Trembling Occasions

For Friday, April 11, 2008
Proverbs 30:21-23

Under three things the earth trembles;
under four it cannot bear up:
22 a slave when he becomes king,
and a fool when he is filled with food;
23 an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.

In our modern democratic age, we might take issue with this proverb. Our stories of success are the very things held up here as troubling. We admire the slave who overcomes his circumstances to become king. We may not admire the fool, but at least appreciate the wit he uses to get his food. Is not the story of an unloved woman finding a husband who loves her romantic? And as for the maidservant, we think of the servant girl mistreated by the arrogant mistress who lives out a Cinderella story and displaces the mean mistress. Indeed, we regard all these instances as Cinderella stories.

But here is what the proverb is speaking about. It looks at the slave who obtains his position by leading a rebellion and sits on a royal throne, which his ignoble spirit demeans. The fool should be receiving what he needs - discipline, and yet through the folly of life gets rewarded for his foolish behavior. The unloved woman is not one who has found a husband to love her; rather, she is unloved because of her own critical, unloving ways, and woe to the man who is forced or beguiled into marrying her. And as to the maidservant, like the slave, she has used deceit and probably her sexual prowess to displace her mistress.

Cinderella stories are nice, and it is good to see those who are good and who possess noble spirits rise above their circumstances. But for all such stories, there are many others in which the wicked and the ignoble have used evil means to displace those who are in rightful places of authority and in circumstances that befit their character. Such persons turn noble positions into opportunity to bully. The slave bullies all those for whom he holds perceived offenses, raising the wicked to power and humbling the noble. The unloved woman turns the role of help-meet into opportunity to bully her husband. The handmaiden as mistress struts arrogantly before the household. And the fool feels like a clever man because his stomach is full.