“Simpletons Beware (Prov 20,4)”

by John Wijngaards, GEMS OF WISDOM Series in the New Leader, 30 November 1975; in Telugu Bharata Mithram, 7 December 1975

“Bad, bad” says the buyer, But when he has gone, then he boasts” (Prov. 20, 14)

I remember it like the day of yesterday. I was shopping with a friend. He wanted to buy a second-hand army jacket offered in Cheap Jack’s ready-made garment store. “It is useless”, he said to the shop attendant. “It is old, it has stains, it is worn at the elbows”. He got it with forty per cent reduction. When we had left the shop, he turned to me and said: “This was a very good bargain! The jacket is worth at least twice as much”.

Honesty and business

I am sure that, like many other people, my friend considers buying and selling a game. They think we can virtually say anything we like, as long as it is to our own advantage. They argue that when closing a deal, we should not rely on the words of the other, but should depend on our own commercial knowledge. If someone else allows himself to be fooled by our talk, it is his own fault.

There is some truth in the contention that we should not expect straightforward speech between people representing different sides in a business deal. It is natural for a person to stress what is to his or her own profit. We cannot realistically expect that a salesman would give an absolutely objective picture of the article he is trying to sell. “Do not ask a merchant for advice ahout prices, or a buyer ahout selling” (Sir 37, 11).

On the other hand, there is a big difference between stressing our own good and telling outright lies. However great the temptation may be, neither the buyer nor the seller may say something that they know to be false. It is in this context that the Bible remarks that it is difficult for a merchant to avoid doing wrong in his business (Sir 26,29). But thanks be to God, honest business men do exist and in the long run they will profit from their honesty, even in the commercial sense of the word.

Recognizing hypocrisy

At the same time we should be aware that there are people who deceive us. If we are constantly being taken in by others, it may prove that we lack essential realism. Being a simpleton who is easily deceived by others, is no compliment, but a defect. If we stand with our own feet on the solid earth, we will know that there are people who pretend to be our friends, while they are only friends in name (Sir 37, 1). It is sad, but true, that there are people who flatter us to our face, but who say the opposite when we have turned our back (Sir 27, 23). The Bible says: “I have found many things to hate but nothing to equal such a man. And the Lord hates him too” (Sir 27, 24). We may dislike such people, but they exist.

We should not make the opposite error either of not trusting any person. Rather, we should gladly extend our trust and confidence to others, while remaining realists. Readiness to believe others does not mean that we should take every statement on its face value. Joshua was tricked by the Gibeonites on account of such credulity (Jos 9, 4·9). The truly experienced person will learn how to detect words that cannot betrusted, “just as the palate distinguishes the taste of meat” (Sir 37, 19). Not being a simpleton, he will raise his eyebrows when a customer says “bad, bad!”