Bible Commentary: Proverbs 5

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Proverbs 5

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“Drink Water From Your Own Cistern”

This fifth exhortation (Proverbs 5:1-23) instructs the son (verse 1) or sons (verse 7, NIV) to avoid the seductress and enjoy sexual affection only in the marriage relationship with a loving wife—wherein is safety and much greater joy.

“The Hebrew of v. 6 is difficult…. The verse can be translated without changing the Hebrew as, ‘In order that you not pay attention to the path of life; her ways wander (from it), but you will not know it.’ Taken in this way, the point of v. 6 is not that the [promiscuous] woman is a lost and wayward soul [as in the NIV] (however true that might be). In other words, she is not made an object of pity. To the contrary, she is an agent of temptation who deliberately contrives to draw her prey off the path of life (cf. Proverbs 2:19) and down to destruction. The whole point of Proverbs 5:1-6 is that the young man should heed wisdom and be preserved; one would therefore expect the text to warn of how the prostitute [or immoral woman] draws him away from the path of life. This is the perspective Proverbs always takes with regard to the adulteress (cf. Proverbs 6:26; Proverbs 7:6-26; Proverbs 9:17-18). She is the hunter, not the victim” (New American Commentary, note on Proverbs 5:1-6).

A wife’s sexual charms are portrayed as a cistern or well of drinking water (verse 15; compare Song of Solomon 4:15). There is some disagreement as to the meaning in Proverbs 5:16 of the dispersed fountains and streams of water in the streets. Some take these to be the wicked, polluted women the man might figuratively drink from. Others see these as the man’s own sexual affections wrongly spread abroad. Likewise verse 17 is seen as referring either to a man not sharing his own sexual affections with other women besides his wife or to a man not sharing his wife’s sexual charms with other men. The former seems more likely given the conclusion in verse 20. In any case, it is clear that the only proper sexual relationship—and the only one that will yield lasting happiness—is that between a man and a woman in the sacred bond of marriage.

Verse 19 clearly expresses God’s approval of intimate love play and physical affection between a husband and wife. For thorough commentary on this subject, see the Bible Reading Program commentary on the Song of Solomon.

As we read through these instructions, besides the direct counsel they give we should also keep in mind the background through all these chapters of wisdom portrayed as a woman we should figuratively marry (intimately bond with) and folly portrayed as a harlot we should avoid.

The chapter ends with sin portrayed as entrapment (verses 21-23). The temporary pleasure of sin will lead to misery and death in the end.