Saturday, May 11, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (58)

Three of these final nine Solomonic proverbs address masters and thieves.

For the thief, there is a certain excitement and freedom from the moral strictures others are required to observe, but these come with the potential hazard of arrest, prosecution and punishment. Flaunting society’s rules always brings with it the possibility of eventual payback. And while it is certainly a better lot in life overall to be master rather than servant, that role brings with it responsibilities, decisions and difficulties neither slave nor employee really has to trouble themselves about.

Though very different, neither master nor thief is always a desirable role to play.

The “Men of Hezekiah” Proverbs (Proverbs 29:19-27)

More Than Words
“By mere words a servant is not disciplined,
for though he understands, he will not respond.”
At first glance it may seem Solomon is suggesting the master of a household should carry a whip with him at all times, since servants will not accept correction unless absolutely compelled to do so by force.

I don’t think that’s it, exactly. Some servants are naturally compliant. Some have an ingrained sense of duty. Some want to be the best they can be. Some see the point of what needs to be done and agree with their masters about it. Some are competing with other servants for a higher position in the household. Some love and appreciate their masters. Some serve earthly masters out of deference to a heavenly Master. Some are so fearful they don’t need to see a whip in your hand; the fact that someone else they know got a whipping six months ago is more than enough to get them moving. Some are looking for a carrot, and some are looking for a stick.

There are all kinds of reasons servants might accept discipline, but the point is this: words alone will not do it. There has to be an additional motivation of one sort or another.

The same is true in the workplace: over the years, I have worked alongside men who spent more time figuring out how to avoid work than actually doing it. (Yes, usually men.) Something more than a direction from head office is required to get certain employees moving. In the case of those who do not bring a commitment to do the job with them when they arrive, it is up to the wise employer or manager to figure out what stimulus to action is required, and then supply it.

Too Much of a Good Thing
“Whoever pampers his servant from childhood
will in the end find him his heir.”
This second proverb about servants and masters seems to echo a similar theme to the first. The last line is variously translated “will turn out to be insolent”, “will become a rebel”, “will find him to be a son”, “will take over everything you own”, “will become ungrateful”, etc. In short, the meaning of the Hebrew word rendered “his heir” in the ESV is just a tad ambiguous. What is consistent among the translations is that all agree things will end badly if you pamper your servants.

Why is that? What is it about good treatment that invites disrespect? I cannot say, and Solomon doesn’t, but I have observed that Christians who employ other believers are not always treated well for doing it. It is the rare believer who can work for another Christian without using his freedom in Christ as an excuse to take occasional liberties. Paul notes this tendency to Timothy and advises him to correct it. Needless to say, it should not be.

Taking the two proverbs together, it sounds like the best strategy for managing employees is something like “Fair, but firm”.

A Lose / Lose Situation
“The partner of a thief hates his own life;
he hears the curse, but discloses nothing.”
There may be no honor among thieves, but sometimes there is a very self-serving and necessary silence.

Admittedly, the reference to a “curse” in the second line is a bit confusing to the modern reader. The NIV is more helpful here. It reads, “The accomplices of thieves are their own enemies; they are put under oath and dare not testify.” The New Living Translation is similar: “If you assist a thief, you only hurt yourself. You are sworn to tell the truth, but you dare not testify.”

Getting called to the witness stand when you are involved in the crime in question is a lose/lose proposition. We’ve all seen this sort of thing on TV. In the U.S., under certain circumstances you can “take the Fifth” and refuse to incriminate yourself, in which case you look guilty. Or you can perjure yourself and risk getting prosecuted for contempt of court. There is no good option, and no real way out unless the court or prosecutor is incompetent.

In other words, it’s smarter not to allow yourself to get into this sort of situation in the first place.

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