Saturday, November 26, 2016

Direction from Our City --- Proverbs 11:10

Proverbs 11:10
When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices,
    and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.

Both lines of this proverb have as their theme, joy.  There is joy in the city when it goes well with the righteous, and there is joy in the city when the wicked perish. 

When the announcements came in America that Nazi Germany, and then Japan, were defeated, there was great joy in the streets of the cities.  Pictures of the joy in the streets of New York and other American cities on the front pages of the newspapers throughout the country became iconic.  The joy was based, at least in part, on the fact that righteousness had prevailed and wickedness was defeated. 

Though the end of World War II provides an illustration of this proverb, the city in Proverbs 11:10 is not just any city.  The city in our proverb is Jerusalem.  Solomon is our author, and as Gary Brady writes, "For Solomon 'the city' was, no doubt, Jerusalem."[1] 

Jerusalem experienced this joy on one occasion when the Baal-worshiping queen, Athalia, was put to death.  In Athalia's purge of the royal family (David's descendents), she missed a little infant in her murderous rage, named Joash.  After six years of her wicked reign as queen, this little boy, Joash, was anointed as king in the temple by the priest, Jehoiada, surrounded by a temple guard.  Athalia and her devoted followers were put to death, the people of Jerusalem resolved to follow the Lord and his anointed king, and the temple built to Baal in the city was torn down.  The result was both joy and peace:  "So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword at the king's house" (2 Kings 11:20).

But if "the city" in this proverb is not just any city, one must ask the further question, is the city earthly Jerusalem?  One must keep in mind that the earthly city of Jerusalem was only a type or shadow of the true and lasting city that always rejoices with the salvation of the righteous and the judgment of the wicked.  This true Jerusalem is the heavenly city that Hebrews 11 describes, which all of God's faithful people have longed for:
"For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." (11:10)
"But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." (11:16)

In this city, the Jerusalem above, God's will is perfectly done.  Its citizens rejoice in both God's salvation and judgment (Revelation 19:1-2).  In fact, our God never saves apart from his judgment.  These two things always go together.  Think of all of God's salvific acts, and you will find that they are all works of both judgment and salvation.  So, for example, righteous Noah and his family are saved, but a wicked world is judged.  Israel is saved through the Red Sea, but Pharaoh and his army drown.  The enemy nations around Israel oppress them, but God raises a judge to defeat them, and Israel is saved. 

But the greatest act of God's salvation came about when Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) to die in the city that "kills the prophets" (Luke 13:34).  There in Jerusalem, the city of the great king puts to death its rightful king, outside of its gates.  There at the cross, in an act of unimaginable love, the Creator takes the judgment his creatures deserve, and by that judgment we are saved.

By putting the Son of God to death, "Jerusalem proves to be the place which epitomizes the 'world' in its hostile response to God's truth and light."[2]  The cross definitively teaches us that the city the people of God must look for, just like Abraham and the Old Testament believers, is the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 12:22), whose designer and builder is God.  It is that city which gives us our ethical direction, and is our true home.  Therefore, let us not look to this present evil age for direction or for illusive utopian cities in a world that has rejected God and his Son.  Instead let us go outside the city with our crucified Lord, and with all the people of God, seek the city that is to come:
"So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:12-14).


[1] Brady, Proverbs, 293.
[2] P. W. L. Walker in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 591.

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