BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 157 (October-December 2000): 397-409
Copyright © 2000
"DRINK WATER FROM YOUR OWN
CISTERN": A LITERARY STUDY OF
Robert B. Chisholm Jr.
IN PROVERBS 1-9 THE FATHER-TEACHER repeatedly addresses
the subject of sexual behavior as he instructs his son-pupil
about how to live skillfully (see -19; 5:1-23; -35;
1-27). This article focuses on Proverbs -23, a passage in
which the father seeks to convince his son that genuine sexual
satisfaction comes only within the context of marriage. The father's
pedagogical technique, which balances realism and rhetoric, is in-
structive for modern teachers who seek to give young men moral
guidance in this area.
PROVERBS 5:15-23 IN ITS IMMEDIATE LITERARY CONTEXT
Verses 15-23 are the climax to a speech that begins in verse 1. The
tire chapter displays the pattern of the instruction genre, which
combines exhortation with persuasive motivating arguments.l Its
structure may be outlined as follows:
Cycle One (vv. 1-6)
General exhortation to pay attention (v. 1)
Motivating argument (vv. 2-6)
Cycle Two (vv. 7-14)
Expanded general exhortation to pay attention2 and specific
Robert B. Chisholm Jr. is Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological
1 William McKane, Proverbs, Old Testament
70), 3, 311. As Michael V. Fox explains, "In order to make a lasting impression,
e father must not only command; he must persuade" ("Ideas of Wisdom in Prov-
bs 1-9," Journal of Biblical Literature 116 [1997J: 622 [italics hisJ).
2 In verse 7 the father addresses his "sons" and uses plural verb forms. In verse 8
398 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2000
exhortation concerning improper behavior (vv. 7-8)
Motivating argument (vv. 9-14)
Cycle Three (vv. 15-23)
Specific exhortation concerning proper behavior (v. 15)
Motivating argument (vv. 16-17)3
Blessing and anticipated consequence of its realization
Specific exhortation reiterating proper behavior (v. 19b)5
Motivating argument (vv. 20-23)
In the first cycle the father urges his son to listen to his in-
struction (v. 1), for it will provide the discretion (v. 2) necessary to
avoid the fatally attractive promiscuous woman (vv. 3-6).
The second cycle reiterates the need to listen (V. 7), but it adds
a more specific command to avoid the promiscuous woman (v. 8). It
then describes the negative consequences that typically overtake
those who fail to heed this warning (vv. 9-14).
In the third cycle the father offers the antidote to promiscuity
as he urges his son to intoxicate himself with the sexual. satisfac-
tion that marriage has to offer (v. 15).6 Through the effective use of
metaphor and hyperbole he depicts the son's wife as a bountiful
and inexhaustible source of sexual pleasure (vv. 16-17) on whom
he even pronounces a blessing (vv. 18-19a). He then reiterates the
exhortation (v. 19b), which he buttresses with a rhetorical question
(v. 20) and some concluding observations about God's moral ad-
ministration of the world (vv. 21-23).
he returns to the singular.
3 Many understand verse 17 as an exhortation, but the following discussion sug-
gests that the verse should be understood as part of the motivating argument.
4 This assumes that verse 18b, introduced by waw plus an imperative, is subordi-
lnate to the preceding clause (which contains a jussive) and expresses a consequence
of the blessing (see v. 18a) being realized.
5 This assumes that the prefixed verb forms in verse 19 express instruction ("let
her breasts/love intoxicate. ..be captivated"). Another option is to take the prefixed
(verb form j~Uuray; as an extension of the blessing ("may her breasts/love intoxicate"). In
this case the final clause, like verse 18b, can be understood as a consequence of the
rblessing being realized ("you will be captivated").
6 Daniel J. Estes observes that this unit "recommends the enjoyment of sexual
(delights within the boundaries of marriage as an antidote against the allurements
of the adulteress" (Hear, My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1-9 [Grand ;
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 114).
"Drink Water from Your Own Cistern": A Literary Study of Proverbs 5:15-23 399
In the first poetic line the father urges his son to quench his sexual
thirst by "drinking" from his own "cistern." Though the father, for
rhetorical reasons, waits until verse 18 to identify the reality be-
hind the image, the cistern represents the son's wife, while the
"water" symbolizes the sexual satisfaction she is capable of sup-
In verse 15b the father transforms the image of a cistern (rOB),
a manmade receptacle for catching runoff water, to that of a well
(rxeB;), which contains fresh water supplied by underground
streams.7 The son's wife, he
says, is like a well filled with fresh
ter, not a mere cistern containing runoff water!8
In verses 16-17 the father supports his exhortation with a moti-
vating argument. Once more he transformed his metaphor,
changing the image of a well (see v. 15b) into that of a natural
fountain (j~r;Oqm;, "your fountain," in v. 18a) from which streams
flow.9 The son's wife, rather than being a mere cistern or well, is
more like a bubbling fountain that produces streams of sexual sat-
isfaction. Springs/streams are viewed as the handiwork of God (Ps.
104:10), in contrast to manmade cisterns and wells. Through the
transformation of the metaphor the father pictures the son's wife
as a gift from God and paves the way for the blessing he mentioned
7 The term Myliz;no refers elsewhere to streams that bubbled out of a rock in the wil-
derness (Ps. 78:16), the
and the waves of the
synonymous with the phrase Myy.iHa Myima, "living (i.e., running/fresh) water." The latter
refers to streams (Zech. 14:8) or to the fresh water produced by a well (Gen. 26:19)
or a spring, in contrast with a cistern (Jer. ; ). In Song of Solomon 4:15
"living water" is associated with a well, while Myliz;no refers to mountain streams. Both
refer metaphorically to the sexual pleasures the young lady has to offer her hus-
band. In Proverbs Myliz;no appears to refer, like Myyi.Ha Myima, in Genesis 26:19 and Song
of Solomon 4:15, to the fresh water supplied by a well.
8 On cisterns in ancient
tence Strategy in the Period of the Judges" (Ph.D. diss., Southern Baptist Theologi-
cal Seminary, 1984), 48-56; and David C. Hopkins,
The Highlands of
catur, GA: Almond, 1985),
95-96. On wells in ancient
Subsistence Strategy," 57-58; and
9 On springs in ancient
egy," 41-45; and
400 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2000
To emphasize her capacity to satisfy, he pictures these
"springs"10 and "streams of water" flowing through the streets and
public squares.11 The wife is more than capable of quenching the
young man's thirst, making it unnecessary to seek water from any
The references to streets and city squares are at first puzzling.
After all, the street (CUH) and city square (bOHr;) were public places
(Prov. ; ) where promiscuous women lurked ().12
However, the description may be purely hyperbolic, or the imper-
fect UcUpy;, "they are dispersed," may be taken in a modal manner,
indicating capability.13 In either case the statement is ironic.14 The
wife is capable of attracting and satisfying many men, just like a
prostitute or adulteress. But despite her tremendous capabilities,
her streams of sexual satisfaction belong solely to the son (v.
17a).15 They are off-limits to other men (MyrizA, v. 17b).16
10 Normally NyAf;ma, spring, an rOqm; , “fountain, are roughly synonymous see
form "springs" probably refers to the abundant water that gushes from the fountain
(giving the impression of many springs in one) and disperses into many streams
(as if coming from multiple springs).
11 Similar imagery is employed in Song of Solomon 4:12-15. The young man's
lover, with whom he has not yet consummated his love, is first likened to an en-
closed spring and a sealed fountain (v. 12). But then, anticipating sexual consum-
mation, he compares her to a garden fountain, a well containing fresh water, and
mountain streams (v. 15).
12 See Paul A. Kruger, "Promiscuity or Marriage Fidelity? A Note on Prov.
-18," Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 13 (1987): 67.
13 For other examples of this use of the imperfect, see Bruce K. Waltke and M.
An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax
brauns, 1990), 507, where it is labeled the "non-perfective of capability." See espe-
cially Deuteronomy 1:12 (in comparison with Deut. 1:9) and 2 Samuel 22:39 (in
companson wIth Ps. 18:39).
14 Commenting on the father's pedagogical approach in chapters 1-9, Fox observes
that he "revels in ironies" ("Ideas of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9," 623).
15 The imperfect Uyh;yi at the beginning of verse 17 is taken as indicative, describing
a continuing situation.
16 The masculine form clearly refers to other men, not women. The masculine plu-
ral form is used elsewhere of male lovers (Jer. ; ; Ezek. ), but never of
women. If prostitutes or adulteresses were intended, the feminine form tOrzA would
have been used. See Proverbs 2:16; 5:3, 20; 7:5; . L. A. Snijders points out that
the "precise definition" of the term it, "outsider," derives from "the immediate con-
text in which its user is thinking and speaking" ("rUz/rzA," in Theological Dictionary of
the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes and Helmer Ringgren, trans. David E. Green
other than the son, all of whom are outside the bounds of his marriage and to whom
the son's wife is therefore off limits. (See Deuteronomy 25:5, where it refers to any
man outside a deceased man's family. See also Psalm 109:11.)
Drink Water from Your Own Cistern": A Literary Study of Proverbs 5:15-23 401
The father's rhetorical strategy in these verses is clear-cut. He
paints the word picture of a cistern filled with water. He trans-
forms that image to a well filled with fresh water and then turns
the well into a fountain, a gift from God that produces streams of
thirst-quenching water. After pointing out that the son's wife has
what it takes to satisfy many men, he emphasizes that she belongs
solely to the son. By transforming the image of the wife from a pas-
sive receptacle to an active source of abundant satisfaction, and by
then emphasizing that she is reserved for the son alone, the father
makes her look exceedingly desirable. With such a special source of
sexual satisfaction reserved just for him, why would he want to
seek sexual pleasure anywhere else?
This interpretation of these verses differs from the way others
have interpreted them. Some see the springs/streams of water as
symbolizing the young man's sexual potency (perhaps his semen),
rather than the sexual satisfaction provided by his wife.17 Accord-
ing to this view the son must reserve his sexual potency for his wife
and not spread it throughout the community. Proponents of this
view must translate verse 16 as a rhetorical question expecting a
negative answer ("Should your springs be dispersed...?") and
must take the morphologically ambiguous prefixed verb form at the
beginning of verse 17 (Uyh;yi) as a jussive ("Let them be yours
alone!").18 McKane and Clifford defend this view by arguing that
the springs/streams of verse 16 are plural, while the cistern and
well of verse 15 are singular.
However, this interpretation is inconsistent with verse 15,
where water represents the sexual satisfaction produced by the
'wife, symbolized by the cistern/well. McKane's and Clifford's ar-
gument is specious, for the springs/streams correspond to the water
(Myima)/fresh water (Myliz;no) of verse 15 (Hebrew forms that are dual and
plural, respectively), not the well/cistern, which are the source of
the water/fresh water. In other words the cistern (v. 15), well (v.
15), and fountain (v. 18) correspond, as do the water contained in
the cistern (v. 15), the fresh water available in the well (v. 15), and
the streams produced by the fountain (v. 16). Since the springs are
produced by the son's fountain, they can be spoken of as belonging
to him (indicated by the suffix on "springs" in v. 16).
17 See, for example, McKane, Proverbs, 318-19; and Richard J. Clifford, Proverbs:
A Commentary, Old Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1999),
18 This line of interpretation may be reflected in Codex Vaticanus and Codex Si-
naiticus, which negate the verb in verse 16a (J1Ij) and translate it as if it were an
extension of the exhortation in verse 15.
402 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2000
Furthermore no interrogative markers are in verse 16,19 and
this view has difficulty explaining how the son's sexual potency
should be kept to himself (V. 17a; note j~D,bal;-one would think it
would be shared with the wife) and not shared with other men (MyrizA
in v. 17b is masculine). For this view to work, sexual potency mu~t
refer by metonymy to the children it produces and verse 17b must
then allude to providing children for other men in the community
by means of their promiscuous wives.20
Garrett says the springs and streams refer to the "husband's .
sexual affections" (just as the cistern symbolizes "the affections of
his wife"). The young man is not to share these affections with
other women, but is to reserve them for his wife. In this way the
husband and wife "fill and refresh each other."21 However, this
view, like the preceding one, fails to take the imagery of water in a .
consistent way, requires taking verse 16 as a rhetorical question,
and has difficulty explaining verse 17. One would think the son
should share his sexual affections with his wife, not keep them to
Some say that the springs/streams of verse 16 are the children
produced by the sexual activity enjoined in verse 15.22 This view is
preferable to the ones just mentioned, for it allows one to take the
verb forms in verses 16-17 in a straightforward, indicative man-
ner. In this case verse 17 might be pointing out that these children,
though overrrunning the public places, belong only to the man who
fathered them. In this way the teacher emphasizes the public in-
fluence that derives from fathering many children with one's wife.
19 The rhetorical question in verse 20 is introduced by the interrogative word hm.AlA
"why?" Other rhetorical questions in Proverbs 1-9 are similarly marked (; 6:9,
27-28; 8:1). Of course interrogative sentences do not have to be marked (see Gesen-
ius' Hebrew Grammar, ed. E.
Kautzsch and A. E. Cowley, 2d ed. [
1910],473, para. 150a, which cites Proverbs as an example!); but when there
are no formal interrogative indicators, one should assume an interrogative sentence
tonly if the context demands it. The context makes no such demands in this case.
Though he takes verse 16 as a rhetorical question, R. N. Whybray admits that "the
most obvious rendering would be as a positive statement" (Proverbs, New Century
and Ethos of the Wisdom Admonitions in Proverbs (
1982), 49. Nel takes verse 16 as a rhetorical question, but acknowledges that one
expects the motivation to begin "with a metaphoric wisdom saying."
20 See, for example,
Robert L. Alden, P~overbs (
21 Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, New AmerIcan Com-
mentary (Nashville: Broadman, 1993), 93.
22 See, for example, L. A. Snijders, "The Meaning of zar in the Old Testament," Old
Testament Studies 10 (1954): 93; and Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New
"Drink Water from Your Own Cistern": A Literary Study of Proverbs 5:15-23 403
However, this view, like those mentioned above, fails to take the
water imagery of verses 15-17 in a consistent manner. Further-
more Clifford points out that "nowhere in the Bible do springs and
streams of water symbolize descendants."23
Kruger, emphasizing the distinction between private and
common property, understands the springs/streams, which are ac-
cessible to the public, as symbolizing lewd women, who stand in
contrast to the son's wife, symbolized by the privately owned cis-
tern and well. Verse 16 describes the behavior of such lewd women
who lurk on the street corners "in search of paramours."24
However, this interpretation crumbles when one notices that a
second person masculine singular pronominal suffix is attached to
"springs" in verse 16, suggesting that the springs, whatever they
symbolize, belong to the son. Like the cistern, well, and fountain,
they are his private property.25 Furthermore this view requires
understanding the water referred to in verse 17 as being the pri-
vately owned water of verse 15, rather than the springs/streams of
verse 16.26 But the most natural subject of the plural verb Uyh;yi is the
immediately preceding "streams of water" (Myima-ygel;Pa).
Others correctly see the streams as representing the wife's
sexual capacity, but then they interpret verses 16-17 as alluding to
promiscuity. In this view the logic of verses 15-17 is as follows: The
young man should find sexual satisfaction from his wife. Otherwise
she will become dissatisfied and vindictive and share her sexual
favors with other men throughout the community.27 The references
to the street and public square might seem to support this view, for
they suggest activity outside the privacy of the home. However,
Clifford rightly labels this view as "unlikely, for it proposes as an
everyday motive the relatively unlikely possibility (in that culture)
of the wife's adultery."28 Furthermore, as already noted, if the lan-
guage is taken in an ironic manner, the references to the
23 Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary, 68.
24 Kruger, "Promiscuity or Marriage Fidelity?" 66-67.
25 Kruger emphasizes the significance of the pronominal suffix in verses 15 and
17-18, but he omits any reference to its appearance in verse 16 (ibid., 66, n. 29).
26 Ibid., 66.
27 See, for example, Nel, The Structure and Ethos of the Wisdom Admonitions in
Proverbs, 50; R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Anchor Bible (
Doubleday, 1965), 58; and Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs, Word Biblical Commentary
(Nashville: Nelson, 1998), 32.
28 Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary, 68.
404 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2000
street/public square contribute powerfully to the father's rhetorical
In these verses the father concludes his motivating argument with
a prayer of blessing for the son's wife (v. 18a). Likening her to a
fountain (the source of the springs and streams pictured in vv.
16-17), he prays that she will "be blessed" (j`UrbA ... yhiy;). Though
some see this as referring to the ability to bear children, both the
preceding and following contexts suggest that the capacity to pro-
vide sexual pleasure is in view.29
The pronouncement of a blessing is a highly effective rhetori-
cal device, for a blessing was not mere well-wishing, but a powerful
and effective appeal to the sovereign God to endue the object
blessed with special capacity and power.30 The blessing caps off the
father's argument, for it invited God into the situation. If God re-
sponds positively to the father's prayer (and why wouldn't He?), the
blessing gives the son additional motivation to confine his sexual
activity to the marriage bed. It makes little sense to seek sexual
pleasure with another woman when one's wife possesses a special
divine endowment to satisfy one's sexual needs.
Following the jussive yhiy; at the beginning of verse 18, the im- .
perative with the prefixed waw at the beginning of verse 18b may
be taken as an indirect volitive indicating purpose or conse-
quence.31 When God blesses the son's "fountain," he will derive
genuine sexual satisfaction from her.32
The father identifies the reality behind the water-source (cis-
29 See Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 93, and C. H. Toy, The Book
of Proverbs, International Critical Commentary (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1899),
30 Though many believe that blessings are rooted in a magical view of the power of
the spoken word, this seems doubtful. Blessings (as well as curses) were a way of
invoking divine intervention. Ultimately they depended on the divine will for ful- .,
fillment. See Christopher W. Mitchell, The Meaning of BRK "To Bless" in the Old
pretation on the subject see Timothy G. Crawford, Blessing and Curse in
Syro-Palestinian Inscriptions of the Iron Age (New York: Peter Lang, 1992), 16--26.
31 See Genesis 20:7 and the other examples cited in Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar,
325, para. 110 i. Mitchell points out the cause-effect relationship here and cites an
Aramaic parallel. He writes, "The wife who is blessed by God becomes a source of joy
for her husband" (The Meaning of BRK "To Bless" in the Old Testament, 124).
32 The construction Nmi HameWA, "get pleasure from," appears only here and in Ecclesias-
tes 2:10, where Qoheleth observed that he derived pleasure from all his hard work.
"Drink Water from Your Own Cistern": A Literary Study of Proverbs 5:15-23 405
tern, well, fountain) as the "wife of your youth,"33 whom he then
describes as being "an affectionate doe" and "an attractive female
goat" (v. 19a). These appositional phrases mix reality with meta-
phor, for the genitives MybihAxE) and NHe more naturally describe the wife
than a doe or female goat. The word MybihAxE occurs only here and in
Hosea 8:9, where it refers metaphorically to illicit "lovers." In Prov-
erbs the term likely has a romantic sense ("affectionate" is an
appropriate translation). The word 11J is used of a "charming" (or
perhaps "kind") woman in and of a physically "charming"
woman in 31:30, where it stands parallel to ypiyo, "beauty." In the
context of the term surely has this physical or sensual nuance
("attractive" is an appropriate translation). By comparing the son's
wife to a doe and a female goat, the father again reveals his
awareness of his son's elemental sexual urges. By implication the
metaphor likens the son to a buck or a male goat, two animals well-
known for their powerful sexual drive during the mating season.34
In verse 19b the father reiterates his earlier exhortation. Building
on the drinking metaphor of verse 15, he urges his son to be intoxi-
cated with and captivated by his wife's love at all times.35 The He-
brew text reads hAyD,Da, "her breasts," at the beginning of the poetic
line,36 but the form should probably be revocalized as HAyd,Do, "her
love," which forms a tighter synonymous parallel with h.tAbAhExa, "her
love," in the following line.37 The word MydiDo, "love," refers to roman-
tic, sensual love in the Song of Solomon (1:2, 4; ) and is used
with the verb hvArA, "drink one's fill, be intoxicated," in Proverbs ,
where the adulteress says to her lover, "Come, let's drink our fill of
33 The phrase means "the wife whom you married when you were young.” Usage
elsewhere suggests that a man was sometimes tempted to divorce his first wife (Isa.
54:6; Mal. 2:14-15). Similar expressions include "bridegroom of her youth" i.e., the
man to whom she was betrothed/married when she was young, Joel 1:8), sons of
youth" (i.e., sons born to a man when he was still young, Ps. 127:4), and "companion
of youth" (i.e., the husband a woman marries in her youth, Prov. ; or a friend
whom one has known from youth, Jer. 3:4).
34 In the Song of Solomon the young lady compared her lover to a stag who
bounded over the hills to her home and waited longingly to enter (2:8-9, 17; ).
35 The prefixed verb 1~j~ is taken as a jussive expressing the father's instruction.
The verb hG,w;Ti in the following line is understood as an Imperfect of Instruction.
36 The word dDa, "breast," occurs only here and in Ezekiel 23:3, 8, 21.
37 The correspondence between tfe-lcAb;, "at all times," and dymitA "continually," sug-
gests the lines are to be understood as synonymous.
406 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2000
love until morning."38
The father begins his motivating argument with a rhetorical
question that challenges the son to consider the absurdity of mari-
tal infidelity. It would make no sense whatever for the son to seek
sexual satisfaction with a woman other than his wife (v. 20).39
Why? The father has already given adequate justification for mari-
tal fidelity, but he concludes his argument with some observations
about God's moral administration of the world.40 Having sex with
another woman is foolish because it can never be done in secret.
God Himself is always watching and evaluating "all" that a person
does (v. 21).41 Because God prohibits adultery and punishes those
who rebel against His moral standards, adultery is self-destructive
(v. 22). Like a snare the sinner's deeds "capture" (dkalA) him; like re-
stricting ropes they "seize" him.42 His lack of discipline (rsAUm) and
38 However, in defense of the Masoretic text, one should note that the traditional
reading, if retained, exhibits a chiastic structure in verses 19b-20: breasts—hG,w;Ti--
hG,w;Ti--breasts. (The noun qHe, "chest," v. 20, is a synecdoche for breasts.) See. Gale
Yee, "The Foreign Woman in Proverbs 1-9," Journal for the Study of the Old Testa-
ment 43 (1989): 60; and Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 94.
39 The term hrAzA is used of a woman only in Proverbs, where it refers to an adulter-
ess. See (cf, v. 17); 5:3 (cf. v. 10); 7:5 (cf. v. 19); . The parallel term hy.Arik;nA
often refers to a "foreign" land (Exod. ; 18:3) or to "foreign" women/wives (Ruth
2:10; 1 Kings 11:1,8; Ezra 10:2, 10-11, 14, 17-18,44; Neh. 13:26-27). In Genesis
31:15, where Laban's daughters complain about how their father has treated them,
the term may simply mean "women outside the family sphere" rather than "foreign-
ers" (see Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English
of the Old Testament [
mean "atypical, abnormal" (in Isa. 28:21, it is used of God's work of judgment
against His own people, and in Jer. , it refers to a "wild" vine). In Proverbs it
appears in parallelism with hrAzA (), hrAzA hw.Axi (; 7:5), frA tw,xe "immoral woman"
(), and hnAOz, "prostitute" (). The term also appears in 27:13. In Proverbs the
various contexts provide no solid support for the notion that the woman described is
foreign in the ethnic sense. The word seems to refer to women outside the married
man's family sphere (i.e., women other than his wife) with whom he might be
tempted to have sexual relations. Of course it is possible that the term was origi-
nally a technical designation for ethnically foreign women, but, if so, it apparently
had developed an additional general idiomatic shade of meaning by the time it was
rused in Proverbs.
40 For other examples of a rhetorical question introduced by hm.AlA, "why?" followed :
[by an explanatory yKi, "for," see Genesis 47:15; Numbers 21:5; 27:4; Deuteronomy
; 1 Samuel 26:15; Psalm 44:24-25; Jeremiah 29:27-28; and Ezekiel 18:31-32.
41 The verb slaPA when used with "path" can mean "make level"-see Psalm 78:50
(with bytinA) and Isaiah 26:7 (with lGafama)-but it can also carry the meaning "consider
carefully: examine" (see Prov. ;5:6). The next two verses, which speak of divine
judgment, favor the latter nuance here. See Lennart Bostrom, The God of the sages:
The Portrayal of God in
the Book of Proverbs
42 On this meaning of the verb j`maTA here, see Michael Heltzer, "The Root tmk in
"Drink Water from Your Own Cistern": A Literary Study of Proverbs 5:15-23 407
failure to use foresight (OTl;Uaxi bro, "the abundance of his folly") are
fatal (tUmyA) for they lead him astray (hB,w;yi) from the path of wisdom
and life (v. 23).43
This reminder of God's moral administration of the universe
gives additional rhetorical punch to the blessing offered in verse
18. If God is so opposed to marital infidelity that He makes it self-
destructive, then it stands to reason that He is very pleased when
individuals fulfill their God-given sexual urges through marriage.
This makes Him predisposed to bless the wife of the obedient man
so that the latter might be rewarded appropriately for his obedi-
TRANSLATION AND PARAPHRASE
The following translation and paraphrase reflect the interpretation
proposed in this article:
"Drink water from your own cistern,
fresh water from your own well!"
Just as one quenches his thirst by drinking water from his
own cistern or well, you should find sexual pleasure and
satisfaction with your own wife.
"The springs available to you flood the streets,
and run like streams through the public squares."
Your wife's capacity to satisfy you is more than adequate.
She is more like an overflowing natural spring than a mere
cistern or well.
"But they belong to you alone!
Other men cannot share them!"
The good news is that this bountiful source of sexual pleas-
ure is all yours! No one else has a right to enjoy her.
"May your fountain be blessed!
Then you will enjoy the wife of your youth,
Ammonite, Phoenician and Hebrew," Zeitschrift far Althebraistik 8 (1995): 141.
43 The verb hGAwA is a key word in this section. The son should be "captivated" by his
wife's love (v. 19), not by the breasts of another woman (v. 20). Failure to heed this
warning will cause him to "stray" morally (v. 23) and bring him to ruin.
408 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2000
5:19a (who is like) an affectionate doe and an attractive
My prayer is that your wife will be a sexually potent source
of pleasure who, with her affection and charm, will make
5:19b "Let her love continually intoxicate you!
Always be captivated by her love!"
Allow your wife to satisfy your sexual thirst and bring you physical
"My son, why should you e captivated by another woman?
Why fondle the breasts of a woman who is not your wife?"
It makes no sense to seek sexual satisfaction with a woman
other than your wife,
"For Yahweh sees clearly a man's activities;
He evaluates everything a man does."
because you can't hide anything, including sinful activities,
"A sinful man's evil deeds entrap him;
he is tangled up in the ropes of his own sin."
The world is "rigged" in such a way that sin is self-
"He dies because of his lack of discipline;
he is led astray by his great folly."
The foolish sinner's lack or self-discipline and of foresight is
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The father exhorts his son to satisfy his sexual desires in the
proper way-within the context of marriage. The father's approach
is realistic. By comparing sexual satisfaction to quenching one's
thirst and by likening the son to a vigorous young buck or a male
goat, the father acknowledges the power of the male sexual drive.
"Drink Water from Your Own Cistern": A Literary Study of Proverbs 5:15-23 409
The earthy, sensual imagery realistically communicates the fa-
ther's insight into the son's psyche and gives credibility to his
teaching. The father is no platonic idealist; he recognizes his son's
At the same time the father marshals rhetorical fire power to
support his exhortation to marital fidelity. In verses 15-16 he
heightens the metaphor of the water source (from cistern to well to
spring) in an effort to get the son to think correctly about his wife's
potential to satisfy. In verse 17 he draws attention to the son's
unique privilege. He then asks God to bless the son's wife so that
the son might experience genuine sexual pleasure (vv. 18-19a). In
verses 21-23 theological reflection climaxes the father's argument.
Marital fidelity is the only wise course to follow, for God sees eve-
rything a man does and has ordered the world in such a way that
sexual promiscuity destroys the sinner.
Teachers of God's Word can learn some important pedagogical
(as well as moral) principles from the father's instruction. First,
they should recognize the strong sexual urges young men feel and
never downplay or try to suppress their reality. Second, they
should help them develop a proper perspective on God's ordained
way of satisfying these desires. Through marriage God makes
available to them a rich source of sexual pleasure, one who is re-
served just for them and whom God is predisposed to endue with
special sexual potency. Third, teachers should also remind them
that God will hold them accountable for their behavior, even in this
area of their lives. Sexual promiscuity is self-destructive, as mod-
ern medicine, psychology, and sociology clearly demonstrate.
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