New English Translation
23 When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
consider carefully[a] what[b] is before you,
2 and put a knife to your throat[c]
if you possess a large appetite.[d]
3 Do not crave that ruler’s[e] delicacies,
for[f] that food is deceptive.[g]
4 Do not wear yourself out to become rich;
be wise enough to restrain yourself.[h]
5 When you gaze upon riches,[i] they are gone,
for they surely make wings for themselves,
and fly off into the sky like an eagle![j]
6 Do not eat the food of a stingy person,[k]
do not crave his delicacies;
7 for he is[l] like someone who has calculated the cost[m] in his mind.[n]
“Eat and drink,” he says to you,
but his heart is not with you;
8 you will vomit up[o] the little bit you have eaten,
and will have wasted your pleasant words.[p]
9 Do not speak in the ears of a fool,[q]
for he will despise the wisdom of your words.[r]
10 Do not move an ancient boundary stone,
or take over[s] the fields of the fatherless,
11 for their Protector[t] is strong;
he will plead their case against you.[u]
12 Apply[v] your heart to instruction
and your ears to the words of knowledge.
13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
even if you strike him with the rod, he will not die.
14 If you strike[w] him with the rod,
you will deliver him[x] from death.[y]
15 My child,[z] if your heart is wise,
then my heart also will be glad;
16 my soul[aa] will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.[ab]
17 Do not let your heart envy[ac] sinners,
but rather be zealous in fearing the Lord[ad] all the time.
18 For surely there is a future,[ae]
and your hope will not be cut off.[af]
19 Listen, my child,[ag] and be wise,
and guide your heart on the right way.
20 Do not spend time[ah] among drunkards,[ai]
among those who eat too much[aj] meat,
21 because drunkards and gluttons become impoverished,
and drowsiness[ak] clothes them with rags.[al]
22 Listen to your father who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.
23 Acquire[am] truth and do not sell it—
wisdom, and discipline, and understanding.
24 The father of a righteous person will rejoice greatly;[an]
whoever fathers a wise child[ao] will have joy in him.
25 May your father and your mother have joy;
may she who bore you rejoice.[ap]
26 Give me your heart, my son,[aq]
and let your eyes observe my ways;
27 for a prostitute is like[ar] a deep pit;
a harlot[as] is like[at] a narrow well.[au]
28 Indeed, she lies in wait like a robber,[av]
and increases the unfaithful[aw] among men.[ax]
29 Who has woe?[ay] Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions? Who has complaints?
Who has wounds without cause? Who has dullness[az] of the eyes?
30 Those who linger over wine,
those who go looking for mixed wine.[ba]
31 Do not look on the wine when it is red,
when it sparkles[bb] in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly.[bc]
32 Afterward[bd] it bites like a snake,
and stings like a viper.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,[be]
and your mind will speak perverse things.
34 And you will be like one who lies down in the midst[bf] of the sea,
and like one who lies down on the top of the rigging.[bg]
35 You will say,[bh] “They have struck me, but I am not harmed!
They beat me, but I did not know it![bi]
When will I awake? I will look for another drink.”[bj]
- Proverbs 23:1 tn The construction uses the imperfect tense of instruction with the infinitive absolute to emphasize the careful discernment required on such occasions. Cf. NIV “note well”; NLT “pay attention.”
- Proverbs 23:1 tn Or “who,” referring to the ruler (so ASV, NAB, TEV).
- Proverbs 23:2 sn The expression “put a knife to your throat” is an idiom that means “curb your appetite” or “control yourself” (cf. TEV). The instruction was from a time when people dealt with all-powerful tyrants. To enter the presence of such a person and indulge one’s appetites would be to take a very high risk.
- Proverbs 23:2 tn Heb “an owner of appetite.” The idiom בַּעַל נֶפֶשׁ (baʿal nefesh) refers to someone who possesses a large appetite (cf. NAB “a ravenous appetite”). A person with a big appetite is in danger of taking liberties when invited to court.
- Proverbs 23:3 tn Heb “his”; the referent (the ruler mentioned in v. 1) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
- Proverbs 23:3 sn The final line gives the causal clause: The impressive feast is not what it appears to be; the king is not doing you a favor, but rather wants something from you or is observing you (K&D 17:104); cf. TEV “he may be trying to trick you.”
- Proverbs 23:3 sn Verses 1-3 form the sixth saying about being cautious before rulers (cf. Instruction of Amememope, chap. 23, 23:13-18). One should not get too familiar with rulers, for they always have ulterior motives. The Mishnah cites Gamaliel as warning that a ruler only draws someone into his court for his purpose, but in their day of trouble he will not be there to help them (m. Avot 2:3).
- Proverbs 23:4 tn Heb “from your understanding cease.” In the context this means that the person should have enough understanding to stop wearing himself out trying to be rich (cf. NRSV “be wise enough to desist”).
- Proverbs 23:5 tc The Kethib is הֲתָעוּף (hataʿuf), “do your eyes fly [light] on it?” The Qere is the Hiphil, הֲתָעִיף (hataʿif) “do you cause your eyes to fly on it?” But the line is difficult. The question may be indirect: If you cast your eyes on it, it is gone—when you think you are close, it slips away.tn The term “riches” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation based on the previous verse.
- Proverbs 23:5 sn This seventh saying warns people not to expend all their energy trying to get rich because riches are fleeting (cf. Instruction of Amememope, chap. 7, 9:10-11 which says, “they have made themselves wings like geese and have flown away to heaven”). In the ancient world the symbol of birds flying away signified fleeting wealth.
- Proverbs 23:6 tn Heb “an evil eye.” This is the opposite of the “good eye” which meant the generous man. The “evil eye” refers to a person who is out to get everything for himself (cf. NASB, NCV, CEV “selfish”). He is ill-mannered and inhospitable (e.g., Prov 28:22). He is up to no good—even though he may appear to be a host.
- Proverbs 23:7 tc The line is difficult; multiple options are possible. As vocalized, the Hebrew says “For, as he has calculated in his soul, so he is.” As it appears in the MT, the line appears to mean that the miser is the kind of person who has calculated the cost of everything in his mind as he offers the food. The LXX has: “Eating and drinking with him is as if one should swallow a hair; do not introduce him to your company nor eat bread with him.” A somewhat free rendering is common in the LXX of Proverbs, but we can infer a Hebrew text which says “For, like a hair in his throat, so he is.” The issue revolves around the letters שער (shin/sin, ʿayin, and resh). The MT reads שָׁעַר (shaʿar) “to calculate” while the LXX has read שֵׂעָר (seʿar) “hair.” The choice here affects which meaning of נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh) “soul, throat, breath, life, desire” that translators apply. However verbs of thinking typically relate to the mind (לֵבָב/לֵב; levav/lev, also translated “heart”) and not to the נֶפֶשׁ. The consonants could also be vocalized as שֹׁעָר (shoʿar) “something rotten [in one’s throat]” or שַׁעַר (shaʿar) “a gate [in one’s throat].” The readings taking נֶפֶשׁ to mean “throat” would picture an irritating experience. The Instruction of Amenemope uses “blocking the throat” in a similar saying (chapt. 11, 14:7 [ANET 423]). Most translations follow the MT, while the NRSV accepts the reading “hair.”
- Proverbs 23:7 tn The phrase “the cost” does not appear in the Hebrew but is implied by the verb; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.
- Proverbs 23:7 tn Heb “soul.”
- Proverbs 23:8 sn Eating and drinking with a selfish miser would be irritating and disgusting. The line is hyperbolic; the whole experience turns the stomach.
- Proverbs 23:8 tn Or “your compliments” (so NASB, NIV); cf. TEV “your flattery.”sn This is the eighth saying; it claims that it would be a mistake to accept hospitality from a stingy person. He is always thinking about the cost, his heart is not in it, and any attempt at pleasant conversation will be lost.
- Proverbs 23:9 sn The mention of “the ears” emphasizes the concerted effort to get the person’s undivided attention. However, a fool rejects instruction and discipline.
- Proverbs 23:9 sn Saying number nine indicates that wisdom is wasted on a fool. The literature of Egypt has no specific parallel to this one.
- Proverbs 23:10 tn Or “encroach on” (NIV, NRSV); Heb “go into.”
- Proverbs 23:11 tn The participle גֹּאֵל (goʾel) describes a “kinsman redeemer.” Some English versions explicitly cite “God” (e.g., NCV, CEV) or “the Lord” (e.g. TEV). sn The Hebrew term describes a “kinsman-redeemer.” That individual would be a rich or powerful relative who can protect the family; he does this by paying off the debts of a poor relative, buying up the property of a relative who sells himself into slavery, marrying the widow of a deceased relative to keep the inheritance in the family, or taking vengeance on someone who harms a relative, that vengeance often resulting in delivering (“redeeming”) the relative from bondage. If there was no human “kinsman redeemer,” then the defenseless had to rely on God to perform these actions (e.g., Gen 48:16; Exod 6:6; Job 19:25; Isa 41-63). In the prophetic literature God is presented as the Redeemer in that he takes vengeance on the enemies (the Babylonians) to deliverer his people (kin). In this proverb the Lord is probably the Protector of these people who will champion their cause and set things right.
- Proverbs 23:11 sn This is the tenth saying; once again there is a warning not to encroach on other people’s rights and property, especially the defenseless (see v. 10; 22:22-23, 28).
- Proverbs 23:12 tn Heb “bring.” The Hiphil imperative “come; enter” means “to apply the heart,” to use the heart or mind in the process. The same would be true in the second half: “to bring the ears” would mean to listen very carefully. Cf. TEV “Pay attention.”
- Proverbs 23:14 tn Or “punish” (NIV). The syntax of these two lines suggests a conditional clause (cf. NCV, NRSV).
- Proverbs 23:14 tn Heb “his soul.” The term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “soul”) functions as a synecdoche of part (= soul) for the whole (= person); see BDB 660 s.v. 4.
- Proverbs 23:14 tn The term שְׁאוֹל (sheʾol, “Sheol”) in this context probably means “death” (so NIV, NCV, NLT) and not the realm of the departed (wicked) spirits (cf. NAB “the nether world”). In the wisdom of other lands, Ahiqar 6:82 says, “If I strike you, my son, you will not die.” The idea is that discipline helps the child to a full life; if the child dies prematurely, it would be more than likely a consequence of not being trained by discipline. In the book of Proverbs the “death” mentioned here could be social as well as physical.
- Proverbs 23:15 tn Heb “my son,” although the context does not limit this exhortation to male children.
- Proverbs 23:16 tn Heb “my kidneys”; in biblical Hebrew the term was used for the innermost being, the soul, the central location of the passions. Cf. NASB, NIV “my inmost being.”
- Proverbs 23:16 sn This twelfth saying simply observes that children bring joy to their parents when they demonstrate wisdom. The quatrain is arranged in a chiastic structure (AB:B'A'): The first line (A) speaks of wisdom in the child, and it is paired with the last line (A') which speaks of the child’s saying what is right. In between these brackets are two lines (B and B') concerning joy to the parent.
- Proverbs 23:17 tn The verb in this line is אַל־יְקַנֵּא (ʾal yeqanneʾ), the Piel jussive negated. The verb means “to be jealous, to be zealous”; it describes passionate intensity for something. In English, if the object is illegitimate, it is called “envy”; if it is correct, it is called “zeal.” Here the warning is not to envy the sinners. The second colon could use the verb in the positive sense to mean “but rather let your passion burn for the fear of the Lord.”
- Proverbs 23:17 tn Heb “the fear of the Lord.” This expression features an objective genitive: “fearing the Lord.”
- Proverbs 23:18 tn Heb “end” (so KJV); ASV “a reward.”
- Proverbs 23:18 sn The saying is an understatement; far from being cut off, the “hope” will be realized in the end. So this saying, the thirteenth, advises people to be zealous for the fear of the Lord, their religion, rather than for anything that sinners have to offer.
- Proverbs 23:19 tn Heb “my son,” but the immediate context does not limit this to male children.
- Proverbs 23:20 tn Heb “do not be among,” but in the sense of “associate with” (TEV); “join” (NIV); “consort…with” (NAB).
- Proverbs 23:20 tn The verb סָבָא (savaʾ) means “to imbibe; to drink largely.” The participial construction here, סֹבְאֵי־יַיִן (soveʾe yayin), describes “drunkards” (cf. NLT) which is somewhat stronger than saying it refers to “people who drink too much” (cf. NIV, TEV).
- Proverbs 23:20 tn The verb זָלַל (zalal) means “to be light; to be worthless; to make light of.” Making light of something came to mean “to be lavish with; to squander,” especially with regard to food. So it describes “gluttons” primarily, but in the expression there is also room for the person who wastes a lot of food as well.
- Proverbs 23:21 tn Here “drowsiness” is a metonymy of effect or adjunct, put for the drunkenness and gluttony that causes it. So all of it, the drunkenness and the drowsiness that comes from it, brings on the ruin (cf. CEV “you will end up poor”). Likewise, “rags” is a metonymy of adjunct, associated with the poverty brought on by a dissolute lifestyle.
- Proverbs 23:21 sn This is the fourteenth saying, warning about poor associations. Drunkenness and gluttony represent the epitome of the lack of discipline. In the Mishnah they are used to measure a stubborn and rebellious son (m. Sanhedrin 8). W. G. Plaut notes that excessive drinking and eating are usually symptoms of deeper problems; we usually focus more on the drinking because it is dangerous to others (Proverbs, 241-42).
- Proverbs 23:23 tn Heb “buy” (so KJV, NASB, NIV, NLT); CEV “Invest in truth.”sn The sixteenth saying is an instruction to buy/acquire the kind of life that pleases God and brings joy to parents. “Getting truth” would mean getting training in the truth, and getting wisdom and understanding would mean developing the perception and practical knowledge of the truth.
- Proverbs 23:24 tc The Qere reading has the imperfect יָגִיל (yagil) with the cognate accusative גִּיל (gil) which intensifies the meaning and the specific future of this verb.
- Proverbs 23:24 tn The term “child” is supplied for the masculine singular adjective here.
- Proverbs 23:25 tn The form תָגֵל (tagel) is clearly a short form and therefore a jussive (“may she…rejoice”); if this second verb is a jussive, then the parallel יִשְׂמַח (yismakh) should be a jussive also (“may your father and your mother have joy”).
- Proverbs 23:26 tn Heb “my son”; the reference to a “son” is retained in the translation here because in the following lines the advice is to avoid women who are prostitutes.
- Proverbs 23:27 tn The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied for the sake of clarity.
- Proverbs 23:27 tn Heb “foreign woman” (so ASV). The term נָכְרִיָּה (nokhriyyah, “foreign woman”) often refers to a prostitute (e.g., Prov 2:6; 5:20; 6:24; 7:5). While not all foreign women in Israel were prostitutes, their prospects for economic survival were meager and many turned to prostitution to earn a living. Some English versions see this term referring to an adulteress as opposed to a prostitute (cf. NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT).
- Proverbs 23:27 tn The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.
- Proverbs 23:27 sn In either case, whether a prostitute or an adulteress wife is involved, the danger is the same. The metaphors of a “deep pit” and a “narrow well” describe this sin as one that is a trap from which there is no escape. The “pit” is a gateway to Sheol, and those who enter are as good as dead, whether socially or through punishment physically.
- Proverbs 23:28 tn The noun חֶתֶף (khetef) is defined by BDB 369 s.v. as “prey,” while HALOT 365 s.v. defines it as “robber.” This is the only occurrence of the word in the OT, but HALOT also cites two uses in Ben Sirah. The related verb (חָתַף, khataf) means “to snatch away” according to both dictionaries (BDB 368-69 s.v.; HALOT 365 s.v.), while the cognates assembled by HALOT have a different nuance: Akkadian “to slaughter,” Syriac “to break to pieces,” and an Arabic noun meaning “death.” Like the noun, the verb only occurs once in the OT, Job 9:12. In this passage the noun could have either a passive sense (what is seized = prey), or an active sense (the one who seizes = a robber, bandit). The traditional rendering is “prey” (KJV); most modern English versions have the active sense (“robber” or similar; cf. NIV “like a bandit”). Since the prepositional phrase (the simile) is modifying the woman, the active sense works better in the translation.
- Proverbs 23:28 tn The verb בָּגַד (bagad), here a participle, means “to act treacherously, with duplicity, or to betray.” Such a woman induces men to prove unfaithful to their wives and to the law of God. Dahood repoints it as בְּגָדִים (begadim, “garments”), saying that she collects garments in pledge for her service (M. Dahood, “To Pawn One’s Cloak,” Bib 42 : 359-66). But that is far-fetched; it might have happened on occasion, but as a common custom it is unlikely. Besides that, the text in the MT makes perfectly good sense without such a change.
- Proverbs 23:28 sn Verses 26-28 comprise the seventeenth saying; it warns the young person to follow the instructions about temptations because there are plenty of temptresses lurking about.
- Proverbs 23:29 sn The eighteenth saying is about excessive drinking. The style changes here as the sage breaks into a vivid use of the imagination. It begins with a riddle describing the effects of drunkenness (v. 29) and gives the answer in v. 30; instructions follow in v. 31, with the consequences described in v. 32; the direct address continues in vv. 33 and 34; and the whole subject is concluded with the drunkard’s own words in v. 35 (M. E. Andrews, “Variety of Expression in Proverbs 23:29-35, ” VT 28 : 102-3).
- Proverbs 23:29 sn The Hebrew word translated “dullness” describes darkness or dullness of the eyes due to intoxication, perhaps “redness” (so KJV, NASB, NRSV); NIV, NCV, NLT “bloodshot eyes.” NAB understands the situation differently: “black eyes.”
- Proverbs 23:30 sn The answer to the question posed in v. 29 is obviously one who drinks too much, which this verse uses metonymies to point out. Lingering over wine is an adjunct of drinking more wine; and seeking mixed wine obviously means with the effect or the purpose of drinking it.
- Proverbs 23:31 tn Heb “its eye gives.” With CEV’s “bubbling up in the glass” one might think champagne was in view.
- Proverbs 23:31 tn The expression is difficult. The imagery has some similarity to Song 7:9, although the parallel is not exact. The verb is the Hitpael imperfect of הָלַךְ (halakh); and the prepositional phrase uses the word “upright; equity; pleasing,” from יָשָׁר (yashar). KJV has “when it moveth itself aright”; much more helpful is ASV “when it goeth down smoothly.” Most recent English versions are similar to ASV. The phrase obviously refers to the pleasing nature of wine.
- Proverbs 23:32 tn Heb “its end”; NASB “At the last”; TEV (interpretively) “The next morning.”
- Proverbs 23:33 tn The feminine plural of זָר (zar, “strange things”) refers to the trouble one has in seeing and speaking when drunk.
- Proverbs 23:34 tn Heb “heart.” The idiom here means “middle”; KJV “in the midst.”
- Proverbs 23:34 sn The point of these similes is to compare being drunk with being seasick. One who tries to sleep when at sea, or even worse, when up on the ropes of the mast, will be tossed back and forth.
- Proverbs 23:35 tn The phrase “You will say” is supplied in the translation to make it clear that the drunkard is now speaking.
- Proverbs 23:35 sn The line describes how one who is intoxicated does not feel the pain, even though beaten by others. He does not even remember it.
- Proverbs 23:35 tn The last line has only “I will add I will seek it again.” The use of אוֹסִיף (ʾosif) signals a verbal hendiadys with the next verb: “I will again seek it.” In this context the suffix on the verb refers to the wine—the drunkard wants to go and get another drink.