1#Four admonitions for someone aspiring to be a sage: be careful about advancing your career by socializing with the great (vv. 1–3); avoid greed (vv. 4–5); do not force yourself on an unwilling host (vv. 6–8); do not waste your wisdom on those who cannot profit from it (v. 9). When you sit down to dine with a ruler,
mark well the one who is before you;
2Stick the knife in your gullet#Stick the knife in your gullet: a metaphor for self-restraint. The usual translation, “Put a knife to your throat,” is misleading, for in English it is a death threat. The exhortation is humorously exaggerated: stick the table-knife in your own gullet rather than take too much food. It assumes that the young courtier is unused to opulent banquets and will be tempted to overindulgence.
if you have a ravenous appetite.
3Do not desire his delicacies;
it is food that deceives.
4Do not wear yourself out to gain wealth,
cease to be worried about it;
5When your glance flits to it, it is gone!
For assuredly it grows wings,
like the eagle that flies toward heaven.#The frustration of covetous intent and elusiveness of wealth are portrayed by the sudden flight of an eagle. Amenemope, chap. 7, has a similar statement: “Do not set your heart on wealth. There is no ignoring Fate and Destiny; / Do not let your heart go straying.” Proverbs imagines covetous intent as a flight of the eyes, whereas Amenemope imagines it as a straying of the heart.
6#Some humorous advice on not trading on the courtesy of unwilling hosts who, for convention’s sake, use the language of welcome. Amenemope, chap. 11, gives similar advice: “Do not intrude on a man in his house, / Enter when you have been called; / He may say ‘Welcome’ with his mouth, / Yet deride you in his thoughts.” “Unwilling,” lit., “evil of eye,” is usually translated “stingy,” but the context suggests unwilling. In v. 8, the unwanted guest vomits up the food, thus destroying the desired good impression. Proverbs regards the uninvited banqueters as thieves who will suffer the consequences of their theft. Amenemope, chap. 11, is relevant: “Do not covet a poor man’s goods,…A poor man’s goods are a block in the throat, / It makes the gullet vomit.” Do not take food with unwilling hosts,
and do not desire their delicacies;
7For like something stuck in the throat is that food.
“Eat and drink,” they say to you,
but their hearts are not with you;
8The little you have eaten you will vomit up,
and you will have wasted your agreeable words.
9Do not speak in the hearing of fools;
they will despise the wisdom of your words.#a. [23:9] Prv 9:7.
10Do not remove the ancient landmark,#b. [23:10] Prv 22:28.
nor invade the fields of the fatherless;#In Israel ownership of property and other legal rights were vested mainly in the father as head of the family; thus the widow and fatherless child were vulnerable, left prey to those who would exploit them.
11For their redeemer is strong;
he will defend their cause against you.#c. [23:11] Prv 22:23.
12Apply your heart to instruction,
and your ear to words of knowledge.
13#The young will not die from instructional blows but from their absence, for (premature) death results from uncorrected folly. The sardonic humor means the exhortation is not to be taken literally, as an argument for corporal punishment. The next verses (vv. 15–16) are exceedingly tender toward the young. Do not withhold discipline from youths;
if you beat them with the rod, they will not die.#d. [23:13] Prv 13:24; 19:18; Sir 30:1.
14Beat them with the rod,#e. [23:14] Prv 29:15, 17.
and you will save them from Sheol.
15My son, if your heart is wise,
my heart also will rejoice;
16And my inmost being will exult,
when your lips speak what is right.
17Do not let your heart envy sinners,#f. [23:17] Prv 3:31; 24:1, 19.
but only those who always fear the Lord;#Those whom one admires or associates with exercise enormous influence. Do not join the wicked, who are a doomed group. The warning is repeated in 24:1–2, 19–20.
18For you will surely have a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.#g. [23:18] Prv 24:14.
19Hear, my son, and be wise,
and guide your heart in the right way.
20Do not join with wine bibbers,
nor with those who glut themselves on meat.
21For drunkards and gluttons come to poverty,
and lazing about clothes one in rags.
22#Father and mother are associated with truth and wisdom. One should no more rid oneself of truth and wisdom than rid oneself of one’s parents, who are their source. Listen to your father who begot you,
do not despise your mother when she is old.
23Buy truth and do not sell:
wisdom, instruction, understanding!
24The father of a just person will exult greatly;
whoever begets a wise son will rejoice in him.#h. [23:24] Prv 10:1.
25Let your father and mother rejoice;
let her who bore you exult.
26#The exhortation is a condensed version of chap. 7 with its emotional appeal to “my son” to avoid the forbidden woman (7:1–5), her traps (7:21–23), and her intent to add the youth to her list of victims (7:24–27). As in 23:15, 19, 22, a trustful and affectionate relationship between student and teacher is the basis of teaching. The danger of the woman is expressed in imagery that has sexual overtones (cf. 22:14). My son, give me your heart,
and let your eyes keep to my ways,
27For the harlot is a deep pit,
and the foreign woman a narrow well;
28Yes, she lies in wait like a robber,#i. [23:28] Prv 7:10–27.
and increases the number of the faithless.
29#A vivid description of the evil effects, physical and psychological, of drunkenness. The emphasis is on the unwise behavior, the folly, caused by alcohol. Cf. 20:1. Who scream? Who shout?
Who have strife? Who have anxiety?
Who have wounds for nothing?
Who have bleary eyes?
30Whoever linger long over wine,
whoever go around quaffing wine.#j. [23:30] Prv 20:1; Sir 19:2; Hos 4:11.
31Do not look on the wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup.
It goes down smoothly,
32but in the end it bites like a serpent,
and stings like an adder.
33Your eyes behold strange sights,
and your heart utters incoherent things;
34You are like one sleeping on the high seas,
sprawled at the top of the mast.
35“They struck me, but it did not pain me;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When can I get up,
when can I go out and get more?”#Drunkards become insensible to bodily and moral harm. Their one desire is to indulge again.