"A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them"
This proverb deals with leadership principles that many leaders forget:
All kinds of bad things come out of the actions of those who live beyond the Ten Commandments.
Peace and security increase when more people live inside the moral boundaries of the Ten Commandments.
Leadership involves dealing with those who break the rules.
A good leader tries to reduce the amount of and ease of those who break God's rules.
We live in a society that values freedom of action so much that we have forgotten what the moral boundaries of freedom are. Our leaders try and move the rules and laws out as far as society will allow and then push for more. There is little or no thought to the consequences of these actions. However when the wicked increase, there is always an increased suffering and oppression and pain at the margins of the society: the "innocents" suffer – children, elderly, disabled, minorities, etc. We are seeing huge increases in crimes and damage against these groups as we move the moral boundaries of our society beyond God's lines. It will only get worse.
This is the Hebrew word zarah which means to scatter, winnow, disperse. To winnow the crops was to take the grain and throw it up in the air and let the breeze take the lighter chaff or waste material and blow it away from the grain. This resulted in two piles of material: the good grain which was stored, sold, or used and the waste material called chaff which was burned.
Solomon is saying that one of the functions of good leadership is to separate wicked people from good people under your leadership and do something about the wicked. It is impossible to remove all the wicked from our world until God does it at judgment. But leadership must deal with those who break the rules.
This is the Hebrew word rasha which is the word wicked, criminal, evil. This word stands for those who live beyond God's boundaries. There are three types of sinful acts in the Scriptures:
Sins of omission where you should have done something, but you did not.
Trespass sins or sins of commission where you shouldn't do something, but you did.
Wickedness where you live beyond the boundaries of God and make no attempt to live inside of His rules.
Solomon understands the wicked person to be one who lies and doesn't think anything of it; who uses anger, violence, and intimidation as weapons to get his own way; who takes what he can from whom he can as often as he can; who is sexually unfaithful repeatedly; who blasphemes and curses constantly; who sets himself up as the most important person in his life and does whatever he pleases. This kind of person is a cancer in society. They draw a whole host of damage and destruction to the group they are in. A good leader wants to reduce the number of this group significantly.
If you are a leader, then one of your responsibilities is to winnow the wicked. Reduce the number of those who live at ease beyond the boundaries of decency. New York City proved this proverb true in the late 1990's. It was thought that it was impossible to make a dent in crime in New York City. The new leaders of New York City adopted the broken window theory of law enforcement and began to emphasize even small infractions such as loitering and graffiti as concerns. Their efforts were rewarded with a huge drop in crime in the city.
If you lead anywhere, one of your responsibilities is to do this winnowing of the wicked. What can you do to reduce the number of people breaking the rules? Whether this is at home, church, work, school, parks, shops, etc., if you turn a blind eye to wickedness because you don't want to deal with it or don't want anybody mad at you, then you are abandoning one of your responsibilities as a leader. Wickedness affects us all directly or indirectly.
Notice that Solomon says that a wise king winnows the wicked. A leader who glorifies God and gets a win for those he leads and gains a win for himself is involved in reducing the number of people who live beyond moral boundaries.
This is the Hebrew word ophan which means a wheel. The word threshing is supplied by the translators and is understood to be connected to this word wheel when in a harvesting, winnowing context. The threshing wheel was run over the grain to crack the hold that the chaff had on the grain. This would allow the winnowers to get more chaff separated from the grain.
The wicked try and blend into society looking just like normal law-abiding citizens. Even though they steal, deceive, lie, murder, and commit sexual crimes, they try and act just like the rest of society. It is the responsibility of good leadership to try and bring separation between these two kinds of citizens: law abiding and wicked.
One of the ways that we violate this proverb is to lighten the punishment against someone we know or we like who has done a wicked thing. Solomon is reminding us that good leadership works on the long-term peace and safety issues by reducing those who flagrantly break the laws of God.