When the wicked rise, people hide themselves,
but when they perish, the righteous increase.
The writer of the book of Proverbs will sometimes just watch. He will observe. He will notice. Such is the case with this proverb. When wicked rulers come to power, people will hide. They will run away. They will look to become invisible. They will seek to stay far away from the sightlines of an oppressive power. On the other hand, when the wicked fall from power, people as it were, come out of their hiding places. The righteous will rise; they increase. One example of this might be the reopening of churches and the building of new churches in Russia after the fall of communism.
This proverb does raise the issue of the proper role of government and the Christian’s role under government. According to Romans 13, all authority comes from God and rulers must not (or should not) be a terror to good conduct. Government is (or should be) God’s servant for the good of those who live under its power and authority. In a broken world, however, this is not always the case. Sometimes the wicked do come to power. Sometimes the righteous are oppressed.
Recognizing the reality of this situation ought to move the Christian to do at least two things.
- Pray: pray for those in government that they would act wisely and justly, that they would truly do good to those under their authority by promoting righteousness rather than wickedness. Also pray for those, particularly brothers and sisters in Christ, who suffer under unjust, wicked and oppressive regimes. Pray for the persecuted church. Pray also according to the explicit command of our Lord that his kingdom would come and that his will would be done on earth even as it is in heaven. Pray for the time when justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
- Act: act in a manner that bears witness to the coming Kingdom of Christ. Work to provide solace and comfort to the oppressed. Work to increase righteousness in the land. The specifics of how to do that will vary from individual Christian to individual Christian, but we can all in some manner be engaged. This is our salt and light duty, not to run away, not to hide, as would be the natural inclination of those beset by oppression. Rather bear witness to the now and future King who will rule forever with justice and grace. In doing so, we may even prove to be instruments in bringing about the increase of the righteous as people are drawn to the Righteous One himself in faith.