The Idiocy of Duplicity

16 Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger,
    and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for foreigners.
17 Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
    but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.
18 Plans are established by counsel;
    by wise guidance wage war.
19 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
    therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
20 If one curses his father or his mother,
    his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.
21 An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning
    will not be blessed in the end.
22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”;
    wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
23 Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord,
    and false scales are not good.
24 A man’s steps are from the Lord;
    how then can man understand his way?
25 It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,”
    and to reflect only after making vows.
26 A wise king winnows the wicked
    and drives the wheel over them.
27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
    searching all his innermost parts.
28 Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king,
    and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.
29 The glory of young men is their strength,
    but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.
30 Blows that wound cleanse away evil;
    strokes make clean the innermost parts.
– Proverbs 20:16-30 ESV

What is the best way to treat fools? According to Solomon, carefully and cautiously. Associating with fools can be costly so the wise would do well to limit their exposure and risk. A person who lacks wisdom will make poor business decisions and then expect others to bail them out when things don’t turn out as expected. That’s because fools tend to lack common sense and tend to see life through rose-colored glasses. Doing business with a fool can be especially risky because their financial acumen can be suspect.

Get security from someone who guarantees a stranger’s debt.
    Get a deposit if he does it for foreigners. – Proverbs 20:16 NLT

Solomon warns that it is extremely unwise to do business with a man who pledges to guarantee the debt of someone he doesn’t even know. In the hopes of making a profit, he has made an unwise decision that has put his financial resources in jeopardy. And because it is highly unlikely that he will ever get the return he is expecting from his investment, it would make no sense to put your own financial well-being at risk. Solomon is so sure that the deal will go south, that he recommends that you demand something as collateral to cover your loss.

The point is that the fool makes a lousy business partner because he tends to be impulsive and lazy when it comes to developing an investment strategy. He is prone to fall for those get-rich-quick schemes that guarantee a hefty return but almost always fail to deliver. And in his lust for easy money, he tends to throw caution to the wind, even lending money to strangers and foreigners, who he may never see again.

Solomon even reveals the thought behind such a poor decision.

Stolen bread tastes sweet,
    but it turns to gravel in the mouth. – Proverbs 20:17 NLT

To the fool, strangers and foreigners appear to be easy marks. The very fact that they are seeking financial help from someone they don’t know reveals that they are desperate. And Solomon indicates that the fool thinks he can take advantage of their situation and score big by charging high-interest rates. After all, no one else is going to lend them money, so he has them over a barrel. And his lust for easy money forces him to make bad decisions. And while the hope of a tidy profit might be tempting, it will eventually come back to haunt him. In the unlikely event that he gets all his money back with interest, it will only increase his desire to do it again and, sooner or later, he will lose it all.

In contrast, Solomon recommends seeking wise counsel before making life-changing decisions.

Plans succeed through good counsel;
    don’t go to war without wise advice. – Proverbs 20:18 NLT

But fools tend to operate independently and autonomously. They reject the insight and input of others because they inevitably think that they know what is best. Their impulsiveness and stubbornness compel them to make decisions that can have long-term and potentially devastating outcomes.

Fools tend to have short-sighted perspectives, living with a get-it-all-while-you-can mindset. Rather than focusing on the future, they fixate on the here-and-now in a vain attempt to score big and live life large. They operate by the philosophy: He who dies with the most toys wins. But Solomon warns against such a short-sighted perspective.

An inheritance obtained too early in life
    is not a blessing in the end. – Proverbs 20:21 NLT

Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son provides ample proof of this proverb. An abundance of money does not make someone wise. Wealth can’t buy wisdom. And the individual who finds himself financially well-off but lacking in godly wisdom will almost always end up living by a set of standards that fly in the face of God’s revealed will for His people.

The Lord detests double standards;
    he is not pleased by dishonest scales. – Proverbs 20:23 NLT

Those who gain wealth but lack wisdom will find inevitably make decisions to cut corners ethically in order to maintain their preferred lifestyle. The fear of loss will drive them to make concessions and compromise their convictions. The thought of poverty will become a greater motivator than the fear of the Lord.

And Solomon warns that God can into the heart of every individual. Nothing can be hidden from His all-seeing eyes.

The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit,
    exposing every hidden motive. – Proverbs 20:27 NLT

And when all is said and done, the most important thing about any man or woman is the condition of their heart. That is how God will judge every human being. And what is true for the most powerful is true for the least significant person on earth.

Unfailing love and faithfulness protect the king;
    his throne is made secure through love. – Proverbs 20:28 NLT

God could care less about a king’s power, wealth, and prominence. He doesn’t judge based on external factors such as success or significance. He looks for the signs of unfailing love and faithfulness. He seeks for evidence of covenant faithfulness and a healthy fear of His holiness. God doesn’t measure a man by his accomplishments. Instead, He looks for evidence of a humble heart and a reliant spirit. And Solomon reveals that God disciples those whom He loves so that they might live faithful lives the exhibit unfailing love.

Physical punishment cleanses away evil;
    such discipline purifies the heart. – Proverbs 20:30 NLT

And the wise gratefully accept the loving discipline of God because they understand that it produces godly lives. And the older they get, the more they recognize the loving nature of God’s interaction in their lives.

the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. – Proverbs 20:29 NLT

One of the realities about dishonesty is that we may fool others, but we can never fool God. “The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive” (Proverbs 20:27 NLT). God sees all. He knows all. He is aware of every occurrence of dishonesty in our lives. He knows when we lie. He is aware every time we withhold the truth in any form or in any way. He is never deceived by our deception. And He despises, dislikes, and disdains it when we attempt to cover up, hide, fake it, or live our lives dishonestly or deceptively. He is a God of truth. He longs to see His people live in integrity. The biblical concept of integrity is wholeness or completeness. It carries the idea of a life with no compartmentalization. There are no hidden areas. No skeletons in the closet. We live our lives in integrity before God when we recognize that He sees all and so we stop trying to hide anything from Him. We live wholly and holy before Him. No deceit, deception or dishonesty.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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