Proverbs 5
Pulpit Commentary
My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding:
Verses 1-23. - 8. Eighth admonitory discourse. Warning against adultery, and commendation of marriage. The teacher, in this discourse, recurs to a subject which he has glanced at before in Proverbs 2:15-19, and which he again treats of in the latter part of the sixth and in the whole of the seventh chapters. This constant recurrence to the same subject, repulsive on account of its associations, shows, however, the importance which it had in the teacher's estimation as a ground of warning, and that he ranked it among the foremost of the temptations and sins which called the young off from the pursuit of Wisdom, and so led them astray from "the fear of the Lord." The vividness with which the ruin, bodily and moral, ensuing with absolute certainty on a life of vice, is described is a sufficient proof in itself that the subject before us is not brought forward from or for voluptuous motives, but for the purpose of conveying an impressive warning. Some commentators, e.g. Delitzsch, include the first six verses in the previous discourse; but the unity of the subject requires a different treatment. Zockler's reason against this arrangement, on the ground that the previous discourse was addressed to "tender youth," and thus to youth in a state of pupilage, while the one before us refers to more advanced age - to the married man - may be true, but is not the true ground for incorporating them in the present discourse. The unity of the subject requires that they should be taken with the central and didactic part of the discourse, as being in a sense introductory to it. The discourse divides itself into three sections.

(1) The earnest appeal to attention because of the counter-attraction in the blandishments of the harlot, which, however, in the end, are bitter as wormwood and sharp as a two-edged sword (vers. 1-6).

(2) The main or didactic section (vers. 7-20), embracing

(a) warnings against adulterous intercourse with "the strange woman" (vers. 7-14);

(b) the antithetical admonition to use the means of chastity by remaining faithful to, and rejoicing with, the wife of one's youth (vers 15-20). And

(3) the epilogue, which, in addition to the disastrous temporal consequences which follow on the violation of the sanctity of marriage, mentioned in vers. 9-14, represents the sin as one which will be examined by the universal Judge, and which brings with it its own Nemesis or retribution. All sins of impurity, all sins against temperance, soberness, and chastity, are no doubt involved in the warning, and the subject is capable of an allegorical interpretation - a mode of treatment in some instances adopted by the LXX. rendering, as that the "strange woman" stands as the representative of impenitence (Miller), or, according to the earlier view of Bede, as the representative of heresy and false doctrine; but the sin which is inveighed against, and which is made the subject of these repeated warnings, is not fornication simply, but adultery - the violation, in its most repulsive form, of the sacred obligations of marriage. The whole discourse is an impressive commentary on the seventh commandment. Verse 1. - The admonitory address is very similar to that in Proverbs 4:20, except that here the teacher says," Attend to my wisdom, bow down thine ear to my understanding," instead of "Attend to my words, and incline thine ear unto my saying." It is not merely "wisdom" and "understanding" in the abstract, but wisdom which he has appropriated to himself, made his own, and which he knows by experience to be true wisdom. It may therefore have the sense of experience and observation, both of which increase with years. To "bow down the ear" is to listen attentively, and so to fix the mind intently on what is being said. Compare the similar expressions in Psalm 31:2 and Proverbs 2:2; Proverbs 4:20; 33:12. The same idea is expressed in Mare Antony's address to his countrymen, "Lend me your ears" (Shakespeare, 'Julius Caesar,' act 3. sc. 2).
That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge.
Verse 2. - This verse expresses the purposes or results of the preceding admonition. The first is, that thou mayest regard discretion (Hebrew, lishmor m'zimmoth); literally, to guard reflection; i.e. in other words, that thou mayest maintain thoughtfulness, observe counsel, set a proper guard or control over thy thoughts, and so restrain them within proper and legitimate limits, or form such resolutions which, being well considered and prudential, may result in prudent conduct. The word m'zimmoth, however, does not travel beyond the sphere of what is conceived in the mind, and consequently does not mean conduct (as Holden conceives), except in a secondary sense, as that thoughts and plans are the necessary preliminaries to action and conduct. Muffet, in loc., explains, "that thou mayest not conceive in mind any evil or vanity." The word m'zimmoth is the plural of m'zimmmah, which occurs in Proverbs 1:4. This word generally means any plan, project, device, either in a good or bad sense. In the latter sense it is applied to intrigue and deceitful conduct, as in Proverbs 24:8. It is here used in a good sense. Indeed, Delitzsch remarks that the use of the word in a good sense is peculiar to the introductory part of the Proverbs (ch. 1-9.). The Vulgate renders. "That thou mayest guard thy thoughts or reflection (ut custodias cogitationes)." So the LXX., Ἵνα φυλάξῃς ἔννοιαν ἀγαθήν, "That thou mayest guard good reflection," the adjective ἀγαθή being introduced to note the sense in which the ἔννοια, i.e. act of thinking, properly, is to be understood. The prefix לִ ("to") before shamar, "to guard," in lishmor, expresses the purpose, as in Proverbs 1:5; Proverbs 2:2, et alia. The second end in view is, that thy lips may keep knowledge; literally, and thy lips shall keep knowledge. Those lips keep or preserve knowledge which literally retain the instruction of Wisdom (Zockler), or which allow nothing to pass them which does not proceed from the knowledge of God (Delitzsch), and which, when they speak, give utterance to sound wisdom. The meaning may be illustrated by Psalm 17:3, "I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress." The same expression occurs in Malachi 2:7, "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge," i.e. preserve and give utterance to it. Where "the lips keep knowledge," there they are protected against the lips of the strange woman, i.e. against her allurements, because they will be fortified with purity. Thy lips; s'phatheyka is the dual of the feminine noun saphah, "a lip." The teacher designedly uses this word instead of "thy heart" (cf. Proverbs 3:1), because of the contrast which he has in mind, and which be produces in the next verse. The LXX., Vulgate. and Arabic add, "Attend not to the deceitful woman," which Houbigant and Schleusner think is required by the context. The addition, however, is without authority (Holden).
For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil:
Verse 3. - The teacher enters upon the subject of his warning, and under two familiar figures - common alike to Oriental and Greek writers - describes the nature of the "strange woman's" allurements. For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb. The conjunction "for" (Hebrew ki) here, like the LXX. γὰρ, states the reason why the preceding exhortation is worthy of attention. Some commentators render "although," "albeit," as corresponding with the antithetical "but" in ver. 4. The lips; siphthey, the construct case of saphah in ver. 2. The organ of speech is here used for the speech itself, like the parallel "mouth." A strange woman (zarah); i.e. the harlot. The word occurs before in Proverbs 2:16, and again inch. 5:20; 7:5; 22:14; 23. 33. She is extranea, a stranger with respect to the youth whom she would beguile, either as being of foreign extraction, or as being the wife of another man, in which capacity she is so represented in Proverbs 7:19. In this sense she would be an adulteress. St. Jerome, in Ezekiel 6, takes her as the representative of the allurements from sound doctrine, and of corrupt worship (Wordsworth). Drop as an honeycomb (nopheth tithoph nah); rather, distil honey. The Hebrew nophteth is properly a "dropping," distillatio, and so the honey flowing from the honeycombs (tsuphim). Kimchi explains it as the honey flowing from the cells before they are broken, and hence it is the pure fine virgin honey. Exactly the same phrase occurs in Song of Solomon 4:11, "Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as an honeycomb (nopheth tithoph'nah)." The only other places where we meet with the word nopheth are Psalm 24:10 (11) (there combined with tsuphim, which helps to determine its meaning) and Proverbs 24:13; Proverbs 27:7. The meaning is the same as she "flattereth with her words" of Proverbs 7:5, in which chapter the teacher gives an example of the alluring words which the strange woman uses (Proverbs 7:14-20). As honey is sweet and attractive to the taste, so in a higher degree are her words pleasant to the senses. Her mouth is smoother than oil; i.e. her words are most plausible and persuasive. The Hebrew khik is properly "the palate," though it also included the corresponding lower part of the mouth (Gesenius). It is used as the instrument or organ of speech in Proverbs 8:7, "For my mouth (khik) shall speak truth;" and in Job 31:30, "I have not suffered my mouth (khik) to sin." Under the same figure David describes the treachery of his friend in Psalm 55:22, "His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords."
But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword.
Verse 4. - The contrast is drawn with great vividness between the professions of the "strange woman" and the disastrous consequences which overtake those who listen to her enticements. She promises enjoyment, pleasure, freedom from danger, but her end is bitter as wormwood. "Her end," not merely with reference to herself, which may be and is undoubtedly true, but the last of her as experienced by those who have intercourse with her - her character as it stands revealed at the last. So it is said of wine, "At the last," i.e. its final effects, if indulged in to excess, "it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder" (Proverbs 23:22). Bitter as wormwood. The Hebrew, laanah, "wormwood," Gesenius derives from the unused root laan, "to curse." It is the equivalent to the absinthium of the Vulgate. So Aquila, who has ἀψίνθιον. The LXX. improperly renders χολή, "gall." In other places the word laanah is used as the emblem of bitterness, with the superadded idea of its being poisonous, also according to the Hebrew notion, shared in also by the Greeks, that the plant combined these two qualities. Thus in Deuteronomy 29:18 it is associated with rosh, "a poisonful herb" (margin), and the Targum terms it, agreeably with this notion, "deadly wormwood." The same belief is reproduced in Revelation 8:11, "And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and many men died of the waters because they were made bitter" (cf. Jeremiah 9:15; Amos 5:7: 6:12). The apostle, no doubt, has it in mind when he speaks of any "root of bitterness," in Hebrews 12:15. The herb is thus described by Umbreit: "It is a plant toward two feet high, belonging to the genus Artemisia (species Artemisia absinthium), which produces a very firm stalk with many branches, grayish leaves, and small, almost round, pendent blossoms. It has a bitter and saline taste, and seems to have been regarded in the East as also a poison, of which the frequent combination with rosh gives an intimation." Terence has a strikingly similar passage to the one before us -

In melle sunt linguae sitae vestrae atque orations
Lacteque; corda felle sunt lita atque acerbo aceto."
Your tongues are placed in honey and your speech is milk; your hearts are besmeared with gall and sharp vinegar ('Trucul.,' 1:11. 75). Sharp as a two-edged sword; literally, as a sword of edges (kherev piphiyyoth), which may mean a sword of extreme sharpness. Her end is as sharp as the sharpest sword. But it seems better to take the term as it is understood in the Authorized Version, which has the support both of the Vulgate, gladius biceps, and the LXX., μαχαίρα διστόμος, i.e. "a two-edged sword." Compare "a two-edged sword" (kherev piphiyyoth) of Psalm 149:6. The meaning is, the last of her is poignancy of remorse, anguish of heart, and death. In these she involves her victims.
Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
Verse 5. - Vers. 5 and 6 continue the description of the harlot. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. She leads her victims to ruin. She hastens to death and the grove, and so do all those who listen to her. In all instances where the teacher speaks of the harlot at length he gives the same description of her (cf. Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18). An intensifying of the language is observable in the second hemistich. The descending progress to death becomes the laying hold of the grave, the underworld, as if nothing could turn her steps aside. And it is not only death, as the cessation of life, but death as a punishment, that is implied, just as the grave has in it the idea of corruption. (On "hell," sh'ol, see Proverbs 1:12.)
Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable, that thou canst not know them.
Verse 6. - Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are movable, that thou canst not know them. This verse should be rather rendered, she walks not in the path of life, her ways fiuctuate, she knows not. It consists of a series of independent proposiyions or statements, all of which are descriptive of the singularly fatuous conduct of "the strange woman." In the previous verse the teacher has said that her conduct leads to ruin; he here further emphasizes the idea by putting forward the same truth from the opposite, or, as we may say, from the negative point of view, and so completes the picture. "The words," as Plumptre remarks, "describe with terrible vividness the state of heart and soul which prostitution brings on its victims." Her course is one o(persistent, wilful, headstrong, blind folly and wickedness. Lest; pen; here "not," equivalent to לא (lo). So the LXX., Vulgate, Targum, Syriac. The use of pen, in this sense is, however, unique (Gesenius). Delitzsch and Zockler, following Luther, Geier, Holden, etc., assign to it an emphatic negative force, as, "She is far removed from entering," or, "she never treadeth." Others take pen as a dependent prohibitive particle, equivalent to the Latin ne forte, "lest," as in the Authorized Version, and employed to connect the sentence which it introduces either with the preceding verse (as Schultens) or with the second hemistich, on which it is made dependent (Holden, Wordsworth, Aben Ezra, loc., Michaelis, etc.). Thou shouldest ponder; t'phalles, connected by makkeph with pen, as usual (Lee), is either second person masculine or third person feminine. The latter is required here, the subject of the sentence being "the strange woman," as appears clearly from the second hemistich, "her ways," etc. The verb patas (cf. Proverbs 14:26) here means "to prepare," i.e. to walk in, or to travel over. Thus Gesenius renders, "She (the adulteress) prepareth not (for herself) the way of life:" i.e. she does not walk in the way of life; cf. the LXX. εἰσέρχεται, Vulgate ambulant (sc. gressus ejus), and other ancient versions, all of which understand the verb in this sense. The meaning of the phrase, pen t'phalles, is, therefore, "she walks not" in the way of life - the way that has life for its object, and which in itself is full of life and safety. Far from doing this, the teacher goes on to say, her ways are movable; literally, go to and fro, or fluctuate; i.e. they wilfully stagger hither and thither, like the steps of a drunkard, or like the uncertain steps of the blind, for the verb nua is so used in the former sense in Isaiah 24:20; Isaiah 29:9; Psalm 107:27; and in the latter in Lamentations 4:14. Her steps are slippery (LXX., σφαλέραι), or wander (Vulgate, vagi); they are without any definite aim; she is always straying in the vagrancy of sin (Wordsworth); cf. Proverbs 7:12. That thou canst not know them (lo theda); literally, she knows not. The elliptical form of this sentence in the original leaves it open to various interpretations. It seems to refer to the way of life; she knows not the way of life, i.e. she does not regard or perceive the way of life. The verb yada often has this meaning. The meaning may be obtained by supplying mah, equivalent to quicquam, "anything," as in Proverbs 9:13, "She knows not anything," i.e. she knows nothing. The objection to this is that it travels unnecessarily out of the sentence to find the object which ought rather to be supplied from the context. The object may possibly be the staggering of her feet: she staggers hither and thither without her perceiving it (Delitzsch); or it may, lastly, be indefinite: she knows not whittler her steps conduct her (Wordsworth and Zockler).
Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth.
Verses 7-14. - The ruinous consequences of indulgence in illicit pleasures. Verse 7. - The subject of which the teacher is heating demands the utmost attention of youth. Enough, it might be supposed, had been said to deter from intercourse with the "strange woman." She has been portrayed in her real colours, plunging recklessly into ruin herself, and carrying her victims with her; deceitful, full of intrigues, neither walking in nor knowing the way of life. But the warning is amplified and made more impressive. There is another side of the picture, the complete bodily and temporal ruin of her victim. The argumentum ad hominem is applied. There is an appeal to personal interest in the details which follow, which ought not to fail in holding youth back. The form of the address which is repeated is very similar to that in Proverbs 7:24. The plural form, "O ye children" (cf. Proverbs 4:1 and Proverbs 7:24), immediately passes into the singular for the reason mentioned before, that, though the address is made to all, yet each individually is to apply it to himself.
Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house:
Verse 8. - Remove thy way far from her. In other words, this is the same as St. Paul counsels, "Flee fornication" (1 Corinthians 6:14). From her (mealeyah; desuper ea). The term conveys the impression that the youth has come within the compass of her temptations, or that in the highest degree he is liable to them. The Hebrew meal, compounded of min and al, and meaning" from upon," being used of persons or things which go away from the place in or upon which they had been. And come not nigh the door of her house; i.e. shun the very place where she dwells. "Be so far from coming into her chamber as not to come near the door of her house" (Patrick). She and her house are to be avoided as if they were infected with some mortal disease. The old proverb quoted by Muffet is applicable -

"He that would no evil do
Must do nothing that 'longeth [i.e. belongeth] thereto."
Lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel:
Verse 9. - The reasons why the harlot is to be avoided follow in rapid succession. Lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel. The word rendered "honour" (Hebrew, hod) is not so much reputation, as the English implies, as "the grace and freshness of youth." It is so used in Hosea 14:6; Daniel 10:8. The Vulgate renders "honour," and the LXX., ζώη, "life." Hod is derived from the Arabic word signifying "to lift one's self up," and then "to be eminent, beautiful." Thy years; i.e. the best and most vigorous, and hence the most useful and valuable, years of life. Unto the cruel (Hebrew, l'ak'zari); literally, to the cruel one; but the adjective akzari is only found in the singular, and may be here used in a collective sense as designating the entourage of the harlot, her associates who prey pitilessly on the youth whom they bring within the range of her fascinations. So Delitzsch. It seems to be so understood by the LXX., which reads ἀνελεήμοσιν, immitentibus; but not so by the Vulgate, which adheres to the singular, crudeli. If we adhere to the gender of the adjective akzari, which is masculine, and to its number, it may designate the husband of the adulteress, who will deal mercilessly towards the paramour of his wife. So Zockler. Again, it may refer, notwithstanding the gender, to the harlot herself (so Vatablus and Holden). who is cruel, who has no love for the youth, and would see him perish without pity. The explanation of Stuart and others, including Ewald, that the "cruel one" is the purchaser of the punished adulterer, is without foundation or warrant, since there is no historical instance on record where the adulterer was reduced to slavery, and the punishment inflicted by the Mosaic code was not slavery, but death (Numbers 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22), and, as it appears from Ezekiel 16:40 and John 8:5, death from stoning. The adjective akzari, like its equivalent akzar, is derived from the verb kazar, "to break," and occurs again in Proverbs 11:17; Proverbs 12:10; Proverbs 17:11. The moral of the warning is a wasted life.
Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger;
Verse 10. - Another temporal consequence of, and deterrent against, a life of profligacy. Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger. The margin reads, "thy strength" for "thy wealth," but the text properly renders the original koakh, which means "substance," "wealth," "riches" - the youth's possessions in money and property (Delitzsch). The primary meaning of the word is "strength" or "might," as appears from the verb kakhakh, "to exert one's self," from which it is derived, but the parallel atsabeyka, "thy toils," rendered "thy labours," determines its use in the secondary sense here. Compare the similar passage in Hosea 7:9, "Strangers have devoured his strength [koakh, i.e. ' his possessions'], and he knoweth it not" (see also Job 6:22). Koakh is the concrete product resulting from the abstract strength or ability when brought into action. Thy labours (atsabeyka); i.e. thy toils, the product of laborious toil, that which you have gotten by the labour of your hands, and earned with the sweat of your brow. Fleischer compares the Italian i miri sudori, and the French mes sueurs. The singular etsev signifies "heavy toilsome labour," and the plural (atsavim, "labours," things done with toil, and so the idea passes to the resultant of the labour. Compare the very similar expression in Psalm 127:2, lekhem naatsavim, equivalent to "bread obtained by toilsome labour;" Authorized Version, "the bread of sorrows." The Authorized Version properly supplies the verb "be" against those (e.g. Holden et alli) who join on "thy labours" to the previous verb "be filled," as an accusative, and render, "and with thy labours in the house of a stranger." So also the LXX. and the Vulgate, "and thy labours come" (ἕλθωσι, LXX.) or "be" (sint, Vulgate) "to the house of strangers" (εἰς οἴκους ἀλλοτρίων) or, "in a strange house" (in aliena domo). In the latter case the Vulgate is wrong, as nok'ri in the phrase beyth nok'ri is always personal (Delitzsch), and should be rendered, as in the Authorized Version, "in the house of a stranger." The meaning of the verse is that a life of impurity transfers the profligate's substance, his wealth and possessions, to others, who will be satiated at his expense, and, being strangers, are indifferent to his ruin.
And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed,
Verse 11. - The last argument is the mental anguish which ensues when health is ruined and wealth is squandered. And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed. The Hebrew v'nahamta is rather "and thou groan." It is not the plaintive wailing or the subdued grief of heart which is signified, but the loud wail of lamentation, the groaning indicative of intense mental suffering called forth by the remembrance of past folly, and which sees no remedy in the future. The verb naham occurs again in Proverbs 28:15, where it is used of the roaring of the lion, and the cognate noun naham is met with in Proverbs 19:12 and Proverbs 20:2 in the same sense. By Ezekiel it is used of the groaning of the people of Jerusalem when they shall see their sanctuary profaned, their sons and their daughters fall by the sword, and their city destroyed (Ezekiel 24:23). Isaiah (Isaiah 5:29, 30) applies it to the roaring of the sea. The Vulgate reproduces the idea in gemas, equivalent to "and thou groan." The LXX. rendering, καὶ μεταμεληθήσῃ, "and thou shelf repent," arising from the adoption of a different pointing, nikhamta, from the niph. nikham, "to repent," for nahamta, to some extent expresses the sense. At the last; literally, at thine end; i.e. when thou art ruined, or, as the teacher explains, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed. The expression, "thy flesh and thy body," here stands for the whole body, the body in its totality, not the body and the soul, which would be different. Of these two words "the flesh" (basar) rather denotes the flesh in its strict sense as such (cf. Job 31:31; Job 33:21), while "body" (sh'er) is the flesh adhering to the bones. Gesenlus regards them as synonymous terms, stating, however, that sh'er is the more poetical as to use. The word basar is used to denote the whole body in ch. 14:30. It is clear that, by the use of these two terms here, the teacher is following a peculiarity observable elsewhere in the Proverbs, of combining two terms to express, and so to give force to, one idea. The expression describes "the utter destruction of the libertine" (Umbreit). This destruction, as further involving the ruin of the soul, is described in ch. 6:32, "Whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding; he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul (nephesh)" (cf. Proverbs 7:22, 23).
And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof;
Verse 12. - Self-reproach accompanies the unavailable groaning. And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof! i.e. how could it ever come to pass that I have acted in such a senseless and inexcusable manner, that I have hated instruction (musar, disciplina, παιδεία), the warning voice which dissuaded me from going with the harlot, and in my heart despised, i.e. rejected inwardly, whatever my outward demeanour may have been, the reproof which followed after I had been with her! Despised (naats), as in Proverbs 1:30; comp. also Proverbs 15:5, "A fool despiseth his father's instructions."
And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!
Verse 13. - And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me. The ruined profligate admits he was not without teachers and advisers, but that he gave no heed to their warnings and reproofs. Have not obeyed the voice (lo-shama'ti b'kol). The same phrase occurs in Genesis 27:13; Exodus 18:19; Deuteronomy 26:14; 2 Samuel 12:18. The verb shama is primarily "to hear," and then "to obey," "to give heed to," like the Greek ἀκούω.
I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly.
Verse 14. - I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly; i.e. such was my shamelessness that there was scarcely any wickedness which I did not commit, unrestrained even by the presence of the congregation and assembly. The fact which the ruined youth laments is the extent and audacity of his sins. It is not that he accuses himself of hypocrisy in religion (Delitzsch), but he adds another clement in his career of vice. He has disregarded the warnings and reproofs of his teachers and friends; but more, the presence of the congregation of God's people, a silent but not a less impressive protest, had no restraining effect upon him. The words, "the congregation and assembly" (Hebrew, kahal v'edah), seem to be used to heighten the conception, rather than to express two distinct and separate ideas, since we find them both used interchangeably to designate the congregation of the Israelites. The radical conception of kahal ("congregation") is the same as that of the LXX. ἐκκλήσια and Vulgate ecclesia, viz. the congregation looked upon from the point of its being called together, kahal being derived from kahal, which in hiph. is equivalent to "to call together," while that of edah is the congregation looked at from the point of its having assembled edah being derived from yaad, in niph. equivalent to "to come together." The latter will therefore stand for any assembly of people specially convened or coming together for some definite object, like the LXX. συναγώγη and the Vulgate synagoga. The term edah is, however, used in a technical sense as signifying the seventy elders, or senators, who judged the people (see Numbers 25:7; Numbers 35:12). Rabbi Salomon so explains haedah as "the congregation," in Joshua 20:6 and Numbers 27:21. Other explanations, however, have been given of these words. Zockler takes kahal as the convened council of elders acting as judges (Deuteronomy 33:4, 5), and edah as the concourse (coetus) of the people executing the condemning sentence (Numbers 15:15; cf. Psalm 7:7), and renders, "Well nigh had I fallen into utter destruction in the midst of the assembly and the congregation." Fleischer, Vatablus, and Bayne take much the same view, looking upon ra ("evil," Authorized Version) as "punishment," i.e. the evil which follows as a consequence of sin - a usage supported by 2 Samuel 16:18; Exodus 5:19; 1 Chronicles 7:23; Psalm 10:6 - rather than as evil per se, i.e. that which is morally bad, as in Exodus 32:22. Aben Ezra considers that the perfect is used for the future; "In a little time I shall be involved in all evil;" i.e. punishment, which is looked forward to prospectively. For "almost" (ki-mat, equivalent to "within a little," "almost," "nearly"), see Genesis 26:10; Psalm 73:2; Psalm 119:87.
Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.
Verses 15-19. - Commendation of the chaste intercourse of marriage. In this section the teacher passes from admonitory warnings against unchastity to the commendation of conjugal fidelity and pure love. The allegorical exposition of this passage, current at the period of the Revision of the Authorized Version in 1612, as referring to liberality, is not ad rem. Such an idea had no place certainly in the teacher's mind, nor is it appropriate to the context, the scope of which is, as we have seen, to warn youth against indulgence in illicit pleasures, by pointing out the terrible consequences which follow, and to indicate, on the other hand, in what direction the satisfaction of natural wants is to be obtained, that so, the heart and conscience being kept pure, sin and evil may be avoided. Verse 15. - Drink waters out of thine own cistern, etc.; i.e. in the wife of your own choice, or in the legitimate sphere of marriage, seek the satisfaction of your natural impulses. The pure, innocent, and chaste nature of such pleasures is appropriately compared with the pure and wholesome waters of the cistern and the wellspring. The "drinking" carries with it the satisfying of a natural want. Agreeably with oriental and scriptural usage, "the wife" is compared with a "cistern" and "well." Thus in the Song of Solomon the "bride" is called a spring shut up, a fountain sealed" (Song of Solomon 4:12). Sarah is spoken of under exactly the same figure that is used here, viz. the bor, or "cistern," in Isaiah 51:1. The figure was not confined to women, however, as we find Judah alluded to as "waters" in Isaiah 48:1, and Jacob or Israel so appearing in the prophecy of Balaam (Numbers 24:7). The people are spoken of by David as they that are "of the fountain of Israel" (Psalm 68:26). A similar imagery is employed in the New Testament of the wife. The apostles St. Paul and St. Peter both speak of her as "the vessel (τὸ σκεῦος)" (see 1 Thessalonians 4:4 and 1 Peter 3:7). The forms of the original, b'or and b'er, standing respectively for "cistern" and "well," indicate a common derivation from baar, "to dig." But bor is an artificially constructed reservoir or cistern, equivalent to the Vulgate cisterna, and LXX. ἄγγειος, while b'er is the natural spring of water, equivalent to the Vulgate putens. So Aben Ezra, who says, on Leviticus 2:36, "Bor is that which catches the rain, while b'er is that from within which the water wells up." This explanation, however, does not entirely cover the terms as used here. The "waters" (Hebrew, mayim) may be the pure water conveyed into the cistern, and not simply the water which is caught in its descent born heaven. The parallel term, "running waters" (Hebrew, noz'lim), describes the flowing limpid stream fit, like the other, for drinking purposes. A similar use of the terms is made in the Song of Solomon 4:15, "a well of living waters (b'er mayim khayyim) and streams (v'noz'lim) from Lebanon." It may be remarked that the allusion to the wife, under the figures employed, enhances her value. It indicates the high estimation in which she is to be held, since the "cistern" or "well" was one of the most valuable possessions and adjuncts of an Eastern house. The teaching of the passage, in its bearing on the subject of marriage, coincides with that which is subsequently put forward by St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:9.
Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets.
Verse 16. - Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. The figurative language is still continued, and under the terms "fountains" and "rivers of waters," are to be understood children, the legitimate issue of lawful marriage. So Aben Ezra and the majority of modern commentators, Schultens, Doderlein, Holden, Muenscher, Noyes, Wardlaw, etc. The meaning appears to be, "Let thy marriage be blessed with many children, who may go forth abroad for the public good." Other interpretations have been adopted. Thus:

(1) Delitzsch takes the words fountans and "rivers of waters" as used figuratively for the procreative power, and renders, "Shall thy streams flow abroad, and water brooks in the streets?" and interprets, "Let generative power act freely and unrestrainedly within the marriage relation."

(2) Schultens and Dathe, followed by Holden, regard the verse as expressing a conclusion on the preceding, "Then shall thy springs be dispersed abroad, even rivers of waters in the streets." The objection to this is that it necessitates the insertion of the copulative vau (ו) before the verb, yaphutzu, "be dispersed."

(3) Zockler and Hitzig read the verse interrogatively, "Shall thy streams flow abroad as water brooks in the streets?" on the analogy of Proverbs 6:30 and Psalm 56:7.

(4) The reading of the LXX., adopted by Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, places a negative before the verb, Μὴ ὑπερεκχείσθω, i.e. "Let not thy waters flow beyond thy fountain;" i.e. "confine thyself to thy wife." Fountains. The Hebrew ma'yanim, plural of mayan, derived from ayin ("a fountain") with the formative men, is rather a stream or rill - water flowing on the surface of the ground. It is used, however, of a fountain itself in Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2. Rivers of waters (Hebrew, pal'gey-mayim); rather, water courses, or water brooks (cf. Job 38:25). The peleg represents the various streams into which the mayan, "fountain," divides itself at its source or in its course. We find the same expression, pal'gey-mayim, used of tears in Psalm 119:136; Lamentations 3:48. It occurs again in our book in Proverbs 21:1, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord as the rivers of waters (pal'gey mayim)." On "abroad" (Hebrew, khutz), and "in the streets" (r'khovoth), see Proverbs 1:20.
Let them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee.
Verse 17. - Let them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee. By confining yourself to chaste intercourse with your lawful wife, be assured that your offspring is your own. Promiscuous and unlawful intercourse throws doubt upon the paternity of children. Thy children may be thine, they may belong to another. The natural pride which is felt in a legitimate offspring is the motive put forward to commend the husband to confine himself exclusively to his wife. Grotius on this verse remarks, "Ibi sere ubi prolem metas" - "Sow there where you may reap an offspring." Them; i.e. the children referred to figuratively in the preceding verse, from which the subject of this verse is supplied. The repetition of the pronoun which occurs in the original, "let them belong to thee, to thee," is emphatic, and exclusive of others. The latter clause of the verse, "and not strangers' with thee," covers the whole ground. The idea of their being strangers' is repulsive, and so gives further point to the exhortation.
Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.
Verse 18. - Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. The employment of the ordinary term "wife" in the second hemistich shows in what sense the figure which is used has to be understood. The terms "fountain" and "wife" denote the same person. The wife is here called "thy fountain" (Hebrew, m'kor'ka), just as she has been previously "thine own cistern" (b'or) and "thine own well" (b'er) in ver. 15. The Hebrew makor, "fountain," is derived from the root kur, "to dig." The figure seems to determine that the blessing here spoken of consists in the with being a fruitful mother of children; and hence the phrase means, "Let thy with be blessed," i.e. rendered happy in being the mother of thy children. This is quite consistent with the Hebrew mode of thought. Every Israelitish wife regarded herself, and was regarded by ethers as "blessed," if she bore children, and unhappy if the reverse were the case. Blessed; Hebrew, baruk (Vulgate, benedicta), is the kal participle passive of barak, "to bless." Instead of this, the LXX. reads ἴδια, "Let thy fountain be thine own" - a variation which in no sense conveys the meaning of the original. And rejoice with; rather, rejoice in, the wife being regarded as the sphere within which the husband is to find his pleasure and joy. Umbreit explains, "Let thy wife be extolled." The same construction of the imperative s'makh, from samakh," to be glad, or joyful," with min, occurs in Judges 9:19; Zephaniah 3:14, etc. The Authorized rendering is, however, favoured by the Vulgate, laetare cum, and the LXX., συνευφραίνω μετὰ Compare the exhortation in Ecclesiastes 9:9, "Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest." The wife of thy youth (Hebrew, ishshah n'ureyka) may mean either

(1) the wife to whom thou hast given the fair bloom of thy youth (Umbreit);

(2) the wife chosen in thy youth (Delitzsch); or

(3) thy youthful wife. The former seems the more probable meaning. Compare the expression, "companion of thy youth," in Proverbs 2:17.
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.
Verse 19. - Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe. The words in italics do not occur in the original. The expression, "the loving hind and pleasant roe," is, therefore, to be attached to the preceding verse, as carrying on the sense and as descriptive of the grace and fascinating charms of the young wife. As combining these attributes, she is to be the object of thy love and devotion,the one in whom thine affections are to find the fulfilment of their desires. Love and grace are her possessions. The loving hind (Hebrew, ayyeleth ahavim); literally, the hind of loves, which may be understood, as in the Authorized Version, as pointing to the fondness of this animal for its young, or as descriptive of its beauty and the extreme gracefulness of its form. In this sense the phrase may be rendered, "the lovely hind." The ayyeleth, or ayyalah, feminine of ayyal, "stag," or "hart," was in all probability the gazelle, Pleasant roe (Hebrew, yhaalath khen); literally, the ibex of grace. The particular expression only occurs here in the Bible. The yaalath is the feminine of yaal, "the ibex" or "mountain goat" according to Bochart, or the "chamois" according to Gesenius. It does not appear that it is so much "the pleasantness" or amiability of this animal which is here alluded to as its gracefulness of form. As terms of endearment, the words entered largely into the erotic poetry of the East. Thus in the Song of Solomon 4:5 the bride likens her beloved to "a roe or young hart" (cf. also Song of Solomon 4:17 and Song 8:14). while numerous examples might be quoted from the Arabian and Persian poets. They were also employed sometimes as names for women. Compare the superscription of Psalm 22, Ayyeleth hash-shakar, "Upon the hind of the dawn." Let her breasts satisfy thee at all times. The love of the wife is to refresh and fully satisfy the husband. The word dadeyah, "her breasts," only occurs here and in Ezekiel 23:3, 8, 21, and is equivalent to dodeyah, "her love." The marginal reading, "water thee," serves to bring out the literal meaning of the y'ravvuka, derived from ravah, in kal, "to drink largely," "to be satisfied with drink," but misses the emphatic force of the piel, "to be fully satisfied or satiated." This is expressed very forcibly in the Vulgate rendering, "Let her breasts inebriate thee (indebrient te)," which represents the strong influence which the attractions of the wife are to maintain. The LXX., on the other hand, avoiding the rather sensual colouring of the language, substitutes, "May she thine own lead thee, and be with thee always." And be thou ravished always with her love; i.e. let it intoxicate thee. The teacher, by a bold figure, describes the entire fascination which the husband is to allow the wife to exercise over him. The verb shagah is "to reel under the influence of wine," and is so used in the succeeding vers. 20 and 23, and Proverbs 20:1 and Isaiah 28:7. The primary meaning, "to err from the way," scarcely applies here, and does not express the idea of the teacher, which is to describe "an intensity of love connected with the feeling of superabundant happiness" (Delitzsch). The Vulgate, In amore ejus delectare jugiter, "In her love delight thyself continually," and the LXX., "For in her love thou shalt be daily engaged," are mere paraphrases.
And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger?
Verses 20, 21. - The adulterer to be restrained by the fact of God's omniscience and the Divine punishment. Vers. 20 and 21 should apparently be taken together. The teaching assumes a higher tone, and rises from the lower law which regulates fidelity to the wife, based upon personal attractions, to the higher law, which brings the husband's conduct into relation with the duty he owes to Jehovah. Not merely is his conduct to be regulated by love and affection alone, but it is to be fashioned by the reflection or consciousness that the Supreme Being presides over all, and takes cognizance of human action. Without losing sight that the marriage contract has its own peculiar obligations, the fact is insisted upon that all a man's ways are open to the eyes of the Lord. Verse 20. - And why; i.e. what inducement is there, what reason can be given, for conjugal infidelity, except the lewd and immoral promptings of the lower nature, except sensuality in its lowest form? Ravished. The verb shagah recurs, but in a lower sense, as indicating "the foolish delirium of the libertine hastening after the harlot" (Zockler). With a strange woman (Hebrew, b'zarah); i.e. with a harlot. On zarah, see Proverbs 2:16 and Proverbs 7:5. The b' (בְּ) localizes the sources of the intoxication. Embrace (Hebrew, t'khab-bek). On this verb, see Proverbs 4:8. The bosom of a stranger (Hebrew, kheh nok'riyyah). A parallel expression having the same force as its counterpart. The more usual form of khek is kheyk, and means "the bosom" of a person. In Proverbs 16:33 it is used of the lap, and in Proverbs 17:23 and Proverbs 21:14 for the bosom or folds of a garment.
For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.
Verse 21. - For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord. The obvious meaning here is that as "the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3), there is no possibility of any act of immorality escaping God's notice. The consciousness of this fact is to be the restraining motive, inasmuch as he who sees will also punish every transgression. The great truth acknowledged here is the omniscience of God, a truth which is borne witness to in almost identical language in Job: "For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings" (Job 34:21; cf. 24:23 and Job 31:4). So Hanani the seer says to Asa King of Judah, "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth" (2 Chronicles 16:9); and Jehovah says, in Jeremiah, "For mine eyes are upon all their ways, they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes" (Jeremiah 16:17; cf. 32:29); and again, in Hosea, "They are before my face" (Hosea 7:2), and the same truth is re-echoed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in all probability gathered from our passage, "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13). The ways of man; i.e. the conduct of any individual man or woman; ish, "man," being used generically. Are before the eyes of the Lord; i.e. are an object on which Jehovah fixes his gaze and scrutiny. And he pondereth all his goings. The word "he pondereth" is in the original m'phalles, the piel participle of philles, piel of the unused kal, palas, and appears to be properly rendered in the Authorized Version. This verb, however, has various meanings:

(1) to make level, or prepare, as in Proverbs 4:26 and Proverbs 5:6;

(2) to weigh, or consider accurately, in which sense it is used here.

So Gesenius, Lee, Buxtorf, and Davidson. Jehovah not only sees, but weighs all that a man does, wheresoever he be, and will apportion rewards and punishments according to a man's actions (Patrick). The German commentators, Delitzsch and Zockler, however, look upon the word as indicating the overruling providence of God, just as the former part of the verse refers to his omniscience, and render, "he marketh out," in the sense that the Lord makes it possible for a man to walk in the way of uprightness and purity. There is nothing inherently objectionable in this view, since experience shows that the world is regulated by the Divine government, but it loses sight to some extent of the truth upon which the teacher appears to be insisting, which is that evil actions are visited with Divine retribution.
His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.
Verses 22, 23. - The fearful end of the adulterer. From the universal statement of God's omniscience and the Divine judgment, the teacher passes to the fate of the profligate. His end is inevitable ruin and misery. The deep moral lesson conveyed is that sin carries with it its own Nemesis. Adultery and impurity, like all sin of which they are forms, are retributive. The career of the adulterer is a career begun, continued, and ended in folly (comp. Proverbs 1:31, 32; Proverbs 2:5; Proverbs 18:7; Proverbs 29:6; and Psalm 9:15). Verse 22. - His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself; i.e. his manifold sins shall overtake and arrest him. The imagery is borrowed from the snare of the fowler. The emphatic form of the original, "His sins shall overtake him, the impious man," point conclusively to the adulterer. It is "his" sins that shall overtake him, not those of another, and they shall fall upon his own head; and further, his character is depicted in the condemning clause, "the impious man;" for such he is. Shall take. The verb lakad is literally "to take or catch animals in a snare or net," properly "to strike with a net." The wicked man becomes entangled and caught in his own sins; he is struck down and captured by them, just as the prey is struck by the snare of the fowler. The verb is, of course, used metaphorically, as in Job 5:13. The wicked (Hebrew, eth-harasa); in the original introduced as explanatory of the object, "him." And he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. The Authorized Version follows the LXX. and Vulgate in rendering "his sins," instead of the original "his sin" (khattatho). It is not so much every sin of man which shall hold him, though this is true, as the particular sin treated of in the address, viz. adultery, which shall do this. The expression, "the cords of his sin" (Hebrew, khavley khattatho), means the cords which his sin weaves around him. Nothing else will be requisite to bind and hold him fast for punishment (cf. "cords of vanity," in Isaiah 5:18).
He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.
Verse 23. - He shall die without instruction. The phrase, "without instruction," is in the original b'eyu musar, literally, "in there not being instruction." The obvious meaning is, because he gave no heed to instruction. So Aben Ezra and Gersom. The Authorized Version is at least ambiguous, and seems to imply that the adulterer has been without instruction, without any to reprove or counsel him. But such is not the case. He has been admonished of the evil consequences of his sin, but to these warnings he has turned a deaf ear, and the teacher says therefore he shall die. The Vulgate supports this explanation, quia non habuit disciplinam "because he did not entertain or use instruction." In the LXX. the idea is enlarged, "He shall die together with these who have no instruction (μετὰ ἀπαιδεύτων)." The b' (בְּ) in b'eyn is causal, and equivalent to propter, as in Genesis 18:28; Jeremiah 17:3. A similar statement is found in Job 4:21, "They die even without wisdom," i.e. because they have disregarded the lessons of wisdom; and Job 36:12, "They shall die without knowledge." And in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray; better, as Delitzsch, "He shall stagger to ruin." The verb shagah is used as in vers. 19 and 20, but with a deeper and more dread significance. A climax is reached in the manner in which the end of the adulterer is portrayed. His end is without a gleam of hope or satisfaction. With an understanding darkened and rendered callous by unrestrained indulgence in lust, and by folly which has reached its utmost limits and cannot, as it were, be surpassed, in that it has persistently and wilfully set aside and scorned wisdom and true happiness, the adulterer, like the drunkard, who is oblivious of the danger before him, shall stagger to ruin.

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