If you find honey, eat only what you need;
otherwise, you’ll get sick from it and vomit.
Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house;
otherwise, he’ll get sick of you and hate you.
— Proverbs 25:16-17 HCSB
The book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom, and that in multiple respects. It is a book containing wisdom, one that intends to convey that wisdom to all who hear its call. It is also a book that, as it gives wisdom, requires that wisdom in order to obtain even more treasures of wisdom. John A. Kitchen writes,
A proverb is truth in its most concentrated form, and thus expects us to add Spirit-illuminated reflection to come to full understanding. A proverb is designed to be ‘unpacked’ through much meditation, comparison with life, and with other Scriptures. … Proverbs was written not merely to tell us what to do, but also to make us think. Pure pragmatists may find themselves frustrated, if unwilling to pursue reflective, Spirit-guided meditation” (Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, 29).
In Proverbs 25:16-17, the proverbs are closely related and therefore help interpret each other. The first verse establishes the principle; the second applies it.
Proverbs 25:16 is what I call the Honey Rule. Excess indulgence does not lead to further enjoyment. Despite the protestations of Winnie the Pooh, there is such a thing as too much honey. Notice that this principle does not deny the goodness of honey; it simply proscribes overindulgence. The wisdom that fears Yahweh (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10) stays within the boundaries He has set, even boundaries upon good things intended to be enjoyed.
Proverbs 25:17 is a particular application of the Honey Rule, and a rather humbling one it proves to be! The application is this: Do not think so highly of yourself that you believe you’re exempt from the Honey Rule! Just as you get sick of too much sweets, so too will other people get sick of you if you “overindulge” them.
Here we see the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s fruit-bearing work in us: that of self-control. The Honey Rule counsels self-control in good things; too much honey is nauseating, not more enjoyable. Verse 17 counsels self-control in our self-estimations: none of us are exceptions to the Honey Rule.
Later in the chapter, we have another proverb that sheds light on these two and helps clarify them. “It is not good to each too much honey, or to seek glory after glory” (Proverbs 25:27). Glory-seeking is nauseating like overeating sweets; honey and glory are good things, but only within the limits set by Yahweh.
A final word from John Kitchen sums up these proverbs well: “Could it be, then, that God’s boundaries are not designed to restrict our freedom and dull our enjoyment, but to expand our boundaries and heighten our pleasure?” (572).