Doug Van Meter - 5 Apr 2020
Can’t We Change the Subject? (Proverbs 7:1–27)
The story is told of a young boy who came to his father one evening, piece of paper in hand, and asked, “Dad, what is sex?” The father swallowed hard and then began “the talk.” Thirty minutes later he asked his son, “Do you understand?” The perplexed boy answered, “Yes, I understand, but”—holding up the piece of paper, which turned out to be a camp application asking whether the child was male or female—“how do I fit all of that into this little box?”
That humorous anecdote illustrates a few realities. First, questions concerning sex cannot be escaped. It is quite literally a fact of life and we need to know what God has to say about. Second, we are inundated with the issue of sex and so we had better be sure that we understand the dangers as well as its legitimate delights. Third, we need to know God’s design and parameters for sex. Fourth, parents are responsible to teach their children about these parameters.
It is because of the above principles that Proverbs contains so many passages dealing with this subject. In fact, as someone has observed, a good third of the Proverbs in some way addresses this issue. Jim Newheiser comments, “There is no topic in Proverbs given more emphasis than sexual purity.”
At this point in our reading and study of Proverbs we might be asking, even with a bit of sanctified annoyance, “Sex again? Is that all that the writer of Proverbs can talk about? Is this all that is on his mind? Can’t we change the subject already?”
After all, chapters 5–6 addressed the matter of illicit sex and did so both descriptively and, one might think, comprehensively. Isn’t it time to move on to some other aspect and application of wisdom? Apparently not. Apparently, God knows that young men—and not-so-young people—need to hear about this again. In chapter 7 the author once again addresses this matter over the course of a full 27 verses. Only then does he turn his attention to other matters of wisdom. We will have to wait a little longer for that.
Daniel Estes helpfully observes along this line, “The sheer quantity of teaching devoted to this subject both demonstrates the strength of the temptation to the son as well as the dangerous consequences that result.”
In this study, we attempt a birds-eye view of this father’s instruction concerning the dangers of ignoring God’s wisdom when it comes to sexuality, particularly the dangers lurking at the “street corners” where seduction plies its soul-destroying trade.
You will recall that the author is Solomon, who is instructing his son how to be a wise king. In many ways, the call is for his son to do what he says, not as he did. Though Solomon may have not been lived up to these words, they remain true.
I have heard men speak against adultery while they were living an adulterous lifestyle. They were hypocrites. Nevertheless, what they said was true. We cannot choose to ignore Solomon’s inspired counsel because he did not obey it himself. We have no excuse. Instead, we have an inspired exhortation and expectation. God will hold us to account for how we live, and his judgement on our sexual sin will not be mitigated because of the failures of others—regardless of who they are.
With that said, let us jump into the text itself.
In the opening 23 verses, we learn that sex education is a parental responsibility. Schools should not be tasked with teaching children or young people sex education—unless, of course, children are home-schooled. Newheiser is correct: “We live in a dangerous world and should not pull any punches as we prepare our children for the temptations they will face… Parents who abdicate this duty to the schools, to peers, and the entertainment industry are contributing to the ruin of their children.”
It is probably because parents are failing to teach their children about sex that schools have assumed that otherwise illegitimate role. Parents, you are responsible for raising your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. That means that you are responsible to teach them the whole counsel of God. You are your children’s shepherds. So shepherd them well in all areas, including this one.
Parents must teach their children a biblical sex ethic:
My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and call insight your intimate friend, to keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words.
Parents need to be aware of the world around them—the world that surrounds their children (vv. 6–23). We should view our children as Solomon did his son: as future kings (see Revelation 1:5–6). We want our children to be ruled by Christ and then to rule under Christ. But they will fail in this rule if they are not warned and prepared in this area. Failure to heed this wise counsel will prove detrimental to their welfare. Parents, teach your children well. Protect them from disaster.
Parents need to strongly emphasise the importance of their children heeding this admonition. It’s a matter of life and death (see vv. 2, 23, 27). Solomon appealed strongly to his son: “Keep my words!” “Treasure up my commandments!” “Keep my commandments!”
“Keep my teaching as the apple of your eye!” One scholar notes that “the Hebrew idiom refers to the eye’s ‘little man.’ Even more evocative is the thought of the father being reflected in the son’s eye. That vision of him instructing his son must, as it were, be carefully guarded.”
Solomon wants his son to “bind” his counsel “on your fingers.” Tremper Longman says, “The command must change him internally (in the heart) and externally in terms of his actions (via the fingers).” He must “write them on” his “heart” and say to wisdom, “You are dear to me.”
In other words, these truths need to be emphasised by parents and internalised by their children. Kidner comments, “The best advice is useless against strong temptation unless is it is thoroughly taken to heart and translated into habits.” As Longman suggests, “In matters of sexual fidelity the best defence is a strong offence.”
Having taught his son, Solomon proceeds to warn him by means of a story. It is a parable of sorts, designed to warn his son against the dangers of sexual infidelity. The story stars two primary characters.
The Clueless Stooge
First, there is a clueless stooge:
For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.
This passage pictures the father observing a scene of seduction. He sees a simpleton—a naïve young man—clueless and careless and heading for destruction. He is in the wrong part of town, heading for a corner of destruction. And he is doing so at night. It would seem that he deliberately heading to this place of danger knowingly. “The aimlessness of early evening eventually becomes the secret perversion of midnight” (Peter Masters). In short, the young man was “the wrong person among the wrong company in the wrong place at the wrong time” (Lane).
The Wily Woman
In vv. 10–23, Solomon switches to the second primary character.
And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings, coloured linens from Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.”
With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
The word translated “wily” in v. 10 means to guard and is used in this sense of concealing something. There is no concealing who she is (she wears the attire of a harlot) but there is a concealing of her motives and of the damage she brings.
She is dressed to kill (v. 10). She is persistent (vv. 10–12). She is religious (vv. 13–15). The Old Testament is loaded with examples of sacrifices and sex. Religious people are not exempt. Religious people can be among the worst offenders. She flatters (v. 15). “It is not her beauty but her appeal to the man’s vanity that is so dangerous” (Longman).
She seeks to disguise the filthiness of the action under material luxuries and external beauties. “If it feels so right, how can it be wrong?” But just because it is attractive does not make it okay.
She is deceptive (v. 18). She speaks of romantic love when the whole episode is about the lure of lust. She is brazenly arrogant (vv. 19–20). She claims omniscience. She is sure that her husband is away and they will be safe in their sin. She is unaware that, most importantly, God is there. She is seductively persuasive (vv. 21–23) and seductively destructive
All that has transpired effectively catches the naïve knave and he falls for her. He falls and will not recover. He falls “all at once” (v. 22). That is, in a moment, he makes the fatal decision. John MacArthur once said, “When a man falls, he doesn’t fall far.” Sexual sin doesn’t just happen. There is always a process. But there comes the all-at-once moment. The solution is to be on guard long before.
She proves to be a death trap. It is now too late. As Eric Lane has said, “The house is the trap that will cost him his life. End of story.” What looked so simple and so easy and so risk-free has cost him his life or, at the least, “the death of self-respect and reputation apart from any physical or financial consequences” (Lane). Perhaps he is in physical danger if the husband comes home from his business trip sooner than his wife promised (see 6:34–35). Perhaps he is metaphorically in danger in the sense that he will not recover from this reputationally, morally, or relationally (see 6:32–33). The consequences might include STDs, loss of employment, loss of friends, and ostracisation by the offended. Perhaps the offender will wander further and further from God.
A Childlike Response
The second major part of the section details a childlike response:
And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
After providing his son with this sordid and appropriately scary story, Solomon makes a final plea for his son’s obedience. At the same time, he extends this application beyond his own son to “sons” in general.
A Passionate Appeal
Solomon’s appeal is a passionate one: “And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth” (v. 24). He passionately appeals for them to listen—to “be attentive”—to him. You can almost picture him taking their faces in his palms and saying, “Look at me! Listen to me! This is serious!”
Children, your parents are smarter than you are. They are more experienced than you are. They are wiser than you. Behave like the child God expects you to be. Listen to your parents (Ephesians 6:1–3).
A Heart-Directed Appeal
Solomon directs his appeal straight at his son’s heart: “Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths” (v. 25)
As with all sin, the heart is the issue when it comes to sexual sin. If his son will guard his purity, he must guard his heart.
Children, guard your heart (see 4:23ff). This, first of all, requires a new heart. You need to respond with childlike faith to the Lord Jesus and ask him for a new heart, which will trust and obey him.
Guard your ways by guarding your heart and you can do so by giving your heart to those whose hearts belong to the Lord. As Solomon writes a little later, “Son, give me your heart and let your eyes observe my ways” (23:26). To guard your steps, entrust your heart to those who are walking with the Lord and want to see you walk with the Lord, too.
A heart that is stayed on the Lord will not stray into wrong paths. Keep your heart tender by keeping your heart in communion with the Lord.
A Sober Appeal
Finally, Solomon’s is a very sober appeal: “For many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (vv. 26–27).
Having seen the destruction that sexual sin causes, I can appreciate this father’s concern. I have witnessed first-hand the damage it causes to the parties involved, to those connected to the perpetrators, and to society in general. Sexual sin is never “innocent.” How foolish it is to think that we can overlook, or even sanctify, sexual sin. Sexual sin blatantly disregards the glory of God and leads to eternal damage.
“Sheol” (v. 27) was, in Jewish understanding, is the realm of the dead. The term is equivalent to the New Testament term “Hades.” In poetic parallelism, Solomon equates “Sheol” with “the chambers of death.” The wages of sin—including sexual sin—is death (Romans 6:23). It always is. There will be a payday someday. Solomon knew this.
Solomon had been warned about this. Jewish kings were required to write out the law of God (probably the book of Deuteronomy) by hand and read it all their days (Deuteronomy 17:14–20). That law is replete with warnings against sexual sin.
Sadly, Solomon did not listen to those warnings. He was not attentive. He did not heed God’s word. The result is captured well in Eugene Peterson’s translation of 1 Kings 11:1: “King Solomon was obsessed with women. Pharaoh’s daughter was only the first of the many foreign women he loved.”
Solomon knew what it meant to fail sexually and wanted better for his son. He wanted him to thrive and live, not to dive and die.
No one goes to hell because of sexual sin per se. We go to hell because of sin and because we are sinners. But sexual sin has such a pull on us that, once we fall into it, it is hard to escape. And unless one repents, the person will die. Listen to the words of Paul:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
We live in an age in which people quote the above verses as a proof text against homosexual sin. Make no mistake: Same sex sex is sin against God. But it is not only habitual homosexual sin that testifies that a person does not have a new heart; habitual heterosexual sin proclaims the same lost condition.
Do you now perhaps see why this theme is addressed repeatedly in Proverbs? Sexual sin entraps and does not let its captives go easily. Not without a fight.
But there is hope if you have been ensnared. For as strong as the pull of sin is, there is a Saviour who is omnipotent. There is a Saviour who can overcome the simpleton as well as the seductress. Jesus forgave the adulterous woman at the well. He forgave the woman who was said to have been caught in the act of adultery. He forgave the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears. And he can forgive you, if you are caught in sexual sin. Take heart from Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9–11)
Did you catch that? “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Having been regenerated by the Spirit of God, those guilty of all kinds of sin—including sexual sin—were justified, changed, rescued, and saved! That can be you.
Perhaps as you read this, you are caught in sexual sin. Perhaps you are walking the streets—or browsing the Internet or flipping channels—foolishly allowing yourself to be tempted to sexual sin. Listen carefully. Children, young people, young adults: You don’t need to go down this path. Don’t.
But also realise that you don’t need to be guilty of sexual sin to need a Savour. You might be squeaky clean. Apart from Jesus, you are heading for the ultimate Sheol—the final chamber of death in the lake of fire. You, too, need the Saviour. You, too, need to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ who died to suffer God’s wrath for your sin and who rose from the dead to prove that his sacrifice had been accepted. With childlike faith, trust him for forgiveness and cleansing now.