One of the quickest ways to cause God to act in judgment is to mess with widows. By the way the corollary to this is that messing with orphans is not very smart either. Probably the second quickest way to incur the disciplinary action of God is to be proud and arrogant. Therefore the ones’ warned in this proverb are facing the proverbial “double-whammy” because of their actions.
The first thing we see is God’s promise to “tear down” the house of the one who is proud. The Hebrew word for this tearing out is frightening because it has the idea of tearing out or tearing down. God is promising the proud man that He Himself will tear him out of his home – and tear down his entire house. The word house here is more than just someone’s domestic address. It actually means God will destroy an entire family. One’s house meant more than just the physical structure in which one lived. It meant the house, the land, the businesses, the children, and even the future generations of a family. As God has warned before in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” The New Testament says the same thing in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 – God is opposed to the proud – He arrays Himself as an army ready for battle to fight them. But the reason for this warning has something more to it. Their source of pride seems to be a house built on the backs of widows.
This proverb is a single unit – the pride mentioned here is due to the abuse of widows. Widows did not have very many rights in the times of the Bible. Israel stood out among other nations and other religions because of God’s concern for the rights of widows. The right God is protecting is that of their right to the land of their family.
We need to remember that Israel was an agrarian nation – a people of the land. The two chief occupations in Israel were those of farmers and shepherds. To either of these groups land was indispensible. Permanent markers measured the land that God had established when Israel was given the land. So important was this gift of the land that God made it clear that the land was His, not theirs. Every 50 years God decreed a Jubilee. At this time every family would return to its land – and the land would return to them. God gave land to them and fully expected His boundaries to be honored – perpetually.
Now we come to the second part of this proverb. God will establish the boundary of the widow. Since God set up the original markers by decree – to move them was a grave sin. To move the boundary of a widow was even worse. Some, who were arrogant towards God, would move the boundaries of widow’s land so that they could enlarge their holdings at the expense of a widow who had few if any legal rights. To say that God would be displeased by this is a massive understatement! He would be furious. Destruction would come to the prideful, arrogant person who would do this. God also would fight to establish the actual boundary for the widow. The arrogant man who would do this would forfeit not just his illegal land grab; he would face destruction for his entire family.
So what can we learn from this proverb for today? First of all we learn that only a very prideful (and I might add stupid) person messes with widows. But since we don’t have the same problem of moving boundary stones among our crimes today – how do we interpret and apply this to our lives? Second, we need to defend the rights of widows and orphans. This is an absolute for us as Christians. If I may add something here – we also need to fight for single moms. There are women who were faithful to their husbands who were divorced because of infidelity or just because the guy didn’t want to be committed to his wife. We need to stand up and defend their rights. Unfortunately I’ve had to sit in courtrooms where horrific injustice was committed because an ungodly man had an ungodly lawyer who helped him get an ungodly settlement that left his wife high and dry. We need to fight against such injustice. Church discipline is one way to do this – making men take responsibility for their actions. Another way is to learn more about those running for or being appointed to positions as judges. Such actions may cost us in our communities – but the favor of God in these matters is worth it.