The importance of the marriage covenant is a recurring theme in Proverbs. The book’s fifth chapter is a poem that speaks against adultery. This passage marks the first of three sets of instructions from a father to a son regarding proper sexual relationships (Proverbs 5:1-23, 6:20-35, 7:1-27). Perhaps because adultery is a selfish act, the sage does not discuss infidelity’s affects upon a wife or child but instead focuses on the negative consequences to the adulterer himself. After discussing the merits of the right and wrong woman at length (Proverbs 5:1-20), the sage moves to the larger picture of sin in general (Proverbs 5:21-23). He affirms that sin comes with consequences (Proverbs 5:22).
His own iniquities will capture the wicked, And he will be held with the cords of his sin. (Proverbs 5:22 NASB)Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) interprets:
the father has saved his most powerful argument for last. Thus far he has warned concerning quite human dangers...But the ultimate motivation for not entering into an illicit relationship is because...God is watching, and so the punishments of Proverbs 5:22-23 (ultimately death) are not a matter of chance, but certainty; the implication is that no matter what particular form the punishment might take, God will assure that it will happen. The sin of the adulterers will come back and harm them (Proverbs 5:22). (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 162-63)The sage personifies sin by painting a picture of a weaver getting caught in his own web. While the Seductress may seem to entrap the man, the real predator is Sin. To commit a sin is to eventually be caught in one’s own trap. Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) explain, “The writer presents a more prudential approach. Whether or not the sinner is aware of it, the consequences of sin remain with the sinner. Just as a trap catches and holds the unwary animal, so sin will catch and hold the sinner (Kravitz and Olitzky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 54).”
Ironically, the sinner thinks that he is exercising freedom while in reality the transgressor is actually ensnaring himself. In referencing this verse, Joshua Harris (b. 1974) writes, “We can either be captives of righteousness or captives of sin...The man and woman who embraced the immediate pleasure of sex outside of marriage may think that they are experiencing freedom, but the opposite is true—the tentacles of sin are reaching up, binding them, and dragging them toward death (Harris, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, 145).”
Leo G. Perdue (b. 1946) explains:
a saying forming a couplet brings the instruction to its culmination (Proverbs 5:22-23). The proverb affirms, first of all, that a wicked person is requited by means of the very iniquity that she or he causes (Proverbs 5:22), and second, that those who practice evil die because they lack instruction and are entrapped by folly (Proverbs 5:23).” (Perdue, Proverbs (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), 122)As Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) wrote in his poem “Tomlinson”, “For the sin ye do by two and two ye must pay for one by one!”
How important is the stability of the marriage covenant to a society’s success? Has its significance decreased since Proverbs was written? Are there always earthly consequences to sin?
The sage’s explanation for the consequences of sin is two-fold. Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) explains that Proverbs 5:10-21 states “that clandestine affairs cannot be hidden from God, who will take action. Retribution is expressed in the poem in two ways: through the direct action of God (Proverbs 5:21), and through the inherent self-correcting action of the universe (Proverbs 5:22). The Bible often affirms both agencies without attempting to bring them into theoretical unity. (Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 72)
Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) conjectures that God designed the universe in such a way that there would be natural consequences for sin:
As Proverbs 5:21-23 makes clear, this teaching is not safely cordoned off as ethical—it is theological too. Wisdom and righteousness, wickedness and folly, strongly correlate and overlap. In God’s providence the usual form of punishment for infidelity can transpire by natural means during this earthly life...Yet these means are not solely natural...God...superintends the historical course of the cosmos so as to promote the integrity of covenant relationships, whereby we manifest the faithful character of our Creator. (Treier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 36)Are actions designated as sin because certain deeds were arbitrarily selected or are sinful acts appropriated as such because God set boundaries around behavior that has negative ramifications for humanity? Which treatise better fits a world shaped by a loving God?
“All human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions.” - Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)