Proverbs 18:17

First in His Own Cause


He that is first in his own cause seemeth just

A. First in His Own Cause

1. His own cause defined:

a. Dispute; strife; controversy; quarrel; case at law.

b. Gen. 13:7 – Strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle.

c. Deut. 21:5 – Priests appointed to judge legal matters and disputes between people.

2. The meaning here: he that is first to present his side of the story in a dispute.

a. The one who shares his side of the story FIRST

b. Thus, it is his OWN cause that he presents…

3. In EVERY dispute, there is always one person who is FIRST to present his own cause… his own side of the story.

a. As King, Solomon often had to settle difficult disputes.

b. The King sometimes had to perform the duties of a judge when the lower courts were unable to settle the matter.

c. The king was like their Supreme Court.

d. Remember the case of two women who came to Solomon each claiming to be the mother of a baby… and each claiming the other woman was the mother of the dead child?

e. Solomon had to hear that case—and no doubt many other difficult cases.

f. He was very familiar with disputes and strife between people…

g. He heard many cases in court… and in doing so, he noted that each one had something in common.

h. He noted, that in every case, somebody was always FIRST to present his or her side of the story.

B. Seemeth Just

1. There was something else that Solomon noticed… in EVERY case.

2. The first one to present his own side of the story—his own cause—always seemed just… lawful… right…

a. Nobody ever came before the king with their legal case and “esteemed others better than themselves.”

b. Nobody ever came before the bar of justice and tried to put the opposition in a good light.

c. Invariably, they put themselves in a good light…

3. JUST: has both a legal and ethical sense to it.

a. The first one to present his side of the story seemed ethically superior… righteous.

b. He seemed legally correct and right…

c. In other words, if you heard ONLY this side of the story—the FIRST person to present his case would always win the court case!

d. The first person’s case was presented as so legally correct… and so ethically and morally correct—why bother hearing the other side?

e. If you believed the FIRST person’s story, you wouldn’t NEED a legal system.

f. The first one was always right… or so it seemed.

g. Solomon probably NEVER saw an exception to that rule…

4. People always try to make themselves “look good” when presenting their case.

a. Those who present their cause first are always careful in HOW they word their case.

b. They go to great lengths in thinking through HOW it will sound…

c. They may not lie… but they have discovered lots of other ways, short of lying, that will make them look good and the other guy look bad.

d. Very rarely is their wording as careless as the little boy who came running in to his mother crying, “Johnny hit me back!”

e. Little children haven’t learned the fine art of subtlety… and deception… but adults have… and use it to their advantage.

f. An adult would simply say, “Johnny hit me.”
• His side would be true and accurate…
• However, it would also be incomplete…
• But it would also be misleading and deceptive.

g. Solomon learned through observation (as a king and judge) that ANY case can be worded in such a way as to make it SEEM right and just.

5. Thus, the first part of the proverb is a WARNING.

a. Beware—things aren’t always as they SEEM.

b. ANYONE can make themselves look good…

c. Evil, deceptive people can make themselves SEEM righteous… by the way they WORD their case…

d. By leaving out key details… by re-arranging the chronology of events… by using carefully chosen terms… the FIRST one to give his cause can SEEM like an angel… and make the other guy look like a demon!

e. This is a warning to us all—when someone presents their side of the story—listen with a grain of salt… a bit of healthy skepticism…

But his neighbour cometh and searcheth him

A. But His Neighbor Cometh

1. Now Solomon gives us another warning: After the first man in the dispute speaks, there will always be his NEIGHBOR’S side to the dispute!

2. The warning is: Be aware that there is always ANOTHER side to that same story… and his neighbor’s side may be very DIFFERENT from what you first heard.

3. The term “neighbor” is a broad term translated in lots of different ways: friend, lover, companion, neighbor, fellow citizen, associate, and (as best fits here) “another person or second party.”

a. The first person presents his own cause and he seems RIGHT.

b. But then ANOTHER person comes along—the other person in the conflict—and he has a very different spin on events.

c. The second party will eventually COME (meaning to enter the scene; to arrive).

d. Hence, it is a good idea to WAIT until the neighbor… the second party arrives on the scene… and you have heard HIS side of the story, before you make up your mind.

e. Saul gave his story and it seemed believable—UNTIL Samuel came and cross examined him… and exposed his rebellion! (I Sam.15:17-23)

4. Don’t be hoodwinked by hearing only ONE side.

a. Even though a person may be exceptionally convincing!

b. Ex: when a person portrays himself as the perfect angel and the other guy as a demon—it is not so believable.
• People know that that is not very believable…
• Hence, to be convincing they usually resort to a tactic that is more believable… more convincing.
• “I wasn’t perfect either… I did such and such. But you wouldn’t believe what she did… or he did!”
• It is a convincing tactic to take 2% of the blame to make yourself believable… but that leaves 98% of the blame on the other side!

c. When a person is really GOOD at this kind of deception, he is able to present the facts in such a way that one might conclude, “Why bother hearing the other side!” If she did that… or if he said that… then let’s hang him! I don’t need to hear any more.”

d. Solomon warns, “Yes you DO need to hear more in order to make a wise decision!”

e. Hearing one side of the story is exceptionally foolish.

B. The Neighbor Comes and SEARCHES Him

1. Searches: search out facts; examine; investigate; explore, probe; inquire, dig a little deeper…

a. The OTHER party in the controversy will surely not accept the spin… the perspective… the manner in which the first person presented the facts of the case.
• “I was driving down the highway minding my own business when this lady crashed into my car. She was flying at 65 miles an hour!”

b. The second person will dig a little deeper…

c. The neighbor comes along and confronts the first person and cross-examines them… calls into question what he said and how he said it…
• But sometimes cross-examination brings out some important details…
• “He was going 80 miles an hour, reading a newspaper, with a coffee in one hand and an electric razor in the other hand—steering with his elbows!”

d. The neighbor comes along and adds important details that the first person carefully left out…

e. In another controversy, the neighbor might describe the demeanor, behavior, attitudes, tone of voice… from a very different perspective.

f. He may put the chronology in a different order which can change everything… (I wasn’t there until the day AFTER it happened…)

g. Tone of voice can change the meaning of words. For example, the words, “I’m really sorry” can mean the total opposite depending upon tone of voice.

h. The second party is able to fill in some seemingly minor details that can change the meaning of everything.

2. NOT listening to the second party… hearing only ONE side of the story is foolish and shameful! (Prov. 18:13)

a. To those who make up their minds after having heard only one side of the story, Solomon says, Shame on you! You are a fool!

b. Unfortunately, it happens—all too often.

c. Making up our minds without knowing all the facts… judging a brother without knowing all the facts… is part of our human nature… but it is a foolish and shameful part!

d. Solomon warns us: don’t do it!

e. I have had to deal with it as a pastor in dealing with disputes among believers… in marital counseling… and with all the THIRD parties who tend to polarize around one side or the other in such controversies.

f. Controversies are greatly complicated when third parties enter into the fray… for invariably they are hearing only one side of the story.

g. When folks do that, they often manifest (in their minds) righteous indignation against the “other side.”

h. They often look down at the other side as ungodly… foolish… an unintelligent dupe… hoodwinked… uncaring… unloving… and even (as foolish as it may sound) one-sided!

i. To hear one side and make up your mind is foolish and shameful!

3. This warning has almost limitless application… for controversies are with us for good… till glory.

a. People DO fight…

b. Parents would be wise to consider this warning in dealing with disputes among children…

c. Elders would be wise to consider this warning in dealing with disputes among the saints at church.

d. Teachers would be wise to consider this with disputes in school…

e. Employers with disputes among the employees…

f. Landlords dealing with disputes with their tenants…

g. This can even be applied to political candidates… so dig a little deeper…

h. Buying a product by listening to their ads… (After hearing a Chevy ad, why buy anything else?)

i. In hearing a diagnosis and treatment from the doctor…

j. So beware… we have been warned. It would be foolish and shameful to ignore Solomon’s wise warning here.

k. One man noted that God gave us TWO ears so that we could hear both sides of the story!

Back to Top

Back to Proverbs Ch. 18 Index

Back to Main Proverbs Index