Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Proverbs 5: The Secret Fountain v. the Polluted Stream

Proverbs 5 is labeled, in some translations, a warning against immoral women. But one can read the proverb allegorically, as contrasting the private delight of a chaste marriage with the shame and despair of sexual faithlessness.

The proverb begins with an extended warning against an archetype, a woman who seduces men but ruins them. It is interesting to note that the first part of her that is vilified is actually her mouth: "the lips of a loose woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood" (5:3).

This proverb might be best suited for a man who is struggling with the temptations of lusty noncommittal women. But for the man struggling against homosexuality it is not difficult to transfer the "loose woman" into an allegory for the gay community as a whole. With its slogans and sex-ridden poetry and hyper-sensual gatherings, the gay community does entice people with ideas that look sweet and smooth as oil.

But then see what the proverb states will follow if one is drawn by the smell of honey. The proverb states, "her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol." (5:5-6).

Later the text tells us that she will end up stealing one's cherished titles and distributing them aimlessly to others: "do not go near the door of her house; lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless; lest strangers take the fill of your strength and your labors go to the house of an alien" (5:9-11).

I had to read the verses above a few times to figure out what the proverb is saying about the "loose woman." Is she actually a thief who only plots to take your hard work and let others share in it? Is this a portrait of cuckolding?

The next line gives some clarity: "at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, 'How I hated discipline!'" (5:12-13).

There is a sense that the lack of boundaries between the man and the loose woman deprives him of necessary boundaries not only in sex but also in other parts of his life. If he is willing to make love to a woman whom he hasn't exchanged vows with, then why should anybody honor any deals or contracts made with him?

Sex, when unmoored from its safe context of chastity, ends up unraveling everything in a person's life. Work, home, friendships, worship, and even one's civic identity all become muddied, confused, and poisoned. Water serves as a useful metaphor in the proverb as the chapter contrasts drinking "from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well" with "springs" "scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets." (5:15-18).

The most refreshing water, the chapter tells us, comes from the private fountain -- "the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a graceful doe." The imagery of pollution here is tied intricately into the imagery of public/private boundaries being obscured. The joy and happiness come with the clear, pure waters of one's own fountain rather than the filthy water running through the streets.

Water is like one's spirit, and lovemaking is like a pouring of spirit just like a pouring of water from a jar. One problem with the temptations of gay life is the public identity of gayness, which dictates that you must "come out" and when you have relations, you are not only communing with one person but with the whole political meaning of the person's gayness. You make love not only to one person but to the whole community. Your lover begins by being reduced to a fungible and vague category -- "I am for you because you are gay and I am a man and gay" rather than "I am for you because I am your private fountain and our love is what God designed." There is no way to replicate the privacy and personal closeness of the male-female bond in a world so overdetermined by political identity. Hence the "water" of gay sexuality is like the water running dirty through the streets.