Listen to your father who gave you life,
and don’t despise your mother when she is old.
Buy–and do not sell–truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
The father of a righteous son will rejoice greatly,
and one who fathers a wise son will delight in him.
Let your father and mother have joy,
and let her who gave birth to you rejoice.
My son, give me your heart,
and let your eyes observe my ways.
For a prostitute is a deep pit,
and a forbidden woman is a narrow well;
indeed, she sets an ambush like a robber
and increases those among men who are unfaithful.
Who has woe?
Who has sorrow?
Who has conflicts?
Who has complaints?
Who has wounds for no reason?
Who has red eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
those who go looking for mixed wine.
Don’t gaze at wine when it is red,
when it gleams in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a snake
and stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and you will say absurd things.
You’ll be like someone sleeping out at sea
or lying down on the top of a ship’s mast.
“They struck me, but I feel no pain!
They beat me, but I didn’t know it!
When will I wake up?
I’ll look for another drink.”
(Proverbs 23:22-35 HCSB)
In this passage, Solomon at first seems to address three different, unrelated subjects with his sons: (1) honoring their parents by successfully pursuing wisdom and righteousness (23:22-25); (2) sexual purity and marital fidelity (23:26-28); and (3) self-control with respect to alcohol (23:29-35). Upon further reflection, the three sections are united by a common theme: the consequences of what you give yourself over to. (I’m completely OK with ending sentences with prepositions.)
In each section, Solomon’s sons are faced with the prospect of giving themselves over to righteousness, to sexual immorality, and to drunkenness. As a good (and wise, obviously) father, Solomon spells out where each of those roads lead.
The road of righteousness is the road of wisdom, and it brings not merely blessing, but widespread blessing. For his sons to adhere to his instruction, for them to seek wisdom (which begins with fearing Yahweh), that is the ultimate joy for him and their mother. The rest of Proverbs makes it clear that you will be blessed if you seek and find wisdom; here, Proverbs shows that it is not an exclusive blessing.
The road of sexual immorality is less road and more minefield. The prostitute and forbidden woman are deep pits and narrow wells–hazards that are not easily escaped (“you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”). To give yourself over to the pursuit of sexual immorality only leads to peril that may have no way out.
The road of drunkenness is the road of stupidity. Drunkenness–like all temptation, really–is a liar. The promises are so, so appealing (“red,” “gleams in the cup,” “goes down smoothly”); the results are not appealing at all. Drunkenness makes you an idiot: “They beat me up, but I didn’t feel it! I’m invincible! I just need to sleep this off, then I’ll do it all again.”
Solomon’s plea to his sons is this: “Give me your heart,” implying, “and not to these other things.” Whoever your boss is, that’s who signs your checks.
Do you not know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey–either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:16 HCSB)