Proverbs 23:1-18: Thirty Sayings of the Wise (#7-15)
September 10, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Isaiah 27-28, Proverbs 23:1-18, Luke 22:39-46, Hebrews 6:13-20
We continue with “thirty sayings of the wise” (#7-15).
“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.” (23:1-3)
When you eat with someone who is very wealthy, it is easy to be drawn in to jealousy, envy, or giving your time and life to try to emulate what has been accorded to someone else and not to you. You do not see the hassle that goes with prosperity, the pain that comes along with it—nor the ephemeral nature of all life, including the life of the wealthy. In this evocative picture, we are told to “put a knife to your throat.” Don’t overeat!
“Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” (23:4-5)
Saying 8 then follows on from Saying 7, to urge us not to wear ourselves out to get rich. The history of the world and common experience tells us how easily it is for money to be “easy come, easy go.” Shares can go down as well as up. If riches come to you, then use that wealth for God’s glory and the extension of his kingdom. But do not wear yourself out to get rich. No, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
“Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. ‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words.” (23:6-8)
We are back now to the dinner table, but to this time to the table of a “stingy host.” There are people who invite you to participate in their lives, but who are really thinking only about what it costs them to have to feed another mouth at the table. Instead, when we have people to our houses, or entertain people, let us be gracious and generous with our time and resources. Hospitality is an important virtue that can pave the way for the gospel to be welcomed into a person’s heart as we have welcomed them into our home.
“Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.” (23:9)
A pretty straightforward proverb! But Jesus says the same: do not cast your pearls before swine. There are people who will not listen, however carefully you explain things to them. It is tempting to think, if I just had a little more patience, a little more love, said things a little better, then I could win this person too. But that is naïve; some people do harden their hearts to the truth. Invest your time in those who are faithful, available, and teachable.
“Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless, for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.” (23:10-11)
Again, we are back to the markers of the boundaries of ancestral properties (boundary stone), but also now those who are vulnerable (the fields of the fatherless). Don’t make money out of taking advantage of those who have no one else to defend them. Remember “their Defender is strong.” Fear God is a good motto not just for church but also for business.
“Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.” (23:12)
Some people seem to think that learning and insight, wisdom and discernment, come without much effort to certain kinds of people. It is not so; we need to “apply our heart” and “our ears” in order to make the most of instruction and words of knowledge. Someone can receive the same teaching and benefit from it, as can another person for whom the teaching makes no impression. There are two components: the seed and the soil. Let us do what we can to be good soil and to receive the seed of God’s Word into our lives.
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” (23:13-14)
Again, this proverb about parental discipline of children is not in any way meant to be taken as a blank check to be abusive physicality towards children. The point the proverb is making, though, is an important one. It is tempting as a parent to give in to sentiment towards our children, rather than express real love—which means from time to time the hard work of careful discipline. It is hard to discipline a child in the way he should go, with instruction, care, appropriate measures, explanation, and guarding the heart of the child as well as the behavior of the child. Hard work, but well worth it; it will save the child from death. Sometimes physically (prevent them from running across the road without looking when they are young); sometimes spiritually (to help them have a tender heart to the words of their heavenly Father). But do not heap guilt on yourself, parent; in the end a child must make his or her own decision about how to live.
“My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right.” (23:15-16)
The proverb now takes on the voice of a parent: there is not much more delightful for the parent than a son acting with godly wisdom. Good parents will always love their children whatever their children do, but if you want to cause your parent to rejoice, then act with godly wisdom.
“Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” (23:17-18)
It is tempting to look at how apparently beautiful some people have it who do not live in the fear of God. Their lives seem easy. They have all the breaks, all the money, all the opportunity. It is easy to end up envying such people and wondering whether we have kept our lives pure for no good reason. Don’t go down that track, the proverb says, but always keep your fear of the Lord. Why? Take into account the timescale of eternity. “There is surely a future hope for you.” When you measure by a few dozen years, then a cheat and a playboy can seem to have gotten away with it. But when you add in a thousand years or a million years or a million million years? Assess by eternity, and fear God in the present. By that measurement, there is no reason to envy those who rebel against God.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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