I find Proverbs 13:17 to be both troubling and encouraging. It's a fitting pearl of wisdom for our absurdly awkward time.
Many proverbs, we've found, make a comparison between wicked people and the righteous. Here, we find the comparison to be between the wicked and the faithful. I find the use of the words "messenger" and "envoy" very interesting.
In biblical parlance, an angel is often referred to as a messenger. In fact, the Hebrew word used in the text is the same word that is often translated as "angel." On the other hand, the term is also used for human beings who serve in messenger roles.
I don't think this proverb is about angels, which is why translators almost universally use the word "messenger." There is one translation which I find particularly interesting. Brenton's Septuagint renders malak as "rash king." That's an interesting choice of words since it is generally believed that Solomon wrote most of the proverbs. Perhaps this phrase is used because, in the ancient world, kings often used special envoys, or ambassadors, to represent their interests to other nations. While "messenger" is technically the more accurate translation, a messenger represents the power of the king. Therefore, his temperament can be perceived as an extension of the reigning monarch's himself. But that's getting far afield from the text.
If malak is a reference to angels, then it would certainly apply to those supernatural beings that are often popular in literature. The holy war in heaven certainly did lead wicked, rebellious angels into trouble.
Again, I don't think that's what this verse is implying.
Rather, the "wicked" are those men (and women) who are playfully rebellious. Their behavior patterns, their public actions, their modus operandi isn't "evil," which is behavior so bad that even the worst among us cringe. But it isn't exactly "straight and narrow."
So, then, how do these "messengers" fall into "trouble?"
The word "trouble" itself is troubling. Ra' literally means "bad" or "evil," if we listen to Strong. Another use of the word is "adversity."
Adversity is one possible contextual meaning in this case. Wicked persons often "fall into," or "stumble" into, adversity. That is, their lives are tumultuous. That isn't to say the rest of us don't have our moments of adversity. Life itself leads to adversity, but I've noticed a certain type of person is always chasing rabbits. Their entire lives are adverse, and it's generally because they haven't learned the law of sowing and reaping. Deception is its own curse.
There is a distinct nuance between what constitutes "wicked" behavior and "evil." Wicked people (mischievous and rebellious) do often teeter into evil territory, evil being that which is malevolently sinful. In other words, the wicked can become evil, or Ra'.
It is the latter that I think is most likely intended by the text.
An Example of the Wicked Falling Into Ra'
Recently, I watched a documentary series on The Duggars called Shiny Happy People. I must confess, I was never into watching them, but many people were. The image they portrayed was of this wholesome, faithful family doing God's work. Yet, behind the scenes, they were influenced by a rigid authoritarian with strange doctrines.
I won't comment on the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) scandals any more than that. If even half of it is true, there is a scourge affecting Christ's church in our modern world. IBLP is just one example. There are many others.
In general, I've found that any "church" that bases its theology on some principle of "authority," where there is only one or a small number of individuals (usually men) at the helm and who possess the power and ability to set the rules for everyone else, has already strayed from the roots of the faith. The rules that often flow from such wayward streams are generally unbiblical at best and anti-biblical at worst. Worse, they so spiritually deform the Body of Christ that its members forget how to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. At a minimum, such institutions fail to teach young Christians eager to learn how to listen to that voice for themselves. In other words, their deceptions run deep. And they bring upon themselves impractical adversities. They also present an image of Jesus Christ that isn't real.
Cult leaders exemplify this principle of the wicked falling into evil very well. Many of them start off with good intentions, but end up defying life itself. Others, like Jim Jones, are simply maniacal. Almost all of them have a deep-seated need for admiration. Often, they are narcissists.
Another thing cults often have in common is aberrant theology. Orthodox doctrines exist alongside the heterodox, unorthodox, or downright heretical. Usually, those doctrines step to the forefront and become the raison d'etre of the group itself. If anyone opposes them, they claim persecution. Cult leaders become experts in gaslighting their own followers and, very often, their closest friends and family. Their wickedness leads them and their followers into evil.
Such shenanigans induce even the purest among us toward cynical suspicion. We can't even trust that which is good for fear that it might turn against us. And that's the damage that "wicked messengers," those who claim to speak for God, can do.
Of course, this is just one way in which the proverb is applicable. There are as many ways it can be applicable as there are ways to be wicked. I hope that you might find a way it is applicable in your own life.
Do Faithful Envoys Bring Healing?
Messengers and envoys are part and parcel of the same. As Christians, we are ambassadors for Christ. These three terms are synonymous. An ambassador is a special envoy with a special message from one king, or ruler, to another. That message can be a peaceful one, a threat of war, or something in between. Many Christians approach our relationship with the surrounding culture as if we are at war with that culture. But what has the Culture War brought us?
Certainly not healing.
That obvious observation should cause us to ask a question: If our ambassadorship to the powers of this world's darkness isn't a healing balm, are we truly being faithful?
And that should lead us to another question ... What does it mean to be faithful?
For self-identifying conservatives, it means declaring that homosexuals, transgenders, and "the woke" are all hell bound heathen. Whatever must be done to send them back under their rocks must be done, and vigorously. For progressives, it means respecting, perhaps even accepting, maybe even endorsing, alternative lifestyles and God-opposing points of view. I don't subscribe to either thesis.
Ephesians 6:11 exhorts us to put on the full armor of God, the purpose being to make a stand against devilish schemes. Verse 12 tells us that our "struggle," or battle, is not against flesh and blood. Why then does the church appear to be at war with our physical neighbors when our true opponents are in heavenly realms?
We war with the wrong entities.
Many in the church have declared the subjects of this world's ruler to be our enemy when they have been shackled by his deceptions. Just as our battle is not with flesh and blood persons, neither is it political. Our adversary is the devil, not the prisoners of war he has captured.
Therefore, verse 13 encourages us, "take up the full armor of God." This is the same phrase (in both English and Greek) used in verse 11. So that, it says, you can stand your ground.
This is not an offensive posture. It is defensive.
We are never encouraged to fight battles on behalf of our Lord. In fact, the battle belongs to the Lord. The only battle worth fighting has already been won. The cross of Christ represents our victory. He himself conquered sin and death. The Culture War is a sham.
Our gospel posture is to stand firm with the belt of truth, with feet shod with the gospel of peace, and to guard our spirits with the shield of faith. These are not weapons of offense, but of defense. The only offensive weapon at our disposal is the word of God, which is often mistakenly taken to mean the Bible. That's why churches spend so much time focused on scripture memorization, but such gray matter-oriented pursuits more often than not fail to produce the desired results. It often leads to disciples who can recite Bible verses but fail to ascertain their deeper meanings.
The "word" in Ephesians 6:17 is rhéma, which literally means spoken word. It's the same Greek word, or derivative of, used in Matthew 4:4, Luke 2:15, and Acts 10:44, all which depict occurrences prior to the Bible's compilation.
Rhéma is the word God speaks into our hearts. If we are listening, it penetrates into joints and marrow. That is, it delves deep into our spirit and feeds us from the inside.
Note: Hebrews 4:12 uses the Greek logos, which is often used to depict Christ as the Word of God. Just like rhéma, it literally refers to a spoken word. It may also refer to divine thought. While logos and rhéma are closely related, there are nuances, which I won't go into here. Suffice it to say that God's word is implanted into the believer by God Himself and serves as an internal judge in spiritual matters. It is there for the edification of the individual believer and the church, not as a weapon of war against an unbelieving world.
All of this is to say that faithful ambassadors (envoys, messengers) are those who seek to do the will of the Father in pursuit of peace, not war, with the surrounding culture. That doesn't mean we swallow every pill delivered to us. At times, we must stand, a posture of defiance but not one that is bent on winning battles.
The question before us is this: Are we attempting to win battles on behalf of the King or standing in His presence knowing the battle has already been won?
If we are faithful, we will strive for personal, cultural, and spiritual healing, not just for ourselves but for our neighbors, as well.
Allen Taylor is the author of I Am Not the King.
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