William J. Stewart | Lessons from the book of Proverbs
Solomon has been contrasting wisdom and folly in the first several chapters of Proverbs. It culminates in our present text. Both wisdom and folly are personified in the text, and both make an appeal for the young man to follow after her.
THE APPEAL OF WISDOM
Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding. (9:5-6)
Solomon pictures wisdom as a woman who has prepared her home. She has a beautiful dwelling, finished with seven pillars. Seven is one of those numbers that appears time and again in the Bible. It conveys the idea of completeness. Her home is not falling apart or unfinished. A life directed by wisdom will be like a secure home.
Inside, a feast is prepared. The table is spread and ready for her guests to partake. Again, the image captures the idea of completeness, of readiness.
With the house and the meal being read, she sends out her maidens (v 3), calling for the people to come. This is similar to the wedding feast of the Lamb as revealed in Matthew 22. There, the Lord has made ready to receive His people, but those who were invited were not ready, were uninterested, or were harsh to those sent to them. How sad that someone would not respond favourably to the Lord’s call. If one ignores wisdom’s invitation, they will inevitably ignore the Lord’s call, for wisdom comes from Him.
She calls the simple, those who lack understanding to come and partake of the meal spread on her table. To do so, foolishness must be left behind. It is not possible to sit at the table of wisdom and folly at the same time.
Wisdom is ready to lead those who come to her in the right direction, but there is an expectation, we might even say a prerequisite, that scoffing and wickedness be left behind. Those who are open to the way of wisdom are equally open to rebuke and instruction. Scoffers and wicked people will lash out, accuse, degrade, etc. those who are trying to correct them via wisdom. Their heart is not open to walk in God’s way, for Solomon plainly teaches:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (9:10)
In 1977, Billy Joel came out with a hit song titled, “Only the Good Die Young.” Solomon says otherwise. In fact, those who will walk in wisdom maximize the potential for a long life. The promise of long life (v 11) is generic; there are some circumstances where the righteous may die young. But, overall, those who walk in wisdom will live healthier lifestyles; will not frequent places which will put them at severe risk, etc.. In addition to the long life, wisdom holds the promise of a good life. Those who walk in wisdom invite the presence and blessings of God. Their wisdom will have a positive affect in their lives—they will not be alone. However, by way of contrast, Solomon says the scoffer will bear it alone. Their disregard and disdain for the ways of God will be to their own hurt.
THE APPEAL OF FOLLY
Whoever is simple, let him turn in here; and as for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. (9:16-17)
Solomon carefully told us about wisdom’s preparation. Her house is in order; a meal is sitting prepared on the table for her guests. This is not true of folly. She is presented as being obnoxious. There is nothing of value to draw anyone to her—but she speaks loud and nonstop to draw the simple. She is “full of noise” (BBE), “unruly” (NIV), “loud” (ESV), “boisterous” (NASB).
In addition, she is called “simple” (NKJV) or “undisciplined” (WEB), “seductive” (ESV), “naïve” (NASB). Her appeal is to those who are prone to impulse. Those who reflect on her way will realize it is not good.
The wise lady sent out her maidens to call her adherents to dine with her. The woman of folly sits at the door of her house, calling to those who pass by. Again, this pictures the lack of preparation, but in addition, we see in her a spirit of laziness. She calls those who are likeminded to come and carouse with her.
She encourages wickedness:
Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. (9:17)
Regardless what is stolen, stealing is wrong. Paul commanded those who once stole to “steal no more” (Ephesians 4:28). The wicked often seek to hide their wickedness—they want their activities to be secret (John 3:19-20). Whatever the application of verse 17, it is not good.
In Proverbs 5:15, Solomon encouraged his son to drink water from his own cistern. Water was there used (as it is here) as a figure for sexual relations. The foolish woman is happy for men to misuse sexual passion and to follow after immorality; to steal water rather than consume their own. Friends, it is a trap. Those who do so invite turmoil into their homes and carelessly set their souls on the path toward hell (5:5; 7:27).
Which invitation have you responded to? Are you walking with lady wisdom, who helps to prepare you for eternity with God, or are you walking with the foolish woman, who caters to self-indulgence by paving a smooth way to hell? The Spirit of God calls to us through the pen of Solomon to choose wisdom; to seek understanding; to walk with an eternal perspective. Are you doing so today?