17 Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, 18 for the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.
“Now wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “Aren’t we allowed a little laugh at our enemy’s expense, especially when they are justly punished for things they’ve done wrong to me?” We like to rejoice in our enemy’s misfortunes–after all, they’re our enemies and we don’t like them, thus, it’s good when something horrible happens to them, because they deserve it.
Is that right? Certainly I’ve laughed behind the wheel when I see that a police officer has stopped the guy who harassed me on the highway for 10 miles straight, all because I wouldn’t go 80 miles an hour like he wanted me to. It feels GOOD to laugh at that guy, and anybody else who crosses us and gets his or her comeuppance.
But while that feels good to us emotionally, it is decidedly not Christian. These two verses, which advise us not to gloat about an enemy’s fall, are part of the “Sayings of the Wise” in Proverbs, which instruct us about Christian and non-Christian living. As hard as it is (and believe me, it can be VERY difficult), if we are going to be Christians, we have to express sympathy and empathy for those who are suffering, even if they are or have been our enemies.
Take the example of the nations of Edom and Israel–Edom rejoiced over Israel’s destruction, and was soon transformed into a desert as punishment. God saw that the nation of Edom gloated about its good fortune and Israel’s ill fate, and Edom soon found out that Israel’s misfortune had nothing funny about it. We, too, may come to understand an enemy’s suffering all too well after we’ve laughed at them. This is not God doing evil acts to us, but instead reminding us that we are no higher or better a person than our enemies.
When we are gracious to our enemies rather than vindictive toward them, we are living more as Christ asked us to live when He said in Matthew 5:39, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Instead of retaliating in anger and then laughing over our enemy’s defeat, we should continue to treat them with the same serene grace and love that God has given us so freely. THAT is what sets Christians apart from others in the real world outside our churches–acting as Christ taught, showing what Christian love and forgiveness looks like, regardless of how much we want to rejoice in our enemy’s failures.