Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 24:23
"These are also sayings of the wise. To show partiality in judgment is not good."
these are also sayings of the wise
This is an interesting section of Proverbs. It is as though Solomon could not find a way to work in some of the wise sayings that had been passed on from the Ancients, and so he starts a little section in which he deposits these little treasures that are true since he had not found a way to include them before. This section of wise sayings from ancient times seems to go to verse 29 and then Solomon begins making observations again.
God allows Solomon to include six verses of ancient wisdom from before his time. It points out that there is wisdom hidden in various places. God superintends over Solomon to make sure that he does not include anything that he (Solomon) thinks is wise but is not even true. Think about all the various ideas that were probably circulating at the time of Solomon – that people must have thought were the height of wisdom – that were wrong or wouldn't stand the test of time.
This is the word paneh, which means face or faces. The idea of partiality comes from two words regarding faces. In other words, treating people differently because you know them. This was strictly forbidden in Old Testament law. Solomon is saying not only is it against the law, it is very unwise. There is no end to it. In order to make good decisions, you have to objectify the decision. When decisions involve people, you have to find a way to think through the decision without thinking about how it will affect the person and what you know about the person.
This piece of wisdom is clearly about the problem of corruption that creeps into every organization. There is temptation to do favors for people that you know. This problem of partiality, cronyism, and corruption is a constant battle in government, in business, in civic organizations, in church. If a person is not able to be somewhat cold-hearted when they make a decision, then they will be unable to make the decision that is really the right one in a given circumstance.
Right now you may be facing a decision in which you should ask yourself: If I did not know the person who was involved in this decision, what would be the obvious thing to do? But because you know the person, this person is expecting a favor from you or you believe it would be too hard on them if you made the right decision. Remember the wise decision is the one that is a win for everyone. Sometimes the best decision at the moment is a hard one for one party at the beginning. I know of some business leaders who need to fire an employee but because they know them, they keep them on. But the person needs to be fired. It would motivate them; it would wake them up to some things; it would cause them to look in a new field; it would allow them to get the job they would be really good at. But you are reluctant to release them to the better future because it might be hard in the present.
This is the Hebrew word mishpat, which means judgment, decision, verdict. The idea is that a decision must be made; and if you are wise, you will make this decision without regard to the fact that you know some of the people involved.
Solomon is passing on to us a little bit of ancient wisdom from before his day. When you are facing a decision, make sure that you do not let your personal acquaintance or relationship with the person involved sway your decision.