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Your Cheatin' Heart

The folly of adultery

Proverbs 5:15-17

15 Drink water from your own cistern,
And running water from your own well.

16 Should your fountains be dispersed abroad,
Streams of water in the streets?

17 Let them be only your own,
And not for strangers with you.


Stop me if you have heard this one:

Question: What happens when you play a country song backwards? 

Answer: You get your truck back, your dog back, your job back and your wife back! 

As a lifelong country music fan, I may not be able to attest to the accuracy of doing this but it sure does hit home. My wife may not have left me but I have had plenty of trucks with mechanical heartaches and an old bird dog that followed his nose on a windy day, never to return.

I have been tempted to try this little experiment to see if my long-lost pup would return. Just my luck, however, my old boss would call for me to return to work–and that would just ruin my weekend plans.

Solomon draws on ruined plans of the future and the pain of the past when he wisely instructs his son in Proverbs chapter 5. In chapter 4, he reminds the sons and daughters of Israel that what is in the heart flows out through actions of the body. What you look at, the words you say and the places you go reveal what you think and believe.  

Speaking of country music, I am reminded of that bedrock anthem of modern country music: “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by the legendary Hank Williams:

Your cheatin' heart will make you weep
You'll cry and cry and try to sleep
But sleep won't come
The whole night through
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you

Hank Williams wrote this tune with his former wife in mind. Their marriage, tumultuous from the start, ended after mutual infidelities and his addictions to drugs and alcohol took their toll. The song seemed to capture the broken soul of country music–and rocketed to the top of the charts when it was released after his tragic and untimely death.

In the same spirit, Solomon moves to what is often considered the most physical aspect of your nature: sexual desire. Nothing exemplifies that more in the human heart than physical affection, love, and devotion in marriage–and the breaking of those bonds through adultery.

You may know this pain well. The experience of a broken heart from a cheating spouse, a shattered home because of a philandering parent, or even the grief of your church as it reeled from an unfaithful pastor. 

I remember a legend during my seminary days of a professor who would take each class of students along a hallway hung with group photos of previous years’ graduating classes. With a red marker, he would draw a line across the smiling, scholarly face of each former student who had yielded to the temptation of adultery and had departed the ministry in disgrace. I am told the number of red marks was painful–and sobering–to see.

What is it about the sin of adultery that so ensnares the heart? For one thing, sexual sin bridges the gap between men and women and is a great equalizer of transgression. More importantly, marital infidelity breaks the bonds of holy union between man and wife–a union that is exemplified in Christ:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.–Ephesians 5:25, 28

This aspect makes adultery a particular desire of Satan as he seeks to twist and make counterfeit anything that reflects the majesty of God and the power of the Son. Solomon warns his son of this in the previous verses:

For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,
And her mouth is smoother than oil;–Proverbs 5:3

The term “honey trap” is well known in espionage and spy circles as the seduction of an enemy agent by use of an attractive agent of the opposite sex for purposes of blackmail and betrayal. So this dripping honey applies to the enticements of sexual sin, the thrill of indiscretion, and the danger of getting caught. But y0u will always be caught, and therein lies the hook. 

Puritan Thomas Brooks reveals this crafty technique of the Devil. Satan lays the bait but he hides the hook. Like a bass on a worm, what you think is an enticement will only disguise pain and death:

He that will play with Satan's bait, will quickly be taken with Satan's hook.–Thomas Brooks, “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices”

So stick with what is yours, Solomon warns his son:

15 Drink water from your own cistern,
And running water from your own well.–Proverbs 5:15

You know what it is like to travel to another state and notice the difference in the quality of the water. When you return home it can almost be a relief to enjoy water from your own tap once again. Florida has long had a reputation of “funny tasting” water–although the crystal-clear water from deep limestone springs have also made the state famous.

Solomon is urging the sons and daughters of Israel to preserve the sanctity of sex within marriage, and not to deviate outside. Married sex is likened to the refreshment and joy of well water, Tim Keller explains. He continues:

This is not saying you should only have sex only with someone you know. Rather, it is a claim that sex outside of marriage is alien to your true nature.–Tim Keller, "God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”

When you stray from the marriage bed, or engage in sex with the spouse of another, you are going against the very purpose for which God created you. 

Even our debased culture knows this deep down. Decades have been spent in convincing you that casual sex is “natural” and that human conventions like marriage are what is artificial. But the pain of the thought of a cheating spouse or boyfriend still trumps the most sophisticated moral libertine. 

Kevin DeYoung defines this well:

“Worldliness” is anything that makes sin look normal and righteousness looks strange – Kevin DeYoung 

Solomon is calling on you to avoid the worldly mindset, for you are of a different world. As a child of God you are called to uphold a holy standard. A wife is to be prized as a precious well in a dry desert, where her husband will never again have thirst. He continues in his theme of water:

16 Should your fountains be dispersed abroad,
Streams of water in the streets?–Proverbs 5:16

Solomon knows that a young man, with raging hormones and an eye on the girls would desire nothing more than to fulfill his fantasies. Indeed, where women tend to be nurturing, nesting and predisposed to seek a stable relationship, there is something biological in men that wishes to conquer the countryside through procreation. 

This is a sin and a waste, says the father. For we are here to overcome this natural state and recognize the plan and will of God. Joseph, when Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him, refused to break her husbands trust and that of God:

“How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”–Genesis 39:9b

Marital fidelity is obedient to God and keeps the marriage bed pure. The streams of water “in the streets” recalls the threat of disease, a cheapened morality, and illegitimate children. Hollywood may glamorize a swinging life, but reality is that of sickness and death. 

In the ancient world, public fountains and wells are where the masses filled pots and these wells were often unsanitary sources of disease. There is a hilarious segment of TV’s “Parks and Recreation" that seems to capture this in a bizarre and goofy way. 

More seriously, however, are the consequences within your marriage when you cheat on a spouse, or live as if you are seeking to “get something out of the relationship.” Keller again reveals:

Sex without the promise of mutual, whole-life commitment can lead one party to make a far greater emotional investment than the other, with agonizing results.–Timothy Keller

If a husband cheats, then it can become likely that the wife may cheat as well. An act of revenge or to seek comfort in the arms of another only makes things worse as sin begets sin. Fidelity preserves the richness of family and the blessings of God.

Solomon continues: 

17 Let them be only your own,
And not for strangers with you.–Proverbs 5:17

The word for adulteress in Hebrew is זָרָ֑ה (za-rah), which translates to mean “stranger.” Do not share the joy of your marriage bed with another, he says, or cheapen it with the common morality of the world. 

The feeling of violation that comes when you realize that a spouse has been unfaithful is akin to having your home broken into and robbed. The door is no longer barred, the walls no longer keep out the darkness. 

Adultery harms the Body of Christ. When christians commit adultery it shatters the peace of the congregation. Things get uncomfortable fast as Christians struggled to even speak to the offender, lest the curse somehow affect them.  

I recall an incident of infidelity in the church where the women of the church grew anxious and eyed their husbands with suspicion, while the men awkwardly reassured their wives as they nervously thought how quickly a bit of flirting can lead to destruction. It was as if a stranger had come into the family of God, and no one felt safe.

There is another great country song by artist Ronnie Milsap that sings of how he suspects a “stranger” has come into a relationship:

There's a stranger in my house
Somebody here that I can't see
Stranger in my house
Somebody here trying to take her away from me

The christian sex ethic of a faithful husband and wife was ridiculed in the second century, and is sadly coming under criticism again today. Nevertheless, you must seek to fulfill God’s plan and purpose of marriage and fidelity. 

If you have stumbled in this, there is always hope and restoration. Through repentance comes life anew. God knew this and even modeled it for His people through the prophet Hosea. God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute, so that His people would know His faithful love for them. Hosea did so and often had to retrieve his wayward wife from the beds of other men. Once he even had to buy her back from a pimp:

So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley. And I said to her, “You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man—so, too, will I be toward you.”–Hosea 3:2-3

This is your hope, that no matter how far you have strayed, you cannot escape the faithful love of your heavenly Father. There is no sin, sexual or otherwise, that cannot be covered by the blood of christ. His love (like the George Strait song) is a love without end.

More than any earthly lover, Jesus is lover of your soul. Like the great John Wesley hymn proclaims [performed here by Michael Card]:

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.



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