Chapter 5

Warning Against Adultery

Whoever it was who divided up the chapters of Proverb (see note below) along with the editors of the NIV Bible seemed to think this entire chapter is one topic. It starts out with our signature "My son" and repeats the broader term "sons" (plural, could be both men and women, anybody paying attention to the Wisdom of Solomon) at the beginning of verse 7.

The subject matter here is fundamentally assymetrical between men and women. This chapter is addressed to men. Women have a different problem, they crave "Relationship" (which should not be confused with the dictionary definition of that word, meaning "connected") near as I can tell, when they use that word, they mean "affirmation." They want people to say nice things to them. Some guys -- including all pastors I have ever met -- are like that, but most guys rank Truth, Justice, and Duty as more important. Everybody wants affirmation, nobody wants to be insulted, but sometimes Things Need to be Done, even if they are uncomfortable. Guys do that.

What does this have to do with the Topic of the Day? Different needs result in different temptations, and different responses to temptation. Women want affirmation, guys just have an itch that needs to be scratched. This chapter is to guys: Don't. You don't need to scratch that itch here, with this woman. You can do that, you are a guy. Women, you can get your affirmation from Jesus. You know that. That's why there are more women than men in church. This chapter is not for you. Maybe Song of Solomon, some of the Psalms, the New Testament Epistles. Well, don't be the woman in this chapter, you don't need that. But Solomon is not saying that to you here.

Anyway, if men watched over their women the way they did in Bible times (the way they should be doing) this wouldn't be a problem. There are three notable women of ill-repute in the Bible -- all of them in the line of Christ -- and in all three cases it was the guy's fault. Rahab the "Harlot" (prostitute [Josh.2]) was an unbeliever living in the wicked city of Jericho; she repented and became a believer when the Good Guys came to her. Bathsheba's husband was off doing battle for the King [2Sam.11], and when King David sent for her in violation of what this chapter in Proverbs is about, he's the King, how could she disobey? God did not punish her, it was David who took the fall for his own sin. Tamar, the daughter-in-law of the Patriarch Judah, her husband died, and Judah fell down on the job, and later admits "She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah" [Gen.38:26].

Some parts of the Bible are written to particular people. This church went through Leviticus several months ago. Leviticus was written for the people of Israel more than 3000 years ago. It has some timeless principles and moral absolutes we can dig out -- like the Golden Rule, which is binding on all people everywhere and in all time, without exception -- but most of it is about ceremonial activity that ended on Calvary. Much of the Bible is written to guys, because if guys are doing what God gave them to do, they can explain to the women what they need to know. Men have fallen down on the job.

This chapter is for guys. The moral principle is easy enough to understand, even the unbelievers understand it. We can ferret out some universal moral principles, but the basic message is, Don't do that. It's a Duty, guys can do that. If they want to.

My Son

The NIV divides this chapter into four paragraphs, which I think is reasonable. I would break out the first two verses, which are basically a repetition of the same mantra given several times so far [read v.1-2]
1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight,
2 that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge.
He then goes directly into the chapter topic with the common connector word "For" (Hebrew 'kee') meaning approximately "the following is directly connected to what I just said..." In modern English that might be "Because" or just as easily (in other contexts) "So" or "Therefore" or as they say in legalese "Whereas..." [read v.3-6]
3 For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil;
4 but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.
6 She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.
We have seen this form before, one line introducing the condition, then (often five, but in this case only three) lines giving the consequences of that choice of action.

Verse four is the sharp contrast to the deceptive sweet-as-honey, slick like oil come-on, the end is bitter (opposite to sweet) and sharp (opposite to smooth).

Verses 5 and 6 are another doublet of doublets, contrasting the death where the adultress goes to the life she does not think about, and then "straight" to the grave with the "crooked" of her paths. This doubled-up poetic form gives emphasis to what the message is: Don't do that.

Listen Sons

I'm going to divide this paragraph into two parts, the first is that common form, one-verse introduction, followed by three verses of consequences (what you should do if you listen) [read v.7-10]
7 Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say.
8 Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house,
9 lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel,
10 lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man's house.
Verses 9 and 10 are a little obscure. I think it suggests that if you invade another man's territory, then he has a hold on you, and can keep you enslaved. Slavery is illegal here in the USA, so we don't think about what it means. You owe a debt to that guy, you must work it off. Slavery in this country was no fault of your own, somebody else did it to your ancestors, generations ago, but back when this was written, most servitude was working off a debt. That could be the consequence of adultery. At least Solomon says so here. That might not happen here and now, but there is a moral obligation. Don't go there.

[Read v.11-14]

11 At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.
12 You will say, "How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction!
13 I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors.
14 I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly."
Verse 11 speaks of health consequences to immoral behavior, and they are! Even more now than when this was written.

Sex as Water

This section is quite obscure -- perhaps so the people to whom it is not addressed won't be able to understand it, like Jesus said of his parables [Mt.13:10-17] -- but there's a hint of what he means in verses 18 (remember the poetic form!) and 19 [read v.15-20]
15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.
16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?
17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.
18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer-- may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.
20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?


This final paragraph makes no explicit mention of the chapter topic, but if you remember what Jesus told Nicodemus [Jn.3:19] people doing evil prefer darkness, so that (so they think) they won't be seen, but God sees everything, and the consequences you think you can escape, you can't [read v.21-23]
21 For a man's ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths.
22 The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.
23 He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.
Why is this chapter aimed at men? Because if men don't succumb to temptations, it doesn't matter what the "adulteress" tries, she won't succeed. We don't like to talk about this topic in church, but it needs to be said.

On Chapter and Verse Divisions

I looked it up on the internet -- I sometimes say "Google Knows All" but it's not really true. If you ask for something that a lot of other people asked, it will recognize the combination of words that it has seen before, that somebody else linked on their web site, and you get that answer. But Google does not understand English grammar, it just looks for words in close proximity, so if you ask "Who divided up the chapters of Proverbs?" it sees first the name of the book "Proverbs" and gives you a list of web sites doing commentary on Proverbs. Then it sees the word "chapters" and spews out web sites that offer "chapter by chapter" analyses of the Bible. Then finally it sees the word "divided" with "chapters" and offers one link on how the Bible came to be divided into chapters and verses. Google has no understanding at all, and therefore no idea what "Who" means in a sentence, that you are asking it to identify a particular person, and all those other sites are irrelevant to the question being asked.

Fortunately, a blog post on how the Bible came to be divided up into chapters and verses is going to mentioned who did it:

A man named Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters in the year A.D. 1227. The Bible he used was the Latin Vulgate. Langton was a professor at the University of Paris at the time. Later, he became the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The author Don Stewart goes on to say that
These chapter divisions were later transferred to the Hebrew text in the fourteenth century by a man named Salomon ben Ishmael. There seems to have been certain changes made by Salomon ben Ishmael because the chapter divisions in the Hebrew text do not line up exactly with the English Bible.
And then,
The modern Old Testament division into verses was standardized by the Ben Asher family around A.D. 900. However, the practice of dividing the Old Testament books into verses goes back centuries earlier.

Modern verse division for the New Testament was the work of Robert Stephanus (Stephens), a French printer. He divided the Greek text into verses for his Greek New Testament published in 1551.

The first entire Bible, in which these chapter and verse divisions were used, was Stephen's edition of the Latin Vulgate (1555).

The first English Bible to have both chapter and verse divisions was the Geneva Bible (1560).

I got these comments from the Blue Letter Bible website. The BLB site does not say much about Don Stewart except he wrote a bunch of books (which tells us nothing) and went to BIOLA, which is a pretty good school (both my parents and my sister went there). The picture they show also turns up in a Google search that makes him out to be born in 1950, along with a half-dozen other Don Stewarts (at least three with Christian connections, and one actor). The BLB site draws on a dozen or more different authors, but I didn't track them all down.

Tom Pittman
Revised 2022 August 15