Typical parallelism of Hebrew poetry, both lines of this verse address the same basic concept. Each ends with a similar result – “soothes anger” and “pacifies great wrath.”
Activities in both phrases are also similarly qualified – “given in secret” and “concealed in the cloak.” But the subject of each phrase is translated with differing connotations: “a gift” and “a bribe.”
We probably all agree with the message of both phrases of this wise saying. But, I would like to suggest a slightly different translation for “bribe.”
I don’t think the term should automatically be understood as negative. In fact, I believe a better understanding of this concept is the well-known Middle Eastern practice of “baksheesh.”
While it could be a real bribe, it could also be a fee, tax, tip, payment or gift – depending on the context. In that part of the world, over the years, I’ve given “baksheesh” for a paper towel in the restroom I didn’t really want, to use my camera inside a restricted archaeological site, and to get a “porter” at the airport to give my luggage back so I could leave!
That’s how this part of the world has operated for thousands of years and I believe it puts our verse into context. The idea here is to do something appropriate in order to defuse a difficult situation.
Not publically, because it’s not about getting credit – or because everyone else might want something, too(!) – but quietly doing something to help work through a tense time.
Admittedly, our “bribe” can be something inappropriate – including enabling someone in their own mess. But, this kind of giving is something most of us do in our families, at work, in the neighborhood and at church all the time!