“Take no notice of a loose-living woman…
her words are smoother than oil,
but their outcome is bitter as wormwood.”
There are various translations for the temptation described in the 5th chapter of Proverbs – seductress, adulterous woman, or, as the Jerusalem Bible has it, a loose-living woman. “Why concentrate only on the woman,” some people ask. Commentators respond: the book is directed to a young man, probably a teenager – and names a constant temptation. Is there anything here that is relevant for today?
I was teaching about the social construction of femininity this morning, and especially the ways in which women are portrayed in media advertisements. The messages take aim, in different ways, at both men and women. For men, there is a direct appeal to sexuality. Hyper-sexualized women are portrayed alongside whatever product is being sold; the message is “want this: it’s available for you now.” For women, the message is less direct; they are shown how they should look and act (and many of the ads offer products to help them get that way) in order to be the object of male attention. In the 30 years that Jean Kilbourne has been studying the media, the images have become more and more explicit.
Proverbs tells us how to “guard our hearts” – by recognizing that our human nature can be attracted and drawn into activities and behaviors that are not good for us – and in the end, we will regret. “Go nowhere near the door,” says the writer of Proverbs, “or you will surrender.”
Proverbs is not offering a dry, joyless asceticism. The description of joyful fidelity to “the wife of your youth” is in contrast to the sad outcome of giving in to temptation (“Now I am reduced to the depths of misery”). There is even a hint of humor in contrasting the joy of married love – “Why fondle the breast of a woman who is a stranger?” Solomon asks.
Our culture has specialized in appealing to natural appetites, and promoting a mentality of instant gratification. Foods, leisure activities, sexuality – hyper-attractive versions are presented as available quickly and easily. Proverbs, though, urges us to listen to the voices of reason that lead us in paths that lead to a real reward.
“Find joy with the wife you married in your youth…
Let hers be the company you keep…
hers the love that ever holds you captive.”