We are looking at two verses which provide a balanced, biblical response to the death of Bin Laden (you can also listen to or download my message on Bin Laden from our church’s web site). In this blog post I want to compare and contrast the two verses. This will help us, I hope, reconcile their teaching. Having in the previous post cast aside a superficial way of reconciling of the two verses, let us see if there is not a better way to release the tension we feel between them.
II. The Verses Compared
We ought not to shy away from difficulties in the Bible. Nor should we feel that genuine Christianity requires that we check our brain at the door. True lovers of the Bible will find in tensions and difficulties like those we now face an opportunity to lay aside superficial views of Scripture and go more deeply into the truth of the Word of God. In seeking to go deeper into the Word there is no substitute for extended meditation on the Word of God. As I thought about it, three helpful thoughts occurred to me in the comparison of Proverbs 11:10 with 24:17.
Proverbs 11:10 When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, And when the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting.
Proverbs 24:17 Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles
I see here one similarity and three contrasts.
The first thought: The emotion described in the two verses is the same. There is no escape from the tension between the two verses by trying to contrast the emotions commanded in the two verses. Yes, the words for joy and the expression of joy are different, but they convey the same concept of exultant joy. The words used for joy and joyful shouting found in these two verses are synonyms and describe fundamentally the same human emotion. They are clearly parallel and synonymous words in the Hebrew Bible and are used in parallel in many places in the Old Testament. There is no distinction between the two verses at this point.
Emotions are not in themselves good or bad. I believe I could show you in the Bible if time permitted that every human emotion may be either good or bad depending on its situation and motivation. It is the situation and motivation of human emotions that make them good and bad—not the emotion itself. Exultant joy may be very good, or it may be very bad. It must be one or the other, but it may be either.
Take the emotion of anger. We may be angry at the man who murdered 3000 thousand innocent lives on 9/11. We may be angry that this wicked man has now been brought to justice. It is the same emotion, but in the one case it is good, while in the other case it is bad. Even so it is with the emotion of joy.
The second thought: The rejoicing in Proverbs 11:10 is public, while the rejoicing in Proverbs 24:17 is private. The first text (Proverbs 11:10) speaks of a public, corporate, and civil rejoicing. Look at it closely. Who is rejoicing in the first text? The city! The second text is in striking contrast to this. Let me give you an expanded Waldron Literal translation of Proverbs 24:17: In fall of your (singular) enemy not shall you (singular) rejoice; and in his overthrow not shall your (singular) heart shout with joy. All of the pronouns here are singular. This text speaks of a private and individual rejoicing. The difference or contrast is clear.
In American football there are rules against excessive celebration after scoring a touchdown. These rules, however, apply against the player on the field and not against the crowd in the stands. Even so the rejoicing in Proverbs 11:10 is by the crowd in the stands and not by the player on the field. We can hardly even imagine it, but suppose one of the Navy Seals who killed Bin Laden had done a little jig over his body and chanted You’re dead! You’re dead! That is a very different thing than the couple whose son was killed in the tragedy of 9/11 sitting silent on their couch with a sense of exultant joy and relief filling their hearts.
The third thought: The rejoicing in Proverbs 11:10 has a moral cause, while the rejoicing in Proverbs 24:17 has a personal cause. Again the contrast is clear. Proverbs 11:10 speaks of rejoicing over the destruction of the wicked (who are contrasted with the righteous). Proverbs 24:17 speaks of rejoicing over the destruction of your enemy. Notice the personal character of this rejoicing seems emphasized by the very next verse, Proverbs 24:18. “Or the LORD will see it and be displeased, And turn His anger away from him.” It may be true that your enemy is also wicked. But is your rejoicing over his fall because of his wickedness of because of your enmity? That is the great question. That is one main thing that distinguishes Proverbs 11:10 from Proverbs 24:17.
I need to qualify this last point. It is not wrong to feel a sense of gladness and shout for joy when God judges an enemy who was an imminent threat to you, your family, or your nation. This is a different thing than merely rejoicing that old scores of no present consequence were settled and that old enemies of no present danger are destroyed.
The fourth thought: The rejoicing in Proverbs 11:10 is over the perishing of the wicked, while the rejoicing in Proverbs 24:17 is over our enemy’s merely stumbling.
Proverbs 24:18 makes clear that the calamity which overtakes our enemy is not complete or irreversible. While the perishing of the wicked in Proverbs 11:10 is final, the stumbling of our enemy is not.
Proverbs 24:17-18 Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Or the LORD will see it and be displeased, And turn His anger away from him.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.