Proverbs 23:19
Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way.
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(19) Hear thou, my son, whatever others may do. (Comp. above, on Proverbs 22:19.)

Guide thine heart in the way.—That is, of God. (Comp. Isaiah 40:3, and note on Acts 9:2.)



Proverbs 23:15 - Proverbs 23:23

The precepts of this passage may be said to sum up the teaching of the whole Book of Proverbs. The essentials of moral character are substantially the same in all ages, and these ancient advices fit very close to the young lives of this generation. The gospel has, no doubt, raised the standard of morals, and, in many respects, altered the conception and perspective of virtues; but its great distinction lies, not so much in the novelty of its commandments as in the new motives and powers to obey them. Reverence for parents and teachers, the habitual ‘fear of the Lord,’ temperance, eager efforts to win and retain ‘the truth,’ have always been recognised as duties; but there is a long weary distance between recognition and practice, and he who draws inspiration from Jesus Christ will have strength to traverse it, and to do and be what he knows that he should.

The passage may be broken up into four parts, which, taken together, are a young life’s directory of conduct which is certain to lead to peace.

I. There is, first, an appeal to filial affection, and an unveiling of paternal sympathy {Proverbs 23:15 - Proverbs 23:16}. The paternal tone characteristic of the Book of Proverbs is most probably regarded as that of a teacher addressing his disciples as his children. But the glimpse of the teacher’s heart here given may well apply to parents too, and ought to be true of all who can influence other and especially young hearts. Little power attends advices which are not sweetened by manifest love. Many a son has been kept back from evil by thinking, ‘What would my mother say?’ and many a sound admonition has been nothing but sound, because the tone of it betrayed that the giver did not much care whether it was taken or not.

A true teacher must have his heart engaged in his lessons, and must impress his scholars with the conviction that their failure drives a knife into it, and their acceptance of them brings him purest joy. On the other hand, the disciple, and still more the child, must have a singularly cold nature who does not respond to loving solicitude and does not care whether he wounds or gladdens the heart which pours out its love and solicitude over him. May we not see shining through this loving appeal a truth in reference to the heart of the great Father and Teacher, who, in the depths of His divine blessedness, has no greater joy than that His children should walk in the truth? God’s heart is glad when man’s is wise.

Note, also, the wide general expression for goodness-a wise heart, lips speaking right things. The former is source, the latter stream. Only a pure fountain will send forth sweet waters. ‘If thy heart become wise’ is the more correct rendering, implying that there is no inborn wisdom, but that it must be made ours by effort. We are foolish; we become wise.

What the writer means by wisdom he will tell us presently. Here he lets us see that it is a good to be attained by appropriate means. It is the foundation of ‘right’ speech. Nothing is more remarkable than the solemn importance which Scripture attaches to words, even more, we might almost say than to deeds, therein reversing the usual estimate of their relative value. Putting aside the cases of insincerity, falsehood, and the like, a man’s speech is a truer transcript of himself than his deeds, because less hindered and limited by externals. The most precious wine drips from the grapes by their own weight in the vat, without a turn of the screw. ‘By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.’ ‘God’s great gift of speech abused’ is one of the commonest, least considered, and most deadly sins.

II. We have next the one broad precept with its sure reward, which underlies all goodness {Proverbs 23:17 - Proverbs 23:18}. The supplement ‘be thou,’ in the second clause of Proverbs 23:17, obscures the close connection of clauses. It is better to regard the verb of the first clause as continued in the second. Thus the one precept is set forth negatively and positively: ‘Strive not after [that is, seek not to imitate or be associated with] sinners, but after the fear of the Lord.’ The heart so striving becomes wise. So, then, wisdom is not the result of cultivating the intellect, but of educating the desires and aspirations. It is moral and religious, rather than simply intellectual. The magnificent personification of Wisdom at the beginning of the book influences the subsequent parts, and the key to understanding that great conception is, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.’ The Greek goddess of Wisdom, noble as she is, is of the earth earthy when contrasted with that sovereign figure. Pallas Athene, with her clear eyes and shining armour, is poor beside the Wisdom of the Book of Proverbs, who dwelt with God ‘or ever the earth was,’ and comes to men with loving voice and hands laden with the gifts of ‘durable riches and righteousness.’

He is the wise man who fears God with the fear which has no torment and is compact of love and reverence. He is on the way to become wise whose seeking heart turns away from evil and evil men, and feels after God, as the vine tendrils after a stay, or as the sunflower turns to the light. For such wholehearted desire after the one supreme good there must be resolute averting of desire from ‘sinners.’ In this world full of evil there will be no vigorous longing for good and God, unless there be determined abstention from the opposite. We have but a limited quantity of energy, and if it is frittered away on multifarious creatures, none will be left to consecrate to God. There are lakes which discharge their waters at both ends, sending one stream east to the Atlantic and one west to the Pacific; but the heart cannot direct its issues of life in that fashion. They must be banked up if they are to run deep and strong. ‘All the current of my being’ must ‘set to thee’ if my tiny trickle is to reach the great ocean, to be lost in which is blessedness.

And such energy of desire and direction is not to be occasional, but ‘all the day long.’ It is possible to make life an unbroken seeking after and communion with God, even while plunged in common tasks and small cares. It is possible to approximate indefinitely to that ideal of continually ‘dwelling in the house of the Lord’; and without some such approximation there will be little realising of the Lord, sought by fits and starts, and then forgotten in the hurry of business or pleasure. A photographic plate exposed for hours will receive the picture of far-off stars which would never show on one exposed for a few minutes.

The writer is sure that such desires will be satisfied, and in Proverbs 23:18 says so. The ‘reward’ {Rev. Ver.} of which he is sure is the outcome of the life of such seekers after God. It does not necessarily refer to the future after death, though that may be included in it. But what is meant is that no seeking after the fear of the Lord shall be in vain. There is a tacit emphasis on ‘thy,’ contrasting the sure fulfilment of hopes set on God with the as sure ‘cutting of’ of those mistakenly fixed upon creatures and vanities. Psalm 37:38, has the same word here rendered ‘reward’ and declares that ‘the future [or reward] of the wicked shall be cut off.’ The great fulfilment of this assurance is reserved for the life beyond; but even here among all disappointments and hopes of which fulfilment is so often disappointment also, it remains true that the one striving which cannot be fruitless is striving for more of God, and the one hope which is sure to be realised, and is better when realised than expected, is the hope set on Him. Surely, then, the certainty that if we delight ourselves in God He will give us the desires of our hearts, is a good argument, and should be with us an operative motive for directing desire and effort away from earth and towards Him.

III. Special precepts as to the control of the animal nature follow in Proverbs 23:19 - Proverbs 23:21. First, note that general one of Proverbs 23:19, ‘Guide thine heart in the way.’ In most general terms, the necessity of self-government is laid down. There is a ‘way’ in which we should be content to travel. It is a definite path, and feet have to be kept from straying aside to wide wastes on either hand. Limitation, the firm suppression of appetites, the coercing of these if they seek to draw aside, are implied in the very conception of ‘the way.’ And a man must take the upper hand of himself, and, after all other guidance, must be his own guide; for God guides us by enabling us to guide ourselves.

Temperance in the wider sense of the word is prominent among the virtues flowing from fear of the Lord, and is the most elementary instance of ‘guiding the heart.’ Other forms of self-restraint in regard to animal appetites are spoken of in the context, but here the two of drunkenness and gluttony are bracketed together. They are similarly coupled in Deuteronomy 21:20, in the formula of accusation which parents are to bring against a degenerate son. Allusion to that passage is probable here, especially as the other crime mentioned in it-namely, refusal to ‘hear’ parental reproof-is warned against in Proverbs 23:22. The picture, then, here is that of a prodigal son, and we have echoes of it in the great parable which paints first riotous living, and then poverty and misery.

Drunkenness had obviously not reached the dimensions of a national curse in the date when this lesson was written. We should not put over-eating side by side with it. But its ruinous consequences were plain then, and the bitter experience of England and America repeats on a larger scale the old lesson that the most productive source of poverty, wretchedness, rags, and vice, is drink. Judges and social reformers of all sorts concur in that now, though it has taken fifty years to hammer it into the public conscience. Perhaps in another fifty or so society may have succeeded in drawing the not very obscure inference that total abstinence and prohibition are wise. At any rate, they who seek after the fear of the Lord should draw it, and act on it.

IV. The last part is in Proverbs 23:22 - Proverbs 23:23. The appeal to filial duty cannot here refer to disciple and teacher, but to child and parents. It does not stand as an isolated precept, but as underscoring the important one which follows. But a word must be spared for it. The habits of ancient days gave a place to the father and mother which modern family life woefully lacks, and suffers in many ways for want of. Many a parent in these days of slack control and precocious independence might say, ‘If I be a father, where is mine honour?’ There was perhaps not enough of confidence between parent and child in former days, and authority on the one hand and submission on the other too much took the place of love; but nowadays the danger is all the other way-and it is a very real danger.

But the main point here is the earnest exhortation of Proverbs 23:23, which, like that to the fear of the Lord, sums up all duty in one. The ‘truth’ is, like ‘wisdom,’ moral and religious, and not merely intellectual. ‘Wisdom’ is subjective, the quality or characteristic of the devout soul; ‘truth’ is objective, and may also be defined as the declared will of God. The possession of truth is wisdom. ‘The entrance of Thy words giveth light.’ It makes wise the simple. There is, then, such a thing as ‘the truth’ accessible to us. We can know it, and are not to be for ever groping amid more or less likely guesses, but may rest in the certitude that we have hold of foundation facts. For us, the truth is incarnate in Jesus, as He has solemnly asserted. That truth we shall, if we are wise, ‘buy,’ by shunning no effort, sacrifice, or trouble needed to secure it.

In the lower meanings of the word, our passage should fire us all, and especially the young, to strain every muscle of the soul in order to make truth for the intellect our own. The exhortation is needed in this day of adoration of money and material good. Nobler and wiser far the young man who lays himself out to know than he who is engrossed with the hungry desire to have! But in the highest region of truth, the buying is ‘without money and without price,’ and all that we can give in exchange is ourselves. We buy the truth when we know that we cannot earn it, and forsaking self-trust and self-pleasing, consent to receive it as a free gift. ‘Sell it not,’-let no material good or advantage, no ease, slothfulness, or worldly success, tempt you to cast it away; for its ‘fruit is better than gold,’ and its ‘revenue than choice silver.’ We shall make a bad bargain if we sell it for anything beneath the stars; for ‘wisdom is better than rubies,’ and he has been cheated in the transaction who has given up ‘the truth’ and got instead ‘the whole world.’

Proverbs 23:19-21. Hear and be wise — Rest not in hearing, but see that thou grow wiser and better by it. And guide thy heart in the way — Order the whole course of thine affections and actions in God’s way, often termed the way, as has been observed before. Be not among wine-bibbers — Avoid their conversation and company, lest thou be either infected or injured by them. The drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty — Which is the common effect of revelling, feasting, and riotous living. Drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags — They are wont to be attended also with immoderate sleeping, laziness, and neglect of all business, which as certainly will reduce men to extreme beggary as gluttony or drunkenness does.

23:19-28 The gracious Saviour who purchased pardon and peace for his people, with all the affection of a tender parent, counsels us to hear and be wise, and is ready to guide our hearts in his way. Here we have an earnest call to young people, to attend to the advice of their godly parents. If the heart be guided, the steps will be guided. Buy the truth, and sell it not; be willing to part with any thing for it. Do not part with it for pleasures, honours, riches, or any thing in this world. The heart is what the great God requires. We must not think to divide the heart between God and the world; he will have all or none. Look to the rule of God's word, the conduct of his providence, and the good examples of his people. Particular cautions are given against sins most destructive to wisdom and grace in the soul. It is really a shame to make a god of the belly. Drunkenness stupifies men, and then all goes to ruin. Licentiousness takes away the heart that should be given to God. Take heed of any approaches toward this sin, it is very hard to retreat from it. It bewitches men to their ruin.Or, For if there is an end (hereafter), thine expectations shall not be cut off. There is an implied confidence in immortality.19-21. guide … way—or direct thy thoughts to a right course of conduct (compare Pr 4:4; 9:6). Be wise; rest not in hearing, but see that thou growest wiser and better by it.

Guide thine heart; order the whole course of thine affections and actions.

In the way; in God’s way, oft called the way, as hath been observed before.

Hear thou, my son, and be wise,.... Hear the instruction of a father, of the word of Wisdom, of the ministers of the Gospel, which is the way to be wise unto salvation; faith comes by hearing; spiritual wisdom, and an increase of it; the Spirit of God, and his gifts and graces;

and guide thine heart in the way; in the way of the Lord, in the way of wisdom and understanding, in the way of truth and faith, in the way of religious worship, in the way of the commandments and ordinances of the Lord; in all which the heart should be guided and directed, or otherwise it will be of no avail.

Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thy heart in the {i} way.

(i) In the observation of God's commandments.

Verses 19-21. - An exhortation to temperance, as one of the results of the fear of God, prefaced by an exhortation to wisdom. Verse 19. - Hear thou. The pronoun gives force and personality to the injunction (Job 33:33). Guide thine heart in the way. (For אשׁר, "to guide straight," see on Proverbs 4:14) "The way" is the right way, in distinction to the many wrong paths of life - the way of understanding, as it is called (Proverbs 9:6). Septuagint, "Direct aright the thoughts of thy heart," for right thoughts lead to right actions. Proverbs 23:19Among the virtues which flow from the fear of God, temperance is made prominent, and the warning against excess is introduced by the general exhortation to wisdom:

19 Hear thou, my son, and become wise,

     And direct thy heart straight forward on the way.

20 And be not among wine-drinkers,

     And among those who devour flesh;

21 For the drunkard and glutton become poor,

     And sleepiness clotheth in rags.

The אתּה, connected with שׁמע, imports that the speaker has to do with the hearer altogether by himself, and that the latter may make an exception to the many who do not hear (cf. Job 33:33; Jeremiah 2:31). Regarding אשּׁר, to make to go straight out, vid., at Proverbs 4:14; the Kal, Proverbs 9:6, and also the Piel, Proverbs 4:14, mean to go straight on, and, generally, to go. The way merely, is the one that is right in contrast to the many byways. Fleischer: "the way sensu eximio, as the Oriental mystics called the way to perfection merely (Arab.) âlaṭryḳ; and him who walked therein, âlsâlak, the walker or wanderer."

(Note: Rashi reads בדרך לבך (walk), in the way of thy heart (which has become wise), and so Heidenheim found it in an old MS; but בדרך is equivalent to בדרך בינה, Proverbs 9:6.)

אל־תּתי ב, as at Proverbs 22:26, the "Words of the Wise," are to be compared in point of style. The degenerate and perverse son is more clearly described, Deuteronomy 21:20, as זולל וסבא. These two characteristics the poet distributes between 20a and 20b. סבא means to drink (whence סבא, drink equals wine, Isaiah 1:22) wine or other intoxicating drinks; Arab. sabâ, vinum potandi causa emere. To the יין here added, בּשׂר in the parallel member corresponds, which consequently is not the fleshly body of the gluttons themselves, but the prepared flesh which they consume at their luxurious banquets. The lxx incorrectly as to the word, but not contrary to the sense, "be no wine-bibber, and stretch not thyself after picknicks (συμβολαῖς), and buying in of flesh (κρεῶν τε ἀγορασμοῖς)," whereby זללי is translated in the sense of the Aram. זבני (Lagarde). זלל denotes, intransitively, to be little valued (whence זולל, opp. יקר, Jeremiah 15:19), transitively to value little, and as such to squander, to lavish prodigally; thus: qui prodigi sunt carnis sibi; למו is dat. commodi. Otherwise Gesenius, Fleischer, Umbreit, and Ewald: qui prodigi sunt carnis suae, who destroy their own body; but the parallelism shows that flesh is meant wherewith they feed themselves, not their own flesh (בּשׂר למו, like חמת־למו, Psalm 58:5), which, i.e., its health, they squander. זולל also, in phrase used in Deuteronomy 21:20 (cf. with Hitzig the formula φάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης, Matthew 11:19), denotes not the dissolute person, as the sensualist, πορνοκόπος (lxx), but the συμβολοκόπος (Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion), κρεωβόρος (Venet.), זלל בּסר (Onkelos), i.e., flesh-eater, ravenous person, glutton, in which sense it is rendered here, by the Syr. and Targ., by אסוט (אסיט), i.e., ἄσωτος. Regarding the metaplastic fut. Niph. יוּרשׁ (lxx πτωχεύσει), vid., at Proverbs 20:13, cf. Proverbs 11:25. נוּמה (after the form of בּוּשׁה, דּוּגה, צוּרה) is drowsiness, lethargy, long sleeping, which necessarily follows a life of riot and revelry. Such a slothful person comes to a bit of bread (Proverbs 21:17); and the disinclination and unfitness for work, resulting from night revelry, brings it about that at last he must clothe himself in miserable rags. The rags are called קרע and ῥάκος, from the rending (tearing), Arab. ruk'at, from the patching, mending. Lagarde, more at large, treats of this word here used for rags.

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