Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don’t Toot Your Own Horn (Proverbs 27:2)

Complete: “Let another praise you, and __________________.” Not your own mouth (Proverbs 27:2)

Every one feels underappreciated at times and it is natural to overcompensate in these moments. A segment of Proverbs addressing friends and friendships (Proverbs 27:1-10) begins by renouncing boasting (Proverbs 27:1-2).

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2 NASB)
Proverbs often advises to speak carefully. In lieu of praising oneself, this proverb advises to allow a stranger to do so. The word rendered “stranger” (nokriy) suggests a foreigner or alien in its most common use. In this context, the word does not indicate someone from another country but rather signifies a broader scope: someone wholly other. It merely accentuates the distance between subject and critic as praise by unknown foreigners would likely be of little value.

David Hubbard (1928-1996) comments:

Sound evaluation can come only from others—and they ought not to be too close to us...“Stranger”...underscores the sense of distance. Neither friend, neighbor, nor family member would be described in such terms. Outside “praise”...may not always be accurate but it is always more seemly than self-praise which shades over into the boasting described in Proverbs 27:1. (Hubbard, Proverbs (Mastering the Old Testament))

Robert Jeffress (b. 1955) paraphrases:

Refuse to honk your own horn...This is one of the simplest yet most often ignored principles for success in life. Refuse to be your own press agent. Let other people handle the job for you...Admittedly, this principle can be hard to follow. We tend to think that if we don’t tell others about our accomplishments, they will go unnoticed. The truth is that when we try to shine the spotlight on ourselves, we only set ourselves up for humiliation. (Jeffress, The Solomon Secrets: 10 Keys to Extraordinary Success from Proverbs, 194)

Max Lucado (b. 1955) adds:

Demanding respect is like chasing a butterfly. Chase, it and you’ll never catch it. Sit still, and it may light on your shoulder. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal [1623-1662] asked, “Do you wish people to speak well of you? Then never speak well of yourself.” Maybe that’s why the Bible says, “Don’t praise yourself. Let someone else do it.” (Lucado, Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear, 76)
In today’s sell yourself world, Proverbs’ synthetic admonition to keep one’s successes to onseself is counter cultural.

Praise is only as good as its source. Our own praise is too unobjective to be useful. We are too close to the situation to see ourselves clearly and as such we cannot accurately gage our own efforts.

Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) analyzes:

The admonition protects one against self-deception and flattery. “A person is judged by his praise.” (Proverbs 27:21), but to be of value that praise must be credible. Objective friends have no self-interest in either their positive evaluation of a person or in their celebrating his virtue...A German proverb says, “Eigen-Lob stinkt, Freundes Lob hinkt, Fremdes Lob klingt” — “self-praise stinks, a friend’s praise limps, a stranger’s praise rings.” William McKane [1921-2004] comments, “Whereas society will not take the boaster seriously, it has its own way of testing him before according him acclaim and entrusting him with power [cf. Proverbs 27:21, 25:6-7; Luke 14:7-11; John 12:43].” Moreover self-promotion through boasting may elevate a person beyond his competence, leading him to fear demotion or in fact to be demoted and shamed. (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 374)
There are practical as well as moral reasons for the sage’s advice. Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) observes:
Modesty is a tactical as well as moral virtue, for others are more likely to speak of a person’s virtues and accomplishments if he himself is silent on them, and “He whose spirit is humble will hold honor” (Proverbs 29:23b). A further implication is that one should act in such a way that other people, and not only his own mouth will praise him. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible), 803)
Relationship counselors Les (b. 1961) and Leslie Parrott (b. 1964) (naturally) apply the proverb to romantic relationships. They take the proverb’s negative and encourage the positive inverse:
This truth may not have been written with couples in mind, but the wise husband and wife will see its applicability to marriage...Loving couples praise one another in private and in public. They tell each other’s stories of accomplishment..So when you have an opportunity to bring praise to yourself in a social setting, skip it. But when an opportunity arises for you to compliment your spouse in front of others, don’t let the opportunity slip by. (Parrott and Parrott, Meditations on Proverbs for Couples, 38)
Proverbs does not discourage praise, only self praise (Proverbs 27:21). It is more fitting for someone else to place the crown on the ruler’s head. Besides, if you are good, there is no need to tell people. They will know it. And if you need to tell someone you are good, how good could you be?

Why is Proverbs 27:2 sage advice? What other tasks should you not do for yourself? When have you been tempted to brag about your own success? Why? What should you do if no one else praises your good work? Whose opinion do you most value, your own or others? Whose assessment is most accurate? Is there an implicit admonition to praise worthy acts in Proverbs 27:2? Who should we praise?

It is typically better to give than to take praise. The word for praise is halal from which we get the word hallelujah. Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) notes:

The trilateral root hll in the qal conjugation means “to praise,” and the root contributes to a wordplay: Just as one cannot take tomorrow for granted (hthll in Proverbs 27:1, hithpael conjugation) so one cannot praise oneself (hll in Proverbs 27:3). Honor is granted, not taken. (Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 237)
Stephen D. Renn defines:
Hālal is a fairly common verb occurring in 165 contexts with the predominant meaning “to praise,” as well as “to glory,” “boast.”...In the context of “praise” directed towards human beings hālal conveys the sense of “commend” (Genesis 12:15; Proverbs 12:8) and “admire” (II Samuel 14:25; II Chronicles 23:12; Proverbs 27:2, 31:28ff; Song of Solomon 6:9). (Renn, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew And Greek Texts,748)
Though it is sometimes used of humans and even objects (Genesis 12:15; II Samuel 14:25; Proverbs 27:2), the verb is usually reserved for God.

God follows the recommendation offered in Proverbs 27:2. Instead of self praise, God allows others to do it. In fact, this is one of our primary tasks. Anything that could garner praise for us is worth us giving praise to God.

Is there anything you can take credit for that God did not do? Do you praise God for your accomplishments?

“Don’t talk about yourself; it will be done when you leave.” - Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)

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