The Consequences of Accepting Wisdom or Folly

Two dinner invitations are issued – one from Ms Wisdom and the other from Ms Folly.  Although there are surface similarities, at heart they are profoundly different.  The reader must choose between them.

‘Like the last movement of a sonata or symphony, this final chapter of the wisdom speeches recapitulates the major motives of chapters 1-8.  It pits Lady Wisdom (vv1-6) and Dame Folly (vv 13-18) against each other in language that is unmistakably parallel.  The issues of choice that have dotted every page and virtually every paragraph are here made starkly clear.  They are nothing less than life (v6) or death (v18).’ (Hubbard, cited by Atkinson)

9:1 Wisdom has built her house;
she has carved out its seven pillars.
9:2 She has prepared her meat, she has mixed her wine;
she also has arranged her table.
9:3 She has sent out her female servants;
she calls out on the highest places of the city.
9:4 “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”
she says to those who lack understanding.
9:5 “Come, eat some of my food,
and drink some of the wine I have mixed.
9:6 Abandon your foolish ways so that you may live,
and proceed in the way of understanding.”
9:7 Whoever corrects a mocker is asking for insult;
whoever reproves a wicked person receives abuse.
9:8 Do not reprove a mocker or he will hate you;
reprove a wise person and he will love you.
9:9 Give instruction to a wise person, and he will become wiser still;
teach a righteous person and he will add to his learning.
9:10 The beginning of wisdom is to fear the LORD,
and acknowledging the Holy One is understanding.
9:11 For because of me your days will be many,
and years will be added to your life.
9:12 If you are wise, you are wise to your own advantage,
but if you are a mocker, you alone must bear it.
9:13 The woman called Folly is brash,
she is naive and does not know anything.
9:14 So she sits at the door of her house,
on a seat at the highest point of the city,
9:15 calling out to those who are passing by her in the way,
who go straight on their way.
9:16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here,”
she says to those who lack understanding.
9:17 “Stolen waters are sweet,
and food obtained in secret is pleasant!”
9:18 But they do not realize that the dead are there,
that her guests are in the depths of the grave.

vv 13-18 – ‘This pithy proverb includes a whole allegory (a story pointing to something other than itself by implicit comparisons) in a few verses. Here folly, the opposite of wise living, is personified as a prostitute trying to entice passersby into her house. The fool is characterized by his fascination with forbidden pleasures (v. 17). But the end result of a life of folly is not long life, success, or happiness—it is death. “Stay away from folly!” is the message of this brief allegory. “Don’t be taken in! Walk right past those temptations [spelled out in various ways in other proverbs] that folly makes seem attractive!” The wise, godly, moral person will choose a life free from the selfishness of folly. Proverbs like this are somewhat like parables in that they express their truth in a symbolic way.’ (Fee & Stuart)

The invitation of Ms Folly neatly balances that of Ms Wisdom at the beginning of the chapter.  And ‘as Ms Wisdom is modelled on a prophet, Ms Folly is modelled on the wayward woman.’ (NBC)

Note the superficial similarities between Ms Wisdom and Ms Folly.  Both offer fulsome invitations, tempting wares, and fine words.  ‘We should note how [the latter] often imitates wisdom (cf. v.3), so that only the cautious and discerning are able to make the right choice.’ (EBC)

The wayward woman is described in yet more graphic terms in Prov 7:10-27.

Murphy’s description is apt: ‘Her ignorance is far more than intellectual inadequacy; she is infecting all who listen to her with her own folly. Her house seems to be situated on the city walls from whose heights she can address the passersby. This is where her seat, or “throne” is. The description differs from that of the “house” of Woman Wisdom (v 1). She gives the impression of a shrewish person raucously making her pitch, in contrast to the dignified messengers commissioned by Wisdom in v 3.’

v13 ‘Naive’ = ‘silly’ (Kidner).   These are ‘those who have no moral insight and power of self-direction, the negative, uninformed minds, not yet given up to sin, but in danger of becoming its dupes.’ (Toy, cited by Atkinson)

“Stolen waters are sweet” – Ms Folly makes her own attempt at proverb-making.  Illicit sexual activity often seems more enticing than its more conventional alternative (NBC).

‘Eve had to be convinced that the sweetness would survive the stealing; we have fallen far enough to be persuaded that it depends on it.’ (Kidner)

‘Our foolish hearts relish sin as exciting and glamorous. But the truth is this: folly’s menu is water and bread (v. 17), sweetened only by “the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25), while Wisdom’s feast is wine and meat (Prov. 9:2), leading to eternal life (v. 6).’ (Gospel Transformation Bible)