Proverbs Today – An “Axe to Grind”


Proverbs 23:1-8 “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. Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven. Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words.”

Vss. 1-8 function here as a unit. And there is so very much to be gleaned here.

The idea in vss. 6-8, which informs the whole unit, is that people often have hidden agendas. Benjamin Franklin called them “axes to grind”. He recounted an experience from his youth when a man approached him, flattering him on how well he was sharpening some farming implements. Then the man asked if he could be so honored as to have such skill applied to getting his own axe sharpened. The flattered youth took the task on due to the flattery. And the man returned several more times until Franklin caught on to what was really happening. The flattery was offered, simply because a man had “an axe to grind.” When such offer you something, they do so not with an eye to actually bless you – though they may even rationalize it in their own minds as such – but rather to achieve some end of their own. This is the meaning of “their heart is not with you”. Not every gift, is one. Many are bribes and tools of manipulation. Beware. If not, the supposed blessing will come back upon you in a most unpleasant way. You’ll receive nothing from it when all is said and done.

Now there is a pointed application here to the promises of those seeking power – politicians in vss. 1-4. Make no mistake, few indeed are those who serve elected office in our present governmental system who have altruistic motives behind the campaign promises they make.

The Hebrew here will admit both – observe carefully “what” is before you, and “who” is before you. And indeed, there is no need to choose – for both needs be considered. What are they promising, and what is the character of the one promising.

Promises of easy money, safer streets, social safety nets, or expanded gun rights, and even religious freedoms. When you enter the voting booth, put a knife to your throat if you are hungry for what they have promised you as a delicacy to your appetite – however good your appetite may be. Look not to their promises or even their agendas – look to their character as much as it can be discerned. Wild, extravagant campaign promises are deceptive food indeed. They cannot be evaluated on the surface. If they are not tied to a man or woman of proven character – you will come to regret it in the end, even if at first, it appears to satisfy what you hunger for.

There is application here to those who seek the affections of others who are emotionally unavailable. To “conquer” one who is cold or indifferent, to finally get them to give you their love or affection, will prove to be but a short-lived victory. You will feel so special at having received what they seem to withhold from everyone else, but it is a ruse. Their heart is not really with you. Sooner or later that imagined affection will become exceedingly bitter. You will have wasted your affection on one who can never truly return it.

Nowhere is this more painfully experienced than when you receive accolades in front of someone who is stingy for human praise. You will find the daggers of envy most sharp and barbed.

Father God – give us your wisdom. Keep us from making our decisions based only upon what we see on the outside, what pleases us, tickles our ears or appeals to our dearest appetites. Teach us to consider all through the lens of your Word, and its diagnosis of the fallen human heart. And let us have the agenda of what pleases you most, over and above what may even seem to accord with our perception of what might be a short-term gain. Like the drunkard at the end of this chapter, keep us from indulging in the immediate pleasure of the wine when it is red in the cup, without considering what it will mean when we are in the hold of its stupor, and in the aftermath when we awake – with wounds we never even perceived to have been inflicted.

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