Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense. – Proverbs 19:11
The biblical proverbs are so very practical. They don’t try to ennoble us with any Kantian notion of moral virtue detached from self-interest; rather, they tell us what wise, insightful people do to make things go better, and what ignorant fools do to make things worse. If we will only pay attention to these instructions and remember them, we won’t need a heroically self-sacrificial heart to put them into practice; we all naturally want to see life go more smoothly.
Anger and offense gum up the works. They cause us to sabotage what could otherwise be beneficial relationships, hindering our advance toward the goals we set ourselves—to say nothing of the fact that they involve inherently unpleasant emotional states and can damage our health if we persist in them. So the biblical sage doesn’t link slowness to anger with “having the patience of a saint” but with simple “good sense” or insight.
Of course, God Himself is the ultimate exemplar of the wisdom and virtue to which we aspire. When He gives His résumé to Moses, He calls Himself “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6). If He weren’t all those things, humanity would have been doomed to destruction a long time ago. It is always worth remembering that we are called to forgive others as our heavenly Father has forgiven us (cf. Matt 18:21–35).
This does not mean that we let people do wrong without consequences. In the same sentence just quoted, God goes on to say that He “will by no means clear the guilty,” and that succeeding generations will suffer the fallout for poor decisions their parents and grandparents have made (Exod 34:7). We see this played out again and again, in Scripture and in our own lives. A prime example can be seen in the life of King David: after he wickedly took Bathsheba to bed and had her husband killed, God sent a prophet to confront him with his sin, and David sincerely repented. God forgave David, and the covenant promise that a king from David’s line would sit enthroned forever was sealed immutably at the ascension of Jesus. But life in David’s household after this episode was, to use a technical term, a hot mess—Bathsheba’s first child died, David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar, and her brother Absalom literally started a civil war (2 Sam 12–15). David is no doubt now with the saints in heaven, but one could hardly say he “got away with” his crimes.
But justice is seldom served, and our lives almost never improved, by taking others’ misdeeds as a personal offense and feeling angered, even where such feelings may be justified. That feeling of offense, if not repented of, leads to a root of bitterness that only harms the one feeling embittered. So we are advised to leave the righteous indignation to the One who is truly righteous and has vowed to repay each person’s deeds appropriately (Rom 12:19).
When we have occasion to pass over an offense without taking the person to task for having offended us, the proverb tells us that such an act adorns us with noble beauty and splendor (Hebrew tifʾarah, “glory” in ESV). And so the next proverb carries on the theme, that “A king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass” (Prov 19:12). Dew is not only peaceful and lovely, it is also nourishing to the land from which we take our food. So let us learn to exercise the proverb’s “good sense” and not become easily offended.
Father, I confess that I am indeed far too easily offended, and that we as a nation have allowed quasi-tribal antagonism to direct much of our politics. Let the wisdom of Your Word supplant my worldly ways of thinking, that I may be adorned with the crown of forbearance and may receive the blessing You have pronounced upon those who make peace. Thank You, Jesus, that You have paid for my offenses and shown me the favor of the King of kings.
Writer & Ministry Fellow, Christian Union Lux
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