Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.
God watches how you treat your enemies. If you are happy when bad things happen to them, He will help them and possibly punish you. God protects His children by punishing their enemies, but He will end that punishment, if He sees you gloating about it.
Jesus Christ taught to love your enemies (Matt 5:43-48), but this rule had been taught long before, including this and another proverb (Ex 23:4-5; Job 31:29-30; Pr 25:21-22). If your life pleases God, He will deal with your enemies one way or another (Pr 16:7; Rom 12:19-21). But if you rejoice at their trouble, He will be offended and lift His judgment.
Solomon by divine inspiration wrote Proverbs to raise his son and citizens to greatness of heart – noble and virtuous in thought, word, and deed. Here is one of the keys to such greatness: you should not gloat about trouble in the lives of your personal enemies. This requires character of the highest order, possessed only by exceptional men, true princes.
For full understanding, this verse is the second half of a whole proverb. The first half of the proverb reads this way: “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth” (Pr 24:17). Then the second half reads, “Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him” (Pr 24:18).
David taught Solomon this wonderful character trait of loving enemies. “False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother. But in mine adversity they rejoiced …” (Ps 35:11-15).
King Saul was David’s enemy for several years. He tried to kill David on many occasions and caused enormous trouble in his life. Yet David sought to serve him as well as he could. He fully forgave Saul’s outbursts of rage and attempts to kill him. David spared his life several times when he could easily have killed him, and he wept bitterly and eulogized him graciously when Saul eventually died on the battlefield (II Sam 1:17-27).
But God Himself is the great example every day. How? He sends sunshine and/or rain on both His friends and His enemies. You show the character of God when you learn to love your enemies and show them kindness, which is totally contrary to the evil heart of man by nature. Such thoughts and actions show you to truly be God’s children (Matt 5:43-48).
God hates the selfish cruelty of gloating at calamities of your enemies (Pr 17:5; Zech 1:15). The inspired history of the Old Testament shows numerous cases of even nations being punished for their delight or participation in the troubles of other nations (Ps 137:7-9; Jdgs 16:25-30; Mic 7:10; Isaiah 10:5-15; Lam 4:21-22; Ezek 26:2-3; Hab 1:5-11; etc.).
However, hating God’s enemies is different. If you are not involved personally, you should hate the enemies of God. David wrote this about God’s enemies, “Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies” (Ps 139:21-22). The great King Jehoshaphat was rebuked by a prophet for loving God’s enemies (II Chron 19:1-3).
How do you measure in nobility and virtue by this proverb? Are you as much like God’s heart as was David? Do you grieve to see your enemies in trouble? How do you compare to Jesus of Nazareth and Stephen the deacon? Jesus prayed for those crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen prayed for those stoning him, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60).
If you want to be righteous and wise to please the blessed God of heaven, then your duty and privilege are clear (Rom 12:17-21). Identify your enemies and pray for them, right now! Purpose in your heart that you will do what you can to help them, if you find them in need. Purpose in your heart you will greet them warmly, if you encounter them. This is the character of God, and it is the character of all those who are truly His children.