Proverbs 17:23

Perverting Justice


A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom
to pervert the ways of judgment.


1. Many of the proverbs make a contrast or compare two things.

2. This one does not. It simply makes a statement of fact: Bribes pervert justice.

3. Solomon has spoken about injustice previously in Proverbs. Each statement adds another layer of truth on the subject.

4. Here he speaks of the PURPOSE of a bribe: to pervert justice.

5. The statement is true on an individual level; on a judicial level; and on a national level. Bribes pervert justice.

The Evil Purposes of Bribes: (Short term)

1. Prov. 17:23 – to pervert justice.

a. Here Solomon tells us WHY men use bribes: in order TO pervert justice.

b. Bribes are given with a specific design… with a specific intention… with a purpose in mind.

c. Here Solomon tells us what that the purpose is. It is a deliberate perversion of justice.

2. Pervert:

a. Defined: to stretch out, extend, spread out, pitch, turn, bend, pervert, deviate,

b. Usage:
• I Kings 11:2, 4 – used of women TURNING Solomon’s heart…
• Hearts and minds of men can be perverted by outside influences. Solomon’s heart was perverted—twisted.
• Num. 20:17 – we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left (turn – pervert – same word)
• If the heart is perverted, it results in perverted actions eventually…

c. Perversion speaks of a twisting out of the right way… bending so as to no longer be straight…

d. Justice should be straight as an arrow. But bribes can BEND that arrow… twist it… Arrows that are bent don’t end up where they should… they miss the mark.

e. Bribes are designed to pervert justice…
• Ex. 23:8 – bribes blind the wise and TWIST words… and it is all done on purpose!
» wise = open eyes;
» It speaks of those who SHOULD be able to see.
» That is the intended purpose of GIVING the gift… the bribe… to BLIND the eyes of those who should be able to see the TRUTH and judge clearly.

• The purpose is to CHANGE the words… for the purpose of securing a desired end: a perversion of justice to suit the one giving the bribe.
» Such a gift might be designed to change the words of the witnesses or the judge…
» Perhaps just a “stretching” of the truth here and there…
» It is a well thought out, planned perversion of justice for one’s own personal benefit…

• I Sam. 8:1-3 – bribes LURE judges away from justice
» Samuel’s sons were judges… but they were evil judges.
» They TURNED ASIDE after lucre. (same word as pervert in Prov. 17:23 – used two times here)
» Money moved these men… it perverted them… it caused them to deviate from the path of justice.
» The judges became perverted and thus the justice became perverted.
» Money was behind it all.
» Paul tells us that money is the root of all kinds of evil!

3. Perverting justice

a. This is quite an indictment against human nature—to think that money could be more important than justice.

b. Isa. 1:21-23 – Here Isaiah laments the awful moral decline in Israel.
• They fell from being faithful to being a harlot; from righteous to murders!
• Because of bribes, the orphans and widows were not given justice… they were ignored.
• Poor people suffer because of those in positions of authority are greedy and twist judgment for money.
• Prov. 29:4 – bribes overthrow the land
» Justice strengthens a land.
» Bribes – a form of injustice RUINS a land.
» Overthrow: pull down, to break through, to overthrow, to destroy.

c. One danger of committing an act of injustice is that it might come back to bite you one day! You reap what you sow.
• Injustice often leads to revolt and rebellion against that injustice.
• Leaders who oppress the poor and rule with injustice sometimes find themselves at the mercy of the poor if the Peasants rebel!

The One Receiving a Bribe

1. Solomon emphasizes here the one who RECEIVES the bribe.

a. Taketh: to take; get; fetch; lay hold of; seize; receive; acquire.

2. The bribe is OFFERED for the purpose of perverting justice.

a. But the offer is useless unless it is received.

b. Even if bribes are offered, justice will be still carried out if the bribes are refused by the one TO WHOM they are offered.

c. While both men are evil… both the one offering the bribe and the one receiving it, here Solomon emphasizes the evil of the one who RECEIVES it.

3. The one RECEIVING a bribe is the one in a more responsible position.

a. Judge; lawyer; witness who has sworn under an oath; a senator; legislator; governor; CEO.

b. Even if 90% of the population is corrupt and offer bribes, justice will prevail if they are refused by the FEW in responsible positions… where it matters.

4. Note also the secrecy involved here: out of the bosom.

a. Bosom: refers to a fold in the garment used as a hidden pocket…

b. When a bribe is covered up in the bosom and passed from the bosom to the one receiving it—BOTH parties realize that what they are doing is WRONG.

c. The fact that they have to conceal it means they know what they are doing.

d. When a bribe occurs BOTH parties are obviously guilty.
→ They know WHAT they are doing (purposely perverting justice).
→ And WHY they are doing it (to obtain an outcome favorable to the one offering the bribe).
→ And they know it is WRONG (for they conceal it).

e. Thus, they are guilty and accountable. No excuse.

f. Of course hiding the gift in the bosom hides it from the sight of men, but certainly not from the eyes of the Lord.

5. Solomon says that the man who RECEIVES this bribe in secret is WICKED.

a. It is HIS sin.

b. He can’t claim that he was tricked or deceived… or lured into a trap. He WALKED into the trap because of his greed and his wicked heart.

c. In our legal system, cases are thrown out of court if there is entrapment… a set up… but that is NOT the case with God’s system of justice.

d. It was up to him to say NO to the bribe… but he didn’t.

e. When someone attempts to LURE us into ANY kind of sin, it is up to us to reject it… and if we don’t, we are guilty.

f. Of course both parties are guilty, but in this proverb God lays the blame on the one who receives it.

g. As Christians, we should be aware that our adversary will attempt to “set us up” and “entrap” us in to sin… into his snares all the time. It is up to us to say NO!

The WAY of judgment (justice)

1. WAY: This term speaks of a way, a road, a pathway, a highway, figuratively as a course of life… a way of life…

a. Thus, this seems to broaden the concept of injustice here from one isolated act to a WAY of life… either for an individual or a society.

b. One act of injustice is an integral part of the WAY of injustice.

c. The pathway to injustice begins with one act… one step on the pathway… and it can lead to a whole course of life.

2. A wicked man who thinks he is just committing one isolated act of injustice is in reality part of a BIGGER problem… the WAY of injustice.

a. When one act of injustice is tolerated, it tends to corrupt the whole system of justice. It PERVERTS the whole.

b. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

c. “If he can do it, then so can I”… and it increases, until it becomes commonplace.

3. We might not find ourselves in a position to either offer or receive an actual bribe.

a. But we CAN commit a similar sin by secret acts of dishonesty for personal gain.

b. Most of us don’t hold positions of authority wherein we have to worry about being offered a bribe.

c. Secret acts of dishonesty at ANY level contribute to the corruption of the way of justice in the land… and weakens the whole fabric of society.

d. Often when leaders are corrupt, it encourages the little guys—like us—to follow suit…

e. Examples:
• Workers at toll booths who let their friends go through for free…
• Taking coffee at work, but not putting the money in the can…

f. This is the leavening process of the corruption of a society.

g. We lament when we hear of corrupt judges or politicians. We bemoan the direction our country is headed.

h. But every time WE stretch the truth, we too are weakening the fabric of our society.

i. As a Christian, we should stand against dishonesty—in every one of its forms…

j. Acts 24:26 – Felix sought for a bribe from Paul.
• Paul could have been released and never would have been sent to prison in Rome.
• He could have saved himself a lot of grief if he had just greased the palms of Felix… as was suggested.
• However, Paul did not bend. He did not offer a bribe—as was common practice.
• Paul’s integrity was not for sale.

k. Every offer of a bribe… every temptation to be dishonest is a test of our character.
• The sin is far worse for a believer because we have more light. We should know better.
• The devil seeks to cause us to sin.
• God seeks to approve us…
• Our character hangs in the balance…

The Effectiveness of Bribes: (short term)

• Prov. 17:8 – monetary bribes are effective!
• Prov. 18:16 – men often advance because of bribes
• Prov. 21:14 – money can buy off anger… appease wrath…

Warnings Against Bribes:

• Deut. 16:18 – judges and offices were required to be JUST… fair…
• Deut. 27:25 – a curse is placed on one who bribes that leads to a person’s death… a paid hit man
• Prov. 15:27 – it is good to HATE bribes
• Isa.5:23 – WOE to them who justify the wicked for money.

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