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This chapter is full of mechanical rules and exhortations. When a man is invited to eat with a ruler, he is to consider diligently what is before him ( Pro 23:1 ). Properly, who is before him; that is to say, the guest is to observe the mighty man lest by some inadvertency he should offend his majesty and thus turn his friendship into enmity.
A very strong figure is used for the purpose of representing self-repression.
"Put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite" ( Pro 23:2 ).
Put the very strongest restraints upon thyself: better dine alone before thou dinest with the king, because he will forgive self-control sooner than he will forgive self-indulgence: self-indulgence is not all enjoyment; it is only so in a very narrow or personal sense; there are observers who are forming their judgment of the glutton and the wine-bibber, and who will make that judgment felt in many practical ways.
"Be not desirous of his [the ruler's] dainties: for they are deceitful meat" ( Pro 23:3 ).
That is to say, they are not offered out of friendship and regard for thee, there is a purpose behind them; an unguarded word spoken amid the festivities of the night may be turned into high treason, or into a reason of suspicion, or into a ground of persecution. The ruler may be giving wine for the purpose of eliciting a secret; the ruler is an investor; he is not showing his guest hospitality, he is laying traps for the feet of his visitor in order that he may ensnare him and bring him within his power. Although it is not wise to cultivate a spirit of suspicion, yet it is wise always to be on our guard when we are surrounded by those who make their lavish hospitality a means of emptying our hearts of their secrets and purposes and vows.
"Cease from thine own wisdom" ( Pro 23:4 ).
That is, from thine own cleverness in piling up wealth. There is something very seductive in the accumulation of property. When did ever a man say, I will stop at this boundary? Did he not always see a boundary beyond? Do we not desire the field at the corner, the house on the hill, the meadow in the valley, the plantation that skirts the family estate? Do we not covet the vineyard of our neighbour? To be contented is to be wise; to say, This is enough, is to pray: to stand back and say, Our hands are sufficiently full, is to assume a religious attitude.
"As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" ( Pro 23:7 ).
The reference is to a man who has an evil eye, and who is fixing that evil eye upon his guests. Judging by appearances, the guest considers his host to be amiable, generous, friendly; but the wise man in the text says, Be careful: do not desire the dainty meats of this man, for his eye is evil; as he thinketh in his heart, so is he; thou canst not see his heart: he begrudges thee every mouthful of food: he hopes that the next draught of wine will overpower thee, and taking away thy self-control will open the way for the disclosure of thy thought and purpose: he is not a host, he is an enemy; he is not giving thee bread for thine hunger, he is laying a trap for thine overthrow: beware; take counsel with thyself and with wisdom, for this man's heart is not with thee: by-and-by the morsel which thou hast eaten thou shalt vomit up: thou shalt be disgusted with thyself for having partaken of an evil hospitality which was only offered to thee as a bribe and a temptation, and thou shalt rue thy sweet words; all civil observances, all kindly acknowledgments, all expressions of thanks, shall be found to have been misspent and worthless. When we thank a man for that which is not freely offered to us, and when We come to discover that it was not freely offered, we shall withdraw every amiable expression, every cordial recognition, and shall reproach ourselves for want of sagacity in not penetrating the man's mean design.
"Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words" ( Pro 23:9 ).
Do not waste time in trying to make a fool a wise man; you may waste your time in explanations, you may try to bring him to a sense of right and wrong, you may imagine that by patience you can soften his hardness, or modify his stupidity, or penetrate his mental opaqueness; nothing of the kind: believe in the gathered wisdom of the ages which expresses itself in the free and apparently cruel judgment if thou bray a fool in a mortar he will be a fool still.
From the tenth verse we have cautions which cannot be too earnestly repeated. The Bible is never afraid to repeat its own wisdom. We need repetition, for our memories are treacherous; repetition may not be a mere rehearsal of words, it may be an accumulation of strength, an increased fervour of expression, a growing passion; when words are mechanically or literally repeated the repetition becomes a weariness to the flesh, but when with repeated words we are assured of accumulated earnestness and passion we should take heed to the new pathos and not be wearied by the old words.
"Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless: for their redeemer is mighty" ( Pro 23:10-11 ).
They may not have a near kinsman, a goel, one who in the name of the family will redress their wrongs; but they have a Father in heaven, a mighty deliverer, who in due time will avenge them of their adversaries.
"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" ( Pro 23:13-14 ).
There is a discipline which expresses the utmost kindness. Probably kindness to children is as little understood as any practical duty can be. He is not kind to his child who allows that child to have its own way, to do as it pleases, under the impression that correction would amount to the breaking of the spirit or the wrecking of the will of the child. In every life there must come a point of obedience, surrender, of acknowledgment of the superior: the sooner that conviction is wrought into the mind the better, and when it can be brought to effect by the parent it is better than to have it forced upon the reluctant soul by an outward and overwhelming tyranny. To be taught obedience is to be taught the beginning of the way of life. There need not be any harshness, there must not be any cruelty; discipline carried to such lengths is discipline no longer, but sheer oppression; but to teach that there are higher powers than our own, that there are laws we must not transgress, that the transgression of such laws brings penalty these philosophies cannot be too early instilled into the opening mind; they will anticipate and prevent a thousand sufferings, they will save strength, they will direct all healthy energies to the right point, and thus save wanton waste of time and power.
So this Book of Proverbs becomes a Book of daily guidance and daily discipline. The man who will train himself by these lines shall in the end be a strong man: he shall be free from envy, because the fear of the Lord will abound in his heart all the day long; he will avoid the company of wine-bibbers, and shun the society of riotous eaters of flesh; he will see that the drunkard and the glutton must come to poverty, and that the end of drowsiness is to be clothed in rags; he will buy the truth, and sell it not; he will set a high value upon wisdom, self-discipline, and understanding; he will distinguish the precious from the vile; gold and silver and precious stones shall not be confused with wood and hay and stubble. The good man does not bring pleasure only to himself, but gives joy to those who are round about him.
"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" ( Pro 23:24-25 ).
But how is all this happy issue to be brought about? How is life to be thus consolidated, sanctified, and crowned with immortal honour? The answer is given in the 26th verse "My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways." The meaning is, until the heart is right, the life must be wrong. We cannot change our habits until we have changed our motives. The true life is not a mechanical arrangement, an affair of schedules and codes and stipulations: it is first a surrender to God, secondly an acceptance of the divine will, thirdly a steady purpose by the power of the Holy Ghost to walk in the ways of wisdom. The man whose heart is not corrected is like a man who closes his eyes and tries to make for himself a straight path in the thoroughfare. He cannot do it When he opens his eyes he will find how zigzag has been his way, and how uncertain have been his steps. We must have the eyes opened, or we shall never see the right road. The eyes are not in the head, but in the heart; many a man is intellectually able to see far, but morally he is blind. The eyes of our hearts must be opened, then we shall see moral distinctions, estimate moral distances, correctly adjust moral proportions; we shall know where, to be strong, where to be hesitant, where to be meek, where to be gentle: but this instruction is only to be had in the school of the sanctuary, yea, within the holy circle of which the Cross of Christ is the living centre.
"When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee" ( Pro 23:1 ). " What is before thee" sc. "beware lest his dainties tempt thee to excess. It is better, however, to take the pronoun in the masculine, 'consider diligently who is before thee,' the character and temper of the ruler who invites thee."
"And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite" ( Pro 23:2 ). "If we keep the imperative, the sense is 'restrain thy appetite, eat as if the knife were at thy throat.' Others, however, render it 'thou wilt put a knife to thy throat,' etc.; 'indulgence at such a time may endanger thy very life.'"
"Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat" ( Pro 23:3 ). "Dainties" "the word is the same in meaning and nearly the same in form as the 'savoury meat,' sc. venison, of Genesis 27:4 ." "Deceitful meat" sc. "offered not from genuine hospitality, but with some by-ends."
"Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom" ( Pro 23:4 ). " Cease from thine own wisdom" "the sense is determined by the context. 'Cease even from thy prudence, from the use of what is in itself most excellent, if it only serves to seek after wealth, and so ministers to evil.' 'If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.' There is no special stress on the contrast between 'thine own wisdom' and that given from above, though it is of course implied that in ceasing from his own prudence the man is on the way to attain a higher wisdom."
"Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats" ( Pro 23:6 ). "Not an identical danger with that of ver. 1, but altogether different. There is a hazard in the hospitality of princes. There is also a hazard in that of the purse-proud rich, avaricious or grudging, even in his banquets." "Evil eye" "not with the later associations of a mysterious power for mischief, but simply, as in Deuteronomy 15:9 ; Matthew 20:15 , in the sense of 'hard, grudging, envious.'"
"For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee" ( Pro 23:7 ). "As he thinketh" "the Hebrew verb is found here only, and has received many interpretations: (1) 'as he is all along in his heart, so is he (sc. at last) in act;' (2) 'as he reckons in his heart, so is he;' sc. he counts the cost of every morsel thou eatest, and hates thee in proportion. Of these (1) seems to be best, as supported by Arabic usage." The Speaker's Commentary.
Almighty God, thou dost claim our whole heart, and sometimes we long to give it all to thee, without a break or flaw, and then we take it back again to our own unsafe and unsteady hand. We know sometimes that we are made in thine image and likeness, for our soul moves out over liberties and dominions wider than all the spaces and periods of time, and then we know again that we are truly fashioned out of the dust, for our whole nature is a heavy weight that seeks the very centre of the earth that it may dwell there-We are fearfully and wonderfully made; thou hast so made us as to be our own mystery; we need not go out of ourselves to find the supreme difficulty behold, science cannot understand us or interpret us fully, and it is not in man to know himself as he really is, and knowledge is found to be but a point of light within an infinite circumference of darkness. What then shall we do? We will lift up our eyes unto the hills whence cometh our help; we will cry mightily for the Living One, the source and spring of all being and energy and hope; our souls will go a-voyaging beyond the horizon to find that which alone can give them satisfaction and rest. We bless thee that we have found peace in believing. We who had no quietude are now settled in a gracious rest, in him who is the centre and the life of the whole universe. We live and move and have our being in God; no longer are we broken parts of a great whole, we belong to that great whole itself, and now that we have found our place within thy purpose and will, our souls are comforted with a sacred calm. We look up unto thee for daily bread. We cannot nourish ourselves; we eat up, but we cannot produce! Thou alone canst give us the continual nutrition on which the living soul subsists. Mystery of mysteries is this, yet it is the very crown and glory of love, that the branch cannot bring forth fruit of itself. Behold it is the branch that is laden with fruit, there is none upon the stem, yet is the branch itself dead and useless if it go not down into the root, and drink of the unseen but living juice. So teach us we are not complete in ourselves, that of ourselves we are nothing and can do nothing, that our safety and our productiveness are to be found only in proportion as we are in the living Vine. Saviour of the world, may we never be cut out of thee, may our life go right back into the very throbbing of thine heart, and find its inspiration, its impulse, and its immortality there. Comforted by all thy words, lifted up by thine infinite promises, worthy of thine infinite grace, may we be strengthened, established, settled, and made immovable, and so may we always abound in the work of the Lord. Each heart has its own hymn, for each heart has its own mercy. Thou hast not forgotten one of us. The old man thinks that all thy mercies have been heaped upon him, for he says goodness and mercy have followed him all the days of his life; and the young man feels that all thy morning light has been poured in baptism upon his opening life; and the busy man knows thy signature upon his basket and his store, and feels the incoming of thy tender blessing into all his counsels and enterprises, commercial; and the mother at home that the window is full of the presence of thy light, and her cradle is the centre around which thou dost constantly move, and her life is precious to thee beyond all others. This day all thy children think they have thee all, yet so infinite art thou that the whole heaven is too small for thee; and as for the earth, it is as a drop of water glittering under the brilliance of thy blessing. Let each of us feel how near thou art, let every soul feel its own littleness in itself and its all but infinite capacity in thee. And according to the pressure of our sin and the fierce accusation and reproach of our conscience, do thou show us the great Cross, stretched upon it the dying Lamb, the priestly Victim, the Victim-Priest, who is our propitiation and atonement, and our one answer to all the thunder of reproach which deafens, arising from the voice of our troubled conscience. Wash us in the sacred stream. We know not the meaning of the words, the precious blood of Christ, but we feel more than they can express in mere terms of human speech: we feel their unction, we answer their energy, we are moved by their infinite pathos. Apply all their meaning, as thou thyself dost comprehend it, to our plaguing sin, to our restless heart, to our accusing conscience. With some of us the days are becoming fewer. We can count them now as men count the few things that are within the grasp of their fingers. Behold thy servants who are now looking at their latter end, and seeing how near it is, and how small, and how it dwindles as they look. Upon them let the eventide light of thy peace gently fall, and make them more glad than they were when the opening fire of the day summoned them to the activities of life. Regard those who are in special circumstances of wonderment, perplexity, distress; answer any personal appeals that may now be arising, unexpressed and unutterable, to the heavens, dumb because no words are good enough to express the meaning of sorrow so sacred, or desire so pure. Let thy blessing be granted to such as lift their hearts to thee in the name of Jesus Christ. If thou hast scattered any man's prosperity, if thou hast made a heap of his riches and driven them away by fierce wind, if thou hast bereaved any family, if thou hast put out the household fire in any instance and darkened the pleasantest room in the house, if thou hast laid any new burden upon shoulders long carrying heavy weights, and thou art for the first time laying pressure upon young lives that hitherto have escaped the more grievous responsibilities of existence according to these diversified conditions which we now represent, let thy blessing be accorded to us, and there shall be in our hearts the singing as it were of angels, and the resounding of a heavenly psalm. Let thy blessing be multiplied upon us, let thy grace be increased in our hearts, clothe us with the humility that is unfeigned, grant unto us the modesty that is unconscious of itself, clothe us with the strength of thine own almightiness when we endeavour to do that which is good in our moments of infirmity and weakness. When we would put forth the hand to the forbidden tree, the Lord touch our hand that it fall back in powerlessness by our side. The Lord make our old ones young, our young ones happy, our women glad with sweetest joy, our busy men thoughtful and considerate about the measure of things, lest they mistake distance for insignificance. The Lord hear us in all our psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, in the outpouring of our delight and gratitude, in our supplication for pardon, forgiveness, and sweet communion. The Lord enable us to live the remainder of our days with a steady faith, a longsuffering patience and noble trust, showing a right estimate of the things that are round about us, keeping them under our feet and not above our head, and so interpreting and so using passing time as to make sure of a blissful eternity. Holy Saviour, smile on us; gentle Jesus, touch us with thy healing hands; dying, rising Mediator, take up our poor sentences into thine all-prevailing prayer, and may our answer come, not according to the measure of our desire, but according to the breadth of Thine own intercession. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 23". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent