Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Falls of the Righteous (Proverbs 24:16)

According to Proverbs, how many times does a righteous man fall and rise again? Seven times (Proverbs 24:16)

Proverbs 24:16 is a straight forward maxim which highlights the resilience of the righteous.

For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again,
But the wicked stumble in time of calamity. (Proverbs 24:16 NASB)
The Message paraphrases, “No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet, while the wicked end up flat on their faces”.

Emerson Eggerichs (b. 1951) internalizes:

Proverbs 24:16...gives me such hope. Good people are not perfect, but God says: “A righteous man [or woman] falls seven times, and rises again.” (Eggerichs, The Love & Respect Experience: A Husband-Friendly Devotional that Wives Truly Love, 2)
This proverb is attached to its predecessor: “Do not lie in wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous;/Do not destroy his resting place” (Proverbs 24:15 NASB).

Christine R. Yoder (b. 1968) connects:

The second proverb [Proverbs 24:16] explains why the ambushes [Proverbs 24:15] are doomed to failure. Seven times, a number that signifies completeness, the righteous will fall and get up again (Psalm 20:7-8)...By contrast, the wicked, who by “lying in wait” [Proverbs 24:15] assume that they have an upper hand, are tripped up by their own wickedness. Lack of a parallel “arise” or similar verb of recovery in Proverbs 24:16b underscores the finality of their fate. They do not get up again. (Yoder, Proverbs (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries), 240-41)
Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) expounds:
The unit’s first prohibition [Proverbs 24:15-16] cautions the disciple not to join the ranks of wicked to take away the abode of the righteous by cunning deceit and violence (Proverbs 24:15). The prohibition rests on the godly person’s faith and conviction that the righteous will recover from their fall and the wicked will finally fall through their evil and never recover from their misery. For signals the connection between the admonition (Proverbs 24:15) and its validation (Proverbs 24:16), a connection strengthened by the catchwords righteous (Proverbs 24:15a, 16a)..and wicked (Proverbs 24:15a, 16b)...The double prohibition uses imagery from the field of animal husbandry, that is, “pasture” and “bed for animals” (cf. Proverbs 24:15; cf. Isaiah 35:7, 65:10), and the double rationale uses the metaphor of travel (“stumble and fall”; Proverbs 27:16). The rationale entails that the wicked kill the righteous to plunder them (see Proverbs 1:10-19) and that they may not get their deserts until the end when the righteous triumphantly rises from his destruction...In sum, the rationale of Proverbs 24:16 adds to the promise of Proverbs 24:14 that before the wise/righteous enjoy an eternal future they may first be utterly ruined. It also adds the threat that the wicked are damned. Both promise and threat demand faith that the LORD stands behind this moral order (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6, 22:23, 23:11, 24:18, 21). (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 282)
Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) interprets:
The words for “house”—nāweh “pasture, dwelling,” and rēbes, “resting place” [Proverbs 24:15]—are a pair fixed in Isaiah 35:7 and Isaiah 65:10. In this saying, the ambusher rather than the ambushed is the one actually in danger, for the righteous person always (“seven times” [Proverbs 24:16]) makes a comeback. The wicked person, however, is tripped up by only one fall—perhaps the very act of ambushing. The proverb can be extended to ethics generally, where it is a sign of a righteous person to be able to rise up after a fall (Alonso Schökel [1920-1998]). (Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 215)
Proverbs 24:16’s wisdom is paralleled in the Psalms. Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) correlates:
If the righteous man suffers harm—such as an encroachment on his field—he will recover, but wickedness is a dead-end road. A Wisdom Psalm states this principle theologically: “Many are the misfortunes of a righteous man, but the Lord will save them from them all” (Psalm 34:20). (Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (Anchor Bible), 749)
Proverbs 24:16 directly contrasts the falls of the righteous and the wicked. Roland Murphy (1917-2002) notes:
Hebrew rāšā (wicked) of the Masoretic Text is taken by the NIV as a kind of apposition; others understand it as a vocative. (Murphy and Elizabeth Huwiler [b. 1952], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series))
Though the fate of the righteous is ultimately superior to that of the wicked, their path is not necessarily clear. In fact, they may endure as many as seven falls (Proverbs 24:16). Here, the number seven is proverbial (pun intended): It indicates the potential for repeated falls.

Ellen F. Davis (b. 1950) deciphers:

The number seven may be a conventional round number, similar to our use of “a dozen” (see Proverbs 24:16, 26:16). (Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (Westminster Bible Companion), 71)
Roger N. Whybray (1923-1997) concurs:
Seven times...means an indefinite number of times [Proverbs 24:16]. The point is that the good man may suffer temporary misfortune at the hands of the rascal, but virtue will triumph in the end. (Whybray, The Book of Proverbs (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the Old Testament), 140)
Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) reveals:
Seven times...Even seven times...is equivalent to “many” (Sa‘adia). The Syriac Ahiqar (version S2) says: “My son, the wicked falls and does not arise, while the honest man is not shaken, because God is with him” (§21) This is based on the present verse [Proverbs 24:16]. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (Anchor Bible), 750)
This usage of the number seven is a common biblical trope. Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) survey:
While numbers have great religious symbolism, few are given any real significance in the Bible. There are, however, a few exceptions to this. The number seven, for instance, is most prominent. It is reflected in the seven days of creation [Genesis 2:2-3], the Sabbath as the seventh day [Exodus 16:26, 20:10, 31:15, 35:2, Leviticus 23:3, Deuteronomy 5:14], the Sabbatical year [Exodus 23:10–11; Leviticus 25:4, 8; Nehemiah 10:31; Jeremiah 34:13-14], the Jubilee year of seven times seven [Leviticus 25:8-13], and the Omer cycle of seven times seven days [Leviticus 23:15-16; Deuteronomy 16:9-10]. In Jericho seven priests blew seven shofars seven times on seven days in seven circuits (Joshua 6:1ff). (Kravitz and Olitsky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 68)
Oftentimes, the righteous are frequent fallers; they are not exempt from falling consistently and perhaps even completely.

The adage has a two-fold purpose (Proverbs 24:16): It encourages the righteous to remain steadfast in the face of adversity while discouraging the temptation to shortcut righteousness for temporary gains.

Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) considers:

As it in the Masoretic Text, the passage [Proverbs 24:15-16] is most naturally understood as addressed to the wicked. If so, then the proverb serves as a warning against trying to undermine the righteous on the basis of its futility. However, it might be that this is a fictional address and that the actual hearer of the proverb is the student of the sage, in which case the proverb would serve as an encouragement in the light of the attacks of the wicked. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 439)
In the face of the facade of the wicked’s prosperity, the righteous could be tempted to circumvent their principles. Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) asserts:
Saying Twenty-Seven (Proverbs 24:15-16)...is a warning addressed to the evildoer to leave the righteous alone...The resilience of the good man (expressed in his getting back up seven times [Proverbs 24:16]) is such that the evil cannot win. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 199)
Dave L. Bland (b. 1953) advises:
Do not bother to bring about the downfall of the righteous man’s house because it will only be a waste of time [Proverbs 24:15-16]. The righteous are a hardy bunch. They will continually recover from adversity or temptation (seven times) and be even stronger (notice a different scenario in Proverbs 25:26). In contrast, the wicked are brought down when they face a single crisis. (Bland, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Solomon (College Press NIV Commentary), 217)
Allen P. Ross (b. 1943) understands:
It is futile and self-defeating to mistreat God’s people, for they survive, whereas the wicked do not [Proverbs 24:16]! The warning is against attacking the righteous; to attack them is to attack God and his program, and that will fail (Matthew 16:18). The consequence, and thus the motivation, is that if the righteous suffer misfortune any number of times (= “seven times,” Proverbs 24:16), they will rise again; for virtue triumphs in the end (R.N. Whybray [1923-1997], 140). Conversely, the wicked will not survive; without God they have no power to rise from misfortune. The point, then, is that ultimately the righteous will triumph and those who oppose them will stumble over their evil. (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Proverbs ~ Isaiah (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 200)
In short, in the long run, crime doesn’t pay.

Other interpreters have focused on the call to perseverance (Proverbs 24:16). As the cliché asserts, tough times don’t last but tough people do.

Roland Murphy (1917-2002) characterizes:

Proverbs 24:15-16 [is]...an admonition with motivational rationale. The admonition warns against ruling the dwelling place of the righteous [Proverbs 14:15]. It grants that the latter can suffer repeated adversity (the proverbial seven times [Proverbs 24:16]), but in the long run he will prevail and the wicked will not. (Murphy and Elizabeth Huwiler [b. 1952], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series))
David Hubbard (1928-1996) professes:
The long-range vindication and prosperity of the wise is affirmed...here. The motivation tells us how (Proverbs 24:16). The “righteous” person, loyal to the Lord and His people, may come on hard times (“fall”) repeatedly...but each time he will “rise,” as the Lord, whose hand is at work though His name is not mentioned, vindicates him in due season (see the delayed timing of Proverbs 23:18, 24:14). “Wicked” people (the noun is plural here, but singular in Proverbs 24:15) are made to stumble (“fall”” in Proverbs 24:16 translates two different Hebrew words; the second ka shal describes stumbling over an obstacle or being tripped up; Proverbs 4:12, 19; see noun form at Proverbs 16:18) and never get up. “Calamity”...hits them as divine judgment and lays them low once and for all. (Hubbard, Proverbs (Mastering the Old Testament), 375)
Alyce M. McKenzie (b. 1955) preaches:
Perseverance is a crucial quality for...Christians to cultivate...because we live in a society where not all perseverance is fueled by faith in God and directed toward the good of the community...A great deal of perseverance...is fueled by the pursuit of material possessions that make for a life rich in things and poor in soul...Then there is the perseverance fueled by the desire for improving the quality of our lives in community in the best sense of the word quality: “Persistence prevails when all else fails”...The Korean proverb “Fall down seven times and get up eight” expresses the quality of tenacity for which the Korean people are renowned...Then there is the perseverance that is fueled by faith toward godly goals...Perseverance continues to build communities’ resolve and self-esteem. (McKenzie, Preaching Proverbs: Wisdom for the Pulpit, 143-44)
Though unstated, the righteous’ perseverance can surely be attributed to God. Crawford H. Toy (1836-1919) presumes:
The righteous, it is said, shall never be permanently cast down (Micah 7:8); the wicked, on the contrary, has no power to rise above misfortune — once down, he does not rise. The couplet probably refers not to the natural inspiriting power of integrity and the depressing effect of moral evil, but to divine retribution [Proverbs 24:16]. (Toy, Proverbs (International Critical Commentary), 448)
Raymond C. Van Leeuwen (b. 1948) agrees:
These verses [Proverbs 24:15-16] form an admonition against attacking the righteous (see Proverbs 1:11, 23:10-11). Its point is in the motive clause: Although the righteous are not free from troubles, even though they fall again and again, they get up and go on (Psalm 20:7-8). The wicked, however, are brought down (literally, they stumble and fall), like the wicked in Proverbs 4:12, 16, 19 (see also Proverbs 24:17). The underlying premise is that God rewards people according to their deeds (see Proverbs 24:12, 29). (Van Luewen, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Book of Wisdom, Sirach (New Interpreter’s Bible, 211)
John M. Perkins (b. 1930) confesses:
We will stumble and fail along the way. Our purest motives and sincerest efforts will not protect us from failure. We need to mentally accept this ahead of time. We must go through the fiery trial of failure before we are able to fully accept the fact that failure “comes with the territory.” In this struggle we will confront the cultural value of success. Says Robert D. Lupton [b. 1944]: “Success is not an automatic consequence of obedience. ‘A righteous man falls seven times and rises again’ (Proverbs 24:16). Saint and sinner alike must take their lumps and go on to the next risk. But for the believer there is one guarantee. We have a dependable God who made a trustworthy commitment that no matter what happens—success or failure—He will use it for our ultimate good.” (Perkins, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development, 172-73)
Some have imagined the divine not only walking by the side of the righteous but picking them up after their falls. Jan Silvious (b. 1944) envisions:
As each of my three boys learned to walk, our hands were always there. They fell to their knees, many times, but we never let them fall on their heads or get permanently hurt. In the same way, the Lord is always there to keep us. He will not let us be cast down. “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” (Proverbs 24:16). (Silvious, The Five-Minute Devotional: Meditations for the Busy Woman, 126)
Neil T. Anderson (b. 1942) and Joanne Anderson (b. 1941) encourage:
We probably learn more from our mistakes than we will ever learn from our successes. A mistake is only a failure when you fail to learn from it: “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” (Proverbs 24:16 NIV). If you make a mistake, get back up and try again and again and again. This is not a question of self-confidence. Our confidence is in God. (Anderson, Overcoming Depression, 75)
The righteous cannot fall so frequently, completely or lowly that God cannot lift them up. There is hope, even for the wicked who can repent and become counted among the righteous.

Proverbs 24:16 affirms that both the righteous and wicked fall. This circumstance is a universal part of the human condition. The difference is in the result: The righteous emerge from the fall. And the determining factor is God. Proverbs agrees, you can’t keep a good man (or woman) down.

Is Proverbs 24:16 written more to deter wickedness or encourage the fallen righteous? Why is Proverbs 24:16 true: is the universe designed to self correct in this way or does God intervene? Is the resilience of the righteous the reason for the wicked’s ultimate defeat? What raises the righteous that the wicked lack? What is the correlation between righteousness and resilience; is perseverance intrinsic to Judeo-Christian faith? When have the wicked prospered while the righteous fell?

Implicit in Proverbs 24:16 is the recognition that the righteous are not promised sure footing: They do fall. Jesus echoes this in the Sermon on the Mount: “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45 NASB).

Intrerpreters have long realized the inevitability falling. Augustine (354-430) restates:

The text, “For a just man shall fall seven times and shall rise again” [Proverbs 24:16], means that he will not perish, however often he falls. There is here no question of falling into sins but of afflictions leading to a lower life. CITY OF GOD 11.31. (J. Robert Wright [b. 1936], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 152)
The fall of the righteous is so common that the assurance of their triumph must be reiterated repeatedly. Tomáš Frydrych (b. 1969) realizes:
The premise about prosperity of the wise and destruction of the fools has to be reiterated again and again. This suggests at least indirectly that in the real world to which the sages are addressing themselves, this principle might not always be so obvious, and therefore, persistent reinforcement is required. Consider...Proverbs 1:10-13...Proverbs 10:30...Proverbs 19:10...Proverbs 24:15-16...Proverbs 25:26...These sayings, and other[s] like them, only make adequate sense if in the sages world at least occasionally those who ambush the innocent fill their pockets with loot, the righteous stagger, the wicked have the upper hand and fools live lives of luxury. Thus, there are both explicit and implicit indications that the proverbial sages were aware that the picture of the world they paint is not entirely accurate. (Frydrych, Living Under the Sun: Examination of Proverbs & Qoheleth, 38)
Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) analyzes:
The last command [Proverbs 3:11-12], regarding divine discipline, tacitly acknowledges that simplistic forms of retributive theology, according to which God makes good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, are wrong. Good people do not always enjoy good circumstances, or else this exhortation would not be necessary for such people to interpret their lives and respond rightly. Proverbs 24:16 provides even more obvious nuance about righteous suffering: “The righteous falls seven times and rises again,/but the wicked stumble in times of calamity” (ESV). So-called retribution, not always manifest in circumstantial moments, ultimately pertains to final ends. (Treier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 25)
Albert H. Baylis assures:
Proverbs knows there is no mechanical guarantee about these formulas. Some good people die young. You and I could both name some. The righteous have their setbacks (Proverbs 24:16). The wicked often do so well that the righteous are tempted toward envy (Proverbs 24:1-2, 23:17, 3:31). But as our own folk wisdom recognizes, those people are “living on borrowed time.” They are swimming against the tide. The odds will catch up with them. (Baylis, From Creation to the Cross: Understanding the First Half of the Bible))
Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) acknowledges:
The sages understood that the righteous wise would suffer in life, but they also have the endurance to withstand the attacks of life [Proverbs 24:16]. Life may beat them down, but they both have hope...because of wisdom. They see beyond the present misfortune. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 439)
Given the seeming contradiction between Proverbs 24:16’s assertion and the present reality, many have long looked to the next life for its fulfillment.

Cassiodorus (485-585) dissects:

A Christian is said to rise again in two senses; first, in this world when he is freed by grace from death of vices, and he continues being justified by God; in the words of the most wise Solomon, “A just man falls seven times and rises again” [Proverbs 24:16]. Second, there is the general resurrection, at which the just will attain their eternal rewards. EXPOSITIONS OF THE PSALMS 19.9. (J. Robert Wright [b. 1936], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 152-53)
Milton P. Horne (b. 1956) associates:
The instruction [Proverbs 24:15-16] is important because it provides insight on the nature of “future hope” that the preceding instruction mentions (Proverbs 24:14). It does not mean that the righteous will not fall, but that they will recover. Or to put it another way, the future hope for the righteous does not preclude suffering; it simply assures success and fulfillment in the long run. By comparison, the wicked is swept away. (Horne, Proverbs–Ecclesiastes (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 292)
Though there is undoubtedly hope for justice in the next life, the Bible is also replete with examples of righteous believers who have overcome numerous falls. Cody L. Jones (b. 1949) relates:
Do not...raid [a] righteous man’s house. Though they fall seven times, the upright will rise again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity (Proverbs 24:15-16). When King Chedorlaomer raided Sodom, he inadvertently raided the house of Abram by carrying off Lot [Genesis 14:12]. Abram followed and routed Chedorlaomer’s party and rescued his nephew [Genesis 14:13-16]. (Jones, The Complete Guide to the Book of Proverbs, 188)
John Phillips (1927-2010) illustrates:
The classic example of Proverbs 24:15-16 is the story of David and King Saul. King Saul was the man who lay in wait “against the dwelling of the righteous” [Proverbs 24:15]. After Saul threw a javelin at David and missed, David escaped and made his way home [I Samuel 18:10-11, 19:10]...David, on the other hand, was the just man who fell seven times, only to rise up again [Proverbs 24:16]. In spite of all his faults and failings, David loved the Lord. (Phillips, Exploring Proverbs, Volume Two: An Expository Commentary, 275)
The most obvious biblical example of rising from a fall is Jesus’ rise, even from death. T.D. Jakes (b. 1957) exhorts:
The whole theme of Christianity is one of rising again. However, you can’t rise until you fall. Now that doesn’t mean you should fall into sin. It means you should allow the resurrecting power of the Holy Ghost to operate in your life regardless of whether you have fallen into sin, discouragement, apathy, or fear. There are obstacles that can trip you as you escalate toward productivity. But it doesn’t matter what tripped you; it matters that you rise up. People who never experience these things generally are people who don’t do anything. There is a certain safety in being dormant. Nothing is won, but nothing is lost. I would rather walk on water with Jesus. I would rather nearly drown and have to be saved than play it safe and never experience the miraculous. (Jakes, Can You Stand to Be Blessed?, 14)
The righteous’ ability to rise is at the core of Christianity. The good may not win every battle but the war has been won. This proverb is both evidenced and ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Do you find Proverbs 24:16, with its admission that the righteous may endure repeated setbacks, encouraging? Do the righteous get stronger through their falls? Are there benefits to falling, from emerging from setbacks? Are the righteous assured of rising in the present world; is there justice in this life? Are there benefits to being righteous; what is the reward of the righteous? Who or what best embodies the wisdom of Proverbs 24:16?

I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”, 1997