Questions From Readers
Did the writer of Proverbs 30:19 truly feel that how a man slyly seduces a maiden was “too wonderful”?
That is a possible meaning of Proverbs 30:19, which admittedly is not an easy verse to understand.
In seeking the sense of this verse, we should not ignore the context. Just before this passage, the inspired writer listed four things that in a way are insatiable. (Proverbs 30:15, 16) Then he set out this list: “There are three things that have proved too wonderful for me, and four that I have not come to know: the way of an eagle in the heavens, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the heart of the sea and the way of an able-bodied man with a maiden.”—Proverbs 30:18, 19.
What could have been “wonderful” in these four things?
Perhaps feeling that “wonderful” must imply positive or good, some scholars explain that each of the four things displays the wisdom of God’s creation: the marvel of how a large bird can fly, how a legless snake can move across a rock, how a heavy ship can stay afloat in a turbulent sea, and how a robust youth can fall hopelessly in love and marry a sweet maiden, and then they produce a wonderful human child. One professor found in the four things another similarity, that each travels a route that is ever new—the going of eagle, serpent, and ship where there is no path and the newness of a couple’s developing love.
However, the four things need not be “wonderful” in a good sense, as if what they have in common is something positive. Proverbs 6:16-19 lists “things that Jehovah does hate.” And as noted, just before the verses in question, Proverbs 30:15, 16 lists things (Sheol, a childless womb, parched land, and a raging fire) that never say, “Enough!” Certainly they are not wonderfully good.
The Hebrew word rendered “wonderful” at Proverbs 30:18 means “to separate, to distinguish; to make distinguished, extraordinary, wonderful.” A thing can be distinguished, extraordinary, or wondered at without being good. Daniel 8:23, 24 foretold a fierce king who would cause ruin “in a wonderful way” and “bring mighty ones to ruin,” including the holy ones.—Compare Deuteronomy 17:8; 28:59; Zechariah 8:6.
The verse following Proverbs 30:18, 19 may provide a clue as to what the writer found difficult to understand. Pr 30 Verse 20 mentions an adulterous woman who “has eaten and has wiped her mouth and . . . said: ‘I have committed no wrong.’” Perhaps with secrecy and artifice she had sinned, but since there was no trace of her crime, she could profess innocence.
There is a similarity to the preceding list. An eagle soars through the sky, a serpent crosses a rock, a ship cuts through the waves—none leaves a trail, and it would be difficult to trace the path of any of the three. If this is the commonality of the three, what of the fourth, “the way of an able-bodied man with a maiden”?
This also can be rather untraceable. A young man may employ guile, smoothness, and cunning ways to slide into the affections of an innocent virgin. Being inexperienced, she may not detect his wiles. Even after being seduced, she might be at a loss to say how he won her; observers too might find it difficult to explain. Still, many young women have lost their virtue to wily seducers. It is hard to trace the path of such slippery men, yet they have a goal, as does an eagle in flight, a gliding serpent, or a ship at sea. With seducers, the objective is sexual exploitation.
In this light the point of Proverbs 30:18, 19 is not about scientific or mechanical things in creation. Rather, the passage offers us a moral warning, just as Proverbs 7:1-27 warns about avoiding the dangers of a persuasive harlot. One way Christian sisters can take to heart the caution of Proverbs 30:18, 19 is regarding men who profess interest in learning the Bible. If a friendly man, even a workmate, seems to show such interest, a sister should direct him to a brother in the congregation. The brother can satisfy any genuine interest without the dangers of “an able-bodied man with a maiden.”