Just as the best defense is a good offense, so the best way to avoid adultery is to cultivate a healthy relationship with your spouse.
A healthy marriage is multidimensional. It is a “union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind,” in the words of the marriage service of The Book of Common Prayer. While other passages in Scripture address the union of heart and mind, Proverbs 5:15-23 addresses the union of bodies. It encourages husbands and wives to have an active sex life.
Drink water from your own cistern,
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.
Cistern and springs are metaphors for—how to put this delicately—a sexually excited woman and man, respectively. (You never thought you’d find racy stuff like this in the Bible, did you?) The repeated stress on the possessive pronoun your indicates that the wife’s body belongs to her husband. In 1 Corinthians 7:4, the Apostle Paul provides the balancing statement that the husband’s body also belongs to the wife. Marriage is thus a matter of mutual possession. And it is exclusive. Sexual intimacy between spouses is “never to be shared with strangers.”
Sexual mutuality and exclusivity are not the only aspects of married sex life. So is pleasure.
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 captivated by her love.
Some commentators detect an allusion to procreation in the phrase, “may your fountain be blessed.” That may be the case, but the overall emphasis of these verses is on the erotic dimensions of married sexuality, not on procreation. Marital sexuality is supposed to be a matter of blessedness, joy, satisfaction, and captivation to both partners. And that blessedness is supposed to increase with age. While many men in our day and age divorce their wives to marry younger women, Proverbs encourages men to seek joy “in the wife of your youth.”
The proverbist wraps up his advice with a warning regarding divine judgment.
Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?
Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?
For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord,
and he examines all his paths.
The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him;
the cords of his sin hold him fast.
He will die for lack of discipline,
led astray by his own great folly.
While the negative tone of verses 21-23 sits uncomfortably with the positive tone of verses 15-20, those words are nonetheless an apt conclusion to the entire chapter, which began with an extended warning against adultery (verses 1-14). Sexuality can be either a source of great blessing in marriage, or of great judgment in adultery. Your choices have consequences, which God guarantees. So when it comes to sex, choose wisely.