Haggling in a Flea Market

‘Bad, bad,’ say the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.  There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel. (Prov 20.14, 15)

As with so many proverbs, these two at first appear to have little if any connection with each other–but a closer look tells a different story.  Or maybe we should say two different stories.  For these two proverbs describe two different ways of life.  And as we shall see, we cannot be neutral about them; we must choose one or the other.

The first story is set in the Middle Eastern market, where–as we shall see for ourselves in Israel next year–customers expect to haggle over price and sellers expect to haggle back.  Once in the famous Bedouin market in Beersheba, a vendor followed me up and down the rows of tent stalls determined to sell me one of those bejeweled Bedouin knives, haggling as he went, while I kept saying, “la, la, la“–which in Arabic means, “no, no, no.”

For the record, I still have that knife.

In Solomon’s story, of course, the seller is not “selling,” as we say, but the buyer is “buying;” and he drives a hard bargain.  Even though he values the goods, he doesn’t let on.   He treasures them in his heart and trashes them with his lips.  He plays a mind game, pretending that something he really wants is not worth having.  If he is especially skilled, he might almost make the merchant think he is doing him a favor by taking this junk off his hands!  Caveat venditor–let the seller beware!  For when he walks away, the buyer brags about the “deal” he got.

What we think about the buyer in this story says a lot about ourselves.  If we see him merely as a shrewd businessman or a smart shopper, we show how thoroughly we have bought the world’s lie about lying–that somehow it’s not really lying when it’s conventional, expected, and commonplace.  When it’s simply the way that everyday things get done.  But it’s still lying, even when the whole world takes it lightly.

That’s where the second story comes in.  Here we seem to be listening in on someone’s conscience.   Maybe it’s a businessman contemplating a highly lucrative, but slightly shady deal.  Perhaps a young woman tempted to chase her dreams by cheating her way into law school.  Or a retired couple haggling in a flea market.  In the thoughts of the conscience we hear the voice of God: “There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.”  The Voice says that you will always have opportunities to compromise your integrity for the sake of gain; but you cannot put a price tag on “lips of knowledge.” For Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12.34), and no treasure can compare to a heart where Jesus reigns, overflowing in a life that honors Him in every detail.  You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Explore posts in the same categories: Lighthouse Letter, Proverbs

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