Proverbs 5

I recently read about the divorce of a dentist and his wife. She filed for divorce, she said, because her husband never spoke to her except to give a direct order. And in 18 years of marriage, he had only bought her two gifts, one of which was a potato peeler.

A number of years ago, Christian Woman magazine ran a sequence of articles on “Suggestions for keeping romance alive.” I don’t usually read such things, but here’s a few of the suggestions I can read to you:

“Because he’s a bicycle enthusiast, my husband, Dennis, suggested we buy a tandem bike. Along the 3,500 miles we’ve logged so far, we’ve shared sights, sounds, laughter, tears, and pain. Because we sit so close together, it’s easy to talk, sharing the day’s concerns or what God’s been teaching us recently. Dennis says it means a great deal to him that I’ve embraced one of his hobbies. Likewise, I’ve seen his patience in teaching me the sport’s skills.”

“Among other things, my husband, Lauren, and I like to read stories out loud to each other over a pot of tea. Recently we read Pride and Prejudice and The Best of James Herriott. This is a much richer experience than watching television!”

“My husband, John, and I keep romance alive in our 32-year marriage by remembering our time as college sweethearts. Every few years we travel back to the college where we met. There we stroll hand in hand and kiss again where we kissed for the first time – the women’s dorm where I used to live. We pause and thank the Lord for bringing us together so long ago”

Believe me, there were others that I couldn’t possibly read from the pulpit!

Proverbs 5Proverbs 6Proverbs 7 are concerned with the evils of adultery, with Proverbs 5 focusing especially on a warning about “the seductress,” and the price of unchastity (and there’s always a price!). It closes with a section urging fidelity as the better path to follow. Since the book of Proverbs is a book containing advice from a father to a son, the warnings are addressed to men about the allurement and dangers of women, but it could just as easily have been in the reverse. No essential principle has been lost if we turn the passage around and warn young women of the allurement and dangers of unprincipled men!

The essential message of this chapter is a simple one:

• “Drink water from your own cistern and fresh water from your own well” (Proverbs 5:15).

• “Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice with the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:17).

• Blessing resides in the man who is “exhilarated always with her love” (Proverbs 5:19).

It is a chapter that warns of God’s disapproval and punishment of promiscuity, of what Peter refers to as “those fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). For that reason, this chapter seems particularly relevant and needful in our own time as it must have been when first written, some three thousand years ago.

Several important lessons emerge:

Give me wisdom!

I believe all men and women have this in common: that they want to be happy. They do not all agree on what brings the greatest happiness, but they do all long to have it. I am certain this is as true for you as it is for me. And this longing is not in itself bad. Evil consists in trying to find happiness in ways that displease and dishonor God, not in seeking happiness itself. It is possible to conceive of a world in which we might be called upon to do the right thing at the expense of our ultimate happiness. But that is not the world in which we live. God has established this world in such a way that doing good through faith in Christ always leads to greater happiness eventually. We do not live in a world where we must choose between our eternal happiness and God’s glory! God has created this world and its moral laws in such a way that the more we choose to glorify God, the happier we will be.

This is true in our marriages. We can only be happy in our marriage so long as we ‘get wisdom’ (Proverbs 4:5). Now when the book of Proverbs talks about ‘wisdom’ it isn’t thinking of the kind of wisdom that may be required for a PhD thesis! We tend to think of wisdom that way, as something erudite and designed only for a very few to know and understand. On the contrary, the word ‘wisdom’ (hokmah) is a word the Hebrews used for a combination of observation, careful plan, prudent conduct and sensitivity to God’s will. It is what the book of Proverbs sometimes calls “understanding,” or “instruction,” or “proverb.” It isn’t trying to train people for Phi Beta Kappa, but for everyday life; to practice the fundamental virtues, in this case, to marriage and sex.

How can you acquire this wisdom? The answer to that is astonishingly simple: desire wisdom with all of your heart. Proverbs 4:8 says, “Prize her [wisdom] highly and she will exalt you; she will honor you for your embrace.” To prize something and to embrace someone are signs of intense desire and love. In a chapter that wants to speak about sexual desire and fulfillment, it uses emotionally charged language about embracing wisdom first! ‘Attend unto my wisdom, bow your ear to my understanding’ (Proverbs 5:1).

That’s not to say that there isn’t any wisdom in the world; there is and sometimes the world can be wiser than Christians about certain things. But in the end, true wisdom comes from God and from the Bible and we will be the poorer if we neglect that. Remember the theme of the whole book: “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).

Temptation – beware!

There’s nothing unreal about the way the Scriptures approaches marriage and sex. Too often the church has backed away from speaking honestly about sexual matters for fear of offense. And there is a sense in which this fear is a real one. It is all too possible to shock and offend by speaking in a way the Bible itself does speak. Some things are best kept for more intimate settings than the pulpit. But I fear a conspiracy exists: that those who cry ‘foul’ whenever sex is the subject matter of a sermon are the very ones who need it! No one can examine the record of the church over the past few years and not draw the conclusion that those who need instruction and warning the most are the people of God. The church is presently collapsing under the strain of sexual sin and the time for discretion is over.

Temptation and adultery are so real that this wise master is telling his son all about it. He talks about the adulteress in Proverbs 5:3 as having “honeyed lips” and being “smoother than oil.” And in Proverbs 5:20 she is called “an immoral woman” and a “seductress.” Remember, this is a father warning his son but it could equally well have been done in the reverse: warning a daughter about ungodly men with only one thing on their minds. And God’s word?


Christ-likeness in all of life.

Coram Deo in sexuality and intimacy.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor . . . ” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4). Did you get that? How to control the body . . . There’s nothing Manichean about the Bible’s view of holiness. What do I mean? Manicheanism was a third-century aberration that essentially viewed the physical (the body in particular) as evil, and salvation as a way of escape from the prison-like nature of present existence. Spirituality was more concerned with thoughts and emotions rather than physical existence. The great Augustine was unduly influenced by it in his early life and (perhaps) never fully divested himself of it. Perhaps because of his sexually promiscuous life-style before his conversion, he was never fully able to express a Biblical view of sexuality after his conversion.

The Bible, on the other hand, is very clear: sanctification expresses itself in bodily behavior, not in asceticism and withdrawal, but in conformity to God’s wisdom and will:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14)

‘Do not present your members as instruments for unrighteousness . . . ‘ And the way of dealing with the temptation of sexual sin is very clear: avoid the circumstances that lead to temptation. “Remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8). We are to take deliberate steps in avoiding temptation of this kind. Sexual sanctification doesn’t come about by osmosis. It requires effort and planning. What precisely does this mean? Obviously, it will differ from one Christian to another-and you must be the judge of what is appropriate for you. But make the assessment, you must! It may mean getting Internet blocking protocols. It may mean stopping the cable channels. It may mean doing what Job did: making ‘a covenant with my eyes’ (Job 31:1). It may mean making sure that you don’t give indications of flirting – it begins with what looks like an innocent statement, “She doesn’t understand me.” And the reply, “I know what you mean.” You are on the edge of a precipice whenever you start a conversation like that.

Temptations rarely arise in the ‘heat of the moment.’ No, the seed of desire is planted a long time before it matures into a potent life-force. We can create the opportunities for temptation – isn’t it funny how in matters of sin, we suddenly want to express our belief in God’s sovereignty so as to minimize our responsibility in it!

You only have to read the accounts of Noah, Lot, David and Hezekiah to see the powerful effects of un-mortified sin.


I can almost hear some of you saying already, ‘That sounds a bit legalistic to me!’ It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we shy away from the ‘ought’ categories of Scriptures when they appear to cost us more than we are prepared to give?

“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. (Proverbs 5:12-13)

Only a fool rebels against God’s law. Only a fool thinks that a life with ‘lack of discipline’ (Proverbs 5:23) is a holy one. Now, you may find this outlook legalistic, but that would be a mistake. Legalism is trying to earn our way into the kingdom of God by our efforts. That is not what the Book of Proverbs is saying at all. These are words for believers, for members of the covenant family. Proverbs enjoys the same covenantal outlook on life as does the rest of Scripture. This is a book of how saved men and women live. It prescribes ways for redeemed folk to express their faith and glorify God. The “do’s and don’ts” of this book are no different from Paul’s or Peter’s.

Don’t misunderstand me, this teacher is using arguments and persuasion, too. Things like: sexual dalliance can force you to give your wealth to another (Proverbs 5:10), or that it can eventually lead to death and hell (Proverbs 5:5). And then there’s Proverbs 5:14: total ruin and shame. (Has he been dragged before a court with charges leveled against him?) What did that night of passion David had with Bathsheba bring him? Pregnancy, for one thing! The only spoken words recorded of Bathsheba in the story are, “I’m pregnant” (2 Samuel 11:5)! As Stuart Briscoe has written: ‘the world is littered with the debris of what sexual lust has promised but never fulfilled.’ Adultery is life-destroying and soul-destroying. Hidden, it gnaws away at conscience; revealed, it can destroy a marriage.

‘Till death us do part’

” . . . rejoice with the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18).

While the warnings have been necessary – are still necessary – the point of this chapter has been a positive one: to take delight in one’s spouse. Yes, delight! The cure for lust is to find sexual fulfillment in one’s own spouse (note the ‘fountain,’ ‘well,’ and ‘cistern’ imagery, Proverbs 5:15-16). Proverbs 5:19-20 are about as explicit the Bible gets on sexual relationships. It is saying something in a poetic way to be sure, but of elementary importance. Why look for something else when you can find it at home? Crude as that may sound, it is very effective, don’t you think?

Of course, this raises a host of questions, most of which this chapter is concerned to deal with in any way – issues of sexual abstention, for example, which can be for a variety of reasons, some legitimate and some not. Paul deals with some of these issues in 1 Corinthians 7:3-7. It is important to say that a loving fruitful relationship can exist without sex. We can very easily overemphasize the importance of sexual relationships just as we can minimize it.

Here in Proverbs 5, what is in view is a marriage in its early stages, and what it is saying is very forthright indeed. Don’t take your spouse for granted. And don’t drive your spouse away to seek satisfaction elsewhere because (sometimes) you will be partly to blame, too. Charles Bridges, the nineteenth century evangelical vicar whose commentary on Proverbs is still my favorite, put it like this: ‘Tender, well-regulated, domestic affection is the best defense against the vagrant desires of unlawful passion.’ Don’t you love that? I do! It says it without becoming tawdry and cheap.

Twenty-five year itch

What happens to marriages after 25 years? Why is it that there is a peak in the divorce rate around this time? It is not difficult to ascertain: children have left home and you are left with your spouse and, for some, it is like living with a stranger! My mother said to me on the day my wife and I were married: ‘Remember that Rosemary is your friend, and when the children are grown up and gone, she is the one you have left.’ (Of course, there were no children then! But you understand what she meant!). It doesn’t sound very romantic, I suppose, but I think about it a lot. I think about it more and more each day.

Now, what this passage is saying is simple enough: take pleasure in your spouse, at every level! The imagery of fresh water and fountains is meant to underline the sweetness of a healthy, monogamous sexual relationship. But, I think we can take it in a broader way that that.

When was the last time you took your wife out on a date? Do you still date her regularly? Treat your spouse as special! You should treat your spouse as God treats you. For men, especially, that means treating your wife as ‘heirs with you of the grace of life’ (1 Peter 3:7). As an heir of heaven. As royalty! Deserving of every honor and every respect and every courtesy. Not as chattels, but princesses! I remember a former colleague’s wife wrote a note to her husband every day on the napkin she enclosed with his lunch! He would read it to us sometimes whenever we ate together. It was one of those gushing moments! Over the top? Perhaps. But beautiful nevertheless.

One of the most famous philosophers and theologians of the nineteenth century was the Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard. He once wrote about Martin Luther’s marriage to his dear Kate, “It is only important that Luther had married. It is quite unimportant whom. He could have married a door post.” Kierkegaard was a bachelor! I mention Luther because of the evident love he had for his wife (and hers for him). The letters they wrote to each other are wonderful. He called her ‘the theologian’ and ‘Lord Katie.’ In one of them he begins the letter, “My beloved one. My dearest one. Whom I wouldn’t change for Venice or Florence or France or anything.”

Pleasing God

‘For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths’ (Proverbs 5:21).

For the Lord’s sake! That’s the motivation: for the honor of God, because God’s glory is at stake in our marriages. It’s not about me and my needs; it’s about God and His glory.

Isn’t it interesting to see what happened in David’s heart? According to 2 Samuel 12:10, he ‘despised the Lord.’ That night of passion was actually a way of saying, ‘I despise God and his ways.’ He counted his own satisfaction of greater worth than God’s word and honor. And that’s a recipe for disaster – always! Always!


Derek Thomas is Professor of Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi and Minister of Teaching at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi.

1 All Scripture citations are taken from the English Standard Version.

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