“Buy truth, and do not sell it;
buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.”
~Proverbs 23:23 (NRSV).
Many of the previous chapters of Proverbs have been loose and disconnected so far as a neat, discernible structure is concerned. This chapter sees that structure return, not least of which via thirteen sayings (from Saying 7 to Saying 19).
Some of these sayings are one single verse; others are up to seven verses long. But at least they discuss a central idea. And if there’s one main idea in Proverbs chapter 23 it’s about eating, gluttony, and associated lust and greed—and warding against them all.
Minding the Lust of the Eye and Stomach (verses 1-8)
Sayings 7-9 major on a theme that’s easy to imagine from an eating viewpoint. We all have our opportunities at coming to know ‘royalty’ in life, whether it’s the CEO of the company we work for, or it’s a sports star, or a school principal. Knowing them is a privilege. But in our dealing with them we’re not to ogle their wares, for these are deceptive.
Likewise, it is useless for us to covet riches or anything that’s not ours. We cannot attract them without keeping our hands and our interests off them.
We’re to be careful the sorts of invitations to events we do accept. Some people are set on inviting us, but not for the reasons we’d like to think they’re inviting us for. These are counting the cost with every forkful we place into our mouths. We’re suddenly conscious of the uneasy feeling this produces in us.
Conversations with a Son (or Daughter) (verses 15-28)
Returning to the theme of Proverbs 1–9 a father addresses his son, imploring him to “buy wisdom,” knowing that his very life depends on its acquisition.
This set of parentally-related proverbs comprises Sayings 14-18. The father will be ecstatically pleased to know the son is on the right track, highlighting a common parental objective. As the children are safe, so are we as parents.
In keeping with Psalm 37, warnings are issued not to fall envious of those who are off-the-track in life. There is no life and no hope in following these. Alternatively, it’s the rightful awed respect of God that’s guaranteeing their hope, and only that.
Covering again the themes of gluttony and lust is the issue of elevating food, alcohol and other substances to god level. Poverty becomes the ones who raise these things to God’s level.
The son is urged to purchase wisdom and hoard it. Perhaps it’s the only safe thing to hoard. Many of the imperatives issued by the father are calling the son back to the familial bond—blood’s a whole lot thicker than water.
Importantly, the lust of the eye (verses 26-28) concludes this subsection on a rather graphic point. If the son keeps his heart and eye on Wisdom he won’t be tempted away with the prostitute or wayward wife bent on promiscuity. A heart or an eye without a positive focus is destined perhaps to wander into the harm-filled way.
The Misery of the Drink (or Drug) (verses 29-35)
This seven-versed Saying has a remarkable poignancy about it as we consider a most certain rogue of Western living—alcohol and other mind-altering drugs—and their prominence in all our lives, if not directly then indirectly.
Who has not been touched most negatively from this nemesis of humanity’s?
Blows and beatings are custom-designed for the one caught up in the nest of this serpent. It will be hangovers in the short term, and other more dire consequences in the longer term. The allure of drink or the drug is deceitful and it is sure to bite a hundred times worse than it’s suspected. Addiction is both folly and a trap for younger players and old alike.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.