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What does it mean to “drink water from your own cistern” (Proverbs 5:15)?

drink water from your own cistern

Biblical wisdom literature is filled with figurative language. In Proverbs 5:15–20, Solomon symbolically compares water that sustains natural life with sexual intimacy that supports passion and emotional connection in the marital love life. He warns against sexual infidelity, advising couples to “drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well” (verse 15).

In the arid conditions of ancient Jerusalem, maintaining a fresh source of water was critical to life. Households typically used wells or collected and stored rainwater in underground cisterns. Like wells, cisterns were lined with plaster-like limestone to prevent them from leaking, or they were hollowed out of rock. Due to water scarcity, cisterns had to be guarded closely and carefully maintained. Naturally, it was preferable to drink from one’s own private supply than transport water from a public well or stream. And, of course, stealing water from another person’s supply was forbidden.

In the context of Proverbs 15:5, for a man to drink water from his own cistern is for him to share sensual love only with his wife: “Why spill the water of your springs in the streets, having sex with just anyone? You should reserve it for yourselves. Never share it with strangers. Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you” (Proverbs 5:16–18, NLT). Like spilling precious water into the streets, adultery is wasting one’s love on strangers.

The command to drink water from your own cistern forbids marital infidelity of any form. Sexual intimacy is to be guarded exclusively for the joy, pleasure, and fulfillment of love between a husband and a wife (Hebrews 13:4). Solomon develops similar imagery in Song of Solomon: “You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride, a secluded spring, a hidden fountain. . . . You are a garden fountain, a well of fresh water streaming down from Lebanon’s mountains” (Song of Solomon 4:12, 15, NLT). God blesses sexual intimacy, but it is a “private garden,” “secluded spring,” and “hidden fountain” to be enjoyed, cherished, and shared only by married couples and not in any other relationship.

God designed sex not just for procreation but for refreshment and pleasure to be experienced by two people in the covenant of marriage (Genesis 1:28; 2:18, 23–24; Matthew 19:4–6; 1 Corinthians 7:32–34; Song of Solomon 4:16—5:1, 19). Physical intimacy is God’s gift to strengthen a married couple’s emotional bond. In Solomon’s metaphor, sexual intimacy in marriage is like a satisfying drink of pure, cool spring water. But committing adultery is like stealing someone else’s water or ingesting polluted water from a drainage ditch or sewer.

Folly, personified as an immoral woman, equates extramarital sex to pilfered water or secreted food: “Stolen water is refreshing; food eaten in secret tastes the best!” (Proverbs 9:17, NLT). Solomon gives a warning to those who heed Folly: “Little do they know that the dead are there. Her guests are in the depths of the grave” (Proverbs 9:18, NLT). At first, sex beyond the bounds of marriage may seem exciting and enjoyable, but it eventually defiles and destroys everyone who partakes of it (Proverbs 6:20–35).

The Bible teaches that God is the ultimate spring of living water, a fountain welling up to eternal life (Jeremiah 17:13; John 4:10–26; 7:37). In prophetic Scripture, unfaithfulness to God is compared to adultery, using a similar metaphor: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Jesus further intensified the instruction to drink water from your own cistern. He said that even looking with lust or fantasizing about someone other than your spouse is the same as committing adultery (Matthew 5:27–28). Paul taught married couples that their bodies (including their hearts, minds, and eyes) belong exclusively to each other (1 Corinthians 7:3–4). All of a man’s sexual energy is to be focused on his wife, and all of a woman’s sexual desire is to be directed to her husband.

When a husband and wife are faithful to their covenant, they love each other unselfishly as Christ loves the church. They also love each other exclusively, never seeking sexual satisfaction anywhere else (Ephesians 5:22–33).

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What does it mean to “drink water from your own cistern” (Proverbs 5:15)?
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This page last updated: October 26, 2022