How to Respond to An Angry Boss

“If the spirit of a ruler rises up against you, your position shall not be put to rest, for calmness will put to rest great sins.”

(Ecclesiastes 10:4)

Both Jewish and Christian translators wrestle with how to handle the translation of this verse…and both groups fall on various sides of the conversation. Literally, the text begins, “If the spirit of the ruler…” — the term in question that is used here is רוּחַ (ruach), or “spirit.” Most are in agreement that what Solomon has in view here is when a ruler or other man of power happens to become angry with you — he loses his temper or is enraged (the idea of that spirit “rising up”). As a result, many translations will render it more idomatically (see the ESV, NASB, NIV, etc… along with Rabbinical Scholars like David Altshuler {Metzudot}). Other translations (see the KJV, YLT, WEB, etc… along with the Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda) render the text more literally as “spirit.”

My purpose here is not to extol the “more literal” or the “more idiomatic” approach to translation issues, though it is an important conversation to have. Instead, it is to point out that the variations we see between the translations we use do impact how we read and understand the text. Every translation, no matter how formal in nature, is an interpretation and when we understand that important truth, I think it helps us have more confidence in the texts we have when we see differences between our preferred translation and the preferred translation of another.

If we get too hung up here on debating the differences in word choice, though, we will lose the more important application that is found in the text. When you make a ruler angry, don’t just leave your position, don’t step down (unless you are commanded to do so by the ruler), but stay firm and stay calm because that calmness will cover over great sins.

Let’s bring this into our own context and then take it back into the ancient world of the Biblical context. How often people, when their employer is upset with them, just throw up their hands and storm off to write a letter of resignation — or worse yet, storm out the door, saying, “I Quit!” What was that country-western song that was popular several decades ago? “You can take this job and …”

Again, don’t hear me wrong, there is a time to resign from a job. If, perhaps, your employer would require you to do something unethical or that is contrary to God’s word, then you have to obey God and not man — in many cases, this would mean stepping down from your job. Yet, in very many cases, that’s not the context of which I speak. I am speaking of that impulsive response — your employer doesn’t like the way you handled a particular situation or client or perhaps your employer is unhappy about some decisions you have made. True, the meetings that follow may prove to be tense, but a level head and a calm demeanor will go a long way toward working through the problems and over time, allow you to earn the respect of those for whom you work.

I am reminded that when I first started as Chaplain for the Christian School in Florida where I served, the Superintendent and the Principal both told me that the scope and sequence for the Bible department was broken and that the Chapel program needed to be overhauled. When I was hired, the Superintendent told me his plan to fix the chapel program. I tested his plan out and realized very quickly that his plan was going to further damage the already broken system and would not restore it to prominence. Because Chapel was almost entirely under my jurisdiction, I put an abrupt end to the model that had been used, restructured the program, and rebuilt it from scratch. 

This did not make my Superintendent happy, it did not make some of the teachers happy, it angered some of the pastors in the community (who were used to coming in and doing their own thing in our Chapel program), and it made some of the students and parents upset. Gratefully, my Superintendent “gave me enough rope to hang myself” and though he did not like my decision, gave me his support. It was a bumpy year and I received not a little bit of grief. Nevertheless, by the grace of God and with the counsel of Solomon in passages like this, I responded gently and with a calm spirit. Further, the whole tone and tenor of Chapel changed for the better and something very healthy (though not perfect) replaced something that was unhealthy and was otherwise broken. “A soft answer turns away wrath,” as Solomon teaches in Proverbs 15:1.

Now, with the principle before us, I encourage you to think about the examples set by Joseph, Daniel, and Esther. Each of these were in positions of power and influence and each had to face challenges brought upon by an impassioned king. Yet, rather than throwing their hands up in the air, they calmly continued doing what God had called them to do and each would be rewarded for their wisdom and tranquility. Shall we not do the same? 

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