What does Proverbs 23:1 mean?
ESV: When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you,
NIV: When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you,
NASB: When you sit down to dine with a ruler, Consider carefully what is before you,
CSB: When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you,
NLT: While dining with a ruler, pay attention to what is put before you.
KJV: When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee:
NKJV: When you sit down to eat with a ruler, Consider carefully what is before you;
Verse Commentary:
In the ancient Middle East, sharing meals implied friendship and diplomacy. As Israel's king, Solomon was familiar with dinner events. In this verse he counsels his student to carefully consider what is before him when he dines with a ruler. The overall warning is about complacency and greed. One should not embarrass themselves by abusing someone's hospitality. At the same time, one should be careful that a powerful person's generosity does not turn into a bribe.

The distinction between rich and poor was much greater in the ancient world than it is in most modern cultures. For someone used to working for "daily bread," being invited to a feast of luxurious food might tempt them to eat too quickly or too much. Instead, Solomon advises self-discipline. The ruler may be watching the guest's table manners, but God also watches. The following verse (Proverbs 23:2) uses deliberate exaggeration (Matthew 5:30) about the importance of avoiding excess.

The "desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes" are contrary to God's will, according to 1 John 2:16. Jesus also told a story about a certain rich man, who feasted every day (Luke 16:19), only to learn that true life isn't defined by wealth. He neglected to prepare for eternity (Luke 16:22–30). It is better to eat moderately and trust in God, than to feast in luxury in this life, only to wish for a drop of water in hell.
Verse Context:
Proverbs 23:1–11 continues a set of wise sayings recorded by Solomon (Proverbs 22:17–21). This passage contains many wise sayings framed mainly as negative commands: beginning with the words, "Do not." These statements are longer than the succinct suggestions which make up most of the book of Proverbs. Solomon addresses matters such as cautious skepticism towards one's host, avoiding addiction to work, and integrity before both men and God.
Chapter Summary:
This portion of wise sayings (Proverbs 22:17–21) starts with the sixth of thirty mentioned in chapter 22. These include advice on presenting oneself well to a host, while not being unduly influenced by such hospitality. The passage also speaks on the right time to share wisdom, ethics, discipline, and the joys associated with godly children. Also included are warnings about relationships and those who lack self-control. The chapter ends with the Bible's most strident warning about the dangers of alcohol abuse; this is the eighteenth of the thirty promised teachings.
Chapter Context:
This chapter continues Solomon's collection of the sayings of wise men (Proverbs 22:17–21). These lessons continue through Proverbs 24:34. Here, Solomon addresses his "son," perhaps meaning a student, with warnings about money, gluttony, speaking in the company of a fool, dishonesty, withholding discipline from a child, keeping company with drunkards, and the abuse of alcohol. The description of alcohol's risks is the most extensive such caution given in Scripture.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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