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The Fall and Rise of the Righteous

“The righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.”

- Proverbs 24:16

Righteous people are depicted in the book of Proverbs as those who will enjoy great success, which is one of the reasons why this collection of wise sayings receives such a focus when we consider the advantages of living according to God’s commands. Passages such as Proverbs 10:6—“Blessings are on the head of the righteous”—and Proverbs 15:29—“The Lord … hears the prayer of the righteous”—encourage us to do what pleases our Creator so that we will reap the rewards.

Yet the book of Proverbs never points to the life of the righteous person as one of unqualified success. Solomon and the other authors of these sayings do not promise a trouble-free existence to the servants of the Lord; rather, they are clear that righteous individuals sometimes face disaster. Today’s passage tells us as much. Righteous people are not those who never fall. They do not escape the suffering that attends life in this fallen world (Prov. 24:16).

Importantly, the righteous man or woman may fall as many as “seven times.” The number seven often symbolizes completeness in Scripture. For instance, the complete work of creation and rest from this labor took God seven days (Gen. 1:1–2:4). By using the number seven, Proverbs 24:16shows more than just that righteous people may suffer significantly at several individual times in their lives. It is indicating that even the most godly individual may suffer what seems to be a complete loss of all that he holds dear.

However, such a loss is never actually complete at all, for righteous people rise again even after falling seven times (24:16). The biggest disasters do not prove to be a permanent setback. Ultimately, this proverb anticipates the reality of our nal resurrection. Even if God’s people appear to be on the losing side of a cultural battle or the church looks like it cannot survive in a hostile land, our Lord’s righteous servants will finally prevail. All will be set right at the final resurrection of the dead, when all will acknowledge the lordship of Christ and His church will be raised to share in His victory (Phil. 2:5–11; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20).

In the Lord’s grace, we do not always have to wait until the final resurrection to see the righteous rise after a fall. Often he exalts us even on this side of the grave. Matthew Henry comments that the righteous person “falls seven times into trouble, but, by the blessing of God upon his wisdom and integrity, he rises again, sees through his troubles and sees better times after them.”

Coram Deo

Many commentators note that this passage can also be applied to the sins of the righteous person. Matthew Henry comments, “The just man falls, sometimes falls seven times perhaps, into sin, sins of infirmity, through the surprise of temptation; but he rises again by repentance, finds mercy with God, and regains his peace.” Those whom the Lord regards as righteous may fall into sin, and they may fall deeply, but they will eventually come to repentance.

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