Don’t envy a violent man
or choose any of his ways;
for the devious are detestable to Yahweh,
but He is a friend to the upright. Proverbs 3:31-32 HCSB
Don’t let your heart envy sinners;
instead, always fear Yahweh. Proverbs 23:17 HCSB
Don’t envy evil men
or desire to be with them,
for their hearts plan violence,
and their words stir up trouble. Proverbs 24:1 HCSB
Don’t worry because of evildoers,
and don’t envy the wicked.
For the evil have no future;
the lamp of the wicked will be put out. Proverbs 24:19-20 HCSB
As a dog returns to its vomit,
so a fool repeats his foolishness. Proverbs 26:11 HCSB
For Solomon and the Sages, there is a universe of topics to cover in conveying what a life of wisdom looks like. The proverb format lends itself well to covering a broad spectrum of subjects; proverbs are pithy, memorable statements that engage the imagination and teach much in few words (unlike my definition).
Given the nature of a proverb, the points where the Sages repeat themselves become points of emphasis. In the opening chapters, before the actual proverbs themselves begin, there are four major sections that deal with avoiding sexual immorality (2:16-19; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27).
[As an aside: David obviously knew a thing or two about the dangers of sexual impurity, and he passed along those lessons to his son Solomon. It’s a stark warning to us that we are susceptible to the very sins we emphatically battle. Solomon clearly didn’t listen to either David or himself–at first. Through the Lord’s grace, Ecclesiastes shows us Solomon’s repentance and truer wisdom, when he finally returns to the truth he forgot and forsook.]
There are also repeated warnings against laziness (“Go to the ant, thou sluggard!” is a well-known quote from Proverbs) and guarding one’s mouth (“A soft answer turneth away wrath” is another well-known line). But as the above verses show, there’s another emphasis in Proverbs that’s not well-known at all: Solomon warns us against envying the wicked.
It doesn’t take much self-investigation to find our hearts shot through with this evil. Who of us has not been frustrated that the Spirit reminds us our desires are not holy? Who has not been frustrated by Internet filter’s block screens? Who has not been irritated at the successes of cheats and frauds? Who has not envied the carefree promiscuity of the celebrity culture? Who has not stopped what was in the heart from crossing the lips for appearance’s sake?
Clearly, we envy the wicked much more than we realize or admit. Thus, the Spirit inspires Solomon to spend as much time as he does leading us away from that envy.
The lie that the Evil One whispers in our ears is the same lie the wilderness generation believed. In Numbers 11:5, the ungrateful people are complaining about the menu. Specifically, the miraculously provided manna from heaven. They say to Moses (and to Yahweh): “Who will feed us meat? We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!”
First of all, this is an outright lie. Do we really think that Pharaoh, who denied them the straw needed for bricks but demanded the same quota every day, would feed them such rich food? Puh-leeze. The serpent has slithered among them, whispering his lies with garlic breath.
Second, they’re guilty of exactly what Solomon teaches against. They are envying the luxuries of the Egyptians, whom they saw Yahweh destroy in front of their eyes. They were willing to sell the birthright of Yahweh’s salvation for imaginary cucumbers and melons. The Egyptians had no future, and Israel saw the last of the bubbles rise in the Nile. “The evil have no future, and the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” Would you envy millionaires who are about to be arrested for embezzlement? Would you be jealous of jewel thieves about to be executed? Why would you envy sinners under the wrath of God?
And yet, like a dog who pukes and then turns to sniff it and eat it, they long to go back. The image is intended to be revolting, because the visceral reaction we have to thinking about re-eating yesterday’s breakfast is the reaction God has to sin. It’s the reaction the Holy Spirit is working within us to have. We are so easily fooled by the facades put up by the Deceiver, which are all presentation and no substance.
When we are tempted to envy the wicked, may we, by the Spirit’s grace, remember this: there are cucumbers and melons and leeks. The dog ate them an hour ago.