For three things the earth is disquieted,
and for four which it cannot bear:
For a servant when he reigneth;
And a fool when he is filled with meat;
For an odious woman when she is married;
And an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.
These verses denote particular evils which are disquieting, that is, they are disturbing: the Hebrew connotation is that these evils are wont to make “the earth” quake, tremble, or shutter. The evils listed here are not bearable; even for a fallen world, they are intolerable. So, this is a list of intolerable things that make the world tremble and shake.
Disturbing Evils (1 of 4): For a servant when he reigneth.
There is nothing ipso facto evil about going from rags-to-riches, or transitioning from servant-status to king-status. Scripture abounds with examples: Joseph, Daniel, David, etc. It is, however, intolerably-evil when somebody goes from rags-to-riches, and subsequently forget where they came from. That is, they forget God’s good and kind providence that paved the way for their successes. And marinating in their forgetfulness, they sinfully become arrogant and conceited (as one commentator calls it “too big for their boots”). Tragically, that type of arrogance/conceit commonly transmutes into cruelty towards others.
There is an example of this intolerable cruelty in Matthew 18:21-35, the “parable of the unmerciful servant.” Scripture describes a servant unable to pay a debt of ten thousand talents, but he begs for mercy. Fortunately, he is granted mercy. But afterward we read that he goes out finds a fellow-servant which owed him an hundred pence. He demands payment, and the fellow-servant begged for compassion and patience, but the servant-lender has the servant-borrower thrown into debtor’s prison. That type of cruelty is unbearable for the world, it makes one quake — Kindness was extended to the servant, and afterward he did not extend kindness. Arrogant, conceited, cruel, and it makes the world quake at the mere thought of such evil.
Disturbing Evils (2 of 4): And a fool when he is filled with meat.
It is intolerable to see a fool up-to-his-eyeballs in prosperity in spite of himself. This fool, being a genuine fool, did not orchestrate or contribute to his good-fortune, and, accordingly, he becomes arrogant and proud. Why? Because being foolish he is foolhardy and delusional enough to deceive himself into thinking “I’m the one responsible for all this good fortune!” But that is hardly the case. In Proverbs 12:11, we read that it is the diligent man who tills the land, and thus it is the diligent man who will enjoy meat, meaning prosperity. A fool is not a diligent man. It seems like a cosmic-accident when the foolish, the lazy, and the shiftless stumble upon temporal successes. Oftentimes it is not that they are successful that is intolerable, but rather it is their subsequent haughtiness. Pride and delusion often characterizes the disposition of a “prosperous” fool.
Disturbing Evil (3 of 4): For an odious woman when she is married.
An odious, that is, hated and unloved, married woman is a very sober evil. Married people sexually possess one another, so the scenario depicted here is a woman who is sexually possessed by her husband and simultaneously hated, i.e., marital sex which lacks marital love. Now, if that isn’t intolerable and disturbing enough, the reason the the wife may be hated (not loved) is because of a cross attitude, or she could be ill-natured, and unpleasant and disagreeable to her husband (as Matthew Henry suggests). Irregardless, marital sex without marital love is an intolerable evil, an evil that makes one frightfully shutter. You ask yourself, Who can bear such a thing?!?
Disturbing Evil (4 of 4): And an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.
Finally, we have the handmaid, a servant or slave-girl, who is heir to her mistress. That is, this slave-girl displaces her mistress. And, of course, the preeminent example of this in Scripture is of Hagar, the handmaid of Sarah, who gives Hagar to her husband, Abram, as a concubine; Hagar conceives, and afterward we learn that she begins to despise and look down on Sarah. For what its worth, it is not uncommon in our modern day and age to hear again and again reports about husbands committing adultery with a nanny and/or leaving the wife to shack up with the nanny. As common and cliche as this type of adultery has become, you still get a sense in people’s reactions that it is a disturbing and intolerable evil. Indeed, when handmaids usurp their mistresses, it makes the world shutter–it is an intolerable evil.
Great Reversal: Type / Antitype
Each of the intolerable evils described above are a type of reversal story. However, each of them is an antitype of the “Great Reversal.” What is the Great Reversal? It the will, decree, and execution of God’s merciful plan of salvation.
This “Great Reversal” is first mentioned (promised) in Genesis 3:15 with the prophecy of a Messiah-Redeemer. Fast forward through all the years of Messianic-hope and additional Messianic revelation, and at the advent of the Messiah, we see the Messiah’s mother, Mary, describe the “Great Reversal” in Luke 1.
My soul doth magnify the Lord . . . He [the Lord] hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
God promised a Great Reversal. At the dawn of the execution of the Great Reversal, the Messiah’s mother praises the Lord who planned and executed the Great Reversal and Redemption of his children.
Part of the reason why the four antitype reversals described above are so intolerable, and make a fallen world quake and shutter, is because those evil reversal stories are phony-poser-reversal-stories that do not mirror the true Great Reversal. Each scenario lacks the good, wise, and holy characteristics of the Great Reversal that is God’s grace: God’s overturning the tables of business as usual in a fallen world, of disrupting the wicked status quo of a fallen world, and translating sinners from darkness to the Kingdom of light, etc.
In the antitypes above, the individuals respond with pride and arrogance and too-big-for-their-boots cruelty and perverse-underhanded usurping. But how do God’s people respond to God’s gracious “Great Reversal”? God’s “Great Reversal” executed via the Messiah brings both blessing and change to sinners: the benefits of the “Great Reversal” are applied by the Spirit, and Spirit-filled and Spirit-led, the recipients of God’s grace respond with abiding humility and perpetual thanksgiving and joy in the Spirit.
Servants who reign in Christ are not proud, but rather they are poor in spirit and meek and thankful for their Redeemer!
Fools who receive meat in Christ are not delusional and self-deceived, but rather they rejoice in the diligence and perfect obedience of their Redeemer.
The constant and consistent love of Jesus daily reminds those in Christ that the Bridegroom’s Bride is not an odious woman.
And because Christ is faithful, those in Christ never have a reason to fear a handmaid usurping their place.