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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Proverbs 7

 

 

Introduction

Discourse 8. Addressed To ‘My Son’. After Appealing To Him To Observe His Words Solomon Vividly Describes The Wiles Of An Adulteress And Warns ‘Sons’ Against Her (Proverbs 7:1-27).

This is the fourth reference to the dangers of the ‘strange woman’. In Proverbs 2:16-19 the emphasis was on her betrayal of both man and God; in Proverbs 5:1-23 there was an emphasis on the financial and social loss involved in consorting with the strange woman and the encouragement to look rather to a true wife; in Proverbs 6:20-35 the emphasis was on the resultant anger of the husband which can only be assuaged by extreme judgment; here the emphasis is on the details of the seduction of the young man in preparation for the contrast with the activity of Ms Wisdom.

For it is surely not a coincidence that this long passage dealing with the woman who seeks to lead men astray is followed by an equally long passage exalting Ms Wisdom (Proverbs 8:1-36). Just as the adulteress here goes out seeking the foolish young man (Proverbs 7:10-12) so as to persuade him with words to follow her (Proverbs 7:14-20), and offers him love (Proverbs 7:13; Proverbs 7:18), so in chapter 8 does Ms Wisdom go out (Proverbs 8:1-4), so as persuade men to follow her (Proverbs 8:18-21), and offers them love of a different kind (Proverbs 8:17). And as the adulteress lists what she has to offer (Proverbs 7:16-17), so does Ms Wisdom (Proverbs 8:18-19). Both end with a warning of men going down into death (Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 8:36). And this association and contrast is confirmed in Proverbs 7:4-5 where treating Wisdom as his sister will keep him from the strange woman. We may add further that, in a similar way to the strange woman in Proverbs 7:14, Ms Wisdom in Proverbs 9:2 is portrayed as having offered a sacrifice in preparation for feasting the naive ones.

There are also a number of contrasts. The adulteress works at night, the impression we have of Ms Wisdom is that she speaks openly during the day. The adulteress’s words are deceptive, and encourage deceit and unrighteousness. Ms Wisdom’s words are open and honest, encouraging truth and righteousness. The adulteress leads her hearer to into certain death, Ms Wisdom leads her hearers into life. The adulteress is very much of the earth and temporal, Ms Wisdom is heavenly and eternal. The adulteress offers sexual love, Ms Wisdom offers spiritual love.

What is more the direct contrast between Ms Wisdom and Ms Folly is made explicit in Proverbs 9:1-18. Thus Ms Wisdom is seen as God reaching out to man through His wisdom, whilst the adulterous woman represents the lures of the world and the flesh which lead men away from God. Both are in competition with each other. We can compare how Moses ‘chose rather to be treated badly with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt’ (Hebrews 11:25-26).

Once again the passage divides into three subsections:

· An appeal to ‘my son’ to observe his words and his commandments and to take wisdom and understanding as his close female relatives, so as to be protected from the foreign woman (Proverbs 7:1-5).

· A detailed description of the seducing of the young man by the ‘strange woman’ (Proverbs 7:6-23).

· A further appeal addressed to ‘sons’ not to follow her because her way is the way of death (Proverbs 7:24-27).


Verses 1-5

An Appeal To ‘My Son’ To Observe His Words And His Commandments And To Take Wisdom And Understanding As His Close Female Relatives, So As To Be Protected From The Foreign Woman (Proverbs 7:1-5).

This appeal follows the pattern of earlier appeals. For the combination of ‘words’ and ‘commandments’ compare Proverbs 2:1; for the combination of ‘commandments’ and ‘torah (law)’ compare Proverbs 3:1, and see Proverbs 6:20; for the combination of wisdom and understanding compare Proverbs 2:2; Proverbs 3:13; Proverbs 3:19; Proverbs 4:5 a, 7; Proverbs 5:1; Proverbs 8:1; Proverbs 8:5; Proverbs 8:14; Proverbs 9:10. In it the young man is called on the embrace wisdom as his sister and understanding as his kinswoman in order to be delivered from the strange woman who speaks smooth words.

The appeal is presented chiastically:

A My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with you (Proverbs 7:1).

B Keep my commandments and live, and my law as the apple of your eyes (Proverbs 7:2).

C Bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart (Proverbs 7:3)

B Say to wisdom, “You are my sister, and call understanding your kinswoman (Proverbs 7:4).

A That they may keep you from the strange woman, from the foreigner who flatters with her words (Proverbs 7:5).

Note that in A his ‘son’ has to ‘keep’ his ‘words’, and in the parallel these will ‘keep’ him from the strange woman who flatters with her ‘words’. In B he is to treat his torah as the apple of his eyes, and in the parallel he is treat wisdom and understanding as close relatives. Centrally in C he is to bind on his fingers, and write on his heart, Solomon’s commandments and torah.

Proverbs 7:1-2

‘My son, keep my words,

And lay up my commandments with you.

Keep my commandments and live,

And my law as the apple of your eyes.’

In the typical phraseology of his previous appeals Solomon calls on ‘his son’ to treasure and observe his words, and to lay up his commandments with him. There would appear in this to be an encouragement for him to learn them by rote. And by treasuring and observing his commandments he will ‘live’ (compare Proverbs 4:4), that is he will enjoy a wholesome spiritual life before God. Elsewhere such life is promised to those who treasure and observe the Torah of Moses (Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 8:3; Deuteronomy 16:20; Deuteronomy 30:6; Deuteronomy 30:16; Deuteronomy 30:19), thus Solomon is here connecting his commandments and torah with the Torah of Moses. It demonstrates his supreme confidence that he is acting as God’s mouthpiece. And this is confirmed by the accompanying use of ‘my torah’ (instruction). His torah, based on God’s Torah, was to be guarded and treasured by the young man, as he guarded and treasured his own eyesight. The ‘apple’ or ‘little man’ of his eyes were the pupils, in which a man’s image might be reflected in miniature. Compare Deuteronomy 32:10.

Proverbs 7:3-5

‘Bind them on your fingers,

Write them on the tablet of your heart.

Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,

And call understanding your kinswoman,

That they may keep you from the strange woman,

From the foreigner who flatters with her words.

‘Bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart.’ Compare for this Deuteronomy 11:18 (and see Deuteronomy 6:6; Deuteronomy 6:8), ‘you shall lay up these words in your heart, and bind them for a sign on your hand’. This was what was to be done with God’s Torah. The importance of their being bound on their fingers lay in the fact that what was bound on the fingers would constantly be observed in daily life. Being written on the tablet of the heart they would affect the will and mind of the person involved. For ‘writing on the heart’, signifying God’s activity in bringing home His word to us, compare Jeremiah 31:33.

Solomon then calls on him to see wisdom as his sister, and understanding as his close kinswoman. By being closely related to them as insiders he will hopefully escape from the woman who is an outsider, the strange woman, the foreign woman, who seeks to introduce to him her own smooth words. Note that Proverbs 7:5 is a repetition of Proverbs 2:15. Solomon wants to ensure that ‘his son’ is delivered from a stranger’s flattering words. If he allows ‘his words’ to guard him (Proverbs 7:1), he will be guarded from the words of a stranger.


Verses 6-23

A Detailed Description Of The Seduction Of The Naive Young Man By The ‘Strange Woman’ (Proverbs 7:6-23).

This account divides up into three, what the father observes of the naive young man’s actions (Proverbs 7:6-13), what the strange woman says to the naive young man (Proverbs 7:14-20), and the resulting response of the young man (Proverbs 7:21-23). It is presented chiastically:

A For at the window of my house, I looked forth through my lattice, and I beheld among the naive ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, passing through the street near her corner, and he went the way to her house, in the twilight, in the evening of the day, in the pupil of the night and in the darkness (Proverbs 7:6-9).

B And, see, there met him a woman, with the attire of a prostitute, and wily of heart, (She is clamorous and wilful, her feet do not remain in her house, now she is in the streets, now in the broad places, and lies in wait at every corner) (Proverbs 7:10-12).

C So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face she said to him, “Sacrifices of peace-offerings are with me, this day have I paid my vows, therefore I have come forth to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you (Proverbs 7:13-15).

D I have spread my couch with carpets of tapestry, with striped cloths (embroidered stuff) of the yarn of Egypt (Proverbs 7:16).

D I have perfumed my bed, with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon (Proverbs 7:17).

C Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning, let us solace ourselves with loves, for the man is not at home, he is gone a long journey, he has taken a bag of money with him, he will come home at the full moon (Proverbs 7:18-20).

B With her much fair speech she causes him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she drives him along (Proverbs 7:21).

A He goes after her immediately, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the correction of the fool, until an arrow strikes through his liver, like a bird hurries to the snare, and does not knows that it is for his life (Proverbs 7:22-24).

Note that in A the young man is drawn to her house, and in the parallel he follows her there. In B she is ready with her wiles, and in the parallel she drives him along with her wiles. In C she flirts with him and says that she has been looking for him, and in the parallel she calls him to go with her for love-making. Centrally in D she has laid her seductive and foreign trap.

Proverbs 7:6-9

‘For at the window of my house,

I looked forth through my lattice,

And I beheld among the naive ones,

I discerned among the youths,

A young man void of understanding.

Passing through the street near her corner,

And he took strides towards the way to her house,

In the twilight, in the evening of the day,

In the middle (pupil) of the night and in the darkness.’

In very descriptive words Solomon pictures himself as looking through a window (an open space in the wall, probably covered with lattice work) on the second floor of his house (the ground floor would have no windows) and watching a group of youths who were standing aimlessly around and had little to do (naive ones). As he watched he saw a naive young man, ‘void of understanding’ (i.e. lacking in wisdom), detach himself from them and wend his way towards the prostitute’s house on the corner of the street. The young man has waited for darkness to descend. To that extent he is aware of his folly. The verb ‘took strides’ seems to suggest the activity of someone showing off to his fellows (walked pompously). But it should be noted that he stops short of actually entering her house. The picture is psychologically true to life, portraying the cockiness of a young man wanting to show off to his friends, whilst not being quite so sure when he actually approaches his goal. It requires the wiles of the prostitute to achieve this.

It was twilight. The sun had gone down and darkness was advancing. The repetition brings home the slowly gathering darkness. The ‘pupil’ of the night may signify blackness, or the time when the eye has to acclimatise because it is growing dark. There may here be the hint that he was walking into darkness.

Proverbs 7:10-12

‘And, see, there met him a woman,

With the attire of a prostitute, and watchful of heart,

(She is unruly and wilful,

Her feet do not remain in her house,

Now she is in the streets, now in the broad places,

And lies in wait at every corner).’

In contrast is the woman. She has been scouring the town looking for just such a person. She has walked the streets and visited the open square in front of the city gate and waited at corners. She is dressed as a prostitute (possibly in order to disguise her true identity) and watchful of heart. She is unruly (clamorous) and wilful. She is not prepared to stay quietly at home in the dark hours sewing like other women. She is a rebel at heart, and is taking the opportunity of her husband’s absence to enjoy some illicit sex. But she does not want everyone to know it.

On the other hand ‘in the streets -- in the broad places -- at every corner’ may indicate that she is a fictitious person who represents a number of prostitutes. He may be saying that they were to be found everywhere.

Proverbs 7:13-15

‘So she caught him, and kissed him,

And with an impudent face she said to him,

Sacrifices of peace-offerings are with (upon) me,

This day have I paid my vows.

Therefore I came forth to meet you,

Diligently to seek your face, and I found you.’

Note how she tries to indicate her personal interest in him. He is the one that she has been looking for! So she seizes him, kisses him, and invites him to a private feast. The impudent face may indicate that at this point she unveils for him. The mention of ‘sacrifices of peace offerings’ indicate a coming feast. The flesh of a peace offering was eaten by the offerer and his/her family. The plural may have in mind that she will have received a number of portions of meat from it. And it is because she has this feast, with no one to share it, that she has come looking for him. She is even trying to give the impression that his going with her will be a kind of religious celebration connected with making an offering to YHWH and making vows to Him. To the naive young man it even begins to seem respectable.

Proverbs 7:16-17

‘I have spread my couch with coverlets of tapestry,

With striped cloths (or ‘embroidered stuff’) of the yarn (linen) of Egypt,

I have perfumed my bed,

With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.’

But as she reels in her catch she offers even greater delights. Her couch has been prepared ready to receive him. She has spread coverlets over it, made of embroidered linen material from Egypt, (probably red in colour, indicating her status), so that they can feast together as they lie on them in comfort. It is intended to sound mysterious and romantic. But to the godly Israelite the mention of Egypt would bring to mind the insidious lure of Egypt (Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:5). Solomon no doubt hoped that the ‘young man’ whom he was addressing would hopefully take warning.

And not only was there a couch with Egyptian coverlets, there was also a bed perfumed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon (compare Song of Solomon 4:14). Such a bed would only be owned by the wealthy. And once they had feasted he would share her bed. He was to enjoy every luxury.

Myrrh was a fragrant gum-resin obtained by tapping Arabian or African balsam trees. It was mentioned at Ugarit. Aloes were obtained from the eaglewood tree in south-east Asia and North India. Cinnamon was obtained from the bark of the cinnamon tree. They were all very valuable and spoke of great luxury, although, of course, she may have been exaggerating the delights in store. But the naive young man would be mesmerised..

Proverbs 7:18-20

‘Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning,

Let us solace ourselves (or ‘make each other delighted’) with loves,

For the man is not at home,

He is gone a long journey,

He has taken a bag of money with him,

He will come home at the full moon.’

She calls him to a feast of love. They can make love (sexual love) all night, without any likelihood of interference. It will be a feast of love. And they can delight each other, with each other’s love (loves, the same word as used by Wisdom in chapter 8) hour by hour until the morning.

And it will be quite safe, for ‘the man’ is at present not at home. He is away for some time. He has gone on a long trip, with a bag full of silver, and is not due back until the full moon. So the young man can be sure that he will not arrive unexpectedly and catch them at it. Note the cold description of her husband as ‘the man’ and not as ‘my husband’. The naive young man is not to think that he is interfering in a love match. It may also indicate her own cold-heartedness.

Proverbs 7:21-23

‘With her much fair speech she causes him to yield,

With the flattering of her lips she coerces him along.

He goes after her immediately,

As an ox goes to the slaughter,

Or as one in fetters to the correction of the fool,

Until an arrow strike through his liver,

As a bird hurries to the snare,

And knows not that it is for his life.’

With her fair speech she breaks down his resistance, and with her smooth lips she coerces or ‘forces’ him to accompany her. But as we know he was already on the way to her house, so she has a willing victim. That is why he accompanies her immediately. So there is a clever paralleling of the enticements of the woman, and the folly of the young man. But what Solomon’s ‘son’ is to recognise is that really the naive young man is as an ox that is going unaware to the slaughterhouse. He may see himself as a powerful and virulent ox, but really he is heading to his death. He is like a man in fetters (the fetters of sin and lust) being dragged helplessly to what Solomon sees as the physical punishment arising from his foolish behaviour, unaware that shortly an arrow will be shot through his liver as he is executed. He is unaware that he is going to his execution. (A particular instance of such an event may be in Solomon’s mind). He is like a bird hurrying into the snare, not realising that it will lead to the loss of its life, just as the young man is hurrying into the honeytrap, not realising that it is to his death (compare Proverbs 5:3-5). These pictures and their consequences may well indicate that he can only expect the death penalty for his behaviour, as required by the Torah. Notice the downward movement. The strong and virulent ox, the prisoner restricted by fetters, the foolish flapping bird. He may think of himself as a young ox, but really he is a man in fetters, yes, and even a foolish helpless bird. And in all cases only death awaits.


Verses 24-27

A Final Appeal Addressed To ‘Sons’ Not To Follow Her Because Her Way Is The Way Of Death (Proverbs 7:24-27).

This final appeal is addressed, not to ‘my son’ but to ‘sons’. He may well be thinking, not only of the young man, but of those who will follow in later generations. And he calls on them not to be led astray, because such women have had many victims, and the consequence for all of them has been death.

The subsection is in the form of a simple chiasmus:

A Now therefore, sons, listen to me, and attend to the words of my mouth, Do not let your heart decline to her ways, do not go astray in her paths. (Proverbs 7:24-25).

B For she has cast down many wounded, yes, all her slain are a mighty host (Proverbs 7:26).

A Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death (Proverbs 7:27).

In A he warns against declining into her ways, and going astray in her paths, and in the parallel he shows where those ways lead, for her house is the way to Sheol (the grave world). Central in B is the number who have been caught out by her.

Proverbs 7:24-25

‘Now therefore, sons, listen to me,

And attend to the words of my mouth,

Do not let your heart decline to her ways,

Do not go astray in her paths.

‘Now therefore sons listen to me’ is a repeat of Proverbs 5:7 coming before a similar previous incident. The sons must therefore listen to him and not to the woman, and he calls on all who will hear his voice to take note of what he says and carry it into action (‘listen’). Let them attend to his words, and take them seriously. They must beware of letting their hearts take a downward path, descending into her ways. They must beware of going astray in her paths. Again we have the important emphasis on the fact that life is a way along which we walk, for good or ill, and we must beware of going downhill, or going astray in it. And the ways of this woman lead to deceit, the disintegration of society, shame and death.

Proverbs 7:26

For she has cast down many wounded,

Yes, all her slain are a mighty host.

For such women have had many victims, some wounded, others slain. And the dead have been many, ‘a mighty host’. Such women can be more destructive than a huge army. For no temptation destroys men more than straying sexually. Sex is a mighty force for evil, as well as, when properly used, for good..

Proverbs 7:27

Her house is the way to Sheol,

Going down to the chambers of death.

For the house of such a woman is the road to the grave world. Through it men go down to the chambers of death. The word for ‘chambers’ indicates inner rooms cut off from outside. There may well have been ‘chambers of death’ connected with Solomon’s palace, dark places into which men go never to return alive. For this description compare Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 5:5.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 7:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/proverbs-7.html. 2013.

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