Many will intreat the favour of the prince: and every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.
Can you discern motives? Can you make righteous judgment? Wise men recognize the temptations and weaknesses of men in order to prudently judge persons and situations. The power and influence of a prince, and the money and generosity of the wealthy, attract fawning sycophants and leeches. The many that beg for favors from the powerful, and every man that befriends the wealthy, are generally unfaithful and dangerous men.
The proverb is an observation by Solomon. As a powerful and wealthy king, he experienced the crowd and constant harassment of petitioners seeking his intervention on their behalf. In order to teach his son, he warned that a prince would also have many such followers. Some of these men would be leeches, with little positive character or loyalty, and a wise man would not totally trust their words or actions.
Another proverb sheds light on this one. Solomon wrote, “All the brethren of the poor do hate him: how much more do his friends go far from him? he pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him” (Pr 19:7). When a man has no money or power, he loses his friends and brothers, for they have no more reason to keep a relationship. In fact, they are afraid he might request help of them, so they flee! These are called fair weather friends!
These two proverbs together help explain one in the nearby context, where Solomon had written, “Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbour” (Pr 19:4). All three proverbs together are describing false friends, selfish men, unfaithful followers, and dangerous leeches. Wise men must learn to recognize the temptations of men’s souls and thereby have the advantage to correctly judge their words and actions.
Solomon had taught this principle earlier as well. There he wrote, “The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich hath many friends” (Pr 14:20). The lesson is simple: most men have selfish motives that cause them to follow and feign loyalty to those who could benefit them. It is a wise man’s understanding that remembers and considers this weakness of most men and takes it into account when making judgments.
Even the churches of Jesus Christ have such evil men creep in from time to time. Jude warned against those who admire and flatter men for the advantage they hope to obtain (Jude 1:16). It is a profane shame that men will profess Christianity and feign an interest in the gospel to drink from the stream of charity spilling from a godly and loving church. Lord, as David prayed, deliver your churches from strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood (Ps 144:11).
Consider the Lord Jesus Christ. There were those who followed Him merely for the free lunch of fish and bread He had provided for them. They were so eager and intent on securing free food that they tried to forcibly make Him king (Jn 6:1-27). He rebuked and ridiculed their foolishness until they left (Jn 6:28-71). Wise men will recognize from this lesson the inherent folly of connecting medicine and food programs with the gospel. The Jesus Christ of the Bible rejected anything even close to seeker sensitive practice.
How is the lesson applied? Consider Proverbs 31:30, where men are warned against the deceit of a woman’s favors. The fear of God is the only measure of a great wife. Prudent men see a woman’s temptation and weakness to seduce a good man by favors, and they reject her words and conduct as flattery. Even an odious woman can be pleasing during courtship (Pr 30:21-23)! Wise men demand independent fear of God and spiritual zeal.
True friendship and service have nothing to do with advantage or benefit of the relationship, for they are based on the higher principles of fearing God, Christian charity, righteous character, and personal integrity. True friends are not moved by adversity or poverty; they will lose all in order to help their friend (Pr 17:17; 18:24; Jn 15:13).