Warning Against Adultery*
1My son, to my wisdom be attentive,
to understanding incline your ear,
2That you may act discreetly,
and your lips guard what you know.
3Indeed, the lips of the stranger drip honey,*
and her mouth is smoother than oil;a
4But in the end she is as bitter as wormwood,
as sharp as a two-edged sword.
5Her feet go down to death,
her steps reach Sheol;b
6Her paths ramble, you know not where,
lest you see before you the road to life.
7So now, children, listen to me,
do not stray from the words of my mouth.
8Keep your way far from her,c
do not go near the door of her house,
9Lest you give your honor* to others,d
and your years to a merciless one;
10Lest outsiders take their fill of your wealth,
and your hard-won earnings go to another’s house;
11And you groan in the end,
when your flesh and your body are consumed;
12And you say, “Oh, why did I hate instruction,
and my heart spurn reproof!
13Why did I not listen to the voice of my teachers,
incline my ear to my instructors!
14I am all but ruined,
in the midst of the public assembly!”
15Drink water* from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
16Should your water sources be dispersed abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
17Let them be yours alone,
not shared with outsiders;
18Let your fountain be blessed and have joy of the wife of your youth,
19your lovely hind, your graceful doe.*
Of whose love you will ever have your fill,
and by her ardor always be intoxicated.
20Why then, my son, should you be intoxicated with a stranger,
and embrace another woman?
21Indeed, the ways of each person are plain to the LORD’s sight;
all their paths he surveys;e
22By their own iniquities the wicked will be caught,
in the meshes of their own sin they will be held fast;
23They will die from lack of discipline,
lost because of their great folly.
* [5:1–23] This is the first of three poems on the forbidden woman, the “stranger” outside the social boundaries (cf. 2:16–19); the other two are 6:20–35 and chap. 7. Understanding and discretion are necessary to avoid adultery, which leads astray and begets bitterness, bloodshed, and death (vv. 1–6). It destroys honor, wastes the years of life, despoils hard-earned wealth, and brings remorse in the end (vv. 7–14). Conjugal fidelity and love bring happiness and security (vv. 15–20). Cf. 6:20–7:27. The structure of the poem consists of a two-line introduction; part one consists of three stanzas of four lines each warning of the forbidden woman’s effect on her lovers (vv. 3–14); part two consists of a stanza of twelve lines exhorting the disciple to marital fidelity (vv. 15–20); and a final stanza of six lines on the perils of the woman (vv. 21–23).
* [5:3] A metaphorical level is established in the opening description of the forbidden woman: her lips drip honey and her feet lead to death. By her lies, she leads people away from the wisdom that gives life.
* [5:9] Honor: the words “life” and “wealth” have also been read in this place. A merciless one: the offended husband; cf. 6:34–35.
* [5:15–16] Water: water may have an erotic meaning as in Sg 4:15, “[You are] a garden fountain, a well of living water.” Eating and drinking can be metaphors expressing the mutuality of love. The wife is the opposite of the adulterous woman; she is not an outsider, not unfeeling, not a destroyer of her husband’s self and goods. The best defense against adultery is appreciating and loving one’s spouse. The best defense against folly is to appreciate and love wisdom.
* [5:19] Lovely hind…graceful doe: ancient Near Eastern symbols of feminine beauty and charm; cf. Sg 2:7, 9, 17.