When I was a kid growing up I heard a phrase that honestly did not make sense to me. The phrase was this, "Flattery will get you no where." When I heard this I was confused. When I heard someone flattering me, all I heard was someone giving me a compliment. Can receiving a compliment be all that bad? Honestly, the things that were said felt pretty good. So what exactly was I missing here?
That sense of confusion was compounded when I first read this verse that says that when a man is flattering his neighbor - he is actually spreading a net for his steps. This makes flattery sound like something sinister. Whatever is being said is being used to set a trap. You don't "spreak out a net for someone's steps" for the purpose of blessing them. This was what was done to catch and capture an animal. Here the trap is words - and the prey . . . the prey is me!
Most of confusion over flattery can be solved by understanding what flattery actually is. When that question is answered everything else falls into place. The word "flattery" here means to be smooth and slippery. The idea behind this word is that of being faithless, to flatter, or to be smooth. Flattery therefore is smooth and slippery speech - but speech that is meant to lull someone into a false sense of security. The compliment is not genuine. It is meant to disarm someone so that they don't see the trap. The words are subterfuge - like leaves and brush hiding the trap from view. Just as the animal sees the leaves and brush and thinks this is just a normal trail - so the compliment is there to have the one who hears it think all it well. Unfortunately, the animal doesn't see the trap until it is too late - until he is caught. Neither does the unwise one whose pride and ego receive the praise without question - and unwittingly step into the trap!
Just about everywhere this word is used in the OT it is used negatively. Flattery is a compliment with an agenda. When someone is flattering you, their kind words do not have a kind or gracious intent behind them. They are smooth and slippery words outwardly - but the agenda behind them is not good. Your compliment is a set-up. There is something behind the glowing compliments - and that is what the person is after. They use the words and your good reaction to them to gain access to you and to your favor.
This is the net for your steps. It is laid out for you to step into and be caught. Then the true intent behind their gracious and glowing comments is exposed. A wise man will learn to be gracious about compliments, but never let them be that which causes him to drop his guard. This is even more true when it comes to women who offer him compliments. If the compliment is from your wife, that is fine - but if it is from another woman - be very careful. You can be gracious and thank her for it - but never let it be used to trap you. If you remember a previous Proverb in the early chapters of this book, the immoral woman uses flattery to capture men. That is why you need to be unshakable in your commitment to God and your commitment to your bride. Compliments and flattery can be dangerous things when they are in the hands of those who are using them to disarm us to their real intent. That is why we need to always deflect praise and compliments to God. Were it not for Him and His grace, nothing really could be said of us. Thus we make it a habit to deflect priase unto Him. That is the safest thing to do - and the one way you can be wary of the net that often comes with flattery. Like I said at the beginning, our attitude needs to be, "Flattery will get you no where!"