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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Proverbs 7 The Fable of the Faithless Woman

In Proverbs 7, Solomon embarks on an extended fable of a young man being sexually enticed by a "loose woman," who stands as a counter-symbol against "Wisdom."

In this chapter the Bible continues the personification of Wisdom as a woman, though this time, it is specified as a "sister": "Say to wisdom, you are my sister, and call insight your intimate friend; to preserve you from the loose woman, from the adventuress with her smooth words" (7:4-5).

Often we have a habit in everyday speech of associating sexual experience with "knowledge" or even "wisdom," such as when we say someone has a lot of carnal knowledge or someone's got "wisdom beyond their years" because they started having sex at a young age.

Here, however, wisdom is cast as antithetical to sexual adventure. Yet the loose woman, lacking as she is in wisdom, does not present herself as unwise, as in transparently naive or stupid. Rather, she is wily and falsely wise, or disordered in her use of knowledge. Solomon says that he looked through the lattice of window to see "a young man without sense, passing along the street near the corner, taking the road to her house, in the twilight, in the evening, in the time of night and darkness" (7:7-9).

With this framework, we are set up to read the young man as someone who is largely to blame for his sexual ruin, because he is violating many of the ideas that have preceded in Proverbs 1-6. He has not the sense to understand that he cannot trust himself in vulnerable contexts. It is the fool who thinks he can wander close to a lusty woman's home when it is dark outside. The temptation is too grave.

Yet much of the sexual fall results from the loose woman's own carefully selected words. She misrepresents herself consciously because she is "dressed as a harlot, wily of heart" (7:10). After grabbing the boy and kissing him, she states, "I had to offer sacrifices and today I have paid my vows, so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly" (7:14-15). Why this line about the loose woman claiming that she has partaken dutifully in her vows and rites?

It would seem that Solomon includes the line about the loose woman's ruse of holiness because he wants the vulnerable to understand that seducers often misrepresent themselves as pious, thereby taking their victims off guard. The woman appeals to the young man's love of sensual pleasures and fineries, as she mentions her perfume and the Egyptian linen of her bed. Also, she mentions that her husband is away on business, having taken a bag of money with him.

The man cannot resist her talk and her ruses, so "all at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught." (7:22-23).

For the ex-gay Christian the fable resonates even without the heterosexual dynamic of the older woman seducing a young, innocent man. The underlying problem of sexual vulnerability is that those with the intent to despoil others sexually have usually had a great deal of practice and often embark with a careful strategy. Only arrogance can lead someone to believe that they can stand alone, dancing with sin, without getting dirty.