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Proverbs 23:1. When thou sittest, etc. Miller here translates “Forasmuch as thou sittest,” and applying the word ruler to God gives to the proverb a meaning entirely different from that generally attached to it. See his remarks in the Suggestive Comments. What is before thee? Rather “Who is before,” etc.
Proverbs 23:2. Put a knife, etc. Zöckler, Ewald, and others translate “Thou hast put,” or “thou puttest.” The meaning may then be “Thou hast virtually destroyed thyself if thou art a self-indulgent man.” Delitzsch, however, gives the verb the imperative form, as in the English version.
Proverbs 23:3. Deceitful meat. Literally “Bread of lies.” Many commentators understand this to mean a deceptive meal, which is not given from motives of hospitality.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH Proverbs 23:1-3
THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE TABLE
I. The table of a wealthy man is a place of temptation to the sin of overindulgence. At such a table there is a great variety of dishes, and the human appetite, in common with every bodily sense and mental faculty, delights in variety. The eye is best pleased with a diversified landscape, the ear with a diversity of sound, and the mind when it can vary the objects of its contemplation. So man’s appetite is most gratified by a variety of food, and there is much more temptation to excess under such circumstances than when his hunger has to be satisfied from a single dish. Then, again, the food at such a repast is generally of the most tempting kind—all the countries of the world are put under contribution to supply it with dainties, and much skill and time is expended upon the preparation of the food. There is little danger of eating too much when bread is the only fare, but it begins and increases in proportion to the palatable nature of the viands. And the proverb seems to be addressed to those to whom a seat at the rich man’s or ruler’s table was not an every-day occurrence—to those to whom it was not given to feast so sumptuously every day—and this would increase the force of the temptation. The variety and the rarity of the dishes is much more tempting to one unaccustomed to such feasts.
II. It is most degrading and injurious to yield to such a temptation. This is implied in the strong metaphor which Solomon uses. An undue indulgence in the pleasures of the table, even when it does not amount to positive gluttony, is a most fruitful source of disease, and for this cause, if for no other, dainty food well deserves the name which is here given to it. But it is also most injurious to man’s better nature; it is often the first step to habits of intemperance and licentiousness, but if it does not lead to them it is altogether incompatible with intellectual and moral excellence. A man who is not master of his appetite is below the brute and can be neither great nor good. It is well to remember that an appeal to the appetite was one of the elements in the first temptation. An Eastern fable runs thus: “A king once permitted the devil to kiss him on either shoulder. Immediately two serpents grew from his shoulders, which, furious with hunger, attacked his head and attempted to get at his brain. The king tore them away. But he soon saw with horror that they had become part of himself, and that, in wounding them he was lacerating his own flesh.” Such is the deplorable condition of every victim of appetite and lust.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
First, thy duty is to be temperate as to the quantity of thy diet.… God gave man food to further, not to hinder him in his general and particular calling, and surely they sin who feed till, like fatted horses, they are unfit for service.… Christians may cheer nature, but they must not clog it. It is a great privilege in the charter granted us by the King of Kings, that we should have dominion over the creatures; but it will be a sordid bondage if we suffer them to have dominion over us. Socrates was wont to say, that evil men live that they may eat and drink, but good men eat and drink that they may live.… Secondly, thy duty is to be temperate as to the quality of thy diet. Though no certain quality of food can be set down, yet in general this must be observed, that we make not provision for the flesh. (Romans 13:12.) We may preserve the flesh, but we must not provide for the flesh. Our enemy is strong enough already, we need not put more weapons into his hands.… The Christian may take his food, but his food must not take him.… It is not unlawful to eat dainties, but it is unlawful to set the mind upon them.… We may eat and digest dainties, but we may not crave and desire dainties. God made man not for fleshly dainties, but for spiritual delights.… Elijah could be content with a raven for his cook. Daniel fed and thrived upon pulse: he looked fairer by it than those that did eat the king’s fare. Brown bread and the gospel are good cheer, said the martyr. John the Baptist could live upon locusts and wild honey. The apostles had some ears of corn for a Sabbath-day’s dinner. Though God is pleased out of mercy to afford us better provision, yet our work must be to mind moderation.—Swinnock.
It is of the Lord that hunger is painful and food gives pleasure; between these two lines of defence the Creator has placed life with a view to its preservation. The due sustenance of the body is the Creator’s end; the pleasantness of food is the means of obtaining it. When men prosecute and cultivate that pleasure as an end, they thwart the very purposes of Providence.—Arnot.
(It will be seen that the following comment is based on Miller’s rendering. See Critical Notes.) Kings like to see their guests eat. At the very utmost, this part of our behaviour is a matter of indifference. But of God nothing could be more exact. We are all eating with Him; in fact, feeding upon Him; as though He were Himself bread. “Forasmuch,” therefore, is just in place. “Discerning well who is before thee,” that also, is perfectly consistent. And then our sin, what is that? Why, fleshly appetite! What is innocent at courts is idolatry in the banquet to the skies.… Serving the creature more than the Creator, Paul expresses it; and gives us ample analogy after a New Testament kind (Romans 1:25, see also James 4:3), for understanding how we have put a knife to our throat, if we be men given to appetite.—Miller.
Proverbs 23:5. Wilt thou set thine eyes? etc. Rather “Wilt thou look eagerly after it, and it is gone?”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 23:4-5
THE DECEITFULNESS OF RICHES
In order to get the true meaning of this proverb it is necessary to define what Solomon understands by labouring to be rich. We call the possessor of vast estates or a large account at the bank a rich man, and so he is, if he lives within his income, paying his way and having a surplus to bestow upon the needy. But so is the village smith, who with less than a hundredth part of the income of the nobleman or merchant prince “looks the whole world in the face and owes not any man.” Riches and poverty are but relative terms, and when we consider how indispensable it is that some men should possess more than a mere sufficiency for their personal needs, we may be sure that the wise man did not mean to discourage all effort to gain even more than enough for our daily needs. But the labour which is here forbidden is evidently that all-absorbing pursuit of wealth which engrosses the entire man to the exclusion of higher claims. When men make gold their god instead of their servant it is obvious that the boundary line of lawful pursuit is passed, and that deprecated in the proverb is entered upon. The text—
I. Condemns all following after wealth under the inspiration of the natural heart. Man’s “own wisdom” is an insufficient and dangerous guide in this matter as in all others. The unrenewed heart of man is selfish and sordid, prone to think only of its own desires and to set up a false standard of happiness. Only the wisdom that cometh from above can show men what is worth striving after, what will really bless the present and afford satisfaction in the future. If a man buys and sells and gets gain with a constant reference to the will of God, and in dependence upon Him, he will not labour to be rich—in other words, he will, with Paul, learn in whatsoever state he is to be content, and will know how to fulfil the duties which come with abundance and how to exhibit the graces which can only be manifested in poverty.
II. Teaches that only those who do not trust in riches can really enjoy their possession, or escape bitter sorrow in their loss. Every rich man knows that it is possible that his wealth may leave him, and that it is certain that he must leave his wealth. The uncertainty of retaining them through life, and the certainty of losing them at death, are two thorns which must be found in the pillow of everyone who makes riches the chief good of his existence, and must surely deprive him of any heartfelt satisfaction from their possession. The soul of man is made for something higher and more lasting than any earthly good, and of all that men call good, and esteem precious, there is nothing which has less to satisfy the cravings of the soul than mere material wealth, or that is more easily and quickly lost. The only way, therefore, to get any present satisfaction in it, and to ensure oneself against future disappointment from it, is to follow the Apostolic injunction, and “trust not in uncertain riches, but in the living God.” (1 Timothy 6:17.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Not like a tame bird, that returns; nor like a hawk, that will show where she is by her bells; but like an eagle, whose wings thou canst neither clip nor pinion. All their certainty is in their uncertainty, and they are only stable in this, that they cannot be stable.… Wealth is like a bird; it hops all day from man to man, as that doth from tree to tree; and none can say where it will roost or rest at night. It is like a vagrant fellow, which, because he is big-boned, and able to work, a man taketh in a-doors, and cherisheth; and perhaps for a while he takes pains; but when he spies opportunity the fugitive servant is gone, and takes away more with him than all his service came to.—T. Adams.
What a startling interdict this! What an immense proportion of the world’s toil, and especially in such a community as our own, does it bring under condemnation and proscription! Were all the labour directed to this forbidden end to cease,—How little would be left!—what a sudden stagnation would there be of the turmoil of busy activity with which we are daily surrounded! What are the great majority of men about,—in our city and in our country? What keeps them all astir? What is the prevailing impulse of all the incessant bustle and eager competition of our teeming population? Are not all,—with a wider or a narrower estimate of what riches mean,—“labouring to be rich?”—The love of fame has been called the universal passion. Is not the love of money quite as much, if not more, entitled to the designation? Yes; and many a time does the wisdom of the world set itself to the defence of the world’s toil and the world’s aim—alleging many plausible, and some more than plausible, things in its pleadings. “Riches,” say they, “keep a man and his family from dependence. Riches enable a man to enjoy many comforts that are in themselves lawful and desirable. Riches procure a man distinction and influence in society. By this and other means, riches put it in a man’s power to do good:—why should we not ‘labour to be rich?’ ” It is all true; and the plea is in part quite legitimate. Yet Solomon, by the Spirit, with the authority, and in the kindness of God, enjoins—“labour not to be rich.”—Wardlaw.
It were a most strange folly to fall passionately in love with a bird upon the wing.… How much better were it, since riches will fly, for thyself to direct their flight towards heaven, by relieving the necessitous servants and members of Jesus Christ.—Bishop Hopkins.
Proverbs 23:6. Him that hath an evil eye—i.e., the jealous man.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 23:6-8
I. Men’s inward life and feelings are often directly opposed to their outward life and actions. A man is here pictured as manifesting a large hospitality. His board is laden with dainty meats and surrounded with guests whom he presses to eat and drink with such an appearance of goodwill that it seems ungenerous to suspect him of insincerity. But words and even deeds do not always proclaim the man. “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he;” and this man’s thoughts give the lie to his actions. He gives of his good things from no desire to cheer and relieve those who are poorer than himself, or to cement the bonds of friendship with his equals, but from some unworthy, and, it may be, from some base motive. He puts on for the time the garment of benevolence, but he is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and will not hesitate to throw off his disguise, if the selfish ends which he has in view demand it. It is painful for us to be obliged to admit the truthfulness of the portrait here sketched by the Wise Man, but we know that it is not an exaggerated one.
II. Those who encourage such hypocrisy will meet with a well-deserved punishment. It is taken for granted, and it is undoubtedly true, that there is a false gloss upon such feigned generosity which makes it easy to distinguish from the real thing. And, if we accept the hospitality of such a man knowing it to be a deception, we too practise hypocrisy, and thus become a partaker of his evil deeds. Such a man is guilty of two heinous sins, he is first a covetous and self-seeking sinner and then he is a gross hypocrite. The covetous man is according to the Inspired Book an idolator (Colossians 3:5), and our Lord when on earth could endure without anger all contradiction of sinners against Himself (Hebrews 12:3) except hypocrisy. This always set His holy nature on fire with indignation and called forth the only Woes that ever passed His lips. It was forbidden to the apostolic churches to sit at the table of any man who, “calling himself a brother,” was yet covetous or an idolator” (1 Corinthians 5:11). For such a man was under a far deeper condemnation than one who openly manifested his real character, seeing that he added to his other sins that of professing to be what he was not, and to eat with such a man was not only to countenance his covetousness and idolatry but to share his hypocrisy. The Old Testament preacher here issues the same prohibition and obviously for the same reasons, and if men disregard them they fully deserve the negative and the positive punishment with which they are here threatened. All the friendly words which they utter to save appearances and to further selfish interests, and which convict them in their turn of hypocrisy, will be “lost,” and bitter regret and self-condemnation will be their final portion.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The injunction, or dissuasion, I need not surely say, is by no means intended to give any licence or encouragement to a spirit of pride or disdain. No. It is only a salutary warning to be cautious of bringing yourselves under obligation to any selfish and hypocritical dissembler of kindness, who only wishes to lay you under such obligation to serve purposes of his own. The man who has thus entertained you will boast of his hospitality; tell others of it, making the most of it for his own behoof; set it down against you, debiting you on account of it with certain expected good turns at your hand, when he comes to need them. He will throw it up to you, should you not do all he looks for; or rail at you to others for ingratitude and meanness in forgetting his kindness. He will remind you of it again and again, with vexatious importunity,—teazing you for your favour and influence in some object he has in view for himself or his family. It is amazing what an amount of expectation a man of this sordid and selfish disposition will found upon a dinner! Your having sat at his table, eaten of his dainties, and drunk of his wines, is price enough even for your conscience itself. Beware of him. Keep yourself free.—Wardlaw.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 23:9
THE MORALLY INCURABLE
I. A man may become morally incurable by human instructors. There are cases of bodily disease which it would be quite useless for the most skilful physician to attempt to cure; such an attempt would only be a throwing away of time and energy on his part which might be usefully employed upon another patient. And so there is at least one form of moral disease which is beyond the reach of human effort. It is that of the man who scoffs at everything, and upon whom, therefore, the most affectionate entreaties and the most solemn warnings are thrown away.
II. To offer to such an incurable fool the wisdom of God is to break a Divine commandment. The Redeemer Himself, under the Gospel dispensation, issued such a prohibition. Even among the beneficent utterances of the Sermon on the Mount comes the command, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6.) Although Christ and His disciples were sent forth to proclaim the Gospel message among men who, on account of their bitter animosity to Him and to His teachings were compared to “wolves” (Luke 10:3.), there were others in a far more hopeless condition before whom they were forbidden to place the great truths of the kingdom of God, and they were such characters as the fool of this proverb, who would have “despised the wisdom of their words.” The deep import of the words of Solomon are fully seen when we consider the even more startling utterance of Him who loved and died for all men.
III. There is Divine compassion for the sinner in this commandment. To offer to such a man what he would scoff at, would be to give him an occasion of increasing his own guilt by a new refusal of Divine truth. Mercy, therefore, is mingled with the stern judgment of the prohibition.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
We often speak of retribution as if it always lay beyond the grave, and the day of grace as extending through the whole life of man; but such is not the fact. Retribution begins with many men here. The day of grace terminates with many men before the day of death. There are those who reach an unconvertible state, their characters are stereotyped and fixed as eternity. The things that belong to their peace are hid from their eyes. They are incorrigible. Such is the character referred to in the text.—Dr. David Thomas.
Those that are reproved by ministers, and Christian friends may learn from this verse that they have no reason to take it amiss, or to think that they are treated with contempt. They are considered as offenders, but at the same time as offending brethren, who are not incurably perverse. They would be treated in a very different way, and might reckon themselves with more justice to be considered in the light of scorners, and dogs, and swine if there were no means used to recover them to repentance.—Lawson.
Proverbs 23:11. Their Redeemer. Their Goel, or Avenger. In the Hebrew law this word is applied to the nearest kinsman. (See Ruth 3:12.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 23:10-11
THE RIGHTS OF PRIVATE PROPERTY
I. In the community formed under Divine direction there was a possession of personal and private property. When the land of Canaan was first divided among the tribes, it is evident that each family had its respective allotment, the boundaries of which were clearly defined. (See Deuteronomy 19:14, etc.) Each head of a family became, therefore, a possessor of property, to which no other person, not even the king in the days of the monarchy, had any right. (See 1 Kings 21:1-3.) This kingdom, therefore, formed under direct Divine supervision, was not governed on communistic principles; each man had his own inheritance, which became more or less valuable according to the industry and skill expended upon it. Social inequalities must have resulted from this arrangement, which were prevented from becoming too great by the arrangements connected with the year of jubilee, but which within certain limits were evidently not regarded by God as opposed to the welfare of His chosen people. We may infer, then, that the idea that it would be better for mankind if all things were possessed in common—if no man had anything which he could call his own—is not a Divine idea, and is a mistaken one.
II. Those who are too helpless to protect their own rights are especially under the protection of God. The depravity of human nature is seen in the almost universal tendency displayed by the strong to forget the claims of the weak; but when this tendency is carried to the length of wronging the widow and the fatherless, it seems as if a man had sunk to the lowest depths of moral degradation. Yet there were such specimens of fallen humanity in the commonwealth established and governed by God Himself, as there are in nominally Christian England. But, from the earliest days of Jewish history, God declared Himself to be the Guardian of the widow and the fatherless, and the field which was their inheritance might have been well called God’s Acre, from which all intruders were warned off by Divine command and threatening. This is a truth which it may be well for all those to lay to heart who hold property in trust for such dependent ones, or who have any other responsibility in relation to them. It is surely a comforting thought for the fatherless themselves that the place of the earthly parent is taken by One whose power as much exceeds all human power as His love goes beyond all human love.
The state of Palestine with regard to enclosures is very much the same now as it has always been. Though gardens and vineyards are surrounded by dry stone walls or hedges of prickly pear, the boundaries of arable fields are marked by nothing but a little trench, a small cairn, or a single erect stone placed at certain intervals. It is manifest that a dishonest person could easily fill the gutter with earth, or remove these stones a few feet without much risk of detection and thus enlarge his own field by a stealthy encroachment on his neighbour’s.—Dr. Jamieson.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The words in the first clause of the verse have been sometimes applied in a very different department—even to the danger and the criminality of intermeddling with old and long established articles of doctrine in religion, and principles and statutes of civil polity.… It is clear, however, that there can be no period of prescription for truth,—or rather for falsehood,—no length of time, that is, by which error that has passed for truth can become anything else than error. No time can transmute wrong into right. Changes, no doubt, should be made with caution. The longer anything has been received as a truth, the improbability of its being found an error becomes ever the greater. But if any dogma in any human system of Christian doctrine is proved, from a full and careful investigation of the word of God, to have been set down and held as a truth by mistake,—it would be a most strange and mischievous attachment to antiquity for its own sake, that would resist its being expunged and the truth discovered substituted in its room. Never must we forget, that the most ancient landmarks of truth and duty are those which have been fixed here—in the Bible—by the hands of prophets, apostles, and evangelists, under the immediate direction of the “Spirit of the Lord.” There are none so old as these. From the Bible human standards have been formed. Their landmarks profess to be in agreement, in the bounding lines of truth and error marked out by them, with those which are set down there. But when, on a careful survey, any of them are found to have been misplaced, and to bring any part of the region of error within the boundary of the territory of truth,—their removal becomes a duty of imperative obligation.—Wardlaw.
The word for redeemer signifies the man who was “next of kin,” the kinsman on whom, by the law of Moses, it was incumbent as a matter of duty, and with whom too it was a matter of interest, to look after the concerns of his poor relations; with whom lay indeed the avenging of their blood, if in any case their life should, in cruel selfishness, be taken away. It was on the principle of that statute that Boaz called upon the next of kin to come forward and redeem the inheritance of Elimelech at the hand of Naomi, and that, upon his hearing the conditions and declining, he did it himself. Now he who happened to be the redeeming kinsman might himself be poor, and powerless, and without either means or influence. But they should not, on that account, be unprotected and unbefriended. Jehovah himself would take the place of their kinsman—would “plead their cause,” would maintain their rights, would redress their wrongs, would bring His power to bear against their oppressors. He would fulfil for them the part of their near relation: and he is “mighty.” Hear his words:—“Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:22-24.) These, you may think, are Old Testament threatenings, belonging to a judicial law that has passed away; or, more properly, they belong to the special theocracy, being strictly no part of the judicial law, inasmuch as they do not prescribe any punishment to be inflicted by the hand of man, but announce what Jehovah himself would, by his own interposition, execute. Be it so. But think you that the character of God has changed? Such assurances and threatenings are not mere warnings of punishment; they are expressions of character.—Wardlaw.
Adored be the unsearchable pity, grace, and condescension of Emmanuel! When He could not redeem as God, He became our kinsman, that He might be our Redeemer! (Hebrews 2:14-16.)—Bridges.
Proverbs 23:17. Let not thine heart envy, etc. The verb translated envy refers to both objects in the verse, and is better translated “strive after.” Miller renders it “be aglow.” “It is,” he says, “a verb expressive of all emotion.” (See Numbers 25:11-13.)
Proverbs 23:18. Surely there is an end. Delitzsch here reads, “Truly there is a future.” “The root of the Hebrew,” says Miller, signifies afterward.
Proverbs 23:20. Eaters of flesh. This may be translated “Devourers of their own flesh”—i.e., those who destroy their bodies by sensual indulgence.
Proverbs 23:23. The word also should be omitted in this verse. The three nouns in the second clause stand in apposition to the one in the first. Instruction, rather “discipline”
Proverbs 23:25. This verse should be, “Let thy father and thy mother be glad, and her that bare thee rejoice.
Proverbs 23:26. Observe, rather delight.
Proverbs 23:28. As for a prey, Delitzsch and Zöckler here translate “like a robber.” Transgressors, rather “the faithless.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 23:12-28
PARENTAL DUTIES AND PARENTAL JOYS
This paragraph contains no subject upon which Solomon has not dwelt before, but their repetition shows the great importance which he attached to them.
I. He repeats the truth that corporeal punishment is a necessary and salutary element of parental training. (See Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 13:24, page 234, and on chap. Proverbs 19:18, page 573.)
II. He shows by example that appeals are also to be made to the higher and better nature of the child. Although the rod is to have its place, it is not to be the only force employed—a child is a reasoning and loving creature, and that training will miserably fail which does not take this fact into account. And in proportion as the child grows in years will the rod become less needful and effectual, and wise warning and loving entreaty will take its place. He is here besought to “give his heart to wisdom” and to live “in the fear of Jehovah”—
1. Because of the exceeding joy that he will bring to his parents. (See Proverbs 23:15; Proverbs 23:24-25.) This is a thought that cannot fail to have weight with any son or daughter of good parents who is capable of grateful emotion. The consideration of the tender love and the unwearying patience that have surrounded them from their birth, and of the power that now lies in their hand to requite that long ministry of tenderness and long suffering, ought to be a powerful motive to dissuade from the evil path and to allure into the good way. And it has been and ever will be, for many a child of godly parents has been kept in the hour of temptation by the remembrance of his father or his mother, even when he has not thought upon his God. (See also Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 10:1, page 137.)
2. Because of the temporal ruin of an opposite course. (See Proverbs 23:21; Proverbs 23:27-28.) All these subjects have been considered before. (See Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 21:17, page 609, and on chap. Proverbs 6:6-11, page 79, and on chap. Proverbs 6:24, page 89.)
3. Because of the rewards and punishments of the life to come. (See Proverbs 23:18.) This verse (see Critical Notes) undoubtedly refers to the day of death and to the life beyond it, as do also chaps. Proverbs 11:7, and Proverbs 14:32. (See Homiletics on pages 201 and 391.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 23:13. The command is framed upon the supposition that parents often fail on the side of tenderness; the word is given to nerve them for a difficult duty. There is no ambiguity in the precept; both the need of correction, and the tremendous issues that depend on it, are expressed with thrilling precision of language.—Arnot.
Proverbs 23:15-16. Now the proverb personates the father, and, instead of a roundabout speech, utters the temper that should inspire the beating. There will be no good unless the father shows the son that it will be his highest joy, if the son learns wisdom. If thou be really “wise.” That is the caution of the first clause. If it be no sham thing, but an affair of the “heart;” then “my heart shall rejoice,” down in the same depths. And then, as men are great actors, and may look virtue as they whip a child, when they do not feel it much, Solomon protests that it must be real. Each part of this sentence must be meant. Not,—Thou must be a good citizen, or a clever worker, or a moral actor, or a good gratifying son; but the boy must see, (and he surely will see it, if it is felt), that the yearning is that he become wise in heart, i.e., a good earnest Christian, and then on the other hand, that down in the same depths, not with outward expressions of pleasure, but in your very heart—not in your made-up heart, which you keep to show to others, but in your very self—the proverb echoes your feeling, “My heart shall rejoice, even mine.” The reduplication intensifies the sense. And then, unwilling to shake loose from the thought, he pushes it further. “Yea my reins shall rejoice.” That deepest, firmest, lastingest receptacle of joy, the patient reins shall rejoice or “exult”—the very highest feeling coming from the deepest depths. “When thy lips,” which are the best expounders of the heart, “speak right things.” The doctrine therefore is that a man will save his child if he disciplines him with these witnessed tokens of his manifest affection.—Miller.
Proverbs 23:17. This habitual fear of the Lord is nothing separate from common life. It gives to it a holy character. It makes all its minute details not only consistent with, but component parts of, godliness. Acts of kindliness are “done after a godly sort.” (John 3:5-6.) Instead of one duty thrusting out another, all are “done heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto man.” (Ephesians 6:6. Colossians 3:23.) Some professors confine their religion to extraordinary occasions. But Elijah seems to have been content to await his translation in his ordinary course of work. (2 Kings 2:1-12.) An example that may teach us to lay the greater stress upon the daily and habitual, not the extraordinary, service. Others are satisfied with a periodical religion; as if it was rather a rapture or an occasional impulse, than a habit. But if we are to engage in morning and evening devotions, we are also to “wait upon the Lord all the day.” (Psalms 25:5.) If we are to enjoy our Sabbath privileges, we are also to “abide in our weekly calling with God.” Thus the character of a servant of God is maintained—“devoted to His fear.” (Psalms 119:38.)—Bridges.
Proverbs 23:18. “Cut off,” as the worldling’s is.” The worldling expects to be cut off. He toils with a hope, and that so vivid that he becomes aglow (see Miller’s rendering, in Proverbs 23:17) in worldly earnestness of purpose; and yet, ab imo, he knows that it will be cut off.… How can any intellect stand against such appeals? Work for something that will pay, for … there is something that shall never be “cut off.”—Miller.
Proverbs 23:19. The hinging pivot of this verse is the pronoun thou. Friends may do ever so much, but in the end it must be thyself. There is an eternal “way.” It is a way not for the feet but for the heart. The heart has some day to rise up and enter it. Once in, it will never wander any more out. My son, take that critical step. A man has a certain amount of strength, a certain amount of susceptibility let us call it, in matters of conversion.… Now the father, in his more immediate entreaties to his child, is to remember this.—Miller.
Proverbs 23:20. A man grows old by the common use of his faculties; but if he pleases he can travel faster. He can make drafts upon his flesh with wine, and burn faster.… A man can seek death by the most moral impenitence. But he can also travel faster. He can do it by drunkenness. He can do it by trains of trespasses, of which common drunkenness may stand as chief.—Miller.
We are forbidden not only to be drunkards or gluttons, but to be found in the company of such persons; for bad company is the common temptation which the devil uses to draw men to these sins. Those who have been long inured to a temperate course of life must not think that they are at liberty to infringe this precept, and to mingle themselves with the sons of riot, because they are strong enough in their own eye to overcome all the temptations of sensuality. Christ charges His own disciples, who had been practised in every virtue under his own eye, and who had less temptations to this vice than any other men, to take heed to themselves that their hearts might not be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness.—Lawson.
Proverbs 23:23. Solomon bids us buy the truth, but does not tell us what it must cost, because we must get it though it be ever so dear. We must love it both shining and scorching. Every parcel of truth is precious as filings of gold; we must either live with it or die for it.… A man may lawfully sell his house, land, or jewels, but truth is a jewel that excels all prices, and must not be sold; it is our heritage: “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever” (Psalms 119:111). It is a legacy that our forefathers have bought with their bloods, which should make us willing to lay down anything or lay out anything to purchase it.—Brooks.
A merchant buys for the very purpose of selling; and he will not buy unless he has a pretty good assurance that he will sell at a profit; that he can get for his article more than he has given. The case here, then, is quite peculiar. It is all buying. The article is one which is to be bought but never sold. And why? For the best possible reason, that it can never be sold at a profit, there is nothing too valuable to be given for it, there is nothing valuable enough to be taken for it.…
1. The buyer tests his article. He uses means to ascertain its genuineness.… The cautious purchaser makes sure of his bargain, and all the surer, the higher the price.… Now, all that is presented to us as truth must be thus tested. In physical science scientific men will not take upon trust what professes to be a new discovery without examining thoroughly the experiments by which it is said to have been ascertained.… Thus, too, does the metaphysician in regard to every new theory in mental science; and the moral philosopher in the department of ethics.… Now, we are as far as possible from wishing it to be otherwise in the department of religion. In proportion to the importance of the case,—to the height of the authority on which the claims to acceptance are rested,—the magnitude at once of the benefits promised, and of the risks incurred,—ought to be the solicitude and care with which the testing process is conducted. This then is the last department of all, in which what professes to be truth should be taken upon trust; in which inquiry should be careless, and faith easy. The obligation to examine is imperative and solemn; and marvellous, indeed, is the indisposition of men to enter on the investigation. Men who, with the utmost earnestness and perseverance, will test every alleged truth in science, in history, or in politics, cannot be persuaded to apply their powers to an inquiry more important, by infinite degrees, than any other that can engage the attention of the human mind! They either decline it altogether, or they set about it with a levity and a superficiality utterly at variance with what such a question demands, and from which no just appreciation or correct conclusion can be anticipated.
2. It is not enough for the buyer to ascertain the genuineness of his article. He sets about estimating its real worth; its worth intrinsically, and its worth adventitiously; its worth in itself, and its worth to him. The two may be widely different. The diamond is of incomparably more intrinsic worth than the grain of barley; but the cock in the fable spurned away the former and picked up the latter. In the present case,—having once ascertained the divine authority of the record,—there can be no hesitation about either the intrinsic or the relative value of what it makes known. All truth is precious; but its preciousness is, of course, endlessly varied in degree. Two things may be considered as combining to constitute its value. These are—its subject, and its utility. In natural science some truths present a union of both. The discoveries of astronomy for example, are, many of them, full of intrinsic interest from their vastness and sublimity, and the impressions they give of the transcendent majesty of God; while, in some of their practical bearings, they are of pre-eminent advantage to men. But in a peculiar sense may this be affirmed of the discoveries of divine revelation. These discoveries present views of God’s moral government, in its great essential principles and in their practical application, such as have in them a weight of moral grandeur, and a consequent depth of absorbing interest surpassing all that nature can disclose. And, while they possess intrinsic preciousness above all other truths,—think of their value when estimated by the blessings which are unfolded in them, and to which the faith of them introduces the believer, in time and in eternity! The purchaser values the article he is about to purchase, by the amount of benefit the possession of it will bring him. In like manner must you estimate the value of “the truth” you are here counselled to buy. The value of it, in this view, is summed up by our Lord himself, when he says, “THIS IS LIFE ETERNAL.” What then, the real worth to you, of any other compared with this?
3. The buyer, when he has estimated the value of his article, makes proportional sacrifices to obtain possession of it. Foolish estimates there may be; and these foolish estimates may be the occasion of foolish bargains; and these may be the grounds of regret and self-dissatisfaction. But supposing the certainty of all the benefits, for time and eternity, which in the Bible are promised and guaranteed in connection with “the truth,” O! what is there, in the whole compass of what this world can confer, that should not, without one moment’s hesitation, be sacrificed for its attainment?
4. In proportion to the buyer’s estimate of his article, and the cost at which he has obtained it, will be the jealousy with which he retains and guards it. “Sell it not.” Selling the truth, is not simply letting slip from the mind the remembrance of mere abstractions; it is to give up the profession and faith of it for the sake of the very things which we sacrificed for it. But “sell it not.” Sell it not for the pleasures of sin. Sell it not for the riches and honours of the world. O part not with the pearl of great price for the husks which the swine do eat.… And be prompt with your bargain. Those who are much set upon an article will not delay their purchase, lest perchance it should pass from their hands. Blessed be God there is no danger here, so far as others coming forward before you is concerned.… But if not now prompt and decided you may be thwarted in another way. Death may decide the matter for you.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 23:26. A supplication is come, as it were, from God to man, that man would send God his heart; penned by Solomon under the name of wisdom (chap. Proverbs 9:1), and directed to her sons … He which always gave, now craves; and he which craves always, now gives. Christ stands at the door like a poor man, and asks not bread, nor clothes, nor lodgings, which we should give to His members, but our heart—that is, even the continent of all, and governor of man’s house.… Should God be a suppliant unto thee and me, but that our unthankfulness condemns us, that for all the things which He hath given unto us, we never considered yet what we should give unto Him before He asketh.… Mark what God hath chosen for Himself: not that which any other should lose by, like the demands of them which care for none but themselves, but that which, being given to God, moves us to give every man his due.… Give God thy heart, that He may keep it; not a piece of thy heart, not a room in thy heart, but thy heart. The heart divided, dieth. God is not like the mother which would have the child divided, but like the natural mother which said, Rather than it should be divided, let her take it all. Let the devil have all, if He which gave it be not worthy of it.… As a man considers what he does when he gives, so God licenseth us to consider of that which we do for Him, whether He deserves it, whether we owe it, whether He can require it, lest it come against our will; therefore give Me, saith God, as though He would not strain upon us, or take it from us.… Is God so desirous of my heart? What good can my heart do to God? It is not worthy to come under His roof. I would I had a better gift to send unto my Lord; go, my heart, to thy Maker; the Bridegroom hath sent for thee, put on thy wedding garment, for the King Himself will marry thee. Who is not sorry now that he did not give his heart before? Is he not worthy to die that will take his heart from Him that made it, from Him that redeemed it, from Him which preserves it, from Him that will glorify it, and gives it to him that will infect it, torment it, condemn it? Will a servant reach the cup to a stranger when his master calls for it? Or will a man sell his coat if he have no more? What dost thou reserve for God, when thou hast given Satan thine heart? Christ hath promised to come and dwell with thee (Revelation 3:20); where shall He stay, where shall He dine, if the chamber be taken up, and the heart let forth to another? Thou art but a tenant, and yet thou takest His house over his head, and placest in it whom thou wilt, as if thou wert landlord.—Henry Smith.
I. Man has nothing higher to dispose of. His heart is given when he sets his strongest affections upon an object. Wherever he centres his strongest love his heart is, and wherever his heart is, he is.… II. Man is compelled to dispose of it. He is forced, not by any outward coercion, but by an inward pressure. It is as necessary for the soul to love as it is to the body to breathe. The deepest of all the deep hungers of humanity is the hunger of the soul to love. Sometimes so ravenous does man’s animal appetite for food become, that he will devour with a kind of relish the most loathsome things; and so voracious is the heart for some object to love, that it will settle down upon the lowest and most contemptible creatures rather than not love at all. III. Man alone can dispose of it. No one can take it from is by force. He is the only priest who can present it.—Dr. David Thomas.
Proverbs 23:28. Uncleanness leads to faithlessness of manifold kinds; and it makes not only the husband unfaithful to the wife, but also the son to the parents, the scholar to the teacher and pastor, the servant to the master. The adulteress, inasmuch as she entices now one and now another into her net, increases the number of those who are faithless towards men. But are they not, above all, faithless towards God? Delitzsch.
Proverbs 23:30. Mixed wine—i.e., wine mixed with strong spices.
Proverbs 23:31. When it giveth his colour, etc., literally, “When it showeth its eye.” This may refer to its brightness, or to the head, or pearl of the wine. “When it moveth itself,” etc., rather “when it glideth down with ease.”
Proverbs 23:33. Strange women, rather “strange things.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 23:29-35
THE DRUNKARD’S PICTURE
I. The drunkard is an entire inversion of man as God intended him to be. God made man’s mind to rule his body, but the drunkard’s bodily appetites rule his mind. God gave man an intellect to guide his actions; He intended the various limbs of his body to be the servants of his will, and to obey the dictates of his reason. But the drunkard not only gives up all his spiritual and intellectual power to his body, but all his other bodily powers to the rule of one sense—that of his palate. Men who are not awake to their spiritual and mental needs might be expected to have as much regard for their animal wants, and to be as careful to avoid bodily suffering as the brute creation. But it is not so with the drunkard—although nights and days of privation and suffering are often the fruits of an hour’s drinking, he voluntarily undergoes the former in order to enjoy the latter. Not only is conscience and reason and heart sacrificed to his mouth, but every other bodily sense is made to serve the one sense and every other part of the body to suffer, that one part may be gratified if but for a moment.
II. He is an entire inversion of what we might expect even a fallen man to be. Looking at man as he is when he lives for this world only, he is generally alive to his own immediate temporal interests and careful to avoid in the future what has brought him suffering in the past. But it is not so with the slave to drink. If only wife and children had to lead lives of misery and his own life was a constant round of even animal enjoyment, the drunkard’s career would not be such an unaccountable infatuation. Human selfishness would be sufficient to account for it. But who suffers like the drunkard himself? The wise man enumerates some of his miseries—woe, grief, contentions and wounds without cause, the stings of remorse, the disordered brain, and entire loss of consciousness and of power to defend one’s own life and property—this is the drunkard’s heritage. And in the intervals between his madness he knows it and drinks to the dregs the bitter cup of bodily and mental misery that must always follow the immoderate use of the wine cup. And yet his language is “I will seek it yet again.” The child that has been burnt dreads the fire, but the poor drunkard scarred from head to foot with the marks of the flames, seems with all his other losses to have lost also the natural instinct of self-preservation and the power of learning anything from the great teacher—experience.
III. A consideration of the strength and nature of the drunkard’s chain should lead all to shun that which enslaved him. When we consider what havoc intoxicating drink has wrought, it is marvellous that men do not turn from it with loathing; that they are not afraid to play with so deadly, and yet so treacherous an enemy to mankind. When the sailor knows that there is a treacherous whirlpool in the ocean, which has engulfed a thousand noble vessels, he is careful to give it a wide berth, to keep far beyond the outermost ring of the current. But the habit of men in general seems to be to try how near they can come to this moral and social gulf of death, without being drawn beneath the waters. The experiment is fraught with deadly peril, and is often a fatal one. Solomon’s advice is to ensure safety, by not even “looking upon the wine when it is red.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
There is mention made of a monk at Prague, who having heard at shrift the confessions of many drunkards, wondered at it, and for experiment would try his brain with this sin, and accordingly stole himself drunk. Now, after the vexation of three sick days, to all that confessed that sin he enjoined no other penance than this: “Go and be drunk again.” Surely his meaning was like that of Seneca, that drunkenness was a torment and affliction to itself.—Spencer.
Drunkenness is a special water at the devil’s banquet. This sin is a horrible self-theft … Thieves cannot steal lands, unless they be Westminster Hall thieves, crafty contenders that eat out a true title with a false evidence; but the drunkard robs himself of his lands. Now he dissolves an acre, and then an acre, into the pot, till he hath ground all his ground at the malt quern, and run all his patrimony through his throat. Thus he makes himself the living tomb of his forefathers—of his posterity. He needs not trouble his sick mind with a will, or distrust the fidelity of executors.—T. Adams.
Proverbs 23:29. The best that can come of drunkenness is repentance—that fairest daughter of so foul a mother—and that is not without its woe, and alas! its sorrow and redness of eyes with weeping for sin.—Trapp.
Proverbs 23:31. He that would avoid the commission of sin must avoid the occasion of sin. If we would not fall down the hill we must beware of coming near the brow of it. Keep thee far from an evil matter. When the wine laughs in thy face then shut thine eyes lest it steal into thine heart. A guest may easily be kept out of the house at first, but if once entertained it is hard to turn him out of doors. When the governor of a fort once comes to parley with the enemy that besiegeth him there is great fear that the place will be surrendered.—Swinnock.
Proverbs 23:33. One remarkable peculiarity of this chapter is the junction and alternation of these two kindred sins. There they stand, like two plants of death, each growing on its own independent root, and nourished by the same soil, but cleaving close to each other by congeniality of nature, and twisted round each other for mutual support.… The alliance, so generally formed and so firmly maintained between drunkenness and licentiousness, is a master-stroke of Satan’s policy. It is when men have looked upon the deceitful cup, and received into their blood the poison of its sting, that their eyes behold “strange women;” and when they have fallen into that “narrow pit,” they run back to hide their shame, at least from themselves, in the maddening draught.—Arnot.
Proverbs 23:34. The passage is interesting, as showing what Psalms 104:25-26; Psalms 107:23-30, also show, the increased familiarity of the Israelites with a sea life.—Plumptre.
It is very foul weather in which a drunkard saileth. For as St. Ambrose speaketh, the multitude of lusts in him do raise a great tempest, which toss his mind to and fro, sailing as it were in the narrow sea of his body, so that he cannot be pilot to itself.… But that which maketh the drunkard’s case worst of all is this: it is a shipwreck of the body only which in a tempest is feared, but he maketh shipwreck of his soul if repentance be not a plank of safety to him.—Jermin.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 23". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24