Keep your heart--but keep it well.

I have been meditating on Proverbs 7 pretty regularly for the past nine months. Because I read Proverbs every month, I always hit it on the 7th of the month, and I think about Proverbs 7 in particular fairly often. Why? Because I am a woman and a sinner.

To provide some context, the beginning of Proverbs gives the purpose for the whole book:
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: to know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, judgment, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion--a wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:1-7, NKJV).
The first nine chapters focus sort of broadly on what wisdom looks like with respect to peers, foolish people, one's investment in God's commands, friendships, marriage, and adultery. Chapters 1 through 7 each contain at least one address from a parent to a son regarding wisdom and parental commands. Chapters 5 through 7 contain extended lessons on adultery and the importance of purity (continued from chapter 2). Chapters 8 and 9 are an extended meditation on wisdom using the analogy of a woman (actually continued from chapter 1).

Proverbs 7 begins with a parental adjuration: "My son, keep my words, and treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live, and my law as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart "(1-3). Over and over Proverbs rings with the command to listen and to treasure up wisdom. Here obedience has a direct link with continued life, and the closeness of the law goes all the way to the core. To bind the law to one's fingers is to hinder one's own movement; one cannot do as one wishes. The law as the apple of the eye gives a picture of one's looking so closely into the face of another that he can see his own reflection in the other's eyes. The Word is a mirror. The law should find its way into actions and heart.

The speaker continues, "Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister,' and call understanding your nearest kin, that they may keep you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words" (4-5). In the Near East, sisters and kin perform special functions in a young man's life. A young man's sister may assist in finding him a wife; she will have connections to friends and their families to be able to recommend whether they are good families. She or another woman in his family may actually go wife-hunting for him. Near kin negotiate between families to arrange marriages and to keep good relationships all around. They help in problem solving and conflict resolution. My Iranian friends understand the protective value of family in a deeper way than most Westerners do. They guard each other and the family as a whole. Here the speaker invokes wisdom as the sister and understanding as kin. The goal: protection of the young man from the woman who will lead him astray. Intriguingly, 7:5 characterizes the seductress as flattering with her words. Her problem is in her heart, but her power is in her mouth. She makes the young man feel good; that's the danger. If she didn't make him feel good, he wouldn't be drawn to her. Wisdom and understanding ought therefore to allow a young man to see through the words of a woman who doesn't have his best interests at heart.

Why are such protection and discernment necessary? The speaker cites a sad experience:
For at the window of my house I looked through my lattice, and saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, a young man devoid of understanding, passing along the street near her corner; and he took the path to her house in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night (6-8).
Some details I would like to emphasize:
  • The man is young, simple, and hangs out with other young, simple people. Where are the sources of wisdom and experience in his life?
  • The man is devoid of understanding. I don't think I've met many younger people who were willing to admit they were devoid of understanding about anything; one of the cardinal characteristics of youth is the supreme confidence that you, of all people, are the expert on everything and understand your situation and your actions entirely. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, "The basic verb idea [of his being simple] is to 'be open, spacious, wide,' and might relate to the immature or simple one who is open to all kinds of enticement, not having developed discriminating judgment as to what is right or wrong." See Hebrews 5:12-14.
  • What he does, he does under cover of darkness. Jesus says, "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John 3:20-21).
  • He has made a habit of this behavior; he can find the way to her house under cover of darkness--in a world without street lights.
The young man, however, is not the main player in this particular narrative. She enters in verse 9: "And there a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart." I read this months ago and thought, What does crafty mean? Is it the same word for the devil in Genesis 3? So I looked it up. It is in fact the word netsurah, from natsar, "to guard, watch, watch over, keep" (Blue Letter Bible). It is not the same word as in Genesis 3, but it does appear prominently in Proverbs 4:23, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (emphasis mine). I could rephrase Proverbs 7:9 thusly, "And there a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a kept heart." What is the difference between her kept heart and the kept heart that Proverbs 4:23 advocates? As the narrative will show, she has kept her heart from God, from her husband, even from the young man, and for her own lusts and uses.

The story continues: "She was loud and rebellious, her feet would not stay at home. At times she was outside, at times in the open square, lurking at every corner" (11-12). This woman is everywhere, and she's the life of the party. She's a little dangerous, just enough to add that spark of attraction. She's also a huge predator--and an effective one:
So she caught him and kissed him; with an impudent face she said to him: "I have peace offerings with me; today I have paid my vows. So I came out to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you. I have spread my bed with tapestry, colored coverings of Egyptian linen. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he has taken a bag of money with him, and will come home on the appointed day" (13-20).
She catches the young man and kisses him; the intensity of her actions must be intoxicating. Then the words come out--her power. She satisfies his religious objections just enough that they can both make excuses that they're not really sinning, then she goes on to hook him--"I came out to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you." Utter flattery. "I'm all about you." She uses her words to tantalize his senses, and she promises pleasure without consequences--"my husband is not at home." Does she actually care about this young man? No! She is willing to sin with him and to put him in harm's way physically.

Consequences do come; plans fail; disaster ensues:
With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool goes to the correction of the stocks, till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, he did not know it would cost his life (21-23).
This woman was terribly effective in her seduction; she knew exactly which words would stroke his ego; and he, being devoid of understanding, went right with her. The speaker compares him to an ox, a fool, and a bird, dumbly walking straight to slaughter, correction, and a snare. He did not know it would cost his life, but his ignorance was no protection.

The speaker summarizes:
Now therefore, listen to me, my children; pay attention to the words of my mouth: do not let your heart turn aside to your ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death (24-27).
Where does the speaker truly direct his admonishment? The heart. No one wakes up one day and says, "I think I'll commit adultery today." This behavior is the logical conclusion of a series of small heart choices that lead to terrible actions. And no one is immune--"all who were slain by her were strong."

Why do I bring this up? Our world today mocks the idea of keeping our hearts for God and for our spouses (whether current or future). All our this-worldly influences counsel us to live for today, do what we want--we were born this way, so we'd better just live it out. Self-denial becomes base prudery; wisdom and caution, uptightness. Proverbs 7 shows us two consequences of wrongly-kept hearts--ruined lives, and a willingness to ruin the lives of others. When this "desperate housewife" reaches out to the young man, she does not care about him, his family, his future wife and children, her husband, her children, her family, their friends, or anyone who might be hurt by her actions. She is in it for herself.

To older people, therefore:
  • Are you speaking into the lives of younger people?
  • Are you genuinely engaged in sharing your wisdom and what you've gleaned from experience, or have you given up on the younger generation and abandoned them to foolishness and death? Don't disengage! We need you!
To younger people:
  • Are all of your friends your age? Do you have sources of wisdom in your life? Why or why not?
  • Are you willing to listen to rebuke and admit that you don't understand everything going on in your life?
  • Are you keeping your heart--and for what?
  • Do you have a plan for what kind of character you want to have in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?
To men:
  • Are you actively seeking wisdom?
  • Are you putting yourself in the way of enticements, or are you actively fleeing immorality? What are you feeding your mind each day?
  • How sensitive are you to flattery? Do you seek that which will stroke your ego, or do you seek truth?
  • What are you genuinely hungry for in life? Do you have a plan for pursuing righteousness?
To women:
  • If unmarried, what patterns are you building in your life now? How do you use your feminine power, and for what? How are you using your words to influence others around you? Do you flatter to get control?
  • If married or unmarried: are you actively engaged in keeping your heart for God, for your husband, and for others?
  • What are the main influences in your life? What do you put into your mind every day? What are the consequences of these influences?
My friends, keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.

  • I've gotten to reconnect with a couple of people I haven't seen in a while.
  • God has brought me an awesome new friend in the last week, a very wise older lady who exemplifies a lot of things I would love to grow into.
  • My first Cultural Connections class went pretty well, and it gave me a good opportunity to meet and connect with some new people.
Prayer requests
  • Please pray that I would vigilantly keep my heart for God, my future husband, and for others, and not for my own selfishness.
  • Pray for direction for the future and a sense of rootedness in my life.
  • Pray for divine appointments and for wisdom in sharing with people.
  • Pray for deep, palpable joy and that I would be a person of laughter.
  • Pray for provision for the two centers where I volunteer.
  • I'm speaking on June 4 at Young Adults on witnessing. Pray for wisdom for me for that. I'm also co-leading worship tonight, which is kind of terrifying. God has also opened a door for me to co-teach a Bible study in July with a guy from the YA group. Pray for wisdom for us and that God would give us a big vision for this study.
  • Pray for abiding fruit.
Thank you so much for praying for me!

ETA: Tonight was massively fun. I was really nervous at the beginning of the first song, then I heard everyone join in and sing, and it was the best ever, and I was actually able to enter into worship as I led. Huge answer to prayer. Now I'd love to be part of a worship team again.

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