Proverbs Chapter 23  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Proverbs 23
Pro 23:1

“who.” The Hebrew can read “who is before you” (ASV; CJB; DBY; ERV; NAB) or “what it before you” (HCSB; ESV; KJV; NASB; NET; NIV). The native Hebrew reader would instantly see both readings, and the English text could be conflated to read, “carefully discern who and what are before you.” Roland Murphy (Word Biblical Commentary) says that the author may have indeed meant both “who” and “what.” The Young’s Literal Translation may be doing a good job of taking in the whole picture by saying, “that which is before you.” We went with “who” because we felt that the person was more important than the food.

This verse has a very wide application. In the biblical culture, a “ruler” had great power to help or hurt, and so people would take great care to discern what kind of person he was so they could get the most advantage out of eating with him. But in today’s world, lots of people have the power or influence to be a blessing or make things difficult for someone. It could be a boss at work, a teacher, the chair of a committee, etc. In fact, in today’s world of social media when almost anyone can influence hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, it is a wise thing to do to “carefully discern” who you are with and the kind of person they are.

Pro 23:2

“put a knife in your throat.” This is a hyperbole, an exaggeration, much the same as when Jesus said, “And if your eye causes you to fall away, pluck it out and throw it away from you” (Matt. 18:9). Michael Fox catches the meaning of the phrase: “A startling metaphor for self-control. Slit your throat, as it were, rather than giving in to hunger.” Many English translations water down the hyperbole by having something like, “put a knife to your throat,” but the Hebrew text is “in your throat.”

Self-control is vital to living a godly Christian life and is a hallmark of serious believers. One of the fruits of the spirit is “self-control” (Gal. 5:23). The sinner and the carnal Christian gives in to their fleshly desires and does not curb their emotions or their appetites. This was foretold long ago: “In the last time there will be mockers, walking after their own ungodly desires” (Jude 1:18). Following our flesh and the desires that naturally arise within us from our sin nature will result in “the works of the flesh,” such as “sexual immorality, unrestrained behavior, hostility, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, envyings, drunkenness, and things like these” (from Gal. 5:20-21).

Wise believers carefully guard their godly way of life (Prov. 16:17). They guard the truth they have been taught (Prov. 4:13), guard their “soul,” that is, their thoughts, attitudes, and emotions (Prov. 22:5), and they watch what they say (Prov. 13:3). The Devil’s goal is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), so it is no surprise that there is very little mention of self-control in the world today. In fact, the world teaches the opposite of the Bible’s godly advice and tells people to do whatever they feel like doing. Wise believers know that that advice is from the Devil and will eventually steal their peace and joy on earth and also keep them from being rewarded in their next life, in the Millennial Kingdom.

[For more on rewards in the Kingdom, see commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10, “good or evil.” For more information on the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth].

“greedy appetite.” The Hebrew is an idiom, very literally, “baal of a nephesh.” In the Hebrew, “baal” can refer to the god Baal, or have the literal meaning of the word “baal,” which is “lord” or “owner,” and sometimes “husband” since in the biblical culture the husband was considered the lord of the wife. The top god of the Canaanites was “Baal,” literally, “lord,” but in our English versions the Hebrew word “baal” is transliterated as “Baal” rather than translated as “lord” when it is used as the proper name of the god. However, in contexts like this one, “baal” means “lord” or “owner.”

The word nephesh (#05315 נֶפֶשׁ), has a wide range of meanings, including the person himself; the invisible life force inside people and animals that we call “soul”; the thoughts, attitudes, and emotions of a person; or a person’s desire or appetite. This is one of the places where nephesh refers to the desires and appetites of a person. So the idiomatic phrase, “lord of an appetite,” is someone with a great appetite, or very likely in this context, someone with a greedy appetite, eating much more than he needs or would normally take. That makes sense in this context because the man is eating with a ruler (Prov. 23:1), so the food set before him would be much better than the food he would ordinarily eat, thus presenting a great temptation for the man to stuff himself. Believers will occasionally be faced with situations when there is a temptation to take more than we should, such as in a wedding where free drinks are being offered or a banquet where the food is excellent and abundant, and we need to carefully guard our godly way of life and exercise self-control in those situations, indeed, in every situation.

[For more on the meaning of nephesh, see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul’].

Pro 23:3(top)
Pro 23:4

“Do not wear yourself out by attempting to get rich.” This is a general principle that occurs throughout the Word of God. Although there is nothing wrong in trying to better one’s circumstances in life, making being wealthy the focus of one’s life is a mistake. There are so many uncontrollable factors that can prevent a person from getting wealthy, and so much chance that one’s best efforts will not result in wealth, that wealth is not a good target for a person’s efforts. Even at best, it only lasts the few short years of this life. God says not to make wealth our goal (Prov. 23:4; Luke 12:15; 1 Tim. 6:8-10; Heb. 13:5). Jesus tells us not to build up treasure on earth, but to build it up for the future life (Matt. 6:18-21).

Also, the context of Proverbs 23:4 is being with wealthy people and stingy people, who therefore are likely wealthy (Prov. 23:1, 6). Often when one is with wealthy people there is a temptation to compromise one’s principles and get into ungodly situations that will result in everlasting consequences. That is why Proverbs 23:2, 3, and 23:6 warn against what the wealthy are serving—it often comes with a cost. But in the end, there is nothing more valuable than living in obedience to God.

“cease from relying upon your own understanding.” There are two major ways that Proverbs 23:4 has been understood. The most common way is that people should not trust their own understanding about material wealth, i.e., people should not think that if they work tirelessly they will become rich and being rich brings safety, freedom, friends, and fun. However, wealth gained by constant toil has many hidden costs, often including one’s health and alienation from friends and family. Furthermore, as the proverb says, many people who have big plans for being wealthy never see those plans materialize. Understanding Proverbs 23:4 this way also fits with Proverbs 3:5-6, which says not to lean on one’s own understanding.

The other way to understand Proverbs 23:4 is less common but is the translation in some Bibles. For example, the ESV reads, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.” According to this translation, a person should rely on their understanding of life—that working tirelessly to acquire wealth is a vain pursuit—and so they should know better and stop focusing on trying to get rich. However, although the Hebrew text could be understood that way, it seems the less likely meaning of the verse because if a person had enough wisdom to know that money does not fix everything and will not last (as depicted in v. 5), he or she would not strive to become wealthy to begin with. This second way to view Proverbs 23:4 requires dissociating the idea presented in Proverbs 3:5 about refraining from trusting in one's own understanding and viewing it in a more positive light where one's own understanding possesses a degree of wisdom. The emphasis in Proverbs is that we must acquire knowledge and understanding from Yahweh because we do not have it in ourselves. Therefore, this second way to understand the verse assumes that the person has somehow acquired some degree of wisdom already. And that interpretation seems less probable given the overall premise in Proverbs that our own understanding is deficient and faulty.

Pro 23:5(top)
Pro 23:6

“who is stingy.” The Hebrew text reads, “a man with an evil eye.” The “evil eye” is a Semitic idiom for being greedy, stingy and selfish. The greedy, selfish man says to you, “Eat all you want,” but they don’t really mean it. They are closely watching to see how much they are going to have to give up or pay. Biblically, an evil eye is greedy or stingy; while a “good eye,” or a “single eye,” is generous. [For more on idioms involving the good eye, see commentary on Prov. 22:9. For more on the idiom of the evil eye, see commentary on Prov. 28:22].

Pro 23:7(top)
Pro 23:8

“have ruined.” The Hebrew word is shachat (#07843 שָׁחַת), and it means to ruin, spoil, wipe out. In this context “have wasted” seems to be the sense (cp. NIDOT). The HALOT Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon has “ineffective,” which would yield a meaning such as, “your pleasant words have been ineffective.”

Pro 23:9

“have contempt for.” The Hebrew word is buz (#0936 בּוּז pronounced booze), and it means “to despise, to have contempt for, to count as insignificant. All those meanings are important and applicable in this context. There are some fools who will actually “hate” any wise words people speak to them, but most fools just have contempt for them or think they are meaningless and insignificant. [For more on “despise,” see commentary on Prov. 23:22, “despise”].

Pro 23:10(top)
Pro 23:11(top)
Pro 23:12(top)
Pro 23:13(top)
Pro 23:14(top)
Pro 23:15(top)
Pro 23:16

“inward parts.” The Hebrew text is literally, “kidneys,” and when the Bible mentions “kidneys” it refers to the emotional life. [For more on “kidneys referring to the emotional life, see commentary on Rev. 2:23, “kidneys.” For more on the heart referring to the thought life, see commentary on Prov. 15:21].

Pro 23:17(top)
Pro 23:18

“your hope.” This is the figure of speech metonymy, where “hope” is put for what a person is hoping for, or expecting. There is a future, so what a believer hopes for will come to pass, it will not be “cut off” and thus not happen.

Godly and righteous people should have a solid hope for a lot of wonderful things. Instead of envying sinners (Prov. 23:17), who heap up material goods in this life but lose it all—and their life too—on the Day of Judgment, God promises those who love Him a wonderful future. Hebrews 11:9-10 says Abraham lived in a tent but looked for a city built by God. Moses gave up the wealth of Egypt for a greater reward in the future (Heb. 11:24-26). Many people have suffered greatly rather than deny God because they kept their eye on the “better resurrection” (Heb. 11:25).

Christians can wholeheartedly serve God now even if it causes some trouble in this life because they not only look forward to living forever with Christ on a wonderful recreated earth and being rewarded for their efforts, but also to having new bodies that are like Christ’s glorious body (Phil. 3:21). [For more on Christ’s wonderful future kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on being rewarded for doing good works, see commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10, “good or evil”].

Pro 23:19(top)
Pro 23:20(top)
Pro 23:21

“the addict and the glutton will become impoverished.” The undisciplined person will become poor (see commentary on Prov. 21:17).

“drowsiness wears rags.” This seems to be a difficult reading in the Hebrew only because of the figure of speech personification that is involved. The noun “rags” is the object of the verb, “to wear” or to “put on.” In this verse, the addict and the glutton are not just called “drowsy,” or “sleepy,” instead they are included in the personification of “Mr. Drowsy” who is a drunk and glutton and as a result “wears rags.” The personification adds emphasis and allows the line to be short and punchy.

Some versions try to make the line easier for the English reader by including an ellipsis, thus, the NASB has, “drowsiness will clothe a man with rags,” but there is no need for the ellipsis, the meaning and seriousness of the verse should be clear to the thoughtful reader.

A person does not have to be an all-out drunk or addict to spend too much money on drugs and alcohol and get into financial trouble and “wear rags.” Alcohol and drugs (even if they are legal) are expensive and the wise Christian keeps his spending in check (Prov. 10:15; 21:17). Too many people waste or destroy their lives as addicts or drunks. While many people can handle social drinking, many others cannot. It is foolish to allow alcohol or drugs to ruin one’s life on earth and everlasting life too. Anyone who is being overcome and defeated by alcohol or drugs should seek help and make every possible effort to defeat those evils.

Pro 23:22

“show contempt for.” The Hebrew word is buz (#0936 בּוּז pronounced booze), and it means “to despise, to have contempt for, to count as insignificant. There is no good way to bring all those meanings into English except to do some kind of amplified version, yet all those meanings are important and applicable in this context.

Pro 23:23

“Get truth.” The Hebrew word “get” is qanah (#07069 קָנָה), and it is the basic word for “get,” and means “get, acquire, obtain.” Juxtaposed with the word “sell” in the phrase, it can be seen to mean “buy,” but there are specific words for “buy” that are not used here, so we stayed with “get.” There are ways to “get” truth that do not involve “buying” it.

The Hebrew word we translate as “truth” is emeth (#0571 אֱמֶת), which does mean “truth,” but in many contexts it has the meaning of faithfulness or covenant loyalty. Although that is likely not its primary meaning in this verse, it certainly is an undertone in the verse. Thus, as well as speaking of “truth,” the verse speaks of one’s personal integrity, a person’s faithfulness and loyalty. We “get” integrity and loyalty in part by how we live and in part by association, the family and friends we choose to be with. But we can “sell” it, or in our vernacular, “sell out” our integrity by ungodly and immoral behavior. The Devil knows the value of truth and integrity, and so he is constantly tempting people to sell those things in exchange for worldly power, pleasure, and personal gain (cp. Prov. 1:10-14; 9:13-17). The wise person knows that any worldly power or pleasure will quickly end, whereas godliness, although it requires discipline and self-control, is profitable for eternity, and in the next life there will be abundant and lasting joy.

This verse is a wonderful guide on how to live: get truth and personal integrity and don’t sell those out. And while we are getting, get wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Pro 23:24

“rejoice exceedingly.” The Hebrew text has the figure of speech polyptoton, basically, “rejoice with joy.” The figure points to great joy.

Pro 23:25(top)
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Pro 23:28(top)
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Pro 23:31(top)
Pro 23:32(top)
Pro 23:33(top)
Pro 23:34(top)
Pro 23:35(top)

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