By Jay T. Robertson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
Proverbs 23:17–21, 29–35
The Promise (17–18)
Solomon warns the believer not to allow his heart to envy sinners. The “heart” refers to the seat of human decision-making. The verb “envy” describes a strong emotional craving to possess something. Coveting focuses on the object of desire while envying focuses on the person who has the object of desire.
The Christian’s hope is to be continually with God. God is to be our guide now, and after this life He will receive us into glory (Ps. 73:24). With this hope for the present and for the future, how can we possibly envy sinners?
The Lord will show us the path of life, and we will have everlasting joy (Ps. 16:8–11). We are to choose to love the Lord above all else.
Instead of envying sinful role models, believers should constantly recognize the presence of the Lord and our absolute dependence on Him. The general principle here is that if a believer follows this counsel, then he or she will experience a future of hope and fulfillment, not destruction. Believers are to fear the Lord, finding their security and hope in Him alone.
The Petition (19–21)
The repeated exhortations in the book of Proverbs to listen remind us of Jesus’ earnest and affectionate call to use our ears (Matt. 11:15; 13:9). They show the great importance of listening as the first step to becoming wise. For wisdom, no less than faith, comes from what is heard (Rom. 10:17).
Solomon proclaims a warning against temptation. God’s creatures abuse His gifts. Wine becomes the occasion of excess. Gluttonous eating degrades the soul and enslaves the body. We are warned not to be one of them and not to associate with them. Can we be among lepers, figuratively speaking, and not catch the disease? The best way to show them love is not to sit down with them but to work for their conversion. And if this is not effective, then avoid them (1 Cor. 15:33).
Solomon is pouring out his heart and soul to his son. Do not think that the enemy wants you to be happy. His malice holds out a poisoned bait. Poverty and shame are temporal fruits, but the eternal ruin of his deceived victims is his far more deadly design.
Look to Christ. Turn from your sin to Christ (Rom. 13:13–14).
The Portrait (29–32)
Here a drunkard is looking at himself in the mirror. Let him see his own face. Let him hang up this picture in his home. Let him hang up this picture in the place he frequents. Every sin brings its own woe and sorrow. Wisdom is calling out to warn us to avoid the allurements of sin. Often a seemingly harmless look leads into a fatal temptation.
The drunkard has woe and sorrow. The drunkard also experiences everything from physical fights with those around him to domestic disputes between spouses. He is prone to constant complaining and arguing. The drunkard oftentimes will have injuries and will be unable to remember how he acquired them and the reason for his bloodshot eyes.
Solomon answers his series of rapid-fire questions by pointing to the person who lingers over wine and constantly looks for mixed wine. These people keep on drinking alcohol until they become intoxicated. Solomon concludes this section with a warning about the deceptive danger of strong drink. It has an initial attraction but eventually turns deadly.
The Problem (33–35)
Solomon compared the drunkard’s inebriation to someone attempting to sleep in a small ship as it is being tossed about by the waves of the sea. The drunkard ends up with a complete loss of control.
Drinking strong drink can lead to an addiction that is very difficult to overcome. But we must remember the gospel of Jesus Christ and its power to save us from all sin.