New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Pro 23:1 When you sit to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before you-
Solomon was the "ruler" (s.w. 1 Kings 4:21; 2 Chron. 7:18), but he may have in view any person of authority, as he uses the term in Prov. 22:7 "the rich rules over the poor". The book of Proverbs has in view a bad ruler (s.w. Prov. 28:15; 29:2,12,26; Ecc. 9:17). And this bad ruler offers deceitful food (Prov. 23:3), which Solomon in Prov. 23 advises against eating. We need to recall that eating together was seen as a sign of fellowship and acceptance of each other within the same cause. Solomon may have in view Jeroboam, who clearly sought to usurp Solomon as king. Or he may be alluding back to the various people like Absalom and Adonijah who had feasted to celebrate their apparent usurping of David's throne. The LXX in Prov. 23:1-8 reads rather differently to the Masoretic Text, and speaks much of the evil of the ruler in view.

Pro 23:2 put a knife to your throat, if you are a man given to appetite-
The idea may be that through eating heartily with this bad ruler, you are sucked deeper into fellowship with him.

Pro 23:3 Don’t be desirous of his dainties, since they are deceitful food-
Heb. "don't desire huge meals". But Solomon did the very opposite in his own life (1 Kings 4:22,23). But see on :2. "Deceitful" is a word associated with idols (s.w. Am. 2:4). There may be an allusion to participating in idol feasts which this wicked ruler presided over.

Pro 23:4 Don’t weary yourself to be rich; in your wisdom, show restraint-
But Solomon did desire wealth in the end (Ecc. 2:8,11). When he writes things like “the thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness” (Prov. 21:5 AV), he must inevitably be connecting his own fantastic wealth / blessing with his hard work. He was justifying himself by works rather than by faith; he assumed his righteousness and acceptance with God rather than struggling through the work of faith. Yet he could say “Labour not to be rich; cease from thine own wisdom” (Prov. 23:4 AV). He had all the right theory. Solomon was an active, industrious person by nature; and whilst all his many proverbs criticizing the lazy and glorifying the diligent are true as they stand, is there not in all this some element of self-justification, interpreting his own natural personality type as inherently righteous?

LXX "If thou art poor, measure not thyself with a rich man; but refrain thyself in thy wisdom" could be read as Solomon saying that he, the ultimate rich man, was not to be questioned, but his authority accepted without question.

Pro 23:5 Why do you set your eyes on that which is not? For it certainly sprouts wings like an eagle and flies in the sky-
If the reference is to wealth (:4), then Solomon appears very hypocritical in that for him, wealth was clearly something he set his eyes upon. And he often says that riches are given as a reward for wisdom. And yet on the other hand, he theoretically recognizes that wealth can disappear and has no ultimate reality. But so many will say the same, theoretically accepting how ephemeral are riches; and yet focus their lives and thinking upon them.

The LXX reads this as applying to the ruler and not the food: "If thou shouldest fix thine eye upon him, he will disappear; for wings like an eagle's are prepared for him, and he returns to the house of his master".

Pro 23:6 Don’t eat the food of him who has a stingy eye, and don’t crave his delicacies-
To eat together, or to decline to do so, was understood as a religious act, a sign of acceptance of a person. Hence the radical nature of the open table policy of the Lord Jesus in the New Testament. The man with the stingy eye is presumably the wicked ruler of :1. If a more wealthy or powerful person invited you to their table, it would be hard for the weaker person to decline it. But this is what Solomon urges.

Pro 23:7 for as he thinks about the cost, so he is. Eat and drink! he says to you, but his heart is not with you-
AV "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he". The Israelites were seen as grasshoppers by their enemies- and so this is how they came to perceive themselves (Num. 13:33). Prov. 23:7 RV observes: “As he reckoneth within himself, so is he”. We are defined by our own self-perception. We must come in the end to perceive ourselves from God’s perspective and not according to how men perceive us. We must see ourselves from outside ourselves, and thereby “guide thine own heart in the way” (Prov. 23:19).

It is a common Bible teaching that how a man thinks is expressed in his actions (Prov. 23:7; Mt. 12:34); a little reflection upon our own actions will confirm this. We think of something and then we do it. Our ‘spirit’ or mind may reflect upon the fact that we are hungry and desire food. We see a banana going spare in the kitchen; that desire of the ‘spirit’ is then translated into action - we reach out for the banana, peel it and eat. This simple example shows why the Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ means both the breath or mind, and also power. Our spirit, the essential us, refers to our thoughts and therefore also to the actions which we take to express those thoughts or disposition within us. On a far more glorious scale, God’s spirit is the same; it is the power by which He displays His essential being, His disposition and purpose. God thinks and therefore does things. “As I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (Is. 14:24).

Pro 23:8 The morsel which you have eaten you shall vomit up, and lose your good words-
The allusion may be to Job 20:15, where the man who has gained riches wrongfully vomits them up (s.w.). The same word is used of eating too much honey, and vomiting it up (Prov. 25:16). All this is true, but Prov. 23:8 says that eating the tasty food of the wicked ruler will also lead to vomiting it up. Again Solomon may be cementing his own power, suggesting that any other wealthy ruler is somehow fake, and to sit at his table, in acceptance of him, would be like eating too much honey, partaking in riches wrongfully acquired. Perhaps he has Jeroboam in view. 

Pro 23:9 Don’t speak in the ears of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words-
Solomon has little patience with fools. He considers anyone who doesn't immediately accept his wisdom to be unworthy of any further effort. He has none of the spirit of patient evangelism which was in David, and which is supremely seen in God's tireless efforts to bring resistant fools to wisdom and His way.

This abusive attitude to people arose from Solomon's obsession with the idea that he had wisdom, and people generally are fools, idiots, unwise- and therefore he could abuse them. This attitude is another outcome of believing that mere possession of truths about God justifies us, and declares all other people foolish, unwise and able to be legitimately abused by us. In contrast, the heart of God (as of David) bleeds for such people and wants to save them rather than gloat in their unwisdom and punish them for it.

Pro 23:10 Don’t move the ancient boundary stone; don’t encroach on the fields of the fatherless-
This is cited as one of the clearest quotations in Proverbs from the Egyptian 'Wisdom of Amenemopet'. Here we may see evidence of Solomon wishing to appease his Egyptian wife; or, if in fact the Egyptian document was quoting from Proverbs, we would have evidence that Solomon's Egyptian wife shared some of the Proverbs with her people. However, Solomon is here only repeating the spirit of the Mosaic command about this (Dt. 19:14; 27:17); so my sense is that it was the Egyptians who copied from the Biblical source rather than the other way around.

But we also perceive here a spirit of conservatism, wishing everything to be set in stone, because all truth is with Solomon, his judgment is unquestionably correct, no other teacher is to be listened to, and all the boundary stones are to be kept in place in every way. This may be in order to cement the placing of Jerusalem in Solomon's tribal canton of Judah, rather than Benjamin. And he is using the need to protect the fields of the fatherless as a cover for that. This kind of thing often happens in politics; defence of the defenceless is used as a cover for policies which have quite different agendas.

Pro 23:11 for their Defender is strong, He will plead their case against you-
See on :10. "Defender" is 'redeemer', used of Boaz being the kinsman redeemer for Ruth and Naomi. God has an especial interest in the weak, and loves to redeem them. This provides endless encouragement to us, the weak. If we will perceive our weakness. And those who are against the weak, in whatever way [including against the spiritually weak], will be judged. God enters a court of judgment against such people, and Solomon implies that happens in this life.

Pro 23:12 Apply your heart to instruction, and your ears to the words of knowledge-
Solomon has so much to say about "correction" or "instruction" coming from the possession of wisdom (Prov. 8:10,33; 10:17; 12:1; 13:1,24; 15:5,10,32; 16:22; 19:20,27; 22:15; 23:12,13). But in the end he chastised or corrected his people by whipping them (s.w. 1 Kings 12:11,14). Solomon initially asked for wisdom in order to guide his people, but he ended up whipping / physically chastising them into conformity with his wishes rather than allowing wisdom to correct. Again, he was playing God; for it is God through His wisdom who chastises, and not man. But Solomon thought he was effectively God to his people. This is why Solomon argues that servants cannot be corrected by words (Prov. 29:19 s.w.), and a child must be physically chastised (s.w. Prov. 19:18; 29:17 cp. Prov. 13:24; 23:13), regardless of his screams of pain. This kind of thing is a denial of his claims elsewhere that it is Divine wisdom which chastises / corrects, and such correction is from God and not man. Solomon's final description of himself as an old and foolish king who refuses to be admonished says it all (Ecc. 4:13); he admonishes others (s.w. Ecc. 12:12), but refuses to be admonished or corrected by his own wisdom. He failed to personalize it.  

Pro 23:13 Don’t withhold correction from a child. If you punish him with the rod, he will not die-
As explained on :12, this is true so far as it goes, and is a fair enough commentary upon the Mosaic instruction to stone to death a disobedient son. But Solomon took this idea of physical chastisement too far, to the point of not giving due weight to the power of God Himself through His wisdom to discipline or chastise a person.

Pro 23:14 Punish him with the rod, and save his soul from Sheol-
Quite clearly, the efforts of parents on behalf of their children can affect the eternal destiny of a third party. Prov. 23:13,14 speaks of how we can save a child from the [eternal] grave by correctly disciplining and teaching him. Indeed, the Proverbs have so much to say about how parental influence can affect a child’s eternal destiny. But see on :12.

Discipline and punishment of the unwise is a big theme in Solomon's Proverbs. He took it to the extent of whipping his own people (1 Kings 12:11). This abusive attitude to people arose from his obsession with the idea that he had wisdom, and people generally are fools, idiots, unwise- and therefore he could abuse them. This abusive attitude to people is another outcome of believing that mere possession of truths about God justifies us, and declares all other people foolish, unwise and able to be legitimately abused by us. In contrast, the heart of God (as of David) bleeds for such people and wants to save them rather than gloat in their unwisdom and punish them for it.

Pro 23:15 My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad, even mine-
Solomon here envisages a meeting of hearts between father and son (:16). And indeed family relationships are enhanced beyond any description if hearts are connected spiritually. He parallels the son's wise heart with the son's lips speaking rightly (:16), correctly understanding that thoughts lead to words (Mt. 12:34).

Pro 23:16 yes, my heart will rejoice, when your lips speak what is right-
See on :15. But Solomon is repeating to his son what David had said to him, in commanding him to have lips which spoke truth and not falsehood (s.w. Ps. 34:13). Solomon's heart departed from Yahweh and was turned aside to idols, even if his lips continued to teach Divine truth (Ecc. 2:9). But families can still go through the motions of spirituality.

Pro 23:17 Don’t let your heart envy sinners; but rather fear Yahweh all the day long-
David had calmly urged not to be envious of the wicked (s.w. Ps. 37:1), but he himself almost failed in this (Ps. 73:3 s.w.). We can profess clearly how much we are not envious of others; and then find ourselves like David, caught in a pang of crisis when we wonder why our lives cannot be like those of the world around us. Solomon simplistically commanded not to be envious of the wicked, drawing a simple contrast between the wicked, and the righteous who are not envious of them (Prov. 3:31; 23:17; 24:1,19 s.w.). But this is not how it was in reality with his father David, who admits to almost having given in to envy of the wicked (Ps. 73:3) despite his earlier simplistic condemnation of such envy (Ps. 37:1), and was only saved from that by God's gracious action on his heart (Ps. 73:2). Solomon's proverbs seem to fail to address this complexity of situations because of his own self-righteousness; and yet all he says is inspired and true so far as it goes.

Pro 23:18 Indeed surely there is a future hope, and your hope will not be cut off-
David's "expectation" in the context of Ps. 62:5 was the continuation of his own kingdom, despite all the threats against it from the likes of Saul, Absalom and others who would usurp his Davidic kingship and kingdom. Solomon likely uses the word for "expectation" with the same subtext; that all opposition to him was based upon a false expectation which would be dashed by God (s.w. Prov. 10:28; 11:7,23; 23:18; 24:14). LXX "For if thou shouldest keep these things, thou shalt have posterity; and thine hope shall not be removed" would imply that Solomon thought that the promises concerning his kingly line continuing depended upon accepting his wisdom.

Pro 23:19 Listen, My son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path!-
AV "Guide thine heart in the way". This is true insofar as there must be an element of self control and self direction of our thoughts. But it is hard to consciously direct our heart. David by contrasted invited God to keep his heart in the way / right path (s.w. Ps. 119:32). And the Holy Spirit is available to all who make the same request today. Those who trust in their own steel will and self direction often utterly fail, as Solomon did.

Pro 23:20 Don’t keep company with those who drink too much wine, or those who gorge themselves on meat-
This again is true, but the Lord Jesus was known and mocked for keeping company with gluttons and drunkards. He had no fear of guilt by association nor contamination by communion. Mere physical separation from wicked people, of the type so often advised by Solomon, will not lead to our own spiritual growth nor their salvation.

Pro 23:21 for the drunkard and the glutton shall become poor; and drowsiness clothes them in rags-
LXX "for every drunkard and whoremonger shall be poor; and every sluggard shall clothe himself with tatters and ragged garments". This sounds exactly the picture of the prodigal son presented by the Lord Jesus in His parable. But again, His parable appears designed to engage with Solomon's views and modify or qualify them. For the Father, God, eagerly wants the repentance of such a person and is ever waiting and looking out for their repentance. But Solomon simply writes off such persons as lacking wisdom, and as it were forgets them.

Pro 23:22 Listen to your father who gave you life, and don’t despise your mother when she is old-
But Solomon disregarded Bathsheba's warning not to drink and marry Gentiles (Prov. 31) - he did just this when she was old. Solomon also fails to give due weight to the fact that the mothers of his sons were unbelieving Gentiles. He is coming out with wise words when his own family life was totally out of step with them.

Pro 23:23 Buy the truth, and don’t sell it. Get wisdom, discipline, and understanding-
"The truth" is a term associated with God's covenant with David and Abraham. The Hebrew for "buy" carries the idea of establishing. The idea is that knowledge and understanding would establish the promises to David and the line through Solomon. But Biblically, "the truth" is God's truth to man, His faithfulness to His covenant. But as often, Solomon sees it the other way around; truth must be bought by man from God, insofar as man gets the right knowledge about Him. This basic denial of grace is seen in so many Christian groups.

Pro 23:24 The father of the righteous has great joy. Whoever fathers a wise child delights in him-
Solomon considers himself as the ultimately wise child. Clearly from Ps. 45,72, David delighted in Solomon. So again, he is using Divine truth to justify himself.

Pro 23:25 Let your father and your mother be glad! Let her who bore you rejoice!-
The wicked woman lying in wait to kill the simple man (Prov. 23:25-27) is a clear enough reference to Delilah and her henchmen lying in wait in the bedroom. And yet, for all this reflection upon Samson, Solomon went and did par excellence according to Samson's well-studied folly. And we can do the same, in principle. There is this vast distance between knowledge and belief. 

Pro 23:26 My son, give me your heart; and let your eyes observe my ways-
Even when married to Gentile women, Solomon could charge his son to "observe my ways. For... a strange [Gentile] woman is a narrow pit" (Prov. 23:26,27). The fact he himself had fallen into the pit of marriage to unbelievers just didn't seem to occur to him; he was sure that he was in fact an upright example. This passage reflects more than many the extent to which Solomon's conscience was so deeply damaged. For he wasn't saying 'Do as I say but not as I do'. He was beyond that- doing the very wrong that he warned others not to do, and confidently presenting himself to them as a good example whose ways were to be observed.

Solomon was so sure of his own rightness that he just couldn't conceive that in reality he might sin or break the principles he preached. He warns his son to "observe my ways. For... a gentile woman is a narrow pit" (Prov. 23:26,27). He held himself up in this matter as an example to his son even at the very time when he had married Gentile women! He describes in Ecclesiastes how he indulged every possible desire, and took each of his lusts to its ultimate term. Yet he warned his son to only eat honey in moderation, i.e. don't gorge your natural desires (Prov. 25:16). This sense of the impossibility of spiritual failure is stamped all over Solomon; and it has been the downfall of so many others too.

David by contrast felt he was kept or guarded in the way of integrity by God constantly pointing out that way to him (s.w. Ps. 119:33). Solomon seems to think that mere possession of Divine truth made him "righteous", and this of itself kept him in the way; and the way to follow was his way rather than God's. He has none of the constant desire to be taught which David had, because he assumed he had received total truth. Those who consider they hold "the truth" as a package of doctrinally correct propositions can make the same mistake as Solomon.

Pro 23:27 For a prostitute is a deep pit; and a Gentile woman is a narrow well-
Often the Proverbs allude to characters in Israel's history. The references to a wise son rejoicing his father and mother (Prov. 23:25) and saddening them by his folly shout for application to Samson. The warnings about not looking at a strange woman recall how Samson saw the Philistine girl in Timnath and the prostitute in Gaza (14:1; 16:1). The wicked woman lying in wait to kill the simple man (Prov. 23:25-27) is a clear enough reference to Delilah and her henchmen lying in wait in the bedroom. And yet, for all this reflection upon Samson, Solomon went and did par excellence according to Samson's well-studied folly. And we can do the same, in principle. There is this vast distance between knowledge and belief. 

The  blindness  of  Solomon  is  driven  home time and again; he knew Divine truth, but the more he knew it, the more he lived the very opposite, failing to grasp the deeply personal relevance of truth to himself. A whole string of passages in Proverbs warn of  the Gentile / "strange"  (AV) woman  (2:16;  5:20; 6:24; 7:5; 20:16; 23:27;  27:13). Yet the very same word (translated "outlandish", AV) is  used  in  Neh. 13:26 concerning  the women Solomon married. The antidote to  succumbing to the wicked woman was to have wisdom- according to Proverbs. And Solomon apparently had wisdom. Yet he succumbed to the wicked woman. He was writing Song of Solomon at the same time as Proverbs. The reason for this must be that Solomon didn't really have wisdom. Yet we know that he was given it in abundance. The resolution of this seems to be that Solomon asked  for  wisdom  in  order  to  lead  Israel  rather than for himself,  he used that wisdom to judge Israel and to educate the surrounding  nations.  But  none of it percolated to himself. As custodians  of  true  doctrine-  for  that is what we are- we are likely to suffer from over familiarity with it. We can become so accustomed  to 'handling' it, as we strengthen each other, as we preach,  that  the personal bearing of the Truth becomes totally lost  upon us, as it was totally lost upon Solomon.

Pro 23:28 Yes, she lies in wait like a robber, and increases the unfaithful among men-
Lie in wait" is the word for ambush. Solomon often uses the word, as if it is for him a major characteristic of sinners (Prov. 1:11,18; 7:12; 12:6; 23:28; 24:15). But it's a rather specific word to use so often. It's as if Solomon is consciously alluding to his father's experiences at the hands of the house of Saul (s.w. Ps. 10:9; 59:3), whom Solomon considered a threat to his own kingship. And so he seems to rather like using the term about sinners, as if using his wisdom to have a dig at his immediate opposition.

"Transgressors" or "traitors" is the term used by David of Saul and his supporters (Ps. 25:3; 59:5; 119:158). Solomon uses this term, teaching that "transgressors" must be rooted out of the earth / eretz promised to Abraham (Prov. 2:22), and that the "transgressors" are to face judgment (Prov. 11:3,6; 13:2; 21:18; 22:12; 23:28; 25:19). All Solomon says is true, but he clearly has in view the house and supporters of Saul, who were a group he felt he needed to repress in order to keep his own kingdom and power intact.

Pro 23:29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?-
Solomon here in Prov. 23:29-31 strongly condemns wine, but later gave himself to wine (Ecc. 2:3). And so he again demonstrated how although his wisdom remained with him and he continued to teach it (Ecc. 2:9), he had failed to personalize that wisdom. It flowed through his mind and his mouth, but took no personal lodgment in his heart.

Pro 23:30 Those who stay long at the wine; those who go to seek out mixed wine-
"Seek" is the word used for seeking wisdom (Job 28:27; Ps. 139:1). The fact the supposedly wise man Solomon sought to wine in later life (Ecc. 2:3) shows that he had not personally sought for wisdom. He had been given a mass of Divine truth in one shot, as it were; but had never personally sought for God or His truth. And this can be true of many 'raise in the Truth', as they think, who in later life find themselves searching everywhere for the truth they had supposedly found in youth. 

Pro 23:31 Don’t look at the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly-
Compare this with “…the roof of thy mouth like the best wine, that goeth down smoothly for my beloved” (Song 7:9 RV)- how did Solomon know unless even at a relatively young age, he knew about the sensation of wine from personal experience? Again we see Solomon's failure to be personally touched by the wisdom he knew.

Pro 23:32 In the end, it bites like a snake, and poisons like a viper-
The effect of wine is presented in terms of the serpent, the symbol of all sin and evil. That Solomon would freely explore wine and alcoholism as a possible source for enjoyment in later life (Ecc. 2:3) is again indication enough that he utterly failed to grasp the truths he held and taught on any personal level.

Pro 23:33 Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind will imagine confusing things-
AV "strange women". The idea is that the drunkard will get involved with strange or Gentile women. But this is precisely what Solomon did, before he turned to alcohol (Ecc. 2:3). He was involved with strange women, but condemns alcohol. But he links the two here, and so it is unsurprising that he turns to alcohol later in life. Again, his "wisdom" remained as technical knowledge, so many smart ideas, and was not personalized by him.

Pro 23:34 Yes, you will be as he who lies down in the midst of the sea, or as he who lies on top of the rigging-
The implication may be that the drunk sailor in view was intended to be the captain or pilot of the boat, on top of the rigging, watching astutely as to the direction of the vessel; thus it would be a specific warning to Solomon's son, as the next king. Hence LXX "as a pilot in a great storm". 

Pro 23:35 They hit me, and I was not hurt! They beat me, and I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so that I can do it again?
Solomon sees the folly of alcoholism in that the drunkard never learns, and the addiction leads him to seek it again, somehow closing off his mind to the damage he is doing himself and the consequences of his actions. But Solomon married Gentile women (see on :34), and then takes to alcohol (Ecc. 2:3), with no sense of the personal implications of his actions. And this was his problem all along; he refused to personalize the truths he held and taught, and insisted others accepted. This is a basic feature of human nature, which we see in others and of course in our own temptations.