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.
“He who tills his land will have plenty of bread,
But he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.”
“Tilling the land” is a placeholder for “pursuing worthwhile things.”
“Lacks sense” is, at least in part, not valuing (and thus pursuing) good and worthwhile things.
What is the man pursuing who works his land? Yes, he is pursuing bread to eat; but he is pursuing something of worth – and plenty of it. He is able to focus and work diligently at something of great value. And this shows that he has good sense.
The pursuit of worthless things is different from simple laziness because there is pursuit. But when the target is the knight’s armor and not the gaps in his armor, the end result of all that energy spent is nothing. And nothing, when there can be plenty of something, is worse than nothing. It becomes a negative value. Distracted living, it turns out, is about as dangerous as distracted driving.
A mere fly buzzing around can distract a whole room from absorbing the wise words of a great speaker. [This thought was inspired by Blaise Pascal.]
The pursuit of worthless things is less innocent, I think.
Jesus talks a lot about pursuit of what is valuable. For Him, that is the kingdom of God. It is the pearl of great price. It is the most valuable treasure. Treasure in heaven is more worthy than honour from men.
For Jesus, it is much better to work for bread that doesn’t spoil!
“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:27). The labour or pursuit is believing (John 6:29).
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’” (John 6:35).
Here is where this eschatological or theological layering of Proverbs comes in. The Son is true God, He is also Wisdom that creates and the Messiah and Priest who calls us to seek after eternity.
What is the highest pursuit? And are our penultimate or secondary pursuits ordered and pointing toward that highest, most worthy pursuit? We wisely till the land to produce bread. But when we seek after this bread, are we doing it in such a way as to pursue the true bread of heaven? Neither of these can be ignored. The ultimate and the penultimate are both worthy and good goals.
In Proverbs 12:11 we are called to wriggle free from the grasp of distraction. We are called to pursue what is worth pursuing. We are also called to wrestle with what is most worthy and to honestly and prayerfully look at our lives, to repent and turn from lesser, worthless gods, and to pursue the one true God.
One major issue in this regard is what we do with our leisure time. Are we drawn to prayer? Or YouTube?
It it’s said that Jesus set his face like flint toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). That was where his Father called Him to go; and so Jesus went – with great resolve.
Where is God calling you to go with great resolve? What is God calling you to do with greatness of resolve? I encourage you to pray for direction and for a resolve that can only come from the Spirit, who shows us that joy is ahead (Hebrews 12:2).
Some more questions to ask: Where is my energy being spent? In the place of worthlessness? Or in the place that is proper to me – which has been given or appointed by God?