The wicked flee when there is no one pursuing them,
but the righteous are as bold as a lion.
Proverbs 28:1 HCSB
Proverbs often convey wisdom by means of comparison and contrast, and the above verse is no different. The contrast here is between abject terror and an unshakable confidence, and Solomon tells us that the wicked are wet-their-pants afraid while the righteous are fearless lions.
What is Solomon driving at here? This proverb seems to be easily disproven; for one, I am often wet-my-pants afraid (thankfully not literally), while the disobedient are confident and established. How should we make sense of this?
Remembering that this is a proverb helps us decipher what’s going on here. Proverbs are not universally-true-in-all-circumstances-no-exceptions truths. Each individual proverb is a tool in the toolbox of the Carpenter, who is making us wise. Proverbs are what is generally true in God’s governing of His universe; the exceptions to normality deal with special cases of God’s sovereignty that we don’t have access to. The brevity of a proverb is like the sharpness of a craftsman’s awl or knife; including all the exceptions and disclaimers and what-ifs dulls the point (pun intended), rendering the tool less effective if not useless.
What this proverb is telling us then, is how a wise person approaches life. The righteous are the wise ones, and wisdom begins with fearing Yahweh (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Psalm 111:10). Those who fear Yahweh have no need to fear anything or anyone else; therefore, they are as bold as lions. The wicked are fools who do not fear Yahweh, and therefore have cause to fear everything.
The exceptions to this proverb actually prove the rule: the unbelievers we see in our lives and displayed in the media are not afraid (at least outwardly), but they have every reason to be. Yahweh of Hosts stands against them in wrath, and no one survives the consuming fire of His holiness. Unbelievers who act bold are simply fooling themselves; their confidence will melt like wax before the One whose name is Jealous and Consuming Fire.
The believers we see (and know, and are, in my case) that are fearful actually prove the rule also. We are fearful like the apostles on the boat in the storm; the loving discipline of Jesus speaks to us as well, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Remember the compassion Jesus showed them in the midst of His frustration: He still calmed the storm. He did not leave them to suffer crippling fear, but showed Himself strong over their fears. The work He was doing in their hearts was leaven spreading through the dough; by Pentecost those eleven cowardly lions were given supernatural courage beyond what was imagined possible. They were only uneducated fishermen, after all.
Just as Jesus showed Himself strong to the disciples in the boat, He is showing Himself strong to us. We were once the wicked who should have been terrified at everything, and He has given us His righteousness. He is making us wise, making us fear Yahweh, and making us bold as lions.