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You Don’t Win Friends With Salad

You Don’t Win Friends With Salad

Wisdom when dining with a king

Proverbs 23:1-3

1 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.


Fishing is a favorite pastime of mine. As a presbyterian minister who daily is faced with the enjoyable randomness of the needs of God’s people, the steady rhythm of casting for a bass, bream or trout helps me to relax, but also allows me to enjoy the beauty of creation. 

A few months ago I spotted a gem in a used bookstore downtown. In a special room designated for “collectables,” I noticed a book with a graceful pen and ink drawing on the cover. The book was “A River Never Sleeps” by Roderick Haig-Brown. Haig-Brown was a legendary figure among literary fishermen. The book was for sale for a whopping twelve dollars instead of the normal one dollar or fifty cents like the other books in the store, but I had to have it.

A transplanted Englishman, Haig-Brown settled in the American Pacific Northwest where he fell in love with his future bride—and rivers filled with wild trout. He was a writer and adventurer and over the years authored many books on the outdoors that included lyrical prose describing the joyous challenge of fishing, and the beauty of the land. Like many fishermen, the point of fishing was not only to catch fish, but to simply be outdoors and surrounded by its beauty:  

A fold or break of current, a burst of bubbles or the ripple of a stone in a little stream, sharply and vividly matched to some known part of a big river, releases in me a flood of satisfaction, I think, be akin to that which a philosopher feels as his mind is opened to a profound truth.–Roderick Haig-Brown

Fishing is, of course, a very biblical activity to do. About half of Jesus’s disciples were fishermen, and even God’s prophet Jonah understood what it meant to be bait for a big fish. As a follower of Christ, you are called to be a “fisher of men,” and so live your life accordingly as one who seeks to live and tell the Gospel to those who are to hear.

The devil is a bit of a fisherman too, and a crafty one at that. Puritan Thomas Brooks warns that, “He that will play with Satan’s bait, will quickly be taken with Satan’s hook!” Like a hungry fish, the unwary or unwise can be led into sin by his desire for the pleasure of it. 

Solomon puts forth a similar image in the first three verses of Proverbs chapter 3. In this passage, he offers advice to his son and to the young people of Israel on how to conduct themselves in a royal court. Lets look at verse 1:

1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
Consider carefully what is before you;–Proverbs 23:1

On the surface, it seems Solomon is providing instructions on etiquette and table manners. He is the king, after all, and David’s son is doing what other kings have done by ensuring his progeny and his fellow future courtiers conduct themselves as proper gentlemen. But “as manners maketh the man” can speak to how one presents himself to others, it is also a window to wisdom, and how to avoid destruction.

“Before you dig in,” he is saying, “be aware of what is before you, your surroundings, and in whose presence you sit.” After all, the king has probably summoned you to his table for a reason.

Perhaps you have experienced a moment like this in your life. Your boss asks you to join him or her for lunch, or maybe an influential business owner includes you as a guest at his garden party. You look at the menu filled with expensive delicacies or a table spread with rich exotic foods and are seized with a desire to help yourself fully to this rare treat. 

It is easy to forget yourself in a situation like this and dive right in. You select a high-priced menu item or return again and again to the buffet line to sample more seafood, barbecue, or fancy wine and cheeses. The meal may be a gustatory achievement, but you are likely missing the point. Solomon offers a stark warning in verse 2:

And put a knife to your throat
If you are a man given to appetite.–Proverbs 23:2

This seems harsh, but now that Solomon has your attention, what do you think he means? He is reminding you that your very presence at that table with such a powerful or influential person is not without a purpose that is more than simply consuming food or having a good time. Your boss has likely arranged the meal in order to discuss a business strategy, or your career path. The successful business owner may be seeking an audience with you to provide a lucrative business opportunity. Commentator Tremper Longman reveals how the wise can avoid missing out:

As the wise control their emotional expressions and frequency and content of their speech, so also they must not let their appetites get control of them.–Longman, “Proverbs” 

Solomon’s use of the “knife” metaphor is a call for you to be willing to take drastic action to maintain self-control. Your awareness of the situation will lead you to use moderation when ordering your meal, partaking of the platter, or frequenting the open bar. 

This proverb’s advice is similar to Egyptian wisdom literature of the time, and doubtless an influence on the Israelite king. The teacher Amenemope writes that on such occasions it is “best to only pretend to chew.”  Kagemni, the vizier to King Teti, advises you to, “drink water only,” and, “eat just salad.”

This reminds me of an episode of “The Simpsons,” when Homer invites all of his friends over for a barbecue in order to impress them, and his vegetarian daughter Lisa objects his carnivorous ways. Homer objects: “You don’t win friends with salad, Lisa!” The comment is a rare good joke for Homer and it results in the silliness of a mirthful conga line at Lisa’s expense.

You don’t make friends with salad, but salad can make for success in business and godly wisdom through self control and discipline. In life, if you are unable to curb your appetite, it is best to abstain altogether. This is especially true in regard to dealing with sin. 

Jesus uses similar hyperbole in His Sermon on the Mount as a warning against adultery:

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.–Matthew 5:29

You are rarely tempted by sins for which you do not already have an affinity, or a desire. Just as you hunger for rich foods and can lose your head in a diet-ruining move, so too is the desire you have for gossip, slander, anger, or fear. Learn to discover the doorways to these pitfalls so that you can bar them from your entry.

Solomon wraps up this wise saying in verse 3:

Do not desire his delicacies,
For they are deceptive food.–Proverbs 23:3

An influential person may be simply indulging you out of kindness or friendship—or he may have a more sinister motive. Like the devil casting his attractive lure, this superior may be seeking to determine your trustworthiness, or your gullibility  as a mark for his own gain. Solomon is saying, “there is no free lunch,” in this world, and wisdom comes from knowing and understanding this truth.

I have known influential business people and company leaders who often assessed employees, clients, or business associates in this manner. Throwing a bash for “employee appreciation” may reveal who lacks discipline to be considered for promotion. A “booze cruise” for business clients or rivals may serve to put them at ease for an aggressive move, or to ensure their loyalty. Commentator Bruce Waltke understands Solomon’s meaning:

It appears that the official is treating you to a sumptuous dinner, in which case desiring the joyous cuisine would be appropriate. But in truth, the official is testing your character: whether you are able to restrain your appetite when tempted.–Waltke, “Proverbs” 

Such a Machiavellian move is not unlike that of the White Queen in “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” Commonly referred to as “The White Witch,” her name is well-earned for her deceptive ways. Not long after young Edmund arrives in Narnia, she encounters him and quickly begins to use him for her own nefarious ends. 

She is solicitous to the boy, and plies him with questions while pretending to be nice:

“It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating," said the Queen presently. "What would you like best to eat?"
"Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty," said Edmund.”–C.S. Lewis, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”

Using the Turkish Delight (an odd choice, I know. I personally would have requested a “Butterfinger” or homemade peach pie, but I digress), she gets Edmund to reveal he has one brother and two sisters. He also identifies the faun, Mr. Tumnus, The witch is keen to confirm the number of his party: “You are sure there are just four of you?” she asked. ‘Two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, neither more nor less?”

This lapse of Edmund’s ends up in disaster, as the witch invades and spoils Narnia with her evil and even results in the death of the lion Aslan, the great and righteous king. 

This “food of deception” is much like the meal of wild game* that Jacob brought his blind and trusting father Isaac in Genesis 27. Jacob’s lie resulted in his obtaining the birthright, but it was Isaac’s love for food that opened the door. For he said: 

And make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”–Genesis 27:3

Do you have certain sins that you love? Or are there things in life that you all too often enjoy to excess? Over-indulgence can lead to personal, family, and social disaster, but it can most importantly break your relationship with your loving Heavenly Father. Be it love of food, spending money, or being entertained by your electronic devices all day, your lack of self-control can make you oblivious to the destructive paths down which you are being led. 

Your Savior and Lord faced these exact same things during His time here on earth. After His baptism, Jesus went immediately into the wilderness:

And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”–Matthew 4:2-3

Satan knew exactly where he would attack, and his first strike was at the most vulnerable place in Jesus’s physical body: his stomach. Christ was supremely aware, however, and quickly parried: 

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”–Matthew 4:4

Jesus met and overcame every rapier thrust of the devil’s sword, and He gives you hope for victory over your temptations. For just as the author of Hebrews writes: 

15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.–Hebrews 4:15

How wonderful and blessed it is to be called to keep watch against, and when necessary, to abstain from temptation by the One who has overcome all, even death itself! Pray and seek for the Lord today to give you eyes to see and appetite to savor not the devil’s bait, but the bread of life!


*Note: This originally published with incorrect reference to Esau's lentil stew in Genesis 25 instead of the meal of wild game with Isaac in Genesis 27. 


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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