Proverbs 23

When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
consider carefully
The construction uses the imperfect tense of instruction with the infinitive absolute to emphasize the careful discernment required on such occasions. Cf. NIV “note well”; NLT “pay attention.”
Or “who,” referring to the ruler (so ASV, NAB, TEV).
is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
The expression “put a knife to your throat” is an idiom that means “curb your appetite” or “control yourself” (cf. TEV). The instruction was from a time when people dealt with all-powerful tyrants. To enter the presence of such a person and indulge one’s appetites would be to take a very high risk.

if you possess a large appetite.
Heb “lord of appetite.” The idiom בַּעַל נֶפֶשׁ (baal nefesh) refers to someone who possesses a large appetite (cf. NAB “a ravenous appetite”). A person with a big appetite is in danger of taking liberties when invited to court.

Do not crave that ruler’s
Heb “his”; the referent (the ruler mentioned in v. 1) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
The final line gives the causal clause: The impressive feast is not what it appears to be; the king is not doing you a favor, but rather wants something from you or is observing you (K&D 17:104); cf. TEV “he may be trying to trick you.”
that food is deceptive.
Verses 1–3 form the sixth saying about being cautious before rulers (cf. Instruction of Amememope, chap. 23, 23:13–18). One should not get too familiar with rulers, for they always have ulterior motives. The Mishnah cites Gamaliel as warning that a ruler only draws someone into his court for his purpose, but in their day of trouble he will not be there to help them (m. Abot 2:3).

Do not wear yourself out to become rich;
be wise enough to restrain yourself.
Heb “from your understanding cease.” In the context this means that the person should have enough understanding to stop wearing himself out trying to be rich (cf. NRSV “be wise enough to desist”).

When you gaze upon riches,
The Kethib is הֲתָעוּף (hatauf), “do your eyes fly [light] on it?” The Qere is the Hiphil, הֲתָעִיף (hataif) “do you cause your eyes to fly on it?” But the line is difficult. The question may be indirect: If you cast your eyes on it, it is gone – when you think you are close, it slips away.
The term “riches” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation based on the previous verse.
they are gone,
for they surely make wings for themselves,
and fly off into the sky like an eagle!
This seventh saying warns people not to expend all their energy trying to get rich because riches are fleeting (cf. Instruction of Amememope, chap. 7, 9:10–11 which says, “they have made themselves wings like geese and have flown away to heaven”). In the ancient world the symbol of birds flying away signified fleeting wealth.

Do not eat the food of a stingy person,
Heb “an evil eye.” This is the opposite of the “good eye” which meant the generous man. The “evil eye” refers to a person who is out to get everything for himself (cf. NASB, NCV, CEV “selfish”). He is ill-mannered and inhospitable (e.g., Prov 28:22). He is up to no good – even though he may appear to be a host.

do not crave his delicacies;
for he is
The line is difficult; it appears to mean that the miser is the kind of person who has calculated the cost of everything in his mind as he offers the food. The LXX has: “Eating and drinking with him is as if one should swallow a hair; do not introduce him to your company nor eat bread with him.” The Hebrew verb “to calculate” (שָׁעַר, shaar) with a change of vocalization and of sibilant would yield “hair” (שֵׂעָר, sear) – “like a hair in the throat [נֶפֶשׁ, nefesh], so is he.” This would picture an irritating experience. The Instruction of Amenemope uses “blocking the throat” in a similar saying (chapt. 11, 14:7 [ANET 423]). The suggested change is plausible and is followed by NRSV; but the rare verb “to calculate” in the MT would be easier to defend on the basis of the canons of textual criticism because it is the more difficult reading.
like someone calculating the cost
The phrase “the cost” does not appear in the Hebrew but is implied by the verb; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.
in his mind.
Heb “soul.”

“Eat and drink,” he says to you,
but his heart is not with you;
you will vomit up
Eating and drinking with a selfish miser would be irritating and disgusting. The line is hyperbolic; the whole experience turns the stomach.
the little bit you have eaten,
and will have wasted your pleasant words.
Or “your compliments” (so NASB, NIV); cf. TEV “your flattery.”
This is the eighth saying; it claims that it would be a mistake to accept hospitality from a stingy person. He is always thinking about the cost, his heart is not in it, and any attempt at pleasant conversation will be lost.

Do not speak in the ears of a fool,
The mention of “the ears” emphasizes the concerted effort to get the person’s undivided attention. However, a fool rejects instruction and discipline.

for he will despise the wisdom of your words.
Saying number nine indicates that wisdom is wasted on a fool. The literature of Egypt has no specific parallel to this one.

10  Do not move an ancient boundary stone,
or take over
Or “encroach on” (NIV, NRSV); Heb “go into.”
the fields of the fatherless,
11  for their Protector
The participle גֹּאֵל (goel) describes a “kinsman redeemer.” Some English versions explicitly cite “God” (e.g., NCV, CEV) or “the Lord” (e.g. TEV).
The Hebrew term describes a “kinsman-redeemer.” That individual would be a rich or powerful relative who can protect the family; he does this by paying off the debts of a poor relative, buying up the property of a relative who sells himself into slavery, marrying the widow of a deceased relative to keep the inheritance in the family, or taking vengeance on someone who harms a relative, that vengeance often resulting in delivering (“redeeming”) the relative from bondage. If there was no human “kinsman redeemer,” then the defenseless had to rely on God to perform these actions (e.g., Gen 48:16; Exod 6:6; Job 19:25; Isa 41–63). In the prophetic literature God is presented as the Redeemer in that he takes vengeance on the enemies (the Babylonians) to deliverer his people (kin). In this proverb the Lord is probably the Protector of these people who will champion their cause and set things right.
is strong;
he will plead their case against you.
This is the tenth saying; once again there is a warning not to encroach on other people’s rights and property, especially the defenseless (see v. 10; 22:22–23, 28).

12  Apply
Heb “bring.” The Hiphil imperative “come; enter” means “to apply the heart,” to use the heart or mind in the process. The same would be true in the second half: “to bring the ears” would mean to listen very carefully. Cf. TEV “Pay attention.”
your heart to instruction
and your ears to the words of knowledge.
13  Do not withhold discipline from a child;
even if you strike him with the rod, he will not die.
14  If you strike
Or “punish” (NIV). The syntax of these two lines suggests a conditional clause (cf. NCV, NRSV).
him with the rod,
you will deliver him
Heb “his soul.” The term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “soul”) functions as a synecdoche of part (= soul) for the whole (= person); see BDB 660 s.v. 4.
from death.
The term שְׁאוֹל (sheol, “Sheol”) in this context probably means “death” (so NIV, NCV, NLT) and not the realm of the departed (wicked) spirits (cf. NAB “the nether world”). In the wisdom of other lands, Ahiqar 6:82 says, “If I strike you, my son, you will not die.” The idea is that discipline helps the child to a full life; if the child dies prematurely, it would be more than likely a consequence of not being trained by discipline. In the book of Proverbs the “death” mentioned here could be social as well as physical.

15  My child,
Heb “my son,” although the context does not limit this exhortation to male children.
if your heart is wise,
then my heart also will be glad;
16  my soul
Heb “my kidneys”; in biblical Hebrew the term was used for the innermost being, the soul, the central location of the passions. Cf. NASB, NIV “my inmost being.”
will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.
This twelfth saying simply observes that children bring joy to their parents when they demonstrate wisdom. The quatrain is arranged in a chiastic structure (AB:B'A'): The first line (A) speaks of wisdom in the child, and it is paired with the last line (A') which speaks of the child’s saying what is right. In between these brackets are two lines (B and B') concerning joy to the parent.

17  Do not let your heart envy
The verb in this line is אַל־יְקַנֵּא (’al-yeqanne’), the Piel jussive negated. The verb means “to be jealous, to be zealous”; it describes passionate intensity for something. In English, if the object is illegitimate, it is called “envy”; if it is correct, it is called “zeal.” Here the warning is not to envy the sinners. The second colon could use the verb in the positive sense to mean “but rather let your passion burn for the fear of the Lord.”
but rather be zealous in fearing the Lord
Heb “the fear of the Lord.” This expression features an objective genitive: “fearing the Lord.”
all the time.
18  For surely there is a future,
Heb “end” (so KJV); ASV “a reward.”

and your hope will not be cut off.
The saying is an understatement; far from being cut off, the “hope” will be realized in the end. So this saying, the thirteenth, advises people to be zealous for the fear of the Lord, their religion, rather than for anything that sinners have to offer.

19  Listen, my child,
Heb “my son,” but the immediate context does not limit this to male children.
and be wise,
and guide your heart on the right way.
20  Do not spend time
Heb “do not be among,” but in the sense of “associate with” (TEV); “join” (NIV); “consort…with” (NAB).
among drunkards,
The verb סָבָא (sava’) means “to imbibe; to drink largely.” The participial construction here, סֹבְאֵי־יַיִן (sove-yayin), describes “drunkards” (cf. NLT) which is somewhat stronger than saying it refers to “people who drink too much” (cf. NIV, TEV).

among those who eat too much
The verb זָלַל (zalal) means “to be light; to be worthless; to make light of.” Making light of something came to mean “to be lavish with; to squander,” especially with regard to food. So it describes “gluttons” primarily; but in the expression there is also room for the person who wastes a lot of food as well.
21  because drunkards and gluttons become impoverished,
and drowsiness
Here “drowsiness” is a metonymy of effect or adjunct, put for the drunkenness and gluttony that causes it. So all of it, the drunkenness and the drowsiness that comes from it, brings on the ruin (cf. CEV “you will end up poor”). Likewise, “rags” is a metonymy of adjunct, associated with the poverty brought on by a dissolute lifestyle.
clothes them with rags.
This is the fourteenth saying, warning about poor associations. Drunkenness and gluttony represent the epitome of the lack of discipline. In the Mishnah they are used to measure a stubborn and rebellious son (m. Sanhedrin 8). W. G. Plaut notes that excessive drinking and eating are usually symptoms of deeper problems; we usually focus more on the drinking because it is dangerous to others (Proverbs, 241–42).

22  Listen to your father who begot you,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.
23  Acquire
Heb “buy” (so KJV, NASB, NIV, NLT); CEV “Invest in truth.”
The sixteenth saying is an instruction to buy/acquire the kind of life that pleases God and brings joy to parents. “Getting truth” would mean getting training in the truth, and getting wisdom and understanding would mean developing the perception and practical knowledge of the truth.
truth and do not sell it –
wisdom, and discipline, and understanding.
24  The father of a righteous person will rejoice greatly;
The Qere reading has the imperfect יָגִיל (yagil) with the cognate accusative גִּיל (gil) which intensifies the meaning and the specific future of this verb.

whoever fathers a wise child
The term “child” is supplied for the masculine singular adjective here.
will have joy in him.
25  May your father and your mother have joy;
may she who bore you rejoice.
The form תָגֵל (tagel) is clearly a short form and therefore a jussive (“may she…rejoice”); if this second verb is a jussive, then the parallel יִשְׂמַח (yismakh) should be a jussive also (“may your father and your mother have joy”).

26  Give me your heart, my son,
Heb “my son”; the reference to a “son” is retained in the translation here because in the following lines the advice is to avoid women who are prostitutes.

and let your eyes observe my ways;
27  for a prostitute is like
The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied for the sake of clarity.
a deep pit;
a harlot
Heb “foreign woman” (so ASV). The term נָכְרִיָּה (nokhriyyah, “foreign woman”) often refers to a prostitute (e.g., Prov 2:6; 5:20; 6:24; 7:5). While not all foreign women in Israel were prostitutes, their prospects for economic survival were meager and many turned to prostitution to earn a living. Some English versions see this term referring to an adulteress as opposed to a prostitute (cf. NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT).
is like
The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.
a narrow well.
In either case, whether a prostitute or an adulteress wife is involved, the danger is the same. The metaphors of a “deep pit” and a “narrow well” describe this sin as one that is a trap from which there is no escape. The “pit” is a gateway to Sheol, and those who enter are as good as dead, whether socially or through punishment physically.

28  Indeed, she lies in wait like a robber,
The noun חֶתֶף (khetef) is defined by BDB 369 s.v. as “prey,” but this is the only occurrence of the word. The related verb BDB 368-69 s.v. חָתַף defines as “to seize; to snatch away” (with an Aramaic cognate meaning “to break in pieces” [Pa], and an Arabic word “death”). But the only occurrence of that word is in Job 9:12, where it is defined as “seizes.” So in this passage the noun could have either a passive sense (what is seized = prey), or an active sense (the one who seizes = a robber, bandit). The traditional rendering is “prey” (KJV); most modern English versions have the active sense (“robber” or similar; cf. NIV “like a bandit”). Since the prepositional phrase (the simile) is modifying the woman, the active sense works better in the translation.

and increases the unfaithful
The participle means “unfaithful [men]” (masculine plural); it could also be interpreted as “unfaithfulness” in the abstract sense. M. Dahood interprets it to mean “garments” (which would have to be repointed), saying that she collects garments in pledge for her service (M. Dahood, “To Pawn One’s Cloak,” Bib 42 [1961]: 359-66). But that is far-fetched; it might have happened on occasion, but as a common custom it is unlikely. Besides that, the text in the MT makes perfectly good sense without such a change.
Such a woman makes more people prove unfaithful to the law of God through her practice.
among men.
Verses 26–28 comprise the seventeenth saying; it warns the young person to follow the instructions about temptations because there are plenty of temptresses lurking about.

29  Who has woe?
The eighteenth saying is about excessive drinking. The style changes here as the sage breaks into a vivid use of the imagination. It begins with a riddle describing the effects of drunkenness (v. 29) and gives the answer in v. 30; instructions follow in v. 31, with the consequences described in v. 32; the direct address continues in vv. 33 and 34; and the whole subject is concluded with the drunkard’s own words in v. 35 (M. E. Andrews, “Variety of Expression in Proverbs 23:29–35, ” VT 28 [1978]: 102-3).
Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions? Who has complaints?
Who has wounds without cause? Who has dullness
The Hebrew word translated “dullness” describes darkness or dullness of the eyes due to intoxication, perhaps “redness” (so KJV, NASB, NRSV); NIV, NCV, NLT “bloodshot eyes.” NAB understands the situation differently: “black eyes.”
of the eyes?
30  Those who linger over wine,
those who go looking for mixed wine.
The answer to the question posed in v. 29 is obviously one who drinks too much, which this verse uses metonymies to point out. Lingering over wine is an adjunct of drinking more wine; and seeking mixed wine obviously means with the effect or the purpose of drinking it.

31  Do not look on the wine when it is red,
when it sparkles
Heb “its eye gives.” With CEV’s “bubbling up in the glass” one might think champagne was in view.
in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly.
The expression is difficult, and is suspected of having been added from Song 7:10, although the parallel is not exact. The verb is the Hitpael imperfect of הָלַךְ (halakh); and the prepositional phrase uses the word “upright; equity; pleasing,” from יָשָׁר (yashar). KJV has “when it moveth itself aright”; much more helpful is ASV: “when it goeth down smoothly.” Most recent English versions are similar to ASV. The phrase obviously refers to the pleasing nature of wine.

32  Afterward
Heb “its end”; NASB “At the last”; TEV (interpretively) “The next morning.”
it bites like a snake,
and stings like a viper.
33  Your eyes will see strange things,
The feminine plural of זָר (zar, “strange things”) refers to the trouble one has in seeing and speaking when drunk.

and your mind will speak perverse things.
34  And you will be like one who lies down in the midst
Heb “heart.” The idiom here means “middle”; KJV “in the midst.”
of the sea,
and like one who lies down on the top of the rigging.
The point of these similes is to compare being drunk with being seasick. One who tries to sleep when at sea, or even worse, when up on the ropes of the mast, will be tossed back and forth.

35  You will say,
The phrase “You will say” is supplied in the translation to make it clear that the drunkard is now speaking.
“They have struck me, but I am not harmed!
They beat me, but I did not know it!
The line describes how one who is intoxicated does not feel the pain, even though beaten by others. He does not even remember it.

When will I awake? I will look for another drink.”
The last line has only “I will add I will seek it again.” The use of אוֹסִיף (’osif) signals a verbal hendiadys with the next verb: “I will again seek it.” In this context the suffix on the verb refers to the wine – the drunkard wants to go and get another drink.

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