Question: In the New King James Version, Proverbs 24:21-22 reads, My son, fear the LORD and the king; Do not associate with those given to change; For their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin those two can bring? Who are “those two” in verse 22?
The New King James provides some clarification over the KJV, which reads, My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?
The confusion likely comes from our misunderstanding of another phrase in verse 21, “those given to change” (lit., “people who change”1).When the proverb says, “Do not associate with those given to change,” reference is being made to those people who don’t fear the LORD or the king and are willing to rebel against (change) their laws. Verse 21 teaches, then, to fear both God and the government, and not to hang out with people who are inclined to rebel against either one. The NIV seeks to make this idea in verse 21 very clear: “Fear the LORD and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious…”
Both the apostle Peter and Paul draw from this verse in their instruction to believers to honor both God and the government in everyday life. Peter says, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). In similar fashion, the apostle Paul writes, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. …Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1).
Verse 22 describes what can be expected by those who rebel against God or the government: their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin those two can bring? (NKJV) So then, the phrase “those two” refers back to “the LORD and the king” in verse 21. They are the two who will bring great calamity and ruin upon those who rebel against them. What a great word of caution for those who are inclined to justify a rebellious spirit as if such rebellion were pleasing to God!
Footnotes1 THE EXPOSITOR’S BIBLE COMMENTARY, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, in loc.