1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
observe carefully what is before you,
2 and put a knife to your throat
if you are given to appetite.
3 Do not desire his delicacies,
for they are deceptive food.
4 Do not toil to acquire wealth;
be discerning enough to desist.
5 When your eyes light on it, it is gone,
for suddenly it sprouts wings,
flying like an eagle toward heaven.
6 Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;
do not desire his delicacies,
7 for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.
“Eat and drink!” he says to you,
but his heart is not with you.
8 You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten,
and waste your pleasant words.
9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
for he will despise the good sense of your words.
10 Do not move an ancient landmark
or enter the fields of the fatherless,
11 for their Redeemer is strong;
he will plead their cause against you.
12 Apply your heart to instruction
and your ear to words of knowledge.
13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
14 If you strike him with the rod,
you will save his soul from Sheol.
15 My son, if your heart is wise,
my heart too will be glad.
16 My inmost being will exult
when your lips speak what is right.– Proverbs 23:1-16 ESV
Solomon’s collection of 36 wise sayings appears to have been intended primarily for the benefit of his sons. As the heirs of his vast estate and formidable fortune, these young men would enjoy great privilege and power, but Solomon knew that it would come with great responsibility. Their ability to manage their assets and their actions would require wisdom. So, Solomon compiled this list of three dozen simple, yet profoundly beneficial maxims that he had gathered from the world’s sages.
Solomon knew that his sons would be exposed to a culture where the allure of wealth, power, and influence would be constant. As sons of the king, they would be a part of high society, rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the land. But Solomon knew that hobnobbing with the privileged class came with certain risks, and he wanted his sons to be aware of them.
First of all, they would need to maintain an air of self-control and humility. Entry into the upper echelons of society can be a heady experience. The accouterments of privilege and rank can be tantalizing. The fine food and expensive delicacies that wealth makes possible can be highly enjoyable but they can also prove to be a dangerous trap. An overabundance of food can easily expose a propensity for overeating and a lack of self-control. That is why Solomon warns his sons:
While dining with a ruler,
pay attention to what is put before you.
If you are a big eater,
put a knife to your throat;
don’t desire all the delicacies,
for he might be trying to trick you. – Proverbs 23:1-3 NLT
Solomon understood that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Anything done to excess can be extremely dangerous. That is why self-restraint is so vital. An inability to control one’s physical appetites can lead to the sin of gluttony. And just a few verses later in this same Proverb, Solomon records yet another warning against excess.
Do not carouse with drunkards
or feast with gluttons,
for they are on their way to poverty,
and too much sleep clothes them in rags. – Proverbs 23:20-21 NLT
In his book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon recorded another dire warning against gluttony and the lack of self-control among those of privilege and power.
What sorrow for the land ruled by a servant,
the land whose leaders feast in the morning.
Happy is the land whose king is a noble leader
and whose leaders feast at the proper time
to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk. – Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 NLT
An inordinate obsession with food and alcohol can be dangerous, but how much more so is the insatiable desire for wealth. Solomon knew that, for the well-to-do, enough was never enough. There would always be the temptation to acquire more. So, he warned his sons to moderate their appetite for accumulating ever-increasing wealth.
Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich.
Be wise enough to know when to quit.
In the blink of an eye wealth disappears,
for it will sprout wings
and fly away like an eagle. – Proverbs 23:4-5 NLT
And Solomon was well-acquainted with the problem of avarice. He even wrote about his own struggle with dissatisfaction and his constant attempt to increase his portfolio of material possessions.
I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:4-8 NLT
And his assessment of his never-ending quest for more was far from optimistic.
Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NLT
Chasing after wealth can be exhausting. It’s like running on a treadmill; no matter how hard or fast you run, you never really get anywhere. More wealth doesn’t bring increased happiness. Riches can never deliver satisfaction or contentment. And yet, Solomon understood the temptation to make much out of acquiring more – of just about anything. So, he warned his sons that the failure to control one’s desires for power, prominence, and pleasure could be a dangerous and deadly trap.
And, along with curbing their appetites, they were going to need to manage their relationships well. They would need to develop discernment and become adept at judging the character of others. The world is full of people who will feign politeness and hospitality but all the while their intentions will be less-than-sincere.
Don’t eat with people who are stingy;
don’t desire their delicacies.
They are always thinking about how much it costs.
“Eat and drink,” they say, but they don’t mean it.
You will throw up what little you’ve eaten,
and your compliments will be wasted. – Proverbs 23:6-8 NLT
Solomon describes the highly unpleasant experience of dining with someone whose overtures of kindness are nothing more than poorly veiled hypocrisy. They put on an impressive display of hospitality but the whole while they are counting the cost to their bottom line. Their false show of hospitableness is nothing but a ruse and enough to make one sick. The whole affair will end up being a waste of time and energy.
Next, Solomon warns his sons against associating with fools. Not only should they avoid the company of fools, but they should also refrain from trying to correct their behavior.
Don’t waste your breath on fools,
for they will despise the wisest advice. – Proverbs 23:9 NLT
In a sense, Solomon is saying, “Save your breath!” A fool has no desire to hear what you have to say and no intention of putting your advice into practice. So, don’t waste your time.
With the next wise saying, Solomon revisits a topic he has already covered: The illegal and unethical movement of property boundary markers.
Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers;
don’t take the land of defenseless orphans.
For their Redeemer is strong;
he himself will bring their charges against you. – Proverbs 23:10-11 NLT
It is almost as if Solomon is giving his sons an example of someone who is acting like a fool. He is telling them, “Don’t be this guy.” He wants them to understand that there are certain laws that God has established that are not up for negotiation or debate. To act like a fool is to ignore the word of God and to behave as if His laws don’t apply to you. But Solomon warns that God will hold all men accountable for their actions.
Solomon doesn’t want his sons to be fools, gluttons, greedy, or ungodly. That’s why he pleads with them to listen to the words of wisdom he is sharing. He wants them to take these truths to heart and apply them to their lives.
Commit yourself to instruction;
listen carefully to words of knowledge. – Proverbs 23:12 NLT
They were to never stop learning and growing. And they were to take what they had learned from their father and pass it on to their own children. But knowledge alone would not be enough. There would come a time for discipline because children can be stubborn and disobedient.
Don’t fail to discipline your children.
The rod of punishment won’t kill them.
may well save them from death. – Proverbs 23:13-14 NLT
And, as Solomon stated in Proverbs 3, the model for this kind of loving instruction comes from God the Father.
My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT
And as a loving father, Solomon conveyed his desire that his sons would continue to grow in wisdom and integrity.
My child, if your heart is wise,
my own heart will rejoice!
Everything in me will celebrate
when you speak what is right. – Proverbs 23:15-16 NLT
He longed for each of them to become godly men whose lives displayed wisdom and discernment. His great wealth and power were nothing when compared with the hope of seeing his sons exhibit a love for and obedience to God. His greatest desire was that his sons would choose the right path – the one that leads to joy, fulfillment, and purpose.
Choose a good reputation over great riches;
being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold. – Proverbs 22:1 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.