Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your hearts be glad when they stumble, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them. Proverbs 24:17-18 (NRSV)
For those of you acquainted with Charles Schulz’s comic strip, Peanuts, we know that once every year in the fall Lucy Van Pelt would hold the football while Charlie Brown came running to kick it. Every year she vowed she would hold it for Charlie Brown to kick. And every year she would whisk it away at the last moment, Charlie Brown would fly up into the air only to come crashing down on his back and writhing in pain.
If you are like me, you would be so delighted if when whisking the ball away, Lucy would somehow lose her balance and land on her back or stumble as she hastily retreated. Just once we would like for her to experience some of the humiliation and pain she inflicted. It never happened! Charlie Brown was always the one who suffered. Every year Charlie Brown continued to trust that Lucy would hold the football until he kicked it. If ever, Lucy had fallen or stumbled, it would have been out of character for Charlie Brown to have rejoiced or been glad.
In that regard Charlie Brown makes a better Christian than me. I, as Charlie Brown, would have wanted to laugh and to say “It’s about time!” I, as Charlie Brown, would have wanted to rejoice and be glad that Lucy was finally getting what she deserved for all those times she tormented me. Proverbs 24:17-18 indicate that we should not feel that way. Why?
Perhaps, part of the answer is to be found in Deuteronomy 32:35 where God says, “Vengeance is mine.” Perhaps, part of the answer is found in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:44, where Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Later in the Sermon on the Mount (7:12) Jesus says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; …”
From this passage in Proverbs we discern that we should not rejoice when our enemies fall or be glad when they stumble. Such behavior on our parts would be displeasing to God. Furthermore we learn that God’s anger toward our enemies could be redirected. While we are not told with whom God would be angry, the implication is that it would be with us! We may derive from that verse that God would be just as displeased with us who rejoice and are glad when our enemies fall or stumble as God is with our enemies’ mistreatment of us in the first place. While the world tells us “Revenge is sweet,” God desires that revenge should be sour to our taste … so that we leave vengeance to God and that we strive to love our enemies and treat them as Jesus has taught us.
O God, help us to live as Jesus taught by words, “Love your enemies,” and by example, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.