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Green with Envy

Wisdom in finding hope in the Fear of the Lord

Proverbs 23:17-18

17 Do not let your heart envy sinners,
But be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day;

18 For surely there is a hereafter,
And your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 24:1-2 

1 Do not be envious of evil men,
Nor desire to be with them;

For their heart devises violence,
And their lips talk of troublemaking.


Have you ever been “green with envy?” That is such an odd phrase, is it not? What does it really mean? How does being jealous make you “green?” Is Kermit the Frog somehow involved? After all, he sings pretty specifically about how difficult it is to be green.

Like many interesting phrases and idioms used every day in Western culture, the concept of assigning the color green to the feeling of envy finds its origins in the works of Shakespeare. 

The bard from the banks of the Avon employs the color green to describe jealousy in several of his plays, including Antony and Cleopatra and Othello. In Othello, the duplicitous Iago begins to make Othello suspicious of his wife and friend, and even gives him the warning: 

O, beware my lord of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.–Othello, Act III, Scene 3 

Of course, with this warning, the manipulative Iago is reassuring Othello that he is the only real and trustworthy friend that he has. 

Truly monstrous, indeed.

Envy and jealousy are handled frequently in Proverbs, and Solomon is no stranger to its deadly consequences. There are few emotions that pull at the heart more strongly. Even Hesiod, that earliest of the epic Greek poets, aptly points out that the “most powerful human emotion is envy.” In the warring pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses, Hesiod saw how envy both helped build up and tear down the ancient Greek world. 

And envy can build up and tear down your own relationships in this life. Cases in point can be found throughout our pop culture. In the late 1970’s Richard Lewis Springthorpe had about given up on becoming a rock star and decided to take a class in stained glass. 

A friend of his was in the class, and the other young man was accompanied by his stunningly beautiful girlfriend. Rick could only admire her from afar, and decided to declare his love for her anonymously in a song. This song became the hit 1981 rock-and-roll single Jessie’s Girl, and the failed rocker, known by his stage name “Rick Springfield,” became an overnight star. 

Twenty years prior, another song about envy struck the heart chords of the music world. Country songwriter Hank Cochran wrote what he was sure to be a gem, and called a young country singer to let her know he had penned her next hit.

She took him at his word and invited him over to join her and her friends in a midnight recording session. Within hours, Patsy Cline, America’s heartbroken sweetheart, had her 1962 chart-topper, “She’s Got You:

I've got the records, that we used to share
And they still sound the same as when you were here
The only thing different, the only thing new
I've got the records ... she's got you.

Solomon not only cautions about envy over another’s possessions as one of the “seven deadly sins” of Proverbs, he is also specific about being envious of the evil that men do. In chapters 23 and 24 he instructs the youth of Israel to not only avoid being jealous of those who seem to prosper through ill-gotten gain, he provides a warning to consider their ultimate end:

17 Do not let your heart envy sinners,
But be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day;–Proverbs 23:17

Solomon’s concern for his son’s heart is not unlike Patsy Cline’s for her long-lost beau. He knows that this is where envy begins, and as it grows and festers it sets you up for a disastrous outcome. In verse 14 he has commended his son for a “wise heart,” and in an “envious heart” he reveals the way of death. The only counter to this is to be, “zealous for the Fear of I AM.” As he continues:

18 For surely there is a hereafter,
And your hope will not be cut off.–Proverbs 23:18

Solomon reminds his son, and you, that (as commentator Bruce Waltke states) ultimately the wicked will be punished by the hell that they create. For the righteous—those who seek the wisdom of God—there will be hope by which to live in this life, and in the life to come. 

The Fear of I AM is a righteous and holy jealousy. Paul speaks of this with a curious comment in his second letter to the church in Corinth:

For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.–II Corinthians 11:2

Just is God is a “jealous God” (Exodus 34:14) but He is also “slow to anger, abounding in love” (Exodus 34:6-7). Paul seeks to capture this passion and focus in the minds of the Corinthian Christians so that they will become solely focused on Christ, and not their worldly desires. 

It is one thing to be jealous or envious of the things that are owned by others. It is easy to see a friend with a new car, or an expensive hobby and wish that you had that too. But generally, it is not the possession itself that you fix your desire, but the person who has it.  

This can lead you to either despise that person for his wealth, or seek to emulate him and the methods of his success—no matter how evil they may be. You may then find yourself envious of their life. Tim Keller explains this well:

Sinful jealousy is not jealousy for but jealousy of someone. Envy is wanting someone else’s life.–Keller

Perhaps you own a business and work hard to succeed. As a someone who belongs to Christ, you seek to do so through honesty and sound practices. There always seems to be a competitor who has an edge over you, and often his methods range from shady to downright Machiavellian. You hear of his slander of your business or even your character to when he speaks with your customers or potential clients. He is known to cut corners, or pay lower wages, and has been caught bribing county officials in order to obtain permits and other benefits. 

It is tempting to see his success in these things and begin to compromise your own ethics. You may arrange a negative review of his company on social media, inflate expectations in your estimates, or even gain one of his dissatisfied former clients and find yourself enjoying a long and cathartic session of listening to him bash the man and his family for their immoral lifestyle. 

Thus, envy can quickly turn to emulation. Solomon understands this and continues his gentle instruction in chapter 24:  

1 Do not be envious of evil men,
Nor desire to be with them;–Proverbs 24:1

There is a double warning here to not only avoid envy of evil men, but also resist the desire to join them. The problem with successful evil people is that they are so good at it that it can seem like the right way to be. As Bruce Waltke states the obvious:

No one is tempted to join evil people unless they are successful in their quest for easy money.–Bruce Waltke, “Proverbs”

The success of the ungodly is the allure. There are many around you who are ungodly and unsuccessful. There are plenty of homeless, poor, or simply debased individuals with little ambition that you pass by each day without a second thought. Others in your life are those on whom you take pity, and even provide help to in your expressions of Christ’s love. 

No, it is the successful evil that have the most influence over your heart and desires. Solomon reminds you to not forget the dark selfishness that ultimately drives them:

For their heart devises violence,
And their lips talk of troublemaking.–Proverbs 24:2

They are probably far better at being evil than you, and association with them must be carefully managed. For you may also become one of their victims, or someone over which they may take advantage. What’s more, as you seek to be a witness for Christ in this world, lowering your ethical standards and trading godly wisdom for foolishness will hinder others from coming to know Jesus.

For it is in Jesus that you find your true and lasting hope of success. This may not be a guaranty of wealth, but it is the promise of a spiritual inheritance that can never be lost. 

As the heart of the ungodly “devises violence” the desire of your heart is to live by faith. As Paul further encourages the Corinthian church:

For we walk by faith, not by sight.–II Corinthians 5:7

You know that walking by faith is by definition often a difficult thing to do. But Jesus reminds you as He reminds His disciples that to follow Him means that you will need to step out beyond the boundaries of your comfortable world to embrace His teaching. Even when He is at sea with them during a storm, He must remind them of the power of His presence in their lives. As soon as the waters get rough they panic, to which Christ responds, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26)

The disciples has seen all the wonders that Jesus could do, had witnessed Him healing, casting out demons, and heard His wonderful Sermon on the Mount. And yet, they needed an extra boost to remind them, so Jesus calmed the storm. 

Do you need a similar boost to your faith to keep you from becoming envious of those who do evil? Proverbs is closely tied to the Psalms, in that so many of them were written by Solomon’s father, David. In Psalm 37, David expresses much the same sentiment regarding envy:

1 Do not fret because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.

For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb.–Psalm 37:1-2

To avoid this fate, David takes comfort in not only trusting in God, but delighting in Him:

3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.–Psalm 37:3-4

It must not have been easy to do this while on the run from the murderous Saul, but he knew that there was no earthly alternative. Can you take courage in this? When you are tempted to be jealous of the apparent success of the ungodly, can you hold fast to the One who keeps you safe?

Another psalmist, Asaph, also felt the acute pain of this frustrating aspect of life:

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps had nearly slipped.

For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.–Psalm 73:2-3

Everywhere he looks, the wicked prospers, and he admits to stumbling in his resistance to jealousy. His heart and mind are a mess and in this state of conflict he enters the place of worship to come before God. All at once, he feels immense relief. In the joy of the presence of his Heavenly Father, he understands the fate of the ungodly, and the true blessing of being a child of the King of Creation:

16 When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—

17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.–Psalm 73:16-17

This life is filled with frustrations and temptations. All around you the wicked do indeed prosper. Can you go to the side of your beloved Savior and find peace? Pray and seek His comforting Spirit to fill you with a desire for Him above all earthly things.



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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