Proverbs is full of wisdom: wisdom is how to live in God’s world in God’s ways. Many people love to turn to Proverbs to discover what wisdom it contains for living everyday life. However, one of the problems with Proverbs is that the wisdom is not really categorised – it doesn’t come with an index system! I have found one of the best way of getting into Proverbs is drawing out everything it says on a particular topic.
In this article we’re going to look at what Proverbs has to say about love and marriage.
One thing which we need to say to begin with is that Proverbs is addressed from a Father to a Son. This means that everything is written from a male perspective. This is not to say that women cannot read and benefit from this advice as well! But it does explain why it seems to address a man rather than women directly.
Let’s put together some of the wisdom that Proverbs contains about love and marriage.
1. Avoid sexual immorality
For this command is a lamp,
this teaching is a light,
and correction and instruction
are the way to life,
keeping you from your neighbour’s wife,
from the smooth talk of a wayward woman.
Do not lust in your heart after her beauty
or let her captivate you with her eyes.
For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread,Proverbs 6:23-26
but another man’s wife preys on your very life.
You would be hard pressed to read the first few chapters of Proverbs and not pick up on the repeated warnings against sexual immorality. This passage is one such example.
Because this is such a big theme in Proverbs, let’s think about three different aspects of unfaithfulness.
The consequences are severe
Proverbs 6 repeatedly warns of the consequences of sleeping with another man’s wife. In the passage I quoted just now it says, “another man’s wife preys on your very life.” What does that mean? Well verse 34 suggests that a husband who has been wronged will “show no mercy” – although maybe that does not mean the literal taking of a life. Verse 31 says “though it cost him the wealth of his house” – which suggests material consequences but not the literal loss of life.
Either way, the message is plain: if you sleep with another man’s wife, there will be terrible consequences. Think of all the times in history this has been borne out: men (and women) who have been caught having an affair often lose a lot. People have had to resign their careers, or at least spend the rest of the time with their reputation tarnished.
The wisdom of Proverbs is – if you’re tempted to commit adultery, don’t! Think of the consequences. Think what it will do to you, to your career, to your family, children, those you love. It is never worth the cost.
It’s important to be forewarned
Proverbs doesn’t mince words when it comes to adultery. This is important: I think strong language is needed because the consequences of marital unfaithfulness are severe. This is because we need the warning! Proverbs doesn’t simply say what is right or wrong, it tries to persuade and encourage us at an emotional level.
I think this is a good lesson for us to learn in how we communicate in general – when it comes to teaching children (or adults for that matter), we need to impress upon them the seriousness of disobedience. This doesn’t mean terrifying people into obeying, but people need to be aware of the consequences of sin. Especially when those consequences are severe, as we’ve just seen.
Imagine you were out walking with a friend, and you saw a sign which said “DANGER: Mines”. What would you do if your friend ignored the sign and walked straight past it? I suspect we would shout at them to try to turn them back! If someone is in danger, then our language and style needs to reflect that. This is how Proverbs teaches us, and we would do well to learn this lesson.
Women are capable of sin too!
One of the things I like about Proverbs is that it is very realistic and ‘egalitarian’: both men and women are depicted as sinners. For example, did you notice in the passage I quoted that the “wayward woman” was one who enticed a man to sleep with her? (Think of Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39). It seems there has been a trend in society lately to always portray men as the aggressors and women as passive victims, but it’s not always so simple. Women can be just as capable of sin as men.
2. Marriage is good
He who finds a wife finds what is goodProverbs 18:22
and receives favour from the Lord.
Throughout the history of the church, there have always been people who have thought that marriage was a bit less ‘spiritual’. Proverbs does not allow us to think this way. Although the Bible has a lot to say about singleness – and single people are valued just as much as married people – marriage is a good thing. To be married – not just married but married well (as we’ll see later) – is finding favour from God.
In our culture today, there are still different attitudes towards marriage. Some people think that finding a husband or wife is the only thing which will make life worth living. Other people think that marriage and sex are too complicated and not worth pursuing. Proverbs cuts through both of those things: finding a wife (or husband) is to find favour from God – but it’s not the only way of finding favour with God! I think the tone here is exactly right. There are many good things in life, and finding a husband or wife is only one of them. At the same time, marriage is a good thing and we should celebrate it.
3. Sex within marriage is best
Drink water from your own cistern,Proverbs 5:15-19
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer –
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
A lot of people seem to think the Bible is against sex, or against having fun. It is neither of those things – in fact, the Bible wants us to have the maximum enjoyment possible in life. However, we need to recognise that enjoyment can only be found within the laws that God has given us. God designed sex to be a beautiful and wonderful thing within the confines of marriage.
In fact, it’s so special that it is “never to be shared with strangers”. The sexual love shared between a husband and wife is to be kept special and unique to each other. At the same time, that love is something to be rejoiced in. In fact Proverbs says a husband should be “intoxicated with her love” – not a way we often talk about marriage!
Many people see sex within marriage as boring and mundane. But the opposite is true – making love to one person for life actually is the place where desire and love can actually come to life. There are people who come to discover this and change their minds: a few years ago I read a piece in the Guardian newspaper about this. It was called “Want good sex? Get married”. As she put it:
My biggest worry was going to bed and waking up next to the same man for the rest of my life. I thought I would feel claustrophobic and get bored with his face – lovely though it is – day in and day out.
But fast forward two and a half years and I can say that getting married was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only am I the most content I’ve probably ever been – in life, in myself, in my career – but I’m also having the best sex I’ve ever had. The Big O is no longer like Father Christmas – making an appearance once a year (albeit accompanied by much excitement) and I can say categorically that the frisson does not fizzle out when you get hitched.
If you want to enjoy sex as much as possible, then do what Proverbs says we should: live life in God’s ways – get married!
4. A bad marriage is like a leaky roof
A quarrelsome wife is like the drippingProverbs 27:15
of a leaky roof in a rainstorm
Marriage has the power to be very good – unfortunately, by the same token, it also has the power to be harmful. Proverbs describes an argumentative wife like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm! Why is it that Proverbs says this?
Once again we’re back to warning. Many people want so much to get married that they do not sit down and consider carefully the pros and cons of both marriage, and their prospective marriage partner.
As a pastor, I have seen first hand what happens when someone marries someone who is bad for them. And the saddest thing of all is when I see a Christian and regular churchgoer marry someone who is not Christian – almost inevitably they stop coming to church.
So the message of Proverbs would be something like how the Book of Common Prayer puts it:
[Marriage] therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
A bad marriage can be very bad for you; therefore, make sure when you get married you do it carefully, prayerfully, and in the fear of God!
So – marriage is a good thing, even if it isn’t the only good thing. We need to be careful and prayerful when choosing a marriage partner and entering into marriage. Sex is best within marriage – that’s the way that God designed it to be. And sex outside of marriage – i.e. committing adultery – will lead to severe consequences, and we need to be warned.
Although this teaching is by no means the only thing the Bible has to say about marriage and sex, I think it’s a really helpful start. Especially in our culture today, where marriage is either over-valued or under-valued! I think it would be a great thing for us as a society if we could rediscover what Proverbs (and the rest of the Bible) has to teach about marriage. You won’t go far wrong if you stick with, and you will definitely be happier.