Proverbs 5:1-23

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The father admonished his son to pay attention to his “wisdom” or to the teaching that reflected the wisdom he had acquired. For the son to incline his ear to his father’s understanding, insight, or “words” (LXX) meant for him to choose to listen to and to apply in his own life the lessons his father imparted to him. (5:1)

Being attentive to his father’s wise teaching and willing to heed and apply the understanding and insight that had been shared with him, the son would be able to “keep discretion” (“good insight” [LXX]). He would possess discretion or insight as his own treasure, enabling him to evaluate options and to discern the right course for him to follow. For the son’s “lips” to “safeguard knowledge” suggests that he would be able to use his lips to make expressions that reflected his having sound knowledge. His being able to say the right things would be comparable to having a depository of knowledge in his lips. The Septuagint rendering represents the father as saying, “I will command the perception of my lips to you.” This could mean that the father would authoritatively teach (as if commanding) the perceptive or insightful words that his lips were capable of expressing. (5:2)

A “strange woman” or a “worthless woman” (LXX) could be either a prostitute or an adulteress. Her enticing words are portrayed as being like the dripping or flowing of sweet honey from her lips, and her palate, when she speaks, is “smoother than oil” or is alluring. The Septuagint rendering warns the son not to pay attention to the worthless woman, “for honey drips from the lips of a harlotrous woman,” who “for a time oils your throat” or pleases your taste. (5:3)

What initially may have appeared sweet and alluring would, after an illicit relationship with a “strange woman” or a “worthless woman” (LXX), be “bitter as wormwood” and “sharp as a two-edged sword” (capable of inflicting a serious or even a mortal wound). According to the Septuagint, the son would find the aftereffect “more bitter than gall and sharper than a two-edged sword.” (5:4)

The “feet” of a prostitute or an adulteress “go down to death,” and “her steps lay hold on Sheol” (“Hades” [LXX]). These words imply that, because of where the prostituting woman’s feet are heading, the ultimate end for any man who becomes intimately involved with her can be a premature death and a descent into the realm of the dead. (5:5; see the Notes section.)

The prostitute or adulteress, as the previous verse suggests, is on her chosen path leading to death and is determined to follow it. She does not consider the “path of life,” or give any thought to pursuing a course that could mean life for her. “Her ways wander, and she does not know.” What she does not know is not identified. The meaning could be that she does not know or recognize where her wandering in her immoral ways will eventually take her. According to the Septuagint, “her paths are slippery [or deceptive] and not easily recognized,” proving to be treacherous and harmful to her and to those who are intimate with her. (5:6)

The father admonished his sons (“son” [LXX]) to “hear” or to listen to him and not to “turn aside from the words of his mouth” (not to make his “words invalid” [LXX]). They should heed the exhortations that the father’s mouth uttered, not disobediently departing from them. As indicated in the Septuagint, the “son” was not to treat the father’s words as if they did not apply to him. (5:7)

The fatherly exhortation to the son was for him to stay far from the way of a harlotrous woman and not to go near the “door of her house” (not to go near the “doors of her houses” [LXX]). Heeding this exhortation would have served to protect the son from being approached by her and confronted with her seductive words. (5:8)

If the son disregarded his father’s wise counsel, he could end up giving his “honor” or “majesty” (hohd) to others (let go his “life” [or the means essential for sustaining life] to others [LXX]) and “years [his means of life (LXX)] to the merciless [one].” In this context, the Hebrew word hohd could refer to sexual vigor and the offspring the son’s sexual vigor could produce but whose potential for generating wealth would come into possession of the man who may have used his wife for immoral purposes. Another possibility is that hohd denotes wealth or property that the husband may demand as compensation or that may be confiscated after a judicial investigation. The “merciless one” may be the injured husband who would have no pity for the man who was intimate with his wife. (5:9)

Ignoring his father’s admonition could result in the son’s having “strangers” be filled or sated with his “power,” and his “labors,” or the products of his toil, be in or go into the “house of an alien.” The son could end up expending his strength for the husband of the wife with whom he had an illicit relationship, and the husband would derive benefits from the son’s toil. Modern translations have variously rendered the text. “Lest strangers have their fill of your wealth, your hard-won earnings go to an alien’s house.” (NAB) “Strangers will batten on your wealth, and your hard-won gains pass to the family of another.” (REB [The Hebrew word for “house” is here represented as designating the “family” or household.]) “Strangers will batten on your property, and your produce go to the house of a stranger.” (NJB) “Strangers will get your money and everything else you have worked for.” (CEV) (5:10)

When a senseless son experienced the injurious results from having been involved with a harlotrous woman, he would “groan in the end” (“repent at the end” [LXX] or regret that he had been intimate with a harlotrous woman). His groaning would be on account of the suffering he would undergo. The reference to the consuming of his flesh and body (the wearing away of the “flesh of [his] body” [LXX]) could be to the wasting away of his organism from a sexually transmitted disease. (5:11) He would then regretfully acknowledge that he had “hated discipline” or instruction, and his “heart” (his mind or his inmost self) had despised reproof (“turned aside reproofs” [LXX]), refusing to listen to it and to apply it. (5:12)

As to those who taught him, a son who pursued an immoral life would say that he had not listened to the “voice of [his] teachers” and did not incline his “ear” to his instructors. He chose not to pay attention and suffered the consequences. (5:13)

The Hebrew text is not specific regarding the situation in which the senseless “son” would find himself “in the assembly and congregation” or among people of Israel who would come to know about his immoral life. In this context, the Hebrew word me‘át (“little” or “few”) preceded by a preposition could mean “in a short time.” The corresponding Greek word olígos in the Septuagint has the same significance as the Hebrew term. Modern translations vary in their rendering of me‘át and are more explicit in their wording of the text than is the Hebrew. “I was almost brought to ruin in the public assembly.” (REB) “I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly.” (NIV) “Soon I was in dire trouble amidst the assembled congregation.” (Tanakh [JPS, l985 edition]) “And now I am disgraced in front of everyone.” (CEV) “Now I have come to nearly every kind of misery, in the assembly and in the community.” (NJB) “I have all but come to utter ruin, condemned by the public assembly!” (NAB) (5:14)

For the son to “drink water from [his own] cistern” (“vessels”[LXX]) or “flowing water from [his own] well” (“cisterns of [his own] well” [LXX]) would mean for him to enjoy marital intimacies solely with his wife. (5:15) The Hebrew text could be rendered to indicate that a son would benefit greatly from being exclusively devoted to his own wife, using his “springs” or procreative powers to father children. “Your springs will gush forth in streams in the public squares.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) The Hebrew text has also been translated as a question that focuses on the senselessness of promiscuous behavior. “Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?” (NIV) Another way to understand the words of this text is to consider them as a warning against promiscuity. “Do not let your well overflow into the road, your runnels of water pour into the street.” (REB) “And don’t be like a stream from which just any woman may take a drink.” (CEV) According to the Septuagint, the son should not let the waters overflow from his spring but his waters should flow on his own squares. The thought may be that he should not waste the semen from his reproductive organ but that it should produce offspring that would be in his own squares or public areas. (5:16)

A man’s springs or reproductive powers were to be for him alone or for his exclusive use with his wife and not for any strangers (or women other than his wife) with him. “Save yourself for your wife and don’t have sex with other women.” (5:17, CEV)

In this context, the “fountain” (“well of water” [LXX]) may refer to the wife or to her reproductive organs. For this “fountain” to be blessed would mean for the husband to have numerous children by his wife. He was to rejoice or find pleasure in the wife he married in his young manhood. A number of modern translations are explicit in identifying the “fountain” as designating the wife. “Let your fountain, the wife of your youth, be blessed; find your joy in her.” (REB) “Be happy with the wife you married when you were young.” (CEV) (5:18)

The son should regard his wife as truly attractive to him — graceful, lovely, and sexually desirable. This is suggested by the reference to the wife as a “doe of loves” (a wife entitled to the son’s exclusive affections) and a “mountain goat of grace” or favor (a wife deserving of the son’s favor). In the Septuagint, the admonition is for the son to have the “doe of [his] affection” or “friendship” and the “foal of [his] favors” be the one to consort with him. According to the Hebrew text, the son should “at all times” be “intoxicated” or “satisfied” with his wife’s “breasts,” never seeking sexual pleasure with another woman. He should always be captivated by her love as one who is “led astray” by it. The Septuagint rendering represents the son as being admonished to have his own one (his own wife) lead him and be with him at all times. It would be through her “affection” or “friendship” that he would be “accommodated” (or “carried about”) to a great extent. Another possible meaning is that the son would be “carried about,” or completely taken up, through his wife’s affection, becoming “great” (prosperous and the father of numerous children) as a result. (5:19)

The fatherly exhortation for the son to avoid a promiscuous way of life is framed as a question. “Why, my son, should you go astray with a foreign woman [a woman other than your wife] and embrace the bosom of a stranger [a woman with whom you have no relationship]”? In the Septuagint, the admonition is for the son not to be much with a strange woman and not to hold in embraces a woman not his own. (5:20)

A man’s “ways” are “before YHWH’s [God’s (LXX)] eyes,” with nothing escaping his attention. Deeds concealed under the cover of darkness or carried out in secret (such as marital infidelity) are not hidden from him. YHWH “weighs” all the paths of a man, evaluating his conduct and rendering a judgment respecting his actions. According to the Septuagint, God watches closely all the paths of a man. (5:21)

In the case of a wicked man, his own wrongs or transgressions seize him. They prove to be his undoing and bring upon him his deserved punishment. “Cords of his sin” will take hold of him, making him a captive to their dire consequences. (5:22; see the Notes section.)

The reference to dying without discipline or instruction is to dying without having heeded discipline and, therefore, perishing as a person who refused to abandon a wayward way of life. Having chosen to disregard God’s ways, an evildoer goes astray in his own folly or in his pursuit of a senseless course of moral corruption. He remains blind to the serious consequences that his waywardness is bound to have. (5:23; see the Notes section.)

Notes

Verse 5 of the Septuagint rendering may be translated, “For the feet of folly lead those using [or dealing with] her down with death to Hades.” The expression “feet of folly” could refer either to those of a prostitute or an adulteress or to the feet of men who consort with harlots or adulteresses. These “feet of folly” move on a path that leads to death and to a descent into Hades, the realm of the dead. Moreover, the “footsteps” of a prostitute or an adulteress are not established or do not find any support and, therefore, lead to sure ruin for those who follow them.

In verse 22, the Septuagint does not refer to a wicked one but says that “transgressions ensnare a man” and that “cords of one’s sins” are what bind “each one.”

Verse 23 in the Septuagint contains an expanded text about a man who makes himself guilty of serious transgressions. “This one comes to an end with undisciplined ones. And from the abundance of his means of living he was cast forth [ripped away] and perished through folly” (his refusal to respond to discipline or corrective admonition and to abandon his wayward course). A man may have an abundance of possessions but end up losing everything and perishing as one who disregarded God’s ways and foolishly pursued a corrupt way of life.