The beginning of Proverbs contains 10 lessons of wisdom (Ch 1-9). This blog post will examine Lesson # 8, where the father devotes an entire chapter to a “man to man” talk with his son about sexual immorality. The structure is first: a warning (5:1-6), second: a laying out of consequences for disobedience (5:7-14), third, a contrast given of the intimate beauty and joy found within the boundaries of marriage (5:15-20), and finally, this lesson is concluded with a summary (5:21-23). Like guardrails on the highway, God’s wisdom gives us guidance on how our desire for intimacy can be channeled in an appropriate direction, without bringing harm to us or others. This lecture (Rated PG-13) begins with the familiar words, “My son.”
5:1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom,
turn your ear to my words of insight,
2 that you may maintain discretion
and your lips may preserve knowledge.
3 For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil;
4 but in the end she is bitter as gall,
sharp as a double-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death;
her steps lead straight to the grave.
6 She gives no thought to the way of life;
her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.
(Prov 5:1-6, NIV)
People were often married at a young age in the ancient near east, such as King Josiah (age 14), and King Jehoiachin (age 16). Therefore, the warning here is against being unfaithful to one’s spouse, particularly with the “adulterous woman” or “unchaste woman” who is also married already as well (Prov 6:34). Solomon begins with a description of her seductive speech. The imagery of honey and oil are employed to describe her dripping words and smooth talk. Before the widespread use of sugar, refined honey was known as one of the sweetest, tempting substances to consume. The path toward illicit passion starts out with attractive, flattering words, lubricating a greased chute toward sexual sin. Immorality is often accompanied by love songs, whispered sweet nothings, and seductive charm. The question is, will the son listen to her words, or will the son listen to his father words?
Though sweet at first, in the end, the father says indulging in sexual immorality is like drinking bitter “gall,” (or “wormwood”), a substance drawn from a poisonous plant with lethal consequences. You may recall from Shakespeare’s play, Juliet’s nurse spoke of the weaning process of dabbing on her breast wormwood. This was a common symbol of bitterness in the bible. The old adage fits this lesson well, “The honey is sweet, but the bee stings.”
7 Now then, my sons, listen to me;
do not turn aside from what I say.
8 Keep to a path far from her,
do not go near the door of her house,
9 lest you lose your honor to others
and your dignity to one who is cruel,
10 lest strangers feast on your wealth
and your toil enrich the house of another.
11 At the end of your life you will groan,
when your flesh and body are spent.
12 You will say, “How I hated discipline!
How my heart spurned correction!
13 I would not obey my teachers
or turn my ear to my instructors.
14 And I was soon in serious trouble
in the assembly of God’s people.”
(Prov 5:7-14, NIV)
If the son were to fail in the ethical area of promiscuity, here the father gets very specific about the potential economic and social ruin that will be caused by these kinds of sins. As a negative motivation, the father pleads with his son with two major risks, one being reputational and the other being financial.
First, he implores his son not to give up his “honor” and lose his “dignity,” allowing the best years of life to be squandered and lost in regret. No doubt his failure in this area would damage his reputation through personal shame, public embarrassment and lost honor in the public square.
Second, the economic impact of failure here could also be quite significant. His son’s wealth could be lost through blackmail. Or, his son’s acquisitions made through toil and hard work could be in jeopardy of being passed to another household if they are plundered.
Imagining this scenario occurring, four times the foolish son condemns himself here as the one who would be solely responsible. He would be the one to have not listened to his father (or any of the other sages). He would be the one to have thrown away his own moral compass. These kinds of wounds are self-inflicted and therefore, since this catastrophe was preventable, the regret would be almost too much to bear. In the end, he would “groan” or growl as a beast that had been mortally wounded.
Friends, there are shattering, soul-destroying effects of sexual sin, the consequences can even be deadly. The modern day woes of alimony, child support, broken homes and sexually transmitted infections testify to this timeless truth. Not much has changed. Commentator David Hubbard states “In recent times, a number of politicians and religious leaders could be summoned to verify the accuracy of the teacher’s words.” (a)
The father then turns to give the son the positive benefits of wisdom in this area of his life. In this next section (v 15-20), he lifts up the joy found in making and keeping the covenant of marriage.
15 Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
16 Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
17 Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
18 May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
20 Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?
Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?
(Prov 5:15-20, NIV)
Here Solomon uses “water” as an image for quenching the son’s sexual desires or thirsts with one’s wife (Song 5:1). Rainfall was scarce and a cistern would be a prized possession. As a private well, she will provide cool and lasting refreshment for the son’s “hot” desires. The erotic description of the ecstasy of lovemaking lifts up the deep and lasting pleasure and joy found only inside the committed marriage bed. This sacred pleasure is even likened to a kind of intoxication (Song 5:19-20). Our culture constantly sends us messages through Hollywood and the media that unrestricted sexual behaviors will lead to freedom and satisfaction. The scriptures teach us the exact opposite. Namely, that it’s actually inside of a radical commitment to monogamy that will lead us to the most satisfying sex life. In fact, this will be so life-giving, that the rhetorical question (in v 20) expresses amazement that his son would ever even consider choosing anything else. This would be such folly! Commentator David Hubbard states, “When this kind of companionship is available at home, is it not sheer stupidity to seek it in the arms of a person whose name, values, and habits of life are foreign to you?” (b)
21 For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
and he examines all your paths.
22 The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them;
the cords of their sins hold them fast.
23 For lack of discipline they will die,
led astray by their own great folly.
(Prov 5:21-23, NIV)
According to the Law of Moses, adultery was a capital offense (Lev 20:10, Deut 22:22), but it may be the practical consequences for this kind of sin that is in view here. We learn elsewhere that the LORD lets sin punish itself (Prov 1:31-32) Bruce Waltke explains, “No thunderbolt from heaven strikes him down. Rather sin will catch him.” (c) As the New Testament teaches elsewhere, we will “reap what we sow” (Gal 6:7).
The application of this lesson is rather obvious: Flee from sexual immorality! (1 Cor 6:18-20) The son must become as Joseph with Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:8-9), fending off her malevolence. The reasons for this are many, as poor choices in the area of our sexual lives can have a life-long impact.
To those who are single, you need to look beyond the temporary, passing pleasures of sin and embrace a life of abstinence, faithfulness and self-control in accordance with God’s design of marriage (Gen 2:24-25). The wise son knows that God’s wisdom is for his own flourishing. You need to decide today you will obey, as unless you are prepared ahead of time you can hardly resist! Weigh the transient pleasure against the perpetual consequences!
To those who are married, you must remember that a husband and wife are bound by covenant to forsake all others and cleave to one another in love (Gen 2:24-25). We must keep our passions kindled and affections alive. Ultimately, there is a larger reason we obey, our faithfulness to our spouse is to be reflective of our covenant-keeping God – who is always loyal to us.
To all of us, let us pray as our Lord taught us, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt 6:13)
Flee from Immorality.
Next, we will consider Lesson # 9.
The Ten Lessons of Wisdom:
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) – Part 1
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) Part 2
- Lesson # 2: “Diligently Seek Wisdom … and You Will Experience Her Protective Benefits.” (Prov 2:1-22)
- Lesson # 3: “Live before God with Consistency.” (Prov 3:1-12)
- Lesson # 4: “Wisdom is a Tree of Life.” (Prov 3:13-35)
- Lesson # 5: “Your Spiritual Inheritance Comes With a Price.” (Prov 4:1-9)
- Lesson # 6: “Choose the Way of Wisdom.” (Prov 4:10-19)
- Lesson # 7: “Guard your Heart!” (Prov 4:20-27)
- Lesson # 8: “Flee from Immorality!” (Prov 5:1-23)
- Lesson # 9: “Avoid three Kinds of Fools: “The Swindler,” “The Sluggard” and “The Sociopath.”” (Prov 6:1-19)
- Lesson # 10: “If You Play With Fire, You Will Get Burned.” (Prov 6:20-35)
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 1
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 2
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 3
(a) David Hubbard, Proverbs, The Preacher’s Commentary, Vol 15 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), 93.
(b) Hubbard, Proverbs, 95.
(c) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 324.