Posted: 31 Mar 2011 12:00 AM PDT
A NUMBER OF PROVERBS in this book bear on the matter of disputes. Some deal with the judicial level—e.g., "It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the innocent of justice" (Prov. 18:5). Again, "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him" (Prov. 18:17)—a proverb that has application in wider settings than the courtroom. This judicial element is scarcely surprising, since of course Solomon himself was the final court of appeal in his kingdom. But many of these proverbs about disputes have little to do with the judicial system (although even the most private of disputes may go to court—and it may well be that Solomon's reflections even about private disputes were stimulated by some of the things he saw dragged into court). There are two such proverbs here: Proverbs 18:13, 18.
(1) "He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame" (Prov. 18:13). This, of course, invites wide application. We think of those exasperating, aggressive conversationalists who rarely let you finish a sentence or a thought before they interject their own viewpoint. How much worse is the situation when neither side in a dispute really listens to the other side. In rare cases, of course, there is literally nothing to be said in favor of one particular side. But almost always there is at least something to be said for a contrary position, even if on balance it is not all that defensible. But how can you find out if you do not really listen? How can you hope to convince the other party of what you are saying if you cannot give that party the grace of courteous listening? In most disputes, tensions will improve if one party takes the initiative to lower the volume, slow the pace, cool the rhetoric, and humbly try to listen and discover exactly what the other side is saying.
(2) "Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart" (Prov. 18:18). "Casting the lot" might refer to the priestly function of appealing to the Urim and Thummim for guidance (e.g., Ex. 28:30). But I suspect not. Some disputes become so vicious or so complex that the simplest way of sorting them out is to flip a coin—provided, of course, that both parties will agree to abide by the outcome. Some disputes cannot and should not be resolved in this manner. But where both sides, deep down, acknowledge that their dispute is six of one and half a dozen of the other, this might be the simplest way forward.
Inescapably clear from all this is the Bible's profound commitment to truth, to integrity in listening and speaking, and to peace as much as to justice.
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