The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour: but the way of the wicked seduceth them.
All men are not equal, not even close. A righteous man is superior to his wicked neighbor in character, conduct, situation, and expectation. But this superiority does his neighbor and other wicked men no good, for they are seduced by the world to continue in their wickedness. They cannot and will not choose the more excellent way of righteousness.
Saul and David, the first two kings of Israel, illustrate this proverb perfectly. Solomon would have known the comparison very well from childhood, so the Holy Spirit reduced the royal history preceding him to this pithy and precious statement of wisdom.
David was a righteous man after God’s own heart (I Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). He conducted himself so perfectly his name was much revered in Israel (I Sam 18:30). Every king had to be compared to him (I Kgs 15:1-5), and even the Lord Jesus is known as David and the Son of David (Jer 30:9; Matt 22:42). The sweet psalmist of Israel was more excellent than his neighbor. He was a noble man, as all still admit to this day.
Saul was his neighbor. Saul was a profane man. He would not wait for Samuel, but offered a sacrifice himself (I Sam 13:10-14). He tried to kill his own son for eating a little honey, but the people stopped him (I Sam 14:43-45). In the matter of the Amalekites, God compared his rebellion and stubbornness to witchcraft and idolatry (I Sam 15:22-23). Rather than waiting on the Lord, he consulted the witch of Endor (I Sam 28:1-7).
God compared these two men. Samuel said, “The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou” (I Sam 15:28). Samuel also said, “And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David” (I Sam 28:17). Understand the proverb. Be attentive to comparisons God makes.
Saul knew the superior excellency of David. He heard him play the harp skillfully; he watched him kill Goliath; he heard his modest response; he watched his son Jonathan prefer David; he saw the people accept David; and he knew that God was with David. He said to David, “Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil” (I Sam 24:17). Saul also said to David, “Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both do great things, and also shalt still prevail” (I Sam 26:25).
But this knowledge about David’s superiority did Saul no good, for the envy of his wicked heart found greater comfort and satisfaction in the way of the wicked. He was seduced away from David’s righteousness to his own folly. Rather than begging God for forgiveness and befriending David, he sought repeatedly to kill him in jealous rages. He degenerated in wickedness until he was lying on the ground before the witch of Endor. Two days later his head was cut off and his body nailed to the wall of a Philistine village.
“The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour.” Righteousness is the goal. You need to live like the sons of God (Matt 5:43-48; Eph 5:8; I Thess 5:5-11; I Pet 2:9-11). If the world hates you, rejoice and be very glad, for they hated the Saviour and all His disciples, though this wicked world was not worthy of even their presence (Heb 11:38).
“But the way of the wicked seduceth them.” Worldly men may heap up riches and live extravagantly; they may give themselves over greedily to all sort of carnal pleasures; they may live ever so fine with the groupies of this world singing their praise; but they are rushing through the wide gate and down the broad way to destruction both now and later.
The righteous and the wicked have equality in their nature from Adam, but they are totally different by other measures. The character of the righteous is more excellent, for they have the Spirit of God within them, conforming them to the image of Jesus Christ and bearing much virtuous fruit against which there is no law (Gal 5:22-23; Eph 2:10; 4:24; II Pet 1:3). They love, forgive, serve, and die like no others of the human race.
The conduct of the righteous is more excellent, for they have intimate knowledge of coming judgment and Christ’s infinite love to motivate them (II Cor 5:9-15). They have the glorious example of the Lord Jesus Christ to follow (I Pet 2:18-25). And they have the perfect rules of heaven’s wisdom in the Scriptures that the world despises (Is 8:20).
The situation of the righteous is more excellent, for he is a child of God, a king and priest with full privileges at the throne of God, the temple of the Holy Ghost, with God’s ears open to His prayers, a sympathetic mediator at God’s right hand, perfectly righteous by justification in Christ, a friend of God, and with heaven’s angels for his personal servants.
The expectation of the righteous is more excellent, for they shall be admitted to heaven’s glory with great joy, while Jesus Christ shall repudiate the wicked and cast them into the lake of fire. Which neighbor is more excellent, Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, or the rich man in hell? Which inheritance is more excellent, heaven’s mansions or hell’s fires?
Wicked men cannot see the superiority of the righteous, for they are seduced by sin and Satan to follow the world to hell. Balaam prophesied of Israel’s excellence, but his love of money seduced him (Num 23:10; II Pet 2:15). Herod gladly heard John the Baptist, but his wicked wife seduced him to behead John (Mark 6:17-29). Stephen’s face glowed like an angel; the Jews could not resist his wisdom; he preached a great sermon; but the rabid Jews were provoked by their hatred of Jesus Christ to stone him (Acts 6:8 – 7:60).
The way of the righteous and the way of the wicked are totally incompatible with each other. The righteous hate the wicked, and the wicked hate the righteous (Pr 29:27). It has always been that way, and it will always be this way. Righteous men seek out other good men to love (Ps 16:3; 119:63; Tit 1:8), and they do all they can to avoid the wicked (Ps 101:1-8; II Thess 3:1-2). The wicked are happy in their large crowd rushing down the slippery slope into hell, and the righteous rejoice with a few believers seeking holiness.
Christian reader, what can you learn? What the world thinks of the righteous is irrelevant! The world may offer temporary pleasure, but it is only seduction to destruction. Wise men reject this world and all its pleasures, philosophies, parties, and privileges. And your life should be more excellent to raise questions from other righteous souls (I Pet 3:15). Grasp these four applications. Choose to grow in favor with God and good men, by rejecting the ways of this wicked world (Luke 2:52; James 4:4; I John 2:15-17). God forbid that any reader of this proverb should be seduced by the insanity of this world.
The blessed Lord Christ was more excellent than all men, yet this world despised and hated Him. They lied about Him, falsely accused Him, exchanged a murderer for Him, mocked Him, tortured Him, and nailed Him naked on a cruel cross in public. The Jews’ love of hypocrisy and ceremonial religion seduced them to get rid of the most excellent neighbor the earth has ever seen! They would do it again today, if they had the chance. And they will do the same to His followers, who are also more excellent than they.