The beginning of Proverbs contains 10 lessons of wisdom, followed by a dramatic conclusion. This blog post will examine the final part that conclusion, Proverbs chapter 9, where again we have Wisdom and Folly personified as women. Thus far, Solomon has drawn out the differences between “Lady Wisdom” and “Dame Folly.” However, you’ll notice in this chapter he emphasizes the similarities between them. Why? Solomon wants his son to understand that discerning between Wisdom and Folly will not always be clear or easy. The reason for this is because Folly often imitates or mimics Wisdom.
You will find that very articulate people can argue for very sinful positions. Yet, they don’t have pointy teeth or a maniacal laugh. Folly is very good at camouflaging itself. So how do we distinguish between them so that we might accept Wisdom and reject Folly? This is the subject of Proverbs chapter 9. As a reminder, the structure of this conclusion is as follows (a):
We begin with a picture of Wisdom’s chamber:
9:1 Wisdom has built her house;
she has set up its seven pillars.
2 She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her servants, and she calls
from the highest point of the city,
4 “Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
5 “Come, eat my food
and drink the wine I have mixed.
6 Leave your simple ways and you will live;
walk in the way of insight.”
(Prov 9:1-6, NIV)
In these first few verses we see that Lady Wisdom has built her house on seven pillars, a foundation for an exceptionally large structure with plenty of room for guests, including you. She has also prepared for you a feast. What exactly is that feast? We will discuss this more below, but first, let’s drop down to verse 13 where we find a description of “Dame Folly.”
13 Folly is an unruly woman;
she is simple and knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house,
on a seat at the highest point of the city,
15 calling out to those who pass by,
who go straight on their way,
16 “Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
17 “Stolen water is sweet;
food eaten in secret is delicious!”
18 But little do they know that the dead are there,
that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.
(Prov 9:13-18, NIV)
Did you notice the similarities between these two women? Lady Wisdom sends her maidens to call “from the highest point of the city.” (v. 3) Where is Dame Folly? Verse 14 says she too is at the “highest point of the city.” Both women are at the same place, they both have access to the same audience, and their message is essentially the same as well. Lady Wisdom says, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says…” (v 4) Dame Folly says what? “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says,” (v 16) The Hebrew words in these two verses are virtually identical. (b) In light of this, how do we distinguish between them so that we might accept Wisdom and reject Folly? That is the million dollar question. The wise and careful reader will notice several dissimilarities.
First, one major difference is that Wisdom works diligently – whereas Folly is “all talk.” Notice in the first 6 verses there are many verbs to describe Wisdom’s hard work. She has “built, hewn, prepared, mixed, set, sent, and called.” She has slaughtered her animals for the feast. She has made great effort. Dame Folly – what does she do? In verses 13-15, did you notice that there are no action verbs listed? There is no meat, no mixed wine, no set table and no sent messengers. Wisdom is action-oriented and proactive, whereas Folly is just boisterous and basically has a big mouth. David Hubbard says in his commentary on Proverbs, “Folly is portrayed as a woman who overcompensates for her ignorance by raucous talk and wanton conduct.” (c)
Here is a dead give away. If you are facing a fork in the road and trying to discern between wisdom and foolishness, the path of wisdom will always be the harder path, requiring more effort and conscientiousness. The foolish path will promise ease and pleasure, but it will almost always be too good to be true.
Secondly, notice the differences in their menu. Wisdom’s diligent work has made a feast of food and mixed wine. (Mixed wine was a special wine where spices were added to make it more flavorful). On the other hand, Dame Folly offers only stolen bread and water (v 17). Bruce Waltke notes that “stolen qualifies the sexual enjoyment as being taken from the married spouse to whom it rightfully belongs.” (d) Dame Folly offers a pilfered meal which represents the passing pleasures of sin. But what is this feast offered by Lady Wisdom? Again, Waltke states that the “feast” being referred to here – is the rest of the book of Proverbs! Of course! Proverbs 10-31 is a carefully collected anthology of wisdom, set up like a banquet that has been meticulously prepared for you as a table of choice foods from which you can find and enjoy nourishment and healthy choices for your life.
Third, and most importantly, notice the vastly different outcomes. The reason why wisdom commands the naïve to forsake their folly is found in verse 6, “Forsake your folly and live.” On the other hand, the tragic punch line of Dame Folly’s foolishness is that the person who comes to her does not know that the dead are there (v 18). Solomon’s sobering point here is that Folly is not just innocent fun, or boys being boys, no … Folly brings death. (Rom 6:23). Wisdom leads to life – while Foolishness leads to death. There is a tug of war inside the heart of every human being for our deepest loyalties. Solomon has set before his son, and all of us, the choice of blessings or cursings, of life or death. Waltke states, “With a stern warning the sage draws the curtain on the prologue, hoping to provoke the uncommitted to choose the life he offers in the collections that follow.” (e)
This choice before us lays at the center of chapter 9, the key to unlocking the lesson. There are two kinds of listeners to the book of Proverbs, both are found in verses 7-12.
7 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
8 Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
9 Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through wisdom your days will be many,
and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.
(Prov 9:7-12, NIV)
The two kinds of listeners are the teachable (v 11) or the unteachable (v 7). Solomon describes the foolish response as a hard-nosed rejection. A “mocker” is one who simply will not humble himself before any authority, not his parents, not his teachers, and sadly, not even before the Lord himself. The wise listener, who deserves to sit at Wisdom’s table, begins their learning with a love for learning and with the “Fear of the Lord” (v 10).
Teachers must choose their pupils wisely. It is better to spend your energies on those who are willing to listen. This section reminds us of Jesus’ words about the good soil (Mark 4:1-20), and about shaking the dust off our feet toward those who won’t listen (Mk 6:11). It is interesting to see in the gospels how often Jesus actually walked away from people who would not listen to him. He did not throw his pearls before swine. (Mt 7:6)
If we are honest, I believe we can all relate to both the teachable and the unteachable. Our hearts are sinful. This is why Solomon writes this lesson. He knows the call of Dame Folly is tempting and real. We must be aware of her. In fact, if you think you’re wise, you’re probably the fool. But, if you are keenly aware of how foolish you can be, then you are well on your way to becoming wise.
To apply this lesson, let’s get specific. Where specifically are you tempted in your life to listen to the wrong voice and follow Dame folly? Is it with your tongue? Your sexual behavior? Your money? Is it with substance abuse? Is it with not working with diligence? Where does Folly call out to you and in what area have you been listening to her? As you think about that area – I want to give you a very specific challenge. Go to the feast of wisdom (found in Proverbs 10-31) and find food for your soul there. I challenge you to memorize one verse that addresses that specific topic of struggle for you. Find for your soul the richest of fare. Perhaps you can pick one of the proverbs listed below:
Here are some examples of individual proverbs to memorize on a variety of topics:
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. (Prov 14:30)
The one who commits adultery lacks sense; whoever does so destroys himself. (Prov 6:32)
Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit. (Prov 25:28)
Pride and Boasting
Let another praise you and not your own mouth. A stranger and not your own lips. (Prov 27:2)
Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Wine is a mocker and strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise. (Prov 20:1)
Taming the Tongue
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Prov 12:18)
Food Addiction and Overeating
Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. (Prov 23:2)
Greed and Financial Corruption
Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf. (Prov 11:28)
People-Pleasing and Approval Addiction
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. (Prov 29:25)
Laziness and Sloth
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest. So shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man. (Prov 24:33-34)
For more teaching on the book of Proverbs from the ministry of Millington Baptist Church, visit our sermon archive page here.
The Ten Lessons of Wisdom:
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) – Part 1
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) Part 2
- Lesson # 2: “Diligently Seek Wisdom … and You Will Experience Her Protective Benefits.” (Prov 2:1-22)
- Lesson # 3: “Live before God with Consistency.” (Prov 3:1-12)
- Lesson # 4: “Wisdom is a Tree of Life.” (Prov 3:13-35)
- Lesson # 5: “Your Spiritual Inheritance Comes With a Price.” (Prov 4:1-9)
- Lesson # 6: “Choose the Way of Wisdom.” (Prov 4:10-19)
- Lesson # 7: “Guard your Heart!” (Prov 4:20-27)
- Lesson # 8: “Flee from Immorality!” (Prov 5:1-23)
- Lesson # 9: “Avoid three Kinds of Fools: “The Swindler,” “The Sluggard” and “The Sociopath.”” (Prov 6:1-19)
- Lesson # 10: “If You Play With Fire, You Will Get Burned.” (Prov 6:20-35)
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 1
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 2
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 3
(a) I am indebted to Professor Peter Hook for this structural observation. OT Poetic Books. Course Notes. Philadelphia Biblical University, 2000.
(b) I am indebted to Pastor Craig Schill for this observation in his sermon on Proverbs 9.
(c) David Hubbard, Proverbs, The Preacher’s Commentary, Vol 15 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989) 137.
(d) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 446.
(e) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, 446.