Proverbs 23 – Appetite, Alcoholism, and Honoring Parents & The Israelite Family

1 When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee:

2 And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.

3 Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat.

“Be not desirous of his dainties” – lavish foods served at the king’s table.  Repeated in a different context in v 6.

“deceitful” – perhaps the meaning is that the ruler wants to obligate you in some way, even to influence you to support a wicked scheme (cf Ps 141:4).

4 Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.

“Labor not to be rich” – the desire to get rich can ruin a person physically and spiritually. 

For the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10).  Cf 15:27; 28:20; Heb 13:5.

5 Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.

“They fly away” – our trust must be in God, not in riches (see Jer 17:11; Lk 12:21; 1 Tim 6:17).

6 Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats:

“him…evil eye” – a selfish person who is eager to get rich (see 28:22).

7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.

8 The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.

“vomit” – out of disgust at the attitude of the host.

9 Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.

“despise the wisdom of thy words” – fools despise wisdom (1:7) and hate knowledge and correction (1:22; 12:1).  They heap abuse on one who rebukes them (9:7).

10 Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless:

“old landmark” – boundary stones.

“fatherless” – oppressing the widow and the fatherless is strongly denounced (see Is 10:2; Jer 22:3; Zech 7:10).

11 For their redeemer is mighty; he shall plead their cause with thee.

“Redeemer” – Kinsman-Redeemer, someone who helped a close relative regain land (see Lev 25:25) or who avenged his death (Num 35:12, 19).  God is a “father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the widows” (Ps 68:5).

12 Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.

13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.

14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

15 My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine.

16 Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.

17 Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long.

18 For surely there is an end; and thine expectation shall not be cut off.

“end” – a future when God will reward the person who fears Him (see Ps 37:37; Jer 29:11).

19 Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way.

20 Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh:

“Be not amongst” – see 1:15; 12:26.

“winebibbers” – Heavy drinkers.  Drunkenness is also condemned in vv 29-35; 20:1; cf, Deut 21:20; Matt 24:49; Lk 21:34; Rom 13:13; Eph 5:18; 1 Tim 3:3.

21 For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.

”drowsiness” – cf, the
poverty that overtakes the sluggard in
6:9-11.

22 Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.

23 Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.

24 The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him.

25 Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice.

26 My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.

27 For a whore is a deep ditch; and a strange woman is a narrow pit.

28 She also lieth in wait as for a prey, and increaseth the transgressors among men.

29 Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes?

“Who hath woe?” – cf, the woes pronounced on drunkards in Is 5:11, 22.

“wounds” – cf the “stripes for the back of fools” in 19:29.

Verses 29-35 – a vivid description of the physical and psychological effects of drunkenness.

30 They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.

“tarry long at the wine” – see 1 Sam 25:36.

“mixt wine” – probably with spices (see 9:2; Ps 75:8).

31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.

32 At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.

“biteth like a serpent” – death will be the result (cf Num 21:6).

33 Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things.

“behold strange women” – or “strange things,” perhaps a reference to the delirium that afflicts the alcoholic.

34 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.

“thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea” – your head will be spinning.

35 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.

“they have stricken me…I was not sick” – the drunkard is not even aware of the injuries he received from the beating.  Cf, the condition of Israel in Jer 5:3.

“I will seek it yet again” – the woe and misery do not prevent him from repeating his folly (cf, 26:11; 2:22; Is 56:12).

The Israelite Family

Instructions of Shuruppak (dated to c. 2600 BCE — c. 2500 BCE).

This exhibit is in the Museum of the Oriental Institute of Chicago.

Translation: “Shurrupak gave instructions to his son:
* Do not buy an ass which brays too much.
* Do not commit rape upon a man’s daughter, do not announce it to the courtyard.
* Do not answer back against your father
* Do not raise a ‘heavy eye.'”

Domestic issues abound in the book of Proverbs, an indication that the family  played an essential role in the development of wisdom literature, both in the Biblical and Non-Biblical sense.

Clay Tablet
Summary account of silver for the governor written in Sumerian Cuneiform on a clay tablet. From Shuruppak, Iraq, circa 2500 BC. British Museum, London.

Although the wise man had an institutional function on par with that of the priest and prophet (Jer 18:18), Proverbs illustrates the familial context of religious and ethical instruction.

The concept of the family was probably more broadly defined in ancient Israel than in modern Western terms.  The fundamental unit was the household (Hebrew bet av; lit., “father’s house”), which included a patriarch with his wife, his sons and their wives, his grandsons and any other dependents.

Parental exhortations to the son provide the literary shape for Prov 23:13-28. This very ancient form of father-son instruction occurred widely in the ancient Near East, as in the Mesopotamian instructions of Shuruppak (mid-third millennium B.C.), in which the hero, Shuruppak, begins his teachings by declaring, “My son, I will instruct you.” Moreover, the use of physical chastisement for a child’s moral training advocated in vv 13-14 has an analogue in the Aramaic story of Ahiqar (7th-6th centuries B.C.), which similarly exhorts the reader to discipline his son with the rod.

These similarities reflect the international flavor of wisdom literature and familial responsibility for religious and ethical education (cf. Deut 6:6-7; Prov 45:1-4). Even so, especially that presented in Proverbs, has distinctive features:

Education in Proverbs is centered in the family and has the good of the individual in view.  By contrast, Greek education was centered in the gymnasium and had the good of the city-state (polis) in view.

Shuruppak (“the healing place”), modern Tell Fara, was an ancient Sumerian city situated about 55 kilometres (35 mi) south of Nippur on the banks of the Euphrates in Iraq’s Al-Qādisiyyah Governorate. Shuruppak was dedicated to Ninlil, also called Sud, the goddess of grain and the air.

Education in Proverbs is primarily directed at moral and spiritual virtue rather than toward vocational training. By contrast, some wisdom texts from Egypt are principally concerned with preparing a young man for work in the government or as a scribe.

Education in Proverbs does not focus upon any particular social class. Egyptian wisdom literature, on the other hand, was to a large extent directed to the elite.

Education in Proverbs begins with the fear of God as the source and goal of all wisdom.  This focus has no parallel in other ancient texts.