Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet (Proverbs 29:5)
“Neighbor” in Proverbs is also translated “friend.” In the Old Testament, my neighbor was my friend because I didn’t really know anyone else and we had to learn to get along. Not unlike arranged marriages in the ancient world – men and women often married without really knowing each other. Although learning to love my new spouse was probably lots harder than learning to make my neighbor my friend!
This verse compares “flatters” (literally “smooths” – doing and saying smooth things) my neighbor/friend with spreading a net to catch them. This is the same “net” used to catch animals (see note at 1:17), so doing or saying smooth things to my friends/neighbors, is actually setting a trap to catch them.
That automatically sounds evil – and often is. But consider this…while spreading a net to catch a bird is not really good for the bird, it is pretty good for me – I’ll have dinner tonight! Doing smooth things to catch something might not be automatically evil.
When I met my wife (on a blind date 41 years ago, set up by my now-boss!), I said and did some “smooth” things to get her interest. I still say and do “smooth” things with her – because I love her, want to do things she likes and I want to keep her interested in me!
Admittedly the guys at Helping Up Mission will suggest this would be what they call “a dope-fiend move” – manipulating others to get what I want. Busted!
Sometimes we do this with family members, friends, coworkers, the boss and even strangers (if we think they are special). It really comes down to motive – is this all about me or not? If not, then all this “smooth” stuff might not be so bad. In fact, who really enjoys a relationship with someone who is not willing to do and say “smooth” things for us now and then?