Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 18:19
"A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel"
Never underestimate the power of a grudge. Never underestimate one's loyalty to their favorite sin. Fighting with those we are trying to help or correct does not do any good. These are the three themes that are present in this insightful verse.
Realize that when you have hurt or offended someone, they don't just forget that with time. Solomon is dealing with the issue of arguments, offenses, grudges, and hurts in this little section. Too often we believe that people will get over it with time. That is only if they choose to forgive and then the memory of what you did lingers, waiting to have a fresh reminder of how you hurt them in the past. This is why repeating a transgression is so deadly to relationships.
This is the Hebrew word pasha, which means to rebel, transgress, rebellion. This verse can go in two slightly different directions depending upon how the word pashais translated. It can be read: “a brother who is rebelling or sinning is harder to be won than a strong city and fighting with him usually only hardens him against you.” A second slightly different angle on this verse would be: “a brother deeply offended or wounded isn't open to you like a fortified city and arguing about who was right or that it wasn't your fault only hardens him against you.”
When a close friend or relative is sinning, it is hard to convince them that they need to change. They have formed a bond with that rebellion, with that sin. Solomon says that they are harder to be won than a fortified city. In that day a strongly fortified city was not won through direct force but one of three methods were used to conquer the city: First, the siege where a larger army just encamps around the city for a year to five years and starves them into surrender. Many parents try this with teens and grounding or our judicial society tries this with prison. Second, a person on the inside comes to their senses and realizes that all will die unless they join this new government, so they open the gates. We often attempt this by appealing to some part of a person's thinking or life, showing them that they will lose it all unless they stop this rebellion or sin. Third, some secret passage is found which allows you to get around their defenses or open the gates. We try this when we try and connect with the person in rebellion and make friends so that we can get in and convince them that what they are doing is futile.
This is the Hebrew word madon, which means strife, contention, argue. The idea here seems to be that if one is going to try and stop a person from rebelling or transgressing, then arguing with them or getting in a fight with them will not make them stop. In fact, it will usually only harden them more against you. You have to find a different way of getting them to give up their rebellion, their transgression, or their grudge against you.
Solomon is pleading with us to not try and argue someone out of sin or a grudge. He doesn't say it here, but I believe he would advocate what Jesus advocated: Love – meet their needs. Actually minister to the depth of their soul. If you were wrong, then apologize and don't try and convince them that they were also wrong. Whatever sin or rebellion or transgression they are into, they are doing it because they believe that it will meet their needs. If you minister to their need or show them how to have their needs met without the rebellion or sin, they stand a better chance of responding positively. Yes, there are times when a person needs tough love and strong boundaries but arguing, fighting, yelling, and anger never work.
This is the Hebrew word armon, which means citadel, castle, fortified tower or building. This is the word used for the most secure building in a town. Solomon is saying that the more one argues with a person who is holding a grudge or in the midst of rebelling, the harder the steel over the bars of their heart will become. Don't try and capture a person through the force of your argumentation, the force of your position, or the force of your personality. Instead speak softly to this person and love them. This is essentially what the next verse in this chapter says.