William Kelly Major Works Commentary
When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee:Proverbs Chapter 23
In chapter 23: 1-8 we have the cautions of wisdom against self-gratification and seeking the riches which furnish its means.
"When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider well who is before thee, and put a knife to thy throat, if thou [be] a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties; for they fare] deceitful food.
"Weary not thyself to become rich; cease from thine own intelligence. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon what is not? For indeed it maketh itself wings, and it flieth away, as an eagle toward the heavens.
"Eat thou not the meat of [him that hath] an evil eye, nor desire his dainties. For as he thinketh in his soul, so [is] he. Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart [is] not with thee. The morsel thou hast eaten thou shalt vomit up, and waste thy sweet words."
In Luke 16 our Lord depicts the easygoing gentleman - not an infidel, but orthodox - who lived to indulge himself, clothed in purple and fine linen, and making good cheer in splendour every day. But, dead and buried, in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, the immediate consequence of living to self and not to God. But here it is rather the danger to one not used to luxury; and he is told to consider what or who is before him, and to put a knife to his throat rather than yield to self-indulgence. "Give us this day our sufficient (or necessary) bread," as the Lord told His disciples to pray. Dainties are deceitful food even for a Jew, how much more for a Christian!
If possible, more insidious and absorbing is the danger of seeking and setting the mind on being rich. Here it is not the mere appetite one has to guard against, but to cease from one's own understanding, so apt to find good reasons for an evil and selfish thing. The Apostle declares that those who desire to be rich, even if they avoid by-paths to it, fall into temptation and snare, and many unwise and hurtful lusts which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of every evil, after which some having aspired have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Hence it is their uncertainty, as well as our own self-confidence, that is graphically described. Our wisdom is to set our mind on the eternal weight of glory where Christ is, and to look not on the things that are seen; for how transitory these are, while the unseen are eternal. Wealth, says the wise man, does indeed make itself wings and fly away as the eagle to the skies.
There appears to be a link of connection between the counsel in verse 6, not to eat the bread of one that has an evil eye, with setting the mind on what is not in a covetous way, as in verse 5. And this tends to bind up verse 4 both with what precedes and with what follows. For the desire for money is far less commonly for its own sake than in order to enjoy with more ease the things of the world and of human life. And the table forms no small part of these in general. But the point here pressed is to beware of accepting the hospitality of the insincere, who really begrudges the guest what he eats or drinks while with his lips urging him to partake freely of his store. Far otherwise is such a host as he thinks in his soul. He says to thee, Eat and drink; but his heart is not with thee. The prophet Isaiah, looking to the King's reign in righteousness, lets us know that so it will not be in that future day of bliss for the earth. The vile person or fool, like Nabal, shall no more be called liberal, nor the churl or crafty be said to be bountiful. The wicked now strive to appear what they are not, and not to manifest what they are. For at heart men are ashamed of what they know themselves to be.
Can any discovery among professed friends be more sickening than to find that one's welcome was a vain show, after being taken in by it? This is here represented energetically in verse 8. The morsel thou hast eaten thou shalt vomit up, and thou shalt waste thy sweet words: that is, the thanks you expressed when you thought his invitations were as cordial as kind. From ordinary life up to the most solemn acts of reverent faith and love, to eat and drink together is regarded as an act of hearts united. So much the more painful when one finds it wholly insincere.
In verses 9-18 we hear maxims of wisdom and probity; then of the value of instruction for oneself, and of discipline for the child; next of joy over the wise heart and lips; last, of guarding against envy and cherishing the fear of Jehovah.
"Speak not in the ears of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.
"Remove not the ancient landmark, and enter not into the fields of the fatherless; for their redeemer [is] strong; he will plead their cause against thee.
"Apply thy heart unto instruction, and thy ears to the words of knowledge.
"Withhold not correction from the child: if thou beat him with the rod, he shall not die; thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from Sheol.
"My son, if thy heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine; and my reins shall exult, when thy lips speak right things.
"Let not thy heart envy sinners; but [be thou] in the fear of Jehovah all the day; for surely there is a [latter] end, and thy hope shall not be cut off."
If grace has given us wisdom, inseparable from Christ who is God's wisdom no less than His power, who from God is made to us wisdom, it is vain and unseemly to speak its words in the ears of a foolish man. He needs to judge himself instead of listening to words which his folly prevents him from understanding, and exposes him to the sin of despising. The Lord put the same mistake in a still more pungent form when He told His disciples not to cast the holy thing to the dogs, nor to cast pearls before the swine.
Heartless dishonesty toward any and especially the fatherless draws out a far graver warning. It matters not whether it take the crafty shape of removing the ancient landmark, or the open boldness of entering into the fields of the fatherless. If they have no father, they need no lawyer any more than taking the law into their own hands. Their Kinsman, their Redeemer, is strong; He will plead their cause against the rogue, high or low.
Again, if instruction can be had, it needs application, and the application of the heart, without which the head avails not. When right affection guides and governs, the ears profit by the words of knowledge, instead of knowledge puffing up.
Then comes the serious question of training, and not merely teaching the young; and the word is, "Withhold not correction from the child." But if he needs chastening for moral delinquency, there must be self-restraint as well as holy resoluteness. He is not to be beaten with a scourge to his great pain or injury, but "with the rod." So beaten, "he shall not die," but live the better. On the other hand, the parent must not shirk pain to natural feeling - "thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell." Let the father fear the end of laxity, and look for blessing on a godly beginning.
Hear the touching encouragement, if the child bow dutifully. "My son, if thy heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine; and my reins shall exult, when thy lips speak right things." Thus the fruit of righteousness in peace is sown for those that make peace.
But let no saint's heart envy sinners; whatever their appearance, they are set in slippery places, and cast down to destruction as in a moment. To be in the fear of Jehovah all the day is the true, safe, and happy place. "For surely there is a latter end," and the saint's "hope shall not be cut off." "Cast not away therefore your confidence which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of endurance, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. For yet a very little while he that cometh will come and will not tarry."
In Proverbs 23:19-28, the wise man begins with warning his son against association with the self-indulgent in drinking and eating. Next he commends heed to parents. Then he counsels to truth and understanding through it, with the joy it gives to the father and mother. Last, he warns against corruption as utterly ruinous on all sides.
"Thou, my son, hear and be wise, and direct thy heart in the way.
"Be not among wine-bibbers, among gluttonous eaters of flesh.
"For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty, and drowsiness shall clothe with rags.
"Hearken unto thy father that begot thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.
"Buy the truth, and sell [it] not - wisdom and instruction and understanding.
"The father of the righteous one shall greatly rejoice, and he that begetteth a wise [child] shall have joy of him.
"Let thy father and thy mother be glad, and let her that bore thee rejoice.
"My son give me thy heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.
"For a whore [is] a deep ditch; and a strange woman [is] a narrow pit:
"She also lieth in wait as a robber, and increaseth the treacherous among men."
The first part consists of parental advice against social dangers (vv. 19-25). The second (26-28) rises to Jehovah who warns of a still deeper personal danger. All opens with an affectionate appeal of a general kind.
"Thou, my son, hear and be wise, and direct thy heart in the way." Not talking but hearing is the path to wisdom, and the heart is as much concerned at least as the ears.
Love of company outside, and free from home proprieties, is no little snare. Hence it is said, "Be not among wine-bibbers, among gluttonous enters of flesh" - a temptation to the fast growth of youth, apt to be impatient of restraint, and full of impetuous energy.
Both eating and drinking expose to lack of moderation, especially if either become a habit. "For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty, and drowsiness shall clothe with rags." Shame and suffering must be the end of so unworthy a way; and where is the fear of Jehovah in it?
Hence the more earnest expostulation of verse 22, and from both sides. "Hearken to thy father that begot thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old." How sad to fail in reverence to parents, and especially to the one who had the chief care and love unfailing when the child most needed both! Oh! the shame of despising one's mother when she is old, and ought to have still more honour!
Then comes weighty counsel, and in particular at the start of public life. "Buy the truth, and sell it not, - wisdom, and instruction, and understanding." No money, it is true, can buy the truth, but the heart's desire and waiting on Him who gives freely and upbraids not. But there are many temptations to sell it for fleshly and worldly attractions, from which He alone can preserve. We may observe how truth leads to and is shown in the practical shape of wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
How emphatic too is the effect on the father's heart when this is so! "The father of a righteous one shall greatly rejoice, and he that begetteth a wise one shall have joy over him."
This is repeated, and yet more, in verse 25: "Let thy father and thy mother be glad, and let her that bore thee rejoice." How happy too for the child!
But verse 26 brings in Jehovah, it would seem, who claims the heart unreservedly. "My son, give me thy heart, and let thine eyes observe (or, delight in) my ways." He, rather than the natural father, can speak thus without limit; and where the heart is thus given to Him, the eyes do verily delight in His ways; for they are goodness and mercy, truth and faithfulness.
On the other hand, the snare from a harlot is perilous indeed. Lost to shame, her intrigues are subtle and varied. She "is a deep ditch," as "a strange woman in a narrow pit," out of which extrication can only be through divine mercy and power.
The peril is further pointed out in verse 28. "She also lieth in wait as a robber, and increaseth the treacherous among men." It is not only that she has her insatiable ends, but that it leads on the other side to no end of wicked advantage and demoralization in every form.
Now follows (vv. 29-35) the picture of him who loves strong drink to the life, aye, and the death.
"Who hath (or, oh!) woe? Who hath (or, alas!) sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath complaining? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness (or, darkness) of eyes?
"They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to try mixed wine.
"Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it sparkleth in the cup, when it goeth down smoothly.
"At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.
"Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thy heart shall utter froward things.
"Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, and as he that lieth down on the top of a mast.
"They have smitten me [thou wilt say], I am not sore; they have beaten me, I felt not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again."
As the chapter began with the evil of self-indulgence in eating, especially in a ruler's house, so it ends with the still more evident danger of hard drinking, no matter where it may be. How graphic is the wise man's sketch!
Of all the lusts of the flesh, none from first to last exposes so much to shame and grief as intoxication. Others may be fatally ruinous to oneself or to our partners, but this is more stupefying, insensate, and disposed alike to folly and violence. "Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath complaining? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes?" The question is readily answered: "They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek out (or, try) mixed wine." For intemperance ever seeks more and stronger incentives, till the thirst after them becomes overpowering.
No less wise is the advice given to nip the inclination in the bud. "Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it sparkleth (or, giveth its colour) in the cup, when it goeth down smoothly (or, moveth itself aright)." Resist the beginnings; be not caught by the attractive look. "Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away." "The wine of violence" is not the only danger, but the bright and the agreeable also.
What is the end in this world, of which the preacher here warns? "At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder." As this is true of all our own will, so it particularly is the effect of yielding to this debasing gratification. What bodily anguish it entails, what self-reproach for conscience!
The follies too, which are among its results, are so stupid as to expose the victims to derision, as well as to excited feelings and expressions alien to them at ordinary times. "Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thy heart shall utter froward things" - conduct which they themselves deplore when sober, hardly believing that they can have committed themselves to such disgrace.
But this is not all. "Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea" - all sense of danger is gone in this temporary madness, only exceeded by an opposite peril, "and as he that lieth down on the top of a mast."
The talk too is no less idiotic: "They have smitten me"; yet, "I am not sore"; "They have beaten me", yet, "I felt not"; "When shall I awake?" they babble out, but even so, they are not ashamed to say, "I will seek it yet again."
And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.
Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat.
Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.
Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.
Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats:
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.
The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.
Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.
Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless:
For their redeemer is mighty; he shall plead their cause with thee.
Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine.
Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.
Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long.
For surely there is an end; and thine expectation shall not be cut off.
Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way.
Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh:
For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.
Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.
Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.
The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him.
Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice.
My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.
For a whore is a deep ditch; and a strange woman is a narrow pit.
She also lieth in wait as for a prey, and increaseth the transgressors among men.
Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes?
They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.
Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.
At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.
Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things.
Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast.
They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.