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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Proverbs 23

 

 

Verses 1-35

EXPOSITION

Proverbs 23:1-3

A hexastich closely connected with the last verse of the preceding chapter, as if the warning was addressed to the man of skill whom his talents had made the guest of kings.

Proverbs 23:1

When thou sittest to eat with a ruler. This, of course, would be a great honour to a man of lowly birth, or to one of the middle class, to whom the manners of courts and palaces were practically unknown. Consider diligently what is before thee. So the Vulgate, Qua apposita sunt ante faciem tuam; and the Septuagint, τὰ παρατιθέμενά σοι. Take heed lest the unusual dainties on the table tempt thee to excess, which may lead not only to unseemly behaviour, but also to unruly speech, revealing of secrets, etc. But the latter words may also be tendered, "him that is," or, "who is before thee." And this gives a very appropriate sense. The guest is enjoined to fix his attention, not on the delicate food, but on the host, who is his superior, and able to exalt and to destroy him (compare the cautious maxims in Ecclesiasticus 13:2, 6, 7, 11, etc.).

Proverbs 23:2

And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. "Stab thy gluttony," Wordsworth. Restrain thyself by the strongest measures, convince thyself that thou art in the utmost peril, if thou art a glutton or wine bibber (Ecclesiasticus 34:12 (31)). The LXX. gives a different turn to the injunction, "And apply ( ἐπίβαλλε) thy hand, knowing that it behoves thee to prepare such things." This is like the warning of Siracides, in the chapter quoted above, where the disciple is admonished not to attend the banquets of rich men, lest he should be tempted to vie with them, and thus ruin himself by attempting to return their civilities in the same lavish manner. The earlier commentators have used the above verses as a lesson concerning the due and reverent partaking of the Holy Communion, thus: "When you approach the table of Christ, consider diligently what is represented by the elements before you, and have discernment and faith, lest you eat and drink unworthily; and after communicating walk warily, mortify all evil desires, live as in the presence of the Lord Jesus, the Giver of the feast."

Proverbs 23:3

Be not desirous of his dainties. (For "dainties," see on Proverbs 23:6.) Be not too greedy of the bounties of the royal table, so as to forget discretion, and be led to say and do things which are inexpedient or unseemly. For they are deceitful meat. Oftentimes such entertainment is not offered for friendship's sake, but for some sinister purpose—to make a man expose himself, to get at a man's real character or secrets. Far from being a sign of favour and good will, the seeming honour is deceptive and dangerous. We all know Horace's lines, 'Ars Poet.,' 434, etc.—

"Reges dicuntur multi, urgere culullis

Et torquere mero, quem perspexisse laborant,

Au sit amicitia dignus."

Hitzig quotes the Eastern proverb, "He who eats of the sultan's soup burns his lips, even though it he after a length of time." We have too the Indian saying, "An epicure digs his grave with his teeth," which is true in more senses than one. "Keep thee far from the man that hath power to kill," says Siracides (Ecclesiastes 9:13); "so shalt thou not be troubled with fear of death: and if thou come unto him, commit no fault, lest he presently take away thy life; remember that thou goest in the midst of snares, and that thou walkest upon the battlements of the city." Then for the reasons which induce a ruler to ply a guest with wine, we have, "In vino veritas, quod est in corde sobrii, est in ore ebrii." Theognis writes—

ἐν πυρὶ μὲν χρυσόν τε καὶ ἄργυρον ἴδριες ἄνδρες

γιγνώσκους ἀνδρὸς δ οἶνος ἔδειξε νόον,

καὶ μάλα περ πινυτοῦ τὸν ὐπέρ μέτρον ἤρατο πίνων,

ὥστε καταισχῦναι καὶ πρὶν ἐόντα σοφόν.

The Septuagint combines the ending of Proverbs 23:2, "But if thou art more insatiable, desire not his victuals, for these appertain to ( ἔχεται) a false life."

Proverbs 23:4, Proverbs 23:5

These form a pentastich.

Proverbs 23:4

Labour not—weary not thyself—to be rich., John 6:27, "Labour not for the meat that perisheth," where the warning is against that absorbing eagerness for wealth which leads to evil doing and neglect of all higher interests. Cease from thine own wisdom. The wisdom (binah, Proverbs 3:5) is that which is necessary for making and keeping wealth. Vulgate, Prudentiae tuae pone modum. This is not the highest form of wisdom (chochmah), but rather the faculty of distinguishing one thing from another, mere discernment, which may exist without any religious or keen moral sense (see note on Proverbs 16:16, where possibly the contrast is expressed). Talmud, "He who augments his riches augments his cares." Erasmus, 'Adag,,' quotes or writes—

"Jupiter ementitur opes mortalibus ipse,

Sic visum ut fuerit, cuicunque, bonove, malove?

Septuagint, "If thou art poor, measure not thyself ( μὴ παρεκτείνου) with a rich man, but in thy wisdom refrain thyself."

Proverbs 23:5

Wilt thou sat thine eyes upon that which is not? more literally, wilt thou let thine eyes fly upon it, and it is gone? Why cast longing looks towards this wealth, and so prepare for yourself loss and disappointment? The pursuit is vain, and the result is never secure; what you gained by long toil and prudent care may be lost in an hour. Do you wish to incur this danger? Wordsworth quotes Persius, 'Sat.,' 3.61—

"An passim sequeris corvos testaque lutoque?"

For riches certainly make themselves wings. The subject, unexpressed, is riches, and the Hebrew phrase implies absolute certainty: Making they will make for themselves. They fly away as an eagle toward heaven; or, like on eagle that flieth toward heaven, where not even sight can follow. Publ. Syr; 255, "Longinquum est omne quod cupiditas flagitat." The Telugu compares worldly prosperity to writing upon water. Says the Greek moralist—

βέβαιον οὐδέν ἐν βίῳ δοκεῖ πέλειν

"There's naught in life that one can deem secure."

Septuagint, "If thou fix thine eye upon him (the rich patron), he will nowhere be seen, for wings like an eagle's are ready prepared for him, and he will return to the house of his master ( τοῦ προεστηκότος), and leave you to shift for yourself."

Proverbs 23:6-8

Another maxim, here a heptastich, concerning temperance.

Proverbs 23:6

Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye; the envious and jealous man, in contrast to the "good of eye" (Proverbs 22:9). Vulgate, Ne comedas cum heroine invido. Septuagint, ἀνδρὶ βασκάνῳ, the man who has the evil eye that fascinates, which, however, is a later idea; here the notion is rather of a grudging, sordid temper, that cannot bear the sight of others' happiness or prosperity (comp. Deuteronomy 15:9; Matthew 20:15). Ecclesiasticus 16:8, πονηρὸς ὁ βασκαίνων ὀφθαλμῳ, "The envious man hath an evil eye; he turneth away his face, and he is one who despiseth men." Dainty meats; as in verse 3. The word (matammoth) occurs also throughout Genesis 27:1-46; where it is rendered, "savoury meat." Talmud, "To ask a favour from a miser is as if you asked wisdom from a woman, modesty from a harlot, fish on the dry land."

Proverbs 23:7

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. The verb here used is שָׁעַר (shaar), "to estimate, ….to calculate," and the clause is best rendered, For as one that calculates with himself, so is he. The meaning is that this niggardly host watches every morsel which his guest eats, and grudges what he appears to offer so liberally. In the Authorized Version the word "heart" occurs twice in this verse, but the Hebrew words are different. The first is nephesh, "breath," equivalent to "mind;" the second is leb, "heart." The Vulgate paraphrases the clause, Quoniam in similitudinem arioli et conjectoris, aestimat quod ignorat, "For like a soothsayer or diviner he conjectures that of which he is ignorant." Eat and drink, saith he to thee. He professes to make you welcome, and with seeming cordiality invites you to partake of the food upon his table. But his heart is not with thee. He is not glad to see you enjoy yourself, and his pressing invitation is empty verbiage with no heart in it. The Septuagint, pointing differently, translates, "For as if one should swallow a hair, so he eats and drinks." The Greek translators take the gnome to apply to one who invites an envious man to his table, and finds him eating his food as if it disgusted him. They go on, "Bring him not in to thee, nor eat thy morsel with him; for (Proverbs 23:8) he will vomit it up, and outrage thy fair words." In agreement with the gnome above, we find in the Talmud, "My son, eat not the bread of the covetous, nor sit thou at his table. The bread of the covetous is only pain and anguish; the bread of the generous man is a source of health and joy."

Proverbs 23:8

The morsel which thou hast eaten shall thou vomit up. Food thus grudgingly bestowed will only create disgust, and do thee no good; thou wilt feel annoyed to have eaten it, and wilt long to get rid of it. And lose thy sweet words. You will have expended in vain your civil speeches and thanks for the entertainment provided for you; you really owe no gratitude for fare so grudgingly bestowed. Some think that by the "sweet words" are meant the conversation at table with which you have endeavoured to amuse your host—the witty sayings, enigmas, and apothegms, which entered so largely into the programme of a good talker. All such efforts are thrown away on the jealous, morose host. But the former explanation is more agreeable to the context.

Proverbs 23:9

Here is another case in which "sweet words" are lost. Speak not in the ears of a fool. This does not mean, as it would in our English phrase—whisper not to a fool; but do not take the trouble to try to make him understand, impart nothing to him. The "fool" here (kesil) is the dull, stolid, stupid man. who cannot be moved from his own narrow groove (see on Proverbs 1:22). It is a mere casting of pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) to speak to such a man of high aims, righteous motives, self-sacrifice (comp. Proverbs 9:8). He will despise the wisdom of thy words. He cannot enter into the meaning of words of wisdom; he has no appetite for them, he cannot assimilate them; and in his self-satisfied dulness he feels for them nothing but contempt (Ecclesiasticus 22:7, etc; "Whoso teacheth a fool is as one that glueth a potsherd together, and as he that waketh one from a sound sleep. He that telleth a tale to a fool speaketh to one in a slumber: whey he hath told his tale, he will say, What is the matter?")

Proverbs 23:10, Proverbs 23:11

An enlargement of Proverbs 22:28 combined with Proverbs 22:22, Proverbs 22:28.

Proverbs 23:10

Enter not into the fields of the fatherless. Do not think to appropriate the fields of orphans, as if there were no our to defend their rights (comp. Proverbs 15:25).

Proverbs 23:11

For their Redeemer is mighty. The redeemer (goel) is the near kinsman, who had to avenge bloodshed, carry on the blood feud, or vindicate the cause of a relation otherwise unsupported (see Numbers 25:12, 19, 21; Le 25:25; Ruth 3:2, Ruth 3:9, Ruth 3:12). God himself will be the orphans' Goel. This term is often applied to God; e.g. Job 19:25; Psalms 19:14; Jeremiah 50:34. He shall plead their cause with thee. He will, as it were, conduct their cause, try thee, convict thee of injustice, and pronounce thy condemnation (Proverbs 22:23).

Proverbs 23:12

commences a new series of proverbs of wisdom. This general admonition is addressed to all, tutor and disciple, educator and educated. Apply thine heart unto instruction. (For musar, "instruction," see note on Proverbs 1:2.)

Proverbs 23:13

An injunction to the tutor or parent (comp. Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 19:18; Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 29:17). For if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. This has been understood in various senses; e.g. "Though than scourge him, that correction will not kill him;… . If thou chastise him, thou wilt save him from the doom of the rebellious son" (Deuteronomy 21:18-21); or, "He shall not die eternally," which rather anticipates the conclusion in the next verse. The expression merely means—Do not be weak, thinking that you will injure your child by judicious correction, and in this fear withholding your hand; but punish him firmly when necessary, and, far from harming him, you will be doing him the greatest good.

Proverbs 23:14

Shalt deliver his soul from hell (sheol); de inferno, Vulgate; ἐκ θανάτου, Septuagint. Premature death was regarded as a punishment of sin, as long life was the reward of righteousness. Proper discipline preserves a youth not only from many material dangers incident to unbridled passions, but saves him from spiritual death, the decay and destruction of grace here, and the retribution that awaits the sinner in another world (comp. Ec Proverbs 30:1-12).

Proverbs 23:15

The moralist now addresses the disciple, and so to the end of the chapter. If thine heart be wise; become wise by profiting by discipline, and having its natural folly (Proverbs 22:15) eradicated. My heart shall rejoice, even mine. The pronoun is repeated for the sake of emphasis (as in Proverbs 22:19), the speaker thus declaring his supreme interest in the moral progress of his pupil.

Proverbs 23:16

My reins shall rejoice. The "reins" (kelayoth), kidneys, are regarded as the seat of feeling and sensation (Job 19:27). or of the inner nature generally (Psalms 16:7; Revelation 2:22). I shall rejoice in my very soul when thy lips speak right things; i.e. when thy heart is so replete with wisdom, thy mind so well instructed as to utter naught but what is true and sensible (Proverbs 8:6). The composition of these two verses is noteworthy, Proverbs 23:15 being parallel to Proverbs 23:16, and Proverbs 23:15 to Proverbs 23:16. Septuagint, "And thy lips shall linger in words ( ἐνδιατρίψει λόγοις) with my lips, if they be right," which seems to mean, "If thy lips utter what is right, they will gather wisdom from my words and impart it to others."

Proverbs 23:17

Let not thine heart envy sinners, when thou seest them apparently happy and prosperous (comp. Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 24:1, Proverbs 24:19; Psalms 37:1; Psalms 73:3). The Authorized Version, in agreement with the Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, and other versions, takes the second clause of this verse as an independent one: but it seems evidently to be constructionally connected with the preceding, and to be governed by the same verb, so that there is no occasion to insert "be thou." But be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long. Jerome, corrected, would read, Non aemuletur cor tuum peccatores, sed timorem Domini tota die, As Delitzsch and Hitzig, followed by Nowack, have pointed out, the Hebrew verb, קָנָא (kana), is here used in two senses. In the first clause it signifies to be envious of a person: in the second, to be zealous for a thing, both senses combining in the thought of being moved with eager desire. ζηλοτυπέω is used in this double sense, and aemulor in Latin. So the gnome comes to this—Show your heart's desire, not by envy of the sinner's fortune, but by zeal for true religion, that fear of the Lord which leads to strict obedience and earnest desire to please him.

Proverbs 23:18

For surely there is an end. Some take the hemistich conditionally, rendering אִם "when," or "if the end comes;" but cue sees no object in the thought being expressed conditionally; and it is best. with the Authorized Version, Nowack, and others, to take כִּי אִם equivalent to "assuredly," as in 15:7; 2 Samuel 15:21. "End" (acharith) is the glorious future that awaits the pious (Proverbs 24:14; Jeremiah 29:11). The prosperity of simmers is not to be envied, for it is transitory and deceptive; but for the righteous, however depressed at times there is a happy end in prospect. And thine expectation (hope) shall not be cut off. The hope of comfort here and reward hereafter shall be abundantly realized. The writer has a firm belief in the moral government of God, and in a future life which shall rectify all anomalies (comp. Proverbs 14:32; Wis. 5:15, etc.; Ecclesiastes 1:13). Septuagint, "For if thou keep them, thou shalt haw posterity, and thy hope shall not be removed" (Psalms 37:9; Job 42:12).

Proverbs 23:19-21

An exhortation to temperance, as one of the results of the fear of God, prefaced by an exhortation to wisdom.

Proverbs 23:19

Hear thou. The pronoun gives force and personality to the injunction (Job 33:33). Guide thine heart in the way. (For אשׁר, "to guide straight," see on Proverbs 4:14 ) "The way" is the right way, in distinction to the many wrong paths of life—the way of understanding, as it is called (Proverbs 9:6). Septuagint, "Direct aright the thoughts of thy heart," for right thoughts lead to right actions.

Proverbs 23:20

Wine bibbers; persons who meet together for the express purpose of drinking intoxicating liquors. Among riotous eaters of flesh. The Hebrew is "of flesh for themselves," whence some take the meaning to be "of their own flesh," i.e. who by their gluttony and luxury ruin their own bodies. But tile parallelism with the wine drinker shows plainly that the flesh which they eat is meant, and the idea is that they eat for the gratification of their own appetites, caring nothing for anything else. The combination of glutton and wine bibber was used as a reproach against our blessed Lord (Matthew 11:19). The versions of Jerome and the LXX. point to the contributed entertainments, where each guest brought some article to the meal, like our picnics. Thus Vulgate, "Be not among parties of drinkers, nor at the banquets of those who contribute flesh to eat;" Septuagint. "Be not a wine bibber, and strain not after contributed feasts ( συμβολαῖς) and purchases of meats."

Proverbs 23:21

Intemperance leads to prodigality, carelessness, and ruin. And drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags. The luxury and excess spoken of above lead to drowsiness and inability to work, and poverty follows as the natural result (comp. Proverbs 19:15; Proverbs 24:33, etc.). The Vulgate still harps on the same string as in the previous verse, "Those who waste time in drinking, and who give picnics (dantes symbola), shall be ruined, and semnolence small clothe with rags." The LXX. introduces a new idea which the Hebrew does not warrant, "For every drunkard and whoremonger shall be poor, and every sluggard shall clothe himself with tatters and rags."

Proverbs 23:22-25

An octastich, containing an earnest exhortation to the disciple.

Proverbs 23:22

That begat thee. This is a claim on the attention and obedience of the son. When she is old. When old age with its consequent infirmities comes upon thy mother, despise her not, but rather thank God for giving her long life, and profit by her love and long experience (comp. Ecclesiastes 3:1, etc; where the exhortation to honour parents is very full and touching).

Proverbs 23:23

Buy the truth, and sell it not (comp. Proverbs 4:5, Proverbs 4:7; Proverbs 16:16). Consider truth as a thing of the highest value, and spare no pains, cost, or sacrifice to obtain it, and, when gotten, keep it safe; do not barter it for earthly profit or the pleasures of sense; do not be reasoned out of it, or laughed out of it; "sell it not," do not part with it for any consideration. The second clause gives the sphere in which truth moves, or the three properties which appertain to it. These are: wisdom (chochmah), practical knowledge; instruction (musar), moral culture and discipline; and understanding (binah), the faculty of discernment (see notes on Proverbs 1:2). This verse is omitted in the chief manuscripts of the Septuagint.

Proverbs 23:24

The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice. The father of a righteous son who has won truth and profited by the possession has good cause to be glad (Proverbs 10:1). Septuagint erroneously, "A righteous father brings up children well." The second clause repeats the first in different words, with the further idea that the wise son affords his father practical proof of the excellence of his moral training. The contrast is seen in Proverbs 17:21.

Proverbs 23:25

Shall be glad; or, let them be glad; gaudeat, Vulgate; εὐφραινέσθω, Septuagint. She that bare thee. As in Proverbs 23:24 the father's joy was expressly mentioned, so here prominence is given to that of the mother. In the former case it is "he that begetteth;" here, "she that beareth."

Proverbs 23:26-28

A hexastich, in which Wisdom herself is the speaker, and warns against unchastity.

Proverbs 23:26

Give me thine heart. Do not waste thy powers and affections on evil objects, but set thy soul with all its best faculties on me, Wisdom, who alone can satisfy its desires and aspirations. There is an eloquent passage in a tract that has gone by St. Bernard's name, though not written by him, which is worth quoting: "Cor nostrum nihil dignius perficere potest, quam ut ei se restituat a quo factum est: et hoc a nobis Dominus expetit dicens, 'Fili, da mihi cor tuum.' Tunc siquidem cor hominum Deo datur, quando omnia cogitatio terminatur in eum, gyrat et circumflectitur super eum, et nihil vult possidere praeter eum. Sicque colligato sibi animo, eum diligit, ut sine ipso amarus sit omnis amor. Nec aliud dixerim cor Domino dare, quam ipsum captivare in omni obsequium ejus, et ita voluntati ejus ex toto supponere, ut nihil aliud velit, quam quod noverit eum velle." Let thine eyes observe my ways; keep closely to the paths of virtue which I teach thee, especially the path of purity, as the next verse shows. Vulgate, Vias meas custodiant; Septuagint, ἐμὰς ὁδοὺς πήρειτωσαν. This is the reading of the Keri, תִּצֹרְנָה ; the Khetib, which Delitzsch and others prefer, reads תִּרְצֶנָה, "delight in" my ways.

Proverbs 23:27

The need of the emphatic injunction in Proverbs 23:26 is exemplified by the dangers of impurity. A deep ditch; as Proverbs 22:14. A strange woman is a narrow pit. (For "strange woman," equivalent to "harlot," see on Proverbs 2:16.) A narrow pit is one with a narrow month, from which, if one falls into it, it is difficult to extricate one's self. The verse indicates the seductive nature of the vice of unchastity: how easy it is to be led into it! how difficult to rise from it! Thus St. Chrysostom ('Hom. 11, in 1 Corinthians'), "When by unclean desire the soul is made captive, even as a cloud and mist darken the eyes of the body, so that desire intercepts the foresight of the mind, and suffers no one to see any distance before him, either precipice, or hell, or fear; but thenceforth, having that deceit as a tyrant over him, he comes to be easily vanquished by sin; and there is raised up before his eyes as it were a partition wall, and no windows in it, which suffers not the ray of righteousness to shine in upon the mind, the absurd conceits of lust enclosing it as with a rampart on all sides. And then, and from that time forward, the unchaste woman is everywhere meeting him—before his eyes, before his mind, before his thoughts, in station and presence. And as the blind, although they stand at high noon beneath the very central point of the heaven, receive not the light, their eyes being fast closed up; just so these also, though ten thousand doctrines of salvation sound in their ears from all quarters, having their soul preoccupied with this passion, stop their ears against all discourses of that kind. And they know it well who have made the trial. But God forbid that you should know it from actual experience!" The LXX. has changed the allusion: "For a strange house is a pierced wine jar ( πίθος τετρημένος), and a strange well is narrow," where the idea seems to be that the private well, which is dug for the convenience of one family only, is not to be relied upon, and will yield not enough to supply others' wants. Hence would arise a warning against coveting a neighbour's wife. There is a Greek proverb about drawing wine into pierced jars (Xen; 'OEcon.,' 7.40).

Proverbs 23:28

She also lieth in wait as for a prey. "Yea, she [Proverbs 22:19] lieth in wait," as is graphically described in Proverbs 7:1-27. (comp. Jeremiah 3:2). Chetheph is better taken, not as "prey," but in a concrete sense as the person who snatches it, the robber. Vulgate, Insidiatur in via quasi latro (comp. Psalms 10:9). And increaseth the transgressors among men. The Greek and Latin versions have taken רוֹסִיף as meaning "kills," "destroys." But the verb yasaph always means "to add," here "to multiply." The special transgression indicated is treachery or faithlessness. The harlot leads her victim to be faithless to his God, his wife, his parents, his tutor, his master. Septuagint, "For he shall perish suddenly, and every transgressor shall be destroyed."

Proverbs 23:29-35

Here follows a mashal ode or song on the subject of drunkenness, which is closely connected with the sin mentioned in the previous lines.

Proverbs 23:29

Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? Hebrew, lemi oi, lemi aboi, where oi and aboi are interjections of pain or grief. So Venetian, τίνι αἲ τίνι φεῦ; Revised Version margin, Who hath Oh? who hath Alas? The Vulgate has stumbled at the second expression, which is an ἄπαξ λεγόμενον, and resolving it into two words, translates, Cujus patri vae? Contentions; the brawling and strife to which drunkenness leads (Proverbs 20:1). Babbling; שִׂיחַ (siach) is rather "meditation," "sorrowful thought" showing itself in complaining, regret for lost fortune, ruined health, alienated friends. Others render "misery, … penury." St. Jerome's foveae is derived from a different reading. The LXX. has κρίσεις, "lawsuits," ἀηδίαι καὶ λέσχαι, "disgust and gossipings." Wounds without cause; wounds which might have been avoided, the result of quarrels in which a sober man would never have engaged, Redness of eyes. The Hebrew word chakliluth is commonly taken to mean the flashing of eyes occasioned by vinous excitement. The Authorized Version refers it to the bloodshot appearance of a drunkard's eyes, as in Genesis 49:12, according to the same version. but Delitzsch, Nowack, and many modern commentators consider that the word indicates "dimness of sight," that change in the power of vision when the stimulant reaches the brain. Septuagint, "Whose eyes are livid ( πελιδνοί)?" The effects of intemperance are described in a well known passage of Lucretius, 'De Rer. Nat.,' 3.475, etc.—

"Denique, cor hominum quota vini vis penetravit

Acris, et in venas discessit diditus ardor,

Consequitur gravitas membrorum, praespediuntur

Crura vacillanti, tardescit lingua, madet mens,

Nant oculei; clamor, singultus, jurgia gliscunt."

We may refer to the article in Jeremy Taylor's 'Holy Living' on "Evil Consequents to Drunkenness," and to Ecclesiasticus 34:25 (31), etc.

Proverbs 23:30

The answer to the above searching questions is here given. They that tarry long at the wine (Isaiah 5:11), who sit till late hours drinking. They that go to seek mixed wine; i.e. go to the wine house, place of revelry, where they may taste and give their opinion upon "mixed wine," mimsak, wine mingled with certain spices or aromatic substances, or else simply with water, as it was too luscious to be drunk undiluted (see on Proverbs 9:2). Septuagint, "those who hunt out where carousals are taking place."

Proverbs 23:31

Look not thou upon the wine when it is red. Be not attracted by its beautiful appearance. The wine of Palestine was chiefly "red," though what we call white wine was not unknown. The Vulgate flavescit points to the latter. When it giveth his colour in the cup. For "color" the Hebrew has "eye," which refers to the sparkling and gleaming which show themselves in wine poured into the cup. It is as though the cup had an eye which glanced at the drinker with a fascination which he did not resist. When it moveth itself aright. Having warned against the attraction of sight, the moralist now passes to the seduction of taste. Hebrew, when it goeth by the right read. This may refer to its transference from the jar or skin to the drinking cup; but it mere probably alludes to the drinker's throat, and is best translated, "when it glideth down smoothly." Vulgate, ingreditur blande. The wine pleases the palate, and passes over it without roughness or harshness (comp. So Proverbs 7:9). The LXX. has enlarged on the original thus: "Be ye not drunk with wine, but converse with just men, and converse in public places ( ἐν περιπάτοις). For if thou set thine eyes on goblets and cups, afterwards thou shalt walk more bare than a pestle ( γύμνοτερος ὐπέρου)." This last expression, pistillo nudior, is a proverb. Regarding the danger of looking on seductive objects, the Arab, in his sententious language, says, "The contemplation of vice is vice."

Proverbs 23:32

At the last it biteth like a serpent. Wine is like the subtle poison of a serpent, which affects the whole body, and produces the most fatal consequences (comp. Ecclesiasticus 21:2). Nachash is the generic name for any of the larger tribe of snakes (Genesis 3:1, etc.); the poisonous nature of its bite was, of course, well known (Numbers 21:9). Stingeth like an adder. The Hebrew word is tsiphoni, which is usually rendered "cockatrice" in the Authorized Version, hut the particular species intended has not been accurately identified. There was some confusion in men's minds as to the organ which inflicted the poisonous wound. Thus a psalmist says, "They have sharpened their tongue like a serpent" (Psalms 140:3). But the verb "sting" is to be taken in the sense of puncturing, making a wound. Vulgate, Sicut regulus venena diffundet, "It will diffuse its poison like a basilisk:" Septuagint, "But at the last he stretches himself like one stricken by a serpent, and the venom is diffused through him as by a horned snake ( κεράστου)."

Proverbs 23:33

The excitement occasioned by wine is now described. Thine eyes shall behold strange women. Ewald, Delitzsch, and others take זָדוֹת to mean "strange things," as affording a better parallel to the "perverse things" of the next clause. In this case the writer intends to denote the fantastic, often dreadful, images produced on the brain by the feverish condition of the inebriated. But the often denounced connection between drunkenness and incontinence, the constant reference to "strange women" in this book, and the general consensus of the versions, lead one to uphold the rendering of the Authorized Version. It seems, too, somewhat meagre to note these illusions as one of the terrible effects of intemperance, omitting all mention of the unbridling of lust, when the eyes look out for and rove after unchaste women. Thine heart shall utter perverse things (comp Proverbs 15:28; Matthew 15:19). The drunkard's notions are distorted, and his words partake of the same character; he confuses right and wrong; he says things which he would never speak if he were in full possession of his senses. Septuagint, "When thine eyes shall see a strange woman, then thy mouth shall speak perverse things."

Proverbs 23:34

As he that lieth down in the midst of the sea. The dazed and unconscious condition of a drunkard is described by one familiar with sea life, as in Psalms 104:25, etc.; Psalms 107:23, etc. The Hebrew has "in the heart of the sea" (Jonah 2:4), i.e. the depth. Many understand the idea to be that the drunkard is compared to a man asleep in a frail boat, or to one slumbering on board a ship sunk in the trough of the sea. But the "lying" here does not imply sleep, but rather immersion. The inebriated person is assimilated to one who is drowned or drowning, who is cut off from all his former pursuits and interests in life, and has become unconscious of surrounding circumstances. This much more exactly represents the case than any notion of sloping amid danger. Septuagint, "Thou shalt lie as in the heart of the sea." Or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast; the extreme point of the sailyard, where no one could lie without the greatest peril of falling off. The drunkard is exposed to dangers of all kinds from being unable to take care of himself, and yet is all the time unconscious of his critical situation. Corn. a Lapide, followed by Plumptre, considers that the cradle, or look out, on the top of the mast is meant, where, if the watchman slept, he would be certain to endanger his life. Vulgate, "like a pilot fallen asleep, who has dropped the tiller," and is therefore on the way to shipwreck. Septuagint, "as a pilot in a great storm."

Proverbs 23:35

The drunkard is represented as speaking to himself. The LXX. inserts, "and thou shelf say" as the Authorized Version does: They have stricken me, shall thou say, and I was not sick; or, I was not hurt. The drunken man has been beaten (perhaps there is a reference to the "contentions," Proverbs 23:29), but the blows did not pain him; his condition has rendered him insensible to pain. He has some vague idea the he has suffered certain rough treatment at the hands of his companions, but it has made no impression on him. They have beaten me, and I felt it not; did not even know it. Far from recognizing his degradation and profiting by the merzed chastisement which he has incurred, he is represented as looking forward with pleasure to a renewal of his debauch, when his drunken sleep shall be over. When shall I awake? I will seek it (wine) yet again. Some take מָתַי (mathai) as the relative conjunctive: "When I awake I will seek it again;" but it is always used interrogatively, and the expression thus becomes more animated, as Delitzsch observes. It is as though the drunkard has to yield to the effects of his excess and sleep off his intoxication, but he is. as it were, all the time longing to be able to rouse himself and recommence his orgies. We have had words put into the mouth of the sluggard (Proverbs 6:10). The whole verse is rendered by the LXX thus: "Thou shalt say, They smote me, and I was not pained, and they mocked me, and I knew it not. When will it be morning, that I may go and seek those with whom I may consort?" The author of the 'Tractutus de Conscientia' appended to St. Bernard's works, applies this paragraph to the cuss of an evil conscience indurated by wicked habits and insensible to correction.

HOMILETICS

Proverbs 23:1-3

Sycophancy and independence

The reader is here warned against the danger of depending too much on the favour of great people. Possibly that favour is only offered as a bribe, and the unwary recipient of it may be no better than a dupe, who has unconsciously sold himself. At the best it tends to destroy the spirit of independence.

I. HE WHO DEPENDS ON THE FAVOUR OF A GREAT MAN PUTS HIMSELF IN HIS POWER. In proportion to the power to help is the power to hurt. It is a dangerous thing to trust one's interests to man at all; but it is doubly dangerous where there is no equality of relationship.

II. DEPENDENCE ON THE FAVOUR OF THE GREAT TEMPTS TO DISHONOURABLE CONDUCT. The sycophant is in danger of stooping to unworthy actions in order to please his patron. He is tempted to deceive and flatter in the hope of winning favour. The will of the great man supersedes the conscience of his dependant. Thus sycophancy wrecks the moral nature.

III. THIS DEPENDENCE DESTROYS TRUE MANLINESS. The poor creature who lives on the favour at the great loses all self-reliance. The honest industry that earns a night's repose is exchanged for miserable tricks of cringing slavery. Such conduct may earn the dainties of luxury, but only at the cost of all that life is worth living for. It is infinitely better to be independent, though compelled to live on the coarsest fare.

IV. SUCH A DEPENDENCE ON THE GREAT IS SURE TO BE DISAPPOINTING. The sycophant succeeds in obtaining a place at the banquet. But he cannot enjoy the feast like those guests who meet the host on terms of equality. He sits in constant dread of offending the great man. Though hungry, he shrinks from eating too much. He must almost put a knife to his throat to check his appetite; i.e. he must be always nervously on his guard against trespassing too far on the good will of his host. Surely such a condition must be miserable at the best!

V. THE ONLY SAFE DEPENDENCE IS THAT OF MAN ON GOD. This is not degrading, but ennobling; for God is worthy of all trust, honour, and adoration. He never deceives those who put their confidence in him. There is no painful fear for those who accept, his gracious invitation to the "wedding feast," for he is kind and merciful.

VI. AMONG MEN THE SAFEST CONDITION IS ONE OF MANLY INDEPENDENCE. This does not mean churlish indifference and selfish isolation from all social intercourse. The text supposes a person's presence at the great man's table, while it warns against the danger of the situation. We want to learn to be friendly with all men, and, at the same time, self-reliant through inward dependence on God alone.

Proverbs 23:4

Labouring to be rich

Never was the advice of the wise man more appropriate than it is in the present day; but never were people more slow to accept it. Let us consider the grounds on which is based the warning, "Labour not to be rich."

I. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR MOST PEOPLE TO BECOME RICH. In the lottery of life the prizes are few and the blanks many. If the race for wealth is accelerated, the stakes are not multiplied. Or, if it be by production rather than by commerce that the riches are to he got, so that greater industry may actually create more wealth, still each of the multitude of the toilers can share but a fraction of the total produce. Riches only fall into the hands of a very small number of persons. Consequently, labouring to be rich often becomes just a species of gambling. It frequently partakes of the selfish, cruel character of gambling, the few fortunate persons enriching themselves at the expense of the large number of unfortunate persons. If a man can be content to work with his fellows and share with them, he will be saved from a multitude of anxieties that must besiege him the moment he enters the exciting race for riches.

II. THE COST OF LABOURING TO BE RICH IS EXORBITANT.

1. In energy. The fierce battle of life tries a man who only strives to keep his ground. They who would force their way on to marked success must toil with double effort. Rising early, sitting up late, taking no holidays, working at high pressure, they must put out every effort if they would pass equally eager competitors.

2. In time. The riches are not usually reached soon. As a rule, it takes many years to pile up a great fortune, and when the coveted end is attained, the tired toiler is too old and weary to enjoy it.

3. In higher riches. The wealth- seeker sinks into a low materialism. He becomes a mere machine for coining guineas, and his soul is ground to dust in the money making mill.

III. WHEN THE PURSUIT OF RICHES IS SUCCESSFUL, THE ATTAINMENT IS DISAPPOINTING. Riches bring new cares. There is an anxiety to retain what has been won at so great a cost. They may make themselves wings, and "fly away as an eagle toward heaven" (Proverbs 23:5). If no fear is felt on this account, wealth itself is found to be unsatisfactory. The mere money seeker has not cultivated any taste for the finer enjoyments which his wealth could buy him. He cannot satisfy his soul with money; he has no soul to enjoy the best things in art, etc; which money can purchase. But even if he could enjoy those things, they would not satisfy; for man has deep wants which neither money nor its purchases can ever meet. Riches are a poor salve for a breaking heart.

IV. LABOURING TO BE RICH LEADS TO THE NEGLECT OF THE NOBLER PURSUITS OF LIFE.

1. Mind culture. It might be better to be more poor and to have time for reading, music, meditation.

2. Social intercourse. Buried in business, the fierce toiler after money has no leisure or h, art for cultivating the friendship of his neighbours.

3. The service of God. "Life is more than meat;" "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." Labouring to be rich too often means working for self and toiling for earth. Men sometimes make family claims an excuse for doing nothing directly in the service of Christ; when, if they were honest, they would confess that they are simply labouring to be rich. The family, which in this case is a larger self, becomes a shield for selfishness.

Proverbs 23:22

The mighty Redeemer

I. THE HELPLESS NEED A MIGHTY REDEEMER. In simple, rough times some provision had to be made to protect the weak from the overbearing insolence and tyranny of the strong. When the arm of the law was not capable of maintaining justice, private friends were required and authorized to take up the cause of the wronged. The goel, or avenger, was then needed to stand up for his helpless kinsfolk. But there were extreme cases in which no such assistance could bring deliverance, either because no relative was living who could undertake the task, or because the distress was so desperate that no human hand could relieve it. This might happen with heartbroken widows robbed of husband, children, and land, and left penniless and friendless. But even such cases of the utmost distress are not so desperate as that of the soul in its sin and wretchedness, utterly and hopelessly undone unless some mighty hand of redemption is stretched out to save it.

II. GOD IS A MIGHTY REDEEMER. Two essential conditions were required in the redeemer. He must have a right to interfere, and he must have power to succeed. God has both.

1. The right. The right of the old Hebrew redeemer was blood relationship. The nearest kinsman was called to act as goel. God is nearly related to man. He is the Father of all. The friendless poor have One left who regards them as of his family. Christ came as a brother man to be the Redeemer of the human race.

2. The power.

III. GOD'S MIGHTY REDEMPTION IS AVAILABLE. He is not only a mighty Redeemer; he is willing to help, and he does afford succour.

1. He acts in justice. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). At present we witness cruel injustice. The poor are oppressed by the strong. Hard toiling men, women, and children in manufacturing centres are ground into penury by the fierce mill of competition, while ruthless "middle men" fatten on their ill-paid labour. The few in prosperity revel in luxury that they wring out of the many in penury. God will not permit such cruel wrongs to last forever. The Redeemer is an Avenger. The blood of the victims of those who make haste to be rich at the expense of their starving brethren cries out to heaven for vengeance. It will not always cry in vain.

2. He acts in mercy. He pities the suffering poor. They are his children, and he will not forget their needs. Love is the inspiration of Divine redemption. This is the secret of Christ's great redemption of sinners. Justice is ultimately satisfied here; but the first motive is mercy, for the helpless are also the ill-deserving. Yet even their Redeemer is mighty.

Proverbs 23:17, Proverbs 23:18

Envying sinners

I. THERE IS A GREAT TEMPTATION TO ENVY SINNERS. The wise man would wastewords in giving a warning if he saw no danger. This temptation is fascinating on various accounts.

1. Sinners prosper. This was the old ground of the psalmist's perplexity. The righteous were suffering while the wicked were fattening in ill-earned luxury (Psalms 73:3-9).

2. Sinners take forbidden paths with impunity. They trespass and are not arrested. Thus they attain their ends by easy ways from which conscientious people are restrained. They are not troubled with scruples.

3. Sinners escape onerous duties. There are great and weighty obligations that rest like a heavy yoke on the shoulders of an earnest man who tries to do his duty to God and his fellows, all of which are simply ignored by the man of lower morals. Hence the apparently easier course of the latter. He can refuse the subscription list, decline to work in the benevolent society, and shirk all the burdens that come from sympathy with the suffering.

4. Sinners enjoy wicked pleasures. They are pleasure seekers, and they seem to obtain pleasure. Thus at a superficial glance they appear to have sources of happiness from which those who are more rigorous in regarding the law of righteousness are excluded. The child of the Puritan home envies the gay cavalier his merry revelry.

II. IT IS WRONG TO ENVY SINNERS.

1. This is to doubt God's justice. Though we cannot yet see the issue of events, we must believe that God will not allow injustice to flourish forever, unless he cares not for the course of the world or is unable to set it right. To suppose any such condition is to distrust God.

2. This is to form a low estimate of the purpose of life. We are not sent into the world simply to enjoy ourselves, but primarily to do our duty. If we are fulfilling that great purpose, it is a degradation to envy those who seem to be more fortunate than ourselves in the mere enjoyment of worldly pleasures.

3. This is to yield to the attraction of unworthy delights. The pleasures of sinners are sinful. To lust after such forbidden fruit is to have a depraved appetite. The soul that is truly pure will loathe the delights of sin. It will not be hard on a good man that his conscience forbids him to frequent the haunts of vicious revelry. He could find no true pleasure for himself amid such scenes.

III. IN THE END THE MISTAKE OF ENVYING SINNERS WILL BE DEMONSTRATED. "For surely there is an end" The pleasure seeker is short-sighted. To judge of the wisdom of following his course, we must see what it leads to.

1. The pleasure must end. The delights of evil are brief, and they are followed by wretchedness. The wild devotee of pleasure soon becomes a debauched and blase wreck of humanity. If one is prudent enough to avoid extreme folly, still death will soon come and put an end to all worldly pleasure.

2. Sinful pleasure produces suffering. It corrupts body and soul; it sows seeds of disease and misery. They who sow to the flesh will reap corruption.

3. There will be retribution in the next world. There is a future. Does the sinner consider this? Does the foolish man who envies him remember it?

Proverbs 23:26

Our Father's claim

I. GOD CLAIMS NOTHING LESS THAN THE HEART.

1. Some offer belief of the intellect. It is well to understand truth and to believe in that which is revealed about God. We may give many thoughts to God; but these, without the heart, will not satisfy him.

2. Some offer external service. This is claimed by God, but only as the fruit of a loving heart. Given in hard, mechanical work, without love or devotion, it is worthless in the sight of God.

3. Some offer money, sacrifices, worship. All such things are acceptable only as growing out of the heart. In heartless worshippers these are but mockery; and are rejected by God.

4. God's true children must give their hearts. They must give themselves, their inmost being, their very lives, thoughts, affections, desires.

II. THE HEART IS CLAIMED BY GOD ABOVE ALL.

1. The world tries to claim it. Some men are enchained in its fascinations, and so withdrawn from God.

2. Sin endeavours to ensnare it. If it is not a divine possession, it will be held by sin. It cannot be detached. It will be given to evil if not to God.

3. Self hopes to hold it. In selfishness men would retain their hearts, their love and devotion, for their own interests. Yet in doing so their hearts harden, shrink, and perish.

4. God has the supreme claim on the heart. We must not be satisfied with devotion to the Church or with good will towards men. The first duty is to love the Lord our God with all our heart. He mast be first.

III. THE HEART MUST BE WHOLLY GIVEN TO GOD. We must not be content to love God half-heartedly. We must give our heart to God, and give it wholly, if we would satisfy his claim.

1. Give it in affection. This means a supreme surrender of our heart's love to God.

2. Give it in devotion. God expects loyal service, not merely the adoration of the lips or the work of the hands, but the consecration of the very soul and life and being to him.

3. Give it in trust. If one truly gives his heart to God, it is put in a safe place, to be guarded from harm and sin. God is the safest treasury for man's most precious treasure. When the heart is entrusted to God, he will not betray it; its affection and devotion will lead it not to desire evil; it will be in a sanctuary amid the storms and battles of life.

IV. GOD CLAIMS THE HEART OF HIS SON BECAUSE HE IS A FATHER. This is a family claim. The call, My son, justifies the claim, "Give me thine heart."

1. The claim rests on the obligation of the filial tie. A young man may freely choose or refuse a particular person to be his friend. But he is not thus free in regard to his father. He owes duty and love to a father. God is represented by Malachi as saying, "A son honoreth his father … if then I be a Father, where is mine honour?" (Malachi 1:6).

2. The claim is strengthened by the love of God. He is a good Father; he does not ask his son to do what he has not done himself. God first gives his heart to his child, and then seeks the child's heart in return.

V. THE HEART MUST BE GIVEN VOLUNTARILY TO GOD. God is Lord of all, and he has a right to enforce universal obedience. But he cares not for loveless, compulsory service. Therefore he condescends to wait for willing devotion, and to ask for the heart of his son.

1. Perhaps the heart is not yet given to God. God seeks what he has not received.

2. The heart can only be given by decision of will. We shall remain away from God unless we decide to respond to the call of our Father, and freely offer him our hearts.

Proverbs 23:31, Proverbs 23:32

The danger of strong drink

I. IT IS TERRIBLY FASCINATING.

1. It is beautiful to the eye. The wine sparkles in the cup.

2. It is palatable. Though children at first shudder at it, as at some unnatural product, the early dislike is easily surmounted, and then nothing can be more attractive.

3. It is exhilarating. It gives pleasurable excitement, stimulates jaded energies, enlivens conversation, drowns sorrow, and promises still larger enjoyments.

4. It is recommended by social influences. Good fellowship seems to go with the use of strong drink. In some circles to decline it appears unsociable.

II. IT IS FEARFULLY DANGEROUS. The mischief is not seen at first. It is "at last" that "it biteth like a serpent" Hence its snake-like deception, as welt as the deadliness of its venom. But this venom is so deadly that all need to be warned against its fatal consequences. It bites in many places; e.g.:

1. The purse. Money runs out like water, business fails, the home is wrecked and broken up as the effect of this serpent-bite of strong drink.

2. The health. The firm hand becomes palsied, the bright eye dimmed, and the strong body diseased when this venom of intoxication is in the blood.

3. The mental powers. The brain is weakened with the body. Thought is paralyzed or reduced to inanity. The lawyer, the doctor, the scholar, lose the faculties necessary for their avocations.

4. The moral nature. The one sin of intemperance too often debauches the conscience and prepares the way for other sins (see Proverbs 23:33).

5. Reputation. The drunkard loses his character. His good name vanishes in smoke when this deadly serpent lays hold of him.

6. Soul life. This, too, is poisoned and slain. Religion is wrecked. The drunkard cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

III. IT SHOULD BE UTTERLY SHUNNED. It is urged that all these indisputably evil things only come from drinking to excess. They are the results of the abuse, not of the use of strong drink. Men should be wise enough to take warning, and not to go to excess with what, used in moderation, is perfectly harmless. This was not the opinion of the wisest man. He not only urged his reader to refrain from excess; he would have him not even look at the fascinating cup, lest he should be ensnared by its snake-like charms. Many things concur to demand this extra caution.

1. The terrible extent and evil of intemperance. This is no small failing, but a national vice, and a source of wide and awful wretchedness. As no ordinary enemy has to be faced, so no ordinary means will secure us against it.

2. The insidious nature of the temptation. It works by slow degrees. At first it appears to be harmless. The fatal steps lead down slowly and without a shock of surprise, till it is too late to return. It is best to hold back at first.

3. The needlessness of the strong drink. Except in particular conditions of weakness and illness, it is not required. To renounce it is not to sacrifice any really good thing.

HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON

Proverbs 23:1-8

Hints and warnings on conduct

I. PERILS OF COURTLY LIFE. (Proverbs 23:1-3.) The Arab proverb says, "He who sups with the sultan burns his lips," and, "With kings one sits at the table for honour's sake, not for that of appetite." Horace says that kings are said to press dainties and wine upon those whom they desire to scrutinize and test, as to whether they be worthy of friendship. The caution is therefore one dictated by prudence. And in general it may be thus understood: Beware of going to places and frequenting society where watchfulness and prudence are likely to be overborne; and take care that the body, by being pampered, becomes not the master of the soul.

II. PERILS AND VANITY OF RICHES. (Proverbs 23:4, Proverbs 23:5.) This precept does not forbid industry and diligent toil for worldly gain; but only excessive carefulness in regard to it, over-valuation of its worth, and the burning lust of avarice, which implies want of confidence in God and of the sense of our true position in the world. The antidote is the exhortation of the Saviour to lay up treasures in heaven—to make certain of the incorruptible riches (Matthew 6:19, Matthew 6:20). "It is a wise course to be jealous of our gain, and more to fear than to desire abundance. It is no easy thing to carry a full cup with an even hand" (Leighton).

III. CORRUPTION FROM EVIL ASSOCIATIONS. (Proverbs 23:6-8.) The man of the evil eye is the jealous or envious temper; his heart is dyed in its dark relent. There is no genuine hospitality here; it is like that of the Pharisees who invited our Lord. This bitter sauce of envious hatred will presently be found giving a disgusting flavour to his delicacies. Discontent will poison the best food and wine. "Mens minds will either feed on their own good or others' evil, and whoso wanteth the one will prey upon the other." Envy takes no holidays. The devil is represented as the envious man who sows tares among the wheat at night. Always it works subtly, in the dark, and to the prejudice of good things, such as is the wheat (Bacon). Instead of seeking the pleasures which bring disgust, let us secure a humble fare with Christian content (Philippians 4:11).—J.

Proverbs 23:9-11

Holding aloof from evil

I. THE FOOL. (Proverbs 23:9.) There is "a time to keep silence." Truth may be desecrated in certain company by speech and honoured by silence. Pearls are not to be cast before swine. The silence of Christ was equally eloquent with his words. How much does the sentence convey, "He answered hint never a word"! Beyond a certain point explanations are worse than useless; the caviller only takes them as food for his folly and encouragement to his perversity.

II. THE OPPRESSOR. (Proverbs 23:10.) The property of the widow and the fatherless is in the protection of the Almighty. He is the Eternal Vindicator of down-trodden right. In the bright evangelical picture of conduct it is the very opposite of violence and oppression to the weak that is held up for our emulation: "To visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction." And the negative side is, in one word, "to keep one's self unspotted from the world."—J.

Proverbs 23:12-18

Discipline in Divine wisdom

I. THE TEMPER OF DOCILITY. (Proverbs 23:12.) It is submission of the affections to a higher law. It is the resignation of the will to a higher leading. It is the opening of the understanding to Divine counsels. It is the realization, on the one hand, of dependence and need; on the other, of the light, the wisdom, and the goodness which ever meet that need.

II. THE NECESSITY OF DISCIPLINE FOR THE YOUNG. (Proverbs 23:13, Proverbs 23:14; see on Proverbs 3:27; Proverbs 19:18; Proverbs 22:15.) Luther says, in his blunt way, "Beat your son, and the hangman will not beat him. There must be a beating once for all; if the father does it not, Master Hans will; there is no help for it. None ever escaped it; for it is God's judgment." Another sternly says, "Many parents deserve hell on their children's account, because they neglect to train them in piety."

III. JOY IN DUTIFUL CHILDREN. (Proverbs 23:15, Proverbs 23:16.) It is next to the joy in the personal sense of God's grace. None but a parent knows the heart of a parent—the "travailing in birth" over their souls, the joy of discovering symptoms of the new life. "May all my sons be Benaiahs, the Lord's building; then will they all be Abners, the father's light: all my daughters Bithiahs, the Lord's daughters; and then they will be all Abigails, their father's joy" (Swinnock). What must be the joy in heaven and in the bosom of God over his returning and dutiful children!

IV. ENVY OF THE WICKED REBUKED. (Proverbs 23:17, Proverbs 23:18.) When Socrates was asked what was most troublesome to good men, he replied, "The prosperity of the wicked." Here, then, is a great temptation. It needs an antidote in reason. There is no reason for this envy. They are not truly happy. We look at them from the outside; the dark discontent of the heart is concealed from us. To live in the communion of God, on the other hand, is a secret, a certain, a profound and all-compensating joy. The enjoyment of the wicked, such as it is, must have its end; while the child of God ends only to begin anew—sinks below the horizon to rise in the power of an endless life. We have thus three resources against sin: the avoidance of evil example; reverence before God; and constant recollection of the blessings of piety and virtue.—J.

Proverbs 23:19-25

The perils of dissipation and the antidote

"Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."

I. PERILS OF DISSIPATION. (Proverbs 23:20, Proverbs 23:21.) Gluttony and wine bibbing. As the stomach is the centre of health, so it is also of disease. A wise man (Dr. Johnson) said that if one did not care for one's stomach, one was not likely to care for anything. It is equally true that he who cares only or chiefly for the flesh will make a wreck of everything else. Gluttony has been pointed to as "the source of all our infirmities, the fountain of all our diseases. As a lamp is choked by superabundance of oil, a fire extinguished by excess of fuel, so is the natural heat of the body destroyed by intemperate diet." By slow degrees, and more and more, the habits of self-indulgence undermine the strength of body, still more certainly the vigour of mind, until poverty comes like an armed man.

II. THE ANTIDOTE.

1. Early instruction to be constantly recalled. (Proverbs 23:22.) Along with the affectionate association of the parents who gave it. That "men shall be disobedient to their own parents" (2 Timothy 3:2) is one of the marks of the great apostasy in Scripture. But "comely and pleasant to see, and worthy of honour from the beholder," is a child understanding the eye of his parent (Bishop Hall).

2. The truth of life to be held in supreme value. (Proverbs 23:23.) Wisdom, discipline, insight,—these are various names of the one thing, different aspects of the pearl of great price. There are required in the truth seeker—attention, willingness for toil, judgment, the constant preference of reason to prejudice, teachableness, humility, self-control. Translated into Christian terms, this pearl of great price is "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord." Bunyan beautifully describes the pilgrims answering the sneering reproach, "What will you buy?" They lifted their eyes above: "We will buy the truth!" And no sacrifice is too costly with this end in view, as the example of holy men and martyrs teaches—Moses, Paul, the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:24-26). To sell one's birthright for a mess of pottage (as Esau, Judas, and Demas) is indeed to "gain a loss."

3. Consideration of the joy we give to others by well doing. (Proverbs 23:24, Proverbs 23:25.) That heart must be unnatural or utterly depraved which feels not the force of this motive—to repay a father's anxious love, and the yearning tenderness of her that bare him. A selfishness may supply the motive even here, since parental gladness is the child's own joy as he walks in the ways of pleasantness and peace.—J.

Proverbs 23:26-28

The harlot's true character

I. IT IS DANGEROUS AND PERNICIOUS. (Proverbs 23:27, Proverbs 23:28.) It may be compared to a deep pit or to a narrow and deep well, out of which, if one falls therein, there is no easy escape. Or to a fell robber lying in wait for the unwary and the weak.

II. THE TRUE RESOURCE OF SAFETY. This is in the heart given up to God (Proverbs 23:26). If that heart be already polluted, he can wash it and make it clean. But he who yields his heart to the prince of this world becomes the enemy of God and of his eternal wisdom.—J.

Proverbs 23:29-35

The perils of drunkenness

I. THE IMMEDIATE EXTERNAL EFFECTS. (Verses29, 30.) Trouble, quarrels, violence, deformity. "No translation or paraphrase can do justice to the concise, abrupt, and energetic manner of the original." "Oh that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! that we should with joy, revel, pleasure, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!"

II. THE ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCES. (Proverbs 23:32.) It "bites like a serpent, and spits poison like a basilisk." This is the course of all sin; like Dead Sea fruits that tempt the taste, and turn to ashes on the lips. It is the "dangerous edge of things," against which men have to be on their guard. The line between use and abuse is so easily passed over. Corruptio optimi pessima.

III. THE EFFECT ESPECIALLY ON THE INTELLIGENCE. (Proverbs 23:33-35.) The mind falls into bewilderment, and sees double or awry. The victim of intoxication is indeed "at sea," and like one sleeping on the very verge of danger and sudden death. In a spiritual sense he is drunk who does not perceive the great danger of his soul, but becomes more secure and stubborn under every chastisement (Jeremiah 5:8). It is the dreadful insensibility—depicted by yet. 35 which imitates the thought and speech of the drunkard—which is among the worst consequences of the vice. "The sight of a drunkard is a better sermon against that vice than the best that was ever preached upon the subject." "He who hath this sin, hath not himself; whosoever doth commit it, cloth not commit sin, but he himself is wholly sin".—J.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Proverbs 23:1-3

The temptation of the table

It is probable that Solomon had in view those who did not often sit down to a "good dinner," and who, when they were invited to a feast by some one who was able to spread his table with delicacies, found themselves subjected to a strong temptation to unusual indulgence. Dr. Kitto tells us that, in the East, men would (and now will) eat an almost incredible amount of food when a rare opportunity offered itself. From the moral and the religious standpoint this matter of appetite demands our attention to—

I. A SPECIAL SPHERE OF OBEDIENCE AND SELF-CONTROL. Appetite is undoubtedly of God; and for few things, on the lower level, have we more occasion to thank our Creator than for the fact that he has made our food to be palatable, and caused us so to crave it that the partaking of it is a pleasure. Otherwise, the act of eating in order to keep ourselves alive and strong would be a daily weariness and penalty to us. But as it is, the necessary act of eating is a constant source of pleasure. But with the pleasure there enters inevitably a temptation. Appetite in man, strengthened as it is by man's imaginative faculty, and fostered as it is by the inventiveness which provides all kinds of inviting dainties, becomes one of those things which allure to excess, and thus to sin. To maintain the golden mean between asceticism on the one hand and epicurism or gluttony on the other hand is not found to be an easy task. Medical science inclines now to the view that a very large proportion of people take more to eat than is really for their good—especially in later life. Frequently, perhaps generally, this is rather a mistake than an offence. But the wise man will carefully consider how far he should go, and where he should draw the line. In doing this he will more especially consider two things.

1. How he should act at the table, so as not in any way to weaken his intelligence by what he eats or drinks.

2. How he should act so as to keep himself in health and strength for all useful activity in the days to come. By resolving to act with a firm self-command, with the higher and indeed the highest end in view, he may, in eating and drinking, do what he does "to the glory of God" (see 1 Corinthians 10:31).

II. THOSE TO WHOM THIS FORMS A SPECIALLY STRONG TEMPTATION. "If thou be a man given to appetite." Some men are so constituted that to have the greatest delicacies in the world before them would be no temptation to them; others have an appetency which they have the greatest difficulty in controlling,—this may arise either from heredity, or from their individual bodily organization, or (as is oftenest the case) from the habit of indulgence. There are also—

III. OCCASIONS WHEN THIS TEMPTATION IS SPECIALLY SEVERE. Such as that indicated in the text (see also 1 Corinthians 10:27). There are times when it would be churlish, and even unchristian, to refuse an invitation; but the presence of food or of stimulants upon the table may be a serious inducement to transgression. Then "put a knife to thy throat;" determinately stop at the point of strict moderation; resolutely and fearlessly refuse that of which you know well that you have no right to partake; distinctly and definitely decline the dish or the cup which you cannot take with a good conscience. For consider—

IV. THE FOLLY AND THE SIN OF INDULGENCE. "They are deceitful meat." Excess may bring some momentary enjoyment, but:

1. It is quickly followed by pain, disorder, feebleness, incapacity; even if not of a serious order, yet humiliating enough to a man who respects himself.

2. The habit of it leads with no uncertain step to physical and also to mental and moral degeneracy.

3. The pleasure afforded, like all the grosser gratifications, declines with indulgence.

4. All excess is sin. It is a misuse and profanation of that body which is given us as the organ of our own spirit, and should be regarded and treated as "the temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 6:19).—C.

Proverbs 23:4, Proverbs 23:5

The worthelessness of wealth

Wealth is not, indeed, absolutely worthless; it has a distinct value of its own; but relatively to man's deeper necessities, and to his other, spiritual resources, it is to be held in slight esteem.

I. THE UNSUBSTANTIAL AS DISTINGUISHED FROM THE REAL. "Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?" Money regarded as that which purchases food, clothing. shelter, books, etc; has a certain value not easily overstated. But mere wealth, as wealth, has but a fictitious and unreal virtue. A man may have it and have it not at the same time. A rich man may be, to all intents and purposes, a very poor one. He may own land the scenery upon which he is wholly unable to appreciate; soil which he has not the spirit or the wisdom to cultivate; houses which he neither inhabits nor causes to be inhabited; gardens whose paths no feet are treading, and whose beauty no eyes are admiring; books which he has not the taste or even the power to read, etc. In fact, his wealth is only a possibility and not a reality to him. Practically, he "sets his eyes upon that which is not." And it is quite a common thing for men to be wealthy far beyond their capacity of enjoyment; their riches do not serve them any real purpose; they remain unused, and are as if they were not at all (see Matthew 25:29; Luke 8:18). On the other hand, knowledge, wisdom, pure and holy love, a generous interest in the welfare of others, joy in God and in the friendship of the good,—these are real blessings. A man who has these must be and is enriched thereby.

II. THE TRANSIENT AS DISTINGUISHED FROM THE ABIDING. "Riches certainly make themselves wings," etc.

1. They are insecure. It is impossible to mention any "investment" that is absolutely secure. Even "real property" has been found to become depreciated and even positively worthless in the market. And of the more orginary sources of wealth, it is proverbial that they have all a limited, and many of them but a slight, security. A revolution in government, in trade, even in fashion or in taste, and the ample means are reduced to nothing, the millionaire is brought down to bankruptcy. A poor foundation, indeed, on which to build the structure of human happiness and well being is the possession of riches.

2. They must soon be laid down.

III. THE HUMAN AS DISTINGUISHED FROM THE DIVINE. To "labour to be rich" is of man. To work for wealth, and even to live for it is to be borne along on the current of human energy, is to breathe the atmosphere which human society is throwing round him. It is "our own wisdom." But it is not the wisdom of God. That says to us, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth;" "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth;" "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." The wisdom which is from above speaks to us of "forsaking all to follow Christ;" of parting with everything for one inestimable pearl; of agonizing to enter in at the strait gate. It tells us that the service of God, the friendship of Jesus Christ, the life of holy usefulness, the life testimony to a Divine Redeemer, the rest of soul which comes with spiritual rectitude, the inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled and which fadeth not away,—that all this is not only more precious than gold, it is absolutely priceless; it is the one thing for which it is worth our while to labour with all our strength, to sacrifice all that we have.—C.

Proverbs 23:6-8

The graces of giving, receiving, and refusing

The text treats of a hospitality which does not deserve the name, and of our duty when we are invited to accept a glint that is grudged. It thus opens the whole subject of giving and receiving. There are three graces here.

I. THE GRACE OF GIVING. This is one which is readily recognized as heaven born.

1. God commends it to us. He says, "Give, and it shall be given unto you" (Luke 6:38); "Give to him that asketh thee" (Matthew 5:42); "He that giveth let him do it with liberality" (Revised Version); "given to hospitality" (Romans 12:8, Romans 12:13).

2. It is the best reward of labour (Ephesians 4:28).

3. It is the most God-like of all graces. For God lives to give; he is ever giving forth to all his creation; he is feeding the multitudes and millions of his creatures beneath every sky.

4. It is the source of the purest and most elevating joy. "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

II. THE GRACE OF RECEIVING. If it is right and good for some men to give cf their abundance, then the correlative act of receiving must also be right and good. There is, indeed, a virtue, a grace, in receiving cheerfully and cordially as well as gratefully, which may be almost, if not quite, as acceptable to God as that of generosity itself. There is truth in Miss Proctor's lines—

"I hold him great who for love's sake

Can give with generous, earnest will;

Yet he who takes for love's sweet sake,

I think I hold more generous still."

III. THE GRACE OF REFUSING.

1. We may rightly refuse a gift, whether it he in the way of hospitality or not, which we are sure the giver cannot honestly afford; we do not wish to be enriched or entertained at the expense of his creditors.

2. We may properly decline a gift if we feel that it is offered us under a misconception; when we are imagined to be, or to believe, or to be working toward, that which is contrary to our spirit, our creed, our aim

3. We do well to decline the hospitality which does not come from the heart. The host is "as he thinketh in his heart." His fair or "sweet words" are no real part of himself; they only come from his lips; and if he is grudging us what he gives us, we may well wish ourselves far away from his table. No man who has any self-respect whatever will wish to take a crust from the man who counts what he gives his friends. Such food as that, however dainty, would choke us as we ate it. Nor is it begrudged hospitality alone that we should have the independence to refuse, but all else that is in the shape of gift; all money, all position, all friendship. Better to go entirely without than to have abundance at the cost of our own self-respect. Better to toil hard and wait long than to accept such offers as those. Better to turn to him "who giveth liberally and upbraideth not," and ask of him.—C.

Proverbs 23:10

(See homily on Proverbs 22:28.)—C.

Proverbs 23:13, Proverbs 23:14

(See homily on Proverbs 13:24.)—C.

Proverbs 23:17, Proverbs 23:18

God's righteous judgment

Nothing is more foolish than to endeavour to found a proof of the righteousness of God's rule upon a single case of human experience. Yet is that often done. A good man seizes upon a piece of good fortune in a godly man's life, and exaggerates its importance; a bad man pounces upon a piece of bad fortune and draws unwarrantable conclusions therefrom. But are there not indications, if not proofs, to be had for the seeking, that all things are under the direction of a just and righteous Ruler? Yes; if we look far and wide enough. For as we look, we see that all men, good and bad, are rewarded according to their works.

I. All the laws which regulate the recompense of labour exist FOR THE UPRIGHTEOUS AS WELL AS FOR THE RIGHTEOUS. Take, e.g.:

1. The covetous man. Consider all that he foregoes in order to reap his harvest—all the physical, social, domestic, literary, philanthropic, religious advantages and delights that he sacrifices; consider all the immense and ceaseless pains and toils he goes through, and the risks he runs, to achieve his object. And he gets his prize; he has earned it. He will find it weighted with more burdens and freighted with fewer and smaller blessings than he thought, end it will not last him long. Do not envy him or begrudge him what he receives; he has paid a very heavy price for it. and is surely welcome to it.

2. The hypocrite. He is a very painstaking, hardworking man; he spares himself no trouble, no sacrifice; he makes long prayers, for which he has no heart; he abstains from food he would fain be eating; he parts with money which he longs to keep; he goes through the most wearisome experiences in order that he may win a little passing honour. He has his reward; he is very welcome to it. He has earned it; we will not envy him; there is nothing more for him to receive (Matthew 6:5).

3. The man of pleasure. He also pays a very high price for his momentary gratifications—the degradation of his powers, the disregard of his friends, the loss of his self-respect, the decline of his health, etc.; and all this for mere enjoyment which becomes less keen and vivid every clay. We will not envy him. Unholy pleasure is the costliest thing in the whole world.

II. All the laws which regulate the recompense of labour exist FOR THE RIGHTEOUS MAN AS WELL AS FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS.

1. By returning unto God in penitential self-surrender we seek reconciliation, peace, joy, the full re-establishment of our filial relations with God; and we had what we seek. "Surely there is a reward" (Revised Version) for us, and "our expectation is not cut off."

2. By "walking in the fear of the Lord all the day long," consulting his will and endeavouring to follow him, we seek his Divine favour and a growing measure of likeness to our Lord. And we find what we seek.

3. By kind Christian helpfulness, by sympathy and succour freely and gladly given to those in need, we seek the blessedness of him that gives (Acts 20:35), the gratitude of true and loving hearts, the present smile and final benediction of the Son of man (Matthew 25:34-40). And we find and shall find it. Surely there is a reward for us; our hope shall not be cut off. No; let us "envy not the sinner;" let us make him welcome to all he has; let us try to elevate and enlarge his hope and his reward by changing the spirit of his mind. As for ourselves, let it be in our hearts to say, "God is faithful who hath called us to the fellowship of his Son;" let us anticipate the anthem of the angels, and sing already, "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty, just and true are thy ways, O thou King of saints!"—C.

Proverbs 23:20, Proverbs 23:21

(See below.)—C.

Proverbs 23:23

The freedom and the price of truth

We have often to insist upon—

I. THE FREEDOM OF THE TRUTH. In one sense, truth is essentially free. If firm and strong as the granite rock, it is also fluent as the water, elastic as the air. It belongs to no man, and cannot be patented or monopolized; it is the inheritance of mankind. We are all of us bound to communicate it freely, to "pass it on like bread at sacrament." This is emphatically the case with the truth of the gospel. "Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat … without money and without price;" "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." But the lesson of the text is—

II. THE PRICE OF TRUTH. Truth has sometimes to be paid for; it has its own price, and we must be willing to buy it.

1. That truth for which we involuntarily pay some price. We go forth into the world with crude, immature notions, which we find, by painful experience, have to be corrected and perhaps changed.. Sometimes this necessary lesson is very costly to us. In this way we have to buy the truth as to:

2. The truth for which we voluntarily pay the price.

III. THE ABSOLUTE PRICELESSNESS OF THE TRUTH. "Sell it not." Heavenly wisdom, once gained, is not to be parted with for any consideration whatever. Nothing on earth represents its value. To lose it is to sign away our inheritance. It is to be held at all costs whatever.—C.

Proverbs 23:24 26

(See homily on Proverbs 10:1.)—C.

Proverbs 23:29-35

(with Proverbs 23:20, Proverbs 23:21)

Drunkenness

A most striking picture is given as here of the manifold evils of this great curse. In a few strokes Solomon brings before us most, if not all, of its painful and pitiable consequences. Their name is legion, for they are indeed many.

I. THE CONTEMPT OF THE SOBER. (Proverbs 23:20.) The very word "drunkard," or "wine bibber," is indicative of the deep disregard in which the victim of this vice is held by sober men.

II. POVERTY. (Proverbs 23:21.) It is striking and surprising how soon men of large means are brought down to straitness of circumstance, and even poverty itself. It is what they spend on this craving, and what they lose by its ill effects upon them, that drag them down.

III. PHYSICAL DETERIORATION. (Proverbs 23:29.) Dissipation soon tells on a man's personal appearance; he shows by his garments, and still more by his countenance, that he is mastered by that which he puts into his mouth. Vice means ugliness.

IV. CONTENTIOUSNESS. (Proverbs 23:29.) We need all our powers in good balance to control ourselves so that we are not provoked to the hasty word and to the lasting quarrel. But the man who is excited by wine is in the worst possible condition for ruling his spirit and commanding his tongue. He is likely enough to speak the sentence which is followed by the blow, or, what is worse, the long continued feud.

V. IMPURITY. (Proverbs 23:33.) The excitement of the intoxicating cup has had much to do with the saddest departures from the path of purity and honour; with the entrance upon the road of utter ruin.

VI. INFATUATION. (Proverbs 23:34, Proverbs 23:35.) The drunkard is seen by his friends to be sinking and falling; in his circumstances, his reputation, his health, his character, he is palpably perishing. Those who really love and pity him warn him with earnest remonstrance, with affectionate entreaty, but it is of no avail. He acts with as much infatuation as would a man who made a bed of the waves or the top of a mast. After he has been stricken and has suffered, he goes back to his cups, and is stricken and suffers again.

VII. THE AGONY OF REMORSE. "At the last it biteth like a serpent," etc. The sting of remorse which a man suffers when he awakes to a full sense of his folly is something pitiful to witness, and must be far more terrible to endure. The man suffers a penalty which is worse than bodily torture; it is the just punishment in his own soul for his folly and his sin. In one sense it is self-administered, for it is the stern rebuke of conscience; in another sense it is the solemn and strong condemnation of the Supreme.

VIII. BITTER BONDAGE. Worse, if possible, than the sting of remorse is the sense of helpless bondage in which he finds that he is held. "At the last" is a tyranny which the evil habit, the strong craving, exercises over the man's spirit. He knows and feels his humiliation and loss; he essays to escape; he strives, he writhes to become freed; but he tries in vain; he is "holden with the cords of his sins" (Proverbs 5:22); he is a poor, miserable captive, the slave of vice.

Such are the consequences of departure from sobriety. It is the first step which is the most foolish and the most avoidable. When a certain stage is reached, restoration, though not impossible or impracticable, is very difficult. Let all men, as they love their soul, keep well within that boundary line that divides sobriety from intemperance. Moderation is good; abstinence is better, for it is safer, and it is kinder to others. "Look not" on the tempting cup; turn the eyes to purer and nobler pleasure.—C.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 23:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/proverbs-23.html. 1897.

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