In this, the eighth wisdom discourse, the teacher warns his students against adultery. It continues to be written as a teacher to his male students, using an adulterous female as the protagonist, but the principles certainly would apply if the genders were reversed or rendered neutral in the modern fashion. There are four subsections in this discourse, each of which covers a slightly different aspect of the issue, the first of which is comprised of verses 1-6.
These verses give a general description of the temptation, in this case of a woman who is eager to stray. Notice that she is described as being seductive and smooth in her speech, no doubt full of compliments and innuendo, appealing to the ego of her prey, his need for attention and enticing in its attentiveness. Yet the teacher goes to great lengths to tell his students that such a person will lead the unwary into disaster and death. Relationships are ruined, reputations are destroyed; the pleasures of the moment will lead to a life of despair.
The next subsection, in verses 7-14 tell more of the consequences of adultery, adding more detail to the story. The shame, the losses and the regrets, not to mention the possibility of disease; all are hinted at here. Clearly, the section ends with an older man looking back of the futility of a life wasted chasing after the allurements of the flesh wishing he had listened to the warnings of the wise brings the matter home for anyone with a brain.
The next subsection in verses 15-19 is rich with imagery. The “well” “Cistern” and “fountain” refer to the man’s wife sexually. Here, it is important for us to understand how precious a well, cistern or fountain would have been 3,000 years ago as sources of life-giving water in a parched land. “Drink water from your own cistern” and “running water from your own well” (v. 15) are references to sex within the marriage. Verse 16 refers to having multiple partners. The fountain being blessed in verse 17 is a reference to the children that will result from sex within marriage; both partners will be blessed through them. 18b-19 are telling the student that he should be crazy in love with his own wife, a contrast to the notion of seeking the comforts and charms of another man’s wife, and that would remain a great blessing for all concerned for a lifetime.
The last subsection, verses 20-23 remind the student that he shouldn’t be involved with another man’s wife because his actions are known to God, and unless my memory has failed me, there is a commandment about adultery. His adulterous actions will “ensnare” and “bind” a person in their sin; they will pay the consequences both in this life, and afterwards.
To my mind, this chapter provides a very interesting example of ancient Hebrew wisdom, one that modern day Christians need to pay attention to. Read it carefully and note that this is not the legalistic rantings of a self-appointed holier-than-thou kind of a person. Rather, it is careful logic that contains clearly reasoned thoughts about why adultery is not in a person’s best interest either now or later. Notice also that even though the commission of adultery is a violation of one of the Ten Commandments, the teacher didn’t start off by calling the would-be adulterer any names or saying that anyone is going to fry in Hell. The teacher acknowledged the real temptation of sexual immorality, and reasoned out a case to show that it wasn’t worth the costs. You see dear reader, the wisdom of this section goes deeper than the lesson itself, for the greatest wisdom we see here might just be in the way the warning is given.