Proverbs 28:13 (NKJV): “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
1) “He who covers his sins”
The verse in focus speaks on the reality of sin and whether we choose to cover it and not prosper, or confess and forsake it and find mercy. First, what does it mean to cover our sins? I believe Genesis provides us with some powerful illustrations as to what this means. We all know the fall of Adam and Eve, but it is interesting that in Genesis 3--after the two have just eaten the fruit and disobeyed God--the first thing they realize is that they are naked. And in their realization of their nakedness, the two were introduced to shame. We can discern this because, before the fall, Genesis 2:25 (NIV) states, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Thus, we can establish that, after having eaten of the fruit, Adam and Eve felt shame in their nakedness, thus prompting them to cover themselves, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:7 NIV). When we sin, we separate ourselves from God, and in our separation come the lies of the enemy--that God is someone we should hide from, and that He would reject us if we ran back to Him.
It is important to note how Scripture uses the act of being naked, or nakedness, as a descriptor for the effects that sin has/the spiritual state it leaves us in. With Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:21-23, Noah--the one chosen by God to be the survivor of the flood--became drunk, and committed a sin, “he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent” (Genesis 9:21 NIV). It is in Noah’s state of nakedness that we see two different illustrations provided by his sons. The first is provided by Ham, the father of Canaan, who, seeing his dad’s nakedness, went out to his brothers to tell them about it. In response, and providing the second picture, we see Shem and Japheth take a garment and lay it across their shoulders; “then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.” (Genesis 9:23 NIV).
This picture provides us with a clear metaphor for God’s mercy. Where Ham sought to bring shame to his dad through gossip and/or ridicule (satan), Shem and Japheth sought to cover Noah’s nakedness (God). In the instance with Adam and Eve after the fall, they feel shame in their nakedness and hide from God. Who ended up properly clothing Adam and Eve? It was God (Genesis 3:21). With Noah, we see two pictures: Ham, who sought to bring shame, and Shem and Japheth, who sought to preserve Noah’s dignity. Who ended up getting blessed? Shem and Japheth. In both instances, we see that God’s will is to cover us. God wants nothing more than to clothe us with His mercy and love and preserve our spiritual (and physical) dignity. But it’s His act of covering, not our own. When Adam and Eve covered themselves, they still hid from God and felt shame--only by God were they properly clothed. And in the instance with Noah, Shem and Japheth can represent God, who walks in backward and lays a blanket over Noah’s nakedness; God is not looking to shame us, but rather, to save us.
2) “will not prosper”
Proverbs 28:13 directly ties one’s potential in prospering to finding God’s mercy. The definition of “prosper” can be understood as: to cause to succeed or thrive; to achieve economic success. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, I think the definition of achieving economic success is actually very pertinent to this proverb. “[The judgments of the Lord]... More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold,” and “for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” (Psalm 19:10 NKJV, Proverbs 8:11 NIV). And we know Christ has told us, “... store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20 NIV). Is He speaking of tangible, physical treasures to store up in heaven? Of course not, for we came into the world with nothing, and with nothing, we will leave it (1 Timothy 6:7). The economic success of heaven is determined by finding God’s mercy, and our wealth will accumulate by the grace of God.
So, to prosper simply means to grow in a deeper relationship with the Living God, and to become more aware of His lovingkindness and mercy. As we have discerned from the parable, this success is thwarted when we cover our sins from God. The impediment that sin creates, and the spiritual nakedness that ensues because of it, is only truly covered by the blood of the Lamb. When we think about God’s true covering of our sin, we must look to Christ.
God foreshadowed His supreme act of mercy and love in Jesus throughout the Old Testament. We see in Leviticus 16 that God outlines what must be done for the Day of Atonement (the day the sins of the Israelite people were forgiven through a ritual God gave)--that the blood of a sacrificial animal would be carried to the Most Holy Place, and sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark contained the 10 Commandments--God’s Law. This provides us with an example as to what God does when we uncover our sin to Him, and allow Him to cover it Himself: He covers the Law with His own blood--the shed blood of Jesus. The Psalmist David writes, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5 NIV). Jesus committed the sacrificial act of covering our sins; He shed His own blood for us that, by believing in His name, God would blot out the Law that we have transgressed, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2 NIV). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25 NKJV).
When we humble ourselves before God, confess our sin, and turn ourselves back to Him, God not only blots out our transgressions, but He covers us in the righteousness of Christ. When I think about what blotting is, it brings to mind a little pool of paint or ink. The definition is simply a “mark or stain,” and when thinking about the reality that God blots out our transgressions, it produces a picture of God painting over His own Law; God literally sprinkling Christ’s blood over the parts of the Law that we have transgressed, therefore making it no longer readable in His eyes, allowing us to go free. And it is in the grace that God gives when He blots out our sin that we can “put on” the righteousness of Christ. In our spiritual nakedness, God is the only one who can clothe us. This is why it is written, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:14 NKJV). Put on Jesus. God Himself has given us the opportunity to be covered--and not just by anything, but by God Himself. By putting on the clothing of righteousness that is Jesus, we will prosper in ways not possible without Him.
3) “whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
Repentance is simply being honest with God and saying straight-up, “God, I can’t do this alone and I need you. Forgive me, and help me walk your way.” It doesn’t matter where you are in life, or how far away you think you are from God. It doesn’t matter how deeply you have buried your shame, or how naked you think you may feel in front of God. His will is not to condemn you or bring you shame. God’s will is to clothe you, heal you, restore you, lift you up, bring you close, empower you, deliver you, love you, set you free. When we cover our sins from God and hide from Him, the greatest disservice we are doing is to ourselves. Can it really be that God has paid for all the sin we have ever done and ever will do? That He loved you and was so utterly driven to save you, that He gave His own blood to be used as ink to blot out the Law that you have transgressed? That, once forgiven, He wipes His own memory clean of any past mistakes and failures we have made? “Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’” (John 11:40 NIV).
No matter how much we cover our sins, it will not fix the problem. There is a nakedness within our soul that cannot be covered except by the blood of Christ. Nothing else will satisfy. And until we are covered by the clothing provided by God, we will continue to search this world for fig leaves that fail to bring us true life. If the voice of shame has haunted you for too long, or if you’re tired of the world’s solutions, then come to Jesus. If walking the narrow road has been difficult and you’re struggling in your faith, don’t stop seeking Christ, but also find others who are walking as well. God hasn’t gone anywhere, but we can convince ourselves so easily that He isn’t good, or that His character has changed. God is good, and He hasn’t moved away from us at all--He’s right by our side, continually seeking to show us mercy and give us strength through difficult times.
It is through Jesus that we have our victory, and it is through the Holy Spirit that we are sanctified. When we accept Christ’s sacrifice and believe in what God did for us, our walk of faith will be marked by the wonders of God. Where shame and darkness sought to make us hide, God wants us to come to Him so that, in the Holy Spirit, we can be as bold as lions in the freedom of God’s joy.