“For the transgressions of a land, its princes are many, but through a person of understanding and knowledge, established order shall long endure.” Proverbs 28:2
I believe this very rich proverb can teach us much about the cause of our contemporary problems and offer possible solutions to them. Let’s take a look.
Our review requires an understanding of the Hebrew and a little patience. But it will be quick, I promise.
The root word of transgressions, pesha, can mean both transgressions and rebellious acts. Thus, we’re considering acts in the land, by its people, that are reflected in a culture characterized by wrongdoing, bad faith, and rebelliousness.
What makes the proverb especially interesting is its claim that this unhealthy rebelliousness coincides with a certain sort of anarchy. This woeful condition of pesha is associated with there being many princes, many factions, which, in turn, likely portends grave deterioration ahead.
Do we recognize the process described here? Haven’t we seen it in history? I can think of several examples of societal decline in which wrongfulness and division led to anarchy and finally to breakdown. I don’t believe our modern-day society is far down any such path yet. But shouldn’t we at least be somewhat concerned with our progression to increasing levels of fractiousness?
Don’t we, in social media, culture, and politics, also, have “princes who are many?” I am not thinking about active citizens who speak out and exercise positive leadership. Rather it’s about people who, in service of demagoguery, abuse of power, and other destructive endeavors, add to chaos, muck up consensus-building efforts, and tear down others who are trying to lead in reasonable directions.
Consider this hypothesis and see if you find it to be true: In better times, we have fewer, but truer leaders and good followers; while in troubled times, we have more, but poorer leaders and less constructive followers.
Is it possible that the pesha of our times, the breaches of trust caused by our divisions and factions, has given rise to an abundance of ill-suited people who appear as “leaders.” And isn’t this one of the most serious threats of further decline in our society?
One gets a sense that that this condition is what prompted God’s reaction in Hosea 8:4: “They set up kings, but not by Me. They made princes whom I knew not.”
Yet, happily and typically, Proverbs offers solutions to the problems it identifies. While our proverb is likely speaking more directly about the sort of person who can lead a nation away from pesha, I suggest it has other messages as well.
As individuals, we may not be able to fix our culture or our society all at once or in one stroke. But there are amazing things we can do. We can each determine who we are to be and how we are to act, and we can contribute beneficially through how we choose to live.
The proverb identifies two particular qualities – knowledge and understanding – that are absolutely crucial. The Hebrew words are yada and bin. As to yada (to know), it’s having and exercising more consideration, investigation, awareness, and assured knowledge. As to bin (to understand), it’s more discernment, diligent consideration, and understanding that lead to wise action.
Each and every intelligent ruler who operates with such knowledge and understanding can reduce chaos, promote true stability, heal through greater righteousness and justice, and prolong a sense of community so a people can better endure.
One person can reverse a trend. One person can lead a community forward. And, of course, it’s one such person we individually can decide to become. So, Proverbs seems to be teaching here: you, reader, you, at least you, should be that person of knowledge and understanding. You can change the world!