Proverbs 20:14

Haggling Over Prices


1. We have a saying in this country: buyer beware. It is a warning to consumers not to be duped by all the grandiose claims and deceptive practices of merchants.

2. Here Solomon records a similar proverb—only in the reverse.

3. This is a warning to the merchants concerning some of the deceptive practices of the consumer.

14a It is naught! It is naught, saith the buyer

1. This proverb needs to be understood in light of the customs of the day.

2. The topic is a man making a purchase; only he is not buying a product on a modern market. Don’t think of someone making a purchase at the Rockingham Mall.

3. This man is in a setting more like a flea market or a yard sale. Their markets were open air markets… where merchants would bring their goods to sell to whoever might pass by.

4. In this setting, it was understood by all that there was no “set price” for any article.

a. The merchant and the consumer would haggle over the price.

b. The merchant would begin by asking a price way over its real value.
• The merchant was out to make as much money as he could.
• He was out to make a “killing.”

c. The consumer would reply with an offer that was way below its real value.
• The consumer was out to get the best deal that he could.
• He was looking for a real “steal.”

d. They each had their own agenda.

e. Hence, then the fight was on. They began to haggle… quibble… and argue back and forth until someone won.

5. Things haven’t changed all that much today.

a. Although for retail, we don’t do much haggling for prices. Our prices are pretty much set.

b. But the same dynamic is in view today.

c. Merchants will charge as much as they possibly can for their product—as much as the market will bear… or as much as government regulations will allow.

d. The consumer loves to see price wars. The consumer also delights in a “going out of business” sale. He is not concerned about the man who just lost his business. He is only concerned about getting a bargain-basement price.

e. Buying and selling has always been a cut throat business. It was in Solomon’s day. It is today too.

f. The reason: men are selfish and greedy. It is our nature to look out for #1.

g. Both the merchant and the consumer exaggerate for their own benefit. They both make claims that are not entirely true.

h. Thus, the whole business of business is ruthless and rough.

6. It is nothing!

a. This is the cry the deceptive consumer makes to the merchant concerning the product he wants to buy.

b. The consumer says to the merchant: “Your product is naught!”

c. Naught: Bad; displeasing; no good; harmful; of little value; poor quality; (used in Gen. 42 of Pharaoh’s dream to describe the ill-favored cows and the ill-favored corn crops).

14b But when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.

A. The Gloating of the Buyer

1. After convincing the merchant that his product is virtually worthless, the buyer walks away and boasts about what a “steal” he got at the market that day!

2. He’s quite proud of himself for having talked the merchant down so much… proud of his haggling skills.

3. It is a real skill—one I do not possess. I hate haggling at a used car lot.

4. Some people are extremely talented at this. The buyer is as much a salesman as the merchant.

5. James 4:16 – “But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.”

a. James warns business men operating outside of the will of God that all their boasting was evil.

b. The business world is FULL of opportunities to step outside the will of God and to take advantage of people. Hence, we have warnings to beware.

6. In Proverbs 20:10, Solomon warned about merchants using diverse or dishonest weights to deceive his customers and take advantage of them. Now he warns about dishonest consumers using dishonest language in order to take advantage of the merchant.

7. This man is boasting about his dishonesty!

a. He told the merchant a lie about his product, and thus got it at a bargain-basement price.

b. Then he walks away and tells all his friends how clever and shrewd he is for being able to deceive the merchant and get what he wanted so cheaply.

c. This is not just boasting over a good deal. It is boasting over cheating and lying to obtain that good deal.

d. He told the merchant how BAD the product was, then he turned around and boasted how GOOD it was and what a good price he got it for to his friends.

e. He is boasting over his clever trick when he should be ashamed of his fraud.

8. Sometimes ladies come back from the mall with great “deals.”

a. They might call it a “steal” because it was so cheap.

b. That’s not what Solomon is talking about here.

c. That bargain was not obtained illegally or dishonestly.

d. That bargain price was set by the store. (50% off plus another 20% off with coupons = a good deal.)

e. If the merchant sets a low price and you take advantage of it—that is not dishonesty.

f. Solomon is speaking about dishonesty here… deception and outright lying in haggling over a price.

B. Application:

1. This proverb does not contain a command. It does not contain an exhortation. It simply makes a statement.

2. However, there are a couple of obvious implications in this statement.

3. The first obvious implication is that this practice is dishonest.

a. There is good application for us too.

b. There is nothing wrong with bargaining, bartering, or haggling over prices as long as it is legal.

c. But God does expect us to be honest.

d. Thou shalt not bear false witness has no exception clause for making purchases.

e. God expects honesty in ALL of our business dealings.

f. Don’t tell the merchant you can get the same item at another store for X amount of dollars if you cannot. That’s lying.

g. Don’t tell the merchant that his product is broken or defective if it is not. That’s lying too.

h. It’s ok to haggle over price. It’s not ok to lie.

i. While lying goes on all the time in the marketplace, it is not acceptable for a believer.

j. The fact that deception is the way everybody haggles is no excuse for a Christian to seek bargains that way.

As believers we should let our “Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

k. This proverb only looks at one side of the coin. It is also possible for merchants to be just as deceptive and dishonest.

l. This proverb speaks of being honest in ALL business transactions, whether merchant or consumer.

m. A good application of this might be found in yard sale shopping where people are likely to haggle over prices.

n. Or suppose you found a little old lady, in a poor, dilapidated house, selling a few old items in a yard sale. There you found a genuine Rembrandt painting on her counter for $12.00. What would you do?

o. Honesty is always the best policy. Do all for the glory of God.

4. The second implication is a warning to merchants, not to be duped by the words of a consumer.

a. The American proverb that is a counterpart to this one states, “Buyer beware.”

b. We seem to like to stick up for the little guy, and assume that the big businesses are corrupt—so beware of them! “Buyer beware.”

c. Solomon extends a similar warning to the merchant.

d. “Merchant beware” of customers who are deceptive and are trying to rob you of your profit.

e. ALL human beings are selfish and greedy and are out for their own personal best interest.

f. So beware when you are selling products. People will try to cheat you.

g. This was especially true when poor farmers wanted to sell their vegetables.
• A rich buyer sees your product is fresh and good and seeks to buy it.
• He then begins to deceive you—the little guy—the poor farmer.
• He tells you that he can get the same vegetables in another province for half the price—but he’s lying!
• The poor farmer knows that he can sell large amounts of his crop to this man… and he is afraid of losing such a rich customer who wants to buy so much… so he cuts the price in half.
• To that farmer Solomon sends out a warning: Don’t believe everything you hear from these men. Seller beware! They might be lying.
• Always be aware that there are people out there who will try to take advantage of you.
• Be aware of fallen human nature in all of our earthly transactions in this life.