Proverbs 23:1-5

When you sit down to eat with a ruler,

    observe carefully what is before you,

and put a knife to your throat

    if you are given to appetite.

Do not desire his delicacies,

    for they are deceptive food.

Do not toil to acquire wealth;

    be discerning enough to desist.

When your eyes light on it, it is gone,

    for suddenly it sprouts wings,

    flying like an eagle toward heaven.

Proverbs 23:1-5 ESV

This verse is a wake up call to be aware of the strong desires of our flesh.

In saying “put a knife to your throat” the writer is telling us to guard our hearts by physically resisting the amount and kinds of food we enjoy in the presence of a ruler/king. Why? Because it is easy to come to desire the “best things in life,” thus creating a sinful discontent with our “ordinary” life.

Being discontent with what God has provided for us dishonors Him.

Being discontent with what God has provided for us leads us to envy.

Being discontent with what God has provided for us leads us toward sin.

When our hearts are set on wealth, we will chase it wherever it leads. Verse 5 warns us that wealth will sprout wings and fly away, thus leading us to wherever it lands. And that journey to a land far away from God can begin by enjoying too much at the kings table.

Proverbs 23:9

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,

    for he will despise the good sense of your words.

Proverbs 23:9 ESV

This verse speaks to the futility of reasoning with a fool. One of the hallmarks of a fool is his unwillingness to listen to wisdom or correction (Prov 13:1). Therefore, don’t be surprised if he becomes angry if you do share wisdom with him (Proverbs 9:8).

Here’s a take home test: How do you respond when corrected by another?

Proverbs 23:6-7

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;
    do not desire his delicacies,
for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.
    “Eat and drink!” he says to you,
    but his heart is not with you.

Proverbs 23:6-7 ESV

Beware of transactional relationships. In this scenario, the stingy man is offering his food and drink, “but his heart is not with you.” He is “inwardly calculating” what he can get out of offering you food and drink. He is not generous, he’s manipulative.

The warning should be considered bi-directional. In other words, don’t be the perpetrator or the victim in this type of scenario. When you offer your resources to others, do you generally do it for the sake of what you can get in return? If others offer you their resources, are you so greedy to get stuff that you can’t recognize that you are being manipulated for the other person’s gain?

Beware of the transactional relationship.

Proverbs 23:12

Apply your heart to instruction

    and your ear to words of knowledge.

Proverbs 23:12 ESV

In this verse, the writer implores us to give our heart to instruction, to set our affections upon godly instruction or wisdom. How should we get that instruction? The writer answers that in saying, “[apply] your ear to words of knowledge.” We need to actively listen to godly instruction. We could summarize this verse as follows: “Set your affections on the godly instruction you hear.” Or we could simply borrow the wording of Proverbs 7:1, “My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you.”

While the scriptures do not implore us to be ignorant about the world and the things in it, the priority is to be wise, to first and foremost know and treasure God. Jeremiah 9:24 says it this way, “but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Proverbs 23:10-11

“Do not move an ancient landmark

    or enter the fields of the fatherless,

11 for their Redeemer is strong;

    he will plead their cause against you.”

Proverbs 23:10-11 ESV

Verse 10 is a clear-cut prohibition about doing wrong to the fatherless. This echoes the many other places in Scripture where God reveals his heart toward the vulnerable. Here, the warning not to move a landmark speaks to the effort to cheat another out of his land. The prohibition doesn’t stop there, for it prohibits the very entry into an orphan’s field. The implication seems to be that by entering the fields of the vulnerable one is showing an indication of intent to harm.

Beware of breaking the prohibition in verse 10 because “God in his holy habitation” is “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5). This kinda reminds me of the playground threat, “My dad can beat up your dad.” Except, this warning may be closer to “My dad will beat up you.”

When I was about 6 years old, a 17 or 18 year-old from the next neighborhood thought he would try his hand at roughing me up. When my dad – who was neither a brawler nor a big man – caught wind of it, he took up my cause in a very serious way. I didn’t see it all, but I do have a clear memory of my dad lying on top of the tough guy with his shirt collar tightly wound in my dad’s hand to prevent escape. My dad quietly but convincingly warned him of the serious consequence of ever coming near me again. “Don’t even think about coming near my son!” dad warned as he released him. The bully scampered off to his own neighborhood.

Verse 11 warns the reader of how God will respond to those who seek to harm the orphan, “he will plead their cause against you.” Some may ask, what does it mean that the Redeemer will “plead their cause against you”? Psalm 149:6 answers that question, “The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”

The command in Exodus 22:22-24 is a bit more explicit: “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” In other words, if you mistreat orphans, I will make your kids orphans.

What is your heart toward the orphan?

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