Words of the Wise: An Obedient Son
Saying 11: Attend to Learning (Proverbs 23:12). Some see this verse as a call to attention to hear the instruction in the next verse or in this section, which is cast as parental instruction. Yet this imperative likely applies to instruction generally throughout one's whole life.
Saying 12: Necessity of Discipline (Proverbs 23:13-14). As with other such verses, this one establishes the need for parental discipline but does not mandate the rod as a first recourse. Yet it does reassure parents that this can be an acceptable means of correction. The point ultimately is to save the child from wrong ways leading to death—the Hebrew word for "hell" in verse 14 being sheol, the grave. The Assyrian "Words of Ahiqar," written around 700 B.C. (in the time of King Hezekiah of Judah) as noted in our introduction, follows with similar instruction: "Spare not your son from the rod; otherwise, can you save him?" (quoted by Longman, p. 69).
Saying 13: Wise and Joyful Speech (Proverbs 23:15-16). Parents rejoice in their children's right words and conduct (see also verses 24-25). And pleasing parents is a good motivator for the young. The four lines in verses 15-16 are arranged in a chiastic structure—the outer lines parallel and the inner lines parallel (a-b-b-a), so that a wise heart equates to speaking right things. As Jesus said, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34).
Saying 14: Fear the Lord (Proverbs 23:17-18). A major concern of parents is their instruction being undermined by wayward peers or bad role models. So parents must, as in this verse, instruct their children in the fear of the Lord, which will keep them in the right way "all the day"—even when the parents aren't around. If in spite of the obstacles we develop this proper reverence for God, a wonderful future awaits us. Where the KJV has "end," the NKJV specifies "hereafter"—implying life in God's Kingdom. Other versions have "future," the translators arguing that Proverbs speaks of blessed life now, not in the hereafter. Perhaps both ideas are included—a great life in this age and on into the age to come.
Saying 15: Poor Associations (Proverbs 23:19-21). Drunkenness and gluttony are both condemned, representing the epitome of a lack of discipline. Wine and other alcoholic beverages in moderation are approved of in Scripture, but drunkenness is a sin—as is gluttony, though the former is certainly worse because of the impact it has on the brain and on others. Drunkards and gluttons are both bad influences and will most likely not cease to bring trouble and grief to associates, even those who disapprove of their behavior. If we are already friends with such people, we should try to help them to overcome their problem. But if they refuse or falsely repent again and again, particularly in the case of drunkards, it would be wiser to sever the friendship.
Saying 16: Learn and Keep Truth (Proverbs 23:22-25). Some take verse 22 as an independent verse on listening to parents, but the context here appears to continue until verse 25. Listening to parents corresponds to, in verse 23, striving for truth (including wisdom, instruction and understanding) and holding on to it. "Buy the truth, and do not sell it" is sometimes seen as a prohibition against selling religious books, even Bibles. But this is not the point of the verse. The meaning is that we are to expend all we must to gain true knowledge and, once gained, never sell it away—for any price. The New Century Version paraphrases this as "Learn the truth and never reject it." The Contemporary English Version renders the whole verse this way: "Invest in truth and wisdom, discipline and good sense, and don't part with them." Those who follow this counsel will bring great joy to parents—again given here as a motivator to do what's right (verses 24-25; compare verses 15-16).
Saying 17: Shunning the Temptress (Proverbs 23:26-28). Parental instruction continues here regarding sexual immorality. Compare similar warnings in the prologue of Proverbs (chapters 1–9) and Proverbs 22:14, where the harlot's mouth is called a "deep pit." Some commentators believe the third and last section of the Words of the Wise begins with this saying or the next one—regarding the last section as miscellaneous in content.
Saying 18: Excessive Drinking (Proverbs 23:29-35). Saying 15 (verses 19-21) warns against associating with drunkards and gluttons. This saying warns against being a drunkard oneself. The New American Commentary says on this unit: "This poem is a small masterpiece; it is surely the most effective combination lampoon and lament over the sorry state of the drunkard....The text describes with profound accuracy and bite the pathetic physical and emotional decline of those addicted to alcohol. Wine [in excess] (and in modern society, illicit drugs) brings physical pain and debilitation, exhausts one's resources, takes away mental acuity, and yet leaves one craving for more of the same. 'Lingering over' alcohol (vv. 30-31) describes those who derive comfort and security in knowing that a glass of wine is at hand, ready to deaden the senses. In the end, however, it only leaves people more confused and in deeper pain than ever before (vv. 32-35a)."
Saying 19: Evil Associations (Proverbs 24:1-2). Whereas saying 14 (Proverbs 23:17-18) invokes the future in discouraging the envy of sinners, this saying just says not to envy them or want to be with them because they are up to no good. The point is to see what they're really all about—and to not want any part of that. A benefit of moral learning is that one comes to hate and reject evil simply because it is evil.
Saying 20: Reward of Wisdom (Proverbs 24:3-4). Verse 3 says that through wisdom a house is built. Some take this as a dwelling place or a household, a family. However, verse 4 says the rooms are filled with riches. While this could be a domestic abode, taken together the verses seem to speak of a treasure house. This may correspond to the conclusion of the first chapter of the Instruction of Amenemope: "If you spend a lifetime with these things in your heart, you will find it good fortune; you will discover my words to be a treasure house of life, and your body will flourish upon earth" (3:17–4:2). In both cases, it is most likely that the treasures are metaphorical for wonderful understanding and rich blessings in life—especially in light of saying 7 about not setting one's eyes on material wealth (Proverbs 23:4-5). Of course, as in other proverbs, the blessings may include material increase. And ultimately, as noted elsewhere, all of God's people will jointly possess all things—the whole universe.