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Proverbs 9:17-18

Context

9:17 “Stolen waters 1  are sweet,

and food obtained in secret 2  is pleasant!”

9:18 But they do not realize 3  that the dead 4  are there,

that her guests are in the depths of the grave. 5 

1 sn The offer is not wine and meat (which represented wisdom), but water that is stolen. The “water” will seem sweeter than wine because it is stolen – the idea of getting away with something exciting appeals to the baser instincts. In Proverbs the water imagery was introduced earlier in 5:15-19 as sexual activity with the adulteress, which would seem at the moment more enjoyable than learning wisdom. Likewise bread will be drawn into this analogy in 30:20. So the “calling out” is similar to that of wisdom, but what is being offered is very different.

2 tn Heb “bread of secrecies.” It could mean “bread [eaten in] secret places,” a genitive of location; or it could mean “bread [gained through] secrets,” a genitive of source, the secrecies being metonymical for theft. The latter makes a better parallelism in this verse, for bread (= sexually immoral behavior) gained secretly would be like stolen water.

3 tn Heb “he does not know.”

4 sn The “dead” are the Rephaim, the “shades” or dead persons who lead a shadowy existence in Sheol (e.g., Prov 2:18-19; Job 3:13-19; Ps 88:5; Isa 14:9-11). This approximates an “as-if” motif of wisdom literature: The ones ensnared in folly are as good as in Hell. See also Ptah-hotep’s sayings (ANET 412-414).

5 tc The LXX adds to the end of v. 18: “But turn away, linger not in the place, neither set your eye on her: for thus will you go through alien water; but abstain from alien water, drink not from an alien fountain, that you may live long, that years of life may be added to you.”

sn The text has “in the depths of Sheol” (בְּעִמְקֵי שְׁאוֹל, bÿimqe shÿol). The parallelism stresses that those who turn to this way of life are ignorant and doomed. It may signal a literal death lying ahead in the not too distant future, but it is more likely an analogy. The point is that the life of folly, a life of undisciplined, immoral, riotous living, runs counter to God’s appeal for wisdom and leads to ruin. That is the broad way that leads to destruction.



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