William Kelly Major Works Commentary
My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding:Proverbs Chapter 5
The call of the son is to attend to "my wisdom," before "a strange woman" is depicted vividly. Corruption demands and receives a yet deeper guard than violence.
"My son, attend to my wisdom, incline thine ear to mine understanding, that thou mayest keep reflection, and thy lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of a strange woman drop honey, and her mouth [is] smoother than oil: but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on Sheol. Lest she should ponder the path of life, her ways are unstable, she knoweth [it] not. And now, children, hearken to me, and depart not from the words of my mouth. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house; lest thou give thine honour to others, and thy years to the cruel; lest strangers be filled with thy wealth, and thy labours [go] to the house of an alien; and thou mourn in thine end, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed; and thou say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to those that instructed me! I was well nigh in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly." vv. 1-14.
Evil men were bad, a strange woman worse still. A higher wisdom is used, and an exercised understanding, that there may be discretion and knowledge so to apply the principle on the largest scale. The beast is lawless and shall perish utterly; but Babylon is even more loathsome, as to the Lord, so to all who seek His mind. There is nothing in nature so lovely as affection; but how ruinous and defiling, where the fear of God does not guide it! He it is that puts and keeps us in our relationships which are the ground of our duties. But a strange woman is such because she ignores and forsakes them, and seeks to entice others. Fair words of flattery may be the beginning, sweet to the flesh; but her end is bitterness extreme, and frequently deep wounds. Nor is it loss of present happiness only, but the end of those things is death; and after death comes the judgment. Satan employs her to hinder all reflection, and to shut out all light from above. The strange woman abuses the quick perception of her sex to baffle moral discernment by such changes as none else can know. Thus will works without check, and conscience is more and more numbed by self-indulgence.
And what is the counsel here given? Prompt and thorough steering clear. "And now, children, hearken to me, and depart not from the words of my mouth. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house." So must every one act who would preserve moral purity. The path of life is far from her and her house. Christ alone gives life eternal and guides it; His word is for one in such a world as this, Follow Me. Is the warning not heeded? More follows to lay bare the paths of death. For there is a righteous government, whatever the complication in this life. Selfishness reaps its sad recompense. None can yield to it with impunity. Beware then of self-indulgence, "lest thou give thine honour to others, and thy years to the cruel; lest strangers be filled with thy wealth, and thy labours go to the house of an alien; and thou mourn in thine end, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed; and thou say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to those that instructed me! I was well nigh in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly." Bitter self-reproach is the end of the honey and oil which captivated at the beginning; and no wonder, after a career of sin and shame. It is a retrospect of guilty self-pleasing, the headiness that valued no authority, yielding neither respect nor obedience. "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death." Nor is it the least painful reflection that all the evil committed was "in the midst of the congregation and assembly." This was no doubt that of Israel wherein all then revealed was by Jehovah. There was hypocrisy therefore covering the sins. How much more is the similar wickedness, when and where the fullest light of God is enjoyed!
In contrast with the fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and even here have no result but shame, Jehovah set up the holy relations of marriage in the sinless paradise of Eden. What a safeguard for man when an outcast through his own sin! What folly and ungodliness the dream of a Plato, which would dispense with the reality of one's own wife, one's own husband, one's own children in his ideal republic! Certainly there was no wisdom, nor understanding, in such a scheme. It is vagrancy of the most debasing kind. How gracious of Him to warn and guard weak passionate man from his own ruinous will!
"Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Should thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of water in the broadways? Let them be only thine own, and not for strangers with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed; rejoice in the wife of thy youth. A lovely hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; with her love be ravished continually. And why shouldest thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before Jehovah's eyes, and he pondereth all his paths. His own iniquities shall take the wicked, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sin. He shall die for lack of discipline; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray." vv. 15-23.
Two things become man that fears God. There is the outgoing of heart that loves his neighbour, or, as we Christians add, that loves our enemies in the spirit of the gospel. There is also the centring of the affections within the family. This last the father here would impress on his son. Here therefore the due place of the wife comes before us. It is the human relationship that survives from the beginning when sin was not; it is quite as essential now that the offence abounds. Wandering affections are selfish, carry their own shame, and have a permanent sting. As Jehovah instituted the sacred enclosure of the family round the parents, so He sanctions and enjoins warm affections in the head toward his counterpart. It is the most intimate bond of society at large as of the home circle. Heathenism, as we know, conceived its deities jealous of human happiness; it is easily understood; for as the Apostle tells us, they were but demons, fallen spiritual creatures that sought to drag the human race into their sin and misery, and to keep their victims from the love that delights in reconciling and saving them. There is but one that is good, even God; and He has now fully shown His best good, His grace, in His only-begotten Son for eternity as well as the life that now is. But even before divine love thus shone out, the unmistakable goodness of Jehovah appears in these home precepts. "Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well"; and all that follows is in keeping.
If verse 16 be rendered rightly in the Vatican Septuagint, it means, "Let not waters out of thy fountain be spilt by thee, but let thy waters go into the broadways." The Alexandrian text goes with the Vulgate and the Authorized English Bible in omitting the negatives, yielding the sense that the children will reflect the parents according to the atmosphere they all breathed. The R.V. prefers the form of query, rather confirming the concentration of the verse preceding, and not adding the dispersion abroad intimated in the ordinary versions. It may not be easy to decide, but the R.V. has the effect of greater homogeneity, and more naturally falls in with verse 17, "Let them be only thine own, and not for strangers with thee."
Then the passage becomes more narrowed to the partners of life. And very impressive it is that he who erred publicly in adding so many wives and concubines should be the one inspired to commend a single object of wedded love. "Let thy fountain be blessed; and rejoice in the wife of thy youth." The words supplied by translators to introduce verse 19 are not only uncalled for, but enfeebling to the sense. To be cheerful abroad and morose at home, is to be thankless and unholy. "Let marriage," exhorts the Apostle, "be honourable in all things." As the A.V. stands, the words read as a stamp of warrant. It is really a call to hold the tie in honour, and this in every respect; and the warning follows there in accordance with verse 20 here.
Nor are the verses that succeed (21-23) to be disconnected. It is wholesome to remember that Jehovah not only honours His own institution for man, but watches over every transgression against it. Very grave is the admonition on His part in verse 21, too surely descriptive is the sketch in 22, 23 of the sinful folly that goes astray in this. It has been pointed out that the word "shall go astray" is the same word translated "ravished" in a good sense in verse 19 and in a bad sense in verse 20. This last prepares for what verse 23 requires, especially when we compare it with Proverbs 26:11, "a fool repeateth his folly." It is a departure, ever going on from bad to worse.
That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge.
For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil:
But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword.
Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable, that thou canst not know them.
Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth.
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:
Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger;
And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed,
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.
Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.
Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets.
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.
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.
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.