The broader context of these verses is ten prohibitions like the original Decalogue (22:22-23:11).
This section has a beginning and ending inclusio that includes the promise that the Lord, their Redeemer, “will plead their cause” (22:23, 23:11). And this forms the overall theme of this Proverbial Decalogue – the ten commandments relating to the poor and finances in general.
The inclusio also forms the moral context for the commands: Yahweh pleads the cause of the poor and is able to touch anything – ie. the “soul.” But this also reminds us that the consequences of foolish actions and dealings are not random. They may be predictable sometimes, but they are still the acts of the “Redeemer.”
The first four “commandments” are prohibitions (22:22, 24, 26, 28), the fifth is a positive implied command (22:29), and the last five are prohibitions (23:1-3, 4, 6, 9, 10).
The second and third ‘commandments’ have to do with forming relationships with relation to money. Anger isn’t good for business and if you learn the angry man’s ways, you won’t be blessed either (22:24-25). The warning against becoming a ‘surety for debt’ is repeated throughout the Proverbs (Pr. 6:1, 11:15, 17:18, 20:16, 22:26, 27:13). In one place the warning is particularly related to “foreigners” (11:15), but 17:18 warns against becoming surety for a “friend.” This warning is not just about loaning someone money or starting a business with someone. It’s about the ignorant mindset that goes into business dealings with eyes closed. The situation would also arise as a result of being asked for money. And this son of Solomon is royalty. He’s a rich guy with a bed to sleep on, but the wise man warns against being the financial backstop for business gurus who come along looking for help. This is also protection for the poor who were not to be charged interest in loans (Lev. 25:37). This general warning may also be a warning against three-party deals.
The “ancient landmark” was originally related to the boundaries set in the land of Israel after the conquest (Dt. 19:14, 27:17). The “landmarks” were sacred because of how they fulfilled the covenant promises of God to Israel. But the economy was also tied to the land carefully. Every 50 years in the year of jubilee the land reverted to its original owner, and the ancient landmarks would have been permanent markers of which land belonged to whom (Lev. 25:8-17) and those provisions have everything to do with care for the poor of the land (25:23ff). This same command is repeated in the ‘tenth commandment’ in 23:10, more explicitly warning against oppressing orphans and widows.
The fifth commandment is the only positive command of the ten. The implied command is: work hard and you will stand with kings and famous men (22:29). This is a promise in a couple of ways: first, the obvious promise that God blesses hard work. But within in this context, “hard work” is tied to the proper care of the poor. The implication is that care for the poor, that kind of hard work, is the way to stand with kings. He who has an open hand is given more, he who serves is great, and he who is faithful over a little will be given much.
The theme of kings pushes us into the sixth commandment that warns against being deceived by appearances. The specific warning is with regard to the “delicacies” of the rich, their food, eating with a ruler (23:1-2). But the prohibition is particularly not to desire his riches (23:3). This is because things are not as they seem, appearances are deceptive. It’s likely that being invited to dinner at a ruler’s house is not merely for chit-chat. This would be a great honor, but it is most likely an interview, a test, a trial, etc. Remember other banquets that were for this very purpose: Naboth (1 Kgs 21) or Esther (5:4ff). Remember the fruit of the tree that was a test for Adam and Eve, and the Lord’s Supper is a banquet of this sort as well (1 Cor. 11:27-34). The “put a knife to your throat” is reminiscent of the Lord’s hyperbolic commands about plucking out eyes and cutting off hands to avoid sin. The point is to walk circumspectly. Live and walk with discernment.
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