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Just the Facts, Ma’am

Elizabeth Eckford walks through a gauntlet of threats and racial slurs during the Little Rock integration crisis of September 1957.   Elizabeth Eckford walks through a gauntlet of threats and racial slurs during the Little Rock integration crisis of September 1957. Will Counts Collection: Indiana University Archives

Wisdom gathering all evidence before making an accusation

Proverbs 25:7c-10 

7b Whom your eyes have seen,

8 Do not go hastily to court;
For what will you do in the end,
When your neighbor has put you to shame?

Debate your case with your neighbor,
And do not disclose the secret to another;

10 Lest he who hears it expose your shame,
And your reputation be ruined.


You have probably seen the photo of the “face of Jim Crow.” Taken in black and white, it portrays in stark contrast the divide between black and white Americans during the Civil Rights movement: a young black student, her face set in grim determination, walks steadily to her first class at a new school. She is surrounded by a crowd of jeering, angry whites who seem to resent her very existence. Behind her, a young white student her same apparent age and height, is captured mid-jeer, with bared teeth and angry face. 

Like many such photos of historic moments, it seems to capture the heart of the struggle of an entire culture. And yet, as it renders into two dimensions two three-dimensional people, it forever changes both of those people’s lives.

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education that segregated schools are "inherently unequal.” Three years later, on September 4, 1957, a group of African American activists and citizens put this ruling to the test. They carefully vetted and chose a handful of black students who would attend the unsegregated Little Rock Central High School. 

Dubbed by the press as the “Little Rock Nine,” these young people arrived amid fanfare and a near-riotous crowd that required a police escort. One of the black students, fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford made her way through the crowd toward the front doors. She seemed to be singled out from the others by a white student, fifteen-year-old Hazel Bryan, who hurled verbal abuse. 

It was at that instant that the momentous photo was taken. 

The “Little Rock Nine” never made it to class at Little Rock Central High School on that day. The National Guard, dispatched by the governor, prevented their entry. Later that month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened, and the black students were escorted into the all-white school by soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division. 

The infamous photo made both young women symbols of each side of the Civil Rights Movement. Miss Eckford would become a symbol of hope to many who longed to see Segregation come to an end. Miss Bryan would become a symbol of hate—a feeling that soon left her heart as she became filled with shame and remorse. 

Six years later, at age 21, Elizabeth Eckford visited Little Rock after having moved to St. Louis. She received a phone call from Hazel Bryan, who apologized, knowing that she had acted out of ignorance and the passion of the moment. Over the years Hazel learned more about Civil Rights, and her attitude towards the issue—and people like Elizabeth Eckford—changed. 

In 1997, photographer Will Counts, who had shot the iconic photo, contacted the two women and arranged a meeting. Forty years after Hazel Bryan screamed at Elizabeth Eckford, they met and reconciled. Though they attempted to become friends, a painful distance would remain between them. 

Has something like this happened to you? You may not have been at ground-zero of a cultural upheaval such as in the above story, but have you ever emotionally reacted or rushed to judgement, only to realize your error years later? Like the two women in the photo, the course of your life may have even changed by a moment’s passion, or a snap judgement against another person. 

Solomon knows and understands this. The wise king plumbs the depths of the human heart as he seeks to teach the young people of Israel the path of righteousness. He knows the hair-trigger of an emotional response, of making a judgment without all of the facts, and the lifelong pain that can result. 

In chapter 25, Solomon shares a collection of proverbs that modern translations describe as “copied and edited by Hezekiah’s men.” The chapter chiefly concerns the behavior of courtesans, who, as members of a king’s court, must exhibit wise behavior in order to render service—or meet a disgraceful end.

Verses 8-10 (with a portion of verse 7) are such instructions: 

7b Whom your eyes have seen,

8 Do not go hastily to court;–Proverbs 25:7c-8a

These may be words meant for a young nobleman doing the king’s business, but they speak to you and I as sons and daughters of the King of Creation. As such, these words are an admonition. They serve as a warning against rushing to judgement. Specifically, a caution not to take someone to court with an impetuous lawsuit based on partial or circumstantial evidence.

The reference to “your eyes” indicates that you may have even been “witness” to what seems to be a “crime” or some form of injustice, and now you are moving to act decisively. 

For a young lawyer or authority figure, this can be part of your vocation or duty according to your position. For you, it can be much more basic—and more difficult to manage. 

How often has a friend or neighbor come to you complaining about the words or actions of another? The revelation that the dishonorable actions or hateful words  of another has broken the heart of your friend can enrage and spur you to action. Very quickly, you form an opinion and choose sides. Now armed with poor or incomplete facts, you begin to tell others of this injustice. 

Solomon well understands the damage this begins to immediately cause, and he paints a complete picture of the result once all of the facts are in:

8b For what will you do in the end,
When your neighbor has put you to shame?–Proverbs 25:8b

This is a rhetorical question that is meant to make you pause and think. Suppose the person who is the source of your outrage finally gets his “day in court” and as facts are revealed you learn his side of the story. Instead of being a brute, he has been misunderstood—or even worse, is a victim of circumstance. I have known many such cases in business and in the church, where water cooler gossip, or the clash of personalities has caused needless pain. 

In many civil lawsuits a presiding judge will actually find against the one bringing the suit if the facts are misleading, incomplete, or incorrect. This can result in a costly counter-suit that can punish both the one bringing the false charges and the witnesses who lend credibility to the frivolous lawsuit. 

Solomon shares his wisdom in the following verses as he advises you on a better course of actions:

Debate your case with your neighbor,
And do not disclose the secret to another;–Proverbs 25:9

If you are convinced that an injustice has taken place, Solomon says, build your case. Take the news that you initially receive, but maintain confidentiality. Then go to the other neighbor, the one who has been accused, and seek to ascertain the facts from him. Seek to know both sides before taking action.

Not only do you face ruin if your accusations prove false, you will have harmed an innocent person. Commentator Derek Kidner reminds you of the high price of such an error:

There is no success which is achieved at the price of our own integrity or one’s own hurt.–Derek Kidner

These passages paint a picture much like a courtroom scene, but it is not unlike a setting between neighbors, or “the court of public opinion.” This latter courtroom is most commonly found today in our online communities. The arena of social media can be an alkaline landscape of snap judgements, momentary rage, and misunderstood words. 

More than one relationship has been broken, and more than one life ruined when an offended party expresses outrage and is soon joined by a “swarm” of supporters and friends who will badger and harass the offender until his account is locked or deleted—hounded off the public stage.

The online ruining of offline reputations has consequences in real life. People have lost jobs, been forced into hiding, and even lost their lives due to online arguments that resulted instead of letting cooler heads prevail. Solomon closes with this final passage:

10 Lest he who hears it expose your shame,
And your reputation be ruined.–Proverbs 25:10

Jesus shares a similar instruction in His Sermon on the Mount. This wonderful message is threaded through with the fabric of the Proverbs. The wisest of all Kings shares His instructions for when you find yourself at odds with a neighbor and are about to make a rash accusation: 

25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.–Matthew 5:25-26

Instead of making a snap judgment, or facing the pain of a lawsuit, seek to settle the matter NOW. Going to another to confess your fault, or seek to understand his side of a disagreement may cost you your pride, but it is better than the inevitable alternative: a ruinous loss, or a permanently broken relationship.

Jesus’s very presence on earth and in his earthly ministry is one who is a restorer of relationships. Through His being made flesh, through His life among us, and through His ultimate sacrifice on the cross, Jesus is reconciling you to your Heavenly Father—and to your fellow man.

These proverbs, like Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, serve as illustrations of how vital it is to have right relationships with others. Animosity is a time bomb and most relationships are destroyed from failure to deal with things quickly. Bitterness is allowed to build up and soon becomes a raging fire. Puritan Thomas Watson describes this well:

When lust or rash anger burns in the soul, Satan warms himself at this fire. Men's sins are a feast for the devil.–Thomas Watson

There are places in the coal mining country of Pennsylvania where coal fires have begun deep in abandoned coal mines. The resulting infernos burn deep underground for decades, rendering the homes and land on the surface above uninhabitable. 

Do you have any subterranean "coal fires” burning in your life? Are there former friends whom you have accused or broken ties with over perceived wrongs, only to learn that you may not have had all of the facts? Do you spend hours online each day, shouting down others for “wrong” political views, shaming them until they block you in retaliation—all for a moment of “clout?”

Christ urges you to keep short accounts, to know your friends and to know your enemies in order to make them friends! As the ancient Chinese general writes:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.–Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Make peace quickly—conflict can waste time—and we have work to do together! The Gospel is at stake, and your purpose in this life is to share this treasure with all whom you know, for God loves them too, not just you!

For even if your neighbor is NOT a believer, how do you know that he won’t someday BE a believer?? Better yet: how can you use THIS incident to God’s glory to lovingly seek him to become a believer? As the great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon exhorts: 

Let the sun stop shining, and we will preach in darkness. Let the waves stop their ebb and flow, and still our voice shall preach the gospel!–Spurgeon 



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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