29 ¶ Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.
The one word in this Proverb that might confuse modern readers is the word “mean” which is defined Biblically as “the intention and explanation of what has been said or done” as in “what do you mean?” (Genesis 21:29). It can also refer to the current or the same time as in “mean while” (1 Kings 18:45). Or in the case in this Proverb as in Isaiah 2:9 you look at the contrasting words. Here, “mean men” is contrasted against “kings”. In Isaiah 2:9 which reads;
“And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.”
…it is contrasted against “great man”. So mean refers to common or ordinary and humble as opposite to kings and great men. In this verse it refers to a city;
Acts 21:39 But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.
This plain Proverb gives the MEANing of telling the young person that if they are diligent in business and work very hard and smart they will come into contact with powerful people, not just ordinary men. It is clear advice to be DILIGENT IN BUSINESS. Christians are commanded, among other things in this list of commands separated by semi-colons, to be;
Romans 12:11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
But, do we just leave this Proverb as worldly advice to work hard and work smart and use your head and get noticed by the rich and powerful? Is this just advice like you’d get from books like Orsen Swett Marden’s 1904 Little Visits with Great Americans where the great men of industry, arts, and government are interviewed as to what they imagine to be the most important traits for a young man or woman to have to be successful?
What about when you are doing the Lord’s business? Whatever you think of the theology or errors of men like evangelist Billy Sunday, it is most clear that as he preached to the best of his understanding God’s word, fearlessly and tirelessly across America he certainly came to the attention of the rich and powerful who eventually supported him. Why did they? Also, Billy Graham received the support of the newspaper tycoon, William Randolf Hearst. When these men spoke, they spoke with the authority and confidence that they were speaking for God to a corrupt society and that authority and confidence attracted the attention of the powerful men of their age.
Notice, though, how John the Baptist came to the attention of a local ruler whom he had reproved for sin. This attention resulted in his death. (See Matthew 14 and Luke 3). Elijah the Prophet struggled against wicked King Ahab and his vicious wife, Jezebel, in 1 Kings 19. It seems that in the Bible, when great preachers came up against the rich and powerful they wound up being executed, having to hide, or being sent to Rome as a prisoner as was done to Paul in Acts because he had appealed to Caesar.
Men like William Tyndale were strangled and burned by the order of kings and queens. Others had to flee for their lives. If you look at history, powerful preachers who were diligent in their business for the Lord, stood before kings and great men but were not applauded for their efforts. This gives one pause when examining the careers of modern evangelists like Billy Sunday and Billy Graham, who was the counselor of Presidents Johnson and Nixon like Tony Campolo was to Bill Clinton.
The rich and powerful, the mighty men, don’t have much of a reputation with the God of the Bible. Why is that you might wonder as you look with enjoyment at the latest doings of the British Royals?
1 Corinthians 1:26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.
If you are going to preach the Bible, diligently and truthfully, and if you are going to be diligent in your work for the Lord, serving God in the way the Book tells you to, it is not likely that you will be invited to either a Republican or a Democrat’s White House for dinner because, as the world is under the operative control of Satan, who is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) it is your job to reprove them of their sins and to speak the truth about a risen Saviour, not to tickle their ears because ;
…..their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. Jude 1:16
Remember, as you are in awe and respect of great worldly power and wealth and those leaders who command armies and vast fortunes.
The British Lord Acton or John Emerich Edward Dalberg, said in a letter to Anglican Bishop Creighton, said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.” And this from someone in the ruling class in “Great” Britain.
If you are diligent in the Lord’s business, unlike the world’s business, you will stand before kings and powerful men, but it will not be, as in the case of the world’s business, for approval and position because of your cleverness with money, but to reprove and rebuke and perhaps to suffer tribulation at their hands. Don’t expect to preach God’s word truthfully and to have the local newspaper applaud you for condemning sin, hypocrisy, and wickedness and don’t be disappointed when the local rich and influential don’t seek to have their picture taken with you, and don’t be surprised if you land in jail over your preaching. Also, be careful of praising the preacher who stands on the White House lawn or the Governor’s Mansion steps with some potentate of either party’s arm draped over his shoulder or shaking his hand. At least from the Bible’s point of view, something is not quite right with that picture.