A hexastich closely connected with the last verse of the preceding chapter, as if the warning was addressed to the man of skill whom his talents had made the guest of kings.
When thou sittest to eat with a ruler. This, of course, would be a great honour to a man of lowly birth, or to one of the middle class, to whom the manners of courts and palaces were practically unknown. Consider diligently what is before thee. So the Vulgate, Qua apposita sunt ante faciem tuam ; and the Septuagint, τὰ παρατιθέμενά σοι . Take heed lest the unusual dainties on the table tempt thee to excess, which may lead not only to unseemly behaviour, but also to unruly speech, revealing of secrets, etc. But the latter words may also be tendered, "him that is," or, " who is before thee." And this gives a very appropriate sense. The guest is enjoined to fix his attention, not on the delicate food, but on the host, who is his superior, and able to exalt and to destroy him (compare the cautious maxims in Ecclesiasticus 13:2, 6, 7, 11, etc.).
Sycophancy and independence
The reader is here warned against the danger of depending too much on the favour of great people. Possibly that favour is only offered as a bribe, and the unwary recipient of it may be no better than a dupe, who has unconsciously sold himself. At the best it tends to destroy the spirit of independence.
I. HE WHO DEPENDS ON THE FAVOUR OF A GREAT MAN PUTS HIMSELF IN HIS POWER . In proportion to the power to help is the power to hurt. It is a dangerous thing to trust one's interests to man at all; but it is doubly dangerous where there is no equality of relationship.
II. DEPENDENCE ON THE FAVOUR OF THE GREAT TEMPTS TO DISHONOURABLE CONDUCT . The sycophant is in danger of stooping to unworthy actions in order to please his patron. He is tempted to deceive and flatter in the hope of winning favour. The will of the great man supersedes the conscience of his dependant. Thus sycophancy wrecks the moral nature.
III. THIS DEPENDENCE DESTROYS TRUE MANLINESS . The poor creature who lives on the favour at the great loses all self-reliance. The honest industry that earns a night's repose is exchanged for miserable tricks of cringing slavery. Such conduct may earn the dainties of luxury, but only at the cost of all that life is worth living for. It is infinitely better to be independent, though compelled to live on the coarsest fare.
IV. SUCH A DEPENDENCE ON THE GREAT IS SURE TO BE DISAPPOINTING . The sycophant succeeds in obtaining a place at the banquet. But he cannot enjoy the feast like those guests who meet the host on terms of equality. He sits in constant dread of offending the great man. Though hungry, he shrinks from eating too much. He must almost put a knife to his throat to check his appetite; i.e. he must be always nervously on his guard against trespassing too far on the good will of his host. Surely such a condition must be miserable at the best!
V. THE ONLY SAFE DEPENDENCE IS THAT OF MAN ON GOD . This is not degrading, but ennobling; for God is worthy of all trust, honour, and adoration. He never deceives those who put their confidence in him. There is no painful fear for those who accept, his gracious invitation to the "wedding feast," for he is kind and merciful.
VI. AMONG MEN THE SAFEST CONDITION IS ONE OF MANLY INDEPENDENCE . This does not mean churlish indifference and selfish isolation from all social intercourse. The text supposes a person's presence at the great man's table, while it warns against the danger of the situation. We want to learn to be friendly with all men, and, at the same time, self-reliant through inward dependence on God alone.
Hints and warnings on conduct
I. PERILS OF COURTLY LIFE . ( Proverbs 23:1-3 .) The Arab proverb says, "He who sups with the sultan burns his lips," and, "With kings one sits at the table for honour's sake, not for that of appetite." Horace says that kings are said to press dainties and wine upon those whom they desire to scrutinize and test, as to whether they be worthy of friendship. The caution is therefore one dictated by prudence. And in general it may be thus understood: Beware of going to places and frequenting society where watchfulness and prudence are likely to be overborne; and take care that the body, by being pampered, becomes not the master of the soul.
II. PERILS AND VANITY OF RICHES . ( Proverbs 23:4 , Proverbs 23:5 .) This precept does not forbid industry and diligent toil for worldly gain; but only excessive carefulness in regard to it, over-valuation of its worth, and the burning lust of avarice, which implies want of confidence in God and of the sense of our true position in the world. The antidote is the exhortation of the Saviour to lay up treasures in heaven—to make certain of the incorruptible riches ( Matthew 6:19 , Matthew 6:20 ). "It is a wise course to be jealous of our gain, and more to fear than to desire abundance. It is no easy thing to carry a full cup with an even hand" (Leighton).
III. CORRUPTION FROM EVIL ASSOCIATIONS . ( Proverbs 23:6-8 .) The man of the evil eye is the jealous or envious temper; his heart is dyed in its dark relent. There is no genuine hospitality here; it is like that of the Pharisees who invited our Lord. This bitter sauce of envious hatred will presently be found giving a disgusting flavour to his delicacies. Discontent will poison the best food and wine. "Mens minds will either feed on their own good or others' evil, and whoso wanteth the one will prey upon the other." Envy takes no holidays. The devil is represented as the envious man who sows tares among the wheat at night. Always it works subtly, in the dark, and to the prejudice of good things, such as is the wheat (Bacon). Instead of seeking the pleasures which bring disgust, let us secure a humble fare with Christian content ( Philippians 4:11 ).—J.
The temptation of the table
It is probable that Solomon had in view those who did not often sit down to a "good dinner," and who, when they were invited to a feast by some one who was able to spread his table with delicacies, found themselves subjected to a strong temptation to unusual indulgence. Dr. Kitto tells us that, in the East, men would (and now will) eat an almost incredible amount of food when a rare opportunity offered itself. From the moral and the religious standpoint this matter of appetite demands our attention to—
I. A SPECIAL SPHERE OF OBEDIENCE AND SELF - CONTROL . Appetite is undoubtedly of God; and for few things, on the lower level, have we more occasion to thank our Creator than for the fact that he has made our food to be palatable, and caused us so to crave it that the partaking of it is a pleasure. Otherwise, the act of eating in order to keep ourselves alive and strong would be a daily weariness and penalty to us. But as it is, the necessary act of eating is a constant source of pleasure. But with the pleasure there enters inevitably a temptation. Appetite in man, strengthened as it is by man's imaginative faculty, and fostered as it is by the inventiveness which provides all kinds of inviting dainties, becomes one of those things which allure to excess, and thus to sin. To maintain the golden mean between asceticism on the one hand and epicurism or gluttony on the other hand is not found to be an easy task. Medical science inclines now to the view that a very large proportion of people take more to eat than is really for their good—especially in later life. Frequently, perhaps generally, this is rather a mistake than an offence. But the wise man will carefully consider how far he should go, and where he should draw the line. In doing this he will more especially consider two things.
1 . How he should act at the table, so as not in any way to weaken his intelligence by what he eats or drinks.
2 . How he should act so as to keep himself in health and strength for all useful activity in the days to come. By resolving to act with a firm self-command, with the higher and indeed the highest end in view, he may, in eating and drinking, do what he does "to the glory of God" (see 1 Corinthians 10:31 ).
II. THOSE TO WHOM THIS FORMS A SPECIALLY STRONG TEMPTATION . "If thou be a man given to appetite." Some men are so constituted that to have the greatest delicacies in the world before them would be no temptation to them; others have an appetency which they have the greatest difficulty in controlling,—this may arise either from heredity, or from their individual bodily organization, or (as is oftenest the case) from the habit of indulgence. There are also—
III. OCCASIONS WHEN THIS TEMPTATION IS SPECIALLY SEVERE . Such as that indicated in the text (see also 1 Corinthians 10:27 ). There are times when it would be churlish, and even unchristian, to refuse an invitation; but the presence of food or of stimulants upon the table may be a serious inducement to transgression. Then "put a knife to thy throat;" determinately stop at the point of strict moderation; resolutely and fearlessly refuse that of which you know well that you have no right to partake; distinctly and definitely decline the dish or the cup which you cannot take with a good conscience. For consider—
IV. THE FOLLY AND THE SIN OF INDULGENCE . "They are deceitful meat." Excess may bring some momentary enjoyment, but:
1 . It is quickly followed by pain, disorder, feebleness, incapacity; even if not of a serious order, yet humiliating enough to a man who respects himself.
2 . The habit of it leads with no uncertain step to physical and also to mental and moral degeneracy.
3 . The pleasure afforded, like all the grosser gratifications, declines with indulgence.
4 . All excess is sin. It is a misuse and profanation of that body which is given us as the organ of our own spirit, and should be regarded and treated as "the temple of the Holy Ghost" ( 1 Corinthians 6:19 ).—C.