But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.Proverbs 4:18
The author of this proverb is writing to his children with some advice for a well-lived life. Here he seems to be saying that for the righteous, life unfolds more brilliantly and beautifully as time goes on, just like the sunrise. That sounds nice, but I have some questions: am I righteous? What does “righteous” even mean? And does life really work out like a brilliant sunrise for the righteous?
The Proverbs are an interesting genre in the Bible. It is important to understand their context within the Bible before haphazardly taking them at face value. The proverbs are meant to be pithy sayings that are generally true in life. This doesn’t mean that they are guarantees for success in life, or that they hold the answers to all of life’s problems, and they really shouldn’t be understood that way.
This proverb is encouraging a worldview that can make a difference in the way we interpret our experiences.
Am I righteous? and What does “righteous” mean?
These questions are related, so I’ll group them together. In the first book of the Bible, it is said about Abraham that “. . . he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6. This verse is cited in several other places in the New Testament, so we know it is important, and based on the way that the New Testament writers interpreted its meaning, we can be confident in the way we will read it here.
In the letter to the Galatians, the verse is cited in an incredibly striking way. Paul is making the case that belief is the thing which puts us on God’s side, which is described by Paul in Galatians chapter 3 as “receiving the spirit ” and becoming one of the “children of Abraham the believer.” This helps us understand that we are righteous if we believe God. I like to think about it like I’m trusting in God’s leadership. Thus when you believe, you are righteous; and therefore you are a part of God’s family, you are on his side, you are a part of his Kingdom.
This brings us to my next question: does life really work out like a brilliant sunrise for the righteous? Well, we all have dark days, so no, life does not always play out like a sunrise. However, the worldview of believing in God’s leadership in my life helps me see the brilliance of God’s kingdom. It grows like the sunrise as I follow the “path of the righteous” (read: “the path of belief”).
Even in full daylight, there are shadows. But it is easy to see what you’re doing, where you’re going. In general, I think the proverb is advising that a worldview of belief in God’s kingdom can illuminate your spiritual path, much like the sunrise illuminates your day.