When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
observe carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
if you are given to appetite.
Do not desire his delicacies
for they are deceptive food.
The setting for these verses is a dinner or a banquet put on by a ruler. (Think final interview for an undergrad applying for a prestigious iBanking job in Manhattan.) However, these words are not directed at the ruler but to the guest of the ruler. Two passages elsewhere in Scripture come to mind. The first is the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” The second is the parable of the wedding feast in Luke 14:7-11. Both passages are concerned to teach us how to behave toward those in authority over us.
The question this proverb asks us is, “How do you carry yourself when someone important shows an interest in you?” Do you forget who you are? Do you find your imagination and affections drawn to the wealth, status, or power of your host? Do you find it hard to control yourself with such “delicacies” before you? Do you quickly forget who is the true ruler?
The purpose of this proverb is to guide you in wisdom so as not to fall prey to the situation (“observe carefully what is before you”) or your own desires (“do not desire his delicacies”). Notice there is no gray area – “put a knife to your throat.” Is the writer advocating suicide? No, absolutely not! Rather, like Jesus in Matthew 5:29-30, the writer is stressing the all out battle you must wage against your own desires. Otherwise you will fall prey to the allure of those things, which though good in themselves, cannot bear the weight of your trust.
What would it mean to follow this wise counsel? It would mean enjoy your host and his or her generosity. But even more it would mean don’t confuse human affirmation with divine acceptance. The gospel tells us that only in Christ are we fully loved and accepted. Only in Christ do we receive the affirmation and love of the one whose opinion really matters! When our heart’s affections are ordered by the gospel there is both freedom and protection!