The early chapters of Proverbs provide a vivid description of an encounter between a pathetic, foolish young man and a wily, adulterous woman. “At the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.” First this young man encounters her, then he is led astray by her, then he becomes captive to her, then he is utterly destroyed by her. “With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.”
This foolish young man follows that woman to his own destruction. It’s key to understanding the passage, and the very nature of temptation, to note that the young man is no victim here. Nothing has happened that is against his will or opposed to his desires. As far as Proverbs is concerned, this young man is fully morally culpable. He wanted to be caught! We wanted to be caught because he wanted to indulge.
What did he do that was so evil and so unwise? It was not just falling for the wiles of this woman, but for being near her in the first place. Here is how a concerned father warns his sons about falling for that same sin: “O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.” He pleads with young men that they flee this wanton woman, that they refuse to go near her, that they exercise life-preserving, soul-saving wisdom—the wisdom to stay far away from situations or circumstances in which they will knowingly and culpably face such severe temptation.
This proverb describes truth that is universal and timeless. Yet it has often struck me that here in the twenty-first century, the context for such temptation has changed substantially. This man was caught and destroyed because he left the place he should have been to go to a place he should not have been. Instead of being home he was away. Instead of staying where he would safely avoid the opportunity to sin, he went where he would knowingly encounter the opportunity to sin. The father’s solution is both wise and simple: “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.”
That man could avoid sexual temptation by staying home. But today most men who struggle with sexual temptation struggle more within their home than outside of it. It is not a woman on the streets who calls for them, but a woman on a website. For every man who ends up sinning in a brothel, millions more sin by the glare of a screen. The place that once represented safety now represents danger. Today that forbidden woman is always available in the home through our new technologies.
But though the context has changed, the wisdom of Proverbs remains valid. The battle is the same—the battle for sexual purity. The heart is the same—the heart that will so easily fool itself into insisting that it can flirt with temptation but remain resistant. The war is fought in the same way—by assessing the context in which temptation will come and then deliberately, doggedly avoiding it. Solomon’s young man bore all the blame because he refused to take the actions that would keep him far from temptation. Today’s young men bear the blame when they refuse to take actions that will keep them from falling once again for the very same temptations.