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Please help me understand the meaning of,"your wife in your youth" in Proverbs 5:18. Thank you in advance.

NIV Proverbs 5: 15Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. 18May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love. 20Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?

Hebrew Interlinear:

http://biblehub.com/interlinear/proverbs/5-18.htm

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The phrase in Hebrew is אֵשֶׁת נְעוּרֶךָ, "the wife of your youth".

The entire second line of the verse is וּשְׂמַח מֵאֵשֶׁת נְעוּרֶךָ, which is usually translated "rejoice in the wife of your youth".

The use of "rejoice" for this translation is probably the closest English gets to the meaning of the Hebrew imperative שְׂמַח (smach), but "rejoice" lacks the implication of satisfaction that smach has in Hebrew usage. So the Hebrew phrase not only means "rejoice" but it also contains the imperative "be satisfied with". That is, the phrase is a double entendre.

Furthermore, the use of the preposition מֵ, (mey), "from" before "wife" rather than the usual בְ, (be) "in" with the verb smach, makes it clear that the intent of the verse is "Be satisfied with [your first wife,] the wife that you married when you were young[, and don't go looking for satisfaction in additional women]. From the vantage point of my 65 years of age I can vouch that this is in fact trustworthy advice.

  • +1. You've drawn attention to the attitude the Bible has about polygamy. While there may be many instances of men in the Bible who married more than one wife, in virtually each case, the heartache and trouble which ensued speaks volumes about why men of God should be one-woman men! – rhetorician Aug 9 '17 at 13:55
  • @rhetorician I wouldn't say "the Bible", I would say "the author of Proverbs". This is one view of many in the OT. There is certainly a strong bias in favor of monogamy in the OT, especially for common people, but no ruling out of polygamy, especially when there is an objective reason, commonly infertility or a marriage to a destitute relative in countries where there is no other form of social support. There are still a few of these marriages in the community in which I live, where Jews immigrated from the Arabian peninsula with more than one wife. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Aug 9 '17 at 14:08
  • I disagree respectfully. Granted, life presents us all with difficult, sticky situations, and God understands that. Regarding polygamy, certainly God did not smite those godly men who for various reasons had multiple wives. Some reasons were obviously legitimate, particularly when a woman would starve to death without the security of a husband and a stable family life. Then, too, the stigma of childlessness was perhaps much more severe in OT times than today. Nevertheless, Jesus reiterated in no uncertain terms that God's standard is one husband, one wife, for life. Elders & deacons are to be – rhetorician Aug 9 '17 at 19:49
  • one-women men (or one-husband women, if applicable). See 1 Timothy 3:2 and 12, for example. In conclusion, I would not point an accusatory finger at a polygamist (technically, a polygynist) who for humanitarian reasons married more than one wife. On the other hand, if there were no humanitarian reason and simply fleshly desire behind the marriage, I think if I were in leadership in the church where this man was a member, I would object strongly to his decision to marry a second (or third or fourth) wife, even if he could afford to do so! – rhetorician Aug 9 '17 at 19:59

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