The Cost of Adultery | Proverbs 6:20-35

My son, keep your father’s commandment,
land forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always;
tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
to preserve you from the evil woman, 
from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. 
Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;
for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, 
but a married woman hunts down a precious life.
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.
People do not despise a thief if he steals
to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry,
but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold;
he will give all the goods of his house.
He who commits adultery lacks sense;
he who does it destroys himself.
He will get wounds and dishonor,
and his disgrace will not be wiped away.
For jealousy makes a man furious,
and he will not spare when he takes revenge.
He will accept no compensation;
he will refuse though you multiply gifts.

Proverbs 6:20-35 ESV

 

For the first half of chapter six, Solomon took a break from warning against sexual immorality to focus on three other sins, but now he returns to his pleas against the Adulteress, who is the poetic representation of all sexual sin. Here we find the ancient king warning us of the great cost that sexual immorality exacts upon its victims and learn to seek refuge in God’s Word.

THE NECESSITY OF SCRIPTURE // VERSES 20-24

Verses 20-23 are commands and exhortations that provide the same essential message that we have seen before: keep these commandments. The commandments of the father and teaching of the mother in verse 20 refers ultimately to the Scriptures, since parents are responsible for teaching their children God’s Word (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Again, allusions to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 are rampant. Verse 21 pleads with us to hold the Scriptures so closely that we might as well have them bound to our heart or tied around our neck.

Verses 22-23 inform us of the benefits of being steeped in God’s Word. Verse 22 is a commentary on Deuteronomy 6:7, explaining for us the benefits of obeying the latter command. We speak of the Scriptures when we walk because they lead us. Since the idea of two paths (one to life and the other to death) is a prevalent motif of Proverbs, we should find it tremendously significant that the Bible leads us down the path of wisdom, righteousness, and life. We meditate upon the Scriptures when we lie down to sleep because they watch over us. The Word certainly guards our heart against sin even sinful thoughts while asleep, which is why we are called to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:3). But the Scriptures also reveal to us the God who guards us. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 3:8). When we awake in the morning, we go to the Scriptures, and they talk with us. I love that the ESV maintains the KJV’s usage of the word with. The NIV, NET, and others translate it as speak to you. While neither is wrong (and I am no expert in Hebrew to debate which is best), the word with carries the notion of a dialogue with God through the Scriptures. Through the Bible (God speaking to us) and prayer (us speaking to God), we certainly can converse with the Creator God. In fact, if we take frequent pauses in our reading to pray, our reading even begins to develop the feel of a dialogue.

Verse 23 calls the teachings and commandments of Scripture a lamp and a light, and their reproof of discipline are a path of life. We live in a rebellious age. It is entirely natural for us to question rules, regulations, and laws. We each desire to be the masters of our own fate. Laws set boundaries upon our self-expression; therefore, we rebel against them, if not outwardly then inwardly. We hate being told what to do. But the Bible speaks of our natural desires and inclinations being warped and sinful. Although we know what we want, we are often ignorant of the consequences of receiving those things. Our minds are darkened to what is truly good and what is truly evil. We, thus, hate that which saves us and love that which kills us. This is humanity’s problem of sin. We actively desire the path of foolishness and death. The Scriptures, however, illuminate and expose the foolishness of sin. They reveal to the excellencies of Christ, the true Light (1 Peter 2:9; John 1:9). They provide boundaries of love that guard us from wandering into the consequences of sin. They reprove and correct our thoughts and actions in the discipline of the LORD. Paul emphasizes that the Scriptures are the way of life in his description of them to Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Gregg Allison provides a great summary of those four benefits of the Word:

Scripture is profitable for teaching, or the communication of authoritative and wisdom-inculcating theological truth; for reproof, or the highlighting of sinful attitudes and actions from which Christians must turn; correction, or the pointing out of the proper road to pursue; and training in righteousness, or the preparation of mature Christ-followers. (p. 113)

All of this means that we are incomplete and faulty without the Scriptures. We need them to speak into our lives, giving sound discipline and correction. Both churches and the Christians within them must be centered upon the Word of God. To depart from it, or even simply neglect it, is to forsake God’s wisdom in favor our own. He who fears God will live and die on His Word; fools reject the Scriptures because they “despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7).

All of these are reasons to submit daily to the Scriptures, but Solomon ends our present selections of verses by providing another: they preserve us from the Adulteress. This is, of course, a transition verse that relaunches Solomon’s assault against sexual immorality. Let us then proceed into the following verses, and we will conclude this study by returning to verse 24 to discuss how the Scriptures preserve us from the Forbidden Woman.

PLAYING WITH FIRE // VERSES 25-29

The structure of these verses is as follows: verse 25 is primary command, while verses 26-35 discuss the reason for, and necessity of, obeying it. So what is the command? Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes. Note that Solomon is fully aware of how appealing sexual sin is. In chapter 5, he said that the Adulteress’ lips dripped honey (5:3). She is seductive and alluring, not merely to the eye but also to the heart. The word desire here is the same used for covet in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). It is a strong, almost overwhelming, want of something, and it comes from the heart. Too often, we treat lust as a sin of the sight which leads to sin of action, but lust is a sin of the heart, which then leads to sight and action. Jesus Himself taught us this truth: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

Verse 26 begins Solomon’s attack against desiring the Forbidden Woman by describing its ease relative to its cost. By stating that a prostitute can be bought for a loaf of bread but a married woman kills, Solomon is not saying to avoid married women but prostitutes are fine. Instead, he is contrasting the perceived cost with the actual cost. Prostitutes (and all sexual immorality) appear to be inexpensive, but their true cost is the life of the one caught in her eyelashes.

Verses 27-29 give us a mental-image metaphor of the foolishness of sexual immorality. Verses 27-28 ask rhetorical questions: 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 no be scorched? The simplicity of these questions is almost offensive to commonsense. The answer is obvious that it is absurd to even have bothered asking the question at all. Of course, in verse 29, we discover that that is the point. So is the connecting word. The man who commits adultery is like a man carrying fire next to his chest and expecting to not be burned. Such is the foolishness of sin. When we sin, we fully expect the consequences to be withheld. We imagine ourselves as the exception to the rule, but Solomon is clear: none who touches her will go unpunished. The word none leaves zero room for wiggling free. Punishment will fall upon those who commit sexual immorality. Period.

THE SELF-DESTRUCTION OF SEXUAL IMMORALITY // VERSES 30-35

Since the discussion of the chapter is sexual immorality, verses 30-31 appear to be quite out of place. Why does Solomon suddenly dive into discussing the thief? He is presenting a comparison of sin’s consequences. When a thief steals because he is hungry, he is not despised (meaning people are understanding of his plight), but if he is caught, there are still severe consequences for his actions. Adultery is altogether different. Sex is not a necessity nor an inherent right of humanity. Someone caught in adultery is not treated with the same level of understanding as the thief. In this way, the adulterer lacks sense (or heart), and he destroys himself. The wounds of lust are self-inflicted, wounds of dishonor and disgrace. Verses 34-35 describe the wrath of an adulteress’ husband as a consequence of adultery, but the principle stands with all forms of sexual sin: we cannot escape the punishment that follows sin.

CHRIST, OUR PRESERVER & SAVIOR // VERSES 24; 29

We will end our study with two thoughts from previous verses.

First, recall that verse 29 states that no one who touches the Adulteress will go unpunished. This verse is significant for two reasons. Because the Adulteress is a poetic representation of sexual sin (and even sin in general), this verse is not merely for those who commit the actual act of adultery. We could just as easily say that “none who look at porn will go unpunished”, “none who lust in their heart will go unpunished”, or even “none who gossip will go unpunished”. The point is that while the principle is being applied to sexual sin it still stands for all sin in general. Nahum 1:3 supports this claim: “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.” Notice the certainty of that claim. By no means will the LORD clear the guilty. That is the same message of Proverbs 6:29. God will allow no sin to go unpunished.

But all of this seems to fly in the face of what we discussed in Proverbs 3:11-12. There we learned that God disciplines His people as a father disciplines his son. In fact, because we are sons and daughters of God, there is no longer any form of punishment for our sins reserved for us. Every suffering we experience and even the natural consequences of our sin are all the loving discipline of God toward us. By these, He teaches us but does not punish.

How then do we reconcile these two truths? How can God withhold all punishment from us without being a liar? The beauty of the cross is that it brings reconciliation to Old Testament truths such as this. Apart from the death of Christ, these verses are a serious problem for the Bible-believer. It is impossible to unite the love and justice of God as revealed in Scripture without the cross of Jesus Christ. By completely taking the punishment of our sin upon Himself, Jesus receive the full wrath of God that we deserved. This upholds the validity of the Proverbs 6:29 and Nahum 1:3. God certainly does not arbitrarily clear the guilty; rather, their punishment is dealt in its entirety. But the love of God is also revealed because the punishment is placed upon Christ as a substitute for us. This is the splendid beauty of the gospel!

But how do we know this Christ and His gospel? We come to know Christ through His revealed Word, the Scriptures. By this thought, we see that Scripture preserves us from evil (v. 24) by taking us to Christ. Thus, if you are weary of battling a losing-war against your sin, go to Christ in His Word. Saturate your life with God’s truth, and you will soon find yourself in the midst of God Himself. We can never overcome sin by focusing upon sin; instead, we must focus on Jesus and His Word.

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