Proverbs 5 – “Avoid the Forbidden Woman”

honey5801Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Proverbs 5 is a father’s lecture to his son. The father warns his son about the dangers of the “strange woman” (probably another man’s wife), and, on the flip side, encourages him to enjoy his own wife. The lecture ends with a statement about the wicked: they will die for their sins.

II. Photo
The father warns his son about sexual temptations: “the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey; Her mouth is smoother than oil; But in the end she is as bitter as wormwood…” (vv.3-4a).

III. Important Verses
vv. 3-5: For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey; Her mouth is smoother than oil; But in the end she is as bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to Death; Her steps take hold of Sheol.
v. 8: Keep yourself far away from her; Do not come near the doorway of her house
vv. 18b-19: Find joy in the wife of your youth — A loving doe, a graceful mountain goat. Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be infatuated with love of her always.
vv. 20-21: Why be infatuated, my son, with a forbidden woman? Why clasp the bosom of an alien woman? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of God; He surveys his entire course.

IV. Outline

1-2. Introduction (exordium)
3-20. Lesson
    3-6. The strange woman is deadly
    7-14. It is best to stay away
    15-19. Enjoy your own wife
20-23. Conclusion: God sees and punishes the wicked

V. Comment
The first half of Proverbs 5 speaks of the dangers of the ‘ishah zarah “strange woman,” the same character that appeared in ch. 2. Who is she? Fox (p. 134-141) believes that she is simply another man’s wife. He points to our chapter, which, after encouraging one to enjoy the benefits of one’s own wife (vv. 15-19), says “Why be infatuated, my son, with a forbidden woman (zarah)? Why clasp the bosom of an alien woman (nakheriyyah)?” (v. 20) Thus, the antithesis of zarah and nakheriyyah is one’s own wife. Further proof may be deduced from ch. 7 which states, “[Wisdom] will guard you from a forbidden woman (‘ishah zarah); From an alien woman (nakheriyyah) whose talk is smooth” (7:5). The chapter describes how a married woman attempts to seduce a man by saying, “Let us drink our fill of love till morning; Let us delight in amorous embrace. For the man of the house is away; He is off on a distant journey.” Thus, while some speculate that the ‘ishah zarah is a prostitute or even a foreign goddess, it is possible that she is any married woman.

Like most of the lectures in ch. 1-9, the father begins with an introduction (a.k.a. an exordium, a term borrowed from Greek rhetoric). It is unique in that the words chokhema “wisdom” and tevunah “understanding” are personalized (“my wisdom,” “my understanding”), something that does not occur elsewhere (only words like torah, mitzvah, ‘amarim, and devarim are personalized). V. 2 mentions the son’s sefatekha “lips,” setting the stage for the lesson’s topic, “For the lips (siftei) of a forbidden woman drip honey…” (v. 3)

The forbidden woman is not just pleasureful, she is also dangerous: “But in the end she is as bitter as wormwood [a bitter plant], Sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to Death; Her steps take hold of Sheol.” (vv. 4-5) The father continues the speech with a second address in v. 7, “So now, sons, pay heed to me…” Like 4:1, the message begins with an address to the plural (“sons”), but continues as if it were directed to a single listener. This might indicate that the instruction, which was said to an individual, is actually directed to all boys.

Why shouldn’t a son engage in a relationship with the forbidden woman? The father gives three reasons, and the first is that the son will lose out his koach “strength” and hod “vigor”: “Lest you give up your vigor to others, Your years to a ruthless one; Lest strangers eat their fill of your strength, And your toil be for the house of another.” What exactly is the son’s strength and vigor? It might be his first offspring (cf. Gen 49:3), who will belong to the husband of the woman he impregnates. The second reason not to have sex with a forbidden woman is the disease that will result: “And in the end you roar, When your flesh and body are consumed” (v. 11). The third reason is the guilt involved: “[you will say], ‘O how I hated discipline, And heartily spurned rebuke. I did not pay heed to my teachers, Or incline my ear to my instructors’” (vv. 12-13). All in all, the father wishes to convey that it is not worth it to engage the forbidden woman.

This leads to the next lesson, which is the positive advice to enjoy your own wife. Vv. 15-18a use a water metaphor to describe the physical relationship between husband and wife: “Drink water from your own cistern, Running water from your own well. Your springs will gush forth In streams in the public squares. They will be yours alone, Others having no part with you. Let your fountain be blessed.” The meaning is that if one remains loyal to one’s wife (“drink from your own cistern”), one will be rewarded with many legitimate children (“Your springs will gush forth… Let your fountain be blessed”). It is interesting that the word for “fountain,” maqor, is used elsewhere to mean “womb” (cf. Lev. 20:18). Also, the reference to “waters” in v. 16 might mean sperm (cf. Isa 48:1 and possibly Num. 24:7). This section ends with an erotic metaphor (vv. 18b-19): “Find joy in the wife of your youth — A loving doe, a graceful mountain goat. Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be infatuated with love of her always.” Gazelles and deer are also used as a love metaphor in the Song of Songs (cf. 2:7, 9, 17, and 4:5).

The father concludes his lecture with a statement about divine judgment: “For a man’s ways are before the eyes of God; He surveys his entire course. The wicked man will be trapped in his iniquities; He will be caught up in the ropes of his sin. He will die for lack of discipline, Infatuated by his great folly” (vv. 21-23).

2 thoughts on “Proverbs 5 – “Avoid the Forbidden Woman”

  • I have a few comments. There are at least 2 main terms for ‘strange’ or ‘estranged’ or ‘foreign’ woman in Proverbs, zarah/ishah zarah and nokeriyah. The former can have an ‘estranged’ (from/to her husband) implication, and can mean foreign. The latter usually means foreign. Michael V. Fox doesn’t apparently believe she is SIMPLY another man’s wife, as you quote. You yourself quote Fox as describing her as much more than that, and Fox himself describes her as being much more than that, and he himself mentions her adulterous side and strongly implies she has numerous partners. She is likely either a [seductive, and very] serial adulteress [with a foreign aspect, Prov 7:16] or a [seductive, and very] serial adulterous prostitute [with a foreign aspect, Prov 7:16]. There is likely a reason why more than one term is used for her in Proverbs. She is likely not simply a prostitute, and she is likely more than just a ‘serial adulteress’ or she is almost definitely more than simply an ‘adulteress’.

    I have researched this woman for many months in various languages and Bibles. The best evidence of who she is Prov 7:5,8,10-12,16,19,21,26-27, in my opinion. The Hebrew I give preference to, but the Septuagint or most other versions show she is likely a seductive and very serial adulteress, who is also probably a prostitute, [with a foreign aspect, verse 16, ‘fine linen of Egypt] in my opinion.

    Prov 23:27-28, ‘narrow pit/well’, ‘lieth in wait as robber/hunter, increaseth the transgressors among men’, 22:14, mouth (She is referred to as seductive with her words/mouth/tongue in 2:17, 5:3-4, 6:24-25,7:5,13,21, possibly 9:13-17, mouth can also be a euphemism for sexual orifice) is a ‘deep pit’, ‘he who is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein’ are also evidences that she is more than any ‘adulteress’ in my opinion. She sounds like she hunts/stalks/seduces, is very difficult to escape from, and ancient pits/wells often had multiple animals/people fall into them, in my opinion, and this even happens today in more rural or primitive areas.

    Here is a quote from Fox:

    The ‘stranger’ (zarah) is another man’s wife . . . . She is assumed to be a prostitute by all the medieval plain-sense commentators and almost all the modern ones (e.g., Toy, McKane). The LXX apparently read znh (‘harlot’) instead zrh (‘stranger’) in its Hebrew text of v. 3. This reading could be a scribal change motivated by the same assumption rather than original. In my view the Strange Woman is another man’s wife, whose transgression is thus adultery. She is not a prostitute but a wanton amateur of the sort who ‘opens her quiver for every arrow,’ as Ben Sira puts it.’ (Fox, Proverbs 1-9, 191-192).

    Prov 2:19 (All/not and they, which are plural), 6:26 LXX (lives/souls) instead of where the Hebrew/KJV has ‘life/soul’, Prov 2:17 (forsaken/forsaking [participle] guide of her youth likely has at least a partial reference to her husband). Prov 5:9,10 (house of a stranger and cruel are both masculine, likely a reference to her husband), Prov 6 has several references to adultery. Prov 6:25 mentions that she could try to take ‘you’ with her eyelids, and prostitutes are prone to paint their eyelids. Prov 9:14 referring to her seat/throne near ‘her house’ at the high places of the city probably is a reference to a [pagan] ‘house of worship’ or ‘a house on a hill’, the house she lives in with her husband, or both. Prov 9:17-18 is likely another reference to her or a very similar woman, ‘stolen water is sweet’ is likely a reference to adultery, and her multiple partners/victims are mentioned in verse 18 in my opinion. Prov 30:20 is another adultery passage, probably implying a certain type of adulteress, such a seductive serial adulteress). Prov 20:16, 27:13 in Hebrew imply payment for sex with her. Prov 9:13 in LXX refers to her as ‘lacking a morsel’, LXX Prov 6:26 apparently mentions that a harlot’s services can be had for part of a bread loaf, or that she can reduce you to that, or both.

    She is likely a married prostitute, in simple terms. The commentaries who thought she was a prostitute and the LXX Prov 5:3 having ‘harlot’ were partially right in my opinion. She is likely an ‘estranged’ woman from/to her husband, but still living in the same house, who is a prostitute (many foreign women were likely prostitutes in ancient Israel and are often still today). Prov 7:11 and 19 referring to ‘the man’ (perhaps as a term of contempt) is evidence of this in opinion.

  • I have a few comments. There are at least 2 main terms for ‘strange’ or ‘estranged’ or ‘foreign’ woman in Proverbs, zarah/ishah zarah and nokeriyah. The former can have an ‘estranged’ (from/to her husband) implication, and can mean foreign. The latter usually means foreign. Michael V. Fox doesn’t apparently believe she is SIMPLY another man’s wife, as you quote. You yourself quote Fox as describing her as much more than that, and Fox himself describes her as being much more than that, and he himself mentions her adulterous side and strongly implies she has numerous partners. She is likely either a [seductive, and very] serial adulteress [with a foreign aspect, Prov 7:16] or a [seductive, and very] serial adulterous prostitute [with a foreign aspect, Prov 7:16]. There is likely a reason why more than one term is used for her in Proverbs. She is likely not simply a prostitute, and she is likely more than just a ‘serial adulteress’ or she is almost definitely more than simply an ‘adulteress’.

    I have researched this woman for many months in various languages and Bibles. The best evidence of who she is Prov 7:5,8,10-12,16,19,21,26-27, in my opinion. The Hebrew I give preference to, but the Septuagint or most other versions show she is likely a seductive and very serial adulteress, who is also probably a prostitute, [with a foreign aspect, verse 16, ‘fine linen of Egypt] in my opinion.

    Prov 23:27-28, ‘narrow pit/well’, ‘lieth in wait as robber/hunter, increaseth the transgressors among men’, 22:14, mouth (She is referred to as seductive with her words/mouth/tongue in 2:17, 5:3-4, 6:24-25,7:5,13,21, possibly 9:13-17, mouth can also be a euphemism for sexual orifice) is a ‘deep pit’, ‘he who is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein’ are also evidences that she is more than any ‘adulteress’ in my opinion. She sounds like she hunts/stalks/seduces, is very difficult to escape from, and ancient pits/wells often had multiple animals/people fall into them, in my opinion, and this even happens today in more rural or primitive areas.

    Here is a quote from Fox:

    The ‘stranger’ (zarah) is another man’s wife . . . . She is assumed to be a prostitute by all the medieval plain-sense commentators and almost all the modern ones (e.g., Toy, McKane). The LXX apparently read znh (‘harlot’) instead zrh (‘stranger’) in its Hebrew text of v. 3. This reading could be a scribal change motivated by the same assumption rather than original. In my view the Strange Woman is another man’s wife, whose transgression is thus adultery. She is not a prostitute but a wanton amateur of the sort who ‘opens her quiver for every arrow,’ as Ben Sira puts it.’ (Fox, Proverbs 1-9, 191-192).

    Prov 2:19 (All/not and they, which are plural), 6:26 LXX (lives/souls) instead of where the Hebrew/KJV has ‘life/soul’, Prov 2:17 (forsaken/forsaking [participle] guide of her youth likely has at least a partial reference to her husband). Prov 5:9,10 (house of a stranger and cruel are both masculine, likely a reference to her husband), Prov 6 has several references to adultery. Prov 6:25 mentions that she could try to take ‘you’ with her eyelids, and prostitutes are prone to paint their eyelids. Prov 9:14 referring to her seat/throne near ‘her house’ at the high places of the city probably is a reference to a [pagan] ‘house of worship’ or ‘a house on a hill’, the house she lives in with her husband, or both. Prov 9:17-18 is likely another reference to her or a very similar woman, ‘stolen water is sweet’ is likely a reference to adultery, and her multiple partners/victims are mentioned in verse 18 in my opinion. Prov 30:20 is another adultery passage, probably implying a certain type of adulteress, such a seductive serial adulteress). Prov 20:16, 27:13 in Hebrew imply payment for sex with her. Prov 9:13 in LXX refers to her as ‘lacking a morsel’, LXX Prov 6:26 apparently mentions that a harlot’s services can be had for part of a bread loaf, or that she can reduce you to that, or both.

    She is likely a married prostitute, in simple terms. The commentaries who thought she was a prostitute and the LXX Prov 5:3 having ‘harlot’ were partially right in my opinion. She is likely an ‘estranged’ woman from/to her husband, but still living in the same house, who is a [an amateur] prostitute (many foreign women were likely prostitutes in ancient Israel and are often still today). Prov 7:11 and 19 referring to ‘the man’ (perhaps as a term of contempt) is evidence of this in opinion.

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