“restrain her.” The Hebrew is tsaphan (#06845 צָפַן), to hide. However, the reading “hide her” is difficult to most people, and in this context the word can have the meaning “restrain her,” that is, restrain her to stop her nagging and complaining (a few English versions do have “hide,” cp. Geneva Bible; KJV; NAB; NET; Rotherham; YLT). However, the meaning of the Hebrew word is “to hide,” and is extended to mean “to restrain.” Anyone who lives in a neighborhood where the houses are close together knows the embarrassment of having a heated argument in the house that the whole neighborhood can hear, and that is especially the case in nice weather when the windows are open. But in the biblical world every window was always more or less open because there were no glass windows, so a man with a nagging wife was constantly embarrassed. Thus, the husband wished he could hide his wife in a place where she could not be seen or heard, but since such a place was impossible to find in the tightly packed biblical villages and towns, hiding a nagging wife was like trying to hide the sound of the wind or to grasp oil; it could not be done.
Beyond the simple fact that one cannot hide the sound of the wind or grasp oil, there may be important subtle undertones that explain why wind and oil were used as comparisons to the nagging wife. The woman was a constant nag, and a constantly howling wind is a storm; thus, while the home was supposed to be a shelter from the storm, instead the storm was inside the house. Also, fragrant oil was often worn as a perfume by women and was meant to gladden the heart and enhance one’s sexuality and sensuality (Prov. 27:9; Song of Sol. 1:12; 4:13-14), but in this case the oil was wasted and ineffective because the woman was like oil that could not be grasped—and even grasped “in his right hand.” Biblically, the right hand was the hand of blessing. Thus the phrase seems to be intimating that if the man could grasp the “oil” it would be blessed, but alas, it could not even be grasped for a blessing. By her ungodly behavior the woman wasted the blessing that could have been hers (cp. Bruce Waltke, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Proverbs). [For more on the right hand being the hand of blessing, see commentary on Prov. 3:16 and Matt. 25:33].