The beginning of Proverbs (Ch. 1-9) contains 10 lessons of wisdom. Here in this post we will examine the tenth and final lesson before the conclusion or grand finale, “Two Invitations: Wisdom vs. Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18).”
Lesson # 10 is a warning against the sin of adultery. The need to say “no” to sex outside of marriage has been a dominant theme in these wisdom speeches. As is typical, this didactic poem employs synonymous parallelism throughout and begins with the words, “My son.” We are introduced to three characters here:
- The “Prostitute”: a woman who engages in sexual activity for payment, feeding on the loneliness, lust and insecurity of men (v 26).
- The “Adulteress”: a married woman who engages in sexual activity outside of marriage and is unfaithful to her husband (v 24, 29).
- The “Cuckold”: the betrayed (and angry) husband of the adulteress, the man whose wife has been unfaithful to him with another man (v 29, 34-35).
Entanglements with any of these three characters will lead to the son’s demise.
20 My son, keep your father’s command
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
21 Bind them always on your heart;
fasten them around your neck.
22 When you walk, they will guide you;
when you sleep, they will watch over you;
when you awake, they will speak to you.
23 For this command is a lamp,
this teaching is a light,
and correction and instruction
are the way to life,
24 keeping you from your neighbor’s wife,
from the smooth talk of a wayward woman.
(Prov 6:20-24, NIV)
This introductory section resembles the great “Shema” (from Deut 6:3-6), as the son is told to bind the teaching around his heart and his neck. The imagery means memorizing these words of wisdom in such a way that they become permanently impressed on his mental and spiritual being. The father’s wisdom is to be not just learned, but internalized. When it is, it will become an inner lamp, illuminating the son’s path with guidance from the divine and provide protection. Notice the interplay with the word “keep” (or “guard”), the father says to “guard” (v 20) the teaching, and then the teaching will “guard” (keep) you (v 24).
25 Do not lust in your heart after her beauty
or let her captivate you with her eyes.
(Prov 6:25, NIV)
The danger in mind here is the “wayward woman,” a hazard which begins in the heart of the son, with his own lust. This is why Jesus taught that adultery takes place in the human heart (Matt 5:27-28). Human sin always starts in the imagination (James 1:14-16). This is why the last of the ten commandments (the close of Decalogue) has to do with the sin of coveting (Ex 20:17), including that of another man’s wife. Notice here it begins with seemingly innocent eye contact, the father speaks of her eyelids as an embellished picture of her charm. Don’t fall for her tricks.
26 For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread,
but another man’s wife preys on your very life.
(Prov 6:26, NIV)
Here a “prostitute” is distinguished from a married woman, or adulteress, the former is satisfied with a relatively small payment, whereas the latter hunts for the son’s precious life. (Note – the first part of verse 26 is difficult to translate and also interpret. It may read “on account of a prostitute you are reduced to a loaf of bread” making the son the one who is devalued. This may be the case.) Nonetheless, the argument the father is making is clear, there is severe danger with adultery. Bruce Waltke observes that the price of adultery is severe, inevitable, and unending. (a)
27 Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?
28 Can a man walk on hot coals
without his feet being scorched?
29 So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.
(Prov 6:27-29, NIV)
Here the inevitability of danger is put on display with two illustrations involving fire. With rhetorical questions, engaging the listener in thoughtful participation, the reader is expected to answer both negatively with “of course not!” If you touch a blazing oven, you will be seared for life. Next, the father compares and contrasts the sin of adultery and the sin of theft…
30 People do not despise a thief if he steals
to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.
31 Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold,
though it costs him all the wealth of his house.
32 But a man who commits adultery has no sense;
whoever does so destroys himself.
33 Blows and disgrace are his lot,
and his shame will never be wiped away.
34 For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury,
and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.
35 He will not accept any compensation;
he will refuse a bribe, however great it is.
(Prov 6:30-33, NIV)
If one commits theft, the criminal would often pay back double, in order that he should be defrauded the same amount he intended to take from his victim. Even if he stole because of hunger, still there would be a punishment, it says he would pay back sevenfold! However, when it comes to adultery, there is no price tag that would ever bring satisfaction for the husband’s anger.
The sin of adultery was met with capital punishment (Lev 20:10). The day when he takes revenge, or the day of vengeance (probably the day in court) would be brutal. Four times the word “not” is repeated at the end here, he will not take a bribe, he will not receive mercy, he will not take any compensation and his shame will never be wiped away. The cuckold wants nothing less than his very life. There will be no bribe, he wants his full pound of flesh in court. The son will be left with nothing but the inner guilt and shame, a form of walking death.
The lesson here for the son is obvious, guard against the sin of adultery. There are a few reasons for this: First, it is hurtful, women are degraded by this conduct, and men are betrayed by this infidelity. Second, it goes against God’s design. God has designed for physical intimacy to be enjoyed within the boundaries of marriage and covenant love. Third, it is living a lie. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable physically with someone, or asking them to be vulnerable physically with you, while at the same time holding back any true commitment to that person is not true love. It is living a lie, a dual-life. To say physically, “I am giving myself to you,” while at the same time holding back emotional, financial, and spiritual parts of yourself is to lack integrity and to live a double-life. This is the deepest problem. It is not a life of integrity.
To the single, Solomon would say patiently wait for God’s best. To the married, Solomon would say guard against the sin of adultery, beware of rekindling old romances or flirting with new ones. Beware the dangers of the internet and social media. To those in caring professions (therapists, counselors, pastors, social workers), watch out for transference and counter transference in your line of work. Put a guard around your life and be protected from this sin of adultery, or you will lose more than you would ever want to give up.
If you play with fire, you will get burned.
Stay Tuned! Next time we will consider the grand finale to the father’s lessons for his son, in The Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18). In this final dramatic conclusion, the father moves from the concrete to the abstract. The wayward woman, still a very real threat, will become a symbolic representation, she becomes iconic, a larger than life figure, she becomes Folly personified. who seduces the son toward a way of life that is foreign and destructive. She is “Dame Folly.”
We will meet her next time in the conclusion – part 1.
The Ten Lessons of Wisdom:
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) – Part 1
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) Part 2
- Lesson # 2: “Diligently Seek Wisdom … and You Will Experience Her Protective Benefits.” (Prov 2:1-22)
- Lesson # 3: “Live before God with Consistency.” (Prov 3:1-12)
- Lesson # 4: “Wisdom is a Tree of Life.” (Prov 3:13-35)
- Lesson # 5: “Your Spiritual Inheritance Comes With a Price.” (Prov 4:1-9)
- Lesson # 6: “Choose the Way of Wisdom.” (Prov 4:10-19)
- Lesson # 7: “Guard your Heart!” (Prov 4:20-27)
- Lesson # 8: “Flee from Immorality!” (Prov 5:1-23)
- Lesson # 9: “Avoid three Kinds of Fools: “The Swindler,” “The Sluggard” and “The Sociopath.”” (Prov 6:1-19)
- Lesson # 10: “If You Play With Fire, You Will Get Burned.” (Prov 6:20-35)
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 1
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 2
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 3
(a) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 353.