A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.
Are you in good health? Thriving with robust energy and strength? You have a physical and a spiritual side to your life. You could have a strong physical heart but rot to death from envious emotions in your spirit. King Solomon wrote to protect you from the horrible consequences of envy. Will you let him examine your heart by this proverb?
Envy is deadly. It will destroy your soul, body, and life. And it will take you to hell for eternity. But before it takes you to the lake of fire, it will pervert your thinking, torture your mind, ruin your health, consume your body, wreck your reputation, and destroy your life. Hate envy! Do not play with it! Reject any idea that you can allow envy and survive.
Psychosomatic illnesses, those bodily ailments caused by emotional issues, have been formally identified slowly. But Solomon knew about them by inspiration of God 3000 years ago. They are physical maladies caused by mental, emotional, or psychological factors. Of course, an enlightened Christian can easily improve the definition – sin, a spiritual problem of the heart, can affect the body and destroy it from the inside out.
The proverb contrasts life of the flesh to rottenness of bones. Is it dealing with physical health of flesh and bones, or overall life success with God and men by metaphors, or a combination of both? David saw God’s commandments as exceeding broad (Ps 119:96), so the proverb teaches a variety of consequences for sin, especially envy. A loving heart will make you stronger physically and spiritually, and envy will do the opposite.
A strong physical heart is the life of the flesh, for it pumps a sufficient supply of blood with oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body and efficiently flushes all waste and poisons out as well. As the Bible states, the life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev 17:11). A strong spiritual heart is physically healthful as well, for by love and mercy toward others it soothes the soul and reduces various stresses and chemical releases that harm the body.
Envy and related emotions stress your body by tensing muscles and calling for chemicals from the brain. Your heart rate accelerates, blood pressure climbs, breathing increases, and stress hormones may be secreted. You become totally focused on the threat – though it is only in your imagination! In this way you compromise your physical health. The constant resentment, stressing your mind and body even at night, also hardens your spirit.
Consider sin and various kinds of death. Sin brought instant death to Adam and Eve’s affection for God, and it corrupted their perfect marriage as well (Gen 2:17; 3:7-8). It also brought physical death to them some years later (Gen 5:5). And they will suffer forever in the lake of fire, which is the second death, unless Jesus Christ intervenes (Rev 20:11-15). Sin, with envy being one kind of sin, is horribly destructive at several levels. Grasp it!
Envy is horrible. “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (Pr 27:4). It is jealous resentment of others, which is devilish and hellish (Jas 3:14-16). It is pride and selfishness gone to seed. It cannot stand the praise or success of others; it rejoices when others fall; it despises their virtues; it labors day and night to put others in an evil light. You cannot escape this terrible master and monster, even in bed!
Cain envied God’s approval of his younger brother Abel for his worship, so he killed him. Joseph’s brothers envied him for their father’s love of him and his virtuous life, so they sold him into slavery (Acts 7:9). The Jews envied Jesus Christ’s success with the people, so they killed Him (Matt 27:18). The Jews envied Paul’s success with the Gentiles, so they blasphemed the gospel and tried to kill him (Acts 13:45; 17:5).
But who worries about envy today? It is a forgotten and ignored sin. When did you last hear a sermon against it? Does your employee handbook warn about it? Were you asked about it at your last doctor’s visit? Have you heard of a judge ruling against it? How often do attorneys use it as a convicting motive? Envy is a terrible sin, a horrible evil, and a destructive cancer, but few say anything about it or against it. Wise men despise it.
Parent, you must begin when children are young to cure this deadly disease. You must teach children to celebrate the successes of their siblings, praise their accomplishments, grieve over their failures, and pray for their blessings. You must quickly and severely punish any attitude or action that reveals a proud, selfish, or resentful spirit toward others. The second commandment is to love others as yourself, so emphasize this in your home.
Proverbs use many metaphors and figures of speech, which is why they are dark sayings (Pr 1:6; John 16:25). Solomon used body parts to represent other things, as lip and tongue for speech (Pr 12:19) and belly for soul and life (Pr 20:27,30). He made it clear that he could use rottenness of bones as a simple simile for grief and pain, without any direct or literal application to leukemia or other bone and marrow diseases (Pr 12:4).
Therefore, this broad proverb teaches several levels of trouble that are brought on by sin, particularly envy. First, it will ruin your overall success as a godly and wise man. This is the reason for keeping your heart with all diligence (Pr 4:23). Second, it will eat at your physical health, due to the corrupting effects of envy in the soul (Pr 17:22). And third, there is God’s promise to ruin your health for sinful living (Ex 15:26; Deut 28:27,35).
Sins of the soul and mind affect the body – psychosomatic illnesses. Amnon lusted so greatly after his half-sister Tamar that it made him physically sick (II Sam 13:2). Craving what he could not have so tormented his soul that he became ill. And envy, grinding the soul of a person day and night, drains vitality from him. If Amnon had feared God and rejected evil, it would have been health to his navel and marrow to his bones (Pr 3:7-8).
An excellent book for the details of psychosomatic illnesses caused by sin is None of These Diseases by Drs. S.I. McMillen and David E. Stern. These doctors explain in easy-to-read chapters the ravaging physical effects of a sinful lifestyle. It is confirming to faith that what the Creator inspired in the Bible is often superior to pills or treatment. How many in mental institutions and hospitals are there due to a spiritual problem – sin?
Consider a merry spirit. Recent studies have shown that people who laugh and enjoy life live longer than those who are morose and negative. But Solomon wrote long ago, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Pr 17:22). He wrote, “He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast” (Pr 15:15). Vitality comes from your spirit, not just your diet! And you cannot be merry while envying others!
You may hide your envy from other men – for a while; but backbiting, grudges, hatred, reviling, slander, or whispering will soon expose it. It may consume your health directly through a stress-filled and angry, bitter heart; or it may ruin your body by direct physical judgment from God. Exchange your envy for love (Pr 15:17)! Consider Joshua’s envy in contrast to Moses’ humility and godliness (Num 11:24-30). Which are you like?
You must examine yourself for envy, the horrible cause of problems in soul and body. Many examine their bodies for lumps, blood pressure, cholesterol readings, or other symptoms of deadly diseases, but why not examine your soul for the root cause of greater consequences? And the cause can be taken away easily by godly repentance and confessing your sins to God (Pr 28:13; Job 33:27-28; I John 1:9). You have been warned!