home a large paycheck because he has joined himself to an ungodly labor union that uses violence or the threat of violence. There is the athlete who wins by playing dirty. There is the boy or girl who becomes popular in school by cleverly playing students off against each other. There is the student who gets good grades by copying another’s paper. There is the person who steals the ideas of others and receives the credit that belongs to others.
This kind of person is also described as one who is “froward.” That term describes one who is perverted. In fact, this word is translated that way in other versions. We know what it means to be psychologically perverted. It means to be mentally deranged. But we are talking here about spiritual perversion. God made us good and upright, an image of Himself. At the Fall we lost that and became spiritually perverted, twisted, and deranged. This spiritual perversion explains why one becomes an oppressor. Perhaps the greatest perversion that took place at the Fall was our loss of ability to love God and our neighbor. At the Fall we became a hateful, selfish, and self-seeking people. This, in turn, leads one to become an oppressor—to use others for personal gain and advancement.
These froward oppressors are contrasted with the “righteous.”
The basic idea of righteousness is that one is in harmony with God’s law.
Righteousness in Scripture can refer either to one’s legal status before the law or to actual righteous activity in keeping the law. Sometimes it is used legally to emphasize that one appears before the judgment seat of God in perfect obedience, so that he receives a favorable verdict of God and all the blessing of God that comes with such a verdict. Then again, this term is sometimes used to emphasize righteous living.
Whether Scripture uses the term to refer to one’s legal status or to actual righteousness, righteousness is possible only in Jesus Christ. Of ourselves we are wholly unrighteous. Our lives are filled with sin and that is how we appear before God, the Judge of heaven and earth. But God has graciously provided a perfect righteousness for His elect people in Jesus Christ. This righteousness consists in a covering for all their sins and a perfect obedience. Jesus accomplished this righteousness all His life long, but especially at the cross, as He suffered the full penalty of His people’s sin in perfect obedience to the Father.
One receives the righteousness of Christ by faith. This is a faith that approaches God in humility and godly sorrow, seeking the righteousness of the cross. This faith is the gift of God to all His elect people, which He sovereignly works in their hearts by His Word and Spirit. Through faith the elect of God are credited with the righteousness of Christ so as to be judged righteous before God. And, on the basis of that justification, they are also renewed daily, given the power to walk in righteousness.
These are the righteous described in the proverb before us. The emphasis is on their righteous living. The motive for this righteous living is gratitude. Their righteous walk is characterized especially by love of God and love of the neighbor. This makes them the opposite of the ungodly oppressor. They are not froward but meek, seeking the welfare of their neighbor in love. This also explains why they do not often succeed in ways that the ungodly oppressors do. Sometimes God prospers the righteous. But most often they are the downtrodden, oppressed by the wicked.
To envy someone is to be jealous of what he is or has and to want it for yourself. This is a strong word that indicates that one is so filled with envy that he has redness of face.
It is very easy for the righteous to envy the ungodly for their prosperity. The Christian businessman can quickly envy the worldly businessman, who has succeeded by his questionable business tactics. The Christian worker easily envies the wages of those who work in a union shop or have a better job because they are willing to work Sundays. The covenant family easily envies what the worldly family next door has in terms of homes, cars, vacations, and lifestyle.
We are warned against this. Do not envy those who have prospered by taking advantage of you or others. Do not envy those who prosper by ignoring the law of God, even though this has not directly oppressed you.
Added to this warning is also the warning not to choose any of their ways.
Envy always leads to sinful action. The Bible abounds with examples. Joseph’s brothers envied Joseph for the favor he had with their father. This envy led them to sell Joseph into Egypt. Ahab was full of envy over Naboth’s vineyard and arranged his murder. The Jewish leaders envied Jesus for the popularity He had. This was so evident that Pilate understood that to be their motive for their seeking Jesus’ death.
In like manner, envying the wicked in their prosperity will invariably lead to choosing their ways in order to gain what they have. This will lead the Christian businessman to adopt the aggressive, dishonest tactics of the world. This will lead the Christian worker to join the ungodly labor union or work on the Sabbath. This will lead the covenant family to ignore certain aspects of the law of God in order to have what others have.
Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways!
Although nothing is stated, there are positive implications here. We are to be content with what we have.
The Scriptures repeatedly call us to contentment. “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5). “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” (1 Tim. 6:7–8)
And this is our calling also when we see the wicked prosper in their wickedness, whereas we in our righteousness come up behind. Be content with your little or less.
And in that contentment continue in the ways of righteousness. If we are not to choose any of the ways of the wicked and the oppressor, then we are to continue in the way of righteousness. And we are to do that even if that should assign us a lesser place in this earth or even consign us to poverty.
Abomination to the Lord!
The spiritually perverted oppressor is abomination to the Lord. Notice that not just his perverted and oppressive ways are abominable to the Lord, but the perverted oppressor himself is abomination to the Lord. This is true, no matter whom he oppresses. But this is especially true when he oppresses the righteous.
Those that are an abomination to the Lord do not enjoy His blessings. They rather fall under His terrible wrath and curse. This is the lot of the froward oppressor. The Lord may even prosper his hand with earthly abundance and prosperity as he oppresses others. But this God does to set him on slippery places that will bring him down to sudden destruction.
But the secret of the Lord is with the righteous. The term “secret” has the basic idea of a couch upon which two sit to communicate secrets. This speaks of intimate fellowship of love in which one shares the intimate thoughts of his heart.
This is what the Lord does with the righteous. He is the covenant God who draws close to the righteous in His love to share with them His secrets. He tells them of His great love for them. He assures them of His care and provision. He tells them of His plans for them. God shares His secrets not through mystical revelations but through the Word as applied by the Holy Spirit. But the Lord does this only with the righteous who walk in His ways. Should the righteous in envy chose the way of the oppressor, their fellowship with the Lord will be disrupted and they will know His chastening anger.
This certainly is good reason to heed the admonition of this proverb. Nothing that the ungodly oppressor gains in this life can overcome or compensate him as he falls under God’s wrath for his abominations. In turn, the secret of Jehovah is far better than all the earthly gains of the oppressor. This is the wisdom of God.
Let us walk in wisdom.