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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Prov. 23:1-3

Verses 1-3
When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, Consider diligently him that is before thee; And put a knife to thy throat, If thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties; Seeing they are deceitful food.

George DeHoff commented on this: "Proper etiquette in eating is encouraged. One's table manners are important. When invited to the table of one's betters, he should eat moderately, and not as half-starved. It is better not to eat and drink those things to which one is not accustomed."F1

Verses 4, 5
Weary not thyself to be rich; Cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For [riches] certainly make themselves wings, Like an eagle that flieth toward heaven.

Paul warned against the desire to be rich; and here we have a warning in the Old Testament. The heart of Paul's warning (1 Tim. 6:9f) centered upon moral and spiritual damage to the seeker; and here the warning stresses the nature of riches. They have the startling ability to leave their possessor `holding the bag.' Ask any man who has experienced great loss (1) by the death of a trusted partner, a stock market crash, an earthquake, a flood, a tornado, a hurricane, a drought, a revolution, a robbery, embezzlement, fraud, some changing fashion, or any one of a thousand other ways that riches can make themselves wings and fly away. "There is an ancient proverb: `Possessions are like sparrows, or locusts, in flight that can find no place to alight.'"F2

Verses 6-8
Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, Neither desire thou his dainties: For as he thinketh within himself, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; But his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, And lose thy sweet words.

This rendition is an excellent comment on this passage: "Don't eat at the table of a stingy man or be greedy for the fine food he serves. Come on and have some more, he says, but he doesn't mean it. What he thinks is what he really is. You will vomit up all you have eaten, and all your flattery will be wasted."F3

Verse 9
Speak not in the hearing of a fool; For he will despise the wisdom of thy words.

The sacred words of the Christ are a perfect comment on this: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs; neither cast your pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6).


Verses 10-12
Remove not the ancient landmark; And enter not into the fields of the fatherless: For their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their cause against thee. Apply thy heart unto instruction, And thine ears to the words of knowledge.

The first line here is also found in Prov. 22:28. See the comments there. The fatherless and widows were in the greatest danger of suffering damage by the fraudulent removal of a landmark; and the passage states that God, as their Champion, will defend them.


Verses 13, 14
Withhold not correction from the child; [For] if thou beat him with the rod, he will not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, And shalt deliver his soul from Sheol.

If there had been any doubt about God's commanding his followers to discipline their sons and daughters, this passage would have removed it. The two verses here are parallel; and that clarifies the meaning of Prov. 23:13. At first glance, it might seem that the parent is to beat his son within in an inch of death; but, "This does not mean that the scourging will not kill him," but it means that, "If you chastise him you will save him from the doom of the rebellious son (Deuteronomy 31:18-21)."F4 The following rendition obscures the true meaning:

"Do not hesitate to discipline a youth; Though you beat him with a stick, he will not die; Indeed you should beat him with a stick, And so save his life from Sheol."F5


Verses 15, 16
My son, if thy heart be wise, My heart will be glad, even mine: Yea, my heart will rejoice, When thy lips speak right things.

We have here a tender and beautiful expression of a father's devout and earnest ambition for his son, and a statement of what joy and happiness a truly upright son will bring to his father.


Verses 17, 18
Let not thy heart envy sinners; But [be thou] in the fear of Jehovah all the day long: For surely there is a reward; And thy hope shall not be cut off.

Concerning the blessed hope of holy religious faith, mortals need all the encouragement they can find; and here the sacred text thunders the message, "Surely there is a reward." The hope of heaven is a reality. Christ said, "In my Father's house, there are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you." (John 14:2). This being true, why then, should any Christian envy the ephemeral joys of sinners, purchased by them at the price of eternal death?


Verses 19-21
Hear thou, my son, and be wise, And guide thy heart in the way. Be not among winebibbers, Among gluttonous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty; And drowsiness will clothe [a man] with rags.

This word of the wise warns against drunkenness, gluttony and sloth (drowsiness). It is significant that the Bible condemns drinking wine; but when the translators and commentators get through with this, the condemnation always prohibits "drinking wine to excess" ... or "the heavy drinker."F6 There's not a word in the Bible about "excessive drinking," the condemnation is against drinking. (See our comment on this subject on pp. 231, 232, in my commentary on Proverbs). The graveyard is full of fools who thought they could handle their liquor! This writer has held too many tragic funerals that resulted from alcohol to allow any respect whatever for this common social vice.


Verses 22, 23
Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, And despise not thy mother when she is old. Buy the truth, and sell it not; [Yea], wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.

"The first verse here refers to heeding the instructions of father and mother, rather than honoring them."F7 A number of scholars have tried to rearrange the order of the verses in this chapter, but without success. What is written here makes just as much sense in our present arrangement as in any other.

The words "buy the truth" do not mean that it can be purchased with money. That teaching which one gladly receives, believes and accepts as completely trustworthy is thus `bought' in the sense of this passage.


Verses 24, 25
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; And he that begetteth a wise child will have joy of him. Let thy father and thy mother be glad, And let her that bare thee rejoice.

Nothing can approach the fulfillment and joy that come to godly parents when their children after them walk in the right way. Thus, when Prov. 23:25 pleads for the hearer to "allow" (let) his parents rejoice, it is an exhortation for him to love and obey the Word of God. "What a blessed thing is righteousness! It gives pleasure to him who practices it. It diffuses joy all around. Parents, friends, and all who fear God rejoice to see one walking in God's truth. God in heaven approves of it, and the angels rejoice to see it."F8


Verses 26-28
My son, give me thy heart; And let thine eyes delight in my ways. For a harlot is a deep ditch; And a foreign woman is a narrow pit. Yea, she lieth in wait as a robber, And increaseth the treacherous among men.

"In Prov. 23:27, the two lines introduce the two classes of unchaste women, the harlot and the adulteress; but the same destructive character is ascribed to both."F9 Although Toy and others dispute it, we feel that Deane is correct in making Wisdom personified the speaker in Prov. 23:26.F10 In Prov. 23:28, the unchaste woman is said to increase the treacherous among men. A better rendition is, "She increases the faithless among men."F11

How is this so? "The harlot causes her victim to be faithless to God, to his parents, to his wife, to his family, and to himself."F12


Verses 29, 30
Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? Who hath complaining? who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; They that go to seek out mixed wine.

Prov. 23:29-35 are a song on the subject of drunkenness. All seven verses are included in this 18th `Word' of the wise men. Taken as a unit, the passage says, "Liquor is poison; don't touch it."

The Anchor Bible catches the spirit of these verses perfectly: "Who groans "Alas"? Who cries, "Woe is me"? Who gets into quarrels? Who has complaints? Who suffers needless wounds? Whose eyes are bloodshot? Those who linger over wine, who drain the mixing bowl."F13 There were two ways of "mixing" wine. One way was diluting it with water (See pp. 231-232, in my commentary on Proverbs); another way was to mix spices with it to increase its potency; and that is the type of `mixing' mentioned here.

Verses 31, 32
Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, When it sparkleth in the cup, When it goeth down smoothly: At the last it biteth like a serpent, And stingeth like an adder.

The very nature of alcohol is a strong argument against the drinking of any of it. The burning liquors of the present day are far more deadly and dangerous than were those of antiquity. "Social drinking easily turns into alcoholism; why then should people practice that which so rapidly enslaves hundreds of thousands"?F14 Alcoholism is not a disease; it is the result of drinking; and in the history of the world no one ever became an alcoholic without drinking! It should be noted that nothing in the Word of God either recommends or tolerates "moderate drinking." "Moderate drinking" is a myth circulated by the liquor companies. "Moderate drinking" is only one of the earlier stages of becoming a drunkard.

Verses 33-35
Thine eyes shall behold strange things, And thy heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, Or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, [shalt thou say], and I was not hurt; They have beaten me, and I felt it not: When shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.

What we have here is a description of an alcoholic. His craving for alcohol dominates every other appetite. That line about lying on the top of a mast suggests an impossibility; and another rendition is: "Like one lying on top of the rigging."F15

Footnotes for Proverbs 23
1: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. III, p. 293.
2: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982), footnote, p. 143.
3: The Good News Bible.
4: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9, Proverbs, p. 442.
5: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
6: Ibid.
7: International Critical Commentary, Vol. 17, Proverbs, p. 436.
8: George Lawson's Commentary on Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980), p. 410.
9: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 437.
10: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 444.
11: The Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
12: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 444.
13: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
14: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 577.
15: The New International Version (NIV).

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 23". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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