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Proverbs 1-9 / Who is the strange woman?

Discussion in 'General Theology' started by Apex, Sep 3, 2017.

  1. Apex

    Apex Radical Centrist & Ethicist

    United States
    There has been three main ways the "foreign/strange woman" in Proverbs 5 has been interpreted in modern times.

    1. As an immoral woman irrespective of ethnicity.
    2. As an Israelite woman who is an "outsider" in her community due to her immoral sexual behavior.
    3. As a non-Israelite foreigner who worships idols.

    I subscribe to the last position.

    The two Hebrew words used in this chapter to describe her are zar (strange) and nakri (foreign).

    The Hebrew word nakri means "foreign". We see it used in conjunction with a person to mean a non-Israelite foreigner in numerous verses such as Exodus 21:8, Deuteronomy 17:15, 1 Kings 11:1, Ezra 10:2, Judges 19:12, and 2 Chronicles 6:32.

    The Hebrew word zar means "strange/different/other". This word can have various meanings, but context drives each meaning. When combined with nakri (as in Proverbs 1-9), the context is someone foreign to the Israelite people.

    There is simply no good reason to interpret these common and straightforward Hebrew words as anything else, but that is not what we see in most English translations. We confusingly see these words translated as forbidden woman, adulteress, seductress, another man's wife, immoral woman, loose woman, promiscuous woman, and even adventuress! However, these same translations prove inconsistent by translating these same words differently in the same passage (see v. 17 compared to v.20, in the ESV, NIV84, NKJV, and NRSV).

    I believe that the author of Proverbs 1-9 and his original audience would have had the backdrop of Deuteronomy 7, Ezra 10, and the age of the kings in their minds. Thus, it is not hard to see how the motif of the dangers of foreign women carried on into these words of wisdom. Deuteronomy 7 warns against exogamy with Israel's foreign neighbors to pervert the temptation of idolatrous practices. Ezra/Nehemiah and 1/2 Kings show us the consequences of not following this law. Foreign women time and time again influenced Israelite husbands and kings into apostasy. Think of the story of Solomon and that of Jezebel. We typically see the bad kings being related to foreign mothers and good kings related to Israelite mothers.

    Deuteronomy 7:3-4
    You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.

    Ezra 10:2-3
    And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. 3 Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law.

    1 Kings 11:1-4
    Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 3 He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.

    When we read Proverbs 5 with this same motif in mind and with the proper (and consistent) English translations of zar and nakri, we can clearly see that the teacher is telling his son to steer clear of foreign woman. He fears they will use their clever words and sexual prowess to tempt them into apostasy - which ultimately leads to spiritual death. Drinking from your own cistern and flowing water from your own well (v. 15) means not drinking from polluted and broken cisterns of false gods. The teacher wants his students to pick wives that practice the true faith (which here means non-foreign Israelite women). Jeremiah uses the same imagery.

    Jeremiah 2:11-13
    Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. 12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

    The teacher in Proverbs also states that the same goes for Israelite women. They should not be given into marriage with these idolatrous foreigners (v. 17). Instead they are told that their faithful Israelite wives can provide the same pleasures as the foreign women. There is no need to be lead astray by what the foreign woman promises to offer (v. 18-20). This is how his sons can stay on the righteous path and keep their faith pure.

    This passage talks about sex, but that is not its focus; it is about not marrying foreign women who practice a false faith. It is not about preventing adultery; it is about preventing idolatry. This passage, therefore, cannot be used to promote the dangers of per-marital or extra-martial sex.

    Paul gives the same advice to the church in Corinth.

    2 Corinthians 6:14-16
    Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.
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  2. Mark51

    Mark51 Newbie Supporter

    In support, it also seems to me that the context of “strange women” is referring to a prostitutes or women from foreign nations that the ancient Jews were encountering. Scriptures show that these “women” were literally human, but it is also used as “similes.” See Proverbs 2:16, 17; 5:15; 22:14; Jeremiah 2:25; 3:13.