Proverbs 7 Temptation Mark Sanders
Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church August 10, 2014
Many of you have no doubt seen what could be argued as the best of the Indiana Jones movie series, “The Last Crusade.” In this film, Indiana is in a race against the Nazis to get possession of the Holy Grail, the cup that promises eternal life. By the end of the movie, only 3 people make it to the chamber where there are countless cups to choose from, but only one cup is the true Holy Grail that leads to eternal life. Every other cup brings death.
This movie obviously if taken literally does not hold up to a biblical understanding of life, but it does however provide us with a very chilling and apt analogy for the way the writers of Proverbs saw all of life. All of life is a series of choices. And a running theme in Proverbs for the choice we must make, is which path will we choose to walk. And much like the cups in Indiana Jones, there are many false paths that look like they lead to life, but there is only one true path that leads life, while all the other alternatives end in death.
These are stakes that Proverbs 7 raises. This is not mere advice that we can take if we like it. No! Avoiding the adulteress is not a secondary issue. This is about life and death. And the bookends of this chapter make that very clear. Verse 2 puts it positively by saying, “Keep my commandments and live.” While in verse 27, the last verse of the chapter, the father tells his son negatively, “Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.” The foolish man walks into her chambers thinking he will find life, but is horrified by heaps of corpses that she has amassed for herself.
I can imagine the scene of this father in Proverbs 7 explaining to his son the dangers of the adulteress. As he begins to warn his son of her snares, his son perhaps retorts with a variety of objections. Objections like, “Come on, dad, I’ve heard this before, I’m not gonna get into any trouble.” Or perhaps the son might say, “Hey why can’t you be more like my friend’s parents, they let them do what they want.” Or even more scary, “Hey Dad, honestly, you can’t expect me to follow the rules that strictly. Besides, it’s not that big of a deal.”
To which the Father becomes very serious, perhaps with tears in his eyes, responds by saying, “If you don’t take my warnings seriously, Son, you will die.”
This is the tone of this passage. And may we not respond to this passage like a foolish son, but may we take our father’s warnings very very seriously today.
Because what this father is telling is so vital to his son’s life, he tells his son in verse 3 to “write his teaching on the tablet of his heart.” This teaching should be so precious and instinctual to the son, that it becomes the very air he breathes. But the question we must ask ourselves before we go any further in this passage, is what guarantee do we have that the son, or we, can even obey the father’s teachings? If we don’t have the ability to obey, then all of the father’s warnings are like shouts against the wind. They do nothing.
And this is a very tricky part about this passage, that we must be very careful with. There is a way to take the teaching in this passage, that looks like you are perfectly following the father’s instructions, and yet, it still leads to death. Indeed, there are many people in this world who successfully avoid the adulteress, and yet, their end is still destruction. So there are two very important clarifiers we must make before we go any further.
First, the adulteress mentioned in this passage is a symbol for any kind of sin that tangles and ensnares our lives. It could be sexual sin, but it could also be alcoholism, or addictions of any kind, and all the allures of this world. Sin is alluring. So just because we are not falling into the snares of actual adultery, or even tempted by such a situation, it does not mean that we have escaped death. But I’m sure many of you already understood that.
But there is another false understanding of this passage. And that is an application of this passage that is devoid of Christ. So whatever your greatest temptation may be, the answer must be in Christ. If you apply Proverbs 7 apart from the fuller context of all of redemptive history, you will end up in one of two camps. Either you will be successful in resisting temptation, and in that very moment, you fall into the snare of pride. Or, you fail and walk once again down the street of the adulteress that leads to Sheol, and you fall into despair. Trying to obey God apart from the person and work of Christ, leads only to pride or despair, and both still lead to death.
And so we must first understand Proverbs 7 through the lens of Christ. But in order to properly understand Christ and his work, we must understand why Christ came, and what he came to do, and for that, we can look to the history of Israel. You see reading the Bible is an act of reading front to back, and back to front. We cannot properly understand the Old Testament apart from the New, and likewise we cannot properly understand the New Testament apart from the Old. We cannot properly apply any part of Scripture apart from its entire context. So before we get into any application of Proverbs 7, we must see it through the lens of Christ.
The amazing thing about seeing Christ in the Old Testament is that you can follow and trace themes. And so today we are going to look very briefly at the problem of Israel’s disobedience, and their inability to truly resist temptation, and how that ultimately leads us to Christ.
As we looked at in Proverbs 7:3, the father wants the son to write this teaching on the tablet of his heart. And this is actually the very thing God commands Israel to do as well. For to write something on your heart is to establish something into the very core of your being. And God calls Israel to write the law on their hearts. Another way to say that is that God wants them to circumcise their hearts. God calls his people to do this both in Deuteronomy 10:16, and also in Jeremiah 4:4. But the problem is that through out redemptive history, Israel has not been able to circumcise their hearts. Adam was in the best possible position to do this. He had no handicaps in resisting temptation, for he had no inward disposition causing him to sin. He had only the outward temptation of the serpent to fight against. But even in the garden, before the fall, before all of its moral and mind twisting effects, Adam, our representative, chose Woman Folly over Woman Wisdom. These two women are featured often in the book of Proverbs. And they are very similar to the paths mentioned as well. Woman Folly is the path of death, while Woman Wisdom is the path of life. Both women promise life, but Woman Folly’s promise is always death in disguise. And isn’t this the tragic pattern of sin. Sin promises something it cannot deliver. It promises life, but always ends in death. And this is also the tragic pattern of Israel’s relationship with Woman Folly. In the desert, Woman Folly promised the Israelites life if they would turn back from the land of Canaan, which she had convinced them was a land of death, and encouraged them to return to Egypt, which she also convinced them was a land of life. Woman Folly completely turns reality on its head. Calling life death, and death life. Over and over the Israelites turned to the idols of Baal and Asherah, thinking that in bringing sacrifices to demons, their land and offspring would have life. But idolatry always led to the eventual death and slaughter of multitudes in Israel. Even David, when he saw Bathsheba, was convinced by Woman Folly that Bathsheba was the pathway to life. But instead, it led to the death of their first child.
The Old Testament time and time again shows us that humans, in and of ourselves, are incapable of circumcising our own hearts. And this came as no surprise to our Lord. For in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, the very same books where God commanded his people to circumcise their hearts, in those same books God also promises that he will do it for them. And the way that God circumcises the hearts of men, is in the sending of his Son, to do what we could not do.
Only through the perfect life of Christ are we able to resist sin in the midst of temptation. The Israelites gave into temptation time and time again, but Jesus never once followed Woman Folly. And that was no easy accomplishment, for Satan threw every possible ace card of temptation he had at Jesus. He offered him life without death, worship and glory without the cross, and opportunities to stop the mocking and scorning of the crowds by simply getting off the cross. But Jesus never listened to Woman Folly. Why? Because he himself is the embodiment of Woman Wisdom. Jesus is the path of life! Jesus is the one who promises life, and delivers on that promise! Without Jesus, we cannot have true wisdom and life.
So one might ask the question, why then, if Jesus never once gave into temptation, why then did he have to die? If he followed the path of life perfectly, as the Proverbs say, why did he die so cruelly and painfully on the cross? Jesus died, because he is the greater Job! Job, who was a righteous man, suffered greatly, but not a result of his own sin, but for the glory of God! Jesus, in a much greater way, IS THE RIGHTEOUS MAN, who suffered and died for the ultimate glory of God! Christ died not for his own sins, but for ours. Every single one of us, like the man caught up with the adulteress, have often followed temptation as an ox goes to the slaughter. But Jesus, in his mercy and grace, takes our place on the chopping block. The only man to ever truly walk to the path of life took the penalty for so many who have walked the path of death.
But just as Job’s fortune and family and life were restored to him, so too in a much greater way, was Jesus’ life restored as he rose from death, and received the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And King Jesus, when he sat down at the right hand of God the Father, was given an enthronement gift by the Father. That gift was the Holy Spirit. And King Jesus, in being rich in grace, has poured that gift upon his people on the earth. So now we too, covered in the spotless blood of our risen lamb, are able to walk the path of life by the power of His Spirit! And this power through Christ’s Spirit gives us not only the desire, but also the ability to kill the deeds of the flesh, and say yes to Woman Wisdom. It is only by the wisdom of Christ, through his indwelling Spirit, that the adulteress is exposed for who she really is: Woman Folly herself!
For you see, Jesus is the true light, which enlightens everyone” as John 1:9 tells us. And thus through the light of Christ, through his wisdom, we are able to expose works of darkness, and properly understand the path of true wisdom. And thus, it is only through the wisdom of Christ, that we have a proper lens through which to read Proverbs 7. He is the only means by which we love and keep the father’s commands in this chapter to avoid the adulteress. Any other means of righteousness other than Christ does not please God. Sure, without Christ you might be able to escape the wrath of a jealous husband, but you will never escape the wrath of our jealous God apart from Christ. Jesus warns the Pharisees of reading their Bibles with a Christless lens. He says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” You can become a world-class scholar on the book of Proverbs and Hebrew wisdom literature, but if all of that study does not lead you to Christ, who is our true wisdom, then you are still on the pathway to death, and there is no true wisdom on that path.
So with the lens of Christ, let us look more deeply at our passage in Proverbs. As we have said, the stakes are high for us in this situation. The adulteress is an adversary that is not to be trifled with. Those who would approach in vain confidence all eventually realize the overwhelming power at her disposal. And this is exactly the type of person the writer in chapter 7 is addressing. In verses 6 and 7, the father says, “For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youth, a young man lacking sense.”
Avoiding the snares of sin requires sense! It requires wisdom and insight into the weapons that our enemies wield against us. But the problem is that we all too often are far too senseless in our battles against sin. And this is a two-fold problem for all of humanity.
First, while in reality, sin has the very stench of death, with the sulfur of Sheol itself, this potent, wretched odor is rarely recognized for what it is, because the fall has clogged up our nasal pathways. Our sense of smell has gone numb. But to make matters worse, sins has also cleverly disguised its stench with what Proverbs 7 describes as sweet smelling perfumes of myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. The adulteress uses smooth words, kisses, colored linens from Egyptians linen, and seductive talk to make a garbage heap smell like a rose garden. Is this not such an accurate picture of so much destructive sin. Snares such as pornography and drunkenness cover themselves with every possible allurement imaginable. Whatever your struggling with in life, they have an answer for you. And perhaps the most alluring aspect of it all, is the instant nature of their gratification. Oh how we in modern America, in our lightning speed technological age, are so very susceptible to the allure of instant gratification. What took months on a boat just a century ago, now takes hours in an airplane. Downloads that took hours to finish a decade ago, now take seconds. Today, you don’t even have to leave your home to go to the bank to deposit yours checks, you can simply scan it in on your smart phone. And worlds of sinful pleasure are more accessible now than ever before in all of human history. If there was ever a generation that needed the warnings of Proverbs 7, it is ours. Sin, especially addictive sin, feels so much like life, but it is a broken cistern, and it’s filled with poisonous water.
Because we cannot fully smell the stench of sin for what it is, we need a spiritual nasal decongestant. Only Christ can open up our nasal pathways. It is only through Christ alone that we begin to see sin for what it really is. I can shout at the top of my lungs about the wretched odors of sin all day, but if people do not experience the vomit-inducing funk of it for themselves, they won’t stop indulging in it. Only Christ, through the regenerating power of His Holy Spirit, can give us this kind of experience. Only Christ can change our hearts, so that sin becomes an enemy of God, in which we resonate with David when he says, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.” This is the heart Christ can give us for the sins that we desire so much to hold on to.
Clearly hating sin is the first step in the path of life. Without hatred for sin, we can’t even begin to fight against. But if we are honest with ourselves, because of remaining indwelling sin, we often have a love/hate relationship with our sin. And even in those moments when we are trying our best to hate what God hates, we still find ourselves falling back into sin’s vice-like grip. For you see, hatred for sin declares war against it, but the battle itself still needs to be fought.
We must understand that temptation is always looking for us, even when we ourselves are not looking for it. But the frequency in which temptation finds you is largely dependent upon the lifestyle of wisdom you choose. The man who lacks sense stumbles into temptation at every corner. For Proverbs 7:7-10 tells us that the young man who lacks sense, passes along the street near the adulteresses corner, taking the road to her house. So first, this man was foolish in the places he chose to go. Then it says that he went there in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. Not only was he foolish in where he went, but he was foolish in when he went there. For at that place, at that time, “behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.”
Your choices will impact the amount of temptation you experience. The choice to watch certain television channels at certain times of the day will bring about multiple temptations. Late at night, temptations towards lust will be high, but you know what else is a great a temptation at night on television. Gluttony. When do McDonalds and Pizza Hut choose to air some of their most delectable advertisements? It’s often at 10 o’clock at night! Or, there is also the temptation for greed late at night on television. When do people most often make those impulse decisions to order some product they don’t need but an infomercial has convinced them that they do need? It’s usually late at night. Now perhaps none of these example would be much of a temptation for you, but this is exactly my point. I can’t know for certain what is a temptation for you. But you must know that for yourself. You must know what are those areas, and those times, when you are most susceptible to Woman Folly. For some of you, loneliness and despair might come on you more easily during certain times of day. It’s important that you recognize those hours as times of greater spiritual warfare. Keeping out of the snares of Woman Folly requires us all to be shrewd as serpents.
And this is the part that a lot of people don’t like to hear. But sometimes, being wise and avoiding temptation means giving up neutral or even good things to gain something much greater. For some people, they just need to give up the TV completely. For others, they need to give up that subscription, or perhaps give up certain relationships, because those things are sources of such great temptation. And isn’t this what our Lord so vividly expressed when he told us to cut off our hands, or gouge out our eyeballs if they cause us to sin, why??? Because it’s better, it’s far better, to enter into heaven a bit maimed, than go into hell in tact. Jesus understands the stakes of Proverbs, of life and death, when it comes to avoiding temptation. We avoid great temptation whenever possible, even when it means giving up good things.
There are many times when we aren’t looking for trouble, but we lack sense, and trouble finds us. The young man lacking sense in Proverbs 7 may not have realized the danger he was walking into. His intentions for going down that street might have been quite innocuous. He could have been going for some groceries, perhaps they were even groceries he was buying to feed the needy. Perhaps that entire week, he had serving the poor and downtrodden, and he felt very intimate with the Lord in times of prayer and study. But the Bible is very clear that temptation can sneak up on us even in our highest moments of blessing and fellowship with God. Remember in the book of Numbers, right after Balaam blessed Israel time and time again, 24,000 Israelites were destroyed. Why? Because they fell into temptation and committed sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab. Temptation seized them in their season of blessing. Paul speaks of this very event when warning the Corinthians against sexual immorality. Wisdom calls for vigilance at all times. Satan can use blessings as well as curses to turn our hearts away from the living God.
Let us look a bit more at what happens to the young man lacking sense. He stumbles upon the adulteress, and what does she do? She begins to try and persuade him. The writer tells us that she is loud and wayward, and she seizes him and kisses him, and with seductive speech she persuades him, with her smooth talk she compels him. This means that it took some clever convincing on the part of the adulteress to get the young man to follow her. He did not immediately fall into her arms, it seems that he stood his ground, and fought against her for a period of time. But there is a fatal mistake that he made from the very start. And that mistake is that he let her talk at all. The moment that you begin to dialogue with temptation, Woman Folly has you right where she wants you. No matter how good of a rhetorician you think you are, Woman Folly’s smooth words and seductive talk will wear you down and eventually convince you that her path is the path of life.
Is this not the first moment of failure with Adam and Eve? They let the serpent talk to them. They let the serpent persuade them. They gave the serpent room to speak. God had expressly given Adam the authority and responsibility of having dominion over all creatures in the world, including serpents. The serpent had no right to speak to them. The moment the Serpent appeared, Adam had a job to do, and that did not include listening to him. Adam’s job was to keep and protect the garden and the woman God had given to him. The moment the serpent reared its ugly head, Adam should have lopped it off.
The moment we begin to negotiate and reason with temptation, we’ve already fallen it’s trap. Sin, Satan, and Woman Folly has no right to voice their opinions. They have no permission to speak. We are called to one task when it involves sin, and that task is not negotiation or compromise. It is war! Paul tells us in Romans 8 to put to death the deeds of the body, how, by the Spirit! The battle can only be won through Christ’s Spirit. You see how futile any attempt at escaping the adulteress is without the Spirit fighting for us. Indeed it is a miracle every single time we say no to sin, and kill it. Every single time you kill seeds of bitterness that would grow up to strangle your soul, that is a miracle of God’s power. Every single time you a person chooses not to click on that seductive email, that is the very power of God that raised Christ from the dead! My brothers and sisters, you owe sin nothing, except war!
But besides just warnings, we also can receive much comfort, encouragement, and confidence through God’s word, in our fight against Woman Folly! In the very same passage where Paul warns the Corinthians against sexual immorality by giving them the example of the 24,000 Israelites who were destroyed, just 5 verses later, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul gives them a great encouragement by promising that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Wisdom means that as much as we are able to, we avoid situations that would lead us into temptation. But we are living in a fallen world, where Satan prowls around like a lion waiting to devoir his prey. So wisdom also recognizes that temptation will come upon us no matter how careful we are. But even in those moments, we always have hope.
You may have been walking through the safest part of town, in the middle of the day, and yet the adulteress still may find you. She may have you cornered in an alley, with a brick wall at your back, and tall buildings on either side. You might feel that there is no way possible way out. But God promises us a fire escape latter, by which we can climb up and escape the luring embrace of death itself. But what is this way of escape that Paul mentions? What practically is our way out of temptation? The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our escape. Jesus “himself has suffered when tempted, so he is able to help those who are being tempted.” He helps us when we look to him in prayer. In our greatest moments of Spiritual need, God has given us free access to the throne of his grace, to cry out to our King who sympathizes with our weaknesses, and has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
The last thing we must realize is that we not only need to know how to avoid the path of death, we must also know where to find life. Sin so often feels like life. And honestly, we aren’t wise enough in ourselves to know what we need for life. In this broken world, filled with so much heartache, pain, and suffering, the thrill of pornography, the numbing effects of alcohol, the high of receiving new toys and gadgets to distract us for a season, all of these things feel like life itself. But the hunger pains for true life cannot be satisfied with poison, but only with the bread of life. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” In seasons of great suffering and lack, the street of the adulteress is so easy, and sometimes it feels like the adrenaline boost we need for another day. But Jesus promises us to be our sustaining life. His mercies are new every morning, and even when Jesus doesn’t feel like he’s enough, he promises to be enough. Wisdom, the wisdom of Proverbs, the wisdom of God, trusts Jesus, and takes him at his word, when he say, “I’ll be enough for you.” My brothers and sisters, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
So what finally happens at the end of Indiana Jones, and the Holy Grail. Well, the man working with the Nazis choose a cup first. He looks around the room filled with a variety of silver and gold cups, and chooses the most alluring cup he can find. But when he drinks from it, his life is taken from him, and the guardian of the grail says, “He chose poorly.” My friends, when we take the path of death, when we choose the street of the adulteress, when we listen to the words of Woman Folly, as alluring as they are, we find ourselves pierced by the arrow of death, we become like birds who rush into a snare. What so many in this world do not realize, is that the choice to follow the adulteress will cost you your life.
So Indiana Jones, learning his lesson from the foolishness of the greedy Nazi, knows that looks can be deceiving. And Indiana picks the most humble of all cups, a simple wooden chalice. He dips it in the water, takes a drink, and the guardian responds by saying, “You have chosen wisely.” The path of life may not always seem very alluring. The message of the cross is not an attractive idea to those who are perishing. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer so aptly put it, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” But for those who have received the call from Christ, and have become his disciples by the mercy of God, we know that in dying with Christ, we are now, and shall be for eternity, truly alive!