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Proverbs 23:1-3. When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, &c.— There are two evils to be avoided at the tables of the great: the one is, too much talking; the other, too much eating: the wise man exhorts his disciple to avoid both the one and the other by the phrase, put a knife to thy throat; "Repress your appetite, and your inclination to talk." Wine, company, and the gaiety which attends entertainments, often invite men to be too free in the use of meat and drink; and it is by these that kings frequently prove the fidelity and the secrecy of their confidants.
Monarchs, 'tis said, with many a flowing bowl, Search through the deep recesses of his soul, Whom for their future friendship they design; And put him to the torture in his wine. Hor. Ars Poet. ver. 435.
See also Sir 31:12-14. Schultens and some others render the second verse: For thou wilt put a knife to thy throat, if thou art given to appetite; i.e. "if thou dost not curb thy appetite, it will expose thee to as certain danger, as if a knife were at thy throat." The first and third verse's seem plainly to prove, that we must understand the phrase in the second as a caution against excess and intemperance.
Proverbs 23:4. Labour not to be rich— In this admonition against covetousness, the wise man neither forbids all labour, nor a provident care, which he commends in other places; but only represents how vain it is to be over-solicitous, and to leave no thoughts or strength for any thing else: for so the first word is, Do not weary thyself to be rich; and in the next part of the verse he bids us desist: from our own understanding: meaning thereby, either that we should not wholly trust to it, though in the use of honest means; or, that we should not follow our own inventions, contrary to divine direction. Houbigant corrects the text, and renders it, nearly after the LXX, thus: "Do not attend, or associate thyself with a rich man, when thou thyself art poor." Archbishop Tillotson has a very lively and pleasing remark upon the next verse; "wherein (says he) the wise man expresses himself in such a manner, as if he would give us the picture of a rich man, who sits brooding over his estate till it is fledged, and, having gotten wings, flies away. But the whole tenor of the gospel teaches us, that we must die to the riches of this world, and to all things here below, and be alive to God alone."
Proverbs 23:18. For surely there is an end— Hebrew אחרית acherith, a future state. This is one of the places where some have rendered acherith by a reward, and Le Clerc among the rest. But to limit the reward to this world, as that learned critic every where does, is to make a sort of new world of the present, rather than admit the supposition or belief of another. See Peters on Job, p. 293. Calmet observes, that nothing can afford a man greater comfort in his last moments, than the testimony of his conscience, that he has continued in the fear of the Lord, and in an entire departure from evil.
Proverbs 23:20. Be not amongst wine-bibbers, &c.— See the note on chap. Proverbs 15:17. The wise man almost throughout this whole chapter gives his disciple precepts respecting meals. First, he tells him of the manner in which he ought to conduct himself in eating with princes; he then cautions him to avoid the table of a covetous man; not to give him entertainment, nor to receive any from him. Here he attacks another kind of feasts; namely, where several assembled together, and each paid their quota. Formerly every one brought his own plate; this is the practice still in some countries. The reasons which might have adduced the wise man to forbid his disciples these kinds of assemblies, are, first, the vain expence; secondly, the loss of time; thirdly, the hazard of evil company; fourthly, the dangerous habits of leading a soft and indolent life; and the fear of being accustomed to wine and luxurious living. Calmet. It would be endless to descant upon this subject, upon the mischiefs and evils of intemperance, which Solomon has so finely described at the close of this chapter: it must suffice, therefore, to refer the reader to Scheuchzer on the place, and to Dean Bolton's useful Tracts on intemperance in eating and drinking. I will just remark, that from the 22nd to the 29th verse the subject begun in the present verse is interrupted.
Proverbs 23:26. My son, give me thine heart, &c.— The heart was esteemed by the ancients the seat of the affections: accordingly, Solomon may be understood as calling upon his disciple to embrace his dictates with the warmest affection, and to reduce them to practice without exception. See Dr. Chandler, and Archbishop Sharp, vol. 1: p. 396.
REFLECTIONS.—The great thing that JEHOVAH, by the mouth of Solomon, requires of his children, is, their heart; for without this, all beside is nothing worth; and most reasonable is the demand, when his title to it is so evident: and where the heart is right with God, our ways will be directed to please him; we shall eye the path of duty to walk in it, and the leadings of his providence to improve under every dispensation, and in this way shall be preserved from all evil.
Proverbs 23:27. A whore is a deep ditch— See the note on chap. Proverbs 22:14.
Proverbs 23:31. Look not thou upon the wine, &c.— Red wine is more esteemed in the east than white; and we are told in the travels of Olearius, that it is customary with the Armenian Christians in Persia, to put Brazil wood or saffron into their wine, to give it a higher colour, when the wine is not so red as they like; they making no account of white wine. He mentions the same thing also in another place. These accounts of their putting Brazil wood or saffron into such their wines to give them a deeper red, seem to discover an energy of the Hebrew word יתאדם yithaddam, here used, as I never saw remarked any where. It is of the conjugation called hithpael, which, according to grammarians denotes an action that turns upon the agent itself: it is not always, it may be accurately observed, but in this case it should seem that it ought to be, taken according to the strictness of grammar, and that it intimates the wine's making itself redder, by something put into it. Look not upon the wine when it maketh itself red. It appears indeed from Isa 63:2 that some of the wines about Judea were naturally red; but so are those wines in Persia, only more deeply tinged by art; and this colouring is apparently to make it more grateful and tempting to the eye. See the Observations, p. 191.
Proverbs 23:32. At the last it biteth, &c.— "Remember that the pleasure will be attended at last with intolerable pains when it works like so much poison in thy veins, and casts thee into troubles as keen, and diseases as difficult to cure, as the biting of a serpent, or the stinging of a basilisk;" (for so the last word should be rendered.) See Bishop Patrick. Mr. Prior has thus finely expressed the ill effects of drunkenness in his poem intitled Solomon:
Unhappy man! whom sorrow thus and rage To diff'rent ills alternately engage; Who drinks, alas! but to forget; nor sees That melancholy, sloth, severe disease, Mem'ry confus'd, and interrupted thought, Death's harbingers, lie latent in the draught: And in the flow'rs that wreath the sparkling bowl, Full adders hiss, and pois'nous serpents roll.
Proverbs 23:34. As he that lieth upon the top of a mast— The Vulgate renders this, And as the sleeping pilot, having lost his helm: but our translation, which is agreeable to the Hebrew, is by far the strongest and most expressive.
Proverbs 23:35. They have stricken me, &c.— They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I did not see it; they have beaten me, and I did not know them: when will it be that I shall awake, and again return to my wine? Houbigant.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Proverbs 23". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17