Wisdom and Folly

Wisdom and Folly are personified as women in Proverbs 9. The wise sage of Proverbs portrays Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly as hostesses who invite those who pass by into their home. The wise teacher encourages the simple, those who are inexperienced and do not have enough life experience under their belt to make choices, to heed the voice of Lady Wisdom and reject the invitation of Dame Folly.

Wisdom built her own house; she built creation itself as God created the world through her. 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. She is simple herself and ignorant—she doesn’t know how to help. She has no resources of her own but roars with her own boisterousness.

Wisdom is active. She invites others by actively seeking them. She sends people out to gather them. Folly waits for others to find her (and she is not hard to find). They are both visible, but they have different methods. Folly waits for the simple to fall into her trap.

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, and sex, for example) find vitality in secrecy and isolation. They bring death. Wisdom is transparent.

Wisdom urges us to 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 wisdom built. It is best to live by that wisdom–and the beginning of that wisdom is the fear of the Lord. When we live within the creation in ways that embody 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 the Lord. 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. It is the difference between life and death, the difference between wisdom and foolishness.

Wise people, Jesus said, build their houses on rocks–like the wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount. But foolish people, Jesus said, build their houses on sand.  The former house, built by wisdom, stands strong, 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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