Would You Please Explain Proverbs 27:14?


Proverbs 27:14 reads: “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, It will be counted a curse to him.”

This seems to be a rather straight-forward statement, easy to understand. But upon further and deeper scrutiny, some very remarkable and easily overlooked truisms may come to light. This is a good example for the fact that the Bible must be read with great care and diligence, and that just a superficial glancing at biblical passages will not suffice.

(1)  First, we should note that the person blesses, praises or thanks his friend “with a loud voice.”

The Broadman Bible Commentary states:

“Verse 14 is aimed at insincerity in greeting concealed by a loud but hypocritical voice.”

The Lamsa Bible renders the verse:

“He who blesses his friend with a flattering loud voice is not different from him who curses.”

The person who flatters his friend by blessing him with a loud voice, while he has ulterior motives and insincerity in his heart, can be compared with those who pray to God with a loud voice, but who are unwilling to submit to Him. In either case, such a “blessing” or prayer of “thanks” will not produce positive results, as Ezekiel 8:18 states: “.. though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.”

It is also interesting that the harlot is described as “loud and rebellious” (Proverbs 7:11).

The Soncino Commentary gives the following explanation of the person’s blessing with a loud voice, in Proverbs 27:14:

“… ‘with a loud voice.’ His heartiness conceals feelings of animosity…”

Psalm 5:9 states that “… there is no faithfulness in their mouth… their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with their tongue.”

Proverbs 26:28 tells us that a “flattering mouth works ruin”; and Proverbs 29:5 states that “A man who flatters his neighbor Spreads a net for his feet.”

Psalm 12:3 states: “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips…”  and Job 17:5 warns also against the bad consequences of flattery for the flatterer and his offspring.

Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 2:5-6 that he and his fellow workers did not act as the flatterer in Proverbs 27:14, pointing out: “For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak of covetousness—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.”

We might also remember the many instances when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Christ with flattering and praising words, in order to trick Him. For instance, we read this remarkable episode in Matthew 22:15-18:

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus perceived their wickedness [Mark 12:15 states: “But He, knowing their hypocrisy …”], and said, ‘Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?’”

The Benson Commentary gives an additional meaning to the use of a “loud voice” in Proverbs 27:14:

“‘He that blesseth his friend’… That saluteth, praiseth, or applaudeth him to his face, as the manner of flatterers is; ‘with a loud voice’… That both he and others may be sure to take notice of it…”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible elaborates as follows:

“‘He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice’… So as not only to be heard by him, but by others; who is extravagant in his praises and commendations of him; who exceeds all bounds of modesty, truth, and decency; who affects pompous words, and hyperbolical expressions; and shows himself to be a real sycophant [a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain an advantage] and flatterer, having some sinister end to serve by it…”

The Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers agrees:

“‘He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice’… If gratitude is to be acceptable, the time, place, and manner of shewing it must all be well chosen. A man who is so eager to express his thanks that he begins early in the morning, and in so loud a voice as to draw upon his patron the attention of all the bystanders, is looked upon as a nuisance; any one would as soon be cursed as blessed by him. So God loves heartfelt gratitude offered in secret (Compare Matthew 6:5-6.).”

The point is made that we ought to be careful not to praise another person with a loud flattering voice in the presence of others, while being motivated by a desire to be heard and acknowledged by them.

(2)  Next, we should again take note of the fact that he blesses his friend “early in the morning.”

The Soncino Commentary states that “early in the morning” describes “an idiomatic phrase denoting zeal [compare Jeremiah 7:13], but in this instance it is only feigned…”

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary states:

“‘He that blesseth his friend… rising early in the morning…’ it shall be counted to be a flatterer all the same as if he cursed his friend (cf. Proverbs 26:25). ‘Early in the morning’ implies the affected assiduity [constant or close attention to what one is doing] of the flatterer… The exaggerated praise and compliment engender suspicion and sinister motives.”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states:

“‘rising early in the morning’… lest any should be before him, and get the benefit he seeks by his flattery; or as if he had not time enough in the day to finish his encomium, unless he began early in the morning, and continued it all the day; and so it denotes his being incessant at this work, always harping on this string, or expressing himself in this adulatory way; or, as some think, this is mentioned as an aggravation of his sin, that he should be acting this low, mean, and criminal part, when he should be employed in devotion and prayer to God…”

We find an interesting example in Judges 6:28 when men of the city arose “early in the morning” to worship before the altar of Baal. They had zeal to do something, but their zeal was totally wrong. Another example of a wrong kind of zeal by those who rise “early in the morning,” but who do not behave in accordance with God’s Will and who disregard His Plan, can be found in Isaiah 5:11-12: “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink… but they do not regard the work of the LORD, Nor consider the operation of His hands.”

(3)  Finally, we read that such early and loud blessings “will be counted a curse” to the flatterer.

The Soncino Commentary gives the following explanation:

“… ‘counted a curse to him.’ The clause… can mean that God will punish the insincere man for his greeting as though it had been a curse…”

The Benson Commentary states:

“…‘It shall be counted a curse to him’… His friend will value this kind of blessing no more than a curse: because it plainly discovers a base design, and is a high reflection upon him, as if he either did not understand such gross and palpable flattery, or were so ridiculously vain-glorious as to be pleased with it.”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible agrees and adds:

“… ‘it shall be counted a curse to him’… either to the flatterer, by his friend whom he blesses, and by all wise men that hear him, who will despise him all one as if he cursed him…  such an one differs [nothing], or nothing seems to differ, from one that curses: or else to the person blessed, whom others will curse or however detract from his character, because of the profuse praises bestowed upon him; nay, sometimes God himself curses such a man, who listens to, is fond of, and receives the fulsome flatteries of wicked men, as in the case of Herod, Acts 12:22.”

In regard to the above-quoted comment that a “blessed” person may be “cursed” by others, we might think of Jacob’s concern when his mother persuaded him to trick and deceive his father Isaac to receive a blessing from him. He said to his mother Rebekah: “Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be a deceiver to him; and I shall bring a curse on myself and not a blessing” (Genesis 27:12). His mother persuaded him to carry out his deception and stated that Jacob’s curse should be on her. Jacob acquiesced, but as a consequence, he had to flee from his twin brother Esau and stayed away for twenty years (Genesis 31:38, 41), while being deceived repeatedly by this uncle Laban (Genesis 29:24; 31:7). When he returned, his father Isaac was still alive, but it appears that his mother Rebekah had died in the meantime (she is not mentioned anymore after Genesis 27:46), which means that she never saw her son again.

In conclusion, the Bible does not speak against truly thanking or blessing our friend at any time. What is addressed here is the motive and the manner of the ones who bestow and receive the “blessing”—the insincere flattery of a person who acts with a loud voice to be heard by others, while he might harbor feelings of animosity towards his “friend,” and who acts early in the morning to be the first in line and before others have the opportunity to bless his friend and may receive appreciation and benefits instead of the flatterer. Again, we might think of Jacob who was able to get to his father Isaac with the savory food that had been quickly prepared by his mother, before his brother Esau arrived with his savory food.

Proverbs 27:14 addresses the insincere person who does not act because of genuine love, but because of sinister motives. For his conduct, he will either be punished by God directly or his friend will see right through him and reject his flattery, treating it as the utterance of a curse. Proverbs 27:14 might also include the warning for his friend not to accept such a “blessing” which might have been encouraged to some extent by his own improper conduct (compare Jacob’s behavior), and which might turn out to become a curse for him—including the admonition not to embrace and enjoy the hypocritical loud and boisterous flattery bestowed upon him in the presence of others (compare Herod’s behavior), as this might lead to his downfall.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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