Tell wisdom with sincerity – “You are my sister dear;” (Proverbs 7:4)
This is the seventh in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter. The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 7, preceded by a brief reflection.
I am guessing that not many sermons have been preached on Proverbs 7. I can think of at least three reasons for this. For one, Proverbs was written for a patriarchal society that can seem impenetrable to many modern minds. Like Proverbs 2, 5, and 6, this chapter once again reveals Solomon’s one-sided view of adultery, which is that of a married woman seeking to seduce an unsuspecting man. The problem of adultery and lust is, of course, very serious and in some ways the great scourge of the ages. But the matter is far more complex than what appears on the surface of this teaching.
Another reason is that many in our culture have rejected God’s voice on matters of sex. Even within the church itself many have decided to go their own way sexuality. A pastor friend recently lamented that is rare anymore to have a couple in pre-marital counselling who are not co-habiting. Sermons on adultery will not go down easily with this crowd.
The third reason is, ironically, that on its face this chapter is way too simple for anyone who believes in the Biblical teaching on sex and marriage. Any such person would have to be either remarkably dumb or incredibly naïve to find Solomon’s teaching edifying. Who doesn’t know that having an affair with a married person is a really bad idea? Not that it doesn’t happen. Indeed, marriage boundaries are probably looser today than ever. But the problem isn’t that we don’t know that it causes harm to so many people. Rather, the struggle is how to control the relentless pressure of our sexuality.
Still, it would be unwise to dismiss Proverbs 7 too quickly, because there is a deeper wisdom in these verses, which is how to relate to those of the opposite sex. On the surface it seems principally directed to cautioning men to avoid an adulterous woman. But looking closer we see that Solomon describes not one, but two women – one an adulterer, and the other a sister.
In verses 1-4, Solomon commends us to possess wisdom, and gives us a number of images to ponder. We are to store wisdom internally, keep it close, guard it like the apple of our eye, bind it on our fingers, and write it on the tablet of our heart. He caps this off in verse 4 by personifying wisdom as a sister or a close relative. This, he says, is how we are to treat it – say to it “you are my sister.” It’s an insightful image in this context because we would never dream of possessing a sister sexually; although we would certainly hold her close so as to protect and keep her safe from harm.
The remaining verses in Proverbs 7 are about possessing a person sexually. The image Solomon provides here is that of an adulterous woman. It might seem that the young man is simply an unsuspecting pawn, but this is not the case – he is an adulterous man. Verse 8 is a key, In the New English Translation (NET): “He was passing by the street near her corner, making his way along the road to her house.” The critical translated word is “way,” which according to the footnote means that he was going there intentionally. “The verb צָעַד (tsaʿad) means ‘to step; to march.’ It suggests that the youth was intentionally making his way to her house.” (NET) This was not a situation where a young man was unaware of the direction he was heading. He knew very well that he was on the road to her house.
Although Solomon writes this as warning against being seduced by a married woman, the deeper issue is the lust that the young man has in his heart. Jesus addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount, where he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) We men recognize lust as the desire to possess the other. It goes beyond simple sexual attraction towards a woman, and moves us (at least in our heart) to want to claim her as our own.
While we men don’t always treat our sisters or other close female relatives as we should, we understand the barrier that exists when it comes to sex. Whatever our relationship with a sister, we don’t think of possessing her the way we might with other women. Perhaps if we paused when we find ourselves attracted to someone other than our wife, and think about her as a sister, how might we treat her differently? And even if we never had a sister or daughter or other close female relative it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to recognize that every woman is someone’s sister and/or daughter.
We would be remiss if we allowed any aversion we feel towards Solomon’s misogynistic language to ignore the actions of the adulterous woman. She too clearly desires to possess the young man sexually. Perhaps if she looked upon other men as a brother, son, or close relative, she too would have a change in heart.
Jesus spoke pointedly about seeing others in the same light as close family. “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50)
Proverbs – Chapter 7
1 My child, attend to what I say,
give all my words their due;
Store my commandments in your heart,
so they are close to you.
2 Keep my commands and you will live –
don’t let them pass you by;
Make what I teach a precious thing –
the apple of your eye.
3 O bind them on your fingers tight,
so they will never part;
And write them down where they won’t fade –
the tablet of your heart.
4 Tell wisdom with sincerity –
“You are my sister dear;”
Tell insight, “You’re my relative,”
a friend who’s ever near.
5 These things will surely keep you safe
from those who would seduce –
Adulterers with wayward tongues,
who morally are loose.
6 One day when I was at my house
with windows on the town;
While peering through the latticework,
I happened to look down.
7 And there I saw a simpleton –
a young man who was dense;
I noticed him among a group –
a youth who had no sense.
8 He made his way along the street,
and headed down the road –
The road to where a temptress dwells,
and lives in her abode.
9 It was about the end of day,
with fading of the light;
As evening slowly yields itself
to darkness of the night.
10 The woman suddenly appears
to meet him where he stands;
Attired like a prostitute,
she has her secret plans.
11 Her way is bold and unashamed,
perverse and wayward too;
Her feet don’t ever stay at home,
but always go askew.
12 Look now, and she is in the street,
look now, and in the square;
At every corner she lies low
to catch him unaware.
13 She seizes and she kisses him
upon his lips and cheeks;
And then in brazen fearlessness,
the following she speaks:
14 “Today I have fulfilled my vows,
and made my sacrifice;
At home I have remaining food
that surely will suffice.
15 So now you see I’ve ventured out,
and happened on this way;
I’ve looked for you most eagerly,
and found you here today.
16 For I have opened up anew
and spread across my bed –
Egyptian dyed material
of finest linen thread.
17 I’ve scented and perfumed the bed
with every kind of spice;
Like aloes, myrrh, and cinnamon
to make the fragrance nice.
18 So come let us enjoy ourselves
and take our fill of love;
O let us go till morning comes
and have the best thereof.
19 Because, you see, my husband’s gone,
he’s traveled far away –
A journey distant from his house –
he won’t be here today.
20 He put his money in a bag,
and tied the purse strings tight;
He will not be returning home
until the full moon light.”
21 By way of her persuasive words,
she turned him from his walk;
Seducing and compelling him
with smooth and pleasing talk.
22 Then all at once he followed her,
like one that’s unaware –
An ox led to the slaughterhouse,
a deer that springs a snare.
23 For when an arrow strikes the heart
one knows that life is lost;
It’s only when a bird is caught,
that it perceives the cost.
24 So now, my children, listen well
to what I say to you;
Give your attention to my words,
so you will hear me through.
25 Don’t let your heart be turned aside
by one who’d have you stray;
Don’t follow on the path that’s laid,
or walk along that way.
26 For many victims have been slain
of those who’ve come along;
Yes, those struck down are numerous –
indeed a mighty throng.
27 Beware, her house leads to the grave –
a way that all should dread;
A highway leading to the crypt –
the chambers of the dead.