Proverbs 3:29

Proverbs 3:29 "Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee."
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After spending most of the chapter on the virtues of thought (wisdom, understanding, discretion), Solomon shifted his counsel to the virtue of thoughtfulness in verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight.  In this following verse, he addressed one’s thought within the context of thoughtfulness.  Not only are we to be considerate of our neighbors but we are also to be holy with our neighbors.  Not only are we to “withhold not good” from our neighbors but we are also to “withhold not good thoughts” about our neighbors.

The word, “devise” means to invent, to contrive, to plan or to form new combinations of ideas.  This verb is an act of the mind; a virtue or vice of thought.  We can devise good things as did Bezaleel when building the Wilderness Tabernacle or we can devise evil things as did Haman when crafting legislation to annihilate the Jewish people from the Persian Empire.  Solomon’s counsel in this verse has to do with our thought process, in particular with the morality of our thought process.  Devise not evil against thy neighbor.”  We are not to think any evil towards our neighbor.  We are not to plan any evil against our neighbor.  Regardless of the legitimacy of their request for help, we are not to think evil against them and assign evil motive.  Regardless of the perceived reason for their request for help, we are not to think impure thoughts about them.

By pairing these verses three verses together, Solomon is taking his reader beyond moral obligation and into moral excellence.  Being good is different than doing good.  Lending your car to a neighbor in need is different than lending your heart to a neighbor in need.  You can give your neighbor a dozen eggs but while you’re doing it, give her a dozen curses in your mind.  Giving a helping hand while thinking an evil thought is not commendable in any way.  Helping someone while thinking evil about them is the height of hypocrisy.  Furthermore, helping someone while planning evil against them is the pinnacle of wickedness.

A life of righteousness is more than action – it’s motive.  
A life of righteousness is more than assisting the needy – it’s maintaining a sound mind and a tender heart towards the needy.

This verse was added to keep the future king from becoming mechanical in his charity.  Doing good out of opportunity and duty would not be enough to be a righteous king.  Rehoboam would need to control and maintain a righteous mind if he was going to become a righteous king.  Working with people easily leads to cynicism.  It’s easy to think the worst in people.  It’s easy to suspect and assume that people intend on doing you harm or on taking advantage of you.  This would be especially true of a king as it would be natural to think people just wanted the king’s resources or worse, his power.  Solomon was instructing his son to protect his mind from thinking evil thoughts toward his neighbors.  The same instruction applies to us.  We must guard our minds from thinking the worst of people.  We must prohibit evil from entering our mindset about our neighbors.  It’s not good enough to just do good for people – we must think good towards people.

As was often the case with Solomon’s writings, a small detail accompanied the instruction in order to help the reader understand and appreciate the instruction.  We are not to devise evil against our neighbors because there is no reason to think evil about our neighbors when they “dwell securely by us.”  The people who are in our lives are who the Bible defines as our “neighbors.”  Biblically-speaking, neighbors are not just the people who reside on either side of our homes – they are the people who live their lives beside our lives.  The people who are living with us and among us often choose to do so, which means they want us in their lives.  People who don’t want us in their lives avoid us, forsake us and reject us.  As a result, they’re not really living beside us which means they’re not neighboring our lives.  Solomon wants us to that our neighbors “dwell securely by us,” meaning that most people in our lives trust us and value our relationship with them.  He wants us to “see” this easily-overlooked detail so we realize that there is no need for cynicism and evil devising for the vast majority of our neighbors.

Why devise evil against a neighbor, especially against one who hasn’t rejected you?
Why think evil against a neighbor, especially against one who hasn’t forsaken you?
Why think evil against a neighbor, especially against one who hasn’t attacked you?
Why devise evil against a neighbor who “dwells securely by you,” against a neighbor who hasn’t pushed you out of their lives?

Sadly, many of us wrongly interpret a neighbor’s selfishness as a declaration of war.  Many of us wrongly interpret a neighbor’s aggressive attempts to get our attention as an attempt to hurt us.  People make mistakes, miscommunicate, and behave erratically out of insecurity and indiscretion.  That doesn’t mean they intend on doing a person harm that they want in their lives.  If someone has been in your life for many years, they probably are “dwelling securely by you,” which means they don’t want to hurt you.  “Then why do they do what they do?  Why do they say what they say?  Why do they react the way they react?”  Probably because they want more of you and probably because they want to be a closer neighbor to you.  There is no reason to “devise evil” against such a person because they probably mean no evil against you.  Tragically, many wars start out of insecurity and paranoia.

“Devise not evil against thy neighbor, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee.”

Control your thoughts in order to control your actions. Control your mind in order to control your morality. Think clearly and rationally about the people in your lives.  SEE who is in your life and SEE how long they have been in it. Be careful to assign evil motive to a good neighbor.  Be careful to plan evil actions against a righteous neighbor.  Withhold not good deeds from your neighbor and more importantly, withhold not good thoughts towards your neighbor.  Doing good doesn’t make us good – being good is what makes us good.  To be good, we have to THINK good.

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