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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 23

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verses 1-3

1-3. When thou sittest to eat with a ruler The first three verses of this chapter are closely connected, and pertain to one and the same topic.

What Some render who. Zockler: “Him who is.”

Put a knife to thy throat Some read: “For thou wilt put.” The meaning is: Thou wilt be in great danger of ruin from overindulgence in his dainties; therefore, restrain thyself. Compare Genesis 27:4, in Hebrew. The third verse may be considered exegetical of the second: His delicacies are dangerous. Horace says that kings urge with frequent drinks those whose characters they wish to test. The last verse of the preceding chapter describes the qualities of the person who is most likely to come to preferment; so these verses caution him against the danger of luxurious living, to which he is exposed when promoted. Melanchthon regards these verses as an admonition to courtiers; but the principle may be more extensively applied.

Verse 4

4. Labour not to be rich Be not over anxious for wealth, nor use improper or dishonourable means to obtain it. Depend less upon thy own sagacity than upon the blessing of God. This applies well to those who stand before kings or occupy high places. 1 Timothy 6:9-10.

Verse 5

5. That which is not This assigns a reason for the preceding admonition. Why pursue so eagerly that which is so uncertain and evanescent? Stuart’s rendering is good: “Wilt thou suffer thine eyes to fly toward it.” “To flit over it.” Conant. It is, indeed, no more, (Job 7:9;) for it will surely make itself wings and fly away.

As an eagle toward heaven “As an eagle and the birds of heaven.” Conant. Compare Matthew 6:20.

Verses 6-8

6-8. An evil eye Is evil of eye: a metaphor denoting a malignant disposition or design an envious, avaricious, or evil-designing mind.

Deuteronomy 15:7-9; Matthew 20:15. The word שׁער . ( sha’har,) thinketh, has given the critics some trouble, but it is probable that our Authorized Version gives the right sense. A man’s character is determined by the state of his mind, and not merely by the words he utters. An evil design may be concealed under a mask of pleasant words. Proverbs 23:8 represents, by a strong metaphor, the disgust that will be produced in the mind of the guest at the discovery that all the courtesies of the host were deceitful, and covered a malignant or selfish design.

Sweet words Meaning, perhaps, those addressed to the guest at the feast. Stuart expresses the sentiment well: “Beware of flattering and deceitful men, who show you special civilities only to mislead you and to put you off your guard. Their courtesies will be loathed when their design is known.” For the opposite of an “evil eye,” compare Proverbs 22:9.

Verse 9

9. Speak not in the ears of a fool Compare Matthew 7:6: “Cast [not] ye your pearls before swine.” Waste not your time in talking to him who despises all you say. Compare Proverbs 9:8.

Verses 10-11

10, 11. Remove not… landmark That which marked the border of the field. Encroach not upon the rights of others, especially of the orphan or other defenceless person. See Proverbs 22:28. For their redeemer גאלם , ( goal - am,) their kinsman, patron, defender, avenger, is strong, etc. Jehovah is expressed in the Septuagint.

He shall plead their cause with thee That is, against thee. Our Authorized Version does not give the full force of the original: He will defend their suit against thee; or, he himself will take their case. Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17; Proverbs 22:28; Job 31:21.

Verse 12

12. Heart… ears Not only hearing the words of “instruction,” but treasuring them up, so that they may influence the future life. Comp. Proverbs 22:19.

Verses 13-14

13, 14. Withhold not correction Solomon did not trust wholly to moral suasion in the education of children, but insisted on the rod as necessary for the salvation of the child. Compare Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 19:18; Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 29:15; on Proverbs 23:13; Proverbs 3:27. Not that all children need it, but some assuredly do. “By the neglect of early correction the passions obtain the ascendency, the temper becomes irascible, peevish, querulous; pride is nourished, humility destroyed; and by the habit of indulgence the mind is incapacitated to bear with firmness and equanimity the cares and sorrows, the checks and disappointments, to which flesh is heir.” Holden. Comp. Proverbs 4:13; Proverbs 15:24; Proverbs 7:27, seq. Proverbs 9:18.

Verses 15-16

15, 16. Heart and reins are used interchangeably. Cp. Psalms 16:7; Psalms 17:3.

Verse 17

17. Let not thine heart envy sinners Neither their freedom from restraint, enjoyment in sinful pleasures, nor their seeming prosperity. Comp. Psalms 37:1; Psalms 73:3; Psalms 24:1.

Verse 18

18. Surely there is an end This translation is not entirely satisfactory; for, although אחרית , ( ahharith,) does sometimes mean an end or termination, as that which comes after or last, yet it has also other meanings, embracing that which is after, or the hereafter, etc. Dr. A. Clarke renders: “There is another life.” Stuart: “For if there is a hereafter,” that is, as sure as there is, etc. Muenscher: “For surely there is a reward;” that is, something occurring after and in consequence of a pious life. Noyes, the same substantially. The pious man looks for a blessed future, and his expectations shall not be cut off. This is one of the few passages in which Solomon is supposed to refer to a future life. Like other ethical writers, even Christian, he confines his motives for action chiefly to this world. Comp. Proverbs 11:7; Proverbs 14:32; Proverbs 24:14.

Verse 19

19. In the way Meaning the right way, the way in which it ought to go. Control the affections, sentiments, and intellectual processes. Direct your studies aright.

Verses 20-21

20, 21. Winebibbers That is, persons who drink excessively.

Riotous eaters of flesh Muenscher says”Prodigal of flesh for themselves.” “Prodigal of flesh for their gratification.” Stuart. Some render: Prodigal of their own flesh or bodies wasting their bodies in debauch. Proverbs 23:21, where drunkard and glutton correspond to the terms “winebibbers” and “eaters of flesh” of Proverbs 23:20, seems to fix the sense. Compare Proverbs 5:9; Proverbs 5:11; Proverbs 31:3. “The full force of the expression ‘prodigal of flesh’ cannot be felt except in a country like Palestine, where animal food does not enter into the ordinary diet of the people, and where it is esteemed a real luxury, and, as such, occasionally indulged in to great excess.” Muenscher. Comp. Deuteronomy 21:19-20; Proverbs 7:14; Proverbs 9:11; Proverbs 15:17; Romans 13:13; Ephesians 5:18.

Verse 22

22. Despise not thy mother A negative for a positive precept pay to thine aged mother all due deference and respect.

When… old Some read, because she is old. Let not the infirmities of age lessen thy esteem for her.

Verse 23

23. Buy the truth Acquire it by paying the necessary price earnest search, diligent pursuit, careful study, time, money, whatever is requisite to the obtaining of it.

Sell it not Never part with it at any price. “Buy,” or get, or acquire, is also to be understood before the other terms of the verse. Buy wisdom, and discipline, and discernment. Compare Proverbs 4:5; Proverbs 4:7; Proverbs 16:16; Matthew 13:46.

Verse 25

25. Father… rejoice… mother Muenscher and Zockler forcibly render this thus: “Let thy father and thy mother be glad, and let her that bare thee rejoice;” that is, by thy attaining to righteousness and wisdom, according to the preceding verse. Compare Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 15:20; Proverbs 27:11.

Verse 26

26. My son, give me thine heart Some commentators understand this as simply the language of Solomon to his pupil: Give me thine affectionate attention, and observe my instructions; but others take it as the direct address of God to the soul of man, or of the Divine Hhokmah. So Clarke: “This is the speech of God to any human soul.” Muenscher: “Solomon would seem here to rise above himself, and to speak in the name and person of the Divine Wisdom.” As the writer gives us no intimation of any such change of speaker, and as the context scarcely justifies the supposition, I incline to the opinion that the writer is here speaking in his own proper person. Nevertheless, it is true that the words are very befitting the mouth of our Father who is in heaven; and, though Solomon in the old dispensation may not expressly represent him as speaking in such terms, the whole tenor of the new dispensation teaches us to regard Him as even saying to us, “My son, give me thine heart.” Zockler says: “The speaker here is evidently Wisdom personified, as in Proverbs 7:6; Proverbs 7:5.”

Let thine eyes observe Rather, delight in, my ways.

Verses 27-28

27, 28. A strange woman A lewd woman. Proverbs 23:27 very forcibly represents the helpless and all but inextricable condition of him who falls a prey to the wiles of a bad woman.

As for a prey Like a robber. Compare Proverbs 22:14.

Increaseth the transgressors Literally, the treacherous; those who act covertly, as under a cloak, or in the dark. Men of licentious habits are compelled to resort to falsehood, deception, and hypocrisy, in order both to cover up and support their vices. Compare Proverbs 7:12; Proverbs 22:14. “More iniquity springs from this source of evil than from any other in the whole system of sin, [strong drink excepted.] Women and strong drink cause millions to transgress.” Adam Clarke.

Proverbs 23:29-35 are a vivid description of the effects of indulgence in intoxicating drink.

Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? Or want, poverty, indigence. Lange says: “Literally, who hath ah? who hath alas?

The interjection אבוי is found only here.”

Babbling Or complaining, an anxious, restless state of mind.

Redness of eyes Blood-shot, blurred, or bleared eyes. (Genesis 49:12.) Literally, darkness or obscurity of eyes. It may, perhaps, refer to the obscurity of vision produced by intoxication.

Verse 30

30. Tarry long at the wine Compare Isaiah 3:11; Job 1:4; Job 28:9. The goodness of the wine of Candia renders the Candiots great drinkers, and it often happens that two or three such will sit down together at the foot of a cask, from whence they will not depart till they have emptied it. (Calmet’s Fragments, 199.)

That go to seek mixed wine Wine flavoured with aromatic spices, that increase its stimulating properties.

Isaiah 5:22; Proverbs 9:2. “Going to seek,” means going to prove, test, or make trial of it, as connoisseurs or “winetasters” do.

Verse 31

31. When it is red Reddens itself, or becomes ruddy “ruby wine.” The juice of certain kinds of grapes is red when it ferments and becomes intoxicating.

When it giveth his colour Literally, his eye.

In the cup Sparkles or bubbles when poured out or shaken; “carries a bead.” which is regarded to be an indication of the strength and quality of the liquor. Some wines are celebrated for their brilliant appearance as those of Lebanon, which were said to be of a rich golden colour. Red wines are most esteemed in the East.

When it moveth itself aright Some think this refers to the effect of fermentation. Others read: “When it goeth down smoothly” or “pleasantly” with a bland or smooth sensation on the palate. Conant thinks this not sustained. But the Speaker’s Commentary says, that the word here, and in Song of Solomon 8:9, “describes the pellucid stream flowing pleasantly from the wine skin or jug into the goblet or throat.”

Verse 32

32. At the last Literally, at its end; its final ruinous influence.

Stingeth Punctures, wounds.

Like an adder A basilisk, a very venomous serpent. Isaiah 11:8. “A cockatrice.” Geneva Bible.

Verse 33

33. Eyes… heart Intoxicating drinks inflame lust, and produce all manner of improper language. Zockler renders: “Thine eye shall see strange things; not strange women, but strange things, the objects of a drunken man’s vision, as the doubling of certain objects, their inversion, their tremulous or swaying motion,” etc. So, also, Miller. Is there here a reference to the delerium tremens, which Miller calls “the nightmare of the vice?” the horrible imagery and spectral terrors conjured up under the influence of mania a potu!

3 4

Lieth down… top of a mast Like the sailor who goes to sleep at the masthead, he is in imminent peril but knows it not. It may be questioned whether ראשׁ חבל , ( rosh hhibbel,) means “masthead,”

especially as on eastern ships men do not mount aloft,but work the sails by ropes from the deck.

Verse 35

35. Stricken me… beaten me The drunkard, in his sottish stupidity, soliloquizes, apparently unconscious of any evil effects from his indulgence, and is urged by the strength of his appetite and habits to pursue his old vice. The last two clauses, perhaps, would be better read thus: “When I awake I will seek it yet again;” that is, after the effect of the debauch has been slept off. The man seems to be longing for the time when he shall be able to renew his potations.

We close with Miller’s spirited translation of this remarkable passage:

Who has woe? who has wretchedness?

Who has strife? who has complaining?

Who has fierceness of eyes?

They who are late over wine,

They who go for being curious in mixed drinks.

Look not on the wine because it is red;

Because it shows its bead in the cup;

Because it goes right well,

As its after effect, it bites like a serpent,

And stings like an adder.

Thine eyes see strange things,

And thine heart speaks subversive things.

And thou dost become like one lying in the open sea,

Or like one lying at the masthead.

They have beaten me, and I felt no pain;

They have struck me: I knew nothing;

When I awake, I will seek it yet again.’”

It is to be observed on these verses, (29-35,) how intimate is the association between licentiousness and drunkenness. They are generally found in company.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 23". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/proverbs-23.html. 1874-1909.
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