The Invitations of Wisdom and Folly (Proverbs 9)

Wisdom and Folly are personified as women in Proverbs 1-9 on several occasions. Proverbs 9, coming just before the beginning of the “Proverbs of Solomon” in Proverbs 10, is the final appeal of the parent/teacher/elder to heed wisdom rather than folly. It functions as an “altar call” or the invitation poem (Hebrew invitation song?). The parent/teacher/elder appeals one last time to the “simple” (inexperienced) child/student/youth to listen to wisdom.

Wisdom (9:1-6)

Folly (9:13-18)

Her Worth Built her own house Loud (lit., roaring)
Hewed her own seven pillars Seductive lit., Simple)
Killed her own meat, mixed her own wine; set her own table Knows Nothing (Ignorant)
Her Actions Sends young women Sits at the door of her house
From the highest place Takes a seat on the highest place
To call others She calls from her place
The Invitation Let the simple turn in here Let the simple turn in here
Her promise Come, eat my bread Stolen Water is sweet
Drink of the wine I mixed Eating Bread in Secret is Pleasant
The Result Leave simple ways House of Death
Live and walk with insight Guests in Sheol

Wisdom built her own house; she built creation itself as God created the world through her (8:22-36). Wisdom is prepared. She sacrifices her own meat, mixes her own wine and sets her own table.  But Folly is loud (a good show, but no substance), herself simple (how can she, then, really help the simple?) and ignorant (she does not know how to help). She has no resources of her own but roars with her own boisterousness.

Wisdom is active. She calls by actively seeking others. She sends people out to invite others (much like the host in Luke 14). Folly waits for others to find her (and she is not hard to find). They are both visible (highest points), but they have different methods. Wisdom actively sends but Folly waits. Wisdom calls by seeking and Folly calls through patient entrapment. Folly waits for the simple to fall into her trap, perhaps attracted by her roaring.

Wisdom offers her own bread and wine. She gives out of her own resources.  Folly, however, offers stolen water and eats bread in secret. Wisdom’s invitation is public, open and transparent.  Folly invites us to secrecy and isolation. I’m reminded how addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.) find vitality in secrecy and isolation. They bring death. Wisdom is transparent.

Wisdom urges us to leave our simple ways and live in her light, to walk through life with her insight. But Folly makes no promises. Rather, in foolishness we are awakened to the reality that the guests at her banquet inhabit Sheol. Wisdom brings life but Folly brings death.

We live in the creation that wisdom built. It is best to live by that wisdom–and the beginning of that wisdom is the fear of Yahweh (Proverbs 9:10; cf. 1:7; 31:30). When we live within the creation in ways that reflect that wisdom, we experience life with more serenity. But when we live within the creation in foolish ways, then we experience chaos and turmoil. God made the world so that round pegs fit round holes, but when, in our foolishness, we try to put a round peg into a square hole, something breaks. We break. The creation is built for a particular kind of living, that is, living by the fear of Yahweh. Any other kind of living leads to brokenness.

Jesus said something similar at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  The gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction but the gate is small and the road narrow that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). It is the difference between life and death; it is the difference between wisdom and foolishness.

Wise people, Jesus said, build their houses on rocks and good foundations–foundations like the wisdom embodied in the Sermon on the Mount. But foolish people, Jesus said, build their houses on shifting sand.  The former house stands strong as it was built by wisdom, but the house built on foolishness collapses.

Alas! I have often found it much easier to sing the children’s song than to heed its advice.

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