Chapter 5

from
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
by
Ralph Wardlaw


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Proverbs 5:3-11

"For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell. Lest you ponder her path of life--her ways are unstable; you do not know them. . . . Remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others, and your years to the cruel one; lest aliens be filled with your wealth, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner; and you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed."

The whole of this chapter, the latter half of the sixth, and all the seventh relate to one subject, a subject which Solomon had before merely touched upon in general terms. I take the entire subject at this time, passages which it is impossible to read without sentiments of deep abhorrence of the sins that are there portrayed in their native deformity and mournful results, and without melting compassion for the wretched victims of profligacy and licentious indulgence.

He who trusts to his own heart and fancies he may go certain lengths with evildoers, and retreat with safety, is a fool. He has yet to learn the heaven-taught lesson, "know thyself." The consequences of sinful indulgence--of a course of licentiousness--are very vividly depicted in verses 9 and 10 of the passage before us: "lest you give your honor to others, and your years to the cruel one; lest aliens be filled with your wealth, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner." These are some of the temporal consequences. A life of profligacy exposes him who enters upon it to merciless unrelenting avarice, makes him the pitiable dupe of those whose sole object is to fleece him--to make the most of him, and then with a sneer to abandon him. It transfers his substance to the vilest, the most odious and worthless of human beings, to the most indifferent, selfish, hard-hearted strangers, who are all friendship while profit can be made but are alienated the moment it ceases.

The temporal effects are still more fearful when the wicked voluptuary is himself the head of a family--a husband and a father; or when the wretched partner of his adultery is a wife and a mother. Oh, of what unutterable domestic misery has this sin been the fountainhead! How many hearts of wives, husbands, and children has it broken! What anguish, resentment, alienation, discord, and blood has it caused! What scorpions has it thrown into the family circle-- infuriated and vengeful pride, heart-sinking melancholy that refuses to be comforted and hastens to the grave! And to what poverty, desolation, and squalid wretchedness has it reduced its victims! "For by means of a harlot a man is brought to a piece of bread; and an adulteress will prey upon his precious life" (Prov. 6:26).

The manner in which this crime is treated by the laws of our country is a disgrace to our jurisprudence. Solomon says, "People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving" (Prov. 6:30). Yet even that thief may be tried, convicted, and imprisoned. And what, indeed, is done to the wretch who has torn the hearts, ruined the reputation, and annihilated the peace and comfort and joy of individuals and of families? The wretch escapes with a pecuniary fine under the detestable designation of damages! Can anything more base and sordid be imagined, anything more fitted to hold out temptations to worthless husbands to set a price on female honor? And by converting a crime of the most atrocious moral turpitude into a mere civil offense is to encourage the wealthy profligate.

Such a mode of viewing and treating the crime of adultery has, beyond question, contributed to diminishing its shamefulness and, in a great degree, obliterating its infamy. Cases of this nature now come to be read and spoken of, not with the feelings of indignant and unutterable loathing, as they ever ought to be, but with the coolness of commercial calculation, and the inquiry, "How much in damages?"

This sin may have been committed in secrecy, but from the ruin there is no escape: "And you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed." God is no inattentive or unconcerned spectator of your actions: "For the ways of man are before the eyes of Yahweh, and He ponders all his paths" (5:21). He weighs in the balance every word, every deed, every thought, every imagination, and every desire of the heart. "God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccl. 12:14).

As a preventive of evil and as a means of true happiness, Solomon recommends early marriage and the experience of the comforts and joys of connubial and domestic life: "Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth" (15-18).

It is evident that this must be understood with reservation. Prudence must be applied, and the means of supporting a family must be considered. Much unhappiness often arises from overlooking and disregarding this. The most virtuous and ardent affection must not be allowed to set entirely at nought the dictates of discretion. But in general, and with a proper degree of attention to this, early unions are in many respects of eminent advantage. Virtuous love operates with a most salutary restraint on the vicious principles of our fallen nature. The marriage union, formed and maintained on right principles, has ever been found a fountain of the purest and richest joy on this side of the grave--joy unmingled with guilty shame, and that leaves behind it no tormenting sting.

There are few things more pleasing than to see youth joined to youth in virtuous and honorable and hallowed union, living together in all the faithfulness and all the tenderness of a first love. Oh, with what delight does the eye rest on such a scene.

It is a circumstance deserving notice, that although Solomon himself had fearfully trespassed against the original law of marriage (the constitution authoritatively fixed when God made a male and a female and said, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh"), he here proceeds in his admonitions and counsels according to the provisions of that constitution. It was the law from the first and is the law under the Christian economy, that "each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:2). Solomon had himself reaped the bitter fruits of departure from that law; and so also, though not to the same degree, had many before him.

However, mere external sobriety and chastity and general decency of character is not enough. There still remains the all-important question, What is the principle behind it? The only sound principle is "the fear of Yahweh." This should be the focus in all plans where the goal is the outward reformation of men, that is, their restoration from the habits of outward vicious indulgence. For if you succeed in making men externally sober while they do not become internally godly, and if they are encouraged to rely upon their outward reformation and to make a righteousness of it, you may essentially benefit them in their corporeal and temporal well-being but you fail of saving their souls. They may have a fair reputation among their fellowmen, but in God's balance they must be found wanting.


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