An Ancient Bible Riddle Benefits Married Couples

Updated on November 22, 2018
MsDora profile image

MsDora is a Certified Christian Counselor. Her views on premarital and marital issues are influenced by her Christian beliefs.

The Best Man rises to deliver his wedding toast, and addressing his friend the Groom, he smiles as he warns:

“Drink water from your own cistern,
And running water from your own well.”
(Proverbs 5:15 New King James Version)

Drawing Water From A Well

Photo Credit: Neogeolegend
Photo Credit: Neogeolegend | Source

The modern couple and their guests question the necessity of a reminder to drink water, and they wonder at the reference to cistern and wells since they are no longer objects in common usage. However, when they hear the additional lines, they know that the words of the toast cannot be taken literally:

“Should your fountains be dispersed abroad,
Streams of water in the streets?
Let them be only your own,
And not for strangers with you.”
(Verses 16 and 17)

It must be a riddle (puzzle) since not sharing with strangers from a literal body of water is a selfish and inappropriate counsel for the new husband. So exactly what does this riddle mean? First, consider who composed it.

Author of the Riddle

King Solomon, the established author of Proverbs 5, begins the chapter with a warning for young men to avoid the company of immoral women. It is not certain whether he wrote this as a young man teaching his biological and spiritual sons how to live, or as an older man sharing wisdom from his experiences for “King Solomon loved many foreign women. . . He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines.” (1 Kings 11: 1, 3) Either way, Matthew Henry’s comment is applicable: “It is easier to see a mischief, and to show it to others, than to shun it ourselves.”

Given Solomon’s consequence of involvement with multiple wives (his wives turned away his heart.” 1 Kings 11:3), and his confession that foolishness and lack of self-control can cause a man to self-destruct (Proverbs 5:23), he is qualified to advise other men, even by using his wit and wisdom to present his warning in a riddle.

Interpretation of the Riddle

The people in Solomon’s original audience would have figured it out easily.

Cistern / Well

Woman symbolized by water seemed not to be an unthinkable reference. In Song of Songs Chapter 4:12 she is referred to again as a “spring shut up, a fountain sealed,” and in verse 15 as “a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.” In marriage, she became her husband’s private cistern, the one he selected. It conveyed an image of value since the cistern or well, according to the Pulpit Commentary was one of the most valuable attachment to an Eastern house.

Drink

"’Drinking’ carries with it the satisfying of a natural want,” states the Commentary. The husband had the right to have his thirst satisfied from his cistern.

Literally speaking, the riddle counseled the groom to practice fidelity in a non-adulterous relationship.

"Never Share It With Strangers" (NLT)

Photo Credit: Ricardo
Photo Credit: Ricardo | Source

Modern Input to the Riddle

According to the records of Bible authors and the dates of writing, this riddle was composed in the tenth century, and addressed to men. Modern thinking has progressed to the understanding that both the male and female need and can attain physical satisfaction in the relationship. The woman is not a silent partner. To help both the male and female achieve mutual fidelity and happiness in marriage, the following observations are necessary.

  • Both the male and female experience “natural wants” and both are entitled to pleasurable intimacy in the marriage.
  • Replenishing the “cistern”regularly (for example, with affection and appreciation), will empower her to supply the drinker adequately.
  • Fidelity (no sharing with strangers) is an equal-gender responsibility; no special consideration based on social customs. The cistern supplies only her own drinker; the drinker drinks only from his own cistern.

New Wording

The New Living Translation (1996) adds explanation to the riddle.

"Drink water from your own well—share your love only with your 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."

Benefits of Applying the Riddle

By the time Solomon's audience solved the riddle, he began to speak clearly about the benefits of following his advice. Modern couples, whether or not they are Bible practitioners, usually wish for the same outcomes. Applying the meaning of the riddle will be an asset.

  • "Let your fountain be blessed."

The blessing of the fountain, in the culture of Solomon's time, was primarily the children the wife bore. Solomon's counsel guaranteed that she (and no other woman) would be blessed with all her husband's children.

  • "And rejoice with the wife of your youth." (Verse 18)

The couple would have many joys to share about overcoming the bad times and delighting in the good times when, in old age, they still share a relationship with the mates they had in their youth.

Rejoicing Together In Later Years

Photo Credit: Ian MacKenzie
Photo Credit: Ian MacKenzie | Source
  • "Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love." (Verse 19)

    According to Matthew Poole's Commentary, Solomon is referring to the love expressed as the man lay between the woman's breasts in their most intimate embrace. This verse is as much an appreciation for her satisfaction of his needs in the past, as it is a suggestion to let it continue, ensuring that they love each other continually to the very end.

  • "For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He ponders all his paths." (Verse 21)

    Solomon gives a final reminder that no conduct is hidden from God's eyes. The man [or woman] who is faithful to the marriage vows, as advised by the riddle, will live with the freedom of a clear conscience—before the spouse and before God.


    Reference: Bible Hub Commentaries Proverbs 5:15-21, Copyright 2004-18 by Bible Hub.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Dora Weithers

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      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 days ago from The Caribbean

        Mona, thanks for your affirmation. Hope to encourage those who are married, and to counsel those who are contemplating it.

      • grand old lady profile image

        Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

        3 days ago from Philippines

        This is a lovely article about marriage, Ms. Dora. It's nice to know that living with one partner forever is vindicated in the Bible, but you explain it so well that each word further enlightens the reader on why the practice is both beautiful and relevant.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Eric, thanks for your kind comment. The Bible has many counsels for our everyday living and we cannot wrong by obeying them. God's continual blessings on your marriage!

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        3 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Dora you simply are my favorite Bible teacher. And I have known many many. I do not think my wife and I every studied these verses. But we sure do practice them. How sad it must be to not follow this wisdom.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Marlene, the quote certainly is critical and is one that married couples do well to read and practice. Thanks for your input.

      • MarleneB profile image

        Marlene Bertrand 

        3 weeks ago from USA

        Upon reading this verse, I have to admit that I did not fully understand it. I thought I did, but now after reading your interpretation, it makes perfect sense. Thank you for giving me a full understanding of a verse that is very critical in marital relationships.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thelma, thanks for your affirmation. It makes me really happy when my readers say they learn something new. There's so much more we all need to learn.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Denise. You received some wise counsel. Praying that you and your husband experience the joy you dream of and deserve in your later years.

      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 

        3 weeks ago from Germany and Philippines

        Very interesting quotes. These quotes are still applicable to today's world. Thanks for the explanation. I have learned a lot from this hub.

      • denise.w.anderson profile image

        Denise W Anderson 

        3 weeks ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

        Solomon was indeed wise in his counsel to others about the importance of the marriage covenant. I have heard it said that before marriage, we are to keep our eyes wide open, but after marriage, to keep them partially closed. Fidelity in marriage determines our happiness later in life. I love the picture of the elderly couple enjoying one another's company. The older I get, the more I want that for my husband and I.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Tim, I appreciate your very kind comments. I pray that I always live up to the expectations of readers like you. Thanks for the challenge!

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Yes, Flourish, the Bible gets specific about the way we should behave, Inside and outside marriage and in all areas of our lives. Now, you know!

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Liz, we think alike. Also some other readers express the same sentiment concerning their own life experiences. Bible principles make sense.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Hi Nell. True, some Bible sayings are confusing but the explanation is usually available, even in another location. So happy that you learned something.

      • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

        Tim Truzy 

        3 weeks ago from U.S.A.

        Hello, Ms. Dora,

        I have yet to read any article you have written which has not left me filled with interesting information and provide spiritual food.

        If anyone doubts the words of the wisest man to ever live (Solomon), then he deserves to walk the desert of loneliness, which is not what the Creator desires for us.

        Your article was like a spring of replenishing water, reminding all of us to cherish the relationships we have in marriage.

        Great read.

        Loved it.

        To a creative, inspiring, uplifting and prolific writer,

        May your day be peaceful.

        Sincerely,

        Tim

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        3 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Hi, all, the Bible contains the answer for all subjects or topics imaginable. Life, marriage, death, longevity, success and promotion, you find all in the Bible. Just get the topic and search the Bile as you google any word or word-group. God will not disappoint you. Thank you.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        3 weeks ago from USA

        If people are going to make a commitment they should absolutely stick to it. Thank you for the Biblical explanation. I didn’t know the Bible got so specific about certain things.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        3 weeks ago from UK

        This is a useful explanation. I tend to think that adhering to these principles would avoid a lot of problems in society.

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        3 weeks ago from England

        How interesting. I didn't know the quote, but I do know that a lot of the Bible sayings are confusing! lol! I learned something new again, thank you.

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        3 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Hey, Dora, I agree with you. But it is more than entertaining and instructional. It is the best medicine to prevent many venereal diseases like AID and HIV. That is why God initially encouraged one man, one wife, whether you are a Christian, Moslem, Buddhist or Athenism. Thank you and enjoy the day.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Linda, so do I. The Bible has many principles we can learn to help us improve our lives. This riddle is entertaining and instructional.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is an interesting riddle. Thank you for sharing its meaning, Dora. I always enjoy learning more about the Bible.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Sean, you are blessed like Solomon said, to be enjoying the wife of your youth. Thank you for sharing from your positive experience.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks Peg. Using water, that precious commodity, as a symbol for woman suggested her valuable worth. She is also the earthly source of life.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Bill H, may lack of response was not intentional. Solomon gets the credit for the interpretation since he eventually clarified as he continued the lesson. What wisdom!

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        3 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Hey NoName, so be it. And I do not see anything wrong with that. Fidelity or faithfulness is what is being discussed. I always sleep with my significant order and none else. Do you get me? Thank you.

      • profile image

        NoName 

        3 weeks ago

        If i thought of my own faith as submitting to the authority of God, i would be an ATHEIST. Figure that.

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        3 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        @both Peg Cole & Ioannis Arvanitis, I agreed with you. Those you can challenge the matter one way or the other are not submitting to the authority of God. Blessings!

      • Sean Dragon profile image

        Ioannis Arvanitis 

        3 weeks ago from Greece, Almyros

        My wife and I, we are together since we were sixteen years old and until now - 34 years later - we rejoice of the common cistern we have created! And this is an incomparable blessing! Love is the Spring of Life and Bliss!

        An excellent article my dear Sister! I hope many young people to read.

        Thank you for your constant willingness to help others!

        God Bless your noble Heart!

        Sean

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        4 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Great counsel as always and an important reminder of the teachings of Solomon and the Bible. There are many examples where water was considered a precious commodity in those times as it is now.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Manatita, if there is one redeeming quality about Solomon, it it his attempt to teach wisdom from his own experience. Apparently, although he acted so foolishly he still had access to the wisdom that God gave him.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thank you, Mary. The context is important especially in cases where the riddle is influenced by culture and environment unlike the reader's.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Jackie. We're hoping for the same outcome. Still, I'm smiling at what you used to think. A riddle is a riddle.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Bill H, it is an interesting riddle. The credit for the interpretation goes to Solomon himself because the more he spoke, the clearer the meaning became. Surely, a wise man!

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 

        4 weeks ago from london

        Interesting but morally stimulating advice from Solomon, drawing or trying to draw the couple away from Hades.

        Enough evidence to suggest that Solomon followed that same path

        So he seems to be suggesting caution and pious deeds.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

        Interesting take on this riddle. Sometimes, I try to understand the context before realizing that such decision by a person is wise. Only a riddle can make sense of it.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Bill, I appreciate your input. I think that even Solomon would be dumbfounded as to how he got into such a mess. He would certainly want us to learn from his mistakes and take his many counsels seriously.

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        4 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

        I used to think mostly men fell into the problem of drinking only from his own well but clearly today that is far from true. I hope you brought this message to many who need it. Never too late with forgiveness from God.

        Beautiful and thought provoking message, Dora.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        Very interesting, Dora. I was not familiar with this riddle. I love your interpretation.

      • lifegate profile image

        William Kovacic 

        4 weeks ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

        Thanks, Dora. As always, you've given good advice. I've often wondered what Solomon was thinking. It's hard for me to imagine even an unwise man falling into a mess as Solomon did.

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        4 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Hey, Dora, you are welcomed.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Miebakagh, seems that you have proven the benefit of this riddle in your own life. Great to let others know that it works.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Lori, happy to present this fun riddle. I enjoyed the research and the knowledge of how it still benefits couples.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        John, thanks for your affirmation. Solomon's wisdom far outweighed his foolishness. He was still wise enough to give counsel to others.

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        4 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Hey, Dora, faithfulness in marriage whether you are a Christian or not is what really pleased God. The man failed in this regard and lost the glory. As a person brought up in the Bible doctrines, I had known this scripture for long and put it into use, and I remained blessed with good health. Thanks for sharing.

      • lambservant profile image

        Lori Colbo 

        4 weeks ago from Pacific Northwest

        This was very interesting. I agree with John that Solomon, though very wise did not always make wise choices for himself. The writings of Solomon in the proverbs and the Song of songs on marriage are wise and beautiful. I'd never heard this riddle before and I know you worked hard to research it. Nice job.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        Thank you for explaining the riddle, MsDora. It is a good one for all married couples to try to live by. King Solomon was said to be the wisest man alive (whether or not he practiced what he preached) I think a lot of life lessons can be taken from his advice.

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