Danger and Delight
Wisdom is for life. That’s been something I hope you’ve picked up by now in our journey through the first chapters of Proverbs. When Solomon talks about wisdom, he’s not talking about being a smart person or just knowing a lot of facts. He’s talking about how to live well in the light of God’s truth.
And so we maybe shouldn’t be surprised that one of the wisdom lessons he works hard to teach his son has to do with something as practical and down-to-earth as staying faithful to his wife. Solomon knew that this is one of the major areas where people don’t live well. This is a where foolishness can trip up some really good people and bring a load of pain into their lives.
Just think about how Solomon’s own parents—David and Bathsheba—first met. And if you read the story of David in 2 Samuel, you can see all of the heartache that came into David’s family and life from that point on.
Similar stories abound up to the present day. How many people have been taken down by the sin of adultery, of not staying true to their husband or wife? How many reputations tarnished by scandal? How many lives ruined?
And so Solomon wants to help his son not wreck his life in this way. So he teaches him wisdom, which means more than just saying “don’t do that.” He tells him why adultery is such a terrible idea. He helps him think through what’s on the other side of that sin, the kind of life he’d be asking for. And he teaches him not just to avoid the sin, but how.
And whether you are married or not this morning, we all need to hear this. Because, as we’ll see towards the end of our time together, the lessons Solomon teaches us apply to sins of all kind, and will help all of us as we strive to live well.
Not As They Seem
And so let’s look at this first section of our chapter, found in verses 1-6. Notice how they begin in a very familiar way—“My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge” (Proverbs 5:1–2).
Listen up, he’s saying. And why? Why should the son listen?
“For”—verse 3—“the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:3–4).
Let’s deal with a few things here. First is this phrase “forbidden woman.” In the original language, this word for “forbidden” literally means “strange.” If you have an ESV Bible in front of you, can probably see that in the little note.
And the basic idea of that word “strange” has to do with turning aside or going away. Thin of it this way. If I was to walk in here today wearing a red clown nose, that would be strange. I would have turned aside or gone away from what is normal.
This woman in Proverbs 5 is called “strange” not because of what she wears or anything like that. She is called strange because of what we heard back in Proverbs 2:16-17. Those verses described “the forbidden woman,” or “strange” woman, “who forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God” (Proverbs 2:16–17).
That’s what makes this lady “strange.” She has forsaken her husband and forgotten God’s covenant. And so that’s why the NIV translates this as “the adulterous woman,” or the NKJV says “immoral woman.” The ESV says “forbidden,” which communicates that she’s not someone that Solomon’s son should be spending time with.
But what we find here is that Solomon’s son is going to need wisdom in order to resist this lady. He needs to be attentive to wisdom, listen up to his father’s understanding, for—because—the lips of this adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.
She doesn’t look strange. She’s really easy to listen to. What she says, and how she says it, sounds really appealing. Like one author said, this language of honey and oil suggests that her speech “ooze[s] seductive charm” (W. McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach. OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970, p. 314).
But verses 4-6 tell us that the oil and honey of this woman’s speech are like the cheese on the mousetrap. They lure you in, but they lead to death. “But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it” (Proverbs 5:4–6).
Sheol is the place of the dead. So we can put this plainly: if someone gets tangled up with this unfaithful woman, letting her seduce them, it will lead to pain and then death.
Why? First, in the Israelite Covenant, adultery was a capital offence. If you were caught being unfaithful to your spouse, you could be killed. The offended husband had the power to make your life miserable. But beyond this, in the background of Proverbs 5, there’s this idea that God will judge the unfaithful. He Himself will bring ruin and death upon those who commit adultery.
Colossians 3:5-6 says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”
And this is Solomon’s warning to his son. There is a type of person, in his case a type of woman, who sounds so fantastic. What she says and how she says it is alluring and compelling and seducing and almost irresistible. But she is literally a deathtrap.
So how do you avoid that deathtrap? How do you protect yourself from such a dangerous fate?
You listen to wisdom. You listen to the wise father’s words. You keep discretion and your lips guard knowledge, like verses 1-2 said.
Her words are like honey and oil. His father’s words may not sound so sweet and may not be so easy to listen to. But they are true, and the son needs to listen to his father and hang on to wisdom if he’s going to survive his encounter with this dangerous person.
So that’s the general truth that’s presented to us in verses 1-6. Adultery is a death trap, and wisdom is the way out of this death trap.
Don’t Go Near
The next section of our passage—verses 7-14—show us how this works. How does wisdom protect against this dangerous person? What does a wise person do that a foolish person doesn’t?
Before we find out, we hear Solomon repeating how important it is for us to listen to him at this point: “And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth” (Proverbs 5:7). Bold, underline, italic: “what I’m about to say is really important.” And here it is in verse 8: “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.”
That’s it. This is the heart of Solomon’s instruction on how to not sin with this woman. Keep far away from her, and don’t even go near the door of her house.
Maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds pretty simple. Pretty obvious.” And it is, or at least it should be. Nobody said that wisdom had to be complicated.
But don’t we all know that in real life, when it comes to our own battles with sin and temptation of all kinds, we so very often do the opposite of this, don’t we?
When we know we’re not supposed to do something, don’t we so often try to get as close to doing it as possible, without actually doing it? Don’t we so often try to figure out the bare minimum we need to do to get by? Don’t we so often try to find exactly where the line of sin is, and then try to put our toes right on that line?
And I don’t know if we see this anywhere more frequently than with sin like Solomon is describing for us here. With youth and young adult ministry, one of the questions that gets asked so often by dating couples is “how far is too far? How much are we allowed to do physically before we get married?” In other words, how close to the line are we allowed to get?
Solomon knows that if his son has begun to be intrigued by an adulterous woman, he’s going to find himself in a similar spot. She’s going to be alluring to him. She’s going to engage him in interesting conversation. She’s going to bump into him “randomly” and shower him with compliments and then one day she’s going to invite him over for coffee or whatever they drank back then.
And the son might think, “Sure, why not? It’s just a cup of coffee. There’s no sin in that. I’m not breaking any commandments to have a cup of tea at this woman’s house.”
And so begins the slow fade into unfaithfulness. Because the cup of coffee turns into another. He gets more and more comfortable being with her alone. His interest and affections grow without him even knowing it. All the while he tells himself he’s not doing anything wrong.
And the first time an inappropriate touch or an inappropriate word is passed, it doesn’t feel inappropriate. It feels like honey or oil—sweet and easy. And then passions will kick in. Desire will rage. And the son will be a goner.
See, this is why so many people end up sinning in this way. This is how affairs happen. This is why only 20% of Christian youth who say they want to remain virgins until marriage actually do remain virgins until marriage. Because they ask “how far is too far?” And they try and get as close to the line as possible without crossing over.
But they don’t understand like sin, especially this kind of sin, is like a waterfall. The closer you get, the stronger the forces are that move you to the edge.
We had this experience happen just this past week. We were canoeing to camp, and one of the canoes moved just a little bit off to the right of an island we were paddling towards. And Brian looked up and saw where they were, and he yelled out for them to paddle hard to the left.
To anyone looking from the outside, it seemed like he was all concerned for nothing. We just saw a big open area on a lake. But Brian knew that off to the right of that lake was a waterfall. That waterfall was still a good distance from where that canoe was, but if they didn’t move soon, it would get harder and harder to break out of that current.
Sexual sin is like a waterfall. Seeing how close you can get to the edge just doesn’t work. If you take that approach, you will get sucked over. The only way to stay safe is to stay as far back as you safely can.
That’s why 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee sexual immorality.” Or why 2 Timothy 2:22 says “Flee youthful passions.” Because none of us are strong enough to paddle against that current. The only way to stay safe is to flee. Stay way back. Don’t go near her door.
I remember learning this lesson when I was a teenager. I had just heard about a man I knew who was a bold evangelist and dynamic ministry leader with so much going for him. He had travelled to another city to get some training for his ministry, and when he was there, he met a woman, started to spend time with her, got involved inappropriately, and had just announced he was leaving his wife and family for this woman, was quitting the ministry, and probably didn’t believe in God anymore either.
And I was talking about this guy with my neighbour. My neighbour, in my mind, was the least likely man on planet earth to ever do anything like that. He was one of the most upright and godly men I knew.
He’d been married to the same woman for decades, he was a faithful leader in his church, he met a group of friends for prayer early in the morning every week, and for years had served as the president of a ministry.
And I was talking to him about this other guy, and I said something like, “I just can’t imagine how he did that, throwing his whole life away for a woman he had just barely met.”
And my neighbour, my godly, stable, faithful neighbour, looked at me and said, “Chris, there is a place I could go to, a situation I could put myself in, where I would do the exact same thing.”
That just blew my mind. If anyone on planet earth was least likely to sin like that, I thought I was talking to him. But my godly neighbour understood the lesson of Proverbs 5. And he taught me that day that staying faithful to your wife does not mean being a strong canoeist who gets close to the waterfall and just paddles hard enough to not fo over.
Instead, men who stay faithful to their wives know there’s a waterfall over there and they know that they aren’t strong enough to resist it and so they stay far, far away from it. When they even start to move in the direction of that waterfall, they know they’re in a danger zone and they get out as fast as they can.
That is Solomon’s instruction to his son. Keep away. Don’t go near her door. If her house is on the way home from work, take the long way home. Don’t put yourself in her path. Stay far, far, away.
And if we needed any more reason or motivation for this instruction, then verses 9-14 tell us. These verses describe the ruin that is waiting at the bottom of the waterfall. The son’s honour and years of labour are given away to merciless people in verse 9. Strangers take his strength and his labours, verse 10. He ends his life with a groan, his whole body used up for nothing, verse 11. And he laments in verses 12-14 that he didn’t listen to the voice of his teachers, and instead is on the brink of public ruin.
There’s a few assumptions here behind Solomon’s words. First, he assumes here is that sexual sin cannot and will not remain hidden. He says this clearly in chapter 6: “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:27-29)
Second, Solomon understands that in that culture, the husband of the offended wife could make the adulterer pay an extravagant amount of money, or even make him his slave for life. So his whole life gets used up paying off a debt from a couple hours of foolish passion.
We don’t have those same conventions today, but how many stories have you heard about unfaithfulness causing pain and ruined lives? Even in those rare stories where God is able to rescue a marriage from unfaithfulness, the heartache and hard work along the way is not anything that you’d choose.
And more often than not, regardless of what culture they are in and the conventions which exist, adulterers end up in the verse 11-14 category. Groaning at the end of their life, wishing they had listened better to those who tried to teach them, their life used up by shame and scandal and pain.
And here’s the point again of this whole section, from verses 8-14: if you don’t want that to happen to you, then stay away from her door. Don’t get close to the waterfall, and you won’t have to spend the rest of your life trying to recover from the disaster waiting for you at the bottom.
God Is No Prude
Now if we were to end the message here, what we’d have heard would be true and important, but perhaps misleading. If all we heard about is the danger of sexual sin, how it dangerously carries you away in a flood of passion, then we might wonder if intimacy and passion are bad things in and of themselves.
Some Christians do seem to think this way. And I think they may have picked it up by only ever being warned about the bad stuff. Only being told to wait for marriage. And what rubs off on us is this idea that anything physical or sensual or passionate between a man and a woman is bad. Kind of a necessary evil we should be ashamed of.
But that’s not what God taught us. That’s not what Solomon taught his son. What he teaches him, in verses 15-20, is that the physical relationship between a man and a woman, when they are married, is a wonderful and powerful thing that should be enjoyed to the full.
“Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well,” he says in verse 15. In other words, enjoy your own wife, not that other mans’s wife. In verse 19 he tells his son to “be intoxicated always” in the love of his wife, and the language there is very definitely pointing to the physical dimension of the love of his wife. Get drunk, get lost, in her.
So put this together. If there’s even a hint of allurement from a woman who is not your wife, don’t go near her door. But when it comes to enjoying your own wife, don’t hold anything back. Enjoy her and everything about her, to the full.
This is the consistent teaching of the Bible. The physical relationship between a husband and a wife is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. Instead, it’s something to be celebrated. There’s a whole book in the Bible, the Song of Solomon, written about that.
So don’t ever get the idea that the passion and intimacy between a man and a woman is bad in and of itself. That’s not true at all. Rather, we need to think of it like fire or like electricity or like a car. Fire and electricity and cars are powerful tools that can do so much good when they are used properly and within proper boundaries.
Used improperly, outside of those boundaries, they can be incredibly destructive. And that’s what the physical relationship between a man and a woman is like. Outside of the covenant of marriage, pain and destruction. Within the safety of marriage, that power does so much good.
And without getting to deep into things, the reason is that God invested this stuff for marriage. If we had time to dig into Genesis 2 we’d see that the physical relationship between a man and a woman is supposed to be a sign and seal of their covenant relationship with one another. When they are intimate, they are using their bodies to reenact and renew their wedding vows. That’s what God designed that all for.
You take that outside of marriage, and it’s like driving on the wrong side of the road. It’s like starting a fire on your living room floor instead of in the fireplace. Don’t be surprised by the damage.
And that’s Solomon’s point in this section, and it’s summed up in the question of verse 20. “Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” (Proverbs 5:20). Why in the world would you drive on the wrong side of the road, when the right lane is right beside you? Why in the world would you start a fire on your living room floor, when the fireplace is 2 feet away? Why would you get caught up with that adulterous woman when your own wife is at home waiting for you? It truly is foolishness of the highest order.
The Final Warning
And here’s how Proverbs 5 wraps up: “For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray” (Proverbs 5:21–23).
God is watching us. Our whole lives. He sees where we walk or drive and what we look at. Nothing is hidden from his sight. True life is found in listening to wisdom and fleeing from sin. If we reject instruction, reject discipline, we lead ourselves astray into a path that end in death and destruction.
For Each One of Us Today
As we reflect back on this whole chapter, and think about what applying it looks like in our life, some of us might not need to dig too deep.Solomon originally wrote this for his son on the brink of marriage. So if you are a married man, you’re right in that spot. Just do what this passage says. Enjoy your wife, and run from anything that tugs you in the opposite direction.
The same could be said to married women. Even though the specific temptation points can be different between men and women, Solomon could have written very similar words to his daughters. So married women, enjoy your husbands and run from anything that tugs you in the opposite direction.
I remember reading about a woman who was watching a movie with her husband. It was a clean movie, but she was finding the lead actor distractingly attractive. So she turned off the movie, and summed it up this way: “Entertainment is optional. Protecting my marriage isn’t.” That’s wisdom.
Un-married men and women, there’s huge application here for you. I hope you know that doing before marriage what should only be done in marriage is just as dangerous as what Solomon warns his son about in this passage. God designed physical intimacy between a man and a woman for marriage.
And whether you’re married to someone else or not married at all, you are driving on the wrong side of the road anytime you enjoy outside of marriage what He designed for marriage. And you avoid that destruction before marriage by not just avoiding it, but by fleeing from it. By not seeing how close you can get, but by being wise enough to know that you’re not strong enough, and staying safely away from the current’s pull.
So the lessons of Proverbs 5 apply broadly. They also get broader than that when we think about sin in general. Because sin is sin. It follows the same kinds of patterns. The New Testament so often describes sin as “the lusts of the flesh.” The lust we see here in Proverbs 5 is just one of many other lusts—lusts for power and greed and control and respect and admiration and ease and a hundred other lusts—that so often follow the same pattern.
James 5 describes this when it says that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
So think about a sin in your life that trips you up continually. At the heart of that sin, you will most likely find a lust. A craving. A desire.
I was working with someone once who was struggling with anxiety, and there may have been some physical things there that made her more prone to that sin, but as we talked we were able to identify a craving to be in control, a craving to really be God. And when that craving wasn’t being met, when she felt out of control, she spun out of control in fear and anxiety.
Lust is at the heart of our sins. And that means that the wisdom of chapter 5, especially verse 8, will help us out with many of the sins we fight against. Don’t wait to be in the house of sin, sitting down and having tea, before you decide that you don’t want to keep going. Figure out where the door of sin is, and stay far away from that door.
Don’t give yourself the opportunity. Identify the triggers, the situations or places where you’re gong to notice that sin smiling at you out of the corner of your eye. And avoid those. Stay far away from those spots.
This will require some thinking. You’ll need to become proactive, instead of just reactive, against your sin. Thinking about it ahead of time, and making a plan to run from it.
Now maybe you’re thinking “that won’t work for my struggle. I can’t run from it.” Maybe your sin is being grumpy with your kids, and you’re thinking, “I can’t exactly avoid them.” Maybe your sin is being dissatisfied with your life, and you can’t exactly run from your life.
But what if your kids or your life aren’t the real problem? What if it all the time on Instagram looking at airbrushed pictures of other people’s beautiful lives feeding discontent in your heart, making you wish you had those kids, that life, instead of your own? Staying far away from the door of sin might mean less time on social media, and I think that’s probably true in more ways for more of us than we suspect.
That’s just an example, but you can see what I’m describing. Sin is sneaky. And we need to go on the offensive. We can’t sit around and wait for sin to come get us. Like John Owen said so famously, we need to be killing sin or it will be killing us. We need an offensive plan. And a part of that plan, according to Proverbs 5, means knowing ahead of time where temptation lurks and choosing to stay away from those places if we are at all able to control it.
Look to Christ
Now as we close here, I want to remind us of Jesus. Jesus, who not only never married but never sinned in this way or any other way. Jesus, who sympathizes with our weaknesses because, like Hebrews 4:15 says, He “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” And what’s the next verse say? “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Jesus passed the test every time we have failed, but he doesn’t hold that over us. Instead, He died to pay for all of the times we’ve caved to the pressures of temptation, and He comes alongside to help us in our struggles. Like Hebrews says just a couple of chapters earlier, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18).
That’s what we’re going to celebrate in this last song this morning: how much we need Jesus in the fight against sin. And as we sing, let’s remember His promise to be with us always, to the end of the age, even—especially—in our moments of temptation and struggle with sin. We are not alone in this fight.
All the wisdom and strength we need is found in Him. So let’s go out from here today seeking Him, walking with him, and becoming more like Him as we make war on our sin.