Saturday, July 21, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (16)

Our society is pretty much cool with anything sexual that takes place between consenting adults, especially whenever acute desire can be trotted out to excuse it.

There is, perhaps still, the tiniest residual social resistance to adultery; though feminists are working tirelessly to convince us that wives are not to be viewed as “property”, and once they eradicate that legitimate, biblical aspect of the marriage relationship from the corporate conscience, society should be good to go in the adultery department too.

So, apart from Christians already sold on monogamous marriage as the sole legitimate outlet for human sexuality, there likely to be few takers for these next 44 verses of Proverbs.

8. Wisdom Applied: More Warnings Against Adultery (Proverbs 6:20-35)

Now, we’ve already seen Solomon hold forth on the evils of this particular vice for the full 23 verses of chapter 5, before briefly considering work ethic, the hazards of incurring unnecessary obligations and mendacious innuendo. Now he plunges straight back into the dangers of “foreign women” (“foreign” meaning “not yours” rather than ethnically different). So here we are again. Some readers of Proverbs are surely wondering why it is that Solomon keeps banging on about adultery.

Adultery, with a Twist

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice he has a slightly different twist on our subject this time around. In chapter 5, Solomon is concerned about married men destroying their own marriages by involving a third party, married or otherwise. He enthusiastically recommends monogamy. In chapters 6 and 7, he’s more concerned with unmarried, younger men getting involved with married women. Same subject, different audience. He begins with this:
“My son, keep your father’s commandment,
and 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.”
This sort of introduction is almost a formula. We’ve seen it a few times, and he’s going to do it again in this passage to start chapter 7, reminding his son or sons that listening and living according to the wisdom they have received from their parents will keep them from catastrophe.

The Value of Parental Wisdom

Here he says three things about the value of parental wisdom:
  1. When you walk, it will lead you.  This is quite literally the case. Sound advice determines where smart people go. There is no compelling reason, for instance, for any Christian to pass through the doors of a strip club or attend a stag/doe party where inappropriate things are going on. There are other examples, of course. Participating in these sorts of activities might appear to solidify your relationships at the office, but not in any sort of good way.
  2. When you lie down, it will watch over you.  Recently I was asked to help a friend retrieve his cell phone, which his GPS locator showed to be somewhere at the far end of town. He had had too much to drink after work, wandered off his barstool out into the night and had fallen asleep in the snow in somebody’s hedge. That’s pretty much the definition of a bad place to lie down with nobody watching over you. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen to people who listen to good advice from the previous generation. Wise people lie down in places where they’re less likely to be robbed or to freeze to death. That’s by choice, not by accident.
  3. When you awake, it will talk with you.  Meditation is an undervalued aspect of putting head-knowledge into action. The pithy sayings of Proverbs and elsewhere need to be worked through and applied. Meditation is simply an internal discussion in which you hash out with yourself (hopefully in the presence of God) how best to understand the truth you’ve heard and how to live it out. Many of us have such interior dialogues going on all the time, but the truly blessed (or happy) man meditates on the law of the Lord day and night.
So parental wisdom is vitally important to life and happiness.

Some Very Specific Advice

Solomon quickly moves to some very specific advice:
“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.”
The Septuagint is helpful here: for “evil woman”, the Greek translators went with “the wife of a neighbor”, and for “adulteress” they supplied the words “foreign woman”. The idea is that this is not just some frisky young thing who was not well brought up, but a mature woman with commitments and obligations she is prepared to chuck under the bus in order to enjoy the pleasures of other men. She is youthful enough to still be attractive (“Do not desire her beauty in your heart”) and experienced enough to know all the tricks of the trade (“Do not let her capture you with her eyelashes”).

Comparing Evils

It seems to me there’s an argument being made here that adultery is a greater evil than prostitution; or at very least, that its consequences are more dire. The ESV has this:
“For the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life.”
Now, we have no indication in scripture (at least not that I’m aware of) that Solomon frequented prostitutes. He had no need to. With more than 700 wives and 300 concubines (a concubine being a woman who fell short of the status of wife, but was nevertheless a one-man woman), his time was almost surely fully occupied. Translators differ about what he’s saying here. The NASB, for instance, goes with:
“For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life.”
In this second case there is no real comparison being made. Two kinds of evil are described that have similar negative results. Gill and The Pulpit Commentary lean toward this latter translation, while Jamieson-Fausset-Brown reads it the way I do, and the way the translators of the NIV and ESV have read it (again, following the Septuagint).

To be fair, I don’t think much turns on it. Prostitution is evil. Adultery is evil. Both facts are well established in scripture. But it seems to me that not only does the structure of the following verses invite the comparison (Solomon next compares the adulterer to a thief (v30), and concludes that the consequences for the adulterer are worse when he is exposed), but the potential for disaster with a married woman extends well beyond disease, dissolution and disappointment. Consider the following.

H for Vendetta

The Ancient East had its own rules. Italians had vendettas, Muslims had (and still have) “honor killings”, and the ancient Israelites had a rough-and-ready justice system in which the relatives of an aggrieved person were often the ones taking the initiative to bring the accused to justice rather than the State. This is certainly true in the case of murder or manslaughter, and the Law of Moses provided for these very natural impulses by setting up a number of sanctuary cities to which an accused person could flee to have his case heard by an objective third party. We have no real indication in scripture that sleeping with another man’s wife could produce a similar level of homicidal intent in both the man and his relatives, but Solomon seems to hint at something of the sort when he says:
“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.”
So while one’s life might not be at stake for cuckolding a man, it certainly seems our modern “live and let live” sentiment was not much in play in Israel. Sex with an unattached woman, like a prostitute, came with little attendant societal fuss. It would seem the Law of Moses was not much applied in this area of human interaction. But sex with a married woman was taken very seriously indeed. “People do not despise a thief,” says Solomon, suggesting that the adulterer was very much despised. “He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away.”

Times have changed, and not for the better. Sometimes shame serves a very useful purpose.

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