My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
For 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.
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 5:1-6 ESV
We now begin a topic that Solomon will continue to address into chapter seven: the Adulteress. In Proverbs, the Adulteress (or Forbidden Woman) is the poetic personification of sexual immorality. She is a seductress with lips of honey and words as smooth as oil. She seems tempting for the moment, but ultimately, she follows the path to death and delights in pulling others down with her. The message of this text is clear: sexual immorality is a life and death affair. Will we embrace wisdom or follow sin into the grave?
WHO IS THE ADULTERESS // & OTHER PRELIMINARY DISCUSSIONS
Verse 3 presents the subject at hand: the forbidden woman (or adulteress) leads to death. In order to understand this chapter (and more sections to come), we first need to know who the forbidden woman is. Just as wisdom is personified as a woman in Proverbs, so the Adulteress is a poetic devise that Solomon uses to personify the luring effects of sin, sexual immorality in particular. We, therefore, should not overlook these verses as only pertaining to adultery, nor view this as a warning exclusively for men. These verses speak immediately about all sexual sin and indirectly in regards to sin’s overall seductiveness, and the Adulteress a poetic representation of those sins as they threaten both men and women.
And since the Adulteress represents sexual sin, we also need to clarify before we proceed what sexual sin is. The Bible uses the concept of sexual immorality (in Greek, pornea) quite often as a junk drawer term for all sexual sin. It covers adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexuality, polygamy, bestiality, and the list could go on and on. And that’s the point of the term sexual immorality and the Adulteress in Proverbs, they are meant to span the full gamut of sinful sexual practices. We need this because the human mind and heart are quick to invent new evils (Romans 1:30). If we are given a list and told that it is definitive, we will quickly invent a slightly new way of sinning to skirt around the list. God knows this, so He condemns all sexual immorality.
But how then are we supposed to define sexual immorality if it covers such a broad range of sins? The easiest way to define sexual immorality is by first defining what godly sexual behavior is. God-glorifying sex is sexual activity that serves your spouse and is found exclusively within your marriage, which is the lifelong union be-tween one man and one woman. Because sex is only meant to happen within the context of marriage, all sexual sin is adultery. Fornication is adultery against your future wife or possible wife. Masturbation and pornography are adultery with yourself and a fantasy version of a real human being. As we continue studying Solomon’s warnings against the Adulteress, I will often use sexual sin, sexual immorality, and adultery as synonymous terms.
Of course, even when we define godly sex as residing solely within the marriage covenant, we still need to clarify what counts as sex. Many have convinced themselves that their sin isn’t sin because they didn’t “go all the way”. The Old Testament’s expression for sexual acts should, however, rebuke that mindset. Leviticus 18, in particular, gives us a massive list of improper sexual relationships, and it describes those sexual acts as “uncovering the nakedness of”. This idea of nakedness goes back to Genesis 2-3, where Adam and Eve’s sin caused them to feel shame about their lack of clothing. Before sin, there was no shame in nakedness, but now it is reserved exclusively for marriage. Couple this understanding with Jesus’ words that lust within the heart is adultery (Matthew 5) and we realize that the sin of adultery encompasses far more than actual intercourse.
LIPS OF HONEY // VERSE 1-3
With many of our preliminary terms now defined, we can begin our study proper. The first three verses offer an interesting comparison. In verses 1-2, we read the same command that we have heard from Solomon many times before: pay attention to what I teach you. But as with our last study, the command takes on a new depth of understanding when we read the verses that follow it. In verse 2, Solomon urges us to have lips that guard the knowledge of God and His wisdom, while verse 3 warns us against falling for the lips of the forbidden woman, the Adulteress.
The imagery of honey and smooth oil points out the Adulteress’ natural appeal. Her seductive words sound pleasant and enticing. We can see the reality of this verse by looking at a few pornography statistics. Each of these statistics come from Online MBA and are from 2013, so the numbers have likely only grown. 12% of all websites are pornographic. Every second around 28,000 users are viewing porn. 40 million Americans view porn regularly, and one-third of those viewers are women. 70% of men in the 18-24 age bracket view porn at least once a month. Porn is a multibillion dollar industry and the U.S. feeds half of that revenue. 8% of all emails sent are pornographic. 25% of all search engine requests are pornographic. 34% of internet users have unwanted exposures to pornography. Everyday child pornography is search 116,000 times. Age 11 is the average first-time exposure to pornography. 20% of men admit (key word) to watching porn at work, and 13% of women do too. Thanksgiving Day holds the honor of being the least porn-filled day, while Sunday stands as the most popular day of the week for it.
But pornography is not just explicit images. The Greek word graphe originally meant a writing (in fact, it is the word used for Scripture in the New Testament). Jonathan Akin writes how pornographic writings can particularly impact women:
For some women it might be reading romance novels. You read the Twilight novels or Fifty Shades of Grey. These books cause you to emotionally invest in a man who is not your husband. They cause you to be dissatisfied with your husband. “I wish my husband was more sensitive to my needs like the man in this book.” “I wish my husband was romantic like this man in the book.” “I wish my husband listened to my inmost thoughts like the man in this book.” This is also the seduction of pornography whether in picture or print. Porn offers, to men, women who act more like men (i.e., sexually aggressive) and, to women, men who act more like women (i.e., emotionally sensitive). This causes you to paint a picture in your mind of the ideal spouse. If that picture is not your spouse, you are in danger!
Pornography stands out from other sexual sins because of its sheer accessibility, but all sexual sin shares its allure. The Adulteress is sweeter than honey. Sex is more addictive than sugar. And falling into adultery is easier than gliding on oil. With the advent of the internet, these words have never been more true. Sexual sin is a real and present danger for followers of Christ, which is what the next verses describe.
THE PATH TO DEATH // VERSES 4-6
I love that verse 4 begins with the word but. The Adulteress might be seductive and pleasant, BUT she leads to death. Even if her words are like honey and smooth oil, they are ultimately bitter and deadly. Wormwood was an herb with a bitter taste, the opposite of honey’s sweetness.
The Hebrew has “like a sword of [two] mouths,” meaning a double-edged sword that devours/cuts either way. There is no movement without damage. There may be a wordplay here with this description of the “sword with two mouths,” and the subject of the passage being the words of her mouth which also have two sides to them. The irony is cut by the idiom. (NET note for Proverbs 5:4)
Her feet go to death, following the path of destruction. She does not even consider the path of life and wisdom; rather, she wanders and is unstable. She stumbles around like a drunk, but the worst part is that she is completely ignorant. She doesn’t know that that she’s walking straight toward hell. She promises happiness and satisfaction, but she doesn’t even understand those concepts. Hosea 4:10-11 display this:
They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away understanding.
Sin promises life and happiness, but its end is always death, and sexual sin is no exception. Although it is pleasant and enticing, sin leads straight to hell, eternal death under the wrath of God. All sin involves instant gratification, especially adultery. Adultery and porn are only pleasing so long as we continue putting off the mental image of our spouse’s heartbroken tears, shame, and self-doubt. Picturing the end result of sin has a way of stealing away the momentary pleasures of it.
Ultimately, as we’ve seen in Proverbs already, there are only two choices to make. Will we guard ourselves by listening to God’s wisdom, or will we be led astray by the momentary sweetness of sin? The refusal keep discretion, which is often associated with our ability to navigate out of temptation, will lead to wandering off the path of life. Listen to Paul’s warning against sexual immorality:
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 | Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Humanity’s sexual revolution against God’s design has always been about asserting our own freedom and desires. Our society’s battle cry of “my body, my choice” is nothing new. Lamech led the charge in Genesis 4 by taking two wives for himself. Sexual immorality is the result of leaning on our own understanding, rather than trusting in God. It comes from worshiping ourselves, instead of fearing God.
The LORD declared that sexual activity is an exclusive blessing of marriage. To deny this is blatant rebellion against the God of all creation.
As Christians, our body is not our own. We do not have the final say in what is okay for our eyes to watch and our hands to do. Our body belongs to God, and He warns us to flee sexual immorality. Let us trust that His ways are higher than our ways.