Proverbs 29 contains much wisdom about a variety of subjects – all relating to relationships. Throughout it, we hear single sentences of wisdom that span time and place. The majority of the chapter deals with leadership and those in charge – rulers, to be more specific. Here are some sections of it:
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
By justice a king gives stability to the land,
but one who makes heavy exactions ruins it.
In the transgression of the evil there is a snare,
but the righteous sing and rejoice.
The righteous know the rights of the poor;
the wicked have no such understanding.
Scoffers set a city aflame,
but the wise turn away wrath.
If the wise go to law with fools,
there is ranting and ridicule without relief.
The bloodthirsty hate the blameless,
and they seek the life of the upright.
A fool gives full vent to anger,
but the wise quietly holds it back.
If a ruler listens to falsehood,
all his officials will be wicked.
The poor and the oppressor have this in common:
the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
If a king judges the poor with equity,
his throne will be established for ever.
When the wicked are in authority, transgression increases,
but the righteous will look upon their downfall.
Do you see someone who is hasty in speech?
There is more hope for a fool than for anyone like that.
One given to anger stirs up strife,
and the hothead causes much transgression.
A person’s pride will bring humiliation,
but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honour.
To be a partner of a thief is to hate one’s own life;
one hears the victim’s curse, but discloses nothing.
The fear of others lays a snare,
but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.
Many seek the favour of a ruler,
but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
The unjust are an abomination to the righteous,
but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.
(Portions of Proverbs 29, NRSV)
Proverbs are timeless pieces of wisdom that offer warning to those who ignore their advice, consolation to those who fall victim of the unjust, and support for the righteous who follow Proverbs’ lead.
Given how many leadership books have been written over time, Proverbs still seems to offer something that modern-day leadership gurus can’t. It offers the same thing that no politician or government agency can offer. Proverbs offers the immaterial – a recognition of the existence of something beyond the material world. It counters popular theologies and ideologies of our time – that might makes right, that the ends justify the means. Proverbs shows both of these ways of thinking to be empty and lead to destruction to everyone.
Proverbs 29 isn’t so much advice for leaders as it is a window view into the character and consequences of leaders who are unjust. When we come across unjust rulers, or suffer under their leadership, Proverbs 29 offers us what the results will be, what the methods are, and what we can expect from these individuals. The benefit of this is that there is no surprise when an unjust ruler acts unjustly. The only surprise, really, is that there are people who fall for, and make excuses for, the lies and unjust actions and behaviors.