Like a Muddied Spring or a Polluted Fountain - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
March 1, 2021

Like a Muddied Spring or a Polluted Fountain

by Dr. Bill Edgar, former chair of the Geneva College Board of Trustees, former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPNCA)

Proverbs 25:26 -- Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

On land we own near White Lake, NY, sits a spring. It flows into an eighteen by thirty inch shallow well that farmers over one hundred fifty years ago lined with stones. Every summer we look forward to its cold, delicious water. However, every spring snowmelt deposits mud on its bottom. When a careless drinker reaches a cup too deeply into the water, he stirs up mud, makes the water undrinkable, and infuriates his hiking companions. Little more disappointing on a hot summer’s day than an unusable muddied spring!

A righteous man who gives way before the wicked is like that muddied spring. In Antioch, Peter and Barnabas gave way before wrong when they stopped eating with Gentile believers out of fear of Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:11-13). The new Gentile believers, ostracized by the Jewish believers, no doubt found Peter and Barnabas disappointing, rather like muddied springs. To clear things up, Paul called them out publicly, in what must have been a quite unpleasant church meeting.

A righteous man gives way before wicked men when he first resists, but then capitulates. An aggressive Germany under Adolf Hitler in 1938 demanded the Sudetenland province of Czechoslovakia. France and England, pledged by treaty to defend Czechoslovakia, at first resisted, but then abandoned it. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from a “peace” conference in Munich, famously announcing, “Peace in our time.” In fact, he was a polluted fountain, and the muddied water of that betrayal would soon sicken the whole world.

A righteous man gives way before the wicked when he simply keeps silent, saying nothing. The good priest Eli watched his no-good sons steal food from worshipers at the tabernacle and barely said a word to restrain them (I Samuel 2). With his son Adonijah, King David “had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so (I Kings 1:6)?’”

Some translations use “falter” or “tremble” instead of “give way,” suggesting that cowardice lies behind giving way to evil men. A frequent Bible admonition, especially to leaders, is “Be courageous.” The world is a dangerous place. Fearful leaders who know what is right, but tremble, falter, and then give way to the wicked, allow them to mislead and oppress people the leader should be protecting. When wisdom, truth, and love demand that good men show courage, their failure to stand firm makes them no more useful than a muddied spring or a polluted fountain. They promise life-sustaining water, but when put to the test, they fail like the entire tribe of Ephraim: “The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle (Psalm 78:9).”    

The Psalmist decries such failure in an entire tribe: “The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle (Psalm 78:9).”   

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Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash