Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Watch out!

Today's reading from Proverbs reads like a scene from some action/adventure film:
I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment.... Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.... She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said: "... Come, let's drink deep of love till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love! My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey...."

With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose ....
from Proverbs 7:7-22
What is going on here? Is Solomon a misogynist? Why is the young man a victim and the (older) woman a predator? Is he saying this is the usual pattern, that young men are normally led astray by older women?
And what is the danger he is talking about? It's a danger largely forgotten these days, though occasionally a prophet speaks, even outside the church -- someone like Donald Hall, in a poem like "When the Young Husband" -- about the disastrous consequences of adultery. "tears, treachery, anger, betrayal; / marriages and houses destroyed; / small children abandoned and inconsolable."
Here is what I think. Solomon was writing to a son (as Proverbs 1:8 says, "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction..." ); if he were writing to a daughter, the example would probably differ. Now I don't think this is some sort of allegory, where the woman stands for other religions, her husband stands for some false god, etc. But I think the warning against adultery can be profitably applied to other things.

In other words, beware of temptations -- sexual temptations, temptations to vanity (wouldn't a young man be flattered by the attentions of a sophisticated woman, even if she were a little older?), the temptation to fudge or cheat a little on his tax returns or expense reports, etc. Sexual temptations, yes, but not only sexual temptations. Sexual temptations aren't just about sex anyway; they're about ego and vanity too.

Here's something else. Maybe the point of this was, "Son, this isn't the usual pattern, but trouble can happen this way, too!" Well, maybe not. But this particular pattern certainly has happened -- just ask Joseph (Genesis 39:7).

As far as what this means to me, well, I think it's generalizable. Sometimes a thing that appeals to my vanity, that looks like it'll be fun or a pleasant experience -- sometimes things like this are dangerous. And people who, like me, sometimes lack judgment -- people can get into trouble by paying too much attention to the attraction and not enough to the danger.

I think the young man in the passage from Proverbs simply wasn't aware of the danger. This is something we can ask God to help us with -- to help us see danger (not risk for Christ's sake, but danger in temptations to immorality) and flee it.

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