Proverbs 23:1

Introduction
Chapter 23 continues the collection of sayings from chapter 22, introduced as the “Words of the Wise.” The sayings are usually grouped in two to three verses about a general subject. Subjects covered in this chapter include caution, wealth, hospitality, wasted words, advocacy, wisdom, child discipline, parents, perspective, excess, honoring parents, avoiding the pit, and drunkenness.

When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee:
– Proverbs 23:1

Verse 1 begins a warning to keep your wits about you. A ruler may be a king, governor, magistrate, or otherwise powerful person. Verse 3 makes plain that things are not always what they seem. The word for consider diligently means to discern, perceive, or separate mentally. Wisdom teaches to discern the situation. One should be cautious, perhaps even skeptical of the motives. The ruler likely wants something from you, or is testing you in some way. The flattery of the situation could be blinding and so the warning to keep our heads.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 21:1

Introduction
Chapter 21 continues the Proverbs of Solomon, which form the largest section of this book and continues through the next chapter. The proverbs in this chapter touch on God’s sovereign omniscience, righteousness, justice, rewards, laziness, moderation, pride, and home life.

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
– Proverbs 21:1

The phrase, rivers of water, refers to channels, or watercourses, like what might be dug for irrigation or drainage. A gardener, or farmer, digs such channels in order to direct the water where he wants it to go. The image is analogous to God’s control, even over kings. He turns the king’s heart to accomplish the purposes of his will. The word for heart has a range of meaning and Proverbs often uses it in a way comparable to our use of mind. The proverb does not speak to how God does this, but leaves that mysterious. Other proverbs speak to God determining outcomes even though men plan and act according to their own hearts (Proverbs 16:9, 33; 20:24).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 20:28

Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.
– Proverbs 20:28

The word for mercy is the Hebrew word, hesed. The word appears well over 200 times in the Old Testament and has a range of meaning difficult to capture in a single English word. The KJV follows the Septuagint in most often rendering it as mercy, but also sometimes as kindness, lovingkindness, and goodness. Vine’s Dictionary notes three basic meanings inherent in the word: strength, steadfastness, and love. Mounce defined it as, “unfailing love, loyal love, devotion, kindness, often based on a prior relationship, especially a covenant relationship.” The word begins and ends the proverb.

The word for truth means stability, certainty, and also conveys an idea of trustworthy, or faithful. Both are spoken of God in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 25:10) as exemplar, and urged upon kings in their derivative authority. The king is to be a righteous and merciful upholder of justice and by these his throne is established (Proverbs 16:12; 21:7; 29:14). Mercy and truth secure the kingdom and establish the conditions for human flourishing by mirroring the righteous reign of Yahweh (Proverbs 29:2).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 20:26

A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
– Proverbs 20:26

The word for scattereth is the same as in Proverbs 20:8 (see commentary). The term combined with the use of the wheel in the second phrase completes the threshing, winnowing image. The previous proverb highlighted discernment in judgment. The winnowing image had to do with the searching eyes of the king separating the innocent and the guilty. This proverb uses the same imagery, but with two different emphases. Here wicked are not just sorted into proper categories, but rather the wheel is brought over them. So this proverb highlights the execution of just judgment and maintenance of justice by bringing punishment to evildoers.

The second emphasis is the attribution of the king who does this. He is wise. The word for wise means skillful. It was a term used commonly to describe a master craftsman; one who had learned the art and science of his craft and gained the technical expertise to execute a master work. The word was so used to describe the craftsmen who built the tabernacle and its furnishings (Exodus 36:4). The word was also used to describe the work of the craftsmen who fashioned an idol in Isaiah 40:20, where it is translated cunning. The word appears 46 times in Proverbs and refers to one who is skilled in applying the word of God in all areas of life. So a wise king is one skilled in mastery of the art of ruling well and maintaining justice in the fear of the Lord and according to his word.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 20:8

A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes.
– Proverbs 20:8

The word for scattereth away means to toss about, or winnow. The word is used with the thought of winnowing in connection with a threshing wheel in Proverbs 20:26. Winnowing has to do with separating the chaff from the wheat. Verse 26 notes a wise king does this. The purpose of civil authority is to root evil out of the land (Proverbs 16:12). The king who is righteous is a blessing to his people and secures the conditions for flourishing for them (Proverbs 29:14). The primary purpose of civil government is to uphold and maintain justice, even as Paul wrote in the New Testament (Romans 13:1-7).

The reference to the king’s eyes here is speaking of discernment. Proverbs references the eyes of the Lord in different places in the sense of discernment (Proverbs 5:21; 15:3; 16:2; 21:2; 22:12). The king is as Paul wrote, “the minister of God” (Romans 13:4). The righteous ruler is seen as doing God’s work in upholding justice for the afflicted and oppressed (Proverbs 31:4-5), and representing and relieving the poor and oppressed (Proverbs 31:8-9).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 20:2

The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.
– Proverbs 20:2

This proverb highlights another folly with deadly consequences. The roaring of a lion is a fitting image for the wrath of a king because the lion’s roar is backed up with the ability to kill (Proverbs 16:14-15; 19:12). A king has great power and it is foolish to provoke him. Sinning against your own soul is a figure of speech that refers to death, as in the warning of wisdom (Proverbs 8:36). To carelessly provoke the anger of a king is to put your life at risk.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 19:12

The king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion; but his favor is as dew upon the grass.
– Proverbs 19:12

Power and danger lay behind the roaring of a lion (Proverbs 20:2). The king’s favor, or pleasure, is equally capable of real beneficence. Wisdom advises caution in answering a king (Proverbs 16:14-15). The king should also take note and exercise control of himself, realizing he has the position to do great damage (Proverbs 28:15).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 16:14

The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: but a wise man will pacify it.
– Proverbs 16:14

A king is in a position of power, which means he has great power to do good or evil (Proverbs 19:12). It is unwise then to provoke a king or powerful leader (Proverbs 20:2). This power can give way to a tyrant using it for his own whims and purposes. The word for pacify is a word used for atonement, or covering. The wise man seeks to cover, or alleviate the wrath of a king. Wisdom seeks peace rather than inciting strife (Proverbs 25:15).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 16:12

It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness.
– Proverbs 16:12

The level of authority and responsibility a person has magnifies the severity of their sins (Luke 12:47-48). On the one hand, even good works can become abominable when mixed with the embrace of folly (Proverbs 28:9). Kings are in a special place of responsibility and accountability before God. They must be careful not to follow the counsel of the ungodly (Proverbs 20:18; 25:5). The word for righteousness means justice and is explained as “faithfully judgeth the poor” in a similar proverb (Proverbs 29:14). Bearing authority with wisdom means upholding justice (Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19; Proverbs 24:23; 28:21).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series