Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 23:3
"Do not desire his delicacies, for it is deceptive food"
There are two fascinating directions that this proverb could refer to.
This could be an interesting study in nutrition and gluttony. Or this proverb could be a warning of the dangers of the plastic life of power, prestige, and fame.
do not desire his delicacies
The real warning comes against desiring the food of this ruler. What is the food of the ruler? It could be the actual food of a rich, powerful leader. Or it could be a metaphor for what the ruler lives on; the air they breathe; the food they eat in terms of what they really use to sustain themselves. In the one case it would be the actual food that should not be desired. In the other case it would be the arbitrary power that should not be desired.
In verse 29 of the previous chapter, God tells us that if you are a person of real skill, then leaders and high ranking people will find you. You will be doing your craft in front of men of real power and wealth. So the opening verses of Chapter 23 are the natural follow-up from that counsel. When you are in the presence of people of great wealth and power, don't develop a strong desire for their delicacies. Be prepared to want all the perks of their position but don't, as those benefits are not all they are cracked up to be. They are, in fact, deceptive.
Notice the flow of the first eight verses of Chapter 23 – they are about desiring the substance of the rich, powerful, and famous; not setting your sights on money and wealth and not eating any of the bread of the wicked person.
It would seem that the idea is to teach through analogies of food, eagles, and bread the life lessons, which would make this proverb about arbitrary power, pomp and circumstance, and sycophantic attention.
If this is the case, then God is warning us that when your honed skill puts you in front of people with real power, don't allow yourself to begin to crave what they have. All of us would like to have arbitrary power, a great fuss made about everything we do, and people running around telling us that we are great and wise; but this is basically a lie. It fills you up, but it cannot really sustain life.
It is amazing how many are really pursuing these goals. Being able to tell people what to do; no questions asked; having everyone notice you and make a huge deal out of your presence; and gathering a group of people who only tell you, yes; do what you suggest; and act amazed at all you say and do. This, however, according to the Bible is not life but a lie and cannot sustain life. It is the fool in each of us that wants these goals.
If this proverb is about the actual food of powerful and wealthy people, then it is a warning not to let one's natural gluttony take over. A person of great wealth and power can have any and every type of food they want and usually they have an overabundance every meal. Many commentators have seen this proverb as a warning against gluttony. Put a knife to your throat. Actually force yourself to eat less than you think you can. Even though it all looks good and even though it is there for the taking, don't do it. Becoming addicted to food or drink pushes the focus of one's life to be completely upon this world. Do not be deceived; abundance of well-prepared food is a lie. As much food as you want is not the blessing that it seems. Food that costs a lot to enjoy is not the blessing that it seems.
for it is deceptive food
The word deceptive is the Hebrew word kazab, which means untrue, false to reality, lie. It is regularly connected with vanity and emptiness. This is the word for falsehood.
If the issue in this proverb is really food, then God is pointing out that the food the ruler serves is a falsehood. Wealthy people serve food that is not good for you or too much of it like in Daniel's case where the king dined on rich and expensive foods that were bad for them and which Daniel refused. It is not reality. If you actually eat all that is available to you in the banquet room of a ruler, then you will be destroying yourself.
If the issue is actual food, then it is gluttony that is being warned against. Being in the presence of an abundance of food can make life seem to be only about satisfying physical needs. Jesus reminds the Devil that life is not about physical food alone but instead about the words that proceed out of the mouth of God.
In our day and age, gluttony is commonplace and obesity is an epidemic. Is God talking about food at all or instead pointing us to what the ruler lives on? Is he trying to get us to realize that the power, prestige, respect, and deference that are the sustenance of the ruler are in truth deceptive? People do not really believe that you are worthy of all the subservience and respect they are giving you. They are acting this way because of the position you hold and the power you wield. Some people begin to believe their own press clippings and think that people are supposed to be this way to them all the time because of who they are, not the position they hold.
The positive lesson in this proverb – if food is a metaphor for power, wealth, and fame – is clearly that normal life of give-and-take relationships, hard work, anonymity, and opposition is real life and should be embraced fully instead of seeking to escape into a fairy tale of power, wealth, and prestige.