In Solomon’s day, human authority was embodied in the person of the king. Proverbs 20:2 is a Common Sense lesson in Prudence: Don’t provoke a roaring lion [i.e. king] unless you are ready to face the consequences.
Proverbs 20:2– “The fear [terror; dread] of a king is as the roaring [growl] of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger [alienate; pass beyond God’s Law] sinneth [offend; harm; forfeit] against his own soul.”
The person of the king might be such that he garners no respect; however, his position as an earthly sovereign is providentially entrusted to him by God and to be revered (Romans 13:1-4). The prophet Daniel observed, “[God] removeth kings, and setteth up kings…” (Daniel 2:21). A wise man fears and respects the authorities God has providentially placed in his life (Romans 13:1b, 5). To unnecessarily provoke the wrath of an authority and become victim of his rage is foolish [as foolish as provoking a roaring lion].
Solomon continues instructing his son in the judicial exercise of authority in Proverbs 20:28. Notice that a people’s respect for authority rests upon two pillars: Mercy and Truth.
Proverbs 20:28 – “Mercy [loving kindness; favor; goodness] and truth [firmness; certainty] preserve [keep; guard; protect] the king: and his throne [seat of judgment] is upholden [established; strengthened; sustained] by mercy [loving kindness; favor; goodness].”
A righteous king dispenses justice that weighs Truth [the letter of the law and its demand] balanced with Mercy [judgment tempered with compassion]. One might think a harsh, impassioned judgment by an authority figure reflects strength and garners respect; however, Solomon taught his son that judicial restraint that imparts judgment with mercy endears the king to his people.
I close with a brief challenge: Whether a parent, boss, or an employer—make sure when you pass judgment you are both just and right!