Adultery and the forbidden woman

There is nothing more devastating than adultery. The discovery that the person you trusted your life to was living a lie, the  fear, guilt and shame that it was in fact failure on your part, the destruction that comes as a dad or mum walks out refusing to heed the pitiful cry of their children to stay.

Proverbs 5 addresses the issue of adultery.

First pass  – a warning against betrayal in marriage

Solomon’s warning is against entanglement with a “forbidden woman”. The risk at this stage is that this makes her sound in some way mysterious, exciting and alluring.  Indeed, at the start all seems deeply attractive. Notice that this does not start out as some mere sexual affair.

For the lips of a forbidden[a] woman drip honey,
    and her speech[b] is smoother than oil,[1]

The adulterer is able to deceive themselves into believing that this is not about lust but about love. I have even had one man tell me confidently that there was nothing going on, it was just friendship as he left his wife behind at home to go on a camping trip with another woman. In that case, we were clear that this was not just about avoiding the appearance of evil but that the decision to prioritise time with someone else over time with his wife in a manner that mimicked the marriage relationship was itself the adulterous act.

You don’t need to be sexually unfaithful to be unfaithful.

However, whilst everything appears wonderful, refreshing and sweet at the start, the truth comes out later.  The affair turns from sweetness to bitterness (v4).  Here the description is of the unfaithful woman but in fact, this can apply both ways. There is a caution here not to be taken in by their sweet-sounding words.  Things quickly become bitter. Very practically

  • The person may come across as pleasant and as the wronged party in their own relationship. They may have a sad story to tell about betrayal and hurt but remember, they have motive to tell you their story and you have not heard the other side.
  • They are willing not only to see their own marriage fail but to destroy another family. This may suggest a level of unresolved bitterness in their own hearts.

Adultery leads to death (v5-6). For those committing adultery in the time that the Proverbs were written, this would have been a literal danger as the penalty if caught in adultery was death by stoning.  However there are other ways that adultery causes death.

Adultery causes death because it kills love, relationships and families.

Adultery causes death because it is sinful and therefore one of the things that leads to eternal judgement.

The imagery of something forbidden, something seemingly sweet and attractive that turns out to be bitter, the image of something out of bounds that leads to death should of course remind us of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. This reinforces the point that adultery is sin and sin leads to death.

And so, Solomon warns his sons to stay clear (v7-14). The best way to resist temptation is to walk away from it. The Proverb portrays the regret and remorse of the one who has fallen into sin wishing that he had not despised discipline, realising that sin has weakened him.

The best way to turn from sin is to turn to something more attractive and fulfilling. The man or woman tempted by adultery should turn back to their own marriage and seek to rekindle that flame, to rediscover the reasons for their first love (v16-19).

Let your fountain be blessed,
    and rejoice in the wife of your youth,[2]

The words here portray deep satisfaction within faithful marriage and yes the imagery is suggestive of sexual satisfaction too.  Sex is a good thing within the context of a loving, exclusive marriage. I guess you could sum up this chapter with another proverb, an old English one “The grass is always greener on the other side.” We may think that things look more attractive elsewhere but true joy and happiness is found at home.

Second pass – a warning about spiritual unfaithfulness

The clue is in the portrayal of a woman here.  The Proverbs set up a choice throughout between two figurative women, wisdom and folly. Wisdom is the beautiful and faithful wife whereas folly is the home-wrecking, deceitful and destructive harlot.  Adultery is foolish but we want to push harder and to say that

“Foolishness itself is a form of unfaithfulness or adultery.”

If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then foolishness as a rejection of wisdom is also a rejection of God. Foolishness has at its root a refusal to worship, trust and obey the Lord. The Old Testament often describes idolatry in terms of adultery because it is about unfaithfulness to God, a lack of trust in him to provide, protect and satisfy.

If the forbidden woman in adultery sounds attractive and sweet at the start, so too does sin and idolatry. In the same way, we discover that things quickly turn sour. Sin becomes addictive, its ability to satisfy diminishes but we are hooked in, addicted and needing more and more.  Sin brings bitterness. Sin leads to death, not just physical death but eternal judgement.

So, Proverbs sets up the dilemma, will you choose foolishness, will you be drawn to worship other things or will you choose wisdom, returning to the very place where you have found joy and satisfaction?


Which will you choose? Wisdom or folly? It could be that you are reading this today and you are staring real and specific temptation in the face. The affair may well be about to start today. I hope this article gives you opportunity pause and consider the danger you are in and the storm you are about to step into.

Each of us has a day to day choice. We can either choose to fear God, to love him and trust in Christ for salvation. Or we can choose our own ways and reject God.

Which way is it going to be?

[1] Proverbs 5:3.

[2] Proverbs 5:18.

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