Proverbs 23:1-35

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If a person were invited to dine with a king, a ruler, or a high official, he should think about what is before him, not letting his appetite for the sumptuous meal control his eating. (23:1) The admonition is, “Put a knife to your throat if you are an owner of soul” (or a person with an inordinate appetite). (23:2; see the Notes section.) The dainties on the table may be enticing, but the advice is, “Do not crave [them],” for they are “food of lies.” The real purpose of the invitation to the meal or banquet is unrelated to eating a sumptuous meal. The invited one is under observation, with his conduct and words being carefully scrutinized. According to the Septuagint, there is a “false life” associated with the delicacies. It is a life that is not as desirable as it appears to one who does not have the means for sumptuous fare. (23:3)

The prime object in life should not be to toil for the acquisition of wealth, for ultimately the end result will be disappointing. The expression that may be literally translated “to cease from understanding” could mean to abandon one’s understanding about the value of gaining riches and to stop the inordinate striving after wealth. Modern translations vary in their renderings. “Do not slave to get wealth; be sensible, and desist.” (REB) “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” (NIV) “Do not wear yourself out in quest of wealth, stop applying your mind to this.” (NJB) “Toil not to gain wealth, cease to be concerned about it.” (NAB) The Septuagint expresses a different thought. “If you are poor, do not compare yourself with a rich person; but, in your insight, stay at a distance” (or restrain yourself from thinking in this manner). (23:4)

Based on the context, the implied object of what the “eyes light upon” is wealth. It can quickly disappear just when the eyes focus on it. Wealth can speedily vanish as if it, for itself, made wings like those of an eagle and flew away toward the sky. (23:5; see the Notes section.)

The expression that may be rendered literally as “evil eye” refers to the ungenerous and miserly disposition of its possessor. The proverbial counsel is not to eat with the individual nor to desire the dainties or delicacies on his table. (23:6) He is like one who is calculating, keeping account of what is eaten and the cost involved. Although he may say, “Eat and drink,” he does not mean it. “His heart is not with you.” In his thought or within himself, he begrudges whatever may be eaten. (23:7; see the Notes section.)

Upon coming to recognize the real motivation of the stingy person, the invited one will feel like vomiting out the morsel he had eaten and will perceive that he had wasted his “pleasant words” or complimentary expressions. (23:8; see the Notes section.)

A fool, a person who chooses to live a senseless or corrupt life, would not be responsive to any admonition that called upon him to make changes in his conduct. The proverb counsels that one should not speak “into the ears of a fool, for he will despise” the “wise words” directed to him, disregarding them and treating them with contempt. (23:9)

The initial phrase about not removing the ancient boundary marker repeats the words found in verse 28 of chapter 22. A person who engaged in this dishonest practice thus stole property from a neighboring field. For one to enter the fields of fatherless ones or orphans appears to have meant to seize their property, taking advantage of their vulnerable state. The proverb instructed that this should not be done. (23:10)

Persons who did take the property of orphans would have to face God’s judgment. As the redeemer, avenger, or vindicator of orphans, he is “strong,” assuring that he has the power and the determination to render justice. He is the one who will plead the cause of orphans. (23:11)

To give or to apply the “heart to discipline” would mean to be mentally inclined to accept needed discipline and to benefit from it. For one to apply the “ear” to “words of knowledge” would signify to listen and to give heed to instructive speech. The admonition in the Septuagint is, “Prepare your ears for words of knowledge,” readying yourself to be receptive to sound teaching. (23:12)

When a boy needs to be corrected, a parent should not “hold back discipline.” The use of a rod to administer punishment for bad behavior will not kill him. “A stroke of the cane is not likely to be fatal.” (NJB) In view of the proverb in the next verse, the meaning of the words “he will not die” may relate to the benefit from the use of the rod. The significance could be that the discipline will correct the boy so that he does not grow up to be an undisciplined, disrespectful, and debauched person who may be executed as a hardened criminal or who dies prematurely on account of his wayward conduct. “Take the stick to him, and save him from death.” (REB) (23:13) Using the rod on him “may deliver his soul [or him himself] from Sheol,” the realm of the dead. The Septuagint refers to the deliverance of the youngster (literally, “his soul”) as being “from death.” (23:14)

The “heart” can designate the mental faculty or the deep inner self. For a son’s “heart” to be “wise” indicates that he is conducting himself uprightly and shunning senseless and risky behavior. This would bring rejoicing to the “heart” or the inner self of his father. (23:15) When a son’s lips “speak uprightness” or what is true, honest, or right, the “kidneys” of his father “will be jubilant.” Translators commonly render the Hebrew word for “kidneys” according to what appears to be the contextual significance (“inmost self” [NJB]; “inmost being” [NIV]; “all my soul” [REB]). (23:16; see the Notes section.)

“Sinners,” or persons who are deceptive, fraudulent, oppressive, or cruel in their dealings with others, may prosper for a time. Therefore, the admonition given to the son is for his “heart” not to be envious of them, not letting his mind or inner self look upon prosperous corrupt individuals as enjoying a better life than his own. Instead of yielding to envy, he should be “in fear of YHWH [the Lord (LXX)] all the day,” or continually have a reverential regard for him and a wholesome dread of acting contrary to his will. This would include trusting in YHWH to bring wrongdoers to justice by whatever means he may choose or allow to act against them. (23:17)

The son’s having a wholesome fear of YHWH would assure his having a future and a hope for betterment in his circumstances. It would be a hope that “will not be cut off” or will not fail to be fulfilled. According to the Septuagint, the son would have “offspring” if he followed the admonition that had been given to him. (23:18)

There is no object for the verb “hear” or “listen,” but the implication is for the son to listen to the sound instruction and advice being given to him. His paying attention would lead to his becoming wise. The son’s leading his “heart in the way” would require his focusing his mind on following the right course of life. In the Septuagint, the reference is to directing the “reasonings of [his] heart” or his mental faculty. (23:19)

The son was exhorted to shun a debauched way of life. He was not to be found in the company of heavy drinkers of wine and gluttonous eaters of meat. The Septuagint rendering may be understood to instruct the son not to yearn (literally, “stretch out”) for meals with meat nor for marketplaces, probably to purchase meat. (23:20)

A “drunkard and a glutton will come to poverty,” for his life of dissipation will waste whatever resources he may have and prevent him from being a productive worker. “Drowsiness will clothe with rags,” for the man stupefied from drink will be drowsy and unable to earn the needed funds for clothing and other necessities. The Septuagint says that “every drunkard and whoremonger will become poor, and every drowsy one will put on torn and ragged clothing.” (23:21)

A son should listen to his father, heeding his admonition and correction. This is only right, for his father was responsible for his coming into existence. The son should also continue to have deep appreciation for his mother, never looking down upon or despising her when or because she is old. (23:22)

To “buy truth” may be understood to mean to put forth the effort to acquire that which is trustworthy and enduring because it is right or true. Once “truth” is acquired, it should not be “sold,” indicating that it should be kept as a highly valued possession. Closely associated with “truth” or what is true, right, or dependable are wisdom (the capacity to use knowledge aright), discipline (correction, training, or instruction), and understanding (the capacity to recognize what is right and to act accordingly). Like “truth,” knowledge, discipline, and understanding are also to be bought or acquired. (23:23; see the Notes section.)

When his child proves to be righteous or upright, a father will rejoice (literally, “rejoice to rejoice”). It will bring him pleasure and satisfaction to see his offspring living a laudable life that brings honor to him and the whole family. Having become the father of a wise son, “he will be glad in him.” The father will delight in having a son who shuns senseless and reckless behavior and who acts sensibly and makes wise decisions. According to the Septuagint, a “righteous father rears [his offspring] well, and his soul [or he himself] rejoices in a wise son.” (23:24)

When a child turns out to be exemplary in life, both the father and the mother will have reason to be delighted. The mother, as the one who gave birth, will rejoice, for her previous labor pains led to a blessed result in the form of a noble and wise child. (23:25)

For a son to give his “heart” to his father could include being devoted to him and granting him his undivided attention. The son would be moved to be responsive to his father’s instruction and good advice. For the “eyes” of the son to delight in his father’s ways would be evident from his being focused on imitating his father’s good example in the various aspects of life. (23:26)

A “prostitute” is a “deep pit,” for involvement with her poses a serious risk to a man’s well-being or life. His ruin would be comparable to a person’s falling into a deep pit. The designation “foreign” or “strange” with reference to a woman also refers to one who prostitutes herself. She is likened to a “narrow well.” As clay jars were lowered and raised to obtain water, they could strike against the sides of the narrow well and break. Similarly, a man could head for ruin when becoming involved with a prostitute. (23:27; see the Notes section.)

A prostitute is portrayed as lying in wait like a robber and increasing treacherous or faithless dealings among men (literally, “man” or the earthling). In this context, the treacherous acts appear to be those committed by men who had relations with prostitutes, thereby proving themselves to be disloyal to their wives. With seeming reference to a man who yields to the seduction of a prostitute, the Septuagint rendering may be understood to indicate that he “will perish speedily.” The Septuagint then concludes with the phrase, “and every transgressor” or lawbreaker “will be destroyed.” (23:28)

Regarding a person who overindulges in drinking wine, the questions are raised, “Who” has “woe,” trouble, or misery? “Who” has “pain,” sorrow, or remorse (“trouble” or “confusion” [LXX])? “Who” has “contentions” (“judgment,” condemnation, or disputing [LXX]) or brawls? “Who” has “complaint” or anxiety (“unpleasantness and gossip” [LXX])? “Who” has “wounds for nothing” (or does not know how or why he got wounds and bruises)? “Who” has “dullness of eyes” or “bloodshot eyes” (“pale eyes” [LXX])? (23:29) The answer is, “Those lingering over wine,” spending prolonged periods in drinking, and “going after mixed drink.” They eagerly look for opportunities to partake of intoxicants or, according to the Septuagint, track down venues where drinking takes place. (23:30)

Overindulgence in drinking has serious consequences. Therefore, the exhortation is, “Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup” (turn your eyes away when the wine looks very inviting and the temptation is strong to partake repeatedly). Once it enters the mouth, the wine “goes down smoothly” or easily. The Septuagint says, “Do not get drunk with wine, but keep company with righteous men” (not with winebibbers), and keep company in the public walkways” (where meaningful conversations take place). “If you should give your eyes to bowls or cups” (filled with wine), “you will walk about afterward more naked than a pestle” (probably when it is not in use and completely bare). (23:31)

Drinking wine or other intoxicants may be pleasurable, but overindulgence leads to very serious problems. The aftereffect can be comparable to a serpent’s bite and a viper’s venom (literally, “it stings like a viper”). (23:32; see the Notes section.)

Under the influence of wine or other intoxicants, a person’s “eyes will see strange things” or experience hallucinations. Without self-control and dulled inhibitions, the “heart” or the impaired mental faculty will cause “perverse,” twisted, or distorted thoughts to be expressed. (23:33; see the Notes section.)

The intoxicated person will be vulnerable and find himself in very hazardous circumstances, situations that are comparable to “lying down in the heart [or the midst] of the sea,” tossed by wind and waves. The precarious state of the individual will be like that of one lying down at the top of the mast of a ship. No one could remain in that position without being hurled down to the deck or into the sea. (23:34; see the Notes section.)

With the senses dulled, the intoxicated man does not become sick from having been struck, and he does not feel (literally, “does not know”) the pain from having been beaten. The drunkard is represented as asking when he would wake up (from his stupor). On waking or sobering up, the man will again seek to satisfy his craving for alcohol. (23:35; see the Notes section.)

Notes

In verses 1 and 2, the Septuagint sets forth the reason for carefully observing what is set before one when invited to dine with “rulers.” “Put out your hand,” with the knowledge that “you must make preparations for such things.”

The Septuagint wording of verse 5 differs somewhat from that of the extant Hebrew text. “If you set your eye upon him, he will by no means appear [or show himself], for there are prepared for him wings like those of an eagle, and he returns to the house of his superior.” The closest antecedent for the pronoun translated “him” is “rich one” or rich person, but it is not clear what the “house of the superior” would be. If “God” is the one intended, there is a question as to why the rich person is represented as returning to God’s house.

In verse 7, the Septuagint differs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It refers to a “bewitching” or envious man as eating and drinking like a person who “swallows a hair.”

Although the wording of the Septuagint in verse 8 is similar to that of the extant Hebrew text, the application is different. The admonition is not to invite the bewitching or envious man and not to eat one’s morsel with him, “for he will vomit it out and distort your good [or pleasant] words.”

In verse 16, the Septuagint rendering differs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. If the son’s lips are upright, being used to express what is true or right, the “words of [his] “lips will spend time with” his father’s “lips,” or he will converse with his father.

The Septuagint does not contain corresponding wording for that of verse 23 in the extant Hebrew text.

In verse 27, the feminine Hebrew adjective for “strange” or “foreign” does not appear with the noun for “woman.” This may explain the Septuagint rendering that refers to a “strange house” (probably a house of prostitution) as being a “pierced vessel” (one that can hold no water) and to a “narrow well” as being “strange” (or a “strange well” as being “narrow”).

According to the Septuagint reading of verse 32, the intoxicated person “stretches himself out like one struck” or bitten by a serpent and is like one in whom the poison of a horned viper diffuses.

In verse 33, the Septuagint refers to the “eyes” as seeing a “strange woman.” When this happens, the “mouth will speak twisted things.”

After the reference in verse 34 to lying down “as in the heart of the sea,” the Septuagint describes the position as being like that of a “navigator in a great wave” or swell.

The rendering of verse 35 in the Septuagint differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “And you will say, ‘They struck me, and I did not have pain; and they mocked me, but I did not know [it]. When will it be dawn, that I may come and seek one with whom I will go [ or come] together [to drink]?’”