Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding:Tenth Address. Chap. 5. Proverbs 5:1-23
The subject of this chapter, of which the seventh commandment might be the title, is one throughout. Against the unholy passion to be shunned (Proverbs 5:1-14) is set the holy love to be cherished (Proverbs 5:15-23).
1. bow] Rather, incline, R.V., because the same Heb. word is so rendered Proverbs 4:20.
That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge.2. regard] Rather, preserve, R.V. Comp. keep in the parallel clause of the verse.
For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil:3. strange woman] See Proverbs 2:16, note.
But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword.4. wormwood] The reference is perhaps not merely to the bitterness, but to the noxiousness of this herb. See Deuteronomy 29:18, and Revelation 8:10-11, where “many men died of the waters” into which the star named “wormwood” had fallen.
Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.5. hell] Sheol, R.V. “which signifies the abode of departed spirits, and corresponds to the Greek Hades” (εἰς τὸν ᾅδην, LXX., ad inferos, Vulg. here). See R.V. Preface.
Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable, that thou canst not know them.6. Lest thou shouldest ponder] The rendering of A.V. or of R.V. marg. (Lest thou find the level path, or, Lest thou weigh carefully the path) is to be preferred to R.V. text which connects the words with the preceding verse and makes them refer to the strange woman: so that she findeth not the level path of life. Having described in Proverbs 5:5 the end to which her ways lead, the wise Teacher in this verse unveils the artful versatility with which she allures her victims from the plain path of life, and keeps them from the reflection which might lead them to return to it.
thou canst not know them] So R.V. marg., but R.V. text, making the strange woman still the subject, she knoweth it not, Comp. Psalm 35:8, where the same Heb. expression is rendered “at unawares.” See for the sentiment ch. Proverbs 7:22-23.
Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth.7. ye children] Rather, my sons, R.V., as the same Heb. word is rendered throughout these exhortations.
Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house:
Lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel:9. others] instead of to thine own, Proverbs 5:15; Proverbs 5:17. Comp. Proverbs 5:10.
the cruel] The Heb. noun is masc. sing. and is intended perhaps vividly to describe the sin with its cruel consequences (Proverbs 6:26; Proverbs 6:31-35; Proverbs 7:22-23; Proverbs 7:26) as a merciless personal Avenger. LXX. ἀνελεήμοσιν, taking the Heb. word apparently as a collective noun.
Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger;10. wealth] The word may mean either that which a man acquires, his wealth (A.V. text, R.V. marg.), or that by which he acquires it, his strength (R.V. text, A.V. marg.) of mind and body. Genesis 49:3 would seem to favour the latter rendering here. σῆς ἰσχύος, LXX., viribus tuis, Vulg. The suggestion of Ewald and others that these verses (9, 10) point to the commutation of the capital sentence into one of slavery, whether voluntarily undergone by the adulterer to escape death, or exacted by the injured husband, and that thus the guilty man’s years would be given unto the cruel, and his labours would be in the house of an alien, is not supported by any proof that such commutation was practised. On the contrary the holy law (Deuteronomy 22:22) appears to nave been strictly maintained (Ezekiel 16:38; Ezekiel 16:40; John 8:5); and in Proverbs 6:34-35 we are expressly told that the husband will accept no compensation. While escaping, probably because undetected, the penalty of death, the victim of lust would like the prodigal son “devour his living with harlots,” and so come to be in want and misery.
And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed,11–14. The pangs of remorse and the upbraidings of conscience form the terrible climax to the loss of honour and health and substance.
“ ‘Going down to the chambers of death,’ wise too late, the victim of his own sins remembers with unspeakable agony the voice of his teachers, the efforts of those who wished to instruct him.”—Horton.
And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof;
And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!
I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly.14. I was almost in all evil] Ewald and other commentators take this to mean, I had a narrow escape from incurring the extreme penalty which the law of Moses prescribes for this sin (Leviticus 20:10): I almost, or well nigh, was convicted and stoned to death in public, “in the midst of the congregation and the assembly.” But the writer, if this were his meaning, has hardly chosen a happy phrase in which to convey it to us. It is better to understand the clause as added to lend aggravation to the sin, rather than to the punishment or danger. The words “congregation” and “assembly,” sometimes with the addition, “of Israel,” “of Jehovah,” “of God” (see for examples which abound in the Pentateuch, Exodus 16:3; Leviticus 4:15; Deuteronomy 31:30; Numbers 16:3; Numbers 27:17; Nehemiah 13:1), had come to be the common designation of Israel, as the people of Jehovah, the holy nation, separated from the abominations of the heathen. The Greek equivalents for these words (ἐν μέσῳ ἐκκλησίας καὶ συναγωγῆς LXX.) became naturally the titles of the Church under its Jewish and Christian aspects. To sin then “in the midst of the congregation and assembly” was to sin against light and knowledge, and to disgrace the body of which the sinner was a member. Somewhat similarly we hear it said, as an aggravation of crime or immorality, that it has been done “in a Christian country.”
Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.15–19. The remedy against sin is to be found in the holy estate which God has ordained. “The resemblance between the two Books (the Song of Solomon and the Book of Proverbs) in their treatment of this subject is singularly striking.” Speaker’s Comm., ad loc.
Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets.16. Let thy fountains] This rendering (retained in R.V. marg.) gives a good sense: purity of married life (Proverbs 5:15) will diffuse itself abroad like streams from a fountain, in a numerous family, and in wholesome influences: but only by such purity can these advantages be secured (Proverbs 5:17).
The rendering of R.V. text, Should thy springs &c. with a note of interrogation at the end of the verse, makes however the connection of thought in Proverbs 5:15-17 more clear, and is a return to the warning of the earlier verses of the chapter.
Let them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee.
Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.
Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.19. Let her be as] These words, which are not in the Hebrew, are not wanted. Read “A loving hind &c.” The imagery again, which is thoroughly Oriental, reappears in the Song of Solomon (Proverbs 2:9; Proverbs 2:17, Proverbs 7:3, Proverbs 8:14).
And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger?
For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.21. For; as an additional reason for avoiding sin.
pondereth] The primary sense of the Heb. word, which is the same as in Proverbs 5:6 of this chapter, is adhered to in R.V. text: he maketh level, i.e. however intricate and tortuous man makes them, before God’s all-seeing eye they lie spread out like a map (Hebrews 4:13). εἰς δὲ πάσας τὰς τροχιὰς αὐτοῦ σκοπεύει, LXX. It may mean, however, that God makes man’s ways level, in the sense of making them lead swiftly and surely to their appointed end (Proverbs 5:22-23). Others take it in contrast with the next verse: God makes a man’s ways level (right), but sin involves him in difficulties from which he cannot extricate himself. The derived sense pondereth (or, weigheth carefully, R.V. marg.) comes from holding the balances in weighing till the two scales are even, and so making level. Comp. Job 31:4.
His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.
He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.23. without] Rather, for lack of, R.V.; quia non habuit disciplinam, Vulg.
Do you ask the cause of this dread catastrophe? The end, “he shall die,” and the road which led to it, “he shall go astray,” are alike due to “lack of instruction” and to “folly.” Said I not well then, “Attend to my wisdom, and incline thine ear to my understanding”?