Proverbs 28:21

Respect of Persons


1. This proverb speaks of the evil of having “respect of persons” or prejudice… bias.

2. This theme is mentioned many times in Scripture. It is a lesson God doesn’t want us to forget.

3. What makes this proverb unique is the fact that it links bias together with bribery. That is a deadly combination.

21a To have respect of persons is not good:

A. Respect of Persons

1. Respect of Persons: The two terms defined:

a. To know; to acknowledge; to consider carefully +

b. Face; appearance; presence.

2. Combined they have the meaning of bias, bigotry, prejudice, partiality

a. Literally the combination of terms means “to carefully consider someone’s face… appearance… who they are…”

b. The idea is that a judgment is made based on their appearance… their face… their presence.

3. Respect of person is shown in various ways:

a. One’s financial status

b. One’s celebrity status

c. The color of one’s skin

d. One’s educational background

e. One’s nationality

f. One’s political party

g. One’s looks

h. One’s clothing—cool or uncool—rich or poor

i. One’s political position (senator, governor, etc.)

j. One’s social status

k. Would you treat them all the same? Would you treat them the same as you would a foreigner of another race, another language, a different culture, in a lower social strata?

l. Would you really? Be honest.

B. Is Not Good

1. Here Solomon states the obvious. In fact he understates it for effect.

2. Of course it is not good. It is far worse than just not good. It is unjust… ungodly… abominable! It is sin.

3. Prov. 24:23 – It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment.

a. It is wrong to make judgments on persons made in the image of God solely upon their appearance… or their status.

b. It is especially not good in the legal realm (in judgment).

4. In Solomon’s day it was “not good” not only because it is immoral. It was also illegal – contrary to the Law of Moses.

a. Lev. 19:15 – Moses warns against judging on the basis of one’s wealth. You should not be able to “buy” justice.

b. Deut. 17:21 – Moses warned against having respect of persons in judgment.
• Vs.16 – Moses commanded them to judge righteously. (This is exactly what the Lord Jesus said in John 7:24 – “judge righteous judgment.”)
• Vs. 17 – The small as well as the great were to be heard and judged fairly. (The small farmers and “little people” were to be heard exactly as the judge would hear the great, powerful, wealthy, and important men).
• They were not to be afraid of the face of man… nor treat people differently because of their “face.”

21b For for a piece of bread that man will transgress.

A. A Man Will Transgress

1. A man – the term for man here is a term that means “strong man.”

a. In context, it speaks of a man who is strong because of his position over someone else.

b. Perhaps his position of strength over another is the fact that he is a politician, policeman, employer, or (what best suits the context) a judge in a legal matter.

c. Solomon’s point is that strong men (in positions of power) DO transgress. (rebel)

d. They can be bribed… this seems to be the kind of “transgression” spoken of here.

e. He abuses his power and authority in a sinful and rebellious way.

2. He transgresses by showing partiality.

a. Some men in positions of power and authority over others are willing to rebel against the law of the land because of bigotry and partiality.

B. A Piece of Bread

1. This I take as figurative language… as a small bribe.

a. It is unlikely that a judge would actually take a piece of bread as a bribe… or that a man could be persuaded to transgress for simply a piece of bread.

b. But the point of the figure of speech we take literally: that when men are biased to begin with, it doesn’t take much for them to transgress against someone they hold a bias against.

c. Erasmus thought that Solomon was describing the image of a man luring a dog by holding out a piece of bread or a piece of any type of food.

d. A dog can be lured into almost anything for food.

e. A biased man can be lured into almost anything for a piece of bread… or some other small bribe.

2. Our proverb states that the strong man who is already biased can be lured into transgression for a piece of bread.

a. He sells his soul cheaply.

b. Example: Suppose you had a Protestant judge in Belfast Northern Ireland. Before him is brought a Catholic boy accused of rioting. And suppose he was already biased AGAINST the Catholics. It would take a big bribe to get this Protestant judge to rule unjustly against a Protestant. But he may be willing to pervert justice against someone he’s already biased against for a “piece of bread.”

3. Matthew Henry made a couple of helpful observations on the type of bribe mentioned here:

a. “Those that have once broken through the bonds of equity, though, at first, it must be some great bribe, some noble present, that would bias them, yet, when they have debauched their consciences, they will, at length, be so sordid that for a piece of bread they will give judgment against their consciences…”

b. “Those that are partial will be paltry.”

4. Another commentator noted: “Greed and a lust for power will drive people to do amazing injustice.”

5. It is said that every man has his price.

a. If you offer enough money or the right price, a man can be enticed into anything: Stealing, murder, adultery, pervert justice.

b. The implication in our proverb is that this man (presumably a judge or a person of influence) is already biased or bent in one direction. Therefore, it doesn’t take much to get a biased man to transgress or pervert justice.

6. This proverb challenges us all to ask ourselves the question: do we have a price?

a. What would it take to get you to transgress?

b. Are we biased? Are we bent in a certain direction?

c. Do our internal biases cause us to be easily lured into outwardly transgressing?

d. We may not be a person of prominence (a judge; senator; president), but we DO make judgments all the time.

e. Do our inward biases cause us to be easily lured into sinning with our tongues?

f. Are we willing to compromise integrity for a piece of bread?

g. What would it take to cause our biases and prejudices to come out and harm others? Would you transgress to be in with the in crowd? To be popular? To be funny? To avoid sticking out like sore thumb?

7. The best way to avoid being reduced to a piece of bread is to DEAL with all inward biases!

a. Respecting persons is sin—and it leads to other sins.

b. It can cause us to be easily lured into acting on those biases.

c. Therefore, get to the root of the problem: prejudice—and confess it as sin and forsake it!

d. Integrity is the answer.