These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. (Proverbs 6:16-19, NKJ)
The literary device used by Solomon in Proverbs 6 helps us understand something vital about the church. On the surface, the list of seven things that the Lord hates seems to be a collection of sins including pride, dishonesty, violence, scheming, plotting, slander, and divisiveness. When interpreting wisdom literature, understanding the structure of a passage is critical to grasping its meaning.
The formula, “x… x + 1,” which is used here, is seen in some other places in both the books of Proverbs and Amos, where the formula is “three… four.” In each case where the formula is followed by a list, the items on the list are examples of a particular principle. The formula indicates that the list is not meant to be exhaustive. In the case of Proverbs 6, it is clear that these are not meant to be the totality of the things that the Lord hates. We know from Isaiah 1:14 that God hates insincere worship, from Malachi 2:16 that the Lord hates divorce, and from Deuteronomy 16:22 that God hates idolatry. Proverbs 6 is giving us examples of the types of things that deeply offend God.
In addition, there is reason to believe that when a list is given, the author’s focus is really on the final thing in the list. For example Proverbs 30: 18-20 says, “There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a virgin.” Here are four things that are mysterious to some extent. It’s not completely obvious how eagles fly so gracefully or how a creature with no legs can move across the ground so quickly or how a sailboat manages itself in the open sea. As interesting as all those things are, it is most likely that real point being made is the mystery of human sexuality – s subject that receives a tremendous amount of attention in the book of Proverbs.
Given this interpretive framework, we might suspect that the real focus of the seven things the Lord hates listed in Proverbs 6 is the final item on the list, “one who sows discord among brethren” (v. 19). The larger structure of Proverbs 6:12-19 further supports this view. Verse 12 introduces us to the “worthless” person. This person has seven character traits, the final trait is “he sows discord” (v. 14). Taking the list of seven attributes in verses 12-14 along with the seven character traits hated by God in verses 17-19, we see that both lists end with the sin of divisiveness. The structure shows us that the main concern of the text is the person who sows discord among brothers. The person who winks, nods, rolls his eyes, and schemes or who is proud, dishonest, and hateful, is, ultimately, odious to God because that person is a threat to the unity of the church.
The text tells us that the divisive person is guilty of evils that are an “abomination” to God. Literally, the passage says that these divisive traits are “detestable to His soul.” It is a stark reminder of how precious the unity and peace of the church is to God. Jesus made it clear that His work was designed to bring the people of God together (John 17:20-21). Christ paid a very high price to purchase His people and to unite them in love. Those who undermine the unity of the body are, quite literally, doing the work of the devil in opposition to Jesus. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:15, “And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?” “Belial,” used here as a name for Satan, is the same Hebrew word used in Proverbs 6:12 and translated “worthless.” God says that the person, who makes it his practice to stir people up against each other in the church, is heading for disaster. “Suddenly, he shall be broken without remedy” (v. 15).
Sadly, I’ve seen the reality of these verses play out. A number of years ago a man in our congregation went out of his way to befriend new-comers to the church. He invited folks over to dinner with his family, he took people into his confidence, and he flattered others. He seemed like an engaged member of the church, but he was actually attempting to gain a following of folks critical of the church’s leadership. Finding he could get no traction in our congregation, he moved on to another church where the same scenario repeated itself. In the end, his marriage collapsed, he was estranged from his children, and he was excommunicated.
God takes the sin of divisiveness very seriously. It is a good reminder to us that if we see any hint of pride, dishonesty, scheming, or the like in our own lives, we need to actively stamp it out. We are also reminded that a mature and healthy church can be made “division-resistant” as the members grow to view divisiveness the way the Lord does and as they grow in the self-denial needed for brothers to live in peace together. Jesus, who humbled Himself and sought the will of His Father and the good of His people to his own hurt, shows us the way. He also enables sinners to hate the sowing of discord and to love unity like He does.