Wisdom Versus Folly
Text: Proverbs 9:1-18
Wisdom is personified as a woman preparing to receive guests. She has even built a house for this occasion and has hewn seven pillars to uphold the second-floor portico around the inner courtyard. Most houses in those days used four pillars, so seven would indicate a large home. But seven is also the number for perfection – this home is perfect for receiving a large number of guests.
Food has been prepared, the drinks have been mixed, and the places have been set. In days before refrigeration, grape juice was boiled down to a syrup to preserve it. Prior to serving it was reconstituted by adding water.
All that remains is to invite the guests. She sends out her maids and calls out herself from the highest points of the city. Once again the emphasis is on an invitation that can’t be missed. It is a public affair. She is looking for those who need her most: the inexperienced and those who lack heart (the literal meaning of the word often translated as "understand" or "discernment"). Yet, to accept this invitation would be to admit your weaknesses.
She freely offers her bread and drinks to any who will give up their simplicity. If they do so, they will truly live and travel the way of understanding.
Response to the Invitation
He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself,
And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you,
Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser,
Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For by me your days will be multiplied,
And years of life will be added to you.
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself,
And if you scoff, you alone will bear it.
Two people are contrasted. A scoffer is a person who refuses to believe anything that does not match what he already believes. Any contrary opinion is attacked. A wise person is an opposite. He loves learning.
The first two lines in this section equate the scoffer to wickedness. Anyone who cannot see his own faults is not following God (I John 1:8,10). But these lines also contain a warning, when you try to teach a scoffer or rebuke the wicked, they will attack the person trying to change them (Matthew 5:10-12).
The second set of lines contrasts the scoffer and the wise man. They have the opposite reaction to reproof. A scoffer will hate you for telling him he is wrong. The wise man loves you for the same message.
Thus, the third set of lines equates a wise man with righteousness. When you teach a wise man he learns and becomes wiser.
The fourth and fifth sets of lines become the core point. The fourth set explains why some reject wisdom and others do not. Returning to the theme established in Proverbs 1:7, learning requires fear. To gain wisdom, you must first fear God. When you know the truth about God, then you are able to reason well. The result is that your life will be lengthened.
The final set of lines establishes that whether you become wise from or scoff at wisdom’s offer, you alone are responsible for the choice and what results from it (Ezekiel 18:20). The wise man is wise because he put the effort into it. The scoffer bears the consequences because he refused an openly offered invitation to learn.
- In Acts 17 Paul preaches the Gospel to three communities: Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Using what you learned about the response to wisdom, categorize the type of people present in these cities and briefly state why.
- Mark these verses: Proverbs 1:7; 29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 9:10. What role does the fear of the Lord play?
- Mark these verses: Proverbs 1:7; 4:7; 9:10. Where do you have to start?
Folly is portrayed as a seductress. She is loud, so as to draw attention to herself. She behaves as someone naive and without knowledge. This can be taken as a fact, or it could be a cultivated act. Men tend to want to be the knight in shining armor rescuing the damsel in distress. Thus, being a distressed damsel is a lure used by some seductresses. What men miss is that while it feels good to rescue someone, it doesn’t make the foundation of a good long-term relationship. She isn’t improving him and likely she will want to be rescued repeatedly.
Folly makes no preparations for guests. She is shown to be seated while looking for prey. She is found in humblest places to high places of government, but her invitation is not generally broadcasted. She specifically targets those who are trying to avoid her while improving their own lives. Her invitation is to the inexperienced and those who lack heart, just like Wisdom, but since she is targeting those who are making their paths straight, her goal is different. She knows these people want to learn, so her invitation sounds like she has something to offer them – but she has nothing to offer but distractions. Not that Folly turns down the naive or those lacking heart, but these easy prey for her.
Where Wisdom offered bread and drink, Folly whispers that stolen water is sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. Notice both the opposite order and the opposite offer. Wisdom is giving a meal, while Folly is suggesting that food should be stolen and shared with her. One of the dangers often overlooked is that the very excitement of sinning is a lure. It can make ordinary things seem more vibrant than reality.
The result of accepting Folly’s invitation is very different from Wisdom’s. Wisdom tells you what you will gain in life. Folly hides the fact that everyone who accepts her invitation dies. There are a lot of dead bodies in Folly’s basement.
- Is it possible to reject both Wisdom and Folly’s offers? Why?