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Why should we not rejoice when our enemy falls (Proverbs 24:17)?

not rejoice when enemy falls

Proverbs 22:17—24:34 contains thirty “Sayings of the Wise” compiled to nurture faith in God, correct or warn against wrong attitudes and behaviors, and instruct those seeking wisdom from the Lord. Proverbs 24:17–18 cautions, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him” (ESV).

This saying warns wisdom seekers to be careful not to celebrate when an enemy experiences misfortune. The word for “rejoice” is translated as “gloat” in other versions (NIV, CSB). This term means “to observe or think about something with triumphant and often malicious satisfaction, gratification, or delight.” Gloating over an enemy’s misfortune is associated with an arrogant and mocking attitude. It’s not easy to control the urge to gloat when our enemy experiences hardship, but Scripture says, “Those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will be punished” (Proverbs 17:5, NLT).

God is always watching our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:10; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 3:11). Jesus taught us to love and forgive both enemies and friends and pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44). “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27–28). As Jesus hung on the cross, He practiced what He preached, forgiving His torturers and executioners (Luke 23:34). The first Christian martyr followed Christ’s example. As Steven was being stoned to death, he prayed for God to have mercy on his accusers (Acts 7:57–60).

If we disobey these commands, if we turn around and revel in our enemy’s downfall, we reveal attitudes of pride and superiority that God hates (Proverbs 16:5; 8:13; James 4:6). According to the proverb, if God sees us gloating when our enemy experiences a disaster, He may yield, turning His anger away from our enemy. The Lord may even turn against us in punishment (Proverbs 17:5).

The same disciple who retaliated by chopping off his enemy’s ear (John 18:10–11) later taught, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing” (1 Peter 3:9, NLT). Taking malicious delight in someone else’s failure is a form of revenge and an evil that God forbids. Peter grew to understand that God wants His followers to “turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it” (1 Peter 3:11).

To rejoice when our enemy falls is the opposite of expressing genuine Christian love, which Paul outlined in Romans 12. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . . Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:14–19). Paul went on to cite Proverbs 25:21–22: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”

Why do we not rejoice when our enemy falls? Because the believer’s ultimate goal is to see an enemy become a brother or sister in Christ. The Lord taught us to accomplish this by treating our enemies with kindness, generosity, and humility (Matthew 5:39, 43–48). We “conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21, NLT). Just as God’s kindness is intended to turn us away from our sin (Romans 2:4), our kindness might be just the thing to turn an enemy away from a life of sin toward repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ.

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Why should we not rejoice when our enemy falls (Proverbs 24:17)?
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This page last updated: February 16, 2023