Houses and Tents; Taking Up Residence in the Proverbs
“The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish. There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way to death” – Proverbs 14:11-12
The pithy statement in our passage above was penned by King Solomon and is surrounded by similar wise words and whimsical sayings that collectively make up the book of Proverbs. It is an intriguing, paradoxical statement to say the least. The Proverb initially seems to be a simple observation about the wicked juxtaposed to the righteous. Solomon says that the house of the wicked will come to ruin while the tent of righteous people will flourish. This initial proclamation of detriment to the wicked and success to the righteous should not surprise us; for this type of life comparison is penned throughout the Proverbs; passages such as, “No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble” (Ch 12 v 21), or “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves him who pursues righteousness” (Ch 15 v 9) and “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” (Ch 28 v 1) to name a few.
But as we peel back the layers to get to the core message of the proverb, we find what stands out is not some standard proverbial reference to the wicked and righteous, but rather the two different places of residence. There is a stark contrast between a house and a tent. A house is permanent, stable and firm while a tent is mobile, temporary, and easily impacted by the wind. But why would Solomon pair the sturdy house with the wicked and the unstable tent with the righteous? He did so to addresses two misguided notions; the false sense of security of the wicked and a presumed but incorrect vulnerability of the righteous. This is clearly highlighted when we see the first half of the proverb through the lenses of the second half of the proverb where Solomon says, “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way to death.” Old Testament Scholar and theologian Duanne Garrett points out that these two verses, “contrast the apparent but misleading security of the wicked ( the “house” of the wicked will perish) with the apparent but misleading vulnerability of the righteous (but the “tent” of the righteous will flourish) and assert that the way that seems right can be totally wrong (12). The way that seems to lead to wealth and security in reality leads to disaster, whereas the marginal existence of the tent-dweller is absolutely secure if one lives rightly before God.
I believe Dr. Garrett hits the nail on the head. Society likes to portray the wicked in a positive light, with lives marked by prosperity and notoriety. Because of this, the ways of the wicked appear to be the path to take, yet it is just the opposite. They may appear to abide in stable house-like dwellings, but in reality their “life house” is unstable. On the other hand, the righteous stake their tent into solid ground and their tent does not fold.
The takeaway is simply this; even when the wicked seem secure, they are not; for in the end, they will perish. On the other hand, the righteous will eternally flourish. It was the prophet Jeremiah who once asked, “Why do the wicked prosper?” (Jeremiah 12:1-2). We certainly can’t blame him for posing the question. But we must also remember that any appearance of the wicked prospering is only temporal. In the end, they will perish and face eternal destruction.
And so the tent of the righteous is more stable than the house of the wicked. Spiritually speaking, I will take a tent over a house any day. Let is dwell together with the righteous for God’s glory!
– Pastor Eric