29 Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank. (Prov. 22:29 NIV)
1 When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, 2 and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. 3 Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive. 4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. 5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. 6 Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; 7 for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. 8 You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments. (Prov. 23:1-8 NIV)
29 Do you see someone skilled in their work?
They will serve before kings;
they will not serve before officials of low rank.
The word translated skill combines the ideas of skill and speed. Promotion should be merit based and not because of privilege or misplaced ambition. The skilled person is rewarded for his skill on the job. The focus begins with work ethic before reward. The skilled person climbs the ladder of success because he has worked hard to master his trade or profession. This person will be elevated to the top serving rulers rather than officials of lower rank.
1 When you sit to dine with a ruler,
note well what is before you,
2 and put a knife to your throat
if you are given to gluttony.
3 Do not crave his delicacies,
for that food is deceptive.
V1-3 are related to each other. The scene is of a dinner party with a high-ranking ruler. The Teacher warns that you should not be ‘carried away’ because you have received such an invitation. The fact that the food is deceptive alerts the reader to realise that there might well be a hidden agenda behind your invitation therefore caution is required. You should be cautious about what exactly is put before you, both in terms of food and in words, and also consider who is before you. The main point is that one should not be taken in by the lure of the luxuries because you might well be blinded by the sinister realities that are at play. We have a similar message taught by Jesus in the NT (Luke 14:7-14) as he warned of those who flaunted their wealth at dinner parties.
The advice in v2 seems a bit shocking as if the Teacher is recommending suicide. He is not. He is using a shocking expression to get you to understand the need to exercise ruthless self-control. The use of the term gluttony is figurative, meaning that if you are the kind of person who is easily taken in and will gulp everything down or take everything in at its face value, then beware.
Beware of the attractive and desirable delicacies that are put in front of you because they may be given for an ulterior motive. The Teacher is not saying don’t eat or don’t go to the party, just have your wits about you and be careful about what you might be drawn into. Of course there may be no particular personal agenda regarding you, you might be there to make up the numbers of a representative group for the sake of making a point or to ‘virtue signal’ his own generous spirit to the lesser well off or the oppressed.
4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
The Teacher has always advocated hard work as a means to provide for yourself and your family but v4 addresses something that is beyond hard work. The Teacher warns against exhausting yourself to gain wealth. Obtaining wealth and harming your health is not a good thing to do. Also sacrificing your family for work is not to be done. We are not to trust our own cleverness in this area. We are likely to try and persuade ourselves that this extra effort is only for a few years, but if you lose your health and family over those few years, you will never get them back.
V5 describes the allurement of luxury and wealth. You become obsessed with their attainment but in a moment the bubble has popped, and the illusion has gone. You may indeed acquire the wealth; it is not necessarily suggesting that the wealth has gone but that the lifestyle that you imagined has flown, because you no longer have health or friends or family to share it with and the wealth must be invested in your medical care. Of course, the wealth may disappear because it is one thing to acquire wealth it is another thing to keep it.
6 Do not eat the food of a begrudging host,
do not crave his delicacies;
7 for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost.
“Eat and drink,” he says to you,
but his heart is not with you.
8 You will vomit up the little you have eaten
and will have wasted your compliments.
Like v1-3 these verses consider a dinner party scene. In v1-3 the host was contemplating what he might gain from the event, the host in these verses is concerned by what he might lose and what it is going to cost him. Here the Teacher says that we should not eat the food. Deuteronomy warns against performing outward expressions of generosity when your heart is not in it:
Be careful not to harbour this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for cancelling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. (Deut. 15:9 NIV)
You shouldn’t eat because to do so leaves you complicit in the show of generosity that is taking place. There is nothing wrong with the food and you may not literally vomit, but the way we would express this is that the idea of eating his food makes you feel sick when you realise that it is begrudged to you. Also any words complimenting the host on the nice food and the surroundings will have been wasted on him. He doesn’t care what you think, just that it is all costing him money. We can only speculate on why he hosted the party in the first place. It may be that it was custom to host such a meal. Examples in our day in non-covid times a family would be expected to host a dinner after a wedding or a funeral. In OT times there would be occasions like this, but on these occasions the host begrudged having to provide such a meal.
We may feel that the advice here is a bit remote to seeking to live a life pleasing to the Lord. The Lord requires honesty of us, and we need to be careful that we don’t become complicit in the charades of others’ dishonesty.
Lord give us the wisdom to know how to interact with other people. Help us always to consider others better than ourselves and to attribute to them the best motive for doing what they do. Help us not to develop a suspicious mind or a critical spirit. Help us not to be spiteful people but to seek the best for others. Teach us when we need to be cautious and careful so that we can carefully guard ourselves without attributing wrong motives to others. Lord let us seek the peace of the church because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.