Sermons & Sunday Schools

Wisdom’s Low-Hanging Fruit, Part 1

In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia begins examining Solomon’s surprising teaching in Ecclesiastes 7:23-29. Solomon warns against vainly pursuing deep knowledge and instead urges you to understand and apply three basic life truths. In part 1, Pastor Dave examines the introduction and first basic truth.

Introduction: You cannot know the fundamental scheme of the world (vv. 23-24)
1. The enticing woman (or man) is misery in the end (vv. 25-26)

Full Transcript:

Please pray with me one more time before we hear from the word of the Lord. Heavenly Father, Lord Christ, sweet Holy Spirit, open this precious word to our hearts now. Help me to be able to declare it accurately and clearly. Help us all to hear it and to heed it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

In studying the passage for this week, I was thinking a lot about mankind’s great drive to understand and explain the world. Today it seems we have a science or field of study for nearly everything. Not just the traditional field, such as history, mathematics or astronomy, but also non-traditional fields such as sociology, forensics, linguistics. No doubt our quest to know and explain the world goes back to the way God made us. Genesis one tells us that God made man and woman, all of mankind, in His image. This included God, putting a lesser version of His own intelligence and wisdom in us.

God also commissioned that ancient pair, and by extension us their descendants, to rule the earth on God’s behalf. Mankind was to fill the earth, subdue it, and even classify its creatures. This would require work but also study. So even today, despite men’s fall into sin, we have inherited the creation mandate that drives us to learn about our world so that we can thrive in it and know how to steward it well.

However, as we’ve already seen to some degree in our study of the book of Ecclesiastes, the fall has fundamentally changed our world and frustrated our ability to know it. Death, futility, and sin not only make the task of studying the world painful and arduous, but also sometimes we simply cannot find the answers to our questions. Even the answers we’ve already supposedly found are frequently disputed and sometimes later turn out to be false. I always remember something a doctor once said to me when he and I were talking about how medical or nutritional recommendations often change. He said, they told us at medical school, half of what you’re going to learn here is false. The problem is, we don’t know yet which half. I also remember something one of my seminary professors said about the study of archaeology. He said, remember that only a fraction of the past’s material culture has survived. Of that, only a fraction has been identified and surveyed. Of that, only a fraction has actually been excavated. Of that, only a fraction has been examined. And of that, only a fraction has been published. We moderns think we know the ancient past, but really we’ve only discovered a fraction of a fraction.

Of course, one of the reasons we devote ourselves to various kinds of study because of the benefit we hope that such knowledge will deliver to us for acting in the world right now. This, for example, has been one of the promises of the field of economics. If we can just get a grip and how economies function in the past, then we should be able to predict how economies will work in the future and therefore set the right economic policies in the present. The problem is, as my college economics professor once confessed, economists are a lot better at explaining the past than predicting the future. When all the factors in a given situation are known as in the recent past, you can come up with a plausible explanation as to why what happened happened. Oh, that’s why inflation went up. Or that’s why this economy contracted. But the factors of the present are many and frequently unknown, making any prediction about the future extremely tentative and frequently proven inaccurate. Indeed, predicting the future is one of the easiest ways to make yourself look like a fool. Just ask stock traders, weathermen, or even those who play fantasy sports.

This problem of understanding our world is not just out there affecting other people. It affects each of us every day, with all the situations we encounter. Whether you are trying to find the right car to buy, implementing reliable parenting advice, or yes, even trying to discern whether and how you should protect yourself from different diseases like Covid. And all these situations, all too frequently, the answers are difficult to discern, frequently disputed, and sometimes plain unfindable. But this is life. This is life in a fallen world. This is life under the sun. As Solomon says, it is a vanity of vanities, a vapor of vapors. You can’t get your hands around it.

But still, the situation is not all bad. Not only will this world one day be different, but even now despite the limitations on our ability to understand the world, we can know something for sure, even the most basic and important truths of life as God has revealed them to us in His sure word. Indeed, amid the many annoying uncertainties of life, we can still walk in genuine wisdom and even have true peace and joy. What will be required for this is not full understanding, but fundamentally humble perspective that fears God and trusts Him.

As we move to the next section of Ecclesiastes today, the message of God that we will see through our author King Solomon is the following – stop reaching for those ultimately unreachable fruits of knowledge, stuck on the highest branches, but instead take the low-hanging fruit of wisdom and be blessed. That’s where I get my title for the sermon today – the low-hanging fruit of wisdom, part 1. If you haven’t yet, please take your Bibles to open to the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes chapter 7 is where we’re at now. We’ll be looking at verses 23 to 29, or rather start looking at those verses. As

you’re turning there, recall what Solomon has already taught us in the beginning parts of this chapter. In the poem of chapter 7 verses 1 to 14, which really serves as the introduction to the second half of the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon taught us that while wisdom is not ultimate, it’s not the way to unlock the secrets of the world and how to succeed in every situation, it is the best way to live life. You will generally find temporal protection and blessing if you shelter in wisdom’s shadow. Then in Ecclesiastes 7:15-22, Solomon expanded on these truth, reminding us how we should respond to the times when wisdom doesn’t seem to work, because we will encounter those times. Sometimes you do everything right, you act wisely, but you still suffer. You still encounter tragedy. Sometimes people who should act wisely and righteously around you in your life, they don’t. And you’re included in that. But when you encountered those situations, Solomon tells us don’t give up. Don’t despair. Don’t simply yield yourself over to sin and foolishness. Fear God, keep calm, and carry on.

Our new section of text fits within this same theme of taking hold of wisdom’s benefits while acknowledging its limitations for this life. However, you may find the insights to which Solomon directs us to over the next two weeks to be a little surprising, perhaps seeming kind of basic. But this is by design. It’s actually very poignant. Let’s read our text, Ecclesiastes 7 verses 23 to 29. God says in His word,

I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to seek wisdom and explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness. And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chained. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her. “Behold, I have discovered this,” says the Preacher, “adding one thing to another to find an explanation, which I am still seeking but have not found. I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these. Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.”

Looking over this text, you may notice that the idea of finding or discovery is mentioned over and over again. Our author King Solomon as the greatest wise man, he’s sharing with us again about his grand quest for wisdom. But the reported results here, if we haven’t noticed from earlier in Ecclesiastes, they’re not exactly what we would expect. Solomon says that he did not discover the grand truths and explanations that he was seeking. But he did discover almost by accident some simple but profound truths for living life and living life well. Solomon’s findings really are not new. They have long been known but too infrequently applied, even by the wise.

Our text breaks down into four small section, each of those reports what Solomon did or did not discover in his quest for wisdom and knowledge. It keep saying I found her, or I did not find. Here’s the main idea or thesis of this passage. We’ll be filling it out over the next two weeks. Ecclesiastes 7:23-29, Solomon warns against vainly pursuing deep knowledge, and instead urges you to understand and apply three basic life truths. Let me say that again. In our text, Solomon warns against vainly pursuing deep knowledge, and instead urges you to understand and apply three basic life truths.

Now, the first part of this main idea, the warning part of this thesis, is unfolded in verses 23 to 24. It’s the introductory point of the sermon outline that will cover this passage, so that’s the way I’m going to enlist it. Introduction – you cannot know the fundamental scheme of this world. You cannot know the fundamental scheme of this world. Look at verses 23 to 24 again:

I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it?

By the way, in these verses we face a little question. What is the “this” that Solomon says he has tested by wisdom in verse 23? Often the word “this” is a pronoun used to refer to something that came before. But sometimes, a writer will use the word “this” to refer to what they’re about to say. Which way is Solomon using the word “this”? Many commentators think it’s actually both. He’s talking about both what came before and what comes after, and I’m inclined to agree. Solomon says, friends, everything I just shared with you and everything I’m about to share with you, I’ve tested by wisdom. I’ve studied it carefully. I’ve used wisdom to verify it. Therefore, understand I know what I’m talking about. You can believe what I say. That’s encouraging.

But then notice the next phrase – and I said I will be wise. Wait a second. Didn’t he just say that he was testing by wisdom? Well yes, Solomon does already have a certain great measure of wisdom, but he designed an even greater measure, a more complete knowledge. There’s something special about the verb phrasing here. You see, the New American Standard says, I will be wise. This is really all contained in one Hebrew verb, which is a cohortative verb. What’s a cohortative verb? It’s a verb that especially emphasizes commitment or determination. So Solomon in this verse is not just saying that he supposes that he will become wise in the future, but rather that he is determined to make himself so. I’m going to go all out to become the completely wise man. Sounds like a noble goal. And if anyone could obtain it, it would be Solomon, given a divine blessing of wisdom, an incredible mind, an abundance of resources, peace all around him in his time. Yet notice how quickly Solomon declares the outcome of his quest for wisdom. We’ve seen this before in Ecclesiastes, but he’s reminding us at the end of the verse – I said I will be wise, but it, that is wisdom, was far from me.

Now again we might ask – I thought Solomon just said he had wisdom. Well Solomon does have a certain amount of wisdom. He is a wise man, but he wants that constant wisdom, wisdom enough to fully explain the world and how to act in it perfectly in every situation. But that wisdom, that higher level of wisdom, Solomon says it was far from me. Not only did I not find it, it wasn’t even close. And why? Look at the first sentence in verse 24,

What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious.

The word translated remote here is the same word Solomon just used at the end of verse 23. It’s the word for far. Wisdom was far from me, Solomon says, because what has been. The past it was far away also. What has been is distant, remote, inaccessible. Solomon also calls what has been extremely mysterious, which is literally deep deep. And in Hebrew, anytime the same word is used twice in a row, the meaning is intensified. So deep deep translates to incredibly deep or exceedingly mysterious, as our translation puts it. Solomon says, you simply cannot discover all that happened in the past. It is too deep to reach.

Now to this a modern person might say, look at all we’ve discovered about the past. We’ve done so many archaeological digs. We’ve all these surviving manuscripts of ancient texts. We have radiometric dating. Surely given enough time, we can recover all that’s happened in the past. This is actually terribly naive. We have discovered a lot about the past. It’s true. But there’s so much we have not discovered and can really never discover. So much of the past simply has not survived. It’s been destroyed by war, by natural disasters, by the simple forces of decay. And as for our more newfangled methods of research like radiocarbon dating, radiometric dating, these only output useful data if the correct assumptions are input. If you want to know about some past time and use this research method to discover about it, you need to account for the unique conditions of that passed time and place. Otherwise, those radiometric measurements are not useful. But how can we know those conditions when no one and nothing has survived to reliably tell us what those conditions were? We can make educated guesses. We can make estimate, but who can say for certain whether those guesses are correct. Thus the further back in history we go, the less reliable our assumptions and conclusions.

This, by the way, is why origin science as practiced today has very limited value. Many scientists will make bold declarations about the age of the earth, the formation of the earth’s terrain and the evolutionary origin of animals, when they don’t really know what the conditions were like in the past. They don’t know for certain. And not only this, they ignore or reject what the Bible reliably does say about the past. They don’t factor in the record of creation, the flood, and the tower of Babel. Yet if you don’t, you’re going to come to wrong conclusions. Truly, the past is too deep and far away to discover. It’s like something buried in the earth beyond the digging power of our largest drills. Or it’s like something at the edge of the universe, hopelessly past the reach of even our most advanced space probes.

But someone might say – well so what. Who cares about the ancient past as long as we can know the present. But can you truly know the present without knowing the past? Some of you might know, I love to study history because when you learn more about history, it helps explains so much of what we see happening in the world right now. But our understanding of history is fundamentally limited. And so will our understanding of the present and the future be. Consider that one of the central questions that people often ask today, why is it that we humans do what we do? And that is a question that can only be explained by history, even the most ancient history, the creation and fall of man. But unless God especially told us that history and given us a sure record of it, we would never have uncovered it. We wouldn’t have even gotten close. If you want example of that, just look at the ancient mythology of the different cultures around the world. They don’t tell the true history of mankind, though pieces of the truth are contained.

So Solomon ask at the end of verse 24 – who can discover it? Who can become comprehensively knowledgeable about the past and by extension the present and future? And that’s a rhetorical question, with an expected answer of nobody. Not even the most wise, not even the most diligent student can uncover this knowledge.

Friends, do you see the implications of this truth for us today? Wherever you are pursuing comprehensive knowledge so that you can explain everything or act with perfect skill in every situation, you need to realize that that is a vain pursuit. You need to give it up. If you don’t, you’re only going to become frustrated and you’re going to miss out on more available wisdom, the more important wisdom. You need to accept that you just won’t have, you just won’t find a perfect answer or solution for everything in this world. It’s not that you can’t learn anything or that you can’t progress in wisdom to some degree. No, Solomon has been commanding wisdom to us. We should seek it out. Knowledge is helpful. But you’ll never discover the ways to sure success in every situation, whether it’s how to make friends who will never talk about you behind your back, how to run a business that keeps all your employees happy and productive, or how to counsel others with the Bible so that they listen and alway repent of sin and follow Christ. There’s no way to sure success. I’ll say this in another way – you must let go of your need to reach the highest levels of knowledge. Instead, take the low-hanging and easily reached fruit of wisdom and you will find blessing and peace.

Now all of this is the introduction for what Solomon is going to stay next. Solomon now wants to direct us to some of that low-hanging fruit of wisdom. We’ve got three insights from Solomon, explained in the rest of the passage. We’re only going to examine the first today. Solomon says, instead of vainly pursuing deep knowledge, the first basic life truth that you must understand and apply, it appears in verses 25 and 26. Point number one of the three that we’ll see – number one, the enticing woman or man is misery in the end. Enticing woman or man is misery in the end. Look at these versus again.

I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to speak wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness. And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.

Notice how verse 25 filled out more, but Solomon just shared with us in the previous two verses. Solomon emphasizes again what a comprehensive search he has conducted to understand the world. He uses three different verbs here to describe his pursuit. He says he wanted to know. He wanted to investigate or explorer or spy out. And he also was seeking or discovering. And what were the objects of these intense searching actions? He gives four. First, wisdom, which refers to life skill or understanding or knowledge. Second, an explanation. This is an interesting word. We can also translate it a reckoning, a sum, a scheme or calculation. If you just listening to some of those synonyms, you may notice there’s something mathematical about this Hebrew word, and that’s correct. It’s like for Solomon, life is an accounting sheet. Solomon wants to know both the sum total and how all the different debits and credits add up. I want a full understanding. I want to know the fundamentals scheme or account of life. So Solomon is looking for this. He’s looking for wisdom. He’s also looking for – third, the evil of folly. Or we could translate that wrong confidence. And fourth, the foolishness of madness or insane folly.

So like Solomon has said before in Ecclesiastes, his quest for understanding is incredibly broad. It compasses even evil stupidity and insanity. He wants to cover all the bases. He’s willing to delve into all of it to truly know the world and what is good and enjoyable for mankind. So then in this grand search, what did Solomon discover? We saw in verses 23 to 24 already, he did not discover deep wisdom or full explanation. But he did discover something, which is what he talks about in verse 26. Notice the beginning phrase there. He says, and I discovered. Or we can more literally translate that – and I was finding. The Hebrew verb here is a participle. That’s a word that emphasizes ongoing and characteristic action. So Solomon didn’t just find something one time. He kept on finding it. He kept looking for deep truth but instead kept finding something else that was more basic.

What did Solomon discover? What did he keep on finding? Something more bitter than death, he says. And that should get our attention because we’ve been following Solomon so far in this book. Death is one of the worst realities of this world. It is one of the bitterest pill to swallow, one of the greatest agonies of this life. For something to be more bitter than death, it must be pretty bad. What’s worse? What’s more bitter? What’s more miserable than death itself? Solomon says it’s the enticing woman. More terrible experience than death, something that compared to this experience death is to be preferred. It is the enticing woman. Notice in verse 26, Solomon describes this woman. All his descriptions are expressed in terms of snares. New American Standard says her heart is snares and nets, and that is a possible translation.I think a better translation goes along the lines of the NIV, where it says the woman herself is a snare and her heart is nets. So in other words, woman, heart, and hands in this verse, they each received their own metaphor. That’s the way I’m going to explain it.

Let’s briefly consider each metaphor. Solomon says, this woman, this enticing woman is herself a snare or a hunting net. Now we’re probably not too familiar with hunting nets or net traps today here in America. But the Israelites certainly were. Hunting Animals at that time, it wasn’t simply a matter of stalking an animal with a bow and arrow. You could also lay a trap. Perhaps a concealed pit or something with bait to lure an unwitting animal into a net so the animal became trapped and unable to escape. Solomon says, the enticing woman is like such a trap, with its allurement to ensnare and capture unsuspecting men. Second, Solomon says her heart is nets, or more specifically dragnets. There were different kinds of nets at that time. Dragonets were nets that were often used for fishing, and they’re actually still used today. Very effective. Their use today has to be regulated so that they don’t deplete the population of fish in lakes and other bodies of water. How did a dragnet work? It was pretty simple. You cast this very wide net some distance from the shore and not too far. You want the net to span from the water surface to the bottom of the lake. There are floats on top and there are weights on the bottom. It’s basically this wall that totally covers that section of water. Once you cast it, you then walk and dragged the net towards the shore so that every fish in its path is either caught in the net or driven towards the shore. Do you know what’s going to happen? Eventually there’s nowhere else for the fish to swim even if they’re running away. So they end up being scooped up by the net, every fish and all kinds of fish. Solomon says, the enticing woman’s heart is like a dragnet, not just one but many. He says it is net, dragnets. These will sweep multiple times in the waters and capture all that is in their path. So you better get out of the way. You better get out of the way of the enticing woman’s heart in the beginning. If you don’t, know for certain you will be caught and likely ruined.

Third, Solomon says the woman’s hands are chains, or we could say fetters or bindings. And this is a pretty fitting metaphor, isn’t it? Hands, they can look like and even function like chains, grabbing and holding on to something or someone. Solomon says, hey you who are straying into this enticing woman’s path. You may feel delighted, thrilled at the prospect of being embraced by this enticing woman. When she puts her arms around you and she holds you with her hands, what she’s really doing is binding you in chains. Her hands are the fetters that will never let you go. To your own torture, to your own destruction. Such descriptions, we can quickly understand that this enticing woman is incredibly dangerous. She’s a true femme fatale.

But who exactly is she? Some say that Solomon speaks metaphorically here about lady folly, that is the seducing power of sinful foolishness itself. Well, the description of verse 26 would fit any kind of tempting sin. The mention of actual men and women in verse 27 leads me to believe that verse 26 is about real women. But which women? Really, any enticing but forbidden woman. She may be behind a screen. She may be in your imagination. She may be a stranger. She may be someone you know well. But whoever she is, she is forbidden to you. She is not the one to whom God has joined you together in the covenant of marriage. You have no right to her. She’s the one who seduces you toward immorality or adultery or even and just as deviously entices you into an evil marriage, one that God forbids you from. After all, consider the history of Israel and even Solomon’s own life. Who were the forbidden woman that brought them down. Not primarily adulterers or fornicators, but the women who intermarried, women who followed other Gods. These were forbidden to the people of Israel, but they didn’t listen to God. The same was true of Solomon. That led the people away from God and led them into judgment.

And by the way, this wisdom from Solomon doesn’t just apply to men who are facing enticing women. Solomon’s a man and he’s speaking to an original audience of primarily men. So that’s the way he formulates this teaching here, but the principle also applies in the reverse. This truth applies to women who also face enticing and devious men. You ladies, it doesn’t matter how handsome, how charming, how kind a boy or a man is. If he’s a forbidden man enticing you towards sin, don’t fall for his trap. Really, Solomon’s speaking to all of us and telling us, friends do not be naive. Do not believe that you’re the exception, that you can handle the wily seducer and the seductress. Oh, yeah, yeah, I know their tricks. I can handle it. Don’t tell yourself, hey I kind of enjoy the thrill, so I can close the immorality but I won’t go over the line. Or I know I shouldn’t be spending time with him when he’s already married and I’m starting to develop feelings for him, but he’s a Christian so nothing bad will happen. Or I know she’s not a Christian, but dating is not the same as marriage, right? I’ll still make sure I won’t marry her. If you’re thinking along those lines in your life, you’ve got to recognize that is stupidity. That is utter foolishness. That is ignoring the basic wisdom of God. And you know what the result of that kind of living and thinking is? It’s falling into a trap. And once you are caught, you will find it very difficult, painful, and nye impossible to escape.

I remember talking to a pastor one time who is one of the leaders in a large church. And he shared with me his experience overseeing church discipline in that church. He had been a pastor for many years. And he told me most of the cases where someone’s sin has been brought before the whole church in order to get the people to go out to him and call him to repentance, they’ve involved sexual sin are marital unfaithfulness. And of those cases, he said, probably only 25% of the time does the person actually repent. So I asked him why church discipline in his church always seem to involve sexual sin in and why it yielded such a dismal record of repentance. And he explained to me what he thought the reason was. He said, it’s because of the nature of the sin. People will more easily repent of anger or stealing without letting it reach the level of telling it to the church. But romantic attraction and sexual passion are so strong that people are seldom willing to let go of such sins.

So friends, this is why we must listen to the words of Solomon here and not continue to walk naively. One of the reasons why seducers are so successful is because the victims do not heed the danger. They don’t get out of the way. And so they’re ensnared. You can’t be one of those people. Solomon urges you not to be. God urges you not to be through Solomon. Rather, heed the rest of Solomon’s exhortation in verse 26. He says in the second half of it,

One who is pleasing to God will escape or flee from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.

This presents us with a fundamental contrast. On the one hand, we have a person pleasing to God who escapes or flees from the seductress. On the other hand is a sinner who does not escape, does not flee, and is captured. The question we could ask is – does the one escape because he’s already pleasing to God? God doesn’t put him in that situation. Or does he please God by choosing to flee? I think this is another situation where the answer to that question biblically is yes. It’s both of those things. The one who walks with God, seeks God, is pleasing to God is the one that God tends to protect from even facing that situation. But this person’s pleasing walk includes a concerted effort to flee far from sexual sin. Whereas meanwhile, the sinner who has little concern for God or His ways. He does not embrace the wisdom of fleeing sin, and so God delivers one over to a trap that he would not avoid.

Now with all this, you might be wondering – how did we go from discussing the vanity of pursuing perfect knowledge to the need to beware of the enticing woman. That seemed like a random left turn, right? While unexpected to be sure, this is not random. This is a purposely designed text by Solomon and God. It’s like while we’re pondering the frustrating mysteries and mysterious problems of life, Solomon splashes cold water in our faces and he says, hey you who got your head in the clouds. Pay attention to what’s right in front of you, to the dangers that are right in your face. Yes, wisdom can’t do everything that you’d like it to do for you in your life, but it can provide you something you really need, which is protection from the enticing woman or man. After all, you need that protection. Look all around you, the traps have already been laid. The enticer’s sweeping dragnets are everywhere. The enticing woman, she wants to bind you in chains as she has bound so many others. So stop striving after all that advanced knowledge and get the basics. This is not rocket science. Don’t miss this. Truly, if wisdom or like a college course, and wisdom 101 was the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then wisdom 102 or wisdom 103 is beware the enticing woman or man who traps.

And we see this in the book of Proverbs. This is one of the main books of wisdom in the Old Testament, right? You go to the introductory section of Proverbs, which spans chapters 1 to 9. And what is appearing in it early and often but counsel to avoid the enticing man or woman. I’ll give you some examples. Proverbs 2:16, Solomon urges his sons to seek the protection of wisdom. Why?

To deliver you from the strange woman, from the adulteress who flatters with her words;

Proverbs 5 gives an extended treatment of the need to beware of the strange woman and instead embrace God’s good portion for a person, especially at that time and for many of us today, a wife in covenant. I won’t quote the whole chapter for you, but listen to Proverbs 5:3-8. Solomon says,

For the lips of an adulterous drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold of Sheol. She does not ponder the path of life; her ways are unstable, she does not know it. Now then, my 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,

It’s the same counsel again and again. Proverbs 6:26, to give you another example. Solomon says,

For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, and an adulteress hunts for the precious life.

You need to reorient your vision when you see or you encounter that enticing woman or man. It seems so good. Oh yes, this is going to be great. It’s going to be good for me. No! You need to see that person as a huntress and a trap. They want to kill you. They want to destroy your life. Maybe they don’t even realize it, but that’s the way they’re being used by the evil one. I’ll give you one more example. Proverbs 7 provides a cautionary tale about a naive one who is ensnared by an adulteress like an ox that went to its own slaughter. Listen to the application section of that passage. Solomon writes in Proverbs 7:24-27,

Now therefore, my sons, listen to me, and pay attention to the words of my mouth. Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her path. For many are the victims she has cast down, and numerous are all her slain.

You know who’s included in that number? All the people who thought they were the exception. I’m strong enough. I can handle it. No problem. They’re all the ones who were taken captive. They’re all the ones who were slain. Verse 27,

Her house is the way to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death.

The enticing woman is misery in the end. So brothers and sisters, hear this basic but vital wisdom of God through Solomon. You must flee from the enticing woman or man. This counsel applies to all but especially you young persons. Don’t let yourselves become ensnared now and enslaved all your life. It’s a sad truth, but as I’ve sought the counsel different people who struggle with immorality, I usually hear the same story. And that is, oh I was ensnared when I was young, and I’ve been battling ever since. Brethren, we cannot rationalize, we cannot compromise. We must flee like our lives depend on it because you know what, they do. Immorality, even marrying an unbeliever, those aren’t unpardonable sins. But there’s a reason that Solomon says in our pastors that being captured by the forbidden woman or man is more bitter than death. It will bring abundant ruin and regret and sorrow into your life. You say- how do I know? I got to try it out. God’s telling you, don’t learn the hard way. This is from someone who made that mistake over and over again, which is what Solomon did.

Care about your life enough to flee from the enticing woman but not just your life now. Solomon doesn’t really get into it in our passage, but the rest of the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, they make clear than unrepentant immorality is something that will put you under God’s burning wrath forever. He’s a holy God. He’s a good God. He loves the way he designed marriage. He loves the covenant commitment, even the sexual expression in marriage. But when people deface that design, twist that design, go beyond the bounds of that design, God hates it, and He will bring judgment on those who do so. The Scriptures say this. Hebrews 13:4,

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled;

Therefore, the exhortation is 1 Corinthians 6:18:

Flee immorality.

And 1 Corinthians 6:20,

glorify God in your body.

You can use your body for good. Don’t us it for evil. This requires radical action. Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

Brethren, it is a sobering truth, but I fear that there will be many who are kept out of the kingdom of heaven and suffer hell forever, because they were not willing to give up the forbidden woman or the forbidden man. They convince themselves that God is okay with it, that God understood, that He accepted that I just keep going back to this sin. They don’t realize that God says, I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness. Therefore, brothers and sisters, for your life’s sake, for your soul’s sake, beware the forbidden woman and flee far from her. Flee far from the forbidden man.

But perhaps one of you will say, Pastor Dave, I’m already ensnared. I’ve already fallen into the trap. Is there any way out? Is there any hope for me? Brethren, I have good news for you. There is hope. There is hope but it’s only found in Jesus Christ. Remember that story from the Old Testament where venomous serpents came upon the Israelites while they were in the wilderness because of their sin and many that were bitten. And that’s that venom was going to kill them, but God made a way of escape. He says, Moses put up this bronze serpent so that anyone who looks to it, they’ll be saved. They’ll be healed. And that venom won’t destroy them. It’s the same for you. Those of you who have poisoned your life by yielding to the adulteress, by not listening to wisdom and staying far from her, the forbidden woman or man. If you will look to Christ, He can heal you. He can deliver you. You must look to Him in true repentance and faith. And that the testimony of many in this church. Some of us have come out of a past of sexual sin, even bondage to the forbidden woman or man. But Christ saved us, not only from the penalty of sin which is hell forever, but from the dominating power of it in our lives. Christ did that.

And He can do that for you, but you must repent and run from that sin. You must flee. You must go all out. You must have no corner against that sin because it is so ensnaring. If you say, well you know, I’ll try. That’s not going to be good enough. That’s not true repentance. Jesus demanded radical action. If you truly are repenting and believing, you must be willing to cut off your own hand and gouge out your own eye, which are metaphors, but saying there’s nothing in my life to give up so that I can be free from this and have Christ. That’s what you got to do. You got to flee. You got to flee with more urgency than Lot and his daughters when fleeing out of the city of Sodom. Destruction was coming upon that city and the angel told them run and don’t look back. Because if you look back, you might linger and be destroyed.

There’s a section of the book Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan which really sticks in my mind along the same line. Christian, the protagonist in that book, is getting away from the city of destruction. He’s come to understand I’m doomed, if I stay here. And he starts to leave, but then his friends and his family start to entice him back. They say wait. No, come back, we love you, please come back. And what does he do? He puts his fingers in his ears and he just starts shouting to himself – life, life, eternal life. That’s what he said. I have to focus on that because if I don’t remind myself of that, continually I’ll go back. It’s the same for you. This is the same for any of you who might be already ensnared or are in danger of becoming ensnared. You need to set your eyes on Christ. You need to set your eyes on eternal life and flee. Flee like your life depended on it, like your soul depended on it, because it does.

But don’t flee alone. This isn’t something you’re supposed to go through alone. God gave you the church. God gave you allies in the church, others who have come out of that snare or can help you come out. It’s been my own personal experiences as I tried to counsel different people who struggle with immorality that they do not find victory until they enlist the help of someone else. I’m not saying that’s required in every situation, but I say that if you are struggling and you’re not getting someone’s help, you’re a fool because God gave you that resource. If you really want victory and you’ll say, give me everything. Give me everything that’ll help me. I’ve got to get away from this ensnaring one. God gave you the church. Take advantage of that resource. Find another mature brother or sister in this congregation and say, hey, I think I’ve been entrapped by the forbidden woman. Can you help me? You say, oh I’ll be so ashamed and embarrassed. Do you want life? Do you want wisdom? It’s worth it, friends. You get Christ if you’re willing to give up that sin. But if you say, no, no, the pain, the cost is too much. Then you’ll be destroyed. You’ll be ruined.

Even in Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian didn’t journey to the Celestial City by himself. He had companions along the way. One of them, one of the main companions in that book is named Faithful. And Christian, even though he was full of faith and had his eyes on Christ, he stumbled sometimes. But he had Faithful there to raise them up. You need something, and so do I. This is the first basic truth that Solomn wants us to understand and apply. Let’s not get our eyes caught just staring at the clouds, looking at those mysteries of life that we just can’t comprehend. Friends, get this basic wisdom. The enticing person is misery in the end. Therefore you should flee. That’s just the first. We’ll look at two other truths next time.

Let’s close in prayer. God, we thank You. God of wisdom. God of love. We thank You for the wisdom of this passage. It’s maybe not what we expected. Our minds are concerned with various physiological and life questions that are so deep. And we say, how am I ever going to figure this out? But God, You say, why don’t you pay attention to this more basic things and get those first? Lord, we need that wake up call. There’s many in this congregation who are in danger of being ensnared by the forbidden man or the forbidden woman, who are playing around with the enticements. Lord, cause them to heed Your wisdom. Help them to run. For those who are already ensnared, help them to humble themselves before You and to go all out by faith and say I want Christ and life, not this passing pleasure and death.

Lord, we know our responsibility. We are called to act and wisdom and You are gracious to give us that wisdom. And yet, God, we also know that unless You graciously are intervening, all our efforts are for nothing. So God, please intervene even among this people, among those who have heard Your word today. It’s no accident that they’ve heard it. Lord, cause Your people to embrace Your wisdom and find life, not just blessing for this world but life forever with You. In Jesus name. Amen.