Appetites and Wisdom – Proverbs 23

Read the Passage: Proverbs 23

Beware of Envy (23:1–8)

Given mankind’s fallen nature, one of the temptations with which we often struggle is controlling our human appetites (e.g., food, drink, sex, sleep, etc.). Furthermore, we often struggle over envying others who have a greater ability than us to gratify their own desires. Those who have the power to indulge their appetites are oftentimes rulers. In Prov. 23:1–3 Solomon warns his readers about envying their rulers. In this passage Solomon does not say that luxuries are inherently evil; rather, in addressing an extravagant buffet of food, Solomon specifically warns the “man given to appetite” (Prov. 23:2). This is a reminder that not everyone struggles with the same temptations. Furthermore, in this passage Solomon may be warning about the tendency of some rulers to prey upon the temptations of others, as they attempt to obtain something they want in return, or to lure others into otherwise dishonest acts.

Prov. 23:4–5 provides one of the clearest warnings in the Bible about the dangers of overworking in order to obtain wealth. Scripture, and especially the book of Proverbs, repeatedly exhorts readers to work, encourages diligence, and warns that laziness can lead to poverty (cf. Prov. 6:10–11; 10:4–5; 12:11, 14; 13:4, 11; 12:24. 27; 14:23; 15:19; 28:19). Indeed, if our labor is driven by greed and envy, rather than by productivity and image-bearing, such otherwise good work becomes sinful. Furthermore, the one who overworks does not consider that riches are always temporary, for they “make themselves wings . . . [and] fly away like an eagle toward heaven” (Prov. 23:5). Recall that in one of the more well-known (and often misquoted) biblical passages on wealth, Paul warned his ministry companion Timothy, as he writes, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).

Listen to Parents (23:9–28)

One of the most often addressed topics in the book of Proverbs is parenting and the general relationship between parents and children. In Prov. 23:9–28 this theme appears in several verses. This larger passage begins with the previously stated teaching that it is not always best to rebuke a fool, for the fool “will despise the wisdom of your words” (Prov. 23:9; cf. Prov. 9:7; 12:23; 16:22; 26:4; Eccl. 3:7; Matt. 7:6; 15:14). In Prov. 23:10–11, by reminding mankind to “not remove the ancient landmark” Solomon exhorts his readers to accept the inherited wisdom of their forebears and to support the weak, for God will punish those who harm the marginalized. This call to pay attention to wisdom, especially wisdom that has been passed down from friends and family, is also present in Prov. 23:12, 23, which read, “Apply your heart to instruction . . . . Buy the truth and do not sell it.”

Prov. 23:13–14 exhorts parents to discipline their children. Perhaps surprisingly, two times in this passage Solomon speaks about “beat[ing] . . . with a rod.” The term “beat” used in these verses may be better translated “correct,” “punish,” or “discipline.” The idea here is not one of wrathfully hitting a child, but of lovingly correcting a son or daughter who is in sin. In Prov. 23:15–16, 24–25 Solomon offers a motivation for such discipline—that is, the joy that parents experience when children obey and are conformed to the image of Christ. Next, still appealing to the context of a parent-child relationship, Solomon returns to the exhortation with which he began this chapter, which is the desire to sinfully indulge one’s appetites. In Prov. 23:19–21, 26–27 Solomon mentions drunkenness, gluttony, sleepiness, and harlotry, which are some of the most common appetite-related sins.

Warning about Alcohol (23:29–35)

At Prov. 23:7 Solomon had mentioned drinking, and at Prov. 23:20, Solomon exhorted his readers, “Do not mix with wine-bibbers.” In the concluding verses of this chapter Solomon expanded upon his earlier warnings related to consuming alcohol. Christians have long disagreed about the morality of drinking alcohol. Some Christians point out that: (1) the Bible does not prohibit consuming alcohol; (2) one of Jesus’ first miracles was to turn water into wine (cf. John 2:1–10); and (3) Paul urged Timothy to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Tim. 5:23). Other believers point out that: (1) the sin of drunkenness is implicitly prohibited in passages such as Prov. 23:29–35; (2) serving priests and Nazarites were not allowed to consume alcohol (cf. Lev. 10:8–9; Num. 6:1–4); and (3) a requirement of church leaders is to not be addicted to much wine (cf. 1 Tim. 3:3, 8). Regardless of one’s view about alcohol, all ought to agree that drunkenness is sinful.

Application Questions:

  1. With which of your natural human appetites do you struggle the most (i.e., sleep, sex, food, drink, etc.)?
  2. Has an authority or ruler ever tried to obtain something from you by preying on your temptations? How can we resist such temptations?
  3. If money and material things always disappear, wear out, or could be stolen, why do we have a duty to work? Do you enjoy working?
  4. If the results of wise and foolish acts are evident (cf. Eccl. 1:9), why do so many people forsake wisdom and engage in acts of foolishness?
  5. Do you believe Christians can consume alcohol? Do you believe that Christians should consume alcohol?

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David W. Jones

David W. Jones is a professor and author working in the field of Christian Ethics. You can following him on Twitter @ethicist.