Sexuality in the Book of Proverbs

Sexuality in the book of Proverbs

Solomon, being a wise king and the author cum collector of the proverbs from the ancient world of Near East reveals the lasciviousness and filthy trail of fornication of human heart and counteracts the evil and the sensual passion in the book of Proverbs. In this didactical teaching along with admonition, father has to say something about sexual immorality which is grafted into human heart because of sinfulness. His presentation is fairly heightened with the references of the retributive punishment for the sensual passion and lust.

Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?
Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?
For your ways are in full view of the LORD,
and he examines all your paths. (Proverbs 5:15-21 TNIV).

The teacher uses highly metaphorical expressions as cistern, well, fountain, and springs of water to refer to the wife. The erotic language is used to teach his pupil about the legitimate sexual relationship in order to keep him from possible temptation. He is, in fact, engaging his pupil into the conjugal love by using contextual settings in his teaching with imageries. Just as we drink to quench our thirst, so we satisfy our parched and unfulfilled love within the limit of marital sex. The teaching is shifting from an invitation to participate in the blissful martial love to the strict warning of the forth coming consequences in premarital sex or illicit relationship with a man or a woman.

“Drink water from your own cistern” is a clear depiction from the covenant relationship in the marriage . Let a man be delighted in his own wife alone and be fulfilled and satisfied. Since God designed the holy marital relationship, and he himself involved in this relationship, it must be pure and holy. “Running water from your own well” possibly could be the connotation for pure and clean water. The running water of the well is considered pure. And he is supposed to drink from there. The idea here of selecting words like cistern and well is to communicate with readers that these are someone’s private property. Hebraic Jews know these wholeheartedly.

Drinking water from others’ cistern or well is the direct violation of the Ten Commandments of God, “You shall not commit adultery”[1]. In Jewish context, stealing water from someone’s well is considered as social crime and will be subjected to the court, so as a man who have sexual relationship with other woman than his own wife has committed crime.

On the other hand, the negative parallel “Stealing water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” tries to put backlash into the learning process of a young neophyte[2]. A fallen creature always tends to make a wrong choice without any justifiable reason. Stealing is another straight defiance of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not steal”[3]. The stealing game possibly could be a fun game to those whose morality have been capsized, but there is not even a narrow escape from the effect of this very cause, for a prostitute or any other woman besides his wife is a deep pit[4]. It brings only shame in his life and puts him into disgrace and out of mercy. The teacher also confirms this statement by stating that his shame will never be wiped away. The traitor woman and the man will never be left without any punishment from the betrayed husband. His burning fury and jealousy will not calmed down nor will he be satisfied without them being punished[5]. This illustration points toward the capital punishment in the Hebrew culture. Keeping the effect in mind, we can understand how grave sin it is.

The succeeding verses use the figurative language “springs” and “streams of water” as the imagery of children and the legitimate marriage relationship. Aben Ezra and the majority of modern commentators, Schultens, Doderlein, Holden, Muenscher, Noyes, Wardlaw, etc. interpret “your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares” as “Let thy marriage be blessed with many children, who may go forth abroad for the public good”[6]. However, the interpretation seems to be somewhat vague and shortened unlikely because the early church fathers like Origen and Clemens of Alexandria employ the negation word “not” before the verb and states as “Let not thy water…” in their interpretation[7]. In the harmony with previous verses, the springs are meant to be the legitimate children from the legitimate sexual relationship between couples.

Emphatically, the following verse is suggesting the couple to be satisfied with each other in their companionship. “Let them be yours alone” is the implication of their sexual relationship and the reproduction of children from their intercourse. For “God designed marriage and sanctified it, and only within this covenant relationship can we find real love and fulfillment”[8]. Offspring from that lawful relationship is satiable than from an illegitimate child.

“May your fountain be blessed” is only possible when both man and woman submit to each other. If they let the temptation entice them to seek happiness and joy elsewhere than seeking in their partners, one cannot “rejoice in the wife of your youth”. In order to be blessed, the husband should be loving and should behave his wife in respectful manner and treat her as delicate as doe. She is the wife of his youth, so do adorn and nurture her with undivided love. She ought to be the “object of his love and devotion, the one in whom his affections are to find the fulfillment of their desires”[9]. Her love may captivate him from any distraction of the world.

The further expression is exotic and is full of sexual pleasure in their marriage. The metaphor of getting satisfaction from her breast represents the wife’s influence to attract her husband. So, the husband will not fall into temptation to find excitement and pleasure somewhere else. When marriage becomes dull and dry, one cannot find real love and fulfillment of his desires. God has given sex as one of the greatest gifts in our life. Enjoy it within the marital sphere. We should not let the best gift from God be wasted in an illusion to find the green pasture somewhere else[10]. Just as baby satisfies with his mother’s breast, so should you be satisfied with your wife.

The next verses from 20 through 21 are synthetic proposition. The teaching changes its tone and proposes that no evil can be concealed from the sight of the Lord. There is no way to shun the judgment of God.

God created human beings as a sexual being. He made it holy with a purpose for his glory. In the Garden of Eden, he blessed our first parents and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number”[11]. Adam “knew” Eve, and they had first baby. So, the purpose of knowing or sex is reproduction. It is a gift from God.

Contrarily, sex can be a curse, and it makes us feel guilty and bring shame upon us. When we breach the moral and spiritual boundary that God has set before us, it has to something with law. The violation of eternal law “you shall not commit adultery”[12] is to put yourself in eternal judgment. A cause without an effect is invalid and erroneous statement, and this universal law applies to all causes. As a man cannot walk on hot coals without his feet being not scorched, no man can escape from the retributive punishment of God after committing adultery[13]. Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel proclaim the parallel message to Israel that God’s unmitigated wrath and judgment upon them are inevitable for their sexual immorality and wickedness[14]. Prophets throughout the Old Testament have addressed this issue.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount also addresses sexual immorality issue. He speaks explicitly that one who looks at woman with lust has already committed adultery[15]. Apostle Paul stresses on the same issue in the Epistle to Corinth, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body”[16]. He goes on to say that God want to sanctify us, and we should avoid sexual immorality[17]. He has to say lot more about sex, marriage, and family to the Corinthians, and he instructs the believers not to deprive of sexual pleasure to their spouses. Otherwise, they might fall into sexual immorality.

Above all these explorations, the startling fact that Paul reveals is that our body is not our own. It does not belong to us:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body[18].

The preceding verses from Paul have already made clear that sexual sin is committed within one’s body which defiles not only his body but the temple of the Holy Spirit. The sinful act can never go hand on hand with the holiness of God and cannot remain unpunished No Sodom or Gomorrah was forgiven for their lust and abomination. They submitted themselves up to “sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire[19]. To ignite God’s wrath is to bring ruin on self.

We do not see anyone in the Bible who committed adultery has not gone through the divine retribution of God. “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral…and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”[20] Neither King David nor Solomon was exempted from punishment for their sexual sin. Indeed, God forgave King David upon his genuine repentance; yet the end product of mischievous acts with Bathsheba and her husband cost him dysfunctional family and division in his house and kingdom of Israel. The eternal establishment of King David’s dynasty does not overshadow the corollary he had to bear in his lifetime.

The overall teaching of the Proverbs is to heed wisdom of God and to be in relationship with him. Wisdom is the treasure from God for his people to know Him and act accordingly for his glory. The Ecclesiastes advises us to remember our Creator God in our youth before troubles hit us and our life will be in a great turmoil caused by being apart from the relationship with God and his people[21]. Thus, wisdom sheds light on our path to keep us from folly and also invites us to come back to God before it become too late to realize.

By and large, the teaching of the Proverbs is very practical and verily undeniable. They are applicable in each one of our lives – every individual and professional cannot overlook the necessity of wisdom in his/her life. A man can be intelligent but not wise enough to make wise decisions. The book of Proverbs is what seems to be a curriculum of obtaining wisdom for all generations. The book has religious, social, and ethical implications in our lives.

God’s grand plan for marriage is a one man and one woman for a lifetime. The grandeur of marriage is in the faithful relationship with God and with each other. Knowing this very truth, many people have abandoned their wives and stepped into new relationship with a hope that their new relationship will sustain and be blissful forever. In reality, it does not happen and instead of bed of roses, they slip into the thorn of bushes. Why is there this much dull and boredom in their relationship?

It is because they want to taste water from other’s well and cistern. They apparently have a bee in their bonnet about lifelong relationship with one woman. They want to savor every juice from each blossoming flower as best as they could just like a bee sucks every beautiful blossoming flower. They break up with their family, society, and friends and end up with miserable resentment in the ends of their lives.

Sex is such a powerful drive that can manipulate a man as it wants. There are many celebrities out there who claim themselves Christians. They lack no money, skill, personality etc. The world supposedly spin around them because of charismatic personalities. Yet, they lack one very fundamental component in their lives – the fear of the Lord. We have not forgotten the rattling news of the then President of America to the Hollywood stars including Christian ministers cheating with their spouses. Therefore, the implication of their unfaithful and disloyalty is very understandable that sexual sin has no mercy upon anyone. It does not care what his or her position in the world. The improper handling of sex can be a curse, and this curse falls upon someone is very evidently based on his action. One of the greatest gifts for humankind also can be a fatal and devastating blow to ruin him if not honored the way it is supposed to be.

[1] Exodus 20:14

[2] Proverbs 9:17

[3] Exodus 20:15

[4] Proverbs 23:27

[5] Proverbs 6:33

[6] The Pulpit Commentary, Proverbs, 112.

[7] Ibid.

[8] NIV, Life Application Study Bible, 994.

[9] The Pulpit Commentary, Proverbs, 112.

[10] NIV, Life Application Study Bible, 994.

[11] Genesis 1:22

[12] Deuteronomy 5:18

[13] Proverbs 6:28.

[14] Jeremiah 29:23; Ezekiel 16:38

[15] Matthew 5:28.

[16] 1 Corinthians 6:18.

[17] 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

[18] 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV

[19] Jude 1:7, NIV

[20] Revelation 21:8, NIV

[21] Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV


5 thoughts on “Sexuality in the Book of Proverbs”

  1. A good article. I have only 2 comments. First, you refer to “sensual passion” as a bad thing. I would say that sensual passion — in the marriage bed — is a good thing designed by God. We are commanded to be faithful to our own wives, but that doesn’t mean we have to be stoic about it. Prov 5:19 even suggests that our sensual passion in marriage should be so robust that we are left staggering as if drunk. Secondly, you mention children in the interpretation of the “springs” metaphor. I think this doesn’t make sense. Berse 16 asks the rhetorical question “should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?” The obvious amswer is “no, you shouldn’t run around in the streets to satisfy your sexual passions; you should keep them at home with the fountain God has provided for you on marriage to be the proper context for sexual activity. And verse 17 continues with the theme of marital faithfulness, “Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you.” The “flowing streams” of sexual fulfillment and satisfaction are for the husband and wife to share with each other. Inserting children into the discussion is not wrong, but it has nothing to do with this text.


  2. Bill,

    Thank you for taking time to read through a long post and to comment in humility. I did not say sensual passion is bad in the bounds of marriage. Nevertheless, it is always condemned in the Scripture when it is outside of the covenant relationship. So, reading this text into the context where the author is teaching his pupil to stay away from lust and passion outside of marriage relationship, I think, fits well.
    Regarding “springs” and “streams” in verse 16, I am only trying to stick with one interpretation among many others. By the way, I presented two different interpretations of the text in the post.
    Thank you once again. Your comment is highly regarded.


  3. Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate you dealing with a tough subject. We are still so rooted in Greek thought, even in the Church, that articles like yours are necessary.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.