When you sit down to eat with a ruler... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
August 2, 2017

When you sit down to eat with a ruler...

by Dr. Bill Edgar, Geneva College Board of Trustees Member, Former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPNCA)

Proverbs 23:1-3 – “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food.”

This warning about eating dinner is one of the thirty wise sayings included in Proverbs (22:17-24:34). It tells the “son” for whom Proverbs is meant to watch out when a ruler invites him to dinner. No matter how good the food, he should curb his appetite. The food is deceptive.

The point is not a warning about poison, or that eating too much may dim your wits. The warning is about the ruler! For no matter how hospitably he acts, a “ruler” does not invite you to dinner because he wants a new friend. More likely, he has plans for you that he will only partially expose. Rulers, the upper classes, know how to use and abuse people! It’s what they do. A dinner invitation, used in the proverb as a figure of speech (synecdoche: part for whole), is one of their most powerful tools of manipulation.

Thus, when a ruler invites you to dinner, think danger. Queen Esther used the bait of a feast to lure into a trap her enemy Haman, who was scheming to kill all of the Jews, her people. Haman swallowed the “delicacy” of the invitation, triumphantly built gallows on which to hang Esther’s relative Mordecai, boasted to his family about his continuing rise in the kingdom of Persia, and walked blindly to his death, not knowing that Esther was his enemy. His delight at Esther’s inviting him to dine with her is almost funny (see Esther 5-7).

In his book That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis explores both the heady feeling and dangers of being invited into the inner circle, i.e. to dine with a ruler. The heady feeling comes from the fact that everyone wants to be part of an inner circle, whether that means being with the popular kids in school, joining Skull and Bones at Yale, advancing to the next higher degree in the Masons, having a “place at the table” in politics, or being invited to eat with the Queen. The danger comes from the “ruler.” What will be the price of taking what he has to offer? Take it all, and you will be easy for him to use, abuse, bully, and discard when he is done with you.

This proverb is not cynical. It is realistic, as Jesus was when “many believed in His name,” but he “did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people…for He Himself knew what was in man (John 2:23-24).” Jesus commands his followers to be “wise as serpents, harmless as doves,” but never naïve (Matthew 10:16). When the guy at the top invites you to dinner, get a solid grip on yourself (knife to throat), and beware the “perks” (delicacies). They are deceptive. Savvy is Scriptural.