Proverbs 23 – Words of the Wise
A. Wisdom in the “do not” warnings.
1. (1-3) Do not be deceived at the ruler’s table.
When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
Consider carefully what is before you;
And put a knife to your throat
If you are a man given to appetite.
Do not desire his delicacies,
For they are deceptive food.
a. When you sit down to eat with a ruler: The idea is of a generous invitation to eat with powerful people at a table loaded with delicious, well-prepared food. This was something like what Daniel and his companions later faced in Daniel 1.
i. “The rich do not give away their favors for free. They want something in return, and it is generally much more than what they have invested. One can lose one’s own soul in the exchange.” (Garrett)
b. Consider carefully what is before you: Don’t be overwhelmed and seduced by the atmosphere of power and luxury. If you are vulnerable to these temptations, then beware (put a knife to your throat).
i. “The expression ‘put a knife to your throat’ (Proverbs 23:2) means ‘to curb your appetite’ or ‘to control yourself’ (like ‘bite your tongue’).” (Ross)
ii. “It is a shame for a saint to be a slave to his palate. Isaac loved venison too, too well.” (Trapp)
iii. Given to appetite: “Though referring here narrowly to food, can be interpreted broadly with reference to all appetites. Total prohibition is necessary for a person who cannot control his appetites; the disciple can give no place to lust (cf. Matthew 5:29-30).” (Waltke)
c. They are deceptive food: The ruler’s table may be your ruin. You may be so seduced by the atmosphere of power and luxury that you surrender what should not be surrendered, you promise what should not be promised, and in effect you worship and serve what should not be worshipped and served.
i. “So the warning is not to indulge in his impressive feast—the ruler wants something from you or is observing you.” (Ross)
ii. “Let every young man desirous of walking in the ways of wisdom, keep his eye illuminated by the fear of Jehovah, all who put before him their material dainties, lest they rob him of his spiritual excellencies.” (Morgan)
2. (4-5) Do not make an idol of wealth.
Do not overwork to be rich;
Because of your own understanding, cease!
Will you set your eyes on that which is not?
For riches certainly make themselves wings;
They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.
a. Do not overwork to be rich: Many times, the Book of Proverbs rebukes and even mocks the lazy man. Yet this does not mean that work and the wealth that comes from work should be made an idol. One may begin to worship work; that one should cease and do so because of your understanding. You know better.
b. Riches certainly make themselves wings: Though working hard is a mark of wisdom, we don’t live for the riches that may come from that work. Those riches are too vulnerable and temporary to be a worthy focus of our life.
i. Like an eagle toward heaven: “The addition adds to the metaphor of the swift and powerful eagle that he outstrips all attempts to capture him. Riches will certainly disappear, and once gone, they are gone forever.” (Waltke)
3. (6-8) Do not eat at the table of a stingy man.
Do not eat the bread of a miser,
Nor desire his delicacies;
For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
“Eat and drink!” he says to you,
But his heart is not with you.
The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up,
And waste your pleasant words.
a. Do not eat the bread of a miser: The ruler’s table was a dangerous place (Proverbs 23:1-3), but so is the table of the miser, the one with an evil or ungenerous eye.
i. The miser: “The envious or covetous man, who secretly grudgeth thee the meat which he sets before thee, as this phrase is used, Proverbs 28:22; Matthew 20:15; as, on the contrary, a liberal man is said to have a good eye, Proverbs 22:9.” (Poole)
b. “Eat and drink!” he says to you: The stingy man says this to his guests, but his heart is not with you. He doesn’t want you to really enjoy yourself at his table, because he wants to keep more food for himself. You will offend him if you are foolish enough to take him at his word.
i. “That is, of a miserly muckworm, that wisheth thee choked for so doing, even then when he maketh greatest show of hospitality and humanity.” (Trapp)
ii. “But there are no such dangers linked to the invitations of the Gospel. The table is ready, and the invitations have been sent out. The only qualification is our own hunger to accept the invitation and eat the heavenly food. Then we discover that our appetite increases with every mouthful we consume.” (Bridges)
c. The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up: The table of the miser will be such an unpleasant experience that the food you enjoyed will come back to bother you. The pleasant words spoken at his table will seem wasted.
i. “These proverbs contradict the common notion that Proverbs regards the rich as righteous and thus favored by God. To the contrary, wealthy people often are viewed with a marked suspicion, and their company is not always valued.” (Garrett)
4. (9) Do not waste your words on the fool.
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
For he will despise the wisdom of your words.
a. Do not speak in the hearing of a fool: This assumes that the one doing the speaking is not himself a fool and is a wise man.
i. In the hearing: “…rather, in the ears (King James Version); it is direct address, not something overheard.” (Kidner)
b. He will despise the wisdom of your words: The fool will not receive or appreciate your wisdom. It will be as Jesus later described – like throwing pearls before pigs (Matthew 7:6).
5. (10-11) Do not steal from others.
Do not remove the ancient landmark,
Nor enter the fields of the fatherless;
For their Redeemer is mighty;
He will plead their cause against you.
a. Do not remove the ancient landmark: Literally, the ancient landmark was normally a stone marker for a property line. Moving the landmark was a way to make your field bigger and to steal from your neighbor. Symbolically, the ancient landmark was a tradition or custom from ancestors.
b. Nor enter the fields of the fatherless: The field of the orphan needed special care and protection. It was evil to enter the fields of the fatherless to take some of the harvest from those who had trouble protecting it.
c. Their Redeemer is mighty: The orphan and all who are vulnerable have a special protector, a Redeemer. He has vowed to plead their cause against all who would come to take what they have.
i. Redeemer is the meaningful Hebrew word goel. “The Redeemer/Avenger (goel) was usually a powerful relative who would champion the rights of the defenseless; but if there was no human goel God would take up their cause (see Genesis 48:16; Exodus 6:6; Job 19:25; Isaiah 41-63).” (Ross)
6. (12) Do not neglect wisdom.
Apply your heart to instruction,
And your ears to words of knowledge.
a. Apply your heart to instruction: Wisdom can be given out, but it must be received to be of any lasting good. The reception of wisdom isn’t passive; it is active, received with a heart that truly applies wisdom and instruction.
i. “The verse is in the imperative and suggests that education is vital to one’s whole life.” (Garrett)
b. And your ears to words of knowledge: We mostly receive wisdom by what we hear, especially in the guidance we receive from the wise. Our ears must be tuned to receive and apply God’s wisdom. When the heart and the ears work together to receive wisdom, much is gained.
i. “When the heart is graciously opened and enlightened, the ears instantly become attentive.” (Bridges)
7. (13-14) Do not fail to correct your children.
Do not withhold correction from a child,
For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.
You shall beat him with a rod,
And deliver his soul from hell.
a. Do not withhold correction from a child: The concept here is not that correction is imposed on a child, but that it properly belongs to a child and to not bring needed correction is to withhold it.
b. You shall beat him with a rod: The figure of the rod in Proverbs is sometimes used literally and sometimes figuratively. There is place for both literal, physical correction of a child (such as spanking), and correction through the rod of an alternative punishment or word.
i. “However, the cleansing rod must be applied with the warmth, affection and respect for the youth. Warmth and affection, not steely discipline, characterize the father’s lectures (cf. Proverbs 4:1-9). Parents who brutalize their children cannot hide behind the rod-doctrine of Proverbs.” (Waltke)
ii. “This text does not justify brutalizing children. Parents who find it only too easy to apply the rod, and especially those who lose their tempers when doing so, should consider Ephesians 6:4.” (Garrett)
iii. “An intemperate use of this scriptural ordinance brings discredit on its efficacy and sows the seed of much bitter fruit. Children become hardened under an iron rod. Sternness and severity close up their hearts. It is very dangerous to make our children afraid of us.” (Bridges)
c. And deliver his soul from hell: The word translated hell here is actually sheol, which first has the idea of the grave. Sometimes it is used in the sense of physical death, and other times in the sense of eternal death. Either or both may be in view here.
8. (15-16) The joy of a father imparting wisdom.
My son, if your heart is wise,
My heart will rejoice—indeed, I myself;
Yes, my inmost being will rejoice
When your lips speak right things.
a. If your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice: The general context of the Book of Proverbs is of a father teaching wisdom to his children. Here Solomon reflected on the great happiness he would have if his children actually received and lived in this wisdom.
b. When your lips speak right things: Wisdom (or the lack of wisdom) is often seen in the words we speak. When the father hears his child’s lips speak right things, he has reason to believe that the lessons of wisdom have been learned.
i. Inmost being: “Of all human organs, the Old Testament associates the kidneys in particular with a variety of emotions. The range of usage is very wide; the kidneys are looked upon as the seat of emotions from joy to deepest agony.” (Kellermann, cited in Waltke)
9. (17-18) Do not envy sinners.
Do not let your heart envy sinners,
But be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day;
For surely there is a hereafter,
And your hope will not be cut off.
a. Do not let your heart envy sinners: This is an easy trap to fall into. On this side of eternity and the ultimate judgments of God it may seem that sin is unpunished and righteousness is unrewarded.
i. “Our hearts, instead of envying sinners, should be full of compassion for them, for they have nothing to look forward to but death.” (Bridges)
b. Be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day: Instead of being jealous of the wicked, determine to have an eternal perspective rooted in the fear of the LORD, an active recognition of the greatness and righteousness of God.
i. In a sermon on this verse, Charles Spurgeon gave a wonderful definition of the fear of the LORD: “The fear of the Lord is a brief description for true religion. It is an inward condition, betokening hearty submission to our heavenly Father. It consists very much in a holy reverence of God, and a sacred awe of him. This is accompanied by a child-like trust in him, which leads to loving obedience, tender submission, and lowly adoration.”
ii. All the day: “Men must wake with God, walk with him, and lie down with him, be in continual communion with him and conformity unto him. This is to be in heaven beforehand.” (Trapp)
c. For surely there is a hereafter: If this life was all there would be, then we would have much more reason to envy sinners. Yet, as the conclusion of the Book of Ecclesiastes demonstrates, surely there is a hereafter, and therefore wisdom means that we should live in the fear of the LORD.
B. A father warns his child about wine and women.
1. (19-21) The danger of drinking companions.
Hear, my son, and be wise;
And guide your heart in the way.
Do not mix with winebibbers,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags.
a. Hear, my son, and be wise: This repeats the basic context of Proverbs, that it is the wise instruction and guidance of a father to his children.
i. Hear: “I have read that in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I there was a law made that everybody should go to his parish church; but many sincere Romanists loathed to go and hear Protestant doctrine. Through fear of persecution, they attended the parish church; but they took care to fill their ears with wool, so that they should not hear what their priests condemned. It is wretched work preaching to a congregation whose ears are stopped with prejudices.” (Spurgeon)
b. Do not mix with winebibbers, or with gluttonous eaters of meat: The wise counsel to a son or daughter is that they should not mix with those who overindulge in alcohol or food. The drunk and the glutton have a bad future (poverty and rags), and the wise man or woman will not share it with them.
i. “The ‘drunkard’ and the ‘glutton’ represent the epitome of the lack of discipline.” (Ross)
ii. Will come to poverty: “Nay, to eternal misery in hell; [1 Corinthians 6:10] but few men fear that; beggary they hold worse than any hell…. But poverty to such is but a prelude to a worse matter.” (Trapp)
iii. Drowsiness:“The self-indulgent are reduced to destitution (Proverbs 23:21a) due to the drowsiness that accompanies addiction to wine and over-eating (Proverbs 23:21b). Their full stomachs empty their minds.” (Waltke)
2. (22) An exhortation to listen to parents.
Listen to your father who begot you,
And do not despise your mother when she is old.
a. Listen to your father who begot you: Wisdom can never be learned until the attention is won. There must be a deliberate effort to listen.
b. Do not despise your mother when she is old: This affirms the principle of honor your father and mother in Exodus 20:12 (and later in Ephesians 6:2). When parents become old, they should receive special attention and care.
3. (23) The attitude to have towards wisdom.
Buy the truth, and do not sell it,
Also wisdom and instruction and understanding.
a. Buy the truth, and do not sell it: We should have the mentality that we are willing to gain truth and wisdom and gain it at a cost instead of wanting to forsake it for profit.
i. Buy the truth:“Purchase it upon any terms, spare no pains nor cost to get it.” (Poole) “Buy the truth; that is, be willing at all risks to hold to the truth. Buy it as the martyrs did when they gave their bodies to be burned for it. Buy it as many have done when they have gone to prison for it.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Do not sell it: “Sell it not; sell it not; it cost Christ too dear. Sell it not; you made a good bargain when you bought it. Sell it not. Sell it not; it has not disappointed you; it has satisfied you, and made you blessed Sell it not; you want it. Sell it not, you will want it. The hour of death is coming on, and the day of judgment is close upon its heels. Sell it not; you cannot buy its like again; you can never find a better.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The Savior says that we should buy from him (Revelation 3:18). This settles the matter. If we do not really want the goods, we will not pay much attention to the proverb. For we only buy what we eagerly desire.” (Bridges)
b. Also wisdom and instruction and understanding: Proverbs often uses these terms to mean the same thing. Truth, instruction, and understanding in this context are all ways of describing wisdom.
4. (24-25) Wise children bring joy to their parents.
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice,
And he who begets a wise child will delight in him.
Let your father and your mother be glad,
And let her who bore you rejoice.
a. The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice: It is a great blessing for parents to have righteous and wise children. That parent will delight in him.
b. Let your father and your mother be glad: One reason for a son or daughter to pursue and gain wisdom is that it will make one’s parents glad. It will be an appropriate blessing and reward those who gave the son or daughter life and an upbringing.
5. (26-28) The danger of the immoral woman.
My son, give me your heart,
And let your eyes observe my ways.
For a harlot is a deep pit,
And a seductress is a narrow well.
She also lies in wait as for a victim,
And increases the unfaithful among men.
a. Give me your heart: Solomon understood that wisdom must be received with the heart. It can’t only be a matter of facts or principles learned in the mind or even memorized. Wisdom must be received into a willing, given, heart.
b. Let your eyes observe my ways: At least at the time of writing this, Solomon could point to his own life as an example of wisdom when it came to the dangers of an immoral woman. He knew teaching is most effective when it comes from a life that knows and lives wisdom.
i. Observe my ways: “The Hebrew here hath it, Let thine eyes run through my ways. Get a full prospect of them, and diligently peruse them. Fix and feed thine eyes upon the best objects, and restrain them from gazing upon forbidden beauties, lest they prove to be windows of wickedness, and loopholes of lust.” (Trapp)
c. A harlot is a deep pit: The pit in mind is the trap dug and concealed to capture a large animal. As an animal might fall into such a deep pit, so the danger of the harlot is real and concealed.
i. “This smooth talking beauty (see Proverbs 5:1-6; Proverbs 6:25; Proverbs 7:10-21) engages in sexual intercourse for lust and/or money with no intention and/or capability of a binding and enduring relationship. Having trapped her victim, he cannot escape the pit because it is deep.” (Waltke)
ii. “Samson broke the bonds of his enemies, but he could not break the bonds of his own lusts. He choked the lion, but he could not choke his own wanton love” (Ambrose, cited in Bridges).
d. A seductress is a narrow well: A well is a source of satisfying water, and the sexual relationship of a husband and wife is described as good water from a well (Proverbs 5:15). Here the idea is of a well that doesn’t satisfy. The seductress offers great satisfaction but ultimately doesn’t deliver, lacking the true intimacy and trust that build a satisfying sexual experience.
i. Narrow well: “Connotes that this sexual partner frustrates him. The fornicator came hoping to quench his sexual appetite, but…he finds her incapable of the intimacy necessary to satisfy that thirst.” (Waltke)
e. Increases the unfaithful among men: This is not to lay all the blame upon the harlot or immoral woman, but her trap captures many. If there were fewer harlots and immoral women there would be fewer unfaithful among men.
i. “Unchastity may be romanticized, but the hard facts are faithfully given here: captivity (Proverbs 23:27: no unaided escape), ruthlessness (Proverbs 23:28a), social disruption (Proverbs 23:28b).” (Kidner)
ii. “She is the cause of innumerable sins against God, and against the marriage-bed, against the soul and body too, and by her wicked example and arts involveth many persons in the guilt of her sins.” (Poole)
6. (29-35) The misery of abusing alcohol.
Who has woe?
Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions?
Who has complaints?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger long at the wine,
Those who go in search of mixed wine.
Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it swirls around smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent,
And stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
And your heart will utter perverse things.
Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying:
“They have struck me, but I was not hurt;
They have beaten me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”
a. Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Solomon reminded us of many of the ill effects of alcohol and intoxicating drugs. They bring woe and sorrow. They bring contentions and complaints. They bring wounds and redness of eyes. Unrestrained, immoderate use of alcohol and abuse of drugs will bring these sorrows to one’s life, and countless tragedies prove it.
i. “This poem is a small masterpiece; it is surely the most effective combination lampoon and lament over the sorry state of the drunkard.” (Garrett)
b. Those who linger long at the wine: The picture is of those who abuse alcohol or other intoxicants, and who are always looking for a stronger drink (go in search of mixed wine).
i. “‘Lingering over’ alcohol describes those who derive comfort and security in knowing that a glass of wine is at hand, ready to deaden the senses.” (Garrett)
c. It sparkles in the cup: Wine can be pleasing on many levels – in how it looks, smells, tastes, and makes one feel. These pleasing aspects of intoxicants never justify their unrestrained or immoderate use.
i. When it swirls around smoothly: “When it sparkleth and frisketh, and seems to smile upon a man.” (Poole)
d. At the last it bites like a serpent: Eventually, the abuse of alcohol or drugs will bite and sting. As Solomon described, the eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things.
i. Like several commentators, Waltke saw a deliberate purpose in setting the warning against the seductive woman (Proverbs 23:26-28) next to this warning against intoxication. “Both the vixen and wine are hidden and deadly traps. The preceding saying unmasks the unchaste wife as a triumphant huntress and this one uncovers wine as a poisonous snake.”
e. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea: The person who abuses alcohol or drugs will drown in their sin and misery. They will be like a person on a sinking ship who denies their danger. Living in denial, unable or unwilling to see their danger (they have struck me, but I was not hurt), their only thought is when they “may seek another drink.”
i. “In a ship in the midst of the sea. This phrase notes the temper and condition of the drunkard, the giddiness of his brain, the unquietness of his mind, and especially his extreme danger joined with great security.” (Poole)
ii. One who lies at the top of the mast: “Escalates his giddiness and danger by comparing him to one sleeping in the crow’s nest on top of the rigging where the ship’s rocking is greatest.” (Waltke)
iii. “The passage describes more than a night’s drinking and a morning’s hangover. It describes the increasingly degenerative effects, physical and mental, of the habitual drinker and the alcoholic” (Aitken, cited in Waltke)
iv. “Wine (and in modern society, illicit drugs) brings physical pain and debilitation, exhausts one’s resources, takes away mental acuity, and yet leaves one craving for more of the same.” (Garrett)
v. Yet there is hope in Jesus for the drunkard and drug addict. “Is anything too hard for the Lord? May his name be praised for a full deliverance from the enslavement to sin—to all sins and to every individual sin—and even from the chains of this giant sin. The drunkard becomes sober, the unclean holy, the glutton temperate. The love of Christ overpowers the love of sin.” (Bridges)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org