With help from Bruce Waltke…
23:12 is a sort of chorus line that echoes the way the book of Proverbs began. Similarly, verse 15 is addressed to “my son” which is also the way Solomon began. In fact, the entire section is addressed to the son a number of times explicitly (23:15, 19, 22, 25, 26). The beginning of the section in verse 13 would seem to apply to the son’s son which perhaps gives us a better idea of how old this “son” is that is being addressed. Similarly, verse 22 says that the mother of the “son” has grown “old,” suggesting that this “son” is a grown man. Verse 12 is also a repetition of 22:17ff which was a sort of preface to the “ten commandments” of the poor (22:22-23:11).
Notice too that the passage opens with an exhortation which applies specifically to the “ears” and “heart” (23:12). A similar exhortation ends the section referring to the “heart” and “eyes” (23:26). “Heart” is repeated several times in this passage (23:12, 15, 17, 19, 26). The father also says that his “kidneys” rejoice when his son’s “lips” speak right things (23:16). All of this reinforces a pattern in Proverbs that wisdom is a physical thing, a skill, a pattern to follow, a sort of imitation.
Apply Your Heart and Ears
This parallel is a repeated idea throughout Proverbs which implies the close connection between the heart and the ears on a number of levels. These faculties have a reciprocal relationship toward one another. The heart must be open in order for the ears to be open, but listening to wisdom or folly effects the heart as well and inclines it toward wisdom or folly.
The natural result of learning “knowledge” (musar) is the bestowal of this knowledge in teaching and discipline (23:13, musar). This word is used in 22:15 to refer to the “rod” as well. This implies the close relationship between physical discipline and instruction. One of the important reasons for using corporal punishment is for getting an audience with a child. The proverb first insists that “he will not die” from the rod, but it goes on to insist that not only is it not lethal, it is actually medicinal and salvific. But this also gives a trajectory to discipline; children who are not flourishing under the rod are not being “delivered from sheol.”
Your Heart and My Heart
The father says that his own happiness is tied to the heart of his son (23:15-16). This is a good sort of motivation when there is already a good relationship. This is also an encouragement to appeal to this in instruction (cf. 23:24-25). This works negatively too, knowing that certain actions will be particularly disappointing and hard on parents. Part of wisdom seems to be found in learning how to be grace and mercy without creating a softness for sin. But that balance is found in a real understanding of grace. The father also says that his son’s right words will cause his “kidneys” to rejoice. He will be rejoice with all that he is, deep down in his bones. The proverbs teach parents to celebrate when their children obey.
Your Heart and Sinners
The father continues the theme of the “heart” and warns the son against envying sinners. The opposite of “envy” in this proverb is “fear” (23:17). And this proverb ties “fear of Yahweh” particularly to the promise of final judgment (23:18). But the underlying exhortation has to do with what we “earnestly desire.” If we admire sinners, it’s envy; if we admire and desire the fear of the Lord, it is fruitful and faithful (23:18). And the promise of “hope” not being cut off builds upon the two previous references to the end where the faithful son “will not die” and will be delivered from “sheol” (23:13-14).
Hear and Guide
The father again addresses his son as “son,” ensuring him of his love and concern. In addition to the general exhortation to “be wise,” the father tells him to “guide” his heart. The word for “guide” means to make straight and proceed forward. One obvious implication is that this is possible. It is possible to direct one’s heart in a different direction; moderns have a tendency to believe that the heart has a mind of its own. And this has to do directly with where you go, who you’re with. Directing your feet is one of the ways you direct your heart, the father says. “Drowsiness will clothe a man with rags,” is a positive statement concerning the effects of such a lifestyle.
Who Begot You
The father plays up his fatherhood and his wife’s motherhood in 22-25. There is an inclusio in verses 22 and 25 which emphasizes the close connection between “buying truth” and causing a father to rejoice and delight in his son. The implication is the refusal to pursue truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding is actually preventing father and mother from being happy. It is a form of theft, taking their happiness and joy from them. Think about God the Father’s delight in his Son.
Who Has Your Heart?
Notice in 23:26-28 that loyalty to father is juxtaposed to the love of a harlot. In fact the implication is that giving the “heart” to his father and putting his “eyes” upon his father will protect him from the harlot.