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Last week Solomon told us about royal rules. We want leaders who are sensitive to the Lord’s leading and will listen to God. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of in business and God doesn’t like it at all. Being in leadership comes with expectations. Whether it’s in government, the church, school, or the fast food restaurant, we want leaders who exemplify the righteousness of Christ. We don’t want our leaders to act wickedly or unrighteously. There are royal rules that need to be followed if leaders are to act in a godly manner. This morning, we’ll see how absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Pro. 16:14-16 says, “The fury of a king is like messengers of death, but a wise man will appease it. In the light of a king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain. How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.”
Solomon starts off like a trailer for an action movie. “The fury of a king is like messengers of death.” What guy wouldn’t go see a movie like that? This has all the makings of an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone blockbuster. When you talk about absolute power, a king might come to mind. If you remember the statistics about ruling authority from last week, few royal figures today wield the absolute power that can be so frightening. This verse is talking about real power. The power can be far reaching and oppressive. Here’s something to think about: when was the last time you heard of a ruler with absolute authority that actually took care of his people? The absolute power quote really is, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The quote is attributed to English historian and author Lord Acton who wrote that opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. Someone that has absolute authority is very likely to abuse that authority. So when Solomon says, “The fury of the king is like messengers of death,” he’s talking about the far reaching power of absolute rulers. In biblical times and in the middle ages, kings typically attempted to expand their kingdoms. They generally did this by force, coercion, threats, and intimidation. The more ruthless the king, the more expansive the territory.
Fury means extreme anger. Their power was absolute and arbitrary. When the king wanted someone dead, they got dead. When the king wanted someone to live, they lived. There didn’t need to be any logical reason or thought behind it. When kings get furious, people die. Solomon says, “But a wise man will appease it.” The right words spoken at the right time can have a huge calming effect. In 1 Sam. 19, King Saul was so furious with David that he wanted to put him to death. Enter Saul’s son Jonathan who speaks to King Saul with wisdom and adoration for David and causes Saul to change his mind. 1 Sam. 19:6 says, “Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan, and Saul vowed, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” Jonathan used wisdom when talking with Saul and appeased his anger such that David would not be killed. I encourage you to read the whole story.
How about some royal favor? It’s not good to be in the line of fire with a furious king, but what happens on the opposite side? This is the place to be. Solomon says, “In the light of the king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain.” This is where I want to be. With a furious king, you could be put to death just because. But in the light, it’s “like a cloud with the spring rain.” Talk about a contrast. Spring rain brings restoration, it brings new beginnings, it brings life! Remember Solomon is king of Israel. He doesn’t want Israel to do anything that will cause his wrath because he can be like other fury filled kings that were around in his day. It’s awesome to find favor with the king. It’s even awesomer to find favor with the King of kings. Favor with God is like that life giving spring rain that brings restoration and new life.
Solomon makes a great comparison. He says, “How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.” What price do you put on wisdom and understanding? If only you could buy it. In our culture, wisdom and understanding of the things of God are not as prevalent as they used to be. Even if you could buy, I think few people would make the purchase. Listen to Rom. 1:18-23, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” That’s really what Solomon is saying. Remember Solomon could have asked for all the riches in the world, but he chose to ask God for wisdom. He ended up with both. Think about it this way. If you’re wise, can you use wisdom to gain wealth? Of course, but is achieving wealth the be all to end all? That’s what culture tells us, but the biblically wise person thinks eternally. There is no direct correlation between how much we have here and what we will have in eternity. All material possessions will be left on this earth when you die.
I asked a moment ago, what price do you put on wisdom and understanding? Wisdom is not something that you can learn. Pro. 2:6 told us, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Pro. 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” If you go way back to the beginning of this, Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Pro. 1:7) Wisdom is something we can obtain because as followers of Christ, God can and will give it to us. James 1:5-8 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” There’s the caveat. It’s like saying, well . . . I’ll pray about it, but God doesn’t hear my prayers. God can do that, but He won’t do it for me.
Maybe you’re thinking, you know, it’s easy for Solomon to say it’s better to have wisdom than gold, but wisdom doesn’t pay the bills. Actually, it does. Exercising biblical wisdom could prevent you from getting into financial binds in the first place. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve counselled over the years that made financial decisions that could only be classified as stupid. They’ve determined what they want to do and they do it without thinking of the impact of their decision. Those unwise decisions generally lead to other issues that are brought to light under the intense pressure of trying to make ends meet. Heavenly wisdom enables you to make decisions from God’s perspective.
Power can lead to corruption and absolute power can lead to absolute corruption. You’ve probably heard the quote that says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Exercising biblical wisdom can placate the fury of kings. It’s great to find favor with earthly kings, but it’s far better to find favor with the King of kings. As Christ followers we have a responsibility to passionately follow Him who is the source of great wisdom. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Lu. 12:48) Biblical wisdom is essential in making sound decisions in our lives. When we utilize biblical wisdom, we utilize the incredible power of God and avoid absolute corruption.