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Volume 16, Issue 3: Femina

Flattery

Nancy Wilson

Proverbs is full of admonitions to young men to stay far away from the strange woman: "For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead" (Proverbs 2:18); "Her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell" (5:4); "None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life" (2:19); "But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul" (6:32); "For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death" (7:26-27); and "The mouth of a strange woman is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein" (22:14).

Now given such manifold and dire warnings, whatever would possess a young man to turn aside to go after such a woman? What exactly is the pull? What is it that first lures him away to lust after her? Proverbs makes it very clear that the initial pull comes from flattery. The harlot practices her art on the "man void of understanding" (7:7); she "flattereth with her words" (7:5). "For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil" (5:3). Godly instruction is offered to the young man for this purpose: "To deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words"(2:16); "To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman" (6:24).
From all this, it must be safe to assert that young men in particular are very vulnerable to flattery. This must be connected to their God-given need for respect and admiration; so it follows that a man who does not feel respected for his legitimate attributes will be a sitting duck for flattery. A hollow and shallow counterfeit for respect, flattery is marked by its insincerity and its excessiveness. The flatterer (in this case a woman) makes much of a man with the intent of ingratiating herself. She compliments him either by bestowing too much attention on him (hanging on his every word), by acting very impressed with him (or his car), or by saying stupid and untrue things to him. This may seem so obviously fake and phony to the one standing by watching, but to the poor stupid young man, it is wonderful.
So what is my point of application for women in this observation about men and flattery? I have several. First is to wives: Respect your husband genuinely. This is obedience to God's Word, and it has a tremendous impact on your husband, not least of which is the protection it provides him from the strange woman and her smooth speech. Men who have a "full tank" when it comes to respect from their wives are far less vulnerable to the flattery of the strange woman. But a second point of application is this: Wives, notice how the harlot knows what a man wants. She has made plans. She tells him she has decked out her bed and perfumed it as well (7:16-17). "With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him. He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter" (7:21-22a). How much more protected would a man be if his own wife spoke to him like this? But in the wife's case, her words would not lead him to death, but rather to the marriage bed, honored by God. Wives could learn a thing or two from this harlot in Proverbs.
The next application is to moms: Respect your sons. A son runs on respect, just like Dad does. Instruction, teaching, admonition, and more instruction from Mom will not have the effect it should unless it is accompanied by respect. And what is respect? Courtesy, kindness, giving responsibility and providing accountability, all within a framework of admiration and honor, humility and deference. A son who has a mom with this sort of perspective will not so easily fall prey to the silly talk of the air-headed girl in the tight t-shirt because he can quickly discern between flattery and real respect. Proverbs is solid proof that young men need instruction from both their parents, but they need a good example to accompany the teaching. Instruction given this way will make a son grateful, not bitter. The strange woman is a serious threat. Godly instruction prepares your son and equips him to stay away from her.
Finally, train and love your daughters so that they become wise women, not flirty, flighty girls looking for attention from the boys and willing to act foolishly to get it. What is flirting but just a milder form of flattery? But if it is indulged, it leads to the same end. Girls who are too interested in the boys and too quick to give the boys their full attention are obviously running on fumes. They are easy for the boys to impress. It doesn't take much. These girls are in great need of love and security, and if their dads don't provide it, they will look to the boys. And we all know that the boys will not really bring the needed security, but will only increase the insecurity. The strange woman in Proverbs has refined her art and made her insecurity into a commodity she can sell. And there is always a market.

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