God’s Word for You
Proverbs 24:23b-27 like a kiss on the lips
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, May 21, 2019
A city gate in ancient times was no mere archway or sliding portcullis. It was often a small, secure building, usually built so that a person entering the city had to make a right-hand turn in order to pass through the city wall, so that a right-handed attacker would have difficulty swinging a sword as he entered. Inside were stone or brick recesses on either side of the gateway’s curving corridor, several feet deep, which served as chambers in which half a dozen or more men could easily sit side-by-side on benches or chairs. Here the older men of the city gathered in the gate-building’s shade and natural breeze to talk about local events, and they sat ready to give their judgment as an impromptu courtroom. The wise ones who are quoted in this part of Proverbs (see 24:23a) speak to the men of this gate-court as well as to future kings of Israel and Judah.
These three proverbs (24:23b-27) make up the first half of the “Further Sayings of the Wise.”
It is not good to be partial when giving judgment.
24 Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,”
will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations.
25 But it will go well for those who convict the guilty,
and a good blessing will come upon them.
In Leviticus 19, God commanded: “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not be partial to the poor or show favoritism to the great. Judge your neighbor fairly.” A corrupt judge could easily take the side of the wealthy in any case. He could receive a bribe, accepting favors or gold, for siding with the wealthy to ensure that their business ventures would always be favored; unhampered by the petty complaints of the poor. But that kind of corrupt judge can be found out, and he would not be allowed to judge any longer by a good king.
On the other hand, one must not assume that a poor man is always right, either. Being partial to either side, the wealthy or the poor, or anyone else, is not what a good judge should do. These verses state that the law needs to convict the guilty simply on the grounds that they are guilty. Perhaps there might be mitigating circumstances that might modify one’s sentence. A starving man, for example, might not be given a fine or sentence for stealing which is nearly as severe as a man who steals for no other reason than to make a profit. But a man who steals for no other reason than contempt for his victim should be held most accountable. These are matters not touched on by the proverb. But to convict the guilty? Good blessings from God will come.
26 One who gives an honest answer
gives a kiss on the lips.
We should not forget the purpose of a kiss in ancient times. Setting aside the treachery of Judas, the kiss was not only a sign of affection between husband and wife (Song of Solomon 2:2) or between fiancees (Genesis 29:11); it was also a sign of general affection and family love (Genesis 27:27; Ruth 1:9; Song of Solomon 8:1), of homage to a king (Job 31:27), and of Christian affection and love (Acts 20:37). It’s most likely that the kiss of fellowship is meant here: a kiss between those who trust one another through true fellowship in faith. This is the word-picture used by Korah’s son in the Psalm: “Righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). To this our “wise one” compares an honest answer. It is a true statement from someone to be trusted, who has our best interests at heart, and in whom there is no malice or bad intentions. An honest answer should not come accompanied by what we call “baggage,” additional implications based on past experience, doubt, or grudges.
Surely this kiss of fellowship is also what is meant in the Second Psalm: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way” (Psalm 2:12). True fellowship with the Son of God is true faith in God, trust in the word and works of Christ, and the response of daily Christian living. For faith in Christ must come before any good works, but following faith, good works flow naturally, as Paul teaches: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). This includes the honest answer, and the affection (either romantic or Christian) of the kiss on the lips.
27 Prepare your work outside,
get everything ready in the fields.
After that, build your house.
This proverb is about priorities. It does not, as some think, insist that matters of business are more important than matters at home, or that one’s work life should always come before the needs of one’s family. It is a matter of context. How long will one’s crops be growing? Get the crops into the ground, and then you will have plenty of time, the whole growing season, to work on your house until the harvest. But if you are working on your house and say, “I don’t have time to plant today,” then the seed will never get sown and you and your family will go hungry after the harvest.
It isn’t a matter of always putting business first, but of knowing where one’s priorities fall at any given moment. There are moments in life when making time for one child’s ball game might make all the difference in the future. Do your work, and be there for your family. How will I know which one should come first? By being in the word of God whenever I can. By listening to my Savior, by plumbing the depth of God’s will, I will be better equipped to make God-pleasing choices with my life and with my time. When I give my devotion to Christ, the Holy Spirit will guide and bless the things that I do. Then I will understand the great differences: “A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them; a time to embrace and a time to refrain” (Ecclesiastes 3:5). And then I will see no contradiction at all between this verse in Proverbs which tells me to work outside before working on my house, and Jeremiah 29:28, which says: “Therefore build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Read the context of the Scriptures as well as the verses, and pray for God to guide your understanding.
Pastor Timothy Smith