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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 5

 

 

Introduction

Discourse 5. Addressed To ‘My Son’ (and later ‘Sons’). He Is To Avoid The Enticements Of The Strange Woman Whose Ways Lead To Death, And Rather Be Faithful To His True Wife (Proverbs 4:20 to Proverbs 5:23).

An indication of the unity of this passage is found in the appeals to ‘attend to my words -- attend to my wisdom’ (Proverbs 4:20, Proverbs 5:1). At first there might appear to be three opening appeals in the passage, Proverbs 4:20-27, Proverbs 5:1-2; Proverbs 5:7, but further consideration confirms that the last two are additional appeals resulting from the serious nature of the matter involved. The passage then ends in a contrast between those whose paths YHWH makes level, and those who are wicked (Proverbs 5:21-23). The passage may be divided up into three subsections:

1) A general appeal to hear his words and sayings, and instructions with regard to his heart, mouth, eyes and feet (Proverbs 4:20-27).

2) A warning against the enticements of the strange woman whose ways lead to death including a description of the consequences that will result (Proverbs 5:1-14).

3) An appeal rather to be faithful to a true wife (Proverbs 5:15-23).

As there is an epilogue it could be argued that there are four subsections, but such epilogues, where they are not a part of the third subsection (as revealed by the chiasmus), are always minimal. Presumably the writer did not see them as disturbing the pattern.


Verses 1-14

The Need To Listen To Solomon’s Wisdom And Not To Be Enticed By The Words Of The Strange Woman Which Lead To Death And Slavery (Proverbs 5:1-14).

The constant reference to the need to avoid the enticements of the strange woman suggests that it was a major problem in the time of the writer (see Proverbs 2:16-19; Proverbs 5:3-14; Proverbs 6:24-26; Proverbs 7:5-27; Proverbs 9:13-18), and this fits well with the time of Solomon, for we should note that there is no suggestion of cult prostitutes, and that that was a time when affluence abounded, and when young men who came from affluent families were not involved in other distractions such as war and famine. Thus they had to find something to do with their idle time, and what more attractive than the enticements of alluring women?

On the other hand the constant depiction of the strange woman may be in deliberate contrast to woman Wisdom, (this contrast is brought out in Proverbs 9:1-6 compared with Proverbs 9:13-18). The idea then being to stress that men should look to wisdom rather than to the enticement of strange women whose words lead astray. Alternately it may be that Solomon made wisdom a woman precisely in order to counteract the problem of ‘strange women’ in his time.

It is significant that in this subsection we have two exhortations to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and words (Proverbs 5:1-2; Proverbs 5:7), something which normally comes at the beginning of a discourse. They are, however, important in adding urgency to his initial appeal. In the first case (addressed to ‘my son’) it contrasts Solomon’s wisdom with the honeyed words of the strange woman (Proverbs 5:3), and in the second (addressed to ‘sons’) it contrasts not departing from his words with the need to remove his way from her and not come near to her house (Proverbs 5:8).

The subsection may be seen chiastically:

A My son, attend to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding, that you may preserve discretion, and that your lips may guard knowledge (Proverbs 5:1-2).

B For the lips of a strange woman drop honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword (Proverbs 5:3-4).

C Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold on Sheol, so that she does not find the level path of life, her ways are unstable, and she does not know it (Proverbs 5:5-6).

D Now therefore, sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth, remove your way far from her, and do not come near the door of her house (Proverbs 5:7-8).

C Lest you give your honour (or ‘splendour’) to others, and your years (or ‘loftiness, dignity’) to the cruel, lest strangers be filled with your strength, and your labours be in the house of an alien (Proverbs 5:9-10).

B And you mourn at your latter end, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and say, “How have I hated instruction, and my heart has despised reproof” (Proverbs 5:11-12).

A Nor have I obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me! I was well-nigh in all evil (in serious trouble), in the midst of the assembly and congregation” (Proverbs 5:13-14).

Note that in A he calls on his son to incline his ear to understanding, with its consequences, and in the parallel his son is pictured as having not inclined his ear to those who instructed him, with its consequences. In B the strange woman is in the end bitter as wormwood and sharp as a two-edged sword, whilst in the parallel his latter end is to be consumed. In C her ways are unstable and lead to death and the grave, whilst in the parallel her ways lead him into slavery and degradation. Centrally in D (which could be divided into two), he is to listen to Solomon’s words, and not depart from them, whilst in the parallel he is not to heed the strange woman but is to remove himself far from her, not coming near to the door of her house.

Proverbs 5:1-2

‘My son, attend to my wisdom,

Incline your ear to my understanding,

That you may preserve discretion,

And that your lips may keep knowledge.

We are specifically given the reason for this call to ‘my son’ to hear in order that his lips might retain knowledge. It is because the lips of the strange woman ‘drop honey’ and her mouth is smoother than all. He thus needs God’s wisdom and understanding in order to combat it and ensure that his own lips preserve godly knowledge. Note that as he was called on to attend to Solomon’s words in Proverbs 4:20, and incline his ear to his sayings, now he is called on to attend to his wisdom, and incline his ear to his understanding. (Note also how words and sayings are paralleled with wisdom and understanding). Holding on to that wisdom and understanding will make him discreet in what he does, and ensure that his own lips, unlike the woman’s, ‘retain true knowledge’ (compare Malachi 2:7). This will enable him to overcome temptation. (As someone once wisely said, ‘His word will keep me from sin, or sin will keep me from His word’).

Proverbs 5:3-4

‘For the lips of a strange woman drop honey,

And her mouth is smoother than oil,

But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,

Sharp as a two-edged sword.’

And this hold on God’s wisdom and understanding as imparting God’s knowledge is necessary because the lips and mouth of a ‘strange woman’ drop honey drip by drip (compare 1 Samuel 14:26) and are smoother than oil (probably olive oil, a main export of Israel). They can soon persuade the unwary and the untaught, whose lips are not ‘retaining knowledge’, to walk in the way of sin. But to do so is foolish, for in the end she turns out not to be as sweet as honey but as bitter as wormwood. Wormwood is a plant which is regularly paralleled with gall in order to emphasise bitterness. It had a reputation for bitterness. Furthermore she is as sharp as a two-edged sword. The young man unconsciously awaits his death.

The woman is a ‘strange women’ because she is not a woman in his normal cycle of life. She is a stranger, and often a foreigner. She is also ‘strange’ to him because she is an adulteress or prostitute. But for that reason she is all the more enticing. Indeed the young man may well feel that he can enjoy her and then leave her behind. But the warning is given that that will not be as easy as it sounds. Sin has a habit of clinging on to those who participate in it.

Proverbs 5:5-6

‘Her feet go down to death,

Her steps take hold on Sheol,

So that she does not find the level path of life,

Her ways are unstable, and she does not know it.’

For the woman is treading the way to death, she is going step by step to the grave-world (Sheol). As a consequence she does not find (or ‘watch’) the level path of life. Her eyes are fixed on her own way, not realising where it leads. ‘Her ways are unstable.’ Some would translate, ‘her tracks meander aimlessly’. The point is that she has no fixed direction. She does not take the straight path. She wanders around in by-paths away from the path of life. But she does not know it. She is unaware of where her journey will end. And the assumption is that those who go into her are following the same by-paths. Thus in Proverbs 2:18-19, where we have a similar picture, ‘none that go in to her return again, nor do they attain to the paths of life.’ They are treading the way of death. Here in chapter 5, however, the stated warning is that they will endure degradation and slavery, and in their latter end their flesh and body will be consumed (Proverbs 5:11).

Proverbs 5:7-8

‘Now therefore, my sons, listen to me,

And do not depart from the words of my mouth,

Remove your way far from her,

And do not come near the door of her house,

Solomon is so concerned for the young men who are taking this path that he includes another exhortation to listen to, and follow, the words of his mouth. They are not to depart from them, rather they are to remove their way far from her, and not come to the door of her house. So the choice is stark. Walk in God’s ways, as proclaimed by Solomon, or walk in her ways which she has made to sound so exciting. And his appeal is for them to heed the first and reject the second.

Proverbs 5:9-10

Lest you give your honour (or ‘splendour’ to others,

And your years (or ‘loftiness, dignity’) to the cruel,

Lest strangers be filled with your strength,

And your labours be in the house of an alien,’

The point is that the young man who allows himself to be enticed by foreign prostitutes will find the cost prohibitive. He will get involved in her circle of friends, and soon find himself fleeced of his possessions, losing all that he possesses, and all that he works for, to her foreign friends, who will be experts at fleecing naive young men, either by gambling with them or by encouraging them into expensive living. At the same time he will degrade himself in the eyes of a strict Israelite society who will look on his behaviour with disgust. Thus he will lose his wealth to foreigners and will lose his honour in Israel. Or instead of ‘losing honour’ the thought may be of ‘giving his splendour to others’, the thought being that he will become so degraded by sexual debauchery and drunkenness that he loses the splendour of his youth.

‘Losing his years to the cruel’ may indicate that he wastes much of his time over the years at the hands of those who delight in bringing young men down, thus using up in debauchery the years in which he could have been enriching himself. Or it could signify that he loses his years by losing his health. Of course he will not see those who fleece him as cruel to begin with. He will see them as good friends. It is only when he has lost his health and his wealth and seeks their help that he will discover how cruel they can be. They will have no time for an impoverished young man. Alternately the word translated ‘year’ may rather be translated as ‘dignity’, with the words speaking of losing dignity. But the same point is in mind. He will be dragged down into poverty and disgrace.

Note how the punishment is seen to fit the crime. What a man sows he reaps. He has gone in to a foreign woman, and thus foreigners will make full use of his strength and he will labour in the house of an alien. This may be because he has to work off his debts by labouring for her foreign friends, or has to work for foreigners in order to subsidise his lifestyle, because no Israelite will give him work. He will thus, without realising it, be becoming more and more enslaved. There may also be behind it the idea that he may become so impoverished that he is forced to become a Habiru (landless person) on a seven year ‘slave’ contract working for foreigners.

It should be noted how easily all this could have occurred in the days of Solomon. At that time Jerusalem was a place to which foreigners of all nations poured. They came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, they came for diplomatic reasons from subservient nations round about, they came from the Egyptian court (he had married a daughter of Pharaoh), and they came to serve his multiple foreign wives. Jerusalem would be full of foreigners. And with them would come high class prostitutes and their retinues. Solomon had no doubt observed wealthy young Israelites caught up in this scenario with high hopes, only to be ruined. They had provided a suitable object lesson for what he wanted to say.

Proverbs 5:11-12

And you mourn at your latter end,

When your flesh and your body are consumed,

And say, “How have I hated instruction,

And my heart has despised reproof,”

And the end of such a person’s way of life can only be one of mourning and misery, with his health gone, and his flesh and body finally consumed by illness and the effects of debauchery and high living. Then he will come to his senses, but it will be too late. He will recognise what he has done, hating instruction from his parents and other authorities, and despising their reproof. And he will regret it bitterly.

‘How I have hated -- and despised.’ Most teenagers can identify to this feeling in respect of their parent’s restraints. At the best they endure them at the worst they hate them. The hatred of them suggests deep-rooted rebellion. In this case his heart was so set on enjoyment that he could not bear to have it refused to him. He had a rebellious and sinful heart and so he despised his parent’s advice and hated their guidance.

Proverbs 5:13-14

‘Nor have I obeyed the voice of my teachers,

Nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me!

I was well-nigh in all evil,

In the midst of the assembly and congregation.”

He will then have to admit that he has not obeyed the voice of his teachers (not schoolteachers, but possibly elders, those responsible for advising the people and especially the young, and also priests and Levites). He has not followed their wisdom and understanding, and he has not bent his ear to those who sought to instruct him. (This is an object lesson to the one now being called on to do so, rather than a literal description of his words). Thus he will have to admit that the assembly and congregation of Israel (his contemporaries), whether national or local, will see him as having been nearly wholly taken up with all that was evil; adultery, gambling, debauchery and riotous living. They will have no time for him except to condemn him. It is an admission that he recognises that his contemporaries have a poor view of him and will spare him no pity. He had brought it on himself. He had gone beyond the bounds. Now he must face the consequences, whether social or judicial. (There was no specific sanction against one who had gone with prostitutes. It was mainly a question of shame). It is questionable whether we are to see this as describing true repentance. Rather it is describing a remorse that arises too late as he regrets the consequences that he is now facing. If only he had done otherwise, but he had not. Like those of the Rabbis who were anti-Jesus he was in danger of having done the equivalent of having ‘blasphemed against the Holy Spirit’. He had been anti-wisdom and had continually blasphemed against God’s wisdom and by it he had become totally hardened. He was in almost total despair. Solomon wants all this to be an object lesson to the young.


Verses 15-20

Solomon Calls On His Son To Be Faithful To His True Wife, And To Obtain His Sexual Enjoyments From Her (Proverbs 5:15-20).

In contrast Solomon now brings home to ‘his son’ (Proverbs 5:20) the joys of sexual fulfilment within marriage. He wants him to recognise that in marriage he has a unique sexual partner, and one who loves him in return. Here then is to be the real source of sexual enjoyment. Thus he exhorts him to find his sexual pleasures in his own wife. He must drink from his own source of refreshment, for in that case he alone will be the one who enjoys it. She will not give her favours to another. And she too will be blessed when he rejoices in her. Let him therefore drink of her and be wholly taken up with her, rather than going to strange women and foreigners whom he will have to share with others, who will not love him, and who will themselves get no real pleasure out of him.

This is presented in the form of a brief chiasmus leaving Proverbs 5:21-22 as an epilogue:

A Drink waters out of your own cistern, and running waters out of your own well. Should your springs be dispersed abroad, and streams of water in the streets?’ (Proverbs 5:15-16).

B Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you (Proverbs 5:17).

B Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth (Proverbs 5:18).

A As a loving hind and a pleasant doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times, and be you ravished always with her love, for why should you, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a foreigner? (Proverbs 5:19-20).

Note that in A he is to drink water out of his own cistern and from his own well, rather than wasting his water by allowing it to stream out into the streets, and in the parallel he is to drink of his own wife’s breasts and love, and not allow his sexual accomplishments to be spread among strange women and foreigners. In B he is enjoy the sexual benefits of his wife for himself alone, for they are not be shared with others, and the consequence will be that he finds his blessing in her (or his wife will be blessed) and will find his enjoyment in the one who is the wife of his youth, his own spring.

Proverbs 5:15-16

‘Drink waters out of your own cistern,

And running waters out of your own well,

Should your springs be dispersed abroad,

And streams of water in the streets?’

Solomon opens this subsection with a vivid illustration. ‘Drink waters out of your own cistern’ must surely be explained in terms of ‘let her breasts satisfy you at all times’ (Proverbs 5:19). The cistern was a private source of water, not accessible to others without strict permission. Thus his wife and her sexual attributes are being seen as his source of sexual enjoyment, and his alone. The parallel ‘running waters out of your own well’ stresses the purity and satisfactory nature of the provision. Whereas the water from a cistern (a pit with a small opening at the top for storing water) might after a time become comparatively dirty and muddy, running water was always pure and wholesome. And note again the emphasis on ‘your own well’. The well would private and for the sole use of the householder, although it would be fed from a spring.

The change to the plural indicates the expression of a general situation and draws attention to the incongruity of people sharing their own private water supply (which was very precious in those days), and therefore of sharing the sexual favours of their wives. It is beyond comprehension. Indeed, to disperse their springs everywhere in widespread fashion or to pour springs of water into the streets would be to spread them so thinly that any enjoyment of them would be very temporary. Everyone would obtain quick enjoyment and then they would be gone. They would have no permanent container such as a cistern or a well enabling them to be retained for the future. He, of course, sees this as a suitable picture of a prostitute’s favours. A quick drink and she’s gone, for she is generally available. She is owned by no one.

Proverbs 5:17

‘Let them be for yourself alone,

And not for strangers with you,

Both their cisterns and their wells, and their wives’ sexual favours are to be for themselves alone. They are not to be freely available to strangers and foreigners living among them. This is, of course, the very opposite for prostitutes. (The point is not that strangers must not be allowed to drink from their cisterns and wells, once given permission, only that they are not open to being open to anyone. They are exclusive).

Proverbs 5:18

Let your bubbling spring be blessed,

And rejoice in the wife of your youth.’

By his ‘bubbling spring’ being blessed, when taken with the parallel, is an exhortation to the husband to bless his ‘bubbling spring’, that is his wife or the sexual provision that she supplies him with. He is to have eyes for no other. He must rejoice in the one whom he married while still a young man. In this regard we should note that Josiah and Amon, future kings of Israel, would marry at 14, whilst Jehoiachin would marry at 16. The Egyptians saw 15 as the marriageable age for men and 12 for women. Not all, however, were married as young as this e.g. David.

Proverbs 5:19-20

‘As a love-making deer and a graceful doe,

Let her breasts satisfy you at all times,

And be you sexually satiated always with her love.’

For why should you, my son,

Be sexually satiated with a strange woman,

And embrace the bosom of a foreigner?

The figure in Proverbs 5:15 is now clearly explained. As one interested in nature (as a means of instruction) he compares the young wife to ‘a lovemaking deer’ or a ‘graceful doe’. There is an important lesson in this in that it supports the idea that sexual enjoyment in marriage is natural and good. As with certain animals, so with man. Most men in those days would have seen female deer engaged in erotic lovemaking and would know of the graceful female mountain goats (probably ibexes), and seen them also love-making. Thus he too must engage in erotic love-making with his wife, whilst also recognising her gracefulness and feminine beauty. There is a recognition of both sexual satisfaction and female gracefulness.

In a similar way ‘his son’ must look to his wife’s breasts (or nipples) for satisfaction, and regularly be sexually satiated with her offered love. It is she from whom he should obtain his sexual satisfaction, not some strange woman or foreigner, who would dispense her favours and then be gone, leaving him dissatisfied.


Verses 21-23

Epilogue. He Must Recognise That A Man’s Ways Are Open To YHWH’s Eyes, And Must Not Forfeit The Level Paths Through Folly (Proverbs 5:21-23).

The passage, like all previous passages, ends with an epilogue in which a contrast is made between the righteous and the wicked, although in this case the contrast is not so stark. The point is that YHWH watches over men’s ways and makes them level, but the wicked man is bound by his sins, refuses instruction, and through his own folly goes astray. There is an important lesson in this. YHWH works positively on behalf of all. It is the wicked who, by their own sins, forfeit His goodness. Once again it is in the form of a chiasmus:

A For the ways of man are before the eyes of YHWH, and he makes level all his paths (Proverbs 5:21).

B His own iniquities will take the wicked (Proverbs 5:22 a),

B And he will be held with the cords of his sin (Proverbs 5:22 b).

A He will die for lack of disciplinary instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he will go astray (Proverbs 5:23).

In A man in general walks in the eyes of YHWH and He makes level paths for him, but in the parallel the wicked, lacking instruction and foolish, goes astray. And this is because centrally in B he is ‘taken’ and tied up by his own sins.

Proverbs 5:21

For the ways of man are before the eyes of YHWH,

And he makes level all his paths.’

Man in general walks ‘before the eyes of YHWH’. In other words YHWH sees him and all that he does. And this is true for all. Furthermore He makes level all his paths. He smoothes the way for him, and removes stumblingblocks from before him. As Jesus reminded us, He makes the sun to shine, and pours out His rain, on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). He has made full provision for him. All are provided for and the pathway would be smooth were it not for sin., for God is generally beneficent.

Proverbs 5:22-23

‘His own iniquities will take the wicked,

And he shall be held with the cords of his sin,

He will die for lack of instruction,

And in the greatness of his folly he will go astray.’

But from the cradle sin rears its ugly head (Psalms 58:3). And as a consequence man turns from His level paths, and trapped by sin, rejects instruction and goes astray. It is his own iniquities which ‘take’ the unrighteous, leading him astray. He is held by the cords of sin which prevent him taking the right way. The idea behind the cords is probably that of the animal ensnared by the hunter, although it could indicate a man taken captive and bound. Thus sin is seen as having entrapped the wicked man. Furthermore he dies for lack of disciplinary instruction, not because he has not received it, but because he has rejected it (Proverbs 5:12-13). He fell into the trap because he had ignored God’s instruction through His servants. And thus in his folly he goes astray. He is no longer walking happily along the level paths.

In terms of this passage those who walk in the smooth way are those who follow wisdom and cling to their true wives, finding their satisfaction in them, whilst those who lack instruction go after prostitutes and the pleasures of sin. But here the principle is generalised and applied to all sin. It is not just immorality which traps men, it is all sin.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/proverbs-5.html. 2013.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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