Proverbs 23

Proverbs 23:1-3

Saying 7

When you sit to dine with a ruler,
note well what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
if you are given to gluttony.
Do not crave his delicacies,
for that food is deceptive.


If you are ever invited to dine with the King or Queen or someone influential it’s unlikely that you are being invited just to taste the food. Most likely they want to consult you about something. Maybe they want to use you for something. It would be prudent to consider their motives for the invitation ahead of throwing yourself I to the feast.

Solomon uses humour in verse 2. Instead of placing your knife near your plate he is suggesting that that your knife should be near your neck. Warn yourself not to be greedy by holding yourself at knifepoint.

It is a warning to exercise restraint when confronted with the luxuries of a wealthy ruler who seeks to manipulate you or lure you into a web of things that you may not wish to be involved with. ____________________________

Proverbs 23:4-5

Saying 8

4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
The Book of Proverbs encourages us to work hard but not in slavery to money or position. A fair days work for a fair days wage seems to be the underpinning principle. To pour all our energy into our work causes our relationships to sufffer and at the end of all things it is only our relationships that truly matter.

Our ultimate purpose is to love God and love people. Love is the most important attitude we can have, the pursuit of spiritual wisdom is more important than any career or job or purpose and walking with God is our ultimate daily goal.

This is the first time since I was about 20 when I have been in a position not to be consumed by career or position or wealth. Even in the ministry I found it hard to put people before projects and so much was bound up in delivering something that would either carve out a unique niche for myself or make me “as awesome” as the other ministry people.

My ego is an ugly thing and found myself being competitive in a quiet and subtle way, perhaps even sly though that’s more malicious than I want to paint it. I wanted to have the reputation of someone who understood everyone’s struggle but actually I was more attracted to the reputation than the understanding. A bit like the disciples who wanted the glory but not the suffering.

Today is different. I don’t know about tomorrow …It will have its own trouble but today is different. I choose walking with God and thinking about others.

Proverbs 23:6-8

Saying 9

6 Do not eat the food of a begrudging host,
do not crave his delicacies;
7 for he is the kind of person
who is always thinking about the cost.
“Eat and drink,” he says to you,
but his heart is not with you.
8 You will vomit up the little you have eaten
and will have wasted your compliments.
This has some similarities to verses 1-3 of the same chapter.

In both Solomon is asking us to consider a potential danger.  Both situations on the surface are seemingly harmless. After all what is the problem with eating good food even if my enemy offers it?
However, we are presented with a ruler who seeks some advantage over you (verses 1-3), or a begrudgingly host who clearly has some advantage to gain by offering something he does not wish to freely give (verses 6-8).

Both are offering something you like and believe you need (a good meal). The danger is that the host offers this meal, but not with your best interests at heart.

Both situations appear to be morally neutral and yet Solomon in verses 1-3 uses extreme language that it would be better to put a knife to your throat and in these verses the outcome is described in terms of vomiting up the delicacies you consumed. Often in Proverbs we are warned that circumstances and relationships that seem right us can contain hidden moral dangers. (See also Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25).

It makes me think of Daniel, who “resolved not to defile himself with the royal good and wine,” and Jesus himself who though hungry, resisted the devil’s invitation to make bread of stones (Daniel 1:8, Matthew 4:3).

Hunger is a legitimate need, but it can easily be used to our disadvantage. Food can become bait in the hands of Satan and his operatives.

Theologian William Arnot in his essays, comments on these passages:

“When the appetite is strong, and the food enticing, the danger of sinning and suffering is great, – greater than most of us care to observe, and acknowledge to ourselves. The warning here is strongly expressed, and all its strength is needed.”

– William Arnot (From “Studies in the Proverbs: Laws from heaven for life on earth”)

Of course it’s not just food, it’s sex, it’s money, it’s position, it’s anything that may meet a physical or emotional need. It is prudent to consider who is offering and why they may be offering especially when the offer comes from left of centre.


Proverbs 23:9

Saying 10
9 Do not speak to fools,
for they will scorn your prudent words.
Similar to Jesus’ words about giving pearls to pigs. There’s no point in engaging with someone who won’t listen or respond. It’s wasting time, energy and feeds negativity.

Proverbs 23:10-11

Saying 11

10 Do not move an ancient boundary stone
or encroach on the fields of the fatherless,
11 for their Defender is strong;
he will take up their case against you.
As in Proverbs 22:28, Solomon reminds us that the boundaries in Israel mattered to God in a special way. But verses 10-11 are also about someone who has no father. In a patriarchal society the father is the protector, without the presence of the father the family is vulnerable and usually poor.

But God is the father to the fatherless. See Psalm 10:14. God cares for the widows and orphans, he especially looks out for the weak, the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice. He is described as an advocate in Job 19:25. 31:21

Jesus said, ‘Allow the little children to come to me!’ (Mark 10:14).


Proverbs 23:12-16

Saying 12
12 Apply your heart to instruction
and your ears to words of knowledge.

Saying 13
13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.
14 Punish them with the rod
and save them from death.

Saying 14
15 My son, if your heart is wise,
then my heart will be glad indeed;
16 my inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.
Spiritual wisdom is set up as our ultimate goal in life. To know God and his ways is the most important thing for a successful life. Whilst it does not guarantee material success or freedom from pain and suffering it does equip us to handle the highs and lows of life like nothing else.

This group of Proverbs reminds us of our parental responsibility to raise children in the light and to understand spiritual wisdom. It reminds us that discipline and training are an important part of life. Solomon is speaking to his son expressing that he will be proud of him and be delighted by observing his son’s own spiritual wisdom.  It is a great blessing when you see your children make good decisions and apply wisdom to their lives and quite the opposite when they don’t as you fear for their safety and trouble coming into their lives.

Proverbs 23:17-18

Saying 15

17 Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.
18 There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.

This makes me think of Psalm 73 where the wicked seem to prosper. I remember doing one of my first sermons on that passage. It’s easy to be envious of those who are not in the faith. I think about even the house that my brother and his wife have just bought and their life of living somewhere quiet and peaceful and though it’s not quite a strong enough feeling to say it’s envious there is a wishing or a longing that we could do that. Just sell up and go and live somewhere quiet.

Of course it’s not thought through and is just a whim and a wish but the principle of wanting what seems greener on the other side of the fence is something that comes up. It might be to do with work or lifestyle or a talent. I had been think about making life comparisons the other day on my way to work and how easily we compare how we are doing by what’s going on around us and who we are connected with.

We want to be at least as good as them in certain areas or want what they have or we want to aspire to what we perceive is the “next level”. Being content with what we have is powerful. Solomon writes here that the pursuit of God is the greatest treasure and that he will always give us a hope that most people in this world don’t have. To walk with God gives us a security and peace that others don’t have. They scramble for meaning and purpose by focusing on “the next fix” …moving up a rung on the ladder of life.

Proverbs 23:19-21

Saying 16
19 Listen, my son, and be wise,
and set your heart on the right path:
20 Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat,
21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
The father warns his son. Drinking and gluttony will waste your money. You will have nothing to show for it and it will lead to poverty. People with addictions and bad habits rarely have money as one former client I worked with memorably said at his graduation “I had a champagne lifestyle but lemonade pockets” or equally memorable a line from a Marx Brothers film where they were stowaways on a cruise “he will live like a Prince …of course he won’t have any money, he won’t be able to eat but he will live like a Prince”.

I wasted so much money as through the years on so called “wine, women and song”. We would be quite comfortably off if I had been wiser. The amount of money that has come through my hands since starting work at 15 …I dread to think.

One of the positives about our current situation is remarkably how little we actually need on a day to day basis.

Proverbs 23:22-25

Saying 17
22 Listen to your father, who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.
23 Buy the truth and do not sell it—
wisdom, instruction and insight as well.
24 The father of a righteous child has great joy;
a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.
25 May your father and mother rejoice;
may she who gave you birth be joyful!
The Biblical command that children  should obey their parents is upheld. As parents our desire is to protect our children from suffering and pain and give them the opportunity to learn from our mistakes rather than make mistakes of their own but this is rarely the case.
Solomon expresses here that the son should choose the best things in life. He should not choose money or possessions. He should choose the truth. And he should choose wisdom, discipline and understanding. These qualities will cause the son to become a great man.

A wise son is better than a rich son. A wise son is better than a famous son. And a wise son is much better than a foolish son.

Verse 22 reminds us about God’s command in Exodus 20:12. Children should respect their parents.
In verse 23, we cannot buy and sell truth with money. To some extent we can share it and pass it on. The Bible seems to imply that this is what we should do as parents and do our best with it.
It is not a commodity but truth, understanding and wisdom come at a price of effort, sacrifice and quite often pain and suffering.

Lessons are not learned in victory and mountain top experiences but are learned in the valley of the shadow of death in bitterness, suffering and loss. Training a child through consequences is key but God will plug the gaps of our shortcomings in the arena of life itself.

Our job is to prepare them as best we can to recognise those moments as learning opportunities and that the defeats are not really defeats but seeds of growth.

Proverbs 23:26-28

Saying 18
26 My son, give me your heart
and let your eyes delight in my ways,
27 for an adulterous woman is a deep pit,
and a wayward wife is a narrow well.
28 Like a bandit she lies in wait
and multiplies the unfaithful among men.
I am perhaps very qualified to write about the toxicity involved in the lure of sex and passion. What seems alluring and exciting will lead you into a deep, dark, pit. Pornography is a stepping stone to darker places. It’s like the drug addict or the alcoholic who thinks “one more time will be okay. It will alleviate my anxiety” …first one more time could do untold damage and it may alleviate the momentary anxiety but it will load it up with interest payments of multiple more serious anxieties. It will take you out of reality and into a fantasy world full of glass ceilings. It will make such an assault on your senses that you will become numb and lose your capacity for empathy or connection. It will destroy your heart. I lived it, I experienced it and only God brought me back from the pit. Many more have reached a point of no return in the abyss and remain lost forever. I don’t know what I did to deserve God’s rescuing hand and be brought back to my senses but I am grateful for it today.

The words in these verses resonate with me. Verse 26 calls me to be fascinated with God and his ways. I try to seek that every day. The alarm bells of my selfish heart are constantly ringing and I am reminded that I am one decision away from oblivion. It’s a scary thought but somewhere in there is a healthy fear of God that once was lost but now is found.

Proverbs 23:29-35

Saying 19
29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaints?
Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
30 Those who linger over wine,
who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly!
32 In the end it bites like a snake
and poisons like a viper.
33 Your eyes will see strange sights,
and your mind will imagine confusing things.
34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,
lying on top of the rigging.
35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt!
They beat me, but I don’t feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?”
Yesterday’s verses were about the toxic lure of sex. Alcohol and substances are equally destructive and these verses deal with the issues of addiction to drink. They can be applied to any kind of addiction.

Apart from the physical damage that substance abuse causes. It causes untold mental and damage. It confuses, it puts you in mental slavery. It destroys relationships as it becomes your mental obsession. It slides you slowly into oblivion until there is no return. A fortunate few do return from the pit but their life is changed forever, their relationships are changed forever. The wounds and scars remain. Working around the guys in recovery for that short period had some special moments but it was also littered with tragedy of relapses, serious illness, broken relationships, violence, premature deaths. I can count 5 deaths of people that I had encountered in that short two year period. There are at least two or three others that would amaze me if they were still alive.

Addiction leads us into the abyss. The problem is that we are all addicts. Maybe not to drugs or alcohol or sex but we all inoculate our pain and disappointment with something.

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