Our Ways Are Before the Eyes of the Lord
Proverbs 5:1–23 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
Christ the King Sunday – November 25, 2018 (am)
Lesson 8 here is vitally important.Each and every one of us needs to hear it. Our children need to hear it. Our world needs to hear it! We should pray that we’ll be able to hear it, and honor it, and pass it along for the good of everyone we know! Lesson 8 divides well into three parts.
The Father’s Vivid Charge to Sexual Purity
The familiar call comes in the opening two verses as usual, but there is indication that the introduction continues on through v.6—the lips of the son that guard knowledge (2) are contrasted to the lips of the forbidden woman that drip with the honey of secret passion (3), linking these opening six verses together as ones that chart the course for Lesson 8.But the vivid charge to sexual purity from the father to the son here comes with greatest clarity and focus in vv.18-20: 18 Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, 19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. 20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? Why?
We must note three things here. First, rhere is nothing wrong with drinking in human love to the point of [intoxication] so long as it remains within the parameters established by God. This is a profoundly important insight. In our day the biblical view of sexual abstinence outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage can sound increasingly strange, to the point where some actually think God is opposed to the [delights] of sexual gratification! But that view forgets 1) that He made His image-bearing creatures as male and female…, and charged them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen.1:27-28). It also forgets 2) that one whole book of the Bible (Song of Solomon) is devoted to celebration and instruction on marital sexual love. And it further forgets 3) how many times in Scripture the familiar language and imagery of human sexual love are used to capture the profound intimacy and devotion between God and His people, both ways! Isa.62:5 … As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. And in passages like Jer.3 and Hos.2, idolatry in Israel is compared to sexual unfaithfulness in marriage.
So, not only is God not opposed to His creatures’ [delighting] in sexual love within the parameters He established, He actually intendeds that delight to tutor us in what it means to delight in our relationship with Him, both now and forever!
Second, this is instruction on sexual purity more than on marital fidelity. It’s quite possible this son is not yet even married. Throughout these Lessons this father has seemed to be instructing his son as he approaches manhood, his sons as they approach manhood. But here, as this Lesson gets started in earnest, he addresses his sons (7), plural, meaning [this] instruction is actually intended for all young men (Fox 194), not just the married.
So, to those who are married, he says: Be devoted to your wife and delight in what God has designed for the human race. In miraculous imitation of His own matchless love, human love produces life! It enjoys His [blessing]! (cf. 18) It fills the earth with worshipers! And although it can surely be used for selfish, self-gratifying purposes, it is intended rather to be the seal of an exclusive, covenant love between two creatures whose sexual joining actually initiates life!
But it also has a message for the unmarried. It says: Wait for marriage. Don’t engage sexually unless and until you’ve entered into such a covenant relationship. Preserve the uniqueness, the beauty, the God-designed, God-honoring purpose of the sexual relationship, and don’t try to come into it through some side door just to taste of the pleasures it gives.
Third, this is intended for daughters also, not just sons. This has been true from the beginning in our study of Proverbs. Women have to be wary of the male equivalent to the female pressures being described here (Goldingay 590).
Now, as to this passage itself (18-20), the language is indeed vivid! 18 Let your fountain be blessed. This [blessing] is children, flowing from the fountain of this wife. So, the son should rejoice in [her] alone (Fox 202). He should find his delight only in her. 20 Why [would he ever go elsewhere for that]? (cf. 15-17) Sexual pleasure backfires as you seek it for self-gratifying ends. It starts working in reverse!
The Grievous Outcome of Not Honoring This Charge
This father warns his sons about the grievous outcome of ignoring his charge to sexual purity. And he does so by referring to a prototype we all recognize: a forbidden woman (3, 20). The father begins unmasking the dangers of chasing after this woman before he even emerges from his opening call. Where the lips of his son are his protection—meaning he’s committed to speaking only the same sort of wisdom and knowledge his father speaks (cf. Fox 191)—her lips are her enticement, saturated, [dripping], with [smooth] and sweet allure that turns bitter and cuts deeply (cf. 4) as it is embraced.
He had just called his son to ponder the path of [his] feet (5:26) and keep [his] gaze straight before [him] (5:25). But she does just the opposite: 6 she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it. In fact, 5 her feet go down to death. And so will his if he walks with her—to death, and worse! So, what could be worse than mere death? Disgrace along the way! As you move down the path to Sheol (5), it’s like you’re losing your heart and soul as a man; associating with a forbidden woman dissipates irrevocably the powers a man has been given to invest (Kidner 67). You forfeit your honor (9), your strength (10), likely meaning the vigor of your [youth] and the fruit, the earnings, that would normally produce, both your earnings and those of any children you’d bear (Fox 195).
We could take a long time with vv.9-10 but, bottom line, the passage uses general language to make the point that adultery leads to personal degeneration and financial depletion (Garrett 92). Perhaps this woman is a mistress, or a prostitute, and the one responsible for her demands money for her services. Or perhaps she’s married and her husband pursues you in court (Garrett 91). In any case you’re caught up in a bad crowd, and it will surely cost you dearly. So, all your energy and work benefit only strangers (10). You’ve depleted your wealth, eroded your reputation, shattered your family, and exhausted your body, per-haps with disease (Fox.197), perhaps addictive abuse, but that has you [groaning] at the gates of hell as your flesh and body are consumed (11), confessing deep regret and potential public disgrace: 12 …you say, “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! 13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. 14 I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation.”
It’s an ugly picture that develops when we throw wisdom to the wind and begin living for the gratification of self rather than the glory of God. It turns in on itself. It’s a grievous outcome. The man who indulges himself will pay the price a hundred times over (Garrett 92).
The Delightful Outcome when This Charge Is Honored
But that can all be avoided! The outcome can be [delightful] if we will hear the charge of this father, and honor it! And here is where the imagery of marriage according to God’s design is spotlighted. This description (18-20) can be the experience of this son once he’s married if he will devote himself exclusively to his wife. And if he’s unmarried, this description provides him with both a reason and a motivation to wait for marriage before entering into sexual expression.
There’s an irony to sexual involvement: it is reliably pleasurable physically regardless of whether you’re married, but if you’re unmarried you just can’t fight off the negative feel-ing, the guilt, that you’ve given away something you can’t measure, something well more than you should have given. Something of your self is lost, maybe gone, even if you can’t exactly name what it is. But it is surely too special just to spread around to anyone, to [scatter] it abroad (16). You may not quite know why, but you can’t fight off that feeling. So, you just adopt the irony. You absorb the implications of the great reversal. You deny the self-condemnation you feel. You just fold in this contradiction to your understanding of what you’re doing. And you live with the pain and confusion that brings.
In a movie I saw some years ago, two young ladies were talking about their weekend which, for one of them, had been filled for the first time with sexual engagement. So, how was it? her friend asked. And she answered: It was great! We dragged ourselves home in shame! Doesn’t that sound like a great weekend?
Just listen to the metaphors that people use to describe extra-marital sexual involvements. See if you don’t still hear similar descriptions. As enlightened Americans we feel like we should be entitled to sexual freedom. But as we try to describe it, so often words fail unless they’re as stark as that young lady’s confession in the movie. Not to mention the fact that the common accusation, still today, of someone who hooks up with someone else while still in a relationship with me: You cheated on me!
All this can be bypassed just by hearing this father’s instruction, by hearing the Word of God, the Designer’s intent. It can be hard to imagine that, if you’re married, you’re happiest engaging sexually with just one person for your whole life. And it can be even harder to imagine that, if you’re unmarried, you’re happiest waiting for marriage before you engage sexually, even if it turns out that you never marry! But that’s the truth! That’s how it works! And that is the Lesson this father is teaching his son! The very same pleasure that so thrills this son (18-20), that has him stumbling drunk with love for his lifelong bride, turns in on itself and brings almost indescribable pain and heartache to the one who wants to drink his fill of it outside of marriage—outside of the Designer’s intent. In fact, it will eventually bring him final destruction! The same powerful word translated here as intoxicated (19, 20), describing the son’s love for his wife, is used again as Lesson 8 closes. The one who still wants to engage with a forbidden woman even after hearing this instruction 13 … dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray. There it is: he [stumbles]; he’s [lost]; he [perishes] (Fox 205). As Paul (and other NT writers) put it: The sexually immoral… will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Co.6:9-10).
Each and every one of us needs to hear this! Our children need to hear it! Our world needs to hear it! We should pray that we’ll be able to hear it, and honor it, and pass it along for the good of everyone we know!
We need to remember the call of Lesson 7 that stands in such contrast to the ways of the forbidden woman (6). We need to ponder the path of [our] feet (5:26) and let [our] eyes look directly forward (5:25). We need to keep [our] heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (5:23)—everything [we] do flows from it (tniv). And that brings Jesus’ words to mind: Mat.5:27 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
We need to recognize that honoring Lesson 8 is rooted in hearing Lesson 7. The only way to keep your way far from [the forbidden woman] (8) is to address your attraction to her while it’s still contained within your heart, and hasn’t yet begun to redirect your eyes or your feet.
Ultimately, we need to recognize that the only way to hear and honor Lesson 8, and pass it along successfully, is to hear and honor the Father of us all Whose wisdom this father is teaching to his sons. And the only way to do that is to embrace by faith this greater Father’s greatest Son, Who kept His Father’s instruction with absolute and undiluted perfection, then laid down His life not just to cover, but to cleanse the sins of all who will receive Him by faith!
We retell this story every Sunday in our corporate worship: we’re called into the presence of a holy God and, through our worship of Him, are reminded we are sinners. We confess our sin together and hear His affirmation of our forgiveness in Christ from God’s own Word. We’re then instructed from His Word and receive His grace to obey Him in the week ahead by remembering what He’s done to accomplish our salvation. And finally we’re blessed from His Word and sent out to go live it. We retell this story week by week so that it will take root in our hearts, strengthen our faith, and enable our obedience by His grace to the instruction we receive right here in Proverbs 5.