Before You Eat, Consider The Heart of Your Host
Proverbs 23:1-3 & 6-8
A large percentage of the text in Proverbs is printed in
sentence format in most editions of English Bibles. There are brief statements
that stand alone and convey some aspect of life on earth (example: 19:4), sin in
men (20:10) or God's wisdom for us (21:23). The nature of this kind of
literature lends itself to the typical sentence format used by publishers (note
the space between most verses as compared to other biblical texts).
There are, however, notable exceptions to this rule. There are some paragraphs in the book of Proverbs, where a theme or teaching goes beyond a single statement (examples: 6:1-5, 9:1-6, 16:10-15). If you will pick up a few different Bibles or translations, you will note the typical sentence format, but the exceptions to that in these paragraphs.
In Proverbs 23 there are two paragraphs which relate to the same matter. Here is Prov. 23:1-3 and under that, verses 6-8. In most Bibles, these passages are printed as paragraphs:
1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
Consider carefully what is before you;
2 And put a knife to your throat
If you are a man given to appetite.
3 Do not desire his delicacies,
For they are deceptive food.
6 Do not eat the bread of a miser,
Nor desire his delicacies;
7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
"Eat and drink!" he says to you,
But his heart is not with you.
8 The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up,
And waste your pleasant words.
Think about the point made in both paragraphs. Solomon is asking us to consider a danger to our character that approaches through an appearance of innocent hospitality and goodwill. A ruler who seeks some advantage over you (verses 1-3), or a miser who also seeks personal advantage (verses 6-8) offers something you like and believe you need (a good meal). The danger is, the "feeder" or host offers this meal, but not with your good in his heart. In the first paragraph, Solomon urges caution: "Consider carefully what is before you." In the second paragraph, he alerts us to the danger through a direct prohibition: "Do not eat!"
Here is one of many cases where everything seems to be right, innocent, morally neutral and without serious consequence. What wrong could there be in eating a meal with a powerful man, or sharing hospitality with "a miser?" You have to eat? The issue Solomon wants us to consider is - the motive and character of the host, the "feeder." Apparently the "ruler" in this context has such evil designs, it would be better to "put a knife to your throat" than to let him satisfy your appetite. In the case of the "miser," the writer says, "his heart is not with you." The outcome is described in terms of vomiting up the delicacies you consumed. Often in Proverbs we are warned that circumstances and relationships that seem right us can contain hidden moral dangers. (See Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25).
There are two prominent illustrations of this in the Bible, both of these exemplify the right response. Daniel, who "resolved not to defile himself with the royal good and wine," and our Lord, who though hungry, resisted the devil's invitation to make bread of stones (Dan. 1:8, Matt. 4:3). Hunger is a legitimate need, but it may be used to our disadvantage. Food can become bait in the hands of the devil and his operatives. My practical response to this is not to refrain from all eating, but to guard myself with care and consider the approach of subtle temptation.
William Arnot wrote a useful book of essays called "Studied In Proverbs: Laws From Heaven For Life On Earth," (Kregel Publications, 1978). On these passages he said: "When the appetite is strong, and the food enticing, the danger of sinning and suffering is great, - greater than most of us care to observe, and acknowledge to ourselves. The warning here is strongly expressed, and all its strength is needed."
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 8.6; June 2001