In view of today being my brother’s birthday, the verse studied will be a verse taken out of the verse cloud that I traditionally make on birthdays; Proverbs 11:7 (November 7th). Proverbs is a joy to read, poetic and filled with infinite wisdom, yet I won’t deceive myself – Solomon‘s wisdom is at times far too tiring to understand. Proverbs 11 continues on from the miscellaneous proverbs that started in Proverbs 10 and would go on for a large part of the book, running all the way through to Proverbs 22:16. Most of these verses are short, two-sentenced but weighty, and while there is great discussion on certain topic, there seems to be no real consistent structure to it. Most of these verses are antithetic, with both sentences contrasting each other, like Proverbs 11:6 – The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness – or Proverbs 11:9 – With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous escape. Proverbs 11:7, however, isn’t – although its antithesis can be implied from what it left unsaid, if one is used to the study of Solomon‘s proverbs. Let’s look into this.
As usual there are two sentences in this verse, even if the comma flatters to deceive – when a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; and all he expected from his power comes to nothing. – typically, if we follow the general structure of Solomon’s proverbs, we may expect something like this: when a wicked man dies, his hope perishes, but the hope of the righteous man lasts forever – okay, I’m no Solomon, but you get my drift. Instead of using an antithetical second sentence to parallel his first sentence; a second sentence that builds on the first and emphasizes it was applied – all he expected from his power comes to nothing. Beautiful. This technique has been used often enough that it is not uncommon, but it is still by far overshadowed by the sheer number of antithetic verses in the book of Proverbs. Solomon here drives home the point of the contrasting concepts of salvation and destruction. The wicked do not have hope beyond what’s worldly, but those who are justified by faith as righteous will have eternal hope in their salvation. Even without using the antithesis, it is strongly implied brilliantly in this verse. Beautiful.
Analysis: Worldly hope
A wicked man here likely refers to a man who isn’t saved, and perhaps the greatest difference between the wicked man and, well, the saved (I wouldn’t dare to call the saved ‘unwicked’) is the nature of our hope. Worldly hope versus Christian hope. Everything in this world is of the world and translates not into eternity. Hope too, even if it’s intangible, cannot be brought over into eternity. Your hopes for financial stability, career advancement, family additions, spiritual growth, ministry support – all are but worldly causes and worldly events.
When a wicked man dies, there is no eternity awaiting. His hope perishes – a strong word. It does not just waver, or collapse. It does not even die. It perishes. It’s a hopeless situation. Indeed, how can their hope still be alive if their soul is dead? As Christians we believe we are saved by grace, and by faith we believe in an eternal life after death. That is our hope. The unbelieving would not believe in eternity, and thus do not have hope as we do. Paul describes the Gentiles as such in Ephesians 2:12-13 – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. The Gentiles were without hope, because they didn’t know Jesus and were without God. But through the blood of Christ, the Gentiles now have hope.
For the saved, the assurance of eternal life is the very basis of our hope in the future. I’ve used this a couple of times, but let me quote John Piper again on the definition of Biblical hope: A confident expectation and desire for something good in the future. Because of our assurance in God‘s promise of eternal life, we have hope in the future even beyond death. While we have worldly hopes – and these hopes will also perish along with our physical death, our Christian hope remains.
Analysis: Expectations coming to nothing
I’d like to think, perhaps very selfishly, that Solomon wasn’t just referring to the wicked when he says this. Will the ‘wicked’ ever read this, anyway? It serves as a powerful reminder to us, who think we are safe behind God‘s promise of salvation and wear on a cloak of righteousness – not because we deserve it, but because we are justified by faith [Rom 5:1] – it serves as a powerful reminder that we should daily place our hopes in the right places. Solomon says, all that the wicked man expected from his power comes to nothing. So it is for us, indeed. What we expect of our power in this world will account for something today, and tomorrow, and likely in the near future; but looking at the big picture, when our relatively short life ends, what power? What expectations? What hopes? They will all come to nothing. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it [1 Tim 6:7]. Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart [Job 1:21]. We came to this world without hope. And without hope we will leave. Worldly hope.
I don’t think I can live without hope. I don’t think I can live without hoping that I get a good job when I graduate, that my brother (happy birthday!) finds a good wife and gets married and have lots of children, or that my parents live till a ripe old age and yet not outlive me (I’m Chinese by race, and we have this saying that it’s unfilial to die before your parents – just saying)… the list goes on. But yet, above all these little nitty gritty hopes of mine, there exists a larger, overarching hope of mine – a hope that isn’t shrouded with doubts or uncertainty, a confident expectation and desire that it will happen for sure – and that’s hope in God, hope in His promise of salvation, hope in eternal life. Even if I don’t get a job when I graduate, what more a decent job; even if… well, I don’t really want to apply antitheses to the rest of my hopes – but even if all my worldly hopes perish, my Christian hope will never die, because God is constant, He is reliable, He never fails, He cannot betray Himself.
And thus, I live in hope.
(and once again happy birthday to my brother)