Can one walk upon the coals?
“Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.” – Proverbs 6:28-29 (NIV)
The short answer to the rhetorical question in Proverbs 6 (“can one walk upon the coals?”) is probably, “yes, you might get away with, but it’s wise not to take the risk”. If it were that easy, this article could stop right here! But we all know that we’re tempted to flirt with temptation, particularly sexual temptation. How can we convince ourselves to keep well away from temptation? Let’s use Proverbs 7 as a short three-act drama to illustrate what happens within us when we flirt with temptation and allow ourselves to progress on the stepping stones towards sexual sin. It’s a tragedy in three acts. The quotations below are from The Message translation/paraphrase, as it is quite hard-hitting and might help us to hear familiar verses in a new way.
Act 1 – We walk too close to temptation’s door
“As I stood at the window of my house looking out through the shutters, watching the mindless crowd stroll by, I spotted a young man without any sense. Arriving at the corner of the street where she lived, then turning up the path to her house. It was dusk, the evening coming on, the darkness thickening into night.”
– Proverbs 7:6-12 (The Message)
In this first act, our protagonist is pictured as a foolish young man walking close to the house where he knows the seductress lives: she represents sexual temptation, but really the focus is upon his foolishness in walking close to where she lives.
The passage also mentions the time of day. For this young man, night-time was approaching. For many people, there can be a particular time of day (or time of the week/month/year) associated with vulnerability to sexual temptation – even being aware of when this is for you can help to prepare you to be ready to resist temptation’s pull.
The application for us is to think about the ways we personally might walk in the direction of sexual sin. What are our “stepping stones” towards sexual temptation? These might include:
- Places (actual locations where we may have “acted out” sexually in the past)
- Websites or apps (places online where temptation is only a click away)
- Trains of thought (fantasies or memories, perhaps about particular people from the past, that we know are unhelpful and likely to unsettle or arouse us)
Act 2 – Temptation comes out to meet us
” Just then, a woman met him—she’d been lying in wait for him, dressed to seduce him. Brazen and brash she was, restless and roaming, never at home, walking the streets, loitering in the mall, hanging out at every corner in town. She threw her arms around him and kissed him, boldly took his arm and said, ‘I’ve got all the makings for a feast—today I made my offerings, my vows are all paid, So now I’ve come to find you, hoping to catch sight of your face—and here you are! I’ve spread fresh, clean sheets on my bed, colorful imported linens. My bed is aromatic with spices and exotic fragrances. Come, let’s make love all night, spend the night in ecstatic lovemaking! My husband’s not home; he’s away on business, and he won’t be back for a month.’”
– Proverbs 7:13-20 (The Message)
In the drama, the seductress is lying in wait for the young man, ready to take advantage when he is weak. For us, there might be actual people from the past who would be ready to drag us back into sexual immorality in a moment of weakness.
But in our technological age, we also need to guard against the big organisations that know our weak spots all too well. For example, a streaming service like Netflix can build up over time a surprisingly accurate picture of the type of “click-bait” that will work well on us individually. For each of their products, they have a range of thumbnail images, from which they will pick the one that their algorithm thinks is most likely to make you click on it – perhaps one for this male actor and a different one for that female actress, carefully selected just for you! How do they know? Well, it will be based on your clicking history from the past. And for different people, there might be a streaming service or website or app that is a particular snare.So, Act 2 of this drama particularly invites us to ask ourselves in what ways does sexual sin come out to meet us? And how can we guard against such approaches?
Act 3 – The point of no return
"Soon she has him eating out of her hand, bewitched by her honeyed speech. Before you know it, he’s trotting behind her, like a calf led to the butcher shop, Like a stag lured into ambush and then shot with an arrow, Like a bird flying into a net not knowing that its flying life is over.”
– Proverbs 7:21-23 (The Message)
This is where the drama comes to its tragic conclusion. The young man was out walking in her neighbourhood at night (Act 1). She comes out to meet him and he stops to chat. And he listens as she flatters and sets the stage for the final act (Act 2). And only after all these other things have happened does he finally commit the sexual act (Act 3). At each of these stepping stones, he is free to make a wise decision to turn back, but it becomes increasingly difficult to resist.
By Act 3, the young man has more or less surrendered himself to sexual sin. He is so far down the path of seduction that resistance seems all but impossible. We might think of times when we ourselves have felt helpless to do anything other than to follow through with sexual sin. But we will almost certainly have made unwise decisions earlier on the path to sexual immorality.
Epilogue – This is a serious matter
“So, friends, listen to me, take these words of mine most seriously.
Don’t fool around with a woman like that; don’t even stroll through her neighborhood. Countless victims come under her spell; she’s the death of many a poor man. She runs a halfway house to hell, fits you out with a shroud and a coffin.”
– Proverbs 7:24-27 (The Message)
In the Epilogue, the focus comes upon the unnamed onlooker who is dispensing his words of advice. He calls us to take his warning seriously, and not to fool around with sexual temptation. We should look upon those drawn into sexual immorality with pity, because turning our back on God and embracing sexual sin is a route to spiritual death.
Proverbs 7 is a dramatised warning not to go anywhere near sexual temptation. We are all vulnerable to temptation, and the time to protect oneself from being ensnared is not late at night, when we are tired and triggered. Rather, this passage invites us to steer well away from temptation’s door, to be very conscious of how particular people and devices might approach us at moments of weakness, and to be under no illusions about the ability of sexual temptation to entangle us and lead us away from God. We can be thankful to God for the wisdom of this book – let us take these words most seriously.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Winter 2023 edition of Ascend