BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 157 (October-December 2000): 397-409

               Copyright © 2000 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.





                              PROVERBS 5:15-23



                                          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 2:16-19; 5:1-23; 6:20-35;

1-27). This article focuses on Proverbs 5:15-23, 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.




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

minary, Dallas, Texas.

                1 William McKane, Proverbs, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster,

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

                                    (vv. 18-19a)4

                        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. 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 wa-

ter, not a mere cistern containing runoff water!8


VERSES 16-17

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

inverse 18a.


            7 The term Myliz;no refers elsewhere to streams that bubbled out of a rock in the wil-

derness (Ps. 78:16), the streams of Egypt (78:44), streams produced by rainfall Isa.

44:3), and the waves of the Red Sea (Exod. 15:8). The word Myliz;no seems to be roughly

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. 2:13; 17:13). 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 5:15 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 Israel see James B. Davis, "Hill Country Village Subsis-

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 Canaan (De-

catur, GA: Almond, 1985), 95-96. On wells in ancient Israel see Davis, "Hill Country

Village Subsistence Strategy," 57-58; and Hopkins, The Highlands of Canaan,


            9 On springs in ancient Israel, see Davis, "Hill Country Village Subsistence Strat-

egy," 41-45; and Hopkins, The Highlands of Canaan, 96-97.

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

other source.

            The references to streets and city squares are at first puzzling.

After all, the street (CUH) and city square (bOHr;) were public places

(Prov. 1:20; 22:13) where promiscuous women lurked (7:12).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

Davis, "Hill Country Village Subsistence Strategy," 44-45). In verse 16 the plural

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.

5: 15-18," Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 13 (1987): 67.

            13 For other examples of this use of the imperfect, see Bruce K. Waltke and M.

O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisen-

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. 2:25; 3:13; Ezek. 16:32), 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; 22:14. 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

[Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 4:57). In this context MyrizA refers simply to men

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 (1:22; 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. [Oxford: Clarendon, Il

1910],473, para. 150a, which cites Proverbs 5:16 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

Bible Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994],90). See also Philip J. Nel, The,

Structure and Ethos of the Wisdom Admonitions in Proverbs (Berlin: de Gruyter,

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 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 198~), 52.

            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

York: Basic, 1985), 180.

"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 (Garden City, NY:

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



VERSES 18-19a

 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

(Testament (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987), 171-76. For a summary of the history of inter-

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 5:19 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 11:16 and of a physically "charming"

woman in 31:30, where it stands parallel to ypiyo, "beauty." In the

context of 5:19 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


VERSES 19b-23

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; 4:10) and is used

with the verb hvArA, "drink one's fill, be intoxicated," in Proverbs 7:18,

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. 2:17; 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; 8: 14).

            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 2:16 (cf, v. 17); 5:3 (cf. v. 10); 7:5 (cf. v. 19); 22:14. The parallel term hy.Arik;nA

often refers to a "foreign" land (Exod. 2:22; 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

Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon, 1972],648-49). The term can also

mean "atypical, abnormal" (in Isa. 28:21, it is used of God's work of judgment

against His own people, and in Jer. 2:21, it refers to a "wild" vine). In Proverbs it

appears in parallelism with hrAzA (5:20), hrAzA hw.Axi (2:16; 7:5), frA tw,xe "immoral woman"

(6:24), and hnAOz, "prostitute" (23:27). 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

5:25; 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. 4:26;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 (Stockholm: AlmquIst & Wlksell,

1990), 99.

            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:


            5:15 "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.


5:16 "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.


5: 17 "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.


5:18 "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

            female goat!"


            My prayer is that your wife will be a sexually potent source

            of pleasure who, with her affection and charm, will make

            mating enjoyable.


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



5:20 "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,


5:21 "For Yahweh sees clearly a man's activities;

            He evaluates everything a man does."


            because you can't hide anything, including sinful activities,

            from Yahweh.


5:22 "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-



5:23 "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

sexual urges.

            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.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204  


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: