What does Proverbs 9:17 mean?
ESV: “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
NIV: Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!'
NASB: 'Stolen water is sweet; And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.'
CSB: "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten secretly is tasty! "
NLT: 'Stolen water is refreshing; food eaten in secret tastes the best!'
KJV: Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.
NKJV: “Stolen water is sweet, And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
Verse Commentary:
Solomon is contrasting the life-giving invitation of Wisdom, personified as a woman (Proverbs 9:1–6), with the death-bringing seduction of Folly, also imagined as an inviting woman (Proverbs 9:13–16). Earlier passages in Proverbs made comparisons between adultery and foreign water (Proverbs 5:15–18), and depicted a predatory woman seducing foolish men (Proverbs 7:7–27). This verse points out that sin tempts people by claiming that God is withholding good things from us, so we should defy His commands and enjoy what we want (Genesis 3:1–6). The imagery of "stolen water" and "bread eaten in secret" is meant to evoke the idea of something forbidden or taken through illicit means.

However, what Folly offers is far inferior to what Wisdom promises. Wisdom's invitation included mixed wine and prepared meat (Proverbs 9:2). Somehow, human nature prefers what God has placed off limits to the things He has approved. In the garden of Eden, God told our first parents, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" (Genesis 2:16–17). Our first parents were not content to limit themselves to God's generous provision; they ate what was forbidden (Genesis 3:6).

The adulterer believes illicit sex is more satisfying than sex between a husband and wife, which God has sanctioned (Genesis 1:28). He also believes his sin will remain secret; however it is not hidden from God's pervasive gaze (Hebrews 4:13). And the ultimate result of sin is not happiness, but death (Proverbs 9:18; Romans 6:23).
Verse Context:
Proverbs 9:13–18 closes the chapter by describing Folly's call and the tragedy of succumbing to it. Solomon began this chapter of Proverbs with a call from a proverbial Lady Wisdom, for others to feast at her table. Between the two sections of this chapter, he presented two different responses to the call. A wise person responds positively, but a scoffer rejects the call. The depiction of Folly mirrors that of wisdom: making similar invitations, but with drastically different results. This parallels the evil temptations of the adulterous woman described earlier (Proverbs 7:7–27).
Chapter Summary:
Wisdom is portrayed as a dignified woman who prepares a spacious house and feast. She invites those who are gullible and lacking judgment to improve their wisdom, by accepting her invitation. She urges invitees to abandon their simple ways and walk in the way of insight. Solomon then contrasts the attitudes of those who sincerely seek truth, compared to those who hate being corrected. The chapter ends with a description of Wisdom's mirror image: Folly. She is seductive and ignorant. She invites the gullible to enter her house, promising that immorality is enjoyable and pleasant. Sadly, those who are seduced do not realize her invitation leads to ruin and damnation.
Chapter Context:
In chapter 7, Solomon portrayed an evil woman (Proverbs 7:7–27). In chapter 8 he portrays wisdom as a refined lady who offers instruction to all who heed her call. Chapter 9 contrasts Lady Wisdom with the evil Woman Folly, who lures the foolish to their ruin. This extended warning about the dangers of rejecting God's wisdom leads into an extended collection of standalone proverbial comments, beginning in chapter 10.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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