Proverbs 21:14

Gifts and Rewards Work

“A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.”

A gift in secret pacifieth anger

A. The Terms

1. A gift:

a. Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Present; i.e., an object given freely to another as a token of relationship and good will.

b. Its basic meaning is something given.

c. Various forms of this verb appear in the Old Testament some 2,000 times (give; something given).

d. Therefore, it has quite a variety of meanings depending upon the context.

e. Sometimes the term clearly means a bribe. (Ex: Prov. 15:27)

f. In Num.18:11 it is used of a gift given to God as an offering.

2. Secret:

a. Strong’s: Hidden; covered; secret place.

b. Dictionary of Biblical Languages: covering; veil; i.e., that which covers something to make it secret from another; concealed; not publicly known.

3. Pacify anger:

a. Pacify: Sooth; subdue; pacify; calm; appease.

b. Anger: Literally the term means “nose”; but it came to be used of anger, wrath, resentment, hot-tempered.
• It was a graphic “picture” of anger as seen in one’s flared nostrils…
• The term was used figuratively simply of anger and wrath.

A reward in the bosom strong wrath

1. Reward:

a. Dictionary of Biblical Languages: (3 usages)
• Gift; present; i.e., something given without an explicit quid pro quo, but implies a relationship of favor.
• Tribute; i.e., a gift given as a political instrument between governments (1Kings 15:19)
• Bribe; i.e., a gift given to influence an outcome or hire services, usually with a specific quid pro quo (Ex. 23:8).

b. Each definition of this term implies (to varying degrees) a gift given… that is not purely gracious.

c. The term is used most often of outright bribes.

2. A reward in the bosom

a. This is a gift placed in someone’s bosom… in the place on the body where a person would be embraced.

b. It implies a gift that someone would hold affectionately near their heart.

3. Strong wrath.

a. Strong: Of great force fortified; intense; fierce; harsh.

b. Wrath: Hot displeasure; indignation; burning anger, rage.
• This is a more intense term than anger in the first part of the proverb.

4. Notice that there is no verb in the second half of the proverb. The verb from the first half of the proverb is implied here.

a. In other words, “A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom PACIFIES strong wrath.”

b. This is a Synthetic parallelism – a poetic form in which each part of the proverb BUILDS upon or expands the thought in the previous section.

The Problem of Application

1. This proverb is a bit problematic, because the terminology Solomon uses sounds like he is talking about bribes.

a. He states that they work… they pacify anger and strong wrath.

b. If Solomon IS talking about bribes in this proverb, note that he is not endorsing them.

c. All he does is make a statement about them: They work! They pacify anger.

2. However, in light of what he wrote elsewhere, it is not possible that he is encouraging his readers to use bribes!

a. Prov. 15:27 – He that hateth gifts shall live.

b. Prov. 17:23 – A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.

c. Prov. 29:4 – The king by judgment establisheth the land: but he that receiveth gifts overthroweth it.

d. Ecc. 7:7 – Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.

e. Solomon had a lot to say about bribes. The use of money and gifts to purchase political favor did not begin with Chicago politics… and it won’t end there either. It has been around for many centuries.

f. Because of the many warnings AGAINST the use of bribes, it seems unlikely that Solomon would encourage their use in Chapter 21.

4. The situation Solomon has in mind here is one in which someone is facing the ANGER from another person.

a. In case you haven’t noticed, this happens a LOT—in all kinds of settings.

b. When someone is really angry at you, Solomon states that gifts work! They can appease the wrath. They can disarm the anger… and defuse a potentially nasty situation.

c. Of course, this is not the ideal way to deal with wrath.
• A gift never gets to the heart of the problem that caused the wrath in the first place.
• But for the immediate—a gift often works to sooth the wrath… to pacify the angry person.
• Perhaps after the soothing has taken place, then some profitable conversation can be had that really does get to the root of the problem.

d. That’s another issue. All Solomon says here is that gifts work. It’s hard to remain angry at someone who brought you a nice gift.

5. Solomon’s point here is that a gift given privately, pacifies anger… it sooths an angry person; it appeases their wrath.

a. Gifts were very much a part of Oriental culture.

b. Gifts came in all different sizes; they were given with various motives; they sometimes came with strings attached; some were purely gracious in nature; others were outright bribes; some meant “I’m sorry.” Others meant “I owe you for what you did for me.” Some were tit for tat. Some gifts were nothing more than a payment of a debt.

c. The reasons gifts were given varied widely: from the purely gracious to the downright crooked bribes… like Chicago politics.

d. I Chron. 18:2 – And he (David) smote Moab; and the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts. (Defeated nations don’t bring birthday gifts to the one who conquered them. These gifts were required taxes.)

3. The difference here is the PURPOSE of the gift.

a. The same terms are used to describe outright bribes (which Solomon clearly condemns) and innocent gifts given with a right spirit.

b. The terms used might be the same; the gift itself might be the same, but the purpose behind the gift could vary greatly.

c. But regardless of the purpose, gifts are effective ways of influencing people.
• Prov. 17:8 – Gifts DO influence people. They “prosper.”
• Prov. 18:16 – They can influence a person to “promote” one to a higher position. (brownie points)
• Prov. 19:6 – Everyone is a friend to one who gives gifts. (Not genuine friendship—but a gift is an effective tool nonetheless)

4. Some gifts were given out of common courtesy in Bible times.

a. I Sam. 9:7 – Considered essential on all visits of business.

b. Some gifts were given on special occasions. We give gifts on birthdays and on Christmas. The Jews gave gifts on a special day they called Purim—in the book of Esther.

c. Some gifts were given as a way to say “thank you.” (As today, we sometimes give small gifts as a thank you for hospitality extended or for some other act of kindness.)

5. But what Solomon describes in this proverb is a gift that is given to PACIFY anger.

a. Here the motive is not purely gracious.

b. This gift is given with a specific purpose in mind.

c. We have some examples of this type of gift in the Bible too.

d. Gen. 32:20 – “And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. For he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me.”
• Here we have the example of Jacob pacifying the wrath of Esau.
• Esau was angry at Jacob for (in his mind) robbing him of his birthright when he was starving.
• He had a point! Jacob was kind of slippery and dishonest towards his brother.
• Now the two are about to meet after Jacob having been away for decades.
• To “appease” his wrath, Jacob sends a large and valuable gift from his herds.
• Clearly this was done to pacify Esau and soften him up a bit.
• This was not a birthday present; it wasn’t given out of pure grace.
• It was a way for Jacob to say, “I’m sorry. Please don’t hold that against me. Let’s make up and be friends.”

e. I Sam. 25:27,28, 35 – The example of Abigail pacifying the wrath of David against her husband, Nabal.
• In this account, Nabal had refused to provide any food for David and his men after they had been treated so well by them. (Flocks protected.)
• David was so angry, he determined to fight against Nabal and kill him and his men.
• Abigail hearing of this, decided to PACIFY David’s anger by bringing him a gift—a large and generous supply of food for him and his hungry men.
• It worked. In fact, it worked so well, David ended up taking her as his wife—after Nabal died.

6. This is the sort of gift that Solomon describes in Prov. 21:14.

a. It is a gift that is given with the intention of INFLUENCING a person. Though it is not a gift given out of pure grace, it is also not a bribe.

b. You are not trying to influence them to do something illegal or immoral.

c. Rather, it is a gift designed to persuade or influence them (in a good sense) to be calm… and to put away their anger… to make up and be friends again.

d. Solomon’s point is that they WORK. They DO pacify anger and strong wrath.

e. They worked for Jacob and Abigail. They have worked in countless other situations too.

f. They might work in your house too.
• Sometimes a bouquet of roses or a box of chocolates can be used to appease the anger of a wife upset with her husband… for something dumb, mean, or thoughtless that he did or said.
• Diamonds work even better, but they are very expensive!
• Sometimes a gift is a great way to say, “I’m sorry. I should not have said what I said… or did what I did. Will you forgive me?”

g. Even between friends, there might be a time when a small gift will go a long way in letting someone know that you want peace… sort of like a peace offering…

7. Of course the gift is just an immediate stop gap… a temporary solution.

a. Once the anger has been appeased… and emotions have settled down, then we should take advantage of the temporary cease fire to discuss the issue that cause the anger in the first place!

b. Getting to the heart of the problem is the real goal.