And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.”
Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.
Proverbs 5:7-23 ESV
Although only nine chapters long, Solomon spends nearly three chapters of Proverbs’ introduction devoted to the subject of sexual immorality. Even if the topic is not popular in many churches, the ancient king obviously saw a serious need for such discussions, and our era is no different. Personified as the Adulteress (or Forbidden Woman), Solomon warns us against falling into the trap of sexual sin, and within these verses, he provides important insight on how we must guard ourselves against it.
A WASTED LIFE // VERSES 7-14
Continuing on from his introduction of the Forbidden Woman, Solomon now makes it clear that he is writing to all of his readers by addressing us as “sons” and warning us not to depart from his words. As the author is prone to do, the following verse (v. 8) immediately shifts to his primary warning, which for this text is to keep away from the Adulteress. The plea to not even go near the door of her house emphasizes the danger that is found with her.
Verses 9-14 give a twofold reasoning for steering clear of the Forbidden Woman, but they build upon one another for greater emphasis. Verse 9 presents the first reason as being the loss of honor and years to other people who are merciless. Verse 10 continues this construction by claiming that strength and labors will be taken by the strangers and foreigners. Both of these verses describe the defining characteristics of masculinity (i.e. strength, labor, honor) being stripped away and given to others. The principle is clear. Although sexual conquest is often viewed as a masculine endeavor, Solomon declares it to be the exact opposite. Sexual immorality steals masculinity from a man.
Of course, let us also remember that Solomon is poetically speaking to all of us as sons here, which means that this warning is not merely for men. The woman is just as much in danger of falling for the Adulterer as a man is to the Adulteress. Last week, we saw that 40 million Americans regularly view pornography, and one-third of those are women. And that is not even mentioning the prevalence of pornographic “romance” novels, television, and movies. Indeed, just as the Adulteress robs a man of his masculinity, so the Adulterer steals a woman of her femininity.
Now there is some question as to who is doing the stealing here. Solomon certainly keeps the language poetically ambiguous, so we should take care not to speak too decisively. A common interpretation is that the Israelite king is warning specifically against the Adulteress’ husband in these verses, since her husband had the right to have the two caught in adultery put to death (Leviticus 20:10). While this is certainly true, because the Adulteress is a personification of all sexual sin, we need not stop there. The word for strangers in verse 10 is the same word used for the Forbidden Woman back in verse 3. We could, therefore, interpret these verses as a man’s strength, honor, years, and labors being given to sin itself. This certainly fits with the New Testament’s teaching that we were slaves to sin before Christ (Romans 6:16-18). Sin, especially sexual sin, has present and physical consequences (i.e. disease, shame, death, etc.), but it also bears eternal consequences. To embark upon a journey into sexual immorality is to venture toward death.
Verses 11-14 provide us with a life’s end lament from the man caught by the Adulteress. The primary cry here is the lament over how is heart hated discipline and despise reproof. Verse 13 reminds us that this man was taught and given warnings about sin’s consequences. He was not ignorant, just willfully negligent. Verse 14 describes the horror of being upon the precipice of complete disgrace before everyone.
I find it interesting that the lament comes at the end of the man’s life. He is looking back at his lack of discipline and mourning over his wasted life. Such is the way of sin. Sexual sin, like all sin, promises life but drains vitality instead. Using pornography as the obvious application again, it is interesting how even some secular people are beginning to see this correlation. In many online forums, you can read of non-Christians refusing to look at pornography because they find it robbing them of their enjoyment of actual sex, happiness, and emotions. In short, time given to sin is time wasted, and because time is in short supply, we will look back our time spent in sin with lamentation.
THE WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH // VERSES 15-19
I find it interesting that most of Solomon’s warnings in Proverbs seem to be regarding what not to do, but here he presents a clear command for what we should do. Verses 15-17 present us with an interesting metaphor of springs issuing forth from one’s cistern or well, and he warns that we must not allow strangers (there’s that word again) to partake in them. We should not let our drinking water run into the streets as if it were some common thing (let us remember, after all, that clean water was not a guaranteed grace for much of the ancient world).
What is the meaning of this metaphor? Verses 18-19 explain it plainly: the blessed fountain is the wife of your youth (again, women should apply it as the husband of your youth). Note the tremendous difference between verses 15-17 and verse 18. The wife is called a blessed fountain. Recall from earlier studies that in the Bible being blessed means having the unconditional favor of God. This means that blessed things are also holy things, meaning they have been set apart and are no longer common. What God calls blessed is incapable of ever being ordinary, even if it is treated as such. And God calls a man’s wife his blessed fountain. God-follower or not, a spouse is special grace of the LORD. God designed marriage; therefore, the institution is one of blessing. And to open this union to others (as seen in verses 15-17) is a trampling upon what God has blessed.
How then do we treat our marriage with honor (Hebrews 13:4) as the blessing that it is? Be delighted in your spouse. For centuries, some theologians have argued that Song of Songs is pure allegory in an attempt to keep sex as purely for procreation. The heart that must have been behind this originally is easy to see. With so many deviant forms of sexual behavior, it is easy simply to forbid sex for anything other than baby-making. Yet this is a legalistic contradiction of the Bible’s teaching. Even if Song of Songs is purely allegorical, the context of verse 19 here is certainly not. Solomon is explicitly stating that guard ourselves from sexual immorality by delighting in God-glorifying sex.
The language here is only intensified by the word intoxicated in verse 19. It is often translated as going astray (see verse 23), but also gives the connotation of swaying in a drunken stupor. Thus, intoxicated is a fitting translation. The command is to always be drunk on the love of your spouse. Take physical delight in your spouse. As we discussed last week, forbidden sex is sweet as honey for the moment. No one denies that sin is fun. If it were not pleasurable, no one would fall into it. But here Solomon gives us the marvelous strategy of fight pleasure with greater pleasure.
Too often, we think of killing sin as killing our enjoyment of life, but in reality, we are meant to kill sin by embracing true enjoyment. For married people, this finds an immediate application in your spouse. After all, Paul commands spouses: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). At her bachelorette party, my wife received advice from a married woman a few years older than her that sex should be used to get a husband to do whatever you want him to do. This is sinful advice that flies against Paul’s words. Sex is not meant to be arbitrarily withheld from your spouse; instead, marital sex should be a reservoir of great delight for both husband and wife. When this is true, the joy of godly sex will guard the heart against sexual immorality.
Of course, there is at least one question more that should be discussed of these verses: do they have any application for those who are not married? It is fine to say that having delightful sex with your husband or wife is a means of fighting sin, but it also does little good if you are not married. Fortunately, the principle behind these verses still stands true. The battle against sin is still a battle for pleasure, joy, and satisfaction, but for those who are single, godly sex does not factor in until marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul speaks of those not married as having “undivided devotion to the Lord” (v. 35) and that they are “anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (v. 32). Therefore, they fight the pull of sexual sin by rejoicing in God. Both married and singles ultimately combat sin by treasuring Christ. Those who are married only have the added benefit of being able to practice godly sex.
A LACK OF DISCIPLINE // VERSES 20-23
Verse 20 provides the contrast of verse 19. The command to be intoxicated with your wife and find delight in her breasts is now turned inversely upon the Adulteress: why should you be intoxicated with her? Why would you embrace the bosom of the Forbidden Woman instead of delighting in the breasts of your own wife? The final three verses seek to remind us of the foolishness of embracing sexual immorality.
First, verse 21 reminds us that our ways are never hidden from the LORD. But our ways are not merely known to God, He ponders them. It is easy to acknowledge that God, in His omniscience, knows my sin, but we rarely believe that God is actually interest in it. I mean, why would the God of the universe bother to pay attention to me? Omniscience, combined with omnipotence and omnipresence, means that the God Who stands sovereign over all creation gives special care and thought to you. In fact, He ponders your life far more than you ever could. This remembrance that God not only sees but thinks deeply about us should give us incentive to fight sin.
Second, verse 22 informs us that sin is a snare and a trap. We think that exercise in sin is an exercise in true freedom, but Paul tells us that when we sin, we are only free from righteousness (Romans 6:20). Sin enslaves and ultimately kills.
Romans 6:20-23 | For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Third, verse 23 states that a lack of discipline kills. Discipline is not pleasant (Hebrews 12:10). As humans, we naturally rebel against discipline. Many want to lose weight, but few endure the discipline of exercising and eating carefully. Many want to play a musical instrument, but few are willing to put the necessary hours of discipline to do so. Paul Washer often tells the story of a young man listening to legendary trumpet player and afterward said that he would give his life to play like the man. The man replied that he did give his life to play like that. Discipline requires the denial of momentary pleasure in favor of greater pleasure in the future. Sin, however, is the embrace of momentary pleasure at the cost of greater pleasure later. This is how sin kills: by feeding our need for instant gratification.
A CASE STUDY: THE LIFE OF SOLOMON
Perhaps you are reading this and are wondering what gives Solomon the right to write these words. Did he not have 700 wives and 300 concubines? In fact, we should let the Bible tells what happened to Solomon:
1 Kings 11:1-8 | Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
This was the man who was divinely gifted with wisdom. This was the man who had the King David as his father, a man after God’s own heart (Act 13:22). Solomon wrote the book on biblical wisdom! How could he, of all people, fall away from the LORD because of sexual immorality!
First, let us remember that wisdom is not a permanent gift. Like manna, God-given wisdom does not last through the night. We awake each morning fools in desperate need of God’s gracious and loving wisdom. Luckily, the LORD is faithful to answer such prayers (James 1:5).
Second, the collapse of Solomon into sexual sin and away from his faith in God stands as a warning to us. If the author of this text was not himself exempt from them, neither are we. 1 Corinthians 10:12 cautions us: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” A presumption that sin is harmless almost always leads to harm. A refusal to take a rattlesnake seriously will almost always end in a bite. Solomon is a great warning that no one is entirely safe from the grasp of sexual immorality in this life.
Third, Solomon’s fall into sin and away from God does render his Scriptural writings invalid. Truth remains true regardless of whether the person speaking it believes it or not. This is why Paul was able to rejoice in the preaching of the gospel, even when he knew that it was preached out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1:15-18). If anything, Solomon’s sway off the path of wisdom lends even more weight to his words. The necessity to continuously seek wisdom is accented by Solomon’s descent into foolishness. Solomon’s appeal to fight sexual immorality by being intoxicated in your own wife is doubly emphasized by the king’s failure to do so and the consequences that it brought him.
Fourth, our hope is in Jesus, not Solomon. Our only hope of escaping sin (and healing its wounds) is in the One Who is greater than Solomon. King Solomon’s wisdom was so great that a great queen came from afar to listen to his teachings. Using this account, Jesus said this about Himself: “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). Even with all his wisdom, Solomon was a type and shadow of Jesus and His wisdom. We, therefore, look to Jesus even in the midst of our sin.
1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Even as we read these warnings against sin, we must always remember that our is solely in the faithfulness of God. He is faithful even when we are not. He forever upholds His covenant with us, even when we break it against Him. Praise be to God that He is forever faithful to His Bride, even when we give our hearts, time, and bodies to lesser things.
This is the great truth of the gospel. We are faithless, but He is faithful. We sin and, therefore, deserve the just wrath of God, but Jesus took every bit of the Father’s wrath upon Himself in our place. We would do well to remember that Christ did not merely die for “small” sins (as if those really existed); rather, He died for ALL sin. He even said so Himself: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemes they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29). All sin is included under that canopy of forgiveness except for blaspheme of the Holy Spirit, which John Piper describes as follows in an episode of Ask Pastor John titled What Is the Unforgiveable Sin?:
The unforgiveable sin is when you have resisted him so decisively that he has forsaken you and you can no longer repent. You try to repent and you can’t repent. You can’t be genuinely sorry for your sin or turn away from it. That is a horribly frightening situation to be in. But any listener who is now broken-hearted for his sin and does not despise Christ can be forgiven for every sin, no matter what he might have said to the Holy Spirit or however long he might have resisted Him. He can be forgiven, because the Bible holds out that promise for him. Whoever believes will be saved (John 3:16; Romans 10:13). It’s the inability to repent and believe which marks one as having gone over the line.
Tradition says that Solomon repented toward the end of his life and wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. We will not know the truth of this tradition until we enter eternal life with the LORD, but I pray that it is. There is certainly more than enough grace in the cross of Christ to cover the sex-driven idolatry of Solomon. Likewise, the grace of God in Christ is sufficient for all your sins. Embrace Him in repentance today; we are not guaranteed the ability to do so tomorrow.