Proverbs 2:16-19 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Proverbs 2:16
  • Proverbs 2:17
  • Proverbs 2:18
  • Proverbs 2:19

Temptation threatens to drive us away from reality, from truth. Its falsity leads to deadness. Wisdom can save us from believing in the seduction of the flesh.

Solomon personifies temptation as a woman. She is partnered with the “man who speaks perverse things” (see notes on Proverbs 2:12-15) as a sort of antithesis to the “instruction and teaching” of “your father and mother” in Proverbs 1:8. In that eighth verse of Chapter 1, Solomon implores his young audience “do not forsake” these valuable teachings from positive parental voices. Here in Chapter 2, he personifies forces that try to allure us to forsake wisdom. This personified strange woman or adulteress also resonates as the forsaken alternative to the honored woman in Chapter 31 and, most directly, to Lady Wisdom (see notes on Proverbs 1:20-23).

Just like in the previous section, God’s wisdom will deliver its student from the perverse way. Temptation’s goal is to draw us away from what we are created to be. The two words to describe this woman are similar in nature—strange and adulteress. The words (“zuwr” and “nokriy” in Hebrew) both have the root of strange or unfamiliar. So temptation is personified here as something alien or other. She flatters with her words in an effort to pervert and derail us from the proper path that leads to our true benefit.

The adulterous woman has left the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God. The adulteress was married as a young woman, as would be typical of Jewish girls in that era. But she has left the companionship of the husband she married in her youth. She now seeks companionship among strange men. In doing so, she breaks God’s laws. God set up Israel to be self-governing, a society where individuals police themselves, and focus on mutual care and respect for one another. Family stability is one of the core requirements for self-governance. Adultery disrupts family stability, and therefore was forbidden. The seventh of the Ten Commandments prohibits adultery explicitly.

Accordingly, by leaving her husband for a life of adultery, the adulteress forgets the covenant of her God. She is breaking the covenant between God and His people. A covenant that was for their good. A covenant that set up a society with mutual cooperation and service toward one another. A society where children and homes are honored and cherished, and families are secure. A society free from envy, theft, and violence. That is the kind of society that stems from keeping God’s covenant. The alternative is to prioritize our own appetites. To focus on extracting from others for our own pleasure. This leads to abuse and violence. It is the way of evil.

Temptation alters the natural order of things, God’s design for the world is based on harmony and mutual cooperation. This way of evil is a stranger to true reality. The adulterous woman has left the truth and gone her own way. She has forgotten God’s promises for her and proclamations of reality. Instead of seeking life, her ways lead to death. And, if Solomon’s audience is not careful, she will tempt them away also.

God’s design for life is for His people to be in communion with Him by being in communion with one another. This self-governing community is created by following God’s covenant laws. The adultery of this personified temptation is a turning away from God’s true design of reality.

Lady Wisdom represents the Spirit and the truth. This strange woman represents the flesh, our sin. The way of the world. Solomon is setting up the nature of discernment and wisdom, the key to living life well—we must choose between these two paths.

Temptation’s house sinks down to death. She builds on a worldly foundation and her ways lead to destruction and decay. No matter how flattering her words, the rotten foundation dooms the house. In the same way, her tracks lead to the dead. Her path and the wake she leaves behind is one of death. So not only is she doomed but those who follow her tracks are dead as well.

Death is separation. Adam and Eve were separated from Eden as a result of their sin. Exile is a form of death. There are many other forms of death. The passage does not specify numerous ways the adulteress’ path can bring forth death. But it seems apparent that death of marital fidelity could be expected. And with it a death of familial harmony. A death of mutual focus on the best interest of children would be replaced with a focus on “my passions.” The entire house will experience death.

The stakes could not be higher. None who go to her return again. Like Lady Wisdom’s harsh words in Chapter 1, Solomon is not pulling any punches here— those who choose this strange path distort reality and walk in darkness. Once they give themselves to a false reality, they are lost and they do not reach the paths of life. Solomon seems to be saying to his young audience, “Don’t leave thinking you can just come back any day. It is hard to change courses when you have built a foundation. It is hard to detach from a master to whom you have entrusted yourself.”

Wisdom is baked into the DNA of reality. If we ignore it or choose against it, we disqualify ourselves from living in the fullness of life.

Will Solomon’s reader choose to forget God and turn away from wisdom? If one chooses the path of the flesh, they will not return from death or reach the paths life.

Biblical Text

To deliver you from the strange woman,
From the adulteress who flatters with her words;

17 That leaves the companion of her youth
And forgets the covenant of her God;

18 For her house sinks down to death
And her tracks lead to the dead;

19 None who go to her return again,
Nor do they reach the paths of life.

Check out our other commentaries:

  • Deuteronomy 16:13-15 meaning

    The Israelites were commanded to joyfully celebrate the Feast of Booths with all those who belong to them. This feast commemorated the journey from Egypt......
  • Amos 6:9-11 meaning

    Amos illustrates how the LORD’s judgment on Samaria will decimate the population. Even if ten people gather in one house for safety, they will not......
  • Acts 5:1-6 meaning

    Two believers, Ananias and his wife Sapphira, sell property just as other believers have been doing. However, they plot to keep some of the money......
  • Romans 9:17-18 meaning

    Paul uses another example from the Old Testament to show God’s sovereignty. God raised Pharaoh, a wicked heathen king who rejected God, to a position......
  • Deuteronomy 11:29-32 meaning

    Moses commands the Israelites to have a covenant-renewal ceremony in Canaan soon after entering the land.......