Proverbs 23:17

Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long.
– Proverbs 23:17

Verses 17 and 18 form a wise saying about the informed perspective of wisdom. The word for envy means jealousy when used in the negative sense. It’s not uncommon to be envious of sinners (Psalm 37:1; 73:3). Such envy is contrasted in this saying with the fear of the Lord, which we know is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). Wisdom teaches to not envy the momentarily prosperous (Proverbs 3:31; 24:1), but rather to understand wisdom that knows the fear of the Lord is better than momentary success (Proverbs 15:16; 28:14).

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Proverbs 23:16

Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.
– Proverbs 23:16

The word for reins literally means kidneys, but references to internal organs or parts, such as bones, are intended to speak of being deeply affected within. Rejoicing of the reins speaks of a deep joy and rejoicing of the whole man. The word for right things means even and straight. It is used figuratively to speak of moral uprightness. The parent rejoices when the child grows to speak right things, because this means he has learned wisdom. Speaking right things is the essential cry of wisdom in Proverbs 8:6. Those who have been instructed in wisdom, speak wise things (Proverbs 15:2, 28). Even the Servant of Yahweh speaks wisdom with “the tongue of the learned” (Isaiah 50:4). True wisdom can only be spoken from a heart possessing true wisdom (Proverbs 12:17; 14:5).

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Proverbs 23:15

My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine.
– Proverbs 23:15

Verses 15 and 16 form a saying reminiscent of the fatherly addresses in the first nine chapters of this book. The word for heart is common and can refer to the mind, emotions, the inner being, or even the whole man. If the son’s heart is wise, he has received the instruction and correction of wisdom (Proverbs 1:10; 2:1; 4:1). When children grow up in wisdom, the parents rejoice (Proverbs 10:1; 15:20; 23:24-25; 29:3).

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Proverbs 23:14

Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
– Proverbs 23:14

Verse 14 continues the saying on the necessity and benefit of corporal punishment. Words are not enough to dislodge folly (Proverbs 22:15). The word for deliver means to snatch away and gives a picture of rescue. It’s easy to connect this deliverance with the design of wise instruction and correction to deliver from evil men and strange women who are on the way to sheol (Proverbs 1:29-33; 5:5; 7:27; 9:18).

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Proverbs 23:13

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
– Proverbs 23:13

Verses 13 and 14 form the next wisdom saying. The word for withhold means to hold back, or keep back. The implication is something being owed or due. In this case, correction is due and the word means chastisement, but can also be put figuratively for discipline broadly. Parents bear the responsibility in the discipline of a child, which involves instruction, correction, reproof, and the rod. To withhold is to defraud the child. Proverbs clearly teaches wisdom is not natural or innate to us. The most hopeful training is started early because a child is not only naturally ignorant, but naturally foolish (Proverbs 22:15). Words alone are not enough to deliver us from our inborn folly (Proverbs 29:15).

The explanation of the second phrase reinforces the need for the rod, though the rod is not the only tool, nor always the best tool. I like the way Robert Deffinbaugh put it: “Correction—yes. The paddle—perhaps. Discipline—always. The rod—sometimes.” 1 Parents have the responsibility for the instruction and correction of their children. The child grows and will either respond to the correction and grow in wisdom, or will reject the correction, be cemented in folly, and be a grief and shame to his parents (Proverbs 10:5; 12:1; 13:1; 15:5; 17:25; 19:26; 29:15).

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Notes:

  1. Robert Deffinbaugh. The Way of Wise (Kindle Locations 3449-3450). Galaxie Software. Kindle Edition.

Proverbs 23:12

Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.
– Proverbs 23:12

The word for apply means to enter and signifies the deliberate pursuit of instruction and knowledge. The word for instruction means discipline. It is a holistic view of training, including both positive instruction and correction. The word for knowledge means understanding and positively refers to the truth about God. Wisdom teaches we have to lean into the instruction and correction of wisdom in order to acquire wisdom. Wisdom teaches us not to follow our hearts but rather to apply our hearts to seek out the wisdom of God (Proverbs 2:2-6; 5:1-2; 22:17).

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Proverbs 23:11

For their redeemer is mighty; he shall plead their cause with thee.
– Proverbs 23:11

This verse adds the consequential warning for the command, “Remove not the old landmark,” in verse 10. The warning has primarily to do with theft and oppression of the poor. The word for redeemer means next of kin and we sometimes refer to kinsman redeemer. A near kinsman was an advocate and deliverer by the law. Sometimes this might be through relieving the suffering of poor relatives (Leviticus 25:25; Ruth 3:12-13). The redeemer might also be the avenger of blood (Number 35:19). Yahweh is the ultimate redeemer who will defend the weak and exact justice (Proverbs 22:23; Exodus 22:22-24). Wisdom teaches us to be mindful of this, though the poor are easily taken advantage of.

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Proverbs 23:10

Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless:
– Proverbs 23:10

The old landmark refers to the boundary markers that were set to apportion the land inheritance to the tribes and families throughout Israel. The word for old means time out of mind, referring to antiquity. The saying accords with the setting of landmarks by “thy fathers” in Proverbs 22:28. The law forbade moving or removing those landmarks so as to encroach on the inheritance of another (Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17). The old landmark is here tied to the fields of the fatherless, which is the focus of the saying. Wisdom teaches with the law against the oppressing, defrauding, extorting, or otherwise afflicted the weak, i.e., widows and fatherless (Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; James 1:27).

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Proverbs 23:9

Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.
– Proverbs 23:9

Verse 9 stands alone, though it complements the pearls-before-swine aspect of the previous group. To speak … in the ears is to make a direct address. It refers to a direct word of reproof, counsel, or instruction. The word for fool is the most common in Proverbs and refers to a stupid and obstinate person. Their problem is not ignorance, or lack of information, but rather the hate and rejection of wisdom (Proverbs 1:22). Words of wisdom are lost on fools and gain only hatred for the speaker of them (Proverbs 9:7-8; 15:12).

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