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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.

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  • +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! Aug 9, 2017 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.
    – user17080
    Aug 9, 2017 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 Aug 9, 2017 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! Aug 9, 2017 at 19:59
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In Proverbs 5:18 what is meant by “your wife in your youth”?

The Bible is not priggish on sexual relation, for the wise King Solomon said:

Proverbs 5:18-19 (NRSV)

18 "Let your fountain be blessed,and rejoice in the wife of your youth, 19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe. May her breasts satisfy you at all times; may you be intoxicated always by her love."

The phrase "let your fountain be blessed " refers to sexual gratification, and loving satisfaction and enjoyment that a married couple have within the marital arrangement, so King Solomon rhetorically asks:

20 "Why should you be intoxicated, my son, by another woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?"(Prov. 5:20 NRSV)

One should be steadfast to see life with the woman that you first married, Solomon said:

Ecclesiastes 9:9 (NASB)

9 "Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun."

Military law exempted men from military service for one year ,in order to give happiness to his wife, and perhaps have a child because the husband may die in battle.

Deuteronomy 24:5 (NASB)

5 “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken."

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Understood allegorically, the "wife of thy youth" basically means Wisdom. Proverbs 1:6 makes clear that what follows are "dark sayings" -- i.e., parables, allegories and enigmas; those limited to literal interpretation will miss the riches Proverbs offers. Throughout Proverbs Wisdom is personified as a woman.

The wife of thy youth is contrasted with the "strange woman" (harlot) of Proverbs. In commentaries of Church Fathers the strange woman is variously interpreted as a symbol for: (1) sexual pleasure; (2) all sensual pleasure; (3) interest generally in the material world (as opposed to spiritual-mindedness); (4) secular learning; and (5) false religious doctrines.

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    Hello there John, glad to have you with us. This site works a little differently than other sites you are perhaps familiar with. Make sure to take the tour to get yourself familiar. Thanks! (hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour)
    – sara
    Aug 20, 2019 at 6:34
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Solomon had many wives. He was saying do not forget your first wives because there is a beautiful relationship there. Abraham, David, Solomon, Jacob all had multiple wives. It is a difficult argument to say Solomon who had many wives was advocating for monogamy.

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    – agarza
    Aug 17, 2022 at 3:13
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I am a wife, once divorced after 3 years and two children due to adultery by my first husband. We ended up divorced, not through my choice, but my husband. Two years later, I married a man who had been previously married and his wife was the adulter. We lived together for 40 years, married 38, we loved each other and had a great deal of respect. He passed away in Jan2022. I started looking a year ago for someone to share the remainder of my life with. Do you think God would find any of that wicked?

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  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – agarza
    Oct 22, 2023 at 22:51
  • @ Jana McPhail - Your personal testimony is quite complicated; but congratulations on 38 years of marriage. However an evaluation on "the biblical status" would best be considered in a pastoral counseling session, not on this website. Also, your answer doesn't really address the topic of this posted question: the meaning of "the wife of your youth." Keep drawing close to the God of the Bible, as you study the Bible. Peace!
    – ray grant
    Oct 23, 2023 at 21:25

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