One of the literary devices used in Proverbs is that of personification, ( ‘the attribution of a personal nature or character to inanimate objects or abstract notions, especially as a rhetorical figure’ , or ‘ the representation of a thing or abstraction in the form of a person’). The Message version brings out this vividly by giving names to ordinary nouns (Lady Wisdom, Madame Insight and so on). Writers use personification to bring something to life so that we see beyond the mere words to the human drama involved.

The writer does this again in Proverbs 7, where again we are warned against adultery. You’d think we’d have got the message by now, wouldn’t you? But when warnings are given repeatedly in Scripture, we do well to ponder carefully why. The command ‘Do not fear!’ is reputedly found 366 times in the Bible (I confess I’ve never counted myself, but can well imagine God needing to repeat this one enough times for one each day of the year, including leap years, since I know my own propensity to fear!) So it’s clearly important that we grasp the significance of this ongoing warning against adultery and in order to do this, the writer engages our mind and emotions through this dramatic device.

We are onlookers to a young man’s folly, seeing him seduced by a woman who is clearly the predator in this scene. We hear her ‘honeyed words’ and can picture the scene with all its colour, allure, fragrances and sense of heady intoxication. You only have to read this chapter to feel you’re in the middle of a powerful cinematic scene. If you’re like me, you can hear the music, smell the fragrances and see that this young man doesn’t stand much of a chance of resistance. There is inevitability written all over this scene.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. We all like to think there is inevitability about sin, because then we can shrug off personal responsibility and blame someone else. Adam blamed Eve back in the Garden of Eden; Eve blamed the serpent. Playing the blame game is second nature to us; we learn it at such a young age that we don’t even think about it most of the time. When we come to know Christ, however, our consciences are awakened and we understand that temptation is not the same thing as sin and that He gives us power to resist temptation. The ammunition the young man needed to resist the wiles of the Seductress is revealed at the start of the chapter: “Treasure my careful instructions. Do what I say and you’ll live well.” (Prov 7:1)

The world has a proverb ‘do as I say, not as I do’. That’s not the way of the Bible. Jesus is our great example on how to resist temptation (Matt 4:1-11) and He provides us with the means to resist temptation, no matter what shape or form it comes in. Those means are spiritual: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:4-5) or, as the Message version translates this latter part, ‘fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.’

Yes, this chapter is talking about a specific sin (adultery). But I think the repeated emphasis on adultery is not simply a warning about the powerful nature of sexual sin (which should never be underestimated.) The cinematic nature of this chapter gives us insight into human nature and helps us to see the dramatic process by which sin is translated from thought into action. The scene ends just as dramatically, with the consequences of sin: “Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.” (Prov 7:27) The smooth-talking seductress has given way to a scene worthy of any horror film. We’d do well to remember that this is always the ending to sin; as we’ll see later on in Proverbs: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Prov 14:12)