Proverbs 28:16

The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.

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Ambitious or greedy rulers are tyrants. Instead of using authority to benefit their citizens, they covet more power and wealth, which leads to oppressive legislation and policies. They do not last long. God or an unhappy populace will remove them from office. But noble men who hate covetousness and are content and committed to serve their people will stay in office. Here is an axiom of political science from King Solomon.

The previous proverb warned against wicked rulers with irrational and violent natures like hungry lions and bears (Pr 28:15). These insensitive brutes crush the poor of a nation under their selfish programs and practices. The poor, who need help and protection more than others, become a mere meal for their voracious appetites. Because of that warning, this proverb uses “also” to indicate another kind of oppressive ruler under consideration.

Grasp the contrasts, for they provide clues to a proverb’s meaning. A prince wanting understanding is set opposite to a prince hating covetousness. Therefore, you know the oppressive prince is an ambitious and greedy man. But look further. The prince that is a great oppressor is set opposite a prince that shall prolong his days. Therefore, you know that oppressive practices by a ruler shorten his reign – either by the hand of God or men.

When an ambitious or greedy politician is in office, his programs and policies oppress the people until they revolt. All governments are popular, meaning that citizens will submit until the pain exceeds the cost of rebellion. But covetous princes, blind to rising anger against their rule, eventually lose their position. Citizens can only take so much, and then they revolt. The Lord can only take so much, and then He judges (Ec 5:8; I Kgs 21:1-24)!

Learn wisdom. A proverb’s instruction is only as good as acceptance of it and obedience to it. King Solomon taught this proverb to his son, Prince Rehoboam. But after his father died, this son arrogantly insulted the nation for asking for a lightening of Solomon’s heavy taxation (I Kgs 12:1-20). His covetousness and pride blinded his judgment. What happened? The nation revolted. He lost ten of twelve tribes. The proverb was fulfilled.

By the time Alexander the Great was 30, he had alienated his nation, his army, and many friends and generals by his mad lust for power and wealth. He and his family were wiped from the earth. It has been said, long after this proverb was written, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Therefore, wise men resist promotion and wealth, for they know its great power to pervert character. The prophet Agur, who contributed to this book of Proverbs, prayed against riches for this reason (Pr 30:7-9). What wisdom!

Political wisdom requires rulers that hate covetousness, which is exactly what Moses required for Israel’s judges (Ex 18:21; Deut 16:19). If this axiom is not followed, do not be surprised by the oppressive consequences of their rule. Bishops and deacons for New Testament churches must also hate covetousness, which is defined as not greedy of filthy lucre (I Tim 3:3,8; Titus 1:7,11; I Pet 5:2). Even women should reject suitors who are greedy for financial gain, because they will be bad husbands and fathers (Pr 1:19; 15:27).

The Lord Jesus Christ is the blessed and only Potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords (I Tim 6:13-16). His absolute power over the universe has not corrupted Him at all; it has glorified Him as an infinitely righteous Prince (II Sam 23:1-4; Heb 1:8-9; Rev 19:11). He covets nothing, for He rules heaven and earth. All those who trust in Him shall reign with Him, and His reign shall endure forever and ever (Rev 1:18; 3:21; Is 53:10).