If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked. Proverbs 29, verse 12.
Legally-speaking, have you ever heard of the “fruit of a poisonous tree.” At one time, I wanted to be a lawyer, and I even took a number of pre-law classes before discovering it wasn’t for me. One thing I learned during those classes was the phrase above. It’s a legal concept talking about evidence & testimony, namely that if a piece of original evidence or testimony was inadmissible then everything attached to it or coming from it is also inadmissible. More plainly spoken, if the source is tainted then everything that comes from it is tainted as well.
That’s something of what this verse is saying, you know. If the original story is a lie, then everything that follows from it is tainted. That doesn’t mean that everything that follows is also a lie, just that it’s tainted. Why is this important? You and I are leaders. We may not rule much but we rule something. Our families, our workplaces, our relationships, our teams: we have been put in charge of something. If we believe a pack of lies, then everything we do from that will be tainted.
This isn’t a new concept; it’s pervasive through our history. Going back to the start, there’s that whole idea of original sin. We’re all tainted with it. There’s no way to know what life would have been like to live without sin, but don’t you wonder sometimes? Whether we like & agree with it or not, it’s still our condition; a fact is a fact. Our ancestors sinned and we (as the rest of humanity) pay a price for it. If you think that’s unfair, the next time one of your kids does something wrong and you decide that the entire family has to suffer from the punishment, then ask yourself if it isn’t a similar concept.
Then there are consequences. Lies don’t work, and they don’t bear good fruit. Good doesn’t come from lies: only more lies come from lies. How many times have you had to cover up the truth? More to the point, how many times have you covered up a lie with the truth and had that truth be untainted? It seems to me that one of the consequences of a lie is that no good comes from it. In my experience, lies only breed more lies or more trouble. Whenever I’ve lied, nothing good has come of it. How much more would this be so for someone who is in charge of much? If a ruler listens to lies, is it any surprise all his officials become wicked? If a manger listens to lies, or if a supervisor listens to lies, or if a pastor listens to lies…is it any surprise in these situations either. There are consequences.
Finally, there’s something else on my heart about the verse: they hear but they do not listen. Hearing doesn’t take much work, especially since ears do it unconsciously. We hear sounds, we hear noises; they happen all around us. Listening, however, is conscious. It takes effort, work, activity. It takes effort to listen to lies, and that to which we listen we also intake to our hearts and minds. We pay attention to the things to which we listen. The leader listens to the lie; the leader takes in the lie; the leader produces lying consequences from the lie. What happens if the leader refuses to listen?
How nice would that be? I wonder what good that could bring that about?
God can bring that about, but we have to open ourselves to the possibility of it. Here’s a good way to start: if you want to see the power of the verse, do a switcheroo on it and change the word “lies.” If a ruler listens to truth, all his officials become righteous. Or honest, informed, upright; you get the drift. Maybe let that speak to our conscience, and then maybe admit, “Lord, you’ve got a great point there.” Step 1 always involves realizing it’s not about me. Lies are about me, us. They’re always designed to keep us on defense, to keep us thinking we are the center of things. Maybe step 1 is realizing we aren’t.
You know where step 2 goes. Open up The Word and find out.
It takes a real leader, a true ruler, to realize when he’s being lied to. It’s even harder when you’ve listened to those lies for so long and then you turn your back on them. I don’t know how many world leaders do this, or CEOs, corporate VPs, union bosses, PTA presidents or leaders of church councils; I’d rather not be too skeptical as I’m skeptical about enough things as is. I’m skeptical, in part, because the legalistic side of me tends to think that, once tainted with lies, always tainted with lies. It’s that whole ‘fruit of a poisonous tree’ idea again, that once we’ve believed the lies then everything that came after them is just as deceitful and poisonous. Thank God that He used that same approach to do the ultimate switcheroo, replacing the enemy’s lies with His cleansing truth. Thank God He inserted mercy that listens instead of deceit that only hears what it wants to hear. Thank God that isn’t a lie, and that the fruit of His tree is faith, hope and love.