The teacher changes his approach in the eleventh discourse of Proverbs; now he portrays Wisdom as a lady, a sister in fact, and Folly as a harlot to show a young man how he can find himself ensnared. We begin with the first five verses pretty much as we’ve become accustomed, with the teacher urging his pupil to pay close attention and to take his advice to heart. In telling his “son” to consider wisdom to be his sister, an image of love and closeness, yet also one of purity and honor, he is seemingly trying to make wisdom seem more dear than a mere abstract. The antagonist here will be the adulterous woman.
This time, he teaches his lesson in the form of a narrative; he sets the scene with himself viewing the street from behind a lattice, where he can observe events as they unfold and remain unseen. The young man who comes along is described as having “no sense” in the NIV. The Hebrew can also be taken as simple minded or not real smart; clearly he is meant to seem as though he isn’t quite sure what he’s walking into. A woman comes out to meet the young man. She is dressed like a harlot, and is clearly looking for action. She makes her move in verses 15-20; she is quite brazen, she has made preparations to entertain a man. It isn’t entirely clear whether or not she and this hypothetical young man are already acquainted or if he just happened along at the right time, but she seduces him in either case.
The trap is sprung in verses 21-23 as the young man is unable to resist her charms and off they go. Yet the teacher makes it clear that the young man is really going to his doom. The woman is not a prostitute, she is a married woman whose husband is out of town; even if he is single, she is not and he has fallen into adultery. What will happen when her husband finds out what he has done? What if she becomes pregnant? What if she has a disease? By implication, it really doesn’t matter which peril befalls him, for the young man has gone where no man should go.
The conclusion is found in 24-27 and contains the sort of warnings we have come to expect.
To a modern reader this will likely seem just a bit sexist: The innocent young man, the wayward woman leading him astray… and all of those old worn out images. In ancient times, warnings of this sort were always given to young men, for they, unlike young women, were able to roam more or less freely in the streets. Young women on the other hand, would have been protected from masculine predators and kept either at home, or under the watchful eye of a trusted relative. Thus, these warnings were written for young men. However, in our times, these warnings apply to both young men and young women, for both are subject to temptations and manipulation; both can be led astray by cunning people with ulterior motives. Thus, I would suggest that the principles taught are timeless: Beware!