Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Proverbs 5

Verses 1-6

Here a fourth rule of life follows the three already given, Proverbs 4:24, Proverbs 4:25, Proverbs 4:26-27:

זרה denotes the wife who belongs to another, or who does not belong to him to whom she gives herself or who goes after her ( vid., Proverbs 2:16). She appears here as the betrayer of youth. The poet paints the love and amiableness which she feigns with colours from the Song of Songs, Song of Solomon 4:11, cf. Song of Solomon 5:16. נפת denotes the honey flowing of itself from the combs ( צוּפים ), thus the purest and sweetest; its root-word is not נוּף , which means to shake, vibrate, and only mediately (when the object is a fluid) to scatter, sprinkle, but, as Schultens has observed, as verb נפת = Arab. nafat , to bubble, to spring up, nafath , to blow, to spit out, to pour out. Parchon places the word rightly under נפת (while Kimchi places it under נוּף after the form בּשׁת ), and explained it by חלות דבשׁ היצאים מי הכוורת קודם ריסוק (the words דבשׁ היוצא should have been used): the honey which flows from the cells before they are broken (the so-called virgin honey). The mouth, חך = Arab. ḥink (from חנך , Arab. hanak , imbuere , e.g., after the manner of Beduins, the mouth of the newly-born infant with date-honey), comes into view here, as at Proverbs 8:7, etc., as the instrument of speech: smoother than oil (cf. Psalms 55:22), it shows itself when it gives forth amiable, gentle, impressive words (Proverbs 2:16, Proverbs 6:24); also our “ schmeicheln ” (= to flatter, caress) is equivalent to to make smooth and fair; in the language of weavers it means to smooth the warp.

Proverbs 5:4-5

In Proverbs 5:4 the reverse of the sweet and smooth external is placed opposite to the attraction of the seducer, by whose influence the inconsiderate permits himself to be carried away: her end, i.e., the last that is experienced of her, the final consequence of intercourse with her (cf. Proverbs 23:32), is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. The O.T. language regards bitterness and poison as related both in meaning and in reality; the word לענה (Aq. ἀψίνθιον = wormwood) means in Arab. the curse. חרב פּיּות is translated by Jerome after the lxx, gladius biceps ; but פּיפיּות means double-edged, and חרב שׁני פיות (Judges 3:16) means a doubled-edged sword. Here the plur. will thus poetically strengthen the meaning, like ξίφος πολύστομον , that which devours, as if it had three or four edges (Fl.). The end in which the disguised seduction terminates is bitter as the bitterest, and cutting as that which cuts the most: self-condemnation and a feeling of divine anger, anguish of heart, and destructive judgment. The feet of the adulteress go downward to death. In Hebr. this descendentes ad mortem is expressed by the genitive of connection; מות is the genitive, as in יורדי בור , Proverbs 1:12; elsewhere the author uses יורדות אל , Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 2:18. Death, מות (so named from the stretching of the corpse after the stiffness of death), denotes the condition of departure from this side as a punishment, with which is associated the idea of divine wrath. In שׁאול (sinking, abyss, from שׁאל , R. של , χαλᾶν , vid., under Isaiah 5:14), lie the ideas of the grave as a place of corruption, and of the under-world as the place of incorporeal shadow-life. Her steps hold fast to Hades is equivalent to, they strive after Hades and go straight to it; similar to this is the Arab. expression, hdhâ âldrb yâkhdh âly âlbld : this way leads straight forward to the town (Fl.).

Proverbs 5:6

If we try to connect the clause beginning with פּן with 5b as its principal sentence: she goes straight to the abyss, so that by no means does she ever tread the way of life (thus e.g., Schultens), or better, with 6b: never more to walk in the way of life, her paths fluctuate hither and thither (as Gr. Venet. and Kamphausen in Bunsen's Bibelwerk, after Bertheau and Ewald, translate); then in the former case more than in the latter the difference of the subject opposes itself, and in the latter, in addition, the לא תדע , only disturbing in this negative clause. Also by the arrangement of the words, 6a appears as an independent thought. But with Jewish expositors (Rashi, Aben-Ezra, Ralbag, Malbim, etc.) to interpret תּפּלּס , after the Talmud ( b. Moëd katan 9a) and Midrash, as an address is impracticable; the warning: do not weigh the path of life, affords no meaning suitable to this connection - for we must, with Cartwright and J. H. Michaelis, regard 6a as the antecedent to 6b: ne forte semitam vitae ad sequendum eligas, te per varios deceptionum meandros abripit ut non noveris, ubi locorum sis ; but then the continuation of the address is to be expected in 6b. No, the subject to תפלם is the adulteress, and פּן is an intensified לא . Thus the lxx, Jerome, Syr., Targ., Luther, Geier, Nolde, and among Jewish interpreters Heidenheim, who first broke with the tradition sanctioned by the Talmud and the Midrash, for he interpreted 6a as a negative clause spoken in the tone of a question. But פּן is not suitable for a question, but for a call. Accordingly, Böttcher explains: viam vitae ne illa complanare studeat ! ( פּלּס in the meaning complanando operam dare ). But the adulteress as such, and the striving to come to the way of life, stand in contradiction: an effort to return must be meant, which, because the power of sin over her is too great, fails; but the words do not denote that, they affirm the direct contrary, viz., that it does not happen to the adulteress ever to walk in the way of life. As in the warning the independent פּן may be equivalent to cave ne (Job 32:13), so also in the declaration it may be equivalent to absit ut , for פּן (from פּנה , after the forms בּן = Arab. banj . עץ = Arab. 'aṣj ) means turning away, removal. Thus: Far from taking the course of the way of life (which has life as its goal and reward) - for פּלּס , to open, to open a road (Psalms 78:50), has here the meaning of the open road itself - much rather do her steps wilfully stagger (Jeremiah 14:10) hither and thither, they go without order and without aim, at one time hither, at another time thither, without her observing it; i.e., without her being concerned at this, that she thereby runs into the danger of falling headlong into the yawning abyss. The unconsciousness which the clause לא תדע esu expresses, has as its object not the falling (Psalms 35:8), of which there is here nothing directly said, but just this staggering, vacillation, the danger of which she does not watch against. נעו has Mercha under the ע with Zinnorith preceding; it is Milra [an oxytone] ( Michlol 111b); the punctuation varies in the accentuations of the form without evident reason: Olsh. §233, p. 285. The old Jewish interpreters (and recently also Malbim) here, as also at Proverbs 2:16, by the זרה [strange woman] understand heresy ( מינות ), or the philosophy that is hostile to revelation; the ancient Christian interpreters understood by it folly (Origen), or sensuality (Procopius), or heresy (Olympiodorus), or false doctrine (Polychronios). The lxx, which translates, Proverbs 5:5, רגליה by τῆς ἀφροσύνης οἱ πόδες , looks toward this allegorical interpretation. But this is unnecessary, and it is proved to be false from Proverbs 5:15-20, where the זרה is contrasted with the married wife.

Verses 7-11

The eighth discourse springs out of the conclusion of the seventh, and connects itself by its reflective מעליה so closely with it that it appears as its continuation; but the new beginning and its contents included in it, referring only to social life, secures its relative independence. The poet derives the warning against intercourse with the adulteress from the preceding discourse, and grounds it on the destructive consequences.

In Proverbs 5:8, one must think on such as make a gain of their impurity. מעל , Schultens remarks, with reference to Ezekiel 23:18, crebrum in rescisso omni commercio : מן denotes the departure, and על the nearness, from which one must remove himself to a distance. Regarding הוד gn (Proverbs 5:9), which primarily, like our Pracht ( bracht from brechen = to break) pomp, magnificence, appears to mean fulness of sound, and then fulness of splendour, see under Job 39:20; here there is a reference to the freshness or the bloom of youth, as well as the years, against the sacrifice of which the warning is addressed - in a pregnant sense they are the fairest years, the years of youthful fulness of strength. Along with אחרים the singulare-tantum אכזרי ( vid., Jeremiah 50:42) has a collective sense; regarding the root-meaning, vid., under Isaiah 13:9. It is the adj. relat. of אכזר after the form אכזב , which is formed not from אך זר , but from an unknown verb כּזר . The ancients referred it to death and the devil; but the אכזרי belongs to the covetous society, which impels ever anew to sin, which is their profit, him who has once fallen into it, and thus brings bodily ruin upon him; they are the people who stand far aloof from this their sacrifice, and among them are barbarous, rude, inexorably cruel monsters ( Unmenschen ) ( Graecus Venetus, τῷ ἀπανθρώπῳ ), who rest not till their victim is laid prostrate on the ground and ruined both bodily and financially.

Proverbs 5:10

This other side of the ruin Proverbs 5:10 presents as an image of terror. For הוד refers to the person in his stately appearance, but כּח to his possessions in money and goods; for this word, as well as in the strikingly similar passage Hosea 7:9, is used as the synonym of חיל (Genesis 34:29, etc.), in the sense of ability, estate. This meaning is probably mediated by means of a metonymy, as Genesis 4:12; Job 31:39, where the idea of the capability of producing is passed over into that of the produce conformable to it; so here the idea of work-power passes over into that of the gain resulting therefrom. ועצביך (and thy toils) is not, like כּחך , the accusative governed by ישׂבּעוּ ; the carrying over of this verb disturbs the parallelism, and the statement in the passage besides does not accord therewith, which, interpreted as a virtual predicate, presents 10b as an independent prohibitive clause: neve sint labores tui in domo peregrini , not peregrina ; at least נכרי according to the usage of the language is always personal, so that בּית נכרי (cf. Lamentations 5:2), like מלבושׁ נכרי , Zephaniah 1:8, is to be explained after עיר נכרי , Judges 19:12. עצב (from עצב , Arab. 'aṣab , to bind fast, to tie together, then to make effort, ποιεῖν , laborare ) is difficult work (Proverbs 10:22), and that which is obtained by it; Fleischer compares the Ital. i miei sudori, and the French mes sueurs .

Proverbs 5:11

The fut. ישׂבּעוּ and the יהיוּ needed to complete 10b are continued in Proverbs 5:11 in the consec. perf. נהם , elsewhere of the hollow roaring of the sea, Isaiah 5:30, the growling of the lion, Proverbs 28:15, here, as also Ezekiel 24:23, of the hollow groaning of men; a word which echoes the natural sound, like &#הוּם המה . The lxx, with the versions derived from it, has καὶ μεταμεληθήσῃ , i.e., ונחמתּ (the Niph. נחם , to experience the sorrow of repentance, also an echo-word which imitates the sound of deep breathing) - a happy quid pro quo, as if one interchanged the Arab. naham , fremere , anhelare , and nadam , poenitere . That wherein the end consists to which the deluded youth is brought, and the sorrowful sound of despair extorted from him, is stated in 11b: his flesh is consumed away, for sensuality and vexation have worked together to undermine his health. The author here connects together two synonyms to strengthen the conception, as if one said: All thy tears and thy weeping help thee nothing (Fl.); he loves this heaping together of synonyms, as we have shown at p. 33. When the blood-relation of any one is called שׁאר בּשׂרו , Leviticus 18:6; Leviticus 25:49, these two synonyms show themselves in subordination, as here in close relation. שׁאר appears to be closely connected with שׁרירים , muscles and sinews, and with שׁר , the umbilical cord, and thus to denote the flesh with respect to its muscular nature adhering to the bones (Micah 3:2), as בּשׂר denotes it with respect to its tangible outside clothed with skin ( vid., under Isaiah, p. 418).

Verses 12-14

The poet now tells those whom he warns to hear how the voluptuary, looking back on his life-course, passes sentence against himself.

שׁמע בּ signifies to cleave to anything in hearing, as ראה ב is to do so in seeing; שׁמע ל yet more closely corresponds with the classic ἐπακούειν , obedire , e.g., Psalms 81:9; שׁמע בּקול is the usual phrase for “hearken!”

Proverbs 5:14

כּמעט with the perf. following is equivalent to: it wanted but a little that this or that should happen, e.g., Genesis 26:10. It is now for the most part thus explained: it wanted but a little, and led astray by that wicked companionship I would have been drawn away into crime, for which I would then have been subjected to open punishment (Fl.). Ewald understands רע directly of punishment in its extreme form, stoning; and Hitzig explains כל־רע by “the totality of evil,” in so far as the disgraceful death of the criminal comprehends in it all other evils that are less. But בּכל־רע means, either, into every evil, misfortune, or into every wickedness; and since רע , in contradistinction to לב (Hitzig compares Ezekiel 36:5), is a conception of a species, then the meaning is equivalent to in omni genere mali . The reference to the death-punishment of the adulteress is excluded thereby, though it cannot be denied that it might be thought of at the same time, if he who too late comes to consider his ways were distinctly designated in the preceding statements as an adulterer. But it is on the whole a question whether בכל־רע is meant of the evil which follows sin as its consequence. The usage of the language permits this, cf. 2 Samuel 16:8; Exodus 5:19; 1 Chronicles 7:23; Psalms 10:6, but no less the reference to that which is morally bad, cf. Exodus 32:22 (where Keil rightly compares with 1 John 5:19); and הייתי (for which in the first case one expected נפלתּי , I fell into, vid., Proverbs 13:17; Proverbs 17:20; Proverbs 28:14) is even more favourable to the latter reference. Also בּתוך קהל ועדה (cf. on the heaping together of synonyms under 11b), this paraphrase of the palam ac publice , with its בּתוך (cf. Psalms 111:1; 2 Chronicles 20:14), looks rather to a heightening of the moral self-accusation. He found himself in all wickedness, living and moving therein in the midst of the congregation, and thereby giving offence to it, for he took part in the external worship and in the practices of the congregation, branding himself thereby as a hypocrite. That by the one name the congregation is meant in its civil aspect, and by the other in its ecclesiastical aspect, is not to be supposed: in the congregation of the people of the revealed law, the political and the religious sides are not so distinguished. It is called without distinction קהל and עדה (from יעד ). Rather we would say that קהל is the whole ecclesia , and עדה the whole of its representatives; but also the great general council bears sometimes the one name (Exodus 12:3, cf. 21) and sometimes the other (Deuteronomy 31:30, cf. 28) - the placing of them together serves thus only to strengthen the conception.

Verses 15-17

The commendation of true conjugal love in the form of an invitation to a participation in it, is now presented along with the warning against non-conjugal intercourse, heightened by a reference to its evil consequences.

Here we meet with two other synonyms standing in a similar relation of progression. As עין denotes the fountain as to its point of outflow, so מעין ( n. loci) means water flowing above on the surface, which in its course increases and divides itself into several courses; such a brook is called, with reference to the water dividing itself from the point of outflow, or to the way in which it divides, פּלג (from פּלג , Job 38:25), Arab. falaj (as also the Ethiop.) or falj , which is explained by nahar ṣaghayr (Fl.).

That such matters as there are thought of, is manifest from this verse. As זרע comprehends with the cause ( sperma ) the effect (posterity), so, in Proverbs 5:16, with the effusio roboris virilis is connected the idea of the beginnings of life. For the subjects of Proverbs 5:17 are the effusiones seminis named in Proverbs 5:16. These in their effects (Proverbs 5:17) may belong to thee alone, viz., to thee alone ( לבדּך , properly in thy separateness) within thy married relation, not, as thou hast fellowship with other women, to different family circles, Aben-Ezra rightly regards as the subject, for he glosses thus: הפלגים שׁהם הבנים הבשׁרים , and Immanuel well explains יהיוּ־לך by יתיחסו לך . The child born out of wedlock belongs not to the father alone, he knows not to whom it belongs; its father must for the sake of his honour deny it before the world. Thus, as Grotius remarks: ibi sere ubi prolem metas . In ואין the יהיו is continued. It is not thus used adverbially for לא , as in the old classic Arabic lyas for l' (Fl.), but it carries in it the force of a verb, so that יהיו , according to rule, in the sense of &#ולא היו ולא יהיו , continues it.

Verses 18-20

With Proverbs 5:18 is introduced anew the praise of conjugal love. These three verses, Proverbs 5:18-21, have the same course of thought as Proverbs 5:15-17.

The subject, 19a, set forth as a theme courts love for her who is to be loved, for she presents herself as lovely. איּלת is the female of the stag, which may derive its name איּל from the weapon-power of its horns, and יעלה (from יעל , Arab. w'al , to climb), that of the wild-goat ( יעל ); and thus properly, not the gazelle, which is called צבי on account of its elegance, but the chamois. These animals are commonly used in Semitic poetry as figures of female beauty on account of the delicate beauty of their limbs and their sprightly black eyes. אהבים signifies always sensual love, and is interchanged in this erotic meaning (Proverbs 7:18) with דּודים . In 19b the predicate follows the subject. The Graec. Venet. translates as if the word were דודיה , and the Syr. as if it were דרכיה , but Aquila rightly translates τίτθοι αὐτῆς . As τίτθος is derived ( vid., Curtius, Griech. Etymologie, Nr. 307) from dhâ , to suck (causative, with anu , to put to sucking), so דּד שׁד תּד , Arab. thady (commonly in dual thadjein ), from שׁדה , Arab. thdy , rigare , after which also the verb ירוּוּך is chosen: she may plentifully give thee to drink; figuratively equivalent to, refresh or (what the Aram. רוּי precisely means) fascinate

The answer to the Why? in this verse is: no reasonable cause - only beastly sensuality, only flagitious blindness can mislead thee. The ב of בזרה is, as 19b and Isaiah 28:7, that of the object through which one is betrayed into intoxication. חק (thus, according to the Masora, four times in the O.T. for חיק ) properly means an incision or deepening, as Arab. hujr (from hjr , cohibere ), the front of the body, the part between the arms or the female breasts, thus the bosom, Isaiah 40:11 (with the swelling part of the clothing, sinus vestis , which the Arabs call jayb ), and the lap; חבּק (as Proverbs 4:8), to embrace, corresponds here more closely with the former of these meanings; also elsewhere the wife of any one is called אשת חיקו or השׁכבת בחיקו , as she who rests on his breast. The ancients, also J. H. Michaelis, interpret Proverbs 5:15-20 allegorically, but without thereby removing sensual traces from the elevated N.T. consciousness of pollution, striving against all that is fleshly; for the castum cum Sapientia conjugium would still be always represented under the figure of husband and wife dwelling together. Besides, though זרה might be, as the contrast of חכמה , the personified lust of the world and of the flesh, yet 19a is certainly not the חכמה , but a woman composed of flesh and blood. Thus the poet means the married life, not in a figurative sense, but in its reality - he designedly describes it thus attractively and purely, because it bears in itself the preservative against promiscuous fleshly lust.

Verses 21-23

That the intercourse of the sexes out of the married relationship is the commencement of the ruin of a fool is now proved.

21 For the ways of every one are before the eyes of Jahve,

And all his paths He marketh out.

22 His own sins lay hold of him, the evil-doer,

And in the bands of his sins is he held fast.

23 He dies for the want of correction,

And in the fulness of his folly he staggers to ruin.

It is unnecessary to interpret נכח as an adverbial accusative: straight before Jahve's eyes; it may be the nominative of the predicate; the ways of man (for אישׁ is here an individual, whether man or woman) are an object (properly, fixing) of the eyes of Jahve. With this the thought would suitably connect itself: et onmes orbitas ejus ad amussim examinat ; but פּלּס , as the denom. of פּלס , Psalms 58:3, is not connected with all the places where the verb is united with the obj. of the way, and Psalms 78:50 shows that it has there the meaning to break though, to open a way (from פל , to split, cf. Talmudic מפלּשׁ , opened, accessible, from פלשׁ , Syriac pelaa , perfodere, fodiendo viam, aditum sibi aperire ). The opening of the way is here not, as at Isaiah 26:7, conceived of as the setting aside of the hindrances in the way of him who walks, but generally as making walking in the way possible: man can take no step in any direction without God; and that not only does not exempt him from moral responsibility, but the consciousness of this is rather for the first time rightly quickened by the consciousness of being encompassed on every side by the knowledge and the power of God. The dissuasion of Proverbs 5:20 is thus in Proverbs 5:21 grounded in the fact, that man at every stage and step of his journey is observed and encompassed by God: it is impossible for him to escape from the knowledge of God or from dependence on Him. Thus opening all the paths of man, He has also appointed to the way of sin the punishment with which it corrects itself: “his sins lay hold of him, the evil-doer.” The suffix יו does not refer to אישׁ of Proverbs 5:21, where every one without exception and without distinction is meant, but it relates to the obj. following, the evil-doer, namely, as the explanatory permutative annexed to the “him” according to the scheme, Exodus 2:6; the permutative is distinguished from the apposition by this, that the latter is a forethought explanation which heightens the understanding of the subject, while the former is an explanation afterwards brought in which guards against a misunderstanding. The same construction, Proverbs 14:13, belonging to the syntaxis ornata in the old Hebrew, has become common in the Aramaic and in the modern Hebrew. Instead of ילכּדוּהוּ (Proverbs 5:22), the poet uses poetically ילכּדנו ; the interposed נ may belong to the emphatic ground-form ילכּדוּן , but is epenthetic if one compares forms such as קבנו (R. קב ), Numbers 23:13 (cf. p. 73). The חמּאתו governed by חבלי , laquei ( חבלי , tormina ), is either gen. exeg.: bands which consist in his sin, or gen. subj.: bands which his sin unites, or better, gen. possess.: bands which his sin brings with it. By these bands he will be held fast, and so will die: he ( הוּא referring to the person described) will die in insubordination (Symm. δι ̓ ἀπαιδευσίαν ), or better, since אין and רב are placed in contrast: in want of correction. With the ישׁגּה (Proverbs 5:23), repeated purposely from Proverbs 5:20, there is connected the idea of the overthrow which is certain to overtake the infatuated man. In Proverbs 5:20 the sense of moral error began already to connect itself with this verb. אוּלת is the right name of unrestrained lust of the flesh. אולת is connected with אוּל , the belly; אול , Arab. âl , to draw together, to condense, to thicken ( Isaiah, p. 424). Dummheit (stupidity) and the Old-Norse dumba, darkness, are in their roots related to each other. Also in the Semitic the words for blackness and darkness are derived from roots meaning condensation. אויל is the mind made thick, darkened, and become like crude matter.

Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Proverbs 5". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.