PROVERBS 22:17-24:34 – “WORDS OF THE WISE”
Proverbs 22:17-24:34 mark a different section within Proverbs, often titled “Words of the Wise” (which is based on a phrase found in 22:17). Some scholars have noted that this section has some significant parallels with The Instruction of Amenemope, an Egyptian work probably written somewhere between 1250 and 1100 BC discovered in 1923. Amenemope was meant “to provide training in how to be successful in royal civil service” (Lucas, 30). And it seems as though “the author of Prov. 22:17ff. Knew Amenemope and adapted it to suit his own purpose” (Lucas, 32).
Do not eat the bread of a selfish man,
Or desire his delicacies;
For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
He says to you, ‘Eat and drink!’
But his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten,
And waste your compliments. (NASB)
Perhaps the meaning of this passage is as simple as “Having a stingy man as a host is so distasteful of an experience that the little bit of tasty food you’ve been given will, as it were, come back out again.”
However, I think the “selfish man” is doing a bit of swindling here. To my mind, it is not the current situation that is distasteful, but the future consequences. This is especially true if it follows the teaching of Amenemope which, as pointed out above, “… provide training in how to be successful in royal civil service” (Lucas, 30). As well, this passage contains a link with another passage in the scriptures which involves present trickery regarding food with future consequences.
As I understand the proverb, the keys are: 1) appearance vs. motive; and, 2) present enjoyment vs. future consequences.
The selfish man gives the appearance of caring for you. But the reality is that his thoughts are only for himself. He does not love his neighbour as himself. This “is advice to resist the attractions of seemingly good food… . This saying is about a meal offered by a stingy person. He seems to be a generous host, but this is a sham…” (Lucas, 154-155).
If you enjoy his favour and gifts now and thank him, then, when he calls on you to return the “favour” (if you can call it that!), you will learn that there was no gift in the first place – but only a trap. It is likely that he has stuck you in a position of paying him back with a favour of your own. You said “thank you” and offered your compliments, but will soon realize that your thanks was wasted entirely.
As Hubbard notes, we are told to “Eat carefully with kings” in 23:1-3; but here we are told to “… not eat at all with ‘a miser’” (Hubbard, 368).
Meals play an important role in the Bible. Right from the beginning we become aware that a fruit is not just a fruit. A fruit might give life or lead to death. What lies within the most desireable looking delicacy might in fact be deadly poison. On the other hand, a meal long waited for might be the most delightful thing in all of creation.
According to Hubbard, the Hebrew word for “delicacies” “occurs only in this chapter [Proverbs 23:3 and 6] and in Genesis 27 where it occurs as savory food in the account of the trick that Jacob and Rachel played on Isaac who thought he was eating Esau’s gamy cuisine” (366-367). The language is strikingly similar: “savory food and bread” were on offer (Genesis 27:17).
Be aware of who you dine with and who offers you food. And say “no” when necessary. Otherwise, you may eat with joy and end up giving your blessing to one who didn’t deserve it.
This point is true of pleasures in general. Pleasures are fine, but not when they are on offer from the evil one. Pleasures are excellent when they are sanctified by the Most Holy One, for He does not deceive or have evil intentions.
In fact, there are some who will try to convince us that abstaining from the pleasures of creation is the way to God, but they are themselves deceived. See 1 Timothy 4:1-5:
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”
However, more likely in our situation are those who will encourage us to take part in pleasure without regard to giving thanks to God. And this is the key: as you partake, can you, in good conscience, give thanks to the Almighty? Or have the eyes of your appetite put Him out of the picture?
Remember, the greatest pleasure is life with Christ. Pursue that with all your heart. Drop all the tasty looking morsels presented by other voices. Pursue Christ with all you have – it is worth it.