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Commentary On The Book Of Proverbs 7

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Words Of The Wise And The Knowledge Of Solomon (22.17-24.22).

That we are to see here a new section of Solomon’s proverbs is clear from the introductory words, which parallel similar introductions in the Prologue. See 4.20-21; 1.8; 2.1-4; 3.1-4; 4.1-4; 5.1-2; 6.20-23; 7.1-4. And this goes along with the fact that the sayings cease on the whole to be two liners. On the other hand there is no specific heading. This suggests that we are to see what follows as a continuation of the proverbs of Solomon in 10.1-22.16, although no longer as two liners.

Indeed in this regard it will be noted that in verse 17 ‘the words of the wise’ are immediately paralleled with ‘MY knowledge’. This suggests that here Solomon was refashioning the words of the wise to suit his purpose The ‘words of the wise’ and their ‘dark sayings’, (sayings which require wisdom for their understanding), have already been mentioned in the introduction to the book as something that he wants to make his readers understand (1.6). Here then we have those words of the wise as interpreted by him. Such dark sayings are also mentioned in Psalm 76.2 in similar introductory phrases. There is no real justification for trying to alter 22.17 in order to turn it into a heading, however neat it might be in modern eyes.

Partial parallels to what follows in 22.17-24.22 are found in, among others, The Teaching Of Amenemope (Egyptian late second millennium BC) and the Sayings Of Ahikar (Babylonian - date uncertain). But if he used them at all he has transformed their ideas to suit his purpose (see the introduction). His words are in no way a slavish imitation of theirs. Indeed, as we have sought to demonstrate in the introduction, it is doubtful if there was any direct borrowing, for all of them, including Proverbs, were dependent on the wider wisdom milieu of the Ancient Near East. Each writer selected and adapted from the material available what he saw as suitable to his purpose. In the case of Solomon he was directly concerned under God to adapt such wisdom to fit in with Israel’s moral and religious views.

It should perhaps be noted that even from a general point of view the ‘30 houses (chapters)’ of Amenemope were of considerably longer length than any of the supposed 30 sayings found in 22.17-24.22. Solomon certainly did not pattern himself on Amenemope. Indeed, only the first eleven of Solomon’s sayings can be even seen as related to scattered teaching in the teaching of Amenemope, and even then indirectly and in a different order and considerably transformed (see examples in the introduction). That he had read it we can be sure (he had close contacts with Egypt and was extremely interested in the wisdom teaching of other countries). That he used it as a model is simply not so.

Analysis Of 22.17-24.22.

This section divides into two parts. The first mentions no addressee, the second is addressed, like the Prologue, to ‘my son’, forming an inclusio for this Solomonic material.

Part 1.

  • Introductory Appeal (22.17-21).
  • The First Ten Commands (22.22-23.11).
  • Closing Appeal (23.12-14).

Part 2.

  • A Word To ‘My Son’ (23.15).
  • The Next Six Commands (23.16-24.2).
  • Six Wise Sayings (24.3-14).
  • Four Final Commands (24.15-22).

PART 1 Solomon’s Ten Commandments (22.17-23.14).

In this part Solomon gives ten commandments within the inclusio of two injunctions to ‘apply your heart’ (22.17; 23.12-14)). This can be presented chiastically as follows:

  • A Introductory appeal to apply ear and heart to the words of the wise, and his knowledge, for this will enable them to trust in YHWH (22.17-21).
  • B Do not maltreat the poor, whose cause YHWH pleads (22.22-23).
  • C Do not be friends with continually angry men lest you learn their ways (as a result of associating with fools) (22.24-25).
  • D Do not be a surety for debts, (committing yourself to someone who does not have your interests at heart), lest you come to ruin (22.26-27).
  • E Do not remove the ancient landmark set by the fathers (in an effort to increase riches) (22.28).
  • F Be diligent in your activities because then you will gain credit with important people (22.29).
  • F Be diligent in considering who you are eating with and be abstemious when eating with important people (23.1-3).
  • E Do not put too much effort into finding ways of becoming rich (23.4-5).
  • D Do not gatecrash on a feast with someone who will grudge your presence and what you eat, (committing yourself to someone who does not have your interests at heart) for it will rebound on you (23.6-8)
  • C Do not seek to impart wisdom to the foolish when they are not receptive (associating with fools) (23.9).
  • B Do not remove the ancient landmark of the fatherless for YHWH will plead their cause (23.10-11).
  • A Apply your heart and ear to instruction and words of knowledge. Do not withhold discipline from a child, for thereby you will deliver him from a permanent grave (23.12-14).

Note that in A the call is to apply ear and heart to the words of the wise and his knowledge, and in the parallel the appeal is to apply heart and ear to words of knowledge (note the reverse order of ‘heart’ and ‘ear’). In B the poor are not to be maltreated, and in the parallel the fatherless are not to be maltreated. In C he is not to associate with ‘angry men’ (which would be associating with fools), and in the parallel he is not to seek to impart wisdom to fools (which would be associating with fools). In D he is not to act as a surety becoming dependent on others, and in the parallel he is not to misuse the laws of hospitality, thus depending on another. In E he is not to increase his wealth by removing landmarks, and in the parallel he is not to weary himself seeking wealth by any means. Centrally in E he is to be diligent in his activities, seeking to stand before the king, and in the parallel he is to be diligent about being abstemious before rulers.

Introductory Appeal (22.17-21).

Solomon calls on the one whom he is addressing to listen carefully to the words of the wise as interpreted by him. He is speaking to his readers as one man. Whilst in the Prologue that was in terms of ‘my son’, that expression has not up until now appeared in The Proverbs of Solomon (10.1-22.16). The one exception probably had a different reference (see on 19.27). It will, however, appear once more from half way through this subsection (23.15, 19, 26; 24.13, 21). If we are to refer it all to ‘my son’ then that it was not literally to his son 23.22 makes clear. ‘My son’ refers to the eager seeker after wisdom whoever he may be. However, in view of the delay in addressing his words to ‘my son’ (it does not occur in Part 1) it may well be that Solomon wanted it to be clear that his initial ‘ten commands’ were addressed to all.

22.17

‘Bend your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
And apply your heart to my knowledge.’

For ‘bend your ear’ compare 4.20; Psalm 78.1; Isaiah 55.3. It is a standard Hebraism, being a request to listen carefully to what is being said. And what he wants them to hear are ‘the words of the wise’, the words of the wise spoken of in 1.6, coming in this instance from Solomon’s knowledge. To these they are to ‘apply (set) their hearts’. That is, they are to apply their wills and minds to what Solomon has to say and allow it to direct their lives. Compare here 2.2, ‘prick up your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding’.

22.18

‘For it is a pleasant thing if you keep them within you (in your belly),
If they are established together on your lips.’

They will find that retaining the words of the wise within them and speaking of them to others, is a pleasant and delightful thing. The use of ‘pleasant’ or ‘pleasurable’ may have in mind a contrast to the pleasures offered by the strange woman in the Prologue, brought to mind in 22.14, the stress being on the fact that it is not only sin which is pleasurable. Equally pleasurable is guarding within them the words of the wise and establishing them together on their lips, so that they not only think wisdom but speak wisdom. It is a reminder that wisdom brings men joy (12.20; 21.15).

A similar emphasis concerning guarding within them the wisdom and knowledge of God is found in the Psalms. ‘Your word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against You’ (Psalm 119.111). And the joyful aspect of it is similarly found there, ‘I delight in your Torah’ (Psalm 119.70), and ‘I will delight myself in your commandments which I have loved’ (Psalm 119.47). Every believer knows the joy of receiving truth from God’s word.

So we have here a pattern. What we hear with our ears, receive into our hearts, store in our bellies and speak out with our lips, determines the course of our lives. The believer is meant to be both a receiver and a broadcaster of what is stored within. Those who follow these instruction are possessed by God’s wisdom and God’s word.

22.19

‘That your trust may be in YHWH,
I have made them known to you this day, even to you.’

His purpose in wanting them to hear and absorb the words of the wise as presented by him is not so much that they might build up a store of wisdom, as that they might trust in YHWH (compare 3.5-6). All that he has been saying has had that aim in mind. As always ‘faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of the Lord’ (Romans 10.17). Thus it is not an amorphous wisdom that he wants them to accept, but the wisdom of God that leads them to trust in Him. Notice his emphasis on the fact that he has made the words of the wise known to his readers, and that he has done it ‘this day’. The matter is urgent, and is important for them, as it is for us.

22.20

‘Have I not written to you in great measure,
Of counsels and knowledge,

Now he refers back to what he has already written to them ‘in great measure’ (compare Psalm 80.5; Isaiah 40.12 for this use of the word) concerning counsels (moetsoth) and knowledge (for ‘counsel’ (etsah) see 1.25, 30; 8.14; 12.15; 19.20, 21; 20.5, 18, 21.30) for ‘knowledge’ see 1.4, 7, 22, 29; 2.5, 6, 10; 5.2; 8.9, 10, 12; 10.14; 11.9; 12.1 etc.). The plural for counsels may be stressing the quality of the counsel rather than the quantity, the latter being assumable from the ‘great measure’. In other words he wants them to know that he has well grounded them in the wisdom of God. Both ideas were well established in the Prologue, and repeated in the Proverbs of Solomon. He is therefore claiming that he has already given them a good background in both. This suggests unity of authorship with what has gone before. An alternative translation would be, ‘have I not formerly written to you of counsels and knowledge?’.

Note On ‘Great Measure’

The word translated ‘great measure’ is shalishim, which is the qere (an amendment by the Massoretes on the basis of tradition). The kethib (the initial text) is shilshowm. They found shilshowm difficult because although it is a regular Hebrew word (found 24 times), in order to gain its meaning of ‘formerly’ it requires before it another expression such as etmol/temol. etmol shilshowm means literally ‘yesterday, the third day’ indicating the passage of time in the past. In poetry etmol by itself can convey the same meaning, but apart from here there is no example of shilshowm doing so, although that is not to deny that it could. The translation ‘formerly’ would well suit the context and be a good contrast with ‘this day’.

In Psalm 80.5 shalish means ‘great measure’. shalishim is the plural of shalish, and probably a plural of intensity. That also fits in well here. Compare as well Isaiah 40.12.

At the present time most scholars amend the text to read shelowshim meaning thirty, and assume that it means ‘thirty sayings’, although there is no word for ‘sayings’ in the Hebrew text. Normally Hebrew grammar would expect, apart from when it is in respect of measure, weight or time, some description of what there are ‘thirty’ of. Those who favour this amendment argue that this is simply an extension of that rule (as they would). This is then seen as a parallel to the ‘30 chapters’ in Amenemope, even though the supposed thirty sayings of Solomon (there is disagreement on how to produce thirty sayings) bear no specific relation to those thirty chapters. But a powerful argument against this amendment is that it is difficult to see in that case why the text was altered in the first place from something obvious to something obscure, with no trace of the original being found in the versions, or even being considered by early translators. Surely if they had been unhappy with the text, such an amendment, if acceptable, would have been obvious as a qere. We have therefore based our translation on the qere.

Thirty is the number of intensified completeness, it is therefore quite probable that putting things in thirties was standard practise among ancient wisdom teachers. It may well therefore be that the sayings which follow were intended to be seen as numbering thirty. But that does not demand a mention of the number here. Groups are regularly of a significant size elsewhere in Scripture (seven, ten, twelve, thirty) even where the number is not specified. So, for example, in the commands which follow the first twelve form a unit, which is then followed by words to ‘my son’.

End of note.

22.21

‘To make you know the certainty of the words of truth,
That you may carry back words of truth to those who send you?’

His desire that his words might be in their hearts and bellies, and spoken by their lips, is now repeated. He wants them to know the certainty of the words of truth deep within them, and to pass them on to others.

The Ten Commands (22.22-23.11).

These ten commands can be divided up into commands concerning wealth (robbing the poor; acting as a surety; removing landmarks (twice); and having starry eyes about riches), and commands concerning status in the community (not becoming friends with a perpetually man; being diligent in activity and thus gaining status and standing before kings; being abstemious before important people; not feasting with a grudging host and not conversing with fools). Only one of the commands is positive (the command to be diligent in one’s activities), which, of course, means that nine are negative (they are ‘do nots’). They are warnings concerning specific snares in life. Three of the first four are central to the covenant: concern for the poor; not associating with rebels; maintaining the land granted by YHWH. The fourth refers to acting as a surety which appears to have been a problem in Solomon’s day. As we have seen above they are presented in chiastic form.

1). Do Not Maltreat The Poor, Whose Cause YHWH Pleads (22.22-23).

22.22-23

‘Do not rob the poor, because he is poor,
Nor oppress (crush, pulverise) the afflicted in the gate,
For YHWH will plead their cause,
And despoil of life those who despoil them.’

The warning here is not to seek to take advantage of the weakness of the poor, or of the afflicted (those who have been wrongly treated) when they seek justice in the gate (where the elders sit to dispense justice). Justice demands a fair hearing and a just verdict regardless of wealth or status, but it would be only too human for notice to be taken of the wealthy at the expense of the poor, with the poor being left crushed. Alternately the afflicted in the gate could be those who have gone to beg there, because it was a place where many people passed by. They too must not be ‘crushed’.

Job 24.2-3 give examples of such robbery, ‘they take away flocks and animal feed, they drive away the ass of the fatherless, they take the widow’s ox for a pledge’. Here the robbery includes both theft by casual thieves and brigands, and heartless dishonesty by lenders (dishonesty in that they act contrary to the Torah). Such people target the poor because they are vulnerable, and they expect no repercussions. The poor could equally be robbed by a merchant using false weights and balances, or by a landlord charging excessive rents to poor people because there was no other option for them, or by farmers not leaving the gleanings which were intended for the poor (Leviticus 19.9; 23.22).

But Solomon warns that a higher Judge is involved. If earthly judges do not give the poor a fair hearing then YHWH Himself will plead their cause and deal with those who have despoiled them, by despoiling of life those who have been dishonest. Their dishonesty will cost them dear. It will cost them their lives. YHWH’s concern for widows, the fatherless, orphans, and the poor and needy is expressed regularly in Scripture.

Note that these verses contain the first proverb to follow 22.16. And that spoke of the one who oppressed the poor to increase his wealth. Thus this proverb is opening where 22.16 left off and demonstrating a connection between this group of sayings and the previous one. It is indicating that the narrative is intended to be seen as continuous.

The verse is paralleled in the chiasmus by the warning not to try to defraud the fatherless, those who have no male protector, by moving the landmark on their land so as to appropriate some of their land, ‘entering into the fields of the fatherless’ (23.10-11). A similar warning is given there that YHWH will plead their cause.

2). Do Not Associate With Angry Men Lest You Learn Their Ways (22.24-25).

The angry men referred to in this proverb are not those who sometimes lose their temper, but regret it afterwards, and are usually sensible people. It refers more to those who are angry and bitter with society. They are burning inside and are the kind who could lead a young man into bad ways. They are rebels against society, and spurn the covenant.

22.24-25

‘Make no friendship with a man who is given to anger,
And with a wrathful man you shall not go,
Lest you learn his ways,
And get a snare to your life (soul).’

This second command is urging the reader not to associate with ‘angry men’. This is not speaking of someone who rapidly loses his temper but will later admit it and apologise. It refers rather to the continually angry, the one who is angry with society, the embittered man who strikes out in his own way. He is continually attacking the status quo, and urging others to rebellion against the powers that be, and against what he sees as the unfairness of life. He is illustrated in 1.10-19 where he determines to challenge society and become wealthy dishonestly and violently without hard work. He argues to himself that it is not wrong because society owes it to him.

But the danger of associating with such people is that we can become like them, and begin to hold similar views. In a large society with an adequate and mobile police force they are an irritant. In a smaller society, with no one to continually guard standards, they are a menace and have to be severely dealt with. And, as in 1.10-19, the consequence of associating with them is to be entrapped in a snare which will result in death. But whereas in verses 22-23 YHWH would take away the lives who swindled the poor and needy, here the rebel’s very way of life will ensure that he is caught in his own trap (1.17-18).

‘A man who is given to anger’ is literally ‘a lord (or ‘man’) of the nose’, the idea being that he is a man whose nose constantly bristles with anger. Its meaning is confirmed by the fact that he is a man of ‘wrath’. Like the fool in verse 9 he is to be avoided. Both the angry man and the fool will seek to drag men down.

3). Do Not Be A Surety For Debts Lest You Come To Ruin (22.26-27).

The previous proverb warned against associating with angry and bitter men. Here the warning is against associating with others in an unwise business transaction, that of acting as a surety beyond one’s means. Within Israelite society there should have been no need for sureties, for Israelites were called on to lend to each other freely and without strings attached. But seemingly in the more commercially oriented world of Solomon’s kingdom the practise had become more common, and Solomon had probably had to deal with a number of such cases.

22.26-27

‘Do not be one of those who strike hands,
Or of those who are sureties for debts.
If you do not have the wherewithal to pay,
Why should he take away your bed from under you?’

There have been many references to those acting as sureties (6.1-5; 11.15; 17.18; 20.16; 27.1), but most of them have had in mind those who acted as sureties in relation to foreigners, probably for a commission. Here the warning is not against acting as a surety, but against acting as surety for anyone above and beyond what you are able pay without beggaring yourself. The striking of hands was the means by which the bargain was sealed. Basically the surety is acting as guarantor for the debt. If the borrower defaults on his payments the guarantor become responsible for the whole. Thus the man who acts as a guarantor is a fool if he does so without being confident that he can meet the debt with something to spare. For if he is called on to pay, and cannot, he will lose even his bed.

Comparing with the parallel, the one who acts as surety when he cannot afford it here is paralleled with the man who accepts hospitality from someone who grudges him it (23.6-8). Both are putting themselves in danger of repercussions.

4). Do Not Remove The Ancient Landmark Set By The Fathers (22.28).

Ancient landmarks were landmarks which were set up when the land of Canaan was divided up amongst the Israelites. They would consist of large stones marking the boundary of each lot, a lot given in perpetuity to the family of the man to whom the lot was allocated. Many would probably have had markings on them. To remove them was therefore to break YHWH’s pledge to that family. It was seen as a heinous offence. Deuteronomy 27.17 puts a curse on such a person.

22.28

‘Do not remove the ancient landmark,
Which your fathers have set.’

The warning is given not to remove an ancient landmark. The only reason for removing such an ancient landmark would be in order to take over the land. But to do that would be to thwart YHWH’s permanent purpose in allotting the land to the family who owned it. It would be a direct offence against YHWH. No threat needed to be given. It had the authority of the covenant behind it. All would know that YHWH must act against such a person. They are cursed in Deuteronomy 27.17, and woe is declared against them in Isaiah 5.8.

This warning is paralleled in the chiasmus by the warning not to use every effort in order to become rich (23.4-5). Such efforts would necessarily result in acting outside the pale in a way similar to that described here.

5). Be Diligent In Your Activities Because Then You Will Gain Credit In The Eyes Of Important People (22.29).

This is the only positive command amongst the ten. It refers to watching the example of the go-getter. The word ‘business’ here refers to all of a man’s important activities. He is to be diligent in whatever he is called on to do. For the courtier it is what the king has appointed for him to do, for the farmer it is his farming, for the business man it is his business. The emphasis here is probably on ‘king’s servants’.

22.29

‘Do you see a man diligent in his business?
He will stand before kings,
He will not stand before obscure men.’

This is not the usual word for ‘see’. In Proverbs this word signifies looking intently (compare 24.32; 29.20). Solomon wants the reader to look out for and watch intently the man who is diligent in political affairs, which are his business. Such a man reveals his diligence by not being satisfied with working for obscure men, but will take his stand before kings because he is confident in his own abilities. The verb ‘he will stand’ is one that in the hithpael with ‘before’ indicates ‘taking up a stance ready for action’ or ‘presenting oneself before’ (see Exodus 8.20; Deuteronomy 9.2; Joshua 1.5; 24.1; 1 Samuel 10.18; Job 41.10). He discreetly presents himself to be noticed (kings had to be approached with caution. If they were offended they could order an immediate execution). His ability, diligence and determination to be the best is to be seen as an example to be copied. The point is that no one should be satisfied with failing to use his talents to the full.

In the parallel (23.1-3), when at a ruler’s feast, he uses the same diligence in recognising whose feast he is at and ensuring that he is abstemious. It is all part of his diplomacy. No one is impressed by a greedy man.

6). Be Diligent In Considering Who You Are Feasting With And Be Abstemious When Eating With Important People (23.1-3).

The next two proverbs are a warning against greed: greed at feasts (23.1-3); and greed for money (23.4-5). This proverb continues on the thought of the previous proverb. Having presented himself before the king (22.29), the man is invited to a feast. And he is now warned of how to behave. The point is not so much to attack greed (although greed is assumed to be bad) as to warn how important it is to make a good impression in all that we do in front of people who matter. Such people watch how we behave and come to their own conclusions.

23.1-3

‘When you sit to eat with a ruler,
Consider diligently who (or ‘what’) is before you,
And put a knife to your throat,
If you are a man given to appetite.
Do not be desirous of his dainties,
Seeing they are deceitful food.’

When sitting to eat in the presence of a ruler he should consider diligently whose presence he is in, and curb his appetite accordingly. He should be out to make a good impression. If he is a man who likes plenty of good food he should nevertheless keep himself under restraint. He should metaphorically ‘put a knife to his throat’ as though ready to kill himself rather than taking advantage of the good food before him. In other words he is to keep a careful guard on his appetite. Many around him will be gorging themselves and becoming merry. He is to watch what he eats and thereby demonstrate his self-control.

However delicious the food on offer, especially the titbits, he is to recognise that they are deceitful food. They are tempting him to betray himself, and to reveal himself as one who is lacking in restraint. For important service the king wants men who are on the alert and keep a watch on themselves, rather than men whose god is their belly, who let themselves go at feasts. We reveal much of ourselves when involved in such activities, demonstrating the kind of people we are.

This does, of course, apply whenever we attend important functions. We can make a good or bad impression by how we go about eating and drinking. It may be tempting to let ourselves go, but if we are out to make an impression then we should watch ourselves and eat carefully. It will be noticed. But the general warning is, ‘remember that all you do in public will determine people’s view of you, whether for good or bad’. Watch what you do!

7). Do Not Over Exert Yourself To Finding Ways Of Becoming Rich (23.4-5).

This is not an injunction against working hard. Solomon has already regularly made clear that it is important to work hard, and that this will indeed have an effect on our wealth. What he is warning against here is wearing ourselves out and overreaching ourselves and trying desperately to become rich as the main motive of our lives. It is a warning not to succumb to ‘the love of money which is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Timothy 6.10).

23.4-5

‘Do not weary yourself to be rich,
Cease from (or ‘refrain from’) your own wisdom.
Will you set (‘up) your eyes on what is not?
For riches certainly make themselves wings,
Like an eagle which flies (‘up) towards heaven.’

The warning here is not to become obsessed with being rich. It is one thing to work hard and thus become wealthy as a by-product, it is quite another to become obsessed with being rich. Thus a man is not to wear himself out with the aim of becoming rich. If he works hard and becomes wealthy that is good. But to be obsessed with the idea of becoming rich is not good, and is indeed vanity, and may lead to dishonesty (28.20) or a blurring of moral distinctions. It might seem desirable, and even wise (from the point of view of man’s wisdom), but it is seeking after an illusion, for riches are transitory and have a habit of ‘flying away’, disappearing into the clouds (and they will certainly fly away from a man when he dies). Examples of the danger of such attempts to get rich are that it might lead a man to remove another’s landmark (22.28), become a surety on commission beyond his means (verses 26-27), or even ‘rob the poor’ (22.22-23).

‘Cease from (or refrain from) your own wisdom.’ The implication is that the desire for riches is not of God’s wisdom. Man may think that riches are permanent, and that they will provide him with total security, but God knows how easily they can fly away and be lost forever. It is far more important to live a full and satisfying life than it is to become rich. This picture of riches flying away occurs in both Egyptian and Mesopotamian wisdom literature (see introduction for comparison with Amenemope).

Indeed Jesus advised us to build up our riches in Heaven (by giving to God and to the poor, and by using it in His service), where they would never fly away. There they would neither rust or become moth-eaten, unlike riches on earth (Matthew 6.19-21). Note the interesting wordplay in that in Hebrew ‘set’ and ‘flies’ are both from the root ‘up. A man’s eyes ‘fly’ to riches, only to find that eventually the riches ‘fly away’.

As we have already seen in Proverbs, wealth can be either good or bad. When built up by hard work, and used wisely and generously it is good (3.16; 8.18; 10.22; 14.23, 24; 22.4), when obtained dishonestly or as an obsession and used selfishly it is bad (10.2, 15; 11.4, 18, 28; 13.7; 18.11, 23; 22.16; 28.20). Wealth can make a man open-hearted and generous, or it can make him obsessive, over-anxious, discontented, arrogant and boorish (see Ecclesiastes 5.8-15; 1 Timothy 6.5-10; James 5.1-2). Jesus Himself warned against the deceitfulness of riches in keeping men from God (Mark 4.19; 10.23).

8). Do Not Gatecrash On A Feast With Someone Who Will Grudge Both Your Presence And What You Eat, For It Will Rebound On You (23.6-8).

In order to understand this proverb we have to recognise the oriental custom of hospitality. A house-owner would consider it rude not to invite someone who was visiting him to a meal however much he wished otherwise (the visitor should know when to refuse). He might wish you in Sheol, but he would still invite you. Not to do so would be socially unacceptable, and indeed a positive expression of enmity. Once you had eaten someone’s food you knew that they would do you no harm, and would indeed protect you as their guest. But it did not mean that they would not later retaliate in some way where you and he knew that you had taken advantage of the custom in order to force yourself on them.

So here Solomon is warning his readers not to gatecrash on someone’s hospitality when they knew that that person would grudge their presence, however delightful the repast might appear.

23.6-8

Do not eat the bread of him who has an evil eye,
Nor desire you his dainties,
For as he thinks within himself, so is he,
Eat and drink, he says to you, but his heart is not with you.
The morsel which you have eaten you will vomit up,
And lose your sweet words.’

The one who has an evil eye is the one who looks at someone grudgingly, or even malevolently. The context has in mind a guest who has taken advantage of the laws of hospitality to force his presence on someone. Solomon warns that to do so might appear to offer a short term advantage, but could in the end have unpleasant repercussions. The unwilling host might out of courtesy enjoin you to eat and drink, but in his heart he would be thinking otherwise. And what his eye betrays about his inner feelings is a true reflection of what he is. It will be no good sweet-talking him. The consequence may well be that one day you will regret what you have eaten (metaphorically you will vomit it up), and all your sweet, and even possibly flattering, words will be wasted. They will be ‘lost’. It will not have been worth it in the end.

The proverb parallels the one concerning being a surety (22.26-27). In both cases the action results in committing yourself to someone who does not have your interests at heart.

9). Do Not Seek To Impart Wisdom To The Foolish When They Are Not Receptive (23.9).

In the previous proverb we learned that to try to sweet-talk someone who grudged our presence at his table would be a waste of time. Here we learn that to try to talk to a fool about wisdom would be a similar waste of time, because he would simply despise our words. We need to wait until some circumstances arise that make him more receptive. It is important to assess the circumstances. There are times when it is foolish to answer a fool according to his folly because you could simply appear as foolish as he is (26.4). However there are times when you should give a reasoned response to his folly, in order to make him realise that he is a fool (26.5).

23.9

‘Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
For he will despise the wisdom of your words.’

The general idea here is that a fool will listen to no one but himself and his ilk. To speak in his hearing, with the intention of gaining a response, would therefore be a waste of time. By the nature of what he has become he will despise your wisdom. It would just result in needless controversy, and arguing about irrelevancies (see 2 Timothy 2.6-17; Titus 3.9). Furthermore such controversy would not be helpful to any who might hear.

The best plan for a Christian is often simply to give his testimony and then leave it there. When the fool is in a dogmatic mood it would often be best to leave it there, rather than engaging in discussions about folly, which the Christian might well not be equipped to deal with.

10). Do Not Remove The Ancient Landmark Of The Fatherless For YHWH Will Plead Their Cause (23.10-11).

This proverb differs from that in 2.28 in that here the emphasis is not on the wrongness of going against ancient custom and trifling with what God has appointed, but on ill-treatment of the fatherless. If the man who moves an ancient landmark is cursed, how much more the man who seeks to take possession of the fields of the fatherless by doing so. This proverb rather parallels the one in 22.22-23 concerning robbing the poor.

23.10-11

‘Do not remove the ancient landmark,
And do not enter into the fields of the fatherless,
For their Redeemer is strong,
He will plead their cause against you.’

Removing the ancient landmark parallels entering the fields of the fatherless, and the point is not concerning trespassing, but concerning theft. All land in Israel had been allotted and landmarked from of old to belong to particular families in perpetuity. As we saw in 2.28 to remove those landmarks was an offence against YHWH. But to do it to the fatherless in order to steal their land was heinous beyond belief. The fatherless had no one in authority to defend their cause. They were thus seen by YHWH as His direct responsibility. He accepted the responsibility of being their kinsman-redeemer, their family protector and ensurer of their rights (Leviticus 25.25-35). And to encroach on their fields would bring down his swift wrath. He would plead their cause in His own way, by visiting wrath on the culprit.

The removal of the landmarks might take place at dead of night, or it might be authorised by a corrupt court which was either bribed, or had pressure put on it by higher authorities. In either case they would be answerable to an even higher court, the court of YHWH, the One Who is all-seeing and cannot be bribed.

Final Conclusion. Make Sure That You Consider The Words, And That Your Children Do As Well (23.12-14).

This final conclusion to the subsection parallels the introduction. ‘Bend your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge’ (22.17) becomes ‘apply your heart to instruction, and your ears to the words of knowledge’. Note the repetition of ‘apply your heart’, ‘heart’, ‘ears’ and ‘knowledge’. And they are to ensure this, not only for themselves but for their children

23.12-14

Apply your heart to instruction,
And your ears to the words of knowledge.
Do not withhold correction from the child,
For if you beat him with the rod, he will not die.’
You shall beat him with the rod,
And will deliver his life from Sheol.’

The subsection concludes with two proverbs which urge full consideration to Solomon’s words both from fathers and from their children. They are to apply their hearts to his disciplinary instruction, and are to listen carefully to the words of knowledge. Both ‘disciplinary instruction’ and ‘knowledge’ are words that have been regularly used throughout the Prologue and the Proverbs of Solomon. The reference to disciplinary instruction leads into the proverb concerning disciplining a child.

Whilst themselves hearing they are to ensure that their children hear as well. They must not withhold corrective discipline from them. It might appear painful but, unlike folly, it will not kill them but will rather deliver them from Sheol. This kind of chastening by the rod did not appear in the Prologue, but appeared twice in the Proverbs of Solomon (13.24; 22.15). It also occurs in Solomon’s proverbs as recorded by the men of Hezekiah (29.15).

‘If you beat him he will not die’ indicates that this is not to be a severe flogging (from which a man could die). The punishment would no doubt be ameliorated to fit the crime and was to be carried out by a loving father (13.24). It would thus not be severe, unless justified by continued recalcitrance. It was the usual method of punishment and chastening in those days. Before we criticise it we should recognise that the improved methods on which we rely were simply not available to most due to their manner of life. All might well be working in the fields all day. Discipline had therefore to be quick and effective, and incidentally would take into account that the one who received it would be needed to work in the fields.

PART 2 (23.15-24.22).

This Part is divided up as follows:

  • A Word To ‘My Son’ (23.15).
  • Six More Commands (23.16-24.2).
  • Six Wise Sayings (24.3-14).
  • Four Final Commands (24.15-22).

Solomon Addresses ‘My Son’ And Gives A Further Six Commands (23.15-24.2).

In a new subsection, which opens with the first call to ‘my son’ since the Prologue, Solomon introduces six more commands, the first four of which are introduced by encouragements to be responsive. Unlike the first ten these six especially emphasise inward personal behaviour and attitude. They refer to not envying sinners, avoiding winebibbers and gluttons, listening to fathers and mothers, avoiding prostitutes, avoiding drunkenness, and not being envious against evil men.

This is mainly in contrast with the previous ten which had largely to do with attitudes towards others and towards the community (towards the poor, the rebellious man, the creditor, the landowner, the courtier, the ruler, the grudging host, the fool and the fatherless) and with gaining wealth and status (robbing the poor, siding with the rebellious, engaging in business dealings, removing landmarks, diligence in activity, feasting with rulers, seeking riches, claiming unwilling hospitality, teaching fools wisdom, robbing the fatherless).

It could be argued that the two introductory references to ‘my son’ here (23.15, 19) form an inclusio with the two references to ‘my son’ in 24.13, 21, the latter at least clearly acting as an ending.

The subsection can be presented chiastically:

  • A 1). My son, if your heart is wise, do not envy sinners but be in the fear of YHWH (23.15-18).
  • B 2). Hear, my son, and be wise and guide your heart in the way, do not be among winebibbers and gluttons (23.19-21).
  • C 3). Listen to the wisdom and instruction of your father and mother, and ‘buy’ the truth (23.22-25).
  • C 4). Give me your heart and -- delight in my ways, rather than giving your heart to a prostitute (23.26-28).
  • B 5). Do not be a heavy drinker (23.29-35).
  • A 6). Do not be envious of evil men (24.1-2).

Note that in A not envying sinners parallels not being envious of evil men. In B not being among winebibbers and gluttons parallels not being a heavy drinker. Centrally in C listening to fathers and mothers and buying the truth (Ms Wisdom) parallels giving his heart to Solomon and delighting in his ways, and not buying a prostitute (Ms Folly).

We should also notice the interesting pattern of the commands:

  • Do not envy sinners.
  • Do not be among winebibbers and gluttons.
  • Buy the truth.
  • Give me your heart and -- delight in my ways.
  • Do not be a heavy drinker.
  • Do not be envious of evil men.

The commands to avoid envy and to avoid drunkenness come on both sides of the commands to buy truth and delight in his ways. At the heart of what he is saying is the positive desire to obtain truth and wisdom. Envy and love of excess wine are enemies of truth and wisdom.

1). If Your Heart Is Wise Do Not Envy Sinners But Be In The Fear Of YHWH (23.17-18).

The subsection opens with introductory words spoken to ‘my son’. This is the first time that ‘my son’ has been used in an introductory way since the Prologue. It is an indirect call to him to be wise. It will be noted that the first three commands are all preceded by calls to heed wisdom, (two addressed to ‘my son’), and the fourth is addressed to ‘my son’ with a resultant (an indirect command) following. This follows the pattern found in the Prologue (1.8-9 followed by 1.10; 2.1-4 with 2.12-15, 16-22; 5.1-2 with 5.3-24; 6.20-21 with 6.24-32; 7.1-4 with 7.5-27).

23.15-16

‘My son, if your heart is wise,
My heart will be glad, even mine,
Yes, my kidneys will rejoice,
When your lips speak right things.’

Solomon informs his ‘son’ that if his heart is wise, in other words if he follows God’s wisdom, his (Solomon’s) heart will also be glad. Yes, his kidneys, his inner being, will rejoice when his ‘son’s’ lips speak right things. For ‘a wise son makes a glad father’ (10.1). The ‘even mine’ may be stressing that not only will his natural father and mother be glad (23.22, 25), but he, Solomon, will also be glad. It stresses Solomon’s concern that men should follow God’s wisdom.

Note the twofold reference to ‘heart’ (your heart, my heart) followed by the reference to the kidneys. The word heart occurs in all the following proverbs in this subsection, apart, rather surprisingly, from the one that refers to father and mother (23.22-25). The heart, as we have already seen, refers to the whole person including will and mind and emotions. The kidneys refer to the inward man. Israelites were very practically minded and related things like mind, will, spirit, and emotions to the internal organs and bones (although not in any structured way). We can compare how we say, ‘I feel it in my bones’. We do not expect to be taken literally.

23.17-18

Do not let your heart envy sinners,
But be you in the fear of YHWH all the day long,
For surely there is a reward,
And your hope will not be cut off.’

If his heart is wise (verse 15) the young man will not allow his heart to envy sinners, that is, those who are offenders against God. Rather he will ‘be in the fear of YHWH all day long’. For every moment of the day he will walk in the fear of YHWH, recognising His Lordship, and obedient to His will. He will do this because he knows that walking in the fear of YHWH will ensure the reward of the righteous, and will ensure that his hope is not cut off. He will be choosing life in all its aspects (3.2, 10, 16-18; 4.22; 5.15-19; 8.17-21, 35; 9.6), rather than death (1.18; 2.18-19; 7.27; 9.15).

2). Hear, My Son, And Be Wise And Guide Your Heart In The Way, Do Not Be Among Winebibbers And Gluttons (23.19-21).

Once again he introduces his command by calling on ‘my son’ to be wise (compare verse 15; 1.2, 5; 2.2; 4.4, 7; 5.1; etc.) and guide his heart in the right way (verse 15), prior to giving him the second command to avoid winebibbers and gluttons. These relate to the ‘sinners’ of verse 17. Note that the emphasis is not on wine itself (that occurs in verses 29-35), but on the kind of company that a young man should keep.

23.19-21

‘Hear you, my son, and be wise,
And guide your heart in the way.
‘Do not be among winebibbers,
Among gluttonous eaters of flesh,
For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags.’

His ‘son’ is to hear what he has to say and be wise. He is to guide his mind and will (his heart) in the right way. This then leads on to an instruction to avoid consorting with those given to heavy drinking and heavy eating. And this is because the consequence of the behaviour of such people is poverty. Like the sluggard they will not want to work, and will allow their fields to become overgrown, and the result will be that they can only afford rags as clothing. The link with the sluggard is made by the reference to their drowsiness (the sluggard loves to sleep). Their late nights and their excesses can only lead to their being unfit to work the next morning, through drowsiness and the after-effects of drink.

3). Listen To The Wisdom And Instruction Of Your Fathers And Mothers (23.22-25).

Having introduced the first proverb of command with an ‘if you heart is wise’, and the second with a call to ‘hear -- and be wise’, Solomon now calls on his ‘son’ to also ‘listen carefully to your father who begat you’, together with his mother (compare 1.8-9; 6.20). This is followed by a command to ‘buy (qanah) the truth’ (compare ‘buy (qanah) wisdom’ (4.5, 7); ‘buy understanding’ (4.5)).

23.22-25

‘Listen to your father who begat you,
And do not despise your mother when she is old.
Buy the truth, and do not sell it,
Yes, wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice,
And he who begets a wise child will have joy of him,
Let your father and your mother be glad,
And let her who bore you rejoice.’

Note the opening parallels, ‘listen to -- do not despise’, ‘buy -- do not sell’. To listen to a wise father is to buy wisdom, to not despise a mother’s teaching is to not sell it.

So Solomon calls on his ‘son’ to listen to his natural father, (the assumption is that he is wise), and not to ‘despise his mother when she is old’, the mother who teaches him the Torah (1.8). In other words what she has taught him is still worth listening to and is not to be despised, even if she is old! Then both father and mother will be glad and will rejoice (verses 24, 25; compare 10.1; 15.20). He is adding to his own appeal the power of filial love.

This is then followed by the third command which is to ‘buy truth’, that is, to obtain it at whatever cost. This reflects 4.5, 7, for truth is now defined as ‘wisdom, disciplinary instruction and understanding’. ‘Do not sell it’ is merely reinforcing the command to ‘buy’ by using a contrast. He is saying, ‘hold onto it at any price’. Thus he is to see truth, that is ‘wisdom, disciplinary instruction and understanding’ (see 1.2), as found in the words of Solomon and in the Torah (1.8; 6.20), as so valuable that he must do all that he can to obtain it. For such truth is more valuable than silver or gold, or the most precious of jewels (3.14-15; 8.11, 19; 16.16). We are reminded here of the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in a field in Jesus’ parables which men were to sacrifice all to buy (Matthew 13.44-45). Nothing is more important than the truth about God and His ways

This command is then followed by a description of the joy and gladness that his father and mother will have in him once he has obtained truth and found wisdom, and applies it in his heart. For ‘he who begets a wise child will have joy in him’, and ‘let her who bore you rejoice’ (compare 10.1; 15.20).

4). Give Me Your Heart And -- Delight In My Ways, Rather Than Giving Your Heart To A Prostitute (23.26-28).

We find here the pattern found in the Prologue in microcosm. An appeal to ‘my son’ to respond to him, followed by a warning against the prostitute and the ‘strange woman’. See 2.1-4 with 2.16-22; 5.1-2 with 5.3-24; 6.20-21 with 6.24-32; 7.1-4 with 7.5-27). Solomon’s constant preoccupation with young men’s interest in the enticements of ‘strange women’ probably reflects what he saw going on around him and his own constant efforts (which in the end failed) to control his own feelings. He knew only too well how sexual misbehaviour can attract a man and entrap him.

23.26-28

‘My son, give me your heart,
And let your eyes delight in my ways,
For a prostitute is a deep ditch,
And a foreign woman is a narrow pit.
Yes, she lies in wait as a robber,
And increases the treacherous among men.’

The opening words are carefully chosen. He knew that young men’s hearts and eyes tended to turn towards the enticements of ‘strange women’, and he thus calls on the seeker after wisdom rather to give his heart to him as his mentor and teacher of wisdom, and to turn his eyes on delighting in his ways (as revealed in his wisdom teaching, not in his personal life). It was a way of saying ‘do not give your hearts and eyes to foreign women, give them to me as your wisdom teacher’, followed by the reason why. He is really calling on him to give his heart to the wisdom of God, that is, in the end, to God Himself.

And the reason why he should do so is because of what the prostitute and strange woman is. She is a deep ditch (shuchah ‘amuqah) into which men can fall, she is a narrow pit in which they can find themselves trapped with no escape. The ‘deep ditch’ was already referred to in 22.14, ‘the mouth of a strange woman is a deep ditch (shuchah ‘amuqah), he who is abhorred of YHWH will fall in it’. It is a trap from which it is difficult to escape and ends in death (7.23). The fact that here it is she herself who is seen as a deep ditch and a narrow pit (compare the slime pits of Siddim (Genesis 14.10) and the pit of destruction (Psalm 55.23). See also Psalm 69.15) militates against seeing these pictures as indicating her mouth and vagina. Rather the emphasis is on entrapment and subsequent helplessness, ending in the pit of death and destruction.

But she is also a robber. She lays an ambush for men and steals from them their wisdom, integrity and virtue, and makes them treacherous and deceitful, especially to their wives.

5). Do Not Be A Heavy Drinker Because It Has Appalling Consequences (23.29-35).

The four previous commands have been introduced by an appeal for Solomon’s ‘son’ to be responsive to wisdom. This one also opens with a kind of appeal, but this time it is an indirect one. It is an appeal to consider all the disadvantages of being a heavy drinker. This is in order to prepare for his speaking out against wine. Given the feasts that he put on which must have overflowed with wine such an explanation would have been very necessary. It is then followed by a command not to drink heavily.

This fits in well after the warning against the seductress. She is depicted as a huntress who captures her prey in traps, and a lier in wait who takes men in ambush. Wine is depicted as seductive, and then as striking with the speed of a snake. For the connection between sexual promiscuity and wine see Hosea 4.11. Both ‘take away the heart’, that is they take from people what is good in them, they remove the very heart of the people. But it is interesting that the seductive woman in Proverbs is never connected with wine.

This prohibition differs from the one in verses 19-21 because there the aim was to persuade him to avoid the company of drunkards and gluttons, and to keep company with the right people,. Here it is wine itself that is to be avoided. That is why the usual opening appeal is replaced by a description of the appalling effects of drunkenness itself. He wants his ‘son’ to recognise from the start precisely why he is being such a seeming killjoy.

His Indirect Appeal To Consider The Effects Of Heavy Drinking (23.29-30).

23.29-30

‘Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?
Those who tarry long at the wine,
Those who go to seek out mixed wine.

Solomon here list the effects of heavy drinking in the form of a riddle, beloved of the ancients. They are six in number. Woe, sorrow, contentions, complaining, wounds both literal and metaphorical, and redness (or dullness) of eyes (Genesis 49.12). And his riddle is, ‘who has all these?’ Then he divulges the answer to the riddle. It is the one who lingers long over wine (Isaiah 5.11). It is one who seeks out mixed wine (which makes it more potent) (Isaiah 5.22). His view was that it should make a man think before mixing his wine, or drinking long and heavily.

‘Woe’ regularly indicates the presence of disaster. The heavy drinker is very likely to suffer disasters in relationships and in life. Or it is an expression of anxiety and despair. It is the opposite of the pleasantness and peace which comes through wisdom (3.17). Alternately it might be an expression of sorrow, ‘alas’. All would tie in with sorrow.

‘Sorrow.’ Heavy drinking disrupts family life, and causes misery throughout. It may also have in mind the sorrow of poverty, which could result from a man being continually drunk, or the continual hangover that is a consequence of regular heavy drinking, which can only be relieved by more drink.

‘Contentions.’ Many heavy drinkers are regularly contentious and continually getting into arguments. Their condition removes any possibility of reasonableness. They will often ‘sow discord’ (6.14) and ‘cause discord among brothers’, something which YHWH abominates (6.19). The word is mainly used in Proverbs of a contentious woman, who is seen as unbearable and need to be escaped from. How much worse when the head of the house is contentious, and ‘causes strife’ (26.21). There is no escaping him.

‘Complaining.’ The idea of complaining is regularly associated with bitterness and trouble (Job 9.27; 21.4; 23.2). The complaining arises out of misery. Such a person is never content, he always has something to grumble about.

‘Wounds.’ These probably refer to both physical and mental wounds. Drunken men stagger and fall, and can in some cases hurt themselves badly. They get into fights and brawls which can result in bruises and even broken heads or limbs. They may even attempt foolish things which cause them harm. They are also easy prey for muggers, footpads and thieves. No one is easier to ambush than a drunkard. They can also talk in such a way as to lose friends, and offend people, causing wounds that will never heal.

‘Redness (or dullness) of eyes.’ If the translation there is correct Genesis 49.12 speaks of eyes red with wine, although probably not in a derogatory fashion. But the word there is unique and may not mean redness. In contrast with white teeth it may well be complimentary and therefore signify sparkling eyes. It comes from the same root as the word here. So here also the word may not mean redness. But it is unlikely to mean sparkling here unless taken in a derogatory sense of someone not in control of themselves. It only occurs here and its meaning is obscure. In Akkadian a similar root means ‘to be dark’. Thus it may refer to dullness of eye. However we translate the idea is that the heavy drinker’s eyes betray his condition and his sorrows.

Having asked his riddle he then gives his answer. Who suffers from these things? ‘Those who tarry long at the wine, those who go to seek out mixed wine.’ Those who spend a long time drinking (Isaiah 5.11) and/or mix their drinks (Isaiah 5.22).

The Command To Cease From Craving Wine (21.35-33).

Having prepared the way and dealt with possible objections Solomon now issues his instruction, describing both the allurement and the disadvantages of wine. It is very alluring. It is glistening red, it sparkles in the cup, and it goes down sweetly and smoothly. But then come the repercussions. It bites like a serpent and wounds like an adder. It produces delusions and stupid ideas. The poor, deluded heavy drinker imagines that it has done him no harm at all. ‘I don’t feel anything’, he says, ‘when will I awake so that I can again seek wine?’. It has become his obsession and makes him think of nothing else. He is on the way to poverty.

23.31-35

Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it goes down smoothly,
In the end it bites like a serpent,
And injects like an adder,
Your eyes will behold strange things,
And your heart will utter perverse things,
Yes, you will be as he who lies down in the midst of the sea,
Or as he who lies on the top of a mast,
“They have stricken me,” you will say, “and I was not hurt,
They have beaten me, and I did not feel it,
When will I awake? I will seek it yet again.”

The instruction is not to be enticed by wine. Solomon knows that once a man gazes at the goblet of red wine, and sees its sparkle, and thinks of how smoothly it will go down, he is hooked. Drinking it is inevitable. Thus the best way of not being seduced is not even to look at it. There is a good message here concerning all kinds of tempting sins. The best way to avoid temptation is not to look or be there in the first place.

Alternately the idea might be that once wine (or any strong drink) begins to have this appearance for you it is best to leave it alone. You have become hooked and will soon be its slave.

‘The wine when it is red.’ Compare Psalm 75.8. There red wine is likened to the judgment of YHWH, which men will drink to their disadvantage. Deep red wine would appear to have been seen as especially potent. ‘When it sparkles.’ The Hebrew is literally ‘when it gives its eyes’. In other words when it allures you with its sparkle. The word for eyes has the extended meaning of ‘sparkle, flash’. ‘When it goes down smoothly’. Literally ‘when it walks straightly’, but an extended meaning of the verb is ‘flows, goes down’. Thus it goes down smoothly. The thought may be that once strong wine goes down smoothly rather than setting the throat on fire it is time to give up drinking. These are all the signs that drinking has got beyond the norm, and that the person is well nigh drunk.

But if you then continue to drink it will bite you like a serpent and inject you like an adder. We would say it will have a sting in its tail (like a scorpion). It will strike you suddenly and unexpectedly, affecting you with its poison. And in consequence your eyes will see strange things, such as hallucinations and delusions. And your heart will utter perverse things, because all decency and restraint has left you. Men will say when they are drunk what they would never think of saying when they are sober. Notice what has now happened to the careless reader’s heart. Instead of being given to Solomon (verse 26) it now utters perverse things. He is almost lost.

‘Yes, you will be as he who lies down in the midst of the sea, or as he who lies on the top of a mast’. Someone who lies down in the middle of the sea, will feel himself carried up and down by the rise and fall of the waves, a good description of the instability of the drunk, whilst one who lies on the top mast is in a position where he feels to the utmost the swaying movement of the ship. Both are positions that only a drunk would take up. Who else would seek to lie in the midst of the sea or on top of a mast?

But the drunk will be unconcerned. “They have stricken me,” he will say, “and I was not hurt, they have beaten me, and I did not feel it.’ Whether he is to be seen as suffering delusions, or whether he is to be been as really beaten up, we are not told. But either way his state is such that he is oblivious to the pain. He does not care what has happened to him. All he is aware of is his soporific state. “When will I awake? I will seek it yet again.” His state is such that he is now undaunted. All he can think of is waking up so that he can enjoy more wine. He has become an alcoholic. And this is what Solomon is concerned to save his readers from.

6). Do Not Be Envious Of Evil Men (24.1-2).

This final command in the subsection has no introduction. It is brief and to the point. It differs from the first instruction in that the first instruction was commanding him not to be envious of sinners but to fear YHWH. He is not to be envious of what they possess, or the good time that they appear to be having. Here the instruction goes one step further and warns him against consorting with evil men, and wanting to be with them. It is a recapitulation of 1.10-19.

24.1-2

Do not be envious against evil men,
Nor desire to be with them,
For their heart studies oppression,
And their lips talk of mischief.’

The final instruction is not to be envious of, or crave the company of, evil men. They may be his contemporaries, and their words may be very persuasive, but he is not to listen to them. He is to avoid them at all costs. (Compare 1.10-19). Otherwise his heart will become like their hearts, studying oppression and talking mischief. He will become violent, dishonest, and untrustworthy. He will be like the worthless man in 6.12-19, an abomination to YHWH. Notice the downward path. He started by being envious of sinners, then he mixed with the winebibbers and gluttons (no harm in having a good time, and I can control myself). Then he turned his back on his father’s discipline. Then he began to consort with prostitutes. Then he became an alcoholic. And now finally he has become utterly worthless.

Six Further Sayings: Wisdom Establishes A Man And Makes Him Strong In Peace And In War, Whilst The Fool Is No Help In Either (24.3-14).

A new subsection commences here with a change from a series of commands (23.15-24.2), to a series of statements about the wise and the fool (24.3-14). But that they are closely connected comes out in the use of ‘my son’ as an inclusio (23.15, 19; 24.13, 21). This subsection is presented within the inclusio of wisdom (verses 3, 14). It opens with a description of the importance of wisdom as the wise plan both in peace and in war (verses 3-6), and closes with advice on how to obtain such wisdom (verses 13-14). In between these two references to wisdom Solomon contrasts the scheming fool who can offer no solid wisdom, but whose very foolish thought is sin. He faints in the day of adversity, and is no help in time of war. He is a menace in both peace and war.

It can be presented chiastically as follows:

  • A Through wisdom is a house built, and by understanding it is established, and by knowledge are the chambers filled, with all precious and pleasant riches (24.3-4).
  • B A wise man is STRONG, yes, a man of knowledge increases might, for by wise guidance you will make your war, and in the multitude of counsellors there is safety (24.5-6).
  • C Wisdom is too high for a FOOL, he does not open his mouth in the gate. He who devises to do evil, men will call him a SCHEMER (24.7-8).
  • C The thought of foolishness is sin, and the SCORNER is an abomination to men (24.9).
  • B If you faint in the day of adversity, your STRENGTH is small, deliver those who are carried away to death, and those who are ready to be slain see that you hold back. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the hearts consider it? And he who keeps your life, does he not know it? And will he not render to every man according to his work? (24.10-12).
  • A My son, eat you honey, for it is good, and the droppings of the honeycomb, which are sweet to your taste, so will you know wisdom to be unto your soul. If you have found it, then will there be a reward, and your hope will not be cut off (24.13-14).

Note that in A through wisdom a household is built and enriched, and in the parallel he learns how to obtain wisdom, like a honeycomb it is to be eaten and enjoyed which will result in a reward. In B the wise man is STRONG, and warfare is to be carried on through wisdom, and in the parallel the one who faints in the day of adversity (the fool) has no STRENGTH, and they are to avoid pretending not to have knowledge. In C wisdom is above the head of a FOOL so that he says nothing among the wise, but he does devise evil and men call him a SCHEMER, and in the parallel the thoughts (schemings) of a SCORNER are FOOLISH. (It is open to question how we connect verses 7-9, either as three separate sayings, or as two, or even as one).

Wisdom Guides The Plans Of The Wise In Both Peace And War (24.3-6).

24.3-4

‘Through wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established,
And by knowledge are the chambers filled,
With all precious and pleasant riches.’

Wisdom is an expert house builder (9.1) and is therefore well able to advise on how to build up an established household. For a wise house and household are built through wisdom (the wisdom of God), are established by understanding, and are enriched by knowledge (the knowledge of God and His ways. This in the same way as YHWH founded the earth by wisdom, established the heavens by understanding, and enriched it with water by knowledge (3.19-20). Thus the wise man is following God’s pattern, having received God’s wisdom and knowledge (2.5-6). Such a household, a microcosm of creation, is therefore secure and well provided for.

The word for house indicates both a house and a household, and there is a play on both meanings here. A godly household is wisely built up, it is established through understanding, as the children are reared in understanding and the fear of YHWH, and it is enriched by knowledge. For the knowledge of God and his ways makes the members of the household work hard and thus become comparatively wealthy. The house is thus well furnished, and their minds too are well furnished, ‘with all pleasant and precious riches. Note the reference to pleasantness, a feature of the life of the wise (3.17).

There is an interesting grammatical connection with 1.13, where the unrighteous would ‘fill their houses’ with ‘all precious riches’ by robbery and violence. The unrighteous do it by dishonesty, the righteous by hard work. As will be noted these verses clearly reflect parts of the Prologue in a number of ways.

But how is a man to obtain this wisdom? It is by partaking of it like one partakes of a honeycomb. Once searched out and found it will be sweet to the taste and will give its own reward (verses 13-14).

24.5-6

‘A wise man is strong,
Yes, a man of knowledge increases might,
For by wise guidance you will make your war,
And in the multitude of counsellors there is victory.’

Note the repetition of ‘wise’ and ‘knowledge’. The wisdom and knowledge of God both establish the household of a wise man, and make him strong and mighty. As a consequence he is ready for both peace and war (the wise man can defeat the mighty (21.22) precisely because wisdom has made him strong). And in war part of that might lies in seeking wise guidance from a large war cabinet, for ‘in the multitude of counsellors there is victory’ (compare 11.14; 15.22; 20.18). All this applies both in literal warfare and in spiritual warfare. In his warfare the Christian is to seek ‘spiritual wisdom and understanding -- strengthened with all might in accordance with His glorious power’ (Colossians 1.9, 11), and is to be united with others in carrying on this warfare (1 Corinthians 1.10; Ephesians 3.18; 4.11-13, 16). We are not meant to walk alone.

The Foolish Can Contribute Nothing Worthwhile Either In Peace Or In War (24.7-12).

In contrast with the wise (those who follow God’s wisdom) the fool (who ignores God’s wisdom) has nothing worthwhile to say (it is no good looking to him for counsel). He spends his time scheming and planning what is not good, and even his thoughts, being foolish and excluding God from them, are sin. He is a fool, a schemer and a scorner, and he faints in the day of adversity because he has no trust in YHWH.

24.7

‘Wisdom is too high for a fool,
He must not open his mouth in the gate,

It must always be remembered that in Proverbs ‘foolish’ does not indicate ‘stupid’, but rather the ignoring of God in his thinking and activities. ‘The fool, whilst often professing religion, has said in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14.1). He may have worldly wisdom but he does not take God into account. In contrast, true wisdom is heavenly wisdom, it is therefore far above a fool. It is ‘too high’ for him. Thus he had no right to participate in the discussions of the elders and the wise which take place ‘in the gate’, the gateway of the city with its free space and its side rooms, which was where such activities took place. He must keep his mouth shut and listen. He was especially not suited for acting in judicial proceedings which regularly involved interpreting the Torah. (It was because the fools who called themselves Sadducees and Scribes both misinterpreted the Torah and crucified the Messiah that Jerusalem had to be destroyed).

24.8

He who devises to do evil,
Men will call him a schemer.’

One trait of a fool is that he schemes and plans (devises) to do evil (what is not good). None of his scheming takes God into account. Nor is he concerned about the welfare of the community. He is rather concerned with his own welfare. But his selfishness will not pass unnoticed. He will gain the reputation of being ‘a Schemer’.

24.9

The thought (or ‘scheming’) of foolishness is sin,
And the scorner is an abomination to men.’

For even the thoughts of fools are ‘sin’. The word has the same root as ‘Schemer’ in the previous verse. All that the fool plans and schemes is sin, for it is rebellion against God. They scorn God’s way and God’s wisdom. And the scorner is therefore an abomination to men, who recognise his continuing ungodliness, selfishness and lack of concern about the community.

24.10-12

‘If you faint in the day of adversity,
Your strength is small,
Deliver those who are carried away to death,
And those who are ready to be slain see that you hold back.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
Does not he who weighs the hearts consider it?
And he who guards your life, does he not know it?
And will he not render to every man according to his work?’

Note the change from ‘he’ to ‘you. He is now addressing his interested reader who still has his options open. He can test whether he is a fool or not. Let him consider whether he faints in the day of adversity, that is, in the face of natural disasters or war. Whereas the wise man is strong when it comes to adversity and war, the fool faints. He has no reliance on God. Thus his strength is small. He does not have the God-given strength of the wise (verse 5). So he is basically asking his ‘son’, which is he? For he will be judged on his reaction.

He then commands him rather to become wise and thus become a deliverer. ‘Deliver those who are carried away to death (captured by the enemy with no future in view) and do not hold back from those who are ready to be (on the verge of being) slain (by war or catastrophe). In other words, he is to be aware of the need in times of emergency and step in and do something in the face of adversity. For if he says, along with his contemporaries (‘we’, he is taking refuge in numbers), ‘behold, we did not know this’, he must recognise that God, who weighs men’s hearts, both knows whether he knew, and whether he ought to have known.

And this because all are in the end accountable to God, the One who weighs our hearts and keeps/guards our lives, and knows what we have done and thought and what we have not done and thought. For in the end He will render to every man in accordance with what he has done. Previous warnings of judgment and punishment are now crystallised in terms of God’s judgment, which might take place through future events, or might await the final Judgment. We cannot expect Him to guard our lives if we do not guard the lives of others.

Closing Advice To His Son To Therefore Seek And Partake Of Wisdom (24.13-14).

The subsection commenced with a description of the wise, who establish a secure and prosperous household, and who are strong, especially in the face of war (verse 3-6). Then in the previous verses he has challenged his ‘son’ to consider whether he is wise or foolish (verses 10-12). Now he calls on him to make sure that he is wise by seeking wisdom and partaking of it, in the same way as he might seek honey and participate in it. In 16.24 ‘pleasant words’ were ‘a honeycomb, sweet to the inner life and health to the bones’. Here the thought is of words of wisdom.

24.13-14

‘My son, eat you honey, for it is good,
And the droppings of the honeycomb, which are sweet to your taste,
So will you know wisdom to be unto your person,
If you have found it, then will there be a reward,
And your hope will not be cut off.’

Whereas previously an address to ‘my son’, followed by an injunction to respond to him, has preceded a command (23.16, 23.19), now it follows his command (see verse 21 where this cannot be doubted), for that command left options open. He is thus calling on him to consider his choices.

The way to ensure that he is ready for a time of adversity is to obtain wisdom. He likens wisdom to honey and the droppings of the honeycomb as it hangs from the trees (compare 1 Samuel 14.26-27), which are ‘good’ and ‘sweet to the taste’. In the same way if he finds wisdom he will find it to be so to his inner person. For ‘eating wisdom’ compare 13.25. Notice the ‘if you have found it’ which compares with the ‘if you faint’ (verse 10). The position is still in doubt and his ‘son’ has to make his choice whether to seek wisdom or not (it has to be ‘found’ - verse 14). But if he does find it he will enjoy its sweetness, and there will be an ample reward, for instead of his hope being cut off (as outlined as a possibility in verse 12), he will enjoy the fruits of wisdom, which are life and prosperity (verse 3).

Four Further Commands. Judgment Is Coming On The Unrighteous (24.15-22).

The last subsection began by describing the way in which by wisdom the households of the righteous were established (verse 3-4). It ended with the thought of the hope of the unrighteous being cut off (verse 14). This subsection opens with a command to the unrighteous not to interfere with the households of the righteous, and consists of four final commands each of which warns the unrighteous of what is coming on him, calamity (verse 16), wrath (verse 18), death (verse 20), and calamity and destruction (verse 22). It ends with an appeal to ‘my son’.

The subsection can be presented chiastically as follows:

  • A As a consequence of their behaviour the unrighteous will be overthrown by calamity (24.15-16).
  • B He is not to rejoice when his enemy falls, lest YHWH turns away His wrath from his enemy (24.17-18).
  • B He is not to fret at evildoers or be envious of the unrighteous, for their lamp will be put out (24.19-20).
  • A His son is to fear YHWH and the king and not associate with rebels (change-seekers) because calamity will come on them suddenly (24.21-22).

Note that in A calamity will come on the unrighteous, and the same is true in the parallel. In B he is not to rejoice when his enemy falls, lest wrath be removed from him, whilst in the parallel he is not to fret at evildoers because their lamp will be put out (wrath will come on them). Both saying are concerned with the inner feelings of the righteous.

24.15-16

‘Do not lay wait, O wicked man, against the habitation of the righteous,
Do not destroy his resting-place,
For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises up again,
But the wicked are overthrown by calamity.’

This is the only saying which is directly addressed to the unrighteous man. The abrupt change of addressee (as well as the chiasmus) demonstrates that this is a new subsection. Some translate as ‘do not lay wait as a wicked man’ so as to conform with what follows, as though addressed to ‘his son’, but the Hebrew gives the impression of being addressed directly to the wicked man, although it is true that that results in a rapid and unmarked transition in verse 17. However, such a transition is not unusual.

He calls on the unrighteous not to make plans to plunder the dwelling of the righteous, or to destroy the place where he houses or feeds his animals (the Hebrew word ‘resting place’ is always in reference to animals). In other words he is to beware of tampering with the righteous man, or despoiling him. This brings out God’s concern for the property of the righteous man, as well as for the righteous man himself. And whilst the unrighteous man can be sure that the righteous man will recover his situation many times, he can be equally sure that he, as the unrighteous will be overthrown by calamity.

‘Seven times’ simply means a number of times, whilst indicating God’s involvement. Seven was the number of divine completeness throughout the Ancient Near East, a fact witnessed to in the earliest Sumerian literature.

24.17-18

‘Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
And do not let your heart be glad when he is overthrown,
Lest YHWH see it, and it displeases him,
And he turn away his wrath from him.’

In quite a remarkable change of subject, although closely connected with the previous verse, Solomon now warns the righteous not to ‘shout for joy’ when their enemy falls, or to let their heart be glad when he is overthrown (as described in verse 16). The righteous man may rejoice in God’s protection, but he must not rejoice vindictively by gloating over his stricken enemy. Rather he should be sad at what has happened to his enemy, even whilst at the same time he acknowledges that it was deserved. For his rejoicing in his enemy’s downfall would be seen by YHWH as a worse sin than that committed by his enemy. It might consequently result in YHWH seeing his unholy joy and being displeased, with the result that He turns away His wrath from the unrighteous enemy so as to silence the unholy joy.

This brings out that God is concerned that His own actions might not turn His righteous people to vindictiveness, which would do more harm to them than anything that the enemy could do. It is saying that God’s judgments are not something that we should gloat over. Even though they may be necessary. they should still cause us great sorrow. (Whilst God judges men and brings them down to death and Sheol, He ‘has no pleasure in the death of the wicked’ - Ezekiel 33.11). This is a reminder of how important our inner feelings are to God. He wants to ensure that we are right thinking. And that shows indeed how important we are to Him. He is concerned that we be truly righteous.

24.19-20

Do not fret yourself because of evil-doers,
Nor be you envious at the wicked,
For there will be no reward to the evil man,
The lamp of the wicked will be put out.’

This next command also reveals God’s concern about our inner feelings. He does not want us fretting because evildoers abound and seem to be getting away with it, Nor does he want us to be envious of the wicked. It is so easy to get upset about the way that people treat God, and to see some of their seeming worldly ‘advantages’ and be jealous of them. But God tells us to leave it in His hands. He is perfectly capable of looking after Himself. And He reminds us that for these evil men there will be no final reward. Rather their lamp will be put out. Their lives will be extinguished.

24.21-22

‘My son, fear you YHWH and the king,
And do not keep company with those who are given to change,
For their calamity will rise suddenly,
And the destruction from them both, who knows it?’

As with the previous subsection, this subsection ends with an appeal to ‘my son’. He is called on to ‘fear YHWH and the king’, YHWH because He is Lord of all, and the king because he is His representative. The verses are to be taken together and are chiastic with the first and fourth line referring to YHWH and the king, and the second and third line referring to ‘those given to change.

He is instructed not to associate with those ‘given to change’, that is those who would seek to replace the ruling monarch (himself) or possibly contain his powers. This might have been written with supporters of Jeroboam in mind (1 Kings 11.26-40), or even supporters of Hadad the Edomite (1 Kings 11.14-22). Both sought to cause trouble during Solomon’s reign. Or there may have been earlier rumblings. But Solomon warns that such people will find that their calamity arises suddenly. He will pounce when the time is right. And both YHWH and himself will bring destruction on them secretly and effectively, a destruction that no one as yet knows of.

These words end ‘the sayings of the wise’ as interpreted by Solomon in his wisdom, and incorporated in his original draft. This will now be followed by sayings of the wise which are presumably cited as they came to him. although he may have reworded them.

THE SAYINGS OF THE WISE (24.23-34).

Whilst short this is a new section as indicated by the subheading. As with 10.1, and unlike 22.17, here we have a new subheading which suggests that this is also part of the original work of Solomon. This small section would appear from its heading to contain a few saying from wise men known to Solomon. But it will be noted that verses 33-34 are a duplicate of what is found in 6.10-11. This might suggest that there Solomon borrowed some of the words of the wise, although it could equally be the other way round. In view of their not being named they were probably wise men at Solomon’s court and therefore worshippers of YHWH.

24.23a

'These also are sayings of the wise.'

This subheading introduces verses 23-34 as ‘sayings of the wise’. The ‘also’ indicates that they are additional to the sayings of the wise which have just been given (22.17-24.22). This section would appear to contain sayings of which Solomon was aware, and that he felt were worth passing on.

This section appears to be based on a pattern:

  • A An unjust judge is a burden on the community (verses 23b-25).
  • B A fair and honest answer is like a kiss on the lips (verse 26).
  • C Establish your means of sustenance before you have a family (verse 27).
  • B Do not give a deceitful testimony with your lips (verse 28-29).
  • A A sluggard is a burden on the community (verses 30-34).

The Importance Of True Justice (24.23b-25).

This is also constructed as a small chiasmus; as follows:

  • A To have respect of persons in judgment is not GOOD (verse 23b).
  • B He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous” (verse 24a).
  • C Peoples will curse him (verse 24b).
  • C Nations will abhor him (verse 24c).
  • B But to those who rebuke him will be delight (verse 25a)
  • A And a GOOD blessing will come upon them (verse 25b).

Note that in A partiality in judgment is not GOOD, and in the parallel a GOOD blessing will come on the impartial. In B the unrighteous is declared righteous, and in the parallel he is found guilty. Centrally in C and its parallel is the verdict of the world on the unjust judge.

24.23b-25

‘To have respect of persons in judgment is not good.
He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,” peoples will curse him,
Nations will abhor him,
But to those who rebuke him will be delight,
And a good blessing will come upon them.’

The opening statement presents the case, the remainder amplifies it. Showing partiality when passing a judgment ‘is not good’. There is not one good thing that can be said in its favour. In other words, it is detestable. There is nothing good in it whatsoever.

This is then expanded on. The judge who (knowingly) says to an unrighteous man ‘you are righteous’ is worthy only of cursing and hatred. He is a disgrace to his profession. Peoples will curse him, that is, will call down a curse on his head (very often they can do little else because he is too powerful). They will hate him and what he represents, and call on God to intervene where they can do nothing. For one thing that all nations desire is a justice system that convicts the guilty and releases the innocent. There is an innate desire for justice among all decent men.

In contrast those who find the unrighteous man guilty and call down just punishment on him will be a delight to all. This is the interpretation demanded by the chiasmus, although alternately it could have meant those who rebuke the unjust judge. And these righteous judges will be blessed. The nations will call down blessing on their heads, asking God to give them long life so that they might continue to judge justly.

The Value Put On A Fair And Honest Answer (24.26).

24.26

He kisses the lips,
He who gives a right answer.’

The idea is of a fair, truthful and honest answer. By giving such an answer the person is doing the equivalent of kissing on the lips, in other words he is showing mutual respect and affection.

This is the only specific reference to kissing on the lips in the Old Testament, although it is probably in mind in Song of Solomon 1.2; 4.11; 5.13, but the practise is known from elsewhere, in Sumer, Ugarit and Egypt. Herodotus tells us that in Persia in his day men kissed each other on the lips if they were equals, on the cheek if there was a slight difference in status, and made obeisance if there was a big difference in status.

Ensure That You Have A Good Means Of Support Before You Marry And Have Children (24.27).

24.27

‘Prepare your work outside,
And make it ready for you in the field,
And afterwards build your house.’

This may simply mean that a man can live in a tent, but he cannot live without sustenance. Thus ensuring the means of sustenance is more important than building a house.

But it probably rather means that you should ensure that you can provide for your wife and family before you have them. It assumes an agricultural society. Once your fields are producing crops, and your fruit trees are yielding fruit, then is the time for you to bear fruit yourself. In other words, get established before you take on all the problems of raising a family. Get your priorities in the right order.

The Importance Of Not Using The Courts For Revenge (24.28-29).

The basic warning here is against using the courts in order to obtain revenge, and witnessing in court against your neighbour when not required to do so. The assumption must be that the testimony is either irrelevant or false (otherwise you would be required to give it). It is not saying, if you know something criminal against your neighbour you should keep it secret unless forced to tell (no responsible wisdom teacher would make such a suggestion).

24.28-29

‘Do not be a witness against your neighbour without cause,
And do not deceive with your lips.’
‘Do not say, “I will do so to him as he has done to me,
I will render to the man according to his work.” ’

‘Witnessing against your neighbour’ refers to witnessing in court. It parallels the idea of the activity in court in verses 23a-25. ‘Without cause’ must mean without just cause. It is not preventing someone from reporting criminal activity by a neighbour, or suing him in respect of a genuine grievance. That is what the courts are for. The second line, referring to deceiving with the lips, may then be seen as suggesting that it is false witness that is in mind (contrasting with the honest and truthful answer in verse 26). The third and fourth lines then provide the motive for the false witness. It is in order to get his own back for what he perceives as a wrong done to him. We are left to surmise what the neighbour has previously done to him. But the point is clear that what he is saying is that the courts must not be used simply for the purpose of gaining revenge. True justice must be pre-eminent.

Standing on its own verse 29 would be a remarkable saying, emphasising that we should not seek to get our own back for a wrong done to us. It would be a sharp lesson in forgiveness. And it is supported by 20.22, ‘do not say I will recompense evil. Wait on YHWH and he will save you’ and 24.17 ‘Do not rejoice when your enemy falls’. But it is questionable whether it ever did stand on its own as an absolute statement. For the Christian it nevertheless stands true. The Christian is to love his neighbour and forgive him rather than seeking revenge (Matthew 25.44). He must ‘turn the other cheek’ (Matthew 5.39) and avoid going to court if at all possible, depending, of course, on the seriousness of the situation. If he does go to court it must not be for revenge, but in order to get the situation sorted out amicably. In the case of two Christians it should rather be brought before the church (1 Corinthians 6.1-8).

The Failure And Fate Of The Sluggard (24.30-34).

The sayings of the wise close with the description of what happens to a sluggard. His fields and vineyards become overgrown, and because of his laziness he ends up in poverty, something which acts as a warning to the observer.

24.30-31

‘I went by the field of the sluggard,
That is, by the vineyard of the man void of understanding,
And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns,
Its face was covered with nettles,
And its stone wall was broken down.’

Notice the change to ‘I’. The wise man is speaking from personal experience of something he had probably seen numerous times. The word for ‘field’ can mean countryside, or sown fields, or the ground in which a vineyard is planted (31.16). Thus the ‘field’ and the vineyard here probably represent the same thing, the vineyard in its grounds. It was probably chosen because the effort of planting it and causing it to grow would already have been spent by the sluggard’s forebears. All he had to do was prune it, control the weeds, and collect the fruit. But he could not even do that. He wasted his inheritance. Because he had totally neglected it thorns and nettles had taken over the ground, and even its protective wall had been broken down, suggesting that he had not been there to protect it or had never bothered to check its condition. All it would produce would be wild grapes (see the vivid description in Isaiah 5.1-4).

24.32-34

‘Then I saw, and considered well,
I saw, and received instruction,
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep,
So shall your poverty come as a robber,
And your want as an armed man.’

The wise man then tells all who will listen and read how he looked at the sight that met his eyes and drew a salutary lesson. He considered it and learned from it. And what did he learn? How a little sleep, and a little slumber, and a little folding of the hands to sleep, typical of the life of a sluggard, would result in poverty forcing its way in like a robber, and want invading as an armed man. This description is take from 6.10-11 (or vice versa) and makes clear that laziness leads to poverty and want, in a land where men’s livelihoods depended on hard work. It is equally true in the spiritual sense. If we neglect God’s wisdom, the Enemy will soon break in and we will be spiritually impoverished.

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