Chapter 5: Commentary

Rather than a number of individual wise sayings, this whole chapter involves instruction from Solomon to his son (5:1) about appropriate and inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex. While a mother may have spoken the same way to her daughter this chapter is guy talk.
      Here Solomon says the adulteress (first mentioned in 2:16-19) will say sweet and smooth things (:3) to a man, which will eventually be bitter and painfully sharp (:4). And, ultimately, we will be sorry about the inappropriate decisions and actions we made (:9-14). Solomon advised his son that a lifelong commitment to the right woman is definitely the right choice (:15-19).
      That Solomon felt the need to say all this to his son (and frequently in this section - see also 6:24-35; 7:5-27), and by extension to any and all men, suggests it was an issue which needed to be addressed in this world. The bottom line is that a man's ways are in full view of the LORD and He deals with us based on the choices we make - in this chapter, especially in the matter of marriage and morality (:21-23).

5:1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight,

5:2 That you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge.

     Verse 1 is comprised of 2 commands: father again commands son to pay attention and listen to what he has to say (see :7). Here, father's words are wisdom and insight.
      Verse 2 is the promise – that father's words will teach his son discretion and his son will keep knowledge on his lips.
      Most of us will agree that it is very hard for young people to pay attention or listen very well to parental directions. We would also agree that it would really help them if they would listen. At least that's the way it was for us.
      12 Step groups like to refer to their principles of recovery as suggestions. That makes it a bit easier to receive. Either way, it is pretty important that we get this stuff, sooner rather than later!

5:3 For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil;

     The beginning of this chapter focuses on the importance of the things we say. Solomon tells his son to listen to his words (:1) and that will help him to both think and say right things, himself (:2). One of the reasons why is in verse 3 – because an immoral woman can seduce a man by her words (a common theme in Proverbs: see also 2:16; 6:24; 7:5).
      While Solomon later notes that "her beauty" and "her eyes" are big come-ons to guys (6:25), here he points out the influence of her words. He likens them to the sweetness of "honey" and the smoothness of "oil."
      Honey was the cane sugar (or chocolate!) of the ancient world and everyone would have had access to appreciate its sweetness. Olive oil was one of their staple commodities and, no doubt, was the smooth oil to which he referred. In fact, "sweet as honey" and "smooth as oil" may have even been a familiar phrase of the day.
      Either way, words are powerful and can hook us up for good or bad. It is our daily responsibility to decide about saying or listening to appropriate words. And we just need to be smart enough to know that sweet and smooth words may sound good, but they can lead to disaster!

5:4 but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword.

     While the words of an adulteress woman are sweet as honey and smooth as oil (5:3), the aftermath of a relationship with her will not be pleasant. "Gall" was supposed to be a helpful substance in the ancient world, but was hard to appreciate because of its bitter taste. Gall wouldn't kill you, but it might make you wish it did!
      A "double-edged sword" was designed with a point on the tip to poke people. But both sides of the blade were also sharpened for cutting and slashing. It was about as formidable a weapon as was known in Solomon's time. A double-edged sword could cause much pain and regularly caused death in battle.
      Messing with this immoral woman (3:3) will not end well for a guy. Whatever moments of pleasure he might have, "in the end" it will be bitter and painful.

5:5 Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.

5:6 She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.

     This immoral woman's life focus and lifestyle is leading her to death and the grave (terms?). Inappropriate lifestyles lead us to nowhere and hopelessness. And no hope leads to an even more inappropriate lifestyle.
      When we live the way this woman lived, life begins to lose its real meaning and we find ourselves with little or no hope. At that point, we begin to no longer feel things or care about things – "she gives no thought…she knows it not." That is a terrible place to be – don't know, don't care and anything goes.
      So often the men who enter Helping Up Mission got to the place where nothing mattered anymore and they didn't care about anything. Their life choices demonstrate that is true. When they arrive here, one of the first things they found is hope – that things can change. And that leads to new and meaningful answers and that offers empowerment to live differently.

5:7 Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say.

     One of the most common commands in the first section of Proverbs is a father's direction to his son to listen to what he is saying to him (see :1). As a 59-year old son whose father is still alive and the father of a 30 year old son, I totally understand why this is such a regular statement in Proverbs. We guys tend to naturally lean on our own understanding (3:5) and need continual reminders and regular accountability to keep focused and continue to make right choices.

5:8 Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house,

5:9 lest you lose your honor to others and your dignity[a] to one who is cruel,

5:10 lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich the house of another.

     This entire chapter is a series of warnings from Solomon to his son about messing around with an immoral woman. Verses 8-10 are part of a longer poetic wise saying of directives and consequences.
      Verse 8 offers the most basic guidance about a relationship with such a woman - stay away from her! "Keep a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house" is about as clear as it gets. One of the reasons most of us get into trouble is simply because we get too close or comfortable with things that are inappropriate for us
      Then, father suggests to son some consequences of not staying away and they are severe. To "lose your honor to others and your dignity to one who is cruel" was the ultimate disgrace in the Biblical world (see 22:1) and still is in much of the Middle East today.
      If losing our reputation isn't enough, this son is also warned "lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich the house of another." Not only my honor and dignity, but all my stuff - everything I've worked for - could be gone, too.
      Admittedly, just time spend with this woman is probably not how this all happens to me. But it may well come later via her (or her friends!). Or it sets me up for a lifestyle where this takes place somewhere else, with someone else.
      When I was little, my grandmother used to give me the same kind of speech. "If you play with fire, you will get burned!" I always thought that was stupid.
      Lots of times I played with matches or lighters and nothing happened. But there was that one time with the car painful and really embarrassing!

5:11 And at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed,

5:12 And you say, "How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof!

5:13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors.

5:14 I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation."

     This entire chapter is a father's warnings to his son about involvement with inappropriate women. Our verses are the conclusion of a longer wise saying (:7-14) which discuss the consequences of such involvement.
      Father suggests "at the end of your life" (:11) his son would feel the results of his present choices, and it wouldn't be a pretty picture. We all know something about living for today without much consideration for the future.
      "You will groan, when your flesh and body are spent." This should not be understood as a result of old age, but physical suffering then due to poor choices now.
      Beyond severe physical discomfort, father suggests there will also be mental anguish over his decisions. "How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or turn my ear to my instructors."
      This sounds so tragic. Coming to the end of our lives and feeling like this is such a terrible way to go out. But we all know how hard it is to see things as they are happening and then make appropriate choices.
      Dad suggests his son's final words will be "and I was soon in serious trouble in the assembly of God's people." It didn't take long ("soon") to realize he had made a terrible mistake and that it was going to cost him. Yet it would seem he continued in this lifestyle.
      But it doesn't have to be this way! First, we can make better decisions today and head off such disasters later. Second, if we've already done a bunch of stupid things, we just need to "man up with" God about it! Face it, deal with it and let it go!

5:15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.

     This verse is understood to be the first in a section (:15-23). The theme of this section fits with the other two sections of the chapter (:1-6; 7-14), not getting involved with an immoral woman.
      This section, starting with this verse, talks about a privately owned cistern or well. If you have your own well of water that you can trust to be good, it would be stupid to go out and try to find some water elsewhere – remember, in those days, there was no plumbing as we know it.
      The analogy is pretty clear. Stay home and appreciate your own wife and don't be out looking for what who-knows-what you will find.

5:16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?

     Continuing the thought of the last verse, this one speaks in symbolic poetic language within the context of city life (:15-18). Here, husbands are advised to keep at home what belongs at home and not take it out into the city's streets and squares. The idea seems to that he is not to take his interests and desires out into the public arena because satisfying them out there will tend to bring consequences which are not good.

5:17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.

     This verse is in the middle of an extended proverbial saying which speaks symbolically of cisterns, wells, springs, streams and fountains. In the midst of the discussion, father speaks this verse to his son (see :1, 20) - "Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers."
      Dad isn't suggesting selfish, inappropriate, anti-social behavior. Instead, a thoughtful reading of this extended wise saying indicates a series of metaphors which speak enigmatically about the intimacy of marriage - certainly putting this seemingly selfishness attitude in a different light!
      In fact, it raises an important spiritual truth. There are things in our lives which we simply must zealously protect - like our marriages.
      But there are other things, too. We must also be diligent to not let other people, places or things inappropriately interject themselves into our spiritual walk.
      In recovery, we tell folks "stay in your lane and focus on yourself." To be the person we're supposed to be in relation to other, it's essential that we do what we must to keep our own recovery and spiritual walk first.
      If we don't, we'll have no one else to blame but ourselves. And, if we don't -- no one else can do it for us!

5:18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

     Solomon has been speaking about the utter ruin that comes from adulterous relationships. Remember these verses are man-talk. So, in verses 15-18, he makes the analogy of having precious water to a marriage relationship with a precious wife. There are many ways of understanding and applying :15-16, but the bottom line is to not mess around with another woman but enjoy a wonderful relationship with the lady God brought into your life.
      This man had a fountain of water on his property. This "fountain" is understood as a living spring of water which would have been a major blessing in the ancient world. Such a blessing was then related to marriage with the wife of his youth. The phrase would seem to suggest that years of marriage can be – are supposed to be – a great blessing to a spouse.
      I am writing these words on the day after my 36 wedding anniversary. While it hasn't been lots of fun all the time every day for all these years, the basic commitment of love, support and faithfulness to each other has turned out to be a pretty blessed fountain for me. At 59 years of age, I can honestly say it is a great thing to be rejoicing in the wife of my youth!

5:19 A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.

     This verse compares a wife to two feminine terms wild animals – a "loving doe" or a "graceful deer." The first ("doe") is the common term for female deer in the Old Testament. The second ("deer") is used only here and is probably best translated as "female mountain goat." In both cases, these animals are viewed positively – "loving" and "graceful."
      Admittedly, a "graceful mountain goat" doesn't seem to induce thoughts of romantic love to most of us. These two comparisons may be foreign to our modern western thinking today, but they had meaning and understanding in the ancient world. Presumably their unapproachableness (it was so hard to get close to one) and their strong but gracefulness ability to so quickly go anywhere must have been meaningful images.
      Either way, the wife of a man's youth (:18) was compared to these two animals. This verse focuses on the ongoing loving relationship this man should have with his wife. It is in opposition to him developing a relationship with an immoral woman or an adulterous wife (:20; see also 2:16; 5:3; 6:24; 7:5).

5:21 For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.

5:22 the evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.

5:23 He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.

     This entire chapter is instruction from a father to his son about the value of marriage and the folly of infidelity. These are the last three verses of the chapter and offer a bottom line perspective.
      In the end, "a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths." God sees all we do (:21).
      Since "the evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his son hold him fast" (:22), we will suffer the consequences of our own stupid decisions. We'll have no one else to blame.
      The sad fact is that "he will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly." Our demise will not be due to our lack of knowledge or understanding, but our lack of discipline (:23).
      Yet, we don't have to live that way!
      While no one's perfect and we all make bad decisions, we don't have to spend a lifetime doing evil deeds and living wickedly. The LORD calls us to face our shortcomings, address them and let them go.
      If we're willing, He'll give us the empowerment to do so and begin experiencing a whole different -much more meaningful - way of life.