Proverbs 7 – “Beware the Seductress”

druya-cemeteryHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Proverbs 7 is a father’s message to his son. He tells his son a story about a foolish young man who fell into the trap of a seductress, and warns him not to do the same.

II. Photo

The father warns his son about the lethal powers of a seductress: “For many are those she has struck dead, And numerous are her victims. Her house is a highway to Sheol Leading down to Death’s inner chambers.” (vv. 26-27)

III. Important Verses
vv. 6-8: From the window of my house, Through my lattice, I looked out and saw among the simple, Noticed among the youths, A lad devoid of sense. He was crossing the street near her corner, Walking toward her house…
vv. 18-20: [the woman says] Let us drink our fill of love till morning; Let us delight in amorous embrace. For the man of the house is away; He is off on a distant journey. He took his bag of money with him And will return only at mid-month.”
v. 22a: Thoughtlessly he follows her, Like an ox going to the slaughter…
vv. 26-27: For many are those she has struck dead, And numerous are her victims. Her house is a highway to Sheol Leading down to Death’s inner chambers.

IV. Outline

1-4. Introduction (exordium)
5-23. Lesson (story)
    6-13. Encounter
    14-20. Seduction
    21-23. Submission
24-27. Conclusion: she is deadly

V. Comment
In Proverbs 7 a father tells his son that Wisdom can protect him from a seductress. It is the last of the parental lectures, and is made up of an exordium (vv. 1-4), a lesson/story (vv. 5-23), and a conclusion (vv. 24-27).  It shares a similar meaning and vocabulary with Prov. 2:16-20: “[Wisdom] will save you from the forbidden woman, From the alien woman whose talk is smooth, Who forsakes the companion of her youth And disregards the covenant of her God. Her house sinks down to Death, And her course leads to the shades. All who go to her cannot return And find again the paths of life. So follow the way of the good And keep to the paths of the just.” But, as shall be seen, Proverbs 7 is unique in that the father tells a story from the point of view of an observer.

There are two interesting points to be made about the exordium, both of which, I believe, relate to the Pentateuch. The first is in regards to vv. 2-3: “Keep my commandments and live… Bind them (qasherem) on your fingers; Write them (katevem) on the tablet of your heart.” The exhortation to “bind” teachings  to the body and to “write” them on the heart has other parallels in Wisdom literature. For instance, Prov. 3:3 says, “Let fidelity and steadfastness not leave you; Bind them (qasherem) about your throat, Write them (katevem) on the tablet of your heart.” Similarly, Jer. 31:33 says “… [thus] declares the LORD: I will put My Teaching into their inmost being and inscribe it (‘ekhtavena) upon their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Also see Prov. 6:20-21. These phrases, which appear to be metaphors, seem to be parallels to Deut. 6:6-9: “Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them (qesharetem) as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe (ketavetem) them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” While it is possible that all the aforementioned verses refer to material amulets (e.g. tefillin and mezuzot), scholars point out that they might actually be a metaphor. Indeed, exegetes as early as Rashbam shared the same opinion (see his comment to Ex. 13:9).

The second point has to do with v. 4, “Say to Wisdom, ‘You are my sister (‘achoti ‘at),’ And call Understanding a kinswoman.” As we have seen, it seems that Prov. 1-9 encourage one to enter into a love-relationship with wisdom. For example,  4:6-8 says, “Do not forsake her and she will guard you; Love her and she will protect you… Hug her to you and she will exalt you; She will bring you honor if you embrace her.” With this in mind, it is interesting that the lover in the Song of Songs is called a “sister,” much like our verse: “How sweet is your love, my sister (‘achoti), my bride! How much more delightful your love than wine, Your ointments more fragrant Than any spice!” (Song 4:10. Also see 4:9, 5:1) Thus, it seems that the father is encouraging his son to enter a love-relationship with personified Wisdom.

This might relate to the Pentateuch in the following way: in Gen. 12 and 20 Abraham is afraid that he will be killed on account of his wife, Sarah. He says to Sarah, “Please say that you are my sister (‘achoti ‘at), that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thanks to you.” His plan works; both Pharaoh and Abimelech take Sarah and allow Abraham to live. While these passages are often taken literally (i.e. Sarah said she was Abraham’s blood-relative), based on the word’s use in Proverbs and the Song of Songs Sarah it might have been saying, “I am his lover (‘achot), we are not married.” Yet, I have not yet seen anyone make this point.

The lesson of Proverbs 7 is given in story-form. The episode seems to have a fictive character: the father claims to have seen, from beginning to end, a woman entice a young man. He also claims to hear all the intimate things she tells him. As Murphy points out, the entire dialogue could hardly have been heard from the father’s window (v. 6). For another “example story” in Proverbs, see 24:30-34.

Vv. 6-13 describe how the young man meets the seductress. She is dressed like a harlot (cf. Gen 38:14-15), and searches for him much like the lover in Song of Songs 3:1-3: “Upon my couch at night I sought the one I love — I sought, but found him not. ‘I must rise and roam the town, Through the streets and through the squares; I must seek the one I love.’ I sought but found him not. I met the watchmen Who patrol the town. ‘Have you seen the one I love?’” Fox writes (p. 253), “the woman seems desperate in her search for sexual satisfaction.” Indeed, she is restless, never at home, and kisses the man before she even speaks to him (v. 11-13).

The seduction occurs in vv. 14-20, and the woman entices the young man with erotic images, “I have decked my couch with covers Of dyed Egyptian linen; I have sprinkled my bed With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Let us drink our fill of love till morning; Let us delight in amorous embrace” (vv. 16-18, see Song 4:14 for the same spices). In the end she is successful: “She sways him with her eloquence, Turns him aside with her smooth talk. Thoughtlessly he follows her, Like an ox going to the slaughter, Like a fool to the stocks for punishment” (vv. 21-22).

The conclusion describes the woman as being deadly (a point not seen in the story): “For many are those she has struck dead, And numerous are her victims. Her house is a highway to Sheol Leading down to Death’s inner chambers.” This is very similar to Prov. 2:18-19, “Her house sinks down to Death, And her course leads to the shades. All who go to her cannot return And find again the paths of life.”

It must be pointed out that vv. 14-15 is not understood. The seductress says, “I had to make a sacrifice of well-being; Today I fulfilled my vows. Therefore I have come out to you, Seeking you, and have found you.” Murphy writes (p. 44), “It is clear that she wants him for sexual services. Is it perhaps an indication that she needs money (the harlot’s salary) for the fulfillment of her vows? Or is the woman a foreigner who worships her own divinity and needs the services of the youth for ‘devotion’s’ sake? Such a passing reference is a rather obscure way of enticing the youth, and not easily intelligible in such a story as the narrator has composed.”

VI. Works Used
Proverbs 1-9 (Fox) and World Biblical Commentary: Proverbs (Murphy).  See “Commentaries” page. The title for this chapter, “Beware the seductress” is from Fox.

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