My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. 21 Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck. 22 When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. 23 For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life, 24 keeping you from your neighbour’s wife, from the smooth talk of a wayward woman. 25 Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes. 26 For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread, but another man’s wife preys on your very life. 27 Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? 28 Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? 29 So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. 30 People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. 31 Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house. 32 But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself. 33 Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away. 34 For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge. 35 He will not accept any compensation; he will refuse a bribe, however great it is. (Prov. 6:20-35 NIV)
The Teacher brings us back to familiar warnings. Once again, we are warned about the danger of forgetting the teaching of wisdom. These teachings are to be bound to the heart and fastened to the neck. Such is the repetitive nature of the warning, one has to realise the very real danger of forgetting, or just not thinking about, wisdom. The two metaphors teach us how the teaching should be foremost in our thoughts. The heart is the inward private reflection, and the neck is the outward demonstration that we intend to adhere to the teaching of wisdom. The Teacher will warn again against the sin of adultery. The sin of adultery begins in the heart where the emotions are allowed to stray. If we have bound wisdom in our hearts the wisdom should help us deal wisely with the thoughts. The sin of adultery then progresses to the outward behaviour where we explore the possibilities.
Long before the thoughts of the heart become a flirting behaviour or a suggestive remark, wisdom, if we are determined to abide by the teaching, should guide our footsteps away from danger and temptation. When you sleep, wisdom will protect you. What we feed our minds on during the day will shape what we think about as we lie down to sleep. When we wake up and plan the day, wisdom will speak to us.
The teaching of wisdom serves like a light. We don’t move forward in darkness and without knowledge. We don’t fail to think through the consequences of our behaviour, the offence to God, the betrayal of the family and a myriad of troubles that we could not have foreseen. Wisdom will serve to correct our thoughts and lead us to repentance.
All types of people, including ministers, elders, deacons and church members, have given in to the sin of adultery. The focus that the Teacher places on this sin teaches us that we all are in danger. We ought to take steps to protect ourselves. If we feel virtuous about the sin and depending upon our own virtue to save us, we are likely to fall. The word of God hidden in our hearts and living in the fear of the Lord is the only answer to this sin and indeed every sin.
The need for reminders and protecting guides to keep the son from his neighbour’s wife is repeated again. In the society into which the Teacher was writing it was the son who was seen as the predator, pursuing the neighbour’s wife. Today times have changed, and this applies to the daughter as well pursing her neighbour’s husband. In fact, it applies to anyone contemplating a sexual relationship with anyone. For the man, he should only have such a relationship with his wife, and for the woman, she should only have such a relationship with her husband.
The Teacher also warns about the danger of the wayward woman and the prostitute who are both predatorial in their behaviour.
The price of a prostitute is as low as a loaf of bread, but the price of adultery comes at a high cost even to the risking of one’s life at the hands of a vengeful husband.
Sexual passion and careless words are often likened to fire that spreads. Fire must be handled with respect and be contained. You cannot hold fire in your hand or touch it without searing pain, so you cannot touch another man’s wife without experiencing punishment. If you walk on hot coals, your feet will get burned. You would think with all this warning that adultery would happen less than it does, but no, we let go of wisdom so easily and quickly.
The Teacher mentions that no-one despises a person for stealing to satisfy his hunger when he is starving, but even that crime has its punishment when the perpetrator is caught. The thief must pay back two to five times what was taken. If he cannot pay then he himself is to be sold to pay the debt. This may seem severe but this price is small compared to the price of adultery. The adulterer faces the death penalty and if he escapes the death penalty he is still on his way to death. The death sentence involves the social shame and the loss of reputation. Today in the UK adultery and promiscuous living has become so commonplace that hardly any stigma remains for such behaviour. It is likely that anyone who draws attention to these passages in Proverbs is more likely to suffer shame and the outrage of the angry mob.
While there is a payment for finding satisfaction after robbery, the offended husband will accept no price for compensation for the sin of adultery with his wife.
I have mentioned my friend who has been a counsellor most of his adult life. In his dealing with people who have committed adultery he has never been able to witness a successful outcome, where he would see success as the couple restored to each other. He said he did not view adultery as the unforgiveable sin, but he said that it is hard for each of the parties to forgive and to be forgiven.
Lord God help us to realise that we are not above sinning and failing in the area of our relationships. Lord help us to pay attention to Your word and allow ourselves to be warned and on our guard. Help us not to fail You, fail our families and fail the church because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.