Proverbs 28:21

To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress.
– Proverbs 28:21

Verses 21-23 address greed in some form. This saying refers to the perversion of justice through bribes. Respect of persons refers to discrimination on the basis of a person’s standing, whether ethnically, socially, etc. The miscarriage of justice can go in favor of a person or against them depending on their standing. Such injustice is consistently condemned in Proverbs, as well as in the law (Proverbs 18:5; 24:23; Exodus 23:2, 8; Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19).

A piece of bread is a slight temptation and so speaks to the power of unchecked greed within a covetous heart. As Kidner pointed out, this sin, or temptation to sin, is not only limited to public officials, but to teachers as well (Ezekiel 13:19).

Proverbs 22:16

He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.
– Proverbs 22:16

The wording of this proverb is difficult and interpretations vary. The word for oppresseth means to press upon, or defraud. The word refers to extortion of the poor, which can indicate needy and/or weak. Giving to the rich refers to giving gifts, or even bribes. Wisdom warns against the folly and evil of both bribery and extortion (Proverbs 17:23; 22:22-23; 28:3). The end of this way is want, or poverty. This proverb ends the large collection of the Proverbs of Solomon, which form the largest section of this book.

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Proverbs 21:14

A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.
– Proverbs 21:14

The word for gift means present and the word for reward means bribe. The first is neutral of itself and the second is usually negative. Commentators differ whether the proverb itself is positive or negative. The word for pacifieth means smooth, or sooth. It refers to reducing, or calming, anger and strong wrath. The word for secret means covered, or hidden, and this word gives a tinge of something untoward. The word for bosom means to enclose in the more figurative sense. The figure could also speak of concealment, or it could refer to being at the ready. The second sense would highlight the timing of the gift given more than the hiddenness of it.

Perhaps the difficulty demonstrates the fine line between a good and bad gift. Gifts are always wicked when used to pervert justice (Proverbs 17:23). They are disgusting when used out of vanity to gain favor or place (Proverbs 18:16; 19:6). However, Proverbs praises the wisdom that calms anger and appeases wrath. Gentle words can sooth (Proverbs 15:1). Controlling one’s own anger can calm others (Proverbs 15:18). A well timed word can do good (Proverbs 15:23). So, if we have wisdom and discretion, we can also calm anger with a discreet and timely gift.

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Proverbs 17:23

A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.
– Proverbs 17:23

The word for gift means a present, or donation. The word most often refers to a bribe. The bosom refers to the folds of a garment that held a purse, or other valuables. We would similarly say from inside the vest. One can imagine the subtle movements to take out from the inside pocket and discreetly hand to another. The man is wicked because his gift is used to pervert the ways of judgment. The word for pervert means to bend away, and here to bend away from what is just. Bribes are contrary to wisdom and righteousness (Exodus 23:8), though they often bring success (Proverbs 17:8; 18:16).

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Proverbs 17:8

A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.
– Proverbs 17:8

The word for gift means bribe, or reward, and it is mostly negative in the Old Testament usage. The word for precious means favor, or charm. It describes a stone that is seen as some charm of favor, or magic charm. The second phrase describes the one who uses it as prospering wherever he turns his bribe. The proverb describes the short term success of the palm greaser. Using bribes can range on the scale of wickedness, but it is always wicked to do so (Proverbs 17:23). God’s righteousness is described as never taking bribes (Deuteronomy 10:17). The law, which demands holiness like God’s holiness, forbids the giving or taking of bribes (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; 27:25).

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