“All who watch for iniquity are cut off,
who make a man an offender because of a word,
who lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate,
and who turn aside the just for a worthless thing.”
Sometimes it happens that a child of God drifts away from righteousness and returns, as Peter said, “to his own vomit”; that is, he returns to the ungodly ways of his past. The good that he learned to love in Christ, loses its appeal, and those whose judgment he learned to respect seem, to him, not so important any more. It never happens overnight. It begins as a seed that, left to itself, grows quietly, almost imperceptibly. But when its fruit finally appears, how very bitter it can be! How much strife and hatred it can engender!
Envy is a seed that can produce such fruit. Solomon said that envy is like “rottenness of the bones” (Prov. 14:30b). This is true. Envy quietly but viciously eats away at one’s spirit like a cancer, whose end can be very painful indeed. Many thousands of people, this very moment, have the disease called cancer, but do not know it. Only when the cancer has grown to a certain size and begins to produce the fruit of bleeding or discomfort and pain will those with cancer learn that it is in their bodies.
Self-will can also produce such fruit. It can also quietly grow until it produces in a soul some of the most bitter of all strife and hatred. Many of God’s dear children suffer from this deadly spiritual disease and do not even know it. But if stubbornness is not recognized and dealt with in its early stages, it will grow and produce such horrible fruit in a life that God compared stubbornness to the sin of idolatry (1Sam. 15:23).
Such things as envy and self-will are invisible sins; they can be hidden in the breast. The thoughts and feelings they produce can be hidden, too, but not forever. If those spiritual weeds are allowed to grow in the heart, they will eventually produce fruit that cannot be hidden. This is why God’s people need pastors and teachers who know God and who have discernment. We all need spiritual “watchmen” who stand on the walls of the city and see things coming that we cannot see, and who warn of us things to come so that we can make the necessary adjustments in our lives to overcome the things that would destroy us.
In the beginning Scripture above, Isaiah mentions those who hate those who “reprove in the gate”. The judicial courts in ancient time were commonly found at the city gates, where respected elders of the city would gather and hear the complaints brought to them by citizens of the city. It happened then, just as it does now, that the guilty sometimes responded to judgments of the courts by confessing their wrong and repenting – and sometimes with anger and hatred. Just as now, sometimes those who are shown to be guilty continue to deny it, and cast aspersions on the character of judges who make right judgments. This evil response to right judgment is the fruit of the deadliest of all those quiet killers of the soul: pride.
Of all the spiritual diseases that can hide in the heart, unrecognized and, so, not cut out, pride is the most deadly because it is the most difficult to admit to. Confession of sin is anathema to pride. Pride would rather kill than confess, and this is why those afflicted with it will “lay a snare for those who reprove in the gate” instead of simply repenting when the judges point out their wrong. The judges who “reprove in the gate” are servants of God who judge without partiality, and historically, they have always been the targets of the wrath of proud people, men and women, whose deeds are evil and whose deeds are reproved.
Isaiah’s description of the proud is perfect. Instead of being healed and restored to fellowship by submitting to life-giving correction from the Lord, the proud turn on the judges at the gate like venomous serpents. They watch them like hawks, looking for anything the judges say or do that can be used to make the judges themselves appear evil. From the moment the proud are exposed by “those who reprove in the gate”, the proud carefully listen to every word that proceeds from the judges’ mouths – not to follow “the instructions of life”, but to see if there is even one word the judges speak that the proud can use to make the judges appear evil. If the proud had listened to the judges that intently when the disease of pride was still small in their hearts, they might have lived forever in peace and harmony with the saints. Now, instead of being healed by words of truth, they listen to those healing words for an evil purpose. How sad!
Pride compels those who are afflicted by it to strive, by any means available, to condemn the judges who reproved them at the gate. Otherwise, the proud themselves have to confess that the judges are right, and pride will never do that. The one goal in life of the proud who are judged is to justify themselves to the world, to win others to a worthless cause: the campaign to condemn those who dare to “reprove in the gate”.
There are a number of stories, old and new, which show that the proud can succeed for while in their craftiness. Sometimes, the proud do manage to move public opinion toward their cause. But I have also noticed, in those same stories, that the gates are never moved. The seats for the elders who sit in judgment remain in their places. And the judges whom God appointed to sit at the gate are still there, patiently doing their duty for God’s people, waiting for and trusting in the great Judge to enforce the judgments they have made.