The more I study the ways of God, the more sobered I am by the incredible influence women have in our homes—for good or for evil. The Scripture puts it this way: “The wise woman builds her house, but with her hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Prov. 14:1).
There are two kinds of women in this world—wise and foolish. At any given moment, you and I are either wise or foolish women; whether we realize it or not, we are either building our “house”—our immediate sphere of influence—or we are tearing it down.
Proverbs chapter 7 is a technicolor portrait of a foolish woman. The immediate context is that of a father teaching his son how to recognize the snare of a foolish woman. The younger man is urged to embrace wisdom, so that he may be protected from her wiles.
My son, keep my words, And treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live . . . That they may keep you from the immoral woman, From the seductress who flatters with her words. (vv. 1-2, 5 )1
The writer warns against becoming entangled with an “immoral” woman. That word is variously translated “loose” (rsv), “adulteress” (niv), and “strange” (kjv). The word means literally, “to turn aside.”2
Perhaps you are thinking, “I’m not an immoral woman. Proverbs 7 doesn’t really relate to me.” This passage has relevance even for those women who have a genuine heart for wisdom and of whom it could not be said that they are “loose” or “immoral.” Although we may not be physically adulterous or promiscuous, most of us have unwittingly adopted some of the characteristics that ultimately could lead to the ruin of the men around us.
When we look at the characteristics of the foolish woman in Proverbs 7, even if we are not loose, immoral women, we must ask the Lord, “Do any of the characteristics of this woman describe me?”
Marks of a Foolish Woman
The first characteristic given in verse 5 is that she “flatters with her words.” Our tongues have the power to destroy our homes and the homes of others. The loose woman uses her words to seduce and overpower men. The writer comes back to this theme in verse 21: “With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced [kjv, forced] him.” How can a tiny, little woman force a man to yield to her? She does it with her tongue.
For at the window of my house I looked through my lattice, And saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, A young man devoid of understanding. (vv. 6-7)
The author now begins a blow-by-blow description of exactly how this loose, foolish woman preys on a simple, foolish man who lacks wisdom and understanding. (Of course, the man is also responsible for what transpires in this passage, as in any immoral relationship; but our objective at this point is to focus on our responsibility as women.)
. . . passing along the street near her corner; And he took the path to her house In the twilight, in the evening, In the black and dark night. (vv. 8-9)
Both the young man and the foolish woman make conscious choices that place them in the wrong place at the wrong time. This passage illustrates the importance of staying away from scenarios where the natural instinct would be to do something wrong.
Three times the point is repeated that this meeting takes place at night. The pair ends up together alone in the dark. Instead of avoiding the potential of wrongdoing, they both place themselves in a setting (time and place) where they will be more vulnerable to temptation and sin.
This is why it is so important to guard our steps and our choices in the “little things.” The places we go, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, the entertainment we watch—these things either fuel our flesh (our natural inclinations) or they nurture our spirit. By the time a full-blown immoral relationship has developed, a woman may have emotions she feels she can’t control. Chances are, those feelings were stimulated by foolish choices that she justified to herself and others.
And there a woman met him, With the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. (v. 10)
Notice that although this woman is not actually a prostitute, she exhibits many of the same characteristics. Verse 10 describes this woman as being dressed “with the attire of a harlot” (the outward manifestation) and having “a crafty heart” (the inward heart that produces the outward manifestation). Our countenance, clothing choices, and behavior reflect what is in our heart. That is why the foolish woman’s dress and her heart are addressed in the same verse.
Suggestive, seductive clothing is one of the traps she uses to lure the young man. I look around at some gatherings of believers and wonder, “Don’t these women realize what they are communicating to men by the way they dress?” An outwardly modest appearance reflects a modest and wise heart. Immodest dress suggests a foolish, immoral heart.
The foolish woman is subtle of heart. This speaks of being crafty in intent. She is wily and has hidden motives. She has set out to ensnare this young man.
She was loud and rebellious, Her feet would not stay at home. At times she was outside, at times in the open square, Lurking at every corner. (vv. 11-12)
The foolish woman has a “loud” or “tumultuous” spirit. She does not exercise restraint or self-control. Stormy and demanding, her demeanor is in contrast to the meek and quiet spirit that is priceless to God. Not only is she loud, she is “rebellious.” She is defiant against God’s law and the obligation of morality.
“Her feet would not stay at home.” In contrast to the wise woman, the foolish woman is not con-tent to be a keeper at home. She is not satisfied with where God has put her.
The woman whose life does not center around her home and the well-being of her family, but is constantly darting from one place or activity to another, is more vulnerable to becoming entangled in immoral relationships and is more likely to entice men who are vulnerable themselves.
So she caught him and kissed him; With an impudent [shameless, brazen] face she said to him . . . . (v. 13)
This is an all-too-familiar picture in our culture, where women have become the aggressors in relationships with men. God created the man to be the initiator and the woman to be the responder. Satan’s way of doing business is to reverse God’s plan.
The foolish woman in this passage approaches her prey with a bold greeting. She throws herself on this man—physically and verbally. She evidences the lack of discretion and restraint that is so common between men and women today. Even in church, it is not unusual to see women carelessly throw their arms around men. Such behavior may not have immoral intent, but it is foolish. It pulls down appropriate restraints that ought to exist between men and women and can lead to grave sins against God.
“I have peace offerings with me; Today I have paid my vows.” (v. 14)
Verse 14 suggests that she is a “church woman.” This foolish woman cloaks her aggressive, flirtatious behavior in spiritual talk. Her religious activity is really a cover-up for her immoral heart. She may be trying to compensate for her guilt by what she does at church. Proverbs speaks of a man who “was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly” (Prov. 5:14, kjv). Even in the midst of church relationships and activities, we can fall into great sin and can lead others into great sin.
“So I came out to meet you, Diligently to seek your face, And I have found you.” (v. 15)
She builds up this foolish young man’s ego. Feeding his need for admiration, she makes him feel needed and valued. Whose need for admiration should she be feeding? Her husband’s! Pouring admiration on another man only fuels discontented feelings about her own husband and intensifies the sense that she is living in an unloving, empty marriage.
“I have spread my bed with tapestry, Colored coverings of Egyptian linen. I have perfumed my bed With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.” (vv. 16-17)
This woman is consumed with physical, temporal values rather than that which is enduring. She is indiscreet—talking freely about intimate subjects that should be reserved for conversation with her husband. We need to teach young women that there are things you don’t talk about in mixed company. Indeed, there are personal matters between husbands and wives that should not be discussed even with other women.
“Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; Let us delight ourselves with love.” (v. 18)
The foolish woman seeks immediate gratification, in spite of the fact that the delights of this forbidden fruit will last only “until morning.” Failing to think about the long-term consequences of her choices, she sets herself and others up for moral failure. She is willing to sacrifice her own marriage and integrity, as well as the well-being and future of others, in order to experience a brief taste of the fruit of illicit “love.”
Are there ways you have sacrificed long-term gain on the altar of immediate self-gratification? You might not relate to throwing away your marriage for a night of pleasure with another man. Yet, perhaps you can relate to spewing out harsh words that grant some temporary relief but crush the spirit of your mate or child. Perhaps you know what it is to binge on the food you crave, for the momentary pleasure it brings. Perhaps you have indulged your resentful feelings, savoring the thought of hurting the one who hurt you so deeply. Have you seriously considered the long-term consequences of your foolish choices? Have you counted the cost in terms of your relationship with God and with others?
“For my husband is not at home; He has gone on a long journey; He has taken a bag of money with him, And will come home on the appointed day.” (vv. 19-20)
She is a married woman (though either single or married women may fit the description). Her husband is out of town on a business trip, and she thinks no one will know about her secret little sin. But she forgets that there is One who knows everything—El Roi, “the God who sees.” She forgets that “the eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good” (Prov. 15:3).
The foolish woman is not satisfied with the mate God has provided. She has expectations and longings that her husband is not fulfilling. Rather than looking to God to fulfill the deepest longings of her heart, she focuses on what she does not have, looking to another man to meet those needs. Rather than pouring love, attention, and devotion upon her husband, she invests her heart, energy, and efforts in another man.
By focusing on her own needs (in actuality, her desires), she puts herself in a position where she is less motivated and capable of meeting the needs of the one whom God created her to help. She was made to be a helper to her husband, but she can’t meet his needs if she is focused on her own.
By way of contrast, Proverbs 31 says of the wise, virtuous woman, “The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (vv. 11-12, nkjv). She has an unconditional commitment to be loyal to her husband.
In today’s culture, many women have husbands who are away from home—if not literally, then emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. The greatest test of faithfulness for a married woman is where her heart goes when her husband is “away.” Where does her mind stray? Is she trustworthy? Is she faithful to God and to her calling in marriage even if he fails to be the man he ought to be?
With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, With her flattering lips she seduced [compelled] him. (v. 21)
Again, we are reminded of the power of words. By her speech, she causes him to yield, just as Delilah used words to bring Samson under her control. The foolish woman stands in contrast to the wise woman who “opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (Prov. 31:26, nkjv).
Fruit of the Foolish Woman
As we come to the end of Proverbs 7, we see the enormous impact of the foolish woman on others, particularly on men:
For she has cast down many wounded, And all who were slain by her were strong men. (v. 26)
Feminists have portrayed women as oppressed victims. That is no doubt true in some settings and cultures. However, no failure on the part of men can strip us of accountability for our behavior and influence.
The foolish woman is an instrument of “cast[ing] down” many men. She may do so by means of sexual seduction, or by a more subtle means such as discouragement, spiritual pride, or intimidation. I have found that I can walk into a meeting with a group of men and in a matter of moments change the climate of the room by my spirit. Without even saying a word I can discourage or intimidate the men around me.
Sadly, some of the most “spiritual,” biblically knowledgeable women in the church are also the most intimidating. If our knowledge makes us un-teachable, then we are foolish women. I have heard husbands and even pastors say in effect, “I can’t lead my wife. . . . I can’t lead the women in my church. They know too much.” Some of these men feel as though they need advanced theological degrees in order to be the spiritual leaders that their wives claim to want. In many cases, I believe it is because our spirits have not been teachable and humble. As a result, we end up emasculating the men around us.
One politically correct way that women “cast down” men is by verbally bashing them—making “men jokes” or cutting comments about men. When we speak words that cut, diminish, and wound—even in jest—we are tearing down those we were intended to lift up.
Notice that the men slain by the foolish woman started out as strong men. As a young woman, the Lord used this passage to impress on my heart that if I failed to walk wisely, I could be the instrument of any man’s undoing. That was a sobering realization. Even men who are spiritually mature can be brought down by a foolish woman.
Our calling with the men God has placed in our lives is to be a cheerleader, to lift up their hands and to pray for them. We need to encourage them, praying and trusting our Lord to make them mighty men of God.
Her house is the way to hell, Descending to the chambers of death. (v. 27)
The consequences of failing to be wise women are deadly. When we are tempted by the immediate pleasures of speaking too freely, letting our emotions and our tongues run wild, or letting our behavior become careless and unrestrained, we need to consider the long-range consequences of our choices.
May God make us all wise women who build our homes for His glory.
Taken from Biblical Womanhood in the Home, edited by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, ©2002, pages 83-100. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187. http://www.crossway.com.
1. All quotations from Proverbs 7 in this article are taken from the New King James Version.
2. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992).
Some time ago I received an e-mail from a woman who had heard me teach on the foolish woman of Proverbs 7. In this case, the man she had destroyed was her own husband, who had now left her for another woman. By her own admission, her heart had never really been in her home. She had loved her work more than her family and had failed to fulfill her God-given responsibilities as a wife and mother. Now she was living with the lethal consequences of her foolishness.
I am the epitome of the foolish woman you described. Over and over again, from my earliest childhood, I’ve been this foolish, adulterous woman. I now see the tragic consequences that have resulted in my husband and in our marriage. I have also planted these vicious seeds in our precious daughter. I have emasculated my husband, because of my selfish, arrogant, manipulative, intimidating ways and words. How terribly, terribly wounded he is because of me. I have taken him down to the very core of Hell itself because of my ungodly, willful ways. Today he took the wife of another man to church with him. How could I have driven such a wonderful man to do such a hideous thing before God? God help me. I see how wrong I’ve been. I’m trusting in His Word for healing, cleansing, and restoration of my vile heart.
God has brought both this woman and her husband to repentance and is restoring their marriage. What a joy to see this once-foolish woman becoming a wise woman of God.
(Life action Ministries)