Proverbs 9 – Wisdom’s Feast and Folly’s Funeral
A. The way of wisdom.
1. (1-6) Wisdom’s generous invitation.
Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn out her seven pillars;
She has slaughtered her meat,
She has mixed her wine,
She has also furnished her table.
She has sent out her maidens,
She cries out from the highest places of the city,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
As for him who lacks understanding, she says to him,
“Come, eat of my bread
And drink of the wine I have mixed.
Forsake foolishness and live,
And go in the way of understanding.
a. Wisdom has built her house: Proverbs 8 described wisdom as a woman with blessings and benefits for those who listened and obeyed. Now Solomon pictures wisdom as a woman of generous hospitality who invites all (Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!).
i. John Trapp wrote that wisdom here is literally in the plural. “Hebrew, Wisdoms, in the plural; and this, either honoris causa, for honour’s sake, or else by an ellipsis, as if the whole of it were ‘wisdom of wisdoms.’”
ii. Built her house: Adam Clarke described the general understanding of this figure from the early church fathers and medieval theologians: “The house built by wisdom is the holy humanity of Jesus Christ; the seven pillars are the seven sacraments, or the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, or the whole of the apostles, preachers, and ministers of the Church; the slain beasts are the sacrifice of Christ’s body upon the cross; and the bread and mingled wine are the bread and wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper!” Of this, Clarke wrote: “men have produced strange creatures of their own brain, by way of explanation.”
b. Hewn out her seven pillars: The primary idea is that wisdom’s house is large, well-appointed, and unshakable. Through the centuries, various commentators have not been able to resist seeing some symbolic meaning in her seven pillars.
i. “i.e. many pillars; whereby is intimated both the beauty and the stability of the church. Pillars; prophets, and apostles, and ministers of holy things, which in Scripture are called pillars, as Galatians 2:9, and elsewhere.” (Poole)
c. Come, eat of my bread: The customs and ethics of hospitality in the ancient near east made this invitation even more meaningful. Wisdom offers the simple and he who lacks understanding her provision, partnership, and protection.
i. “So just as one would prepare a banquet and invite guests, wisdom prepares to press her appeal. All this imagery lets the simpleton know that what wisdom has to offer is marvelous.” (Ross)
ii. Has slaughtered her meat: “Slaughtering, like the difficult and responsible activity of building a house, was normally a man’s job (cf. Genesis 18:7; Judges 6:19; 1 Samuel 25:11), but Wisdom is an extraordinary woman.” (Waltke)
iii. Has mixed her wine: “1. With spices, to make it strong and delightful, this mixed wine being mentioned as the best, Proverbs 23:29,30. Or, 2. With water, as they used to do in those hot countries, partly for refreshment, and partly for wholesomeness; whereby also may be intimated that wisdom teacheth us temperance in the use of our comforts. Hath also furnished her table with all necessaries, and now waits for the guests.” (Poole)
iv. “Among the ancient Jews, Greeks, and Romans, wine was rarely drank without being mingled with water; and among ancient writers we find several ordinances for this. Some direct three parts of water to one of wine; some five parts; and Pliny mentions some wines that required twenty waters: but the most common proportions appear to have been three parts of water to two of wine.” (Clarke)
v. Sent out her maidens: Several older commentators see here an allusion to those who would preach the gospel. “So ministers are called – in prosecution of the allegory, for it is fit that this great lady should have suitable attendants – to teach them innocence, purity, and [diligence] as maidens, keeping the word in sincerity, and not adulterating and corrupting it.” (Trapp)
d. Eat of my bread and drink of the wine: Several older commentators saw an allegorical reference to communion, the Lord’s Table, in the mention of bread and wine in Proverbs 9:5. This is an example of taking the figures from Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature and over-allegorizing them.
i. “Lyrannus noteth on this chapter, that the Eucharist was anciently delivered in both kinds: but because of the danger of spilling the blood, the Church ordained that laymen should have the bread only. The Council of Constance comes in with a non obstante against Christ’s institution, withholding the cup from the sacrament.” (Trapp)
e. Forsake foolishness and live: Wisdom makes the invitation, but the simple must respond. They must be willing to go in the way of understanding.
i. “Just as food and drink give physical life, Solomon’s teachings give spiritual life. This truth finds an even better realization in Jesus’ invitation to the banquet in the kingdom of God (Luke 14:15-24). Wisdom has done her part; now the feckless and senseless must make a decision to feast and be healed.” (Waltke)
ii. Him who lacks understanding: “Literally, he that wanteth a heart; who is without courage, is feeble and fickle, and easily drawn aside from the holy commandment.” (Clarke)
2. (7-9) Those who reject and receive wisdom.
“He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself,
And he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.
Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you;
Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
a. He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself: Having given the generous invitation, wisdom explained the folly and fruitlessness of trying to impose wisdom on the unwilling. The wicked man and the scoffer won’t receive wisdom and will often hate the one who tries to help.
i. The scoffer: “He is the person who will not live by wise and moral teachings and is not content to let others do so without his cynical mocking.” (Ross)
ii. Gets shame: “Shame (King James Version, Revised Version): better, abuse (Revised Standard Version). The further one goes with folly or wisdom, the less or the more will one put up with the criticism which is wisdom’s teaching-method.” (Kidner)
iii. “Fools, scoffers, and the simple like to have their own way and be told they’re doing fine, but wise men and women want the truth. Teach wise people and they’ll accept the truth and become wiser; try to teach fools and they’ll reject the truth and become even greater fools.” (Wiersbe)
iv. Isaiah 28:10 is an example of the scorning and taunting of one who delivers the truth. “One observeth that that was a scoff put upon the prophet; and is as if they should say, Here is nothing but line upon line, precept upon precept. The very sound of the words in the original – Zau le zau, kau lakau – carries a taunt, as scornful people by the tone of their voice, and rhyming words, scorn at such as they despise.” (Trapp)
v. Do not correct a scoffer: “Solomon gives us here the rule of Christian prudence…. Why should we correct and rebuke when more harm than good will be the result? Avoid irritations. Wait for the favorable opportunity.” (Bridges)
b. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser: In contrast, the wise and just man will benefit from wisdom’s invitation. This is something of the sense of Jesus’ words, For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him (Matthew 13:12).
i. “Literally give to the wise, and he will be wise. Whatever you give to such, they reap profit from it. They are like the bee, they extract honey from every flower.” (Clarke)
ii. “David loved Nathan the better while he lived for dealing so plainly with him, and named him a commissioner for the declaring of his successor. [1 Kings 1:32-35]” (Trapp)
3. (10-12) The beginning and benefits of wisdom.
“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 will bear it alone.”
a. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: The statement of Proverbs 1:7 is repeated again, here towards the end of this section of the book of Proverbs. Though Proverbs is a book that focuses on practical life, it is founded on this important principle: wisdom begins with a right relationship with God.
i. Knowledge of the Holy One: “Holy is here in the plural number, importing the Trinity of Persons, as likewise Joshua 24:19.” (Trapp) “The plural can express excellence or comprehensiveness, like the plural word for Deity: Elohim.” (Kidner)
ii. The Holy One: “This title for the Lord underscores his ‘otherness,’ the sphere of his sacredness, separated from the mundane, the common, and the profane.” (Waltke)
b. The fear of the LORD: This is a real fear, but in the sense of awe and reverence. It honors God as He really is – holy, just, and creator of all. It is not a cowering or servile fear, but it is a kind of fear nonetheless.
c. The beginning of wisdom: Wisdom has a starting place, and it is in the recognition and honor of God. This means those who do not recognize or honor God fall short of true wisdom in some way or another.
i. “We are ever beginning; every morning we start afresh; every task we take up is a new start; every venture in joy or in effort, must have its commencement. Then let every beginning be in the fear of Jehovah. That is Wisdom, and it leads in the way of Wisdom.” (Morgan)
ii. “There is an old saying which runs, ‘Well begun is half done.’ This is true indeed when the beginning is inspired and conditioned by the fear of Jehovah.” (Morgan)
d. By me your days will be multiplied: Wisdom brings her benefits to those who receive her. Finding wisdom’s start through the fear of the LORD will always be rewarded.
e. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself: Solomon explained how wisdom and folly directly affect the individual. Sometimes we seek wisdom more for others than ourselves; Solomon reminded us that wisdom is for yourself; the scoffer will not gain from the wisdom of others. When he is foolish he will bear it alone.
i. Perhaps there is something like this also implied: “Don’t seek wisdom to please others. That isn’t a right or sufficient motivation. You are the one who will most benefit from the wisdom you seek after, so let the motivation come from you and not from another.”
ii. “This is perhaps the strongest expression of individualism in the Bible. Such statements (cf. Ezekiel 18; Galatians 6:4-5) are not meant to deny that people benefit or suffer from each other’s characters (cf. Proverbs 10:1), but to emphasize that the ultimate gainer or loser is the man himself.” (Kidner)
B. The way of folly.
1. (13-15) The seat of the foolish woman.
A foolish woman is clamorous;
She is simple, and knows nothing.
For she sits at the door of her house,
On a seat by the highest places of the city,
To call to those who pass by,
Who go straight on their way:
a. A foolish woman is clamorous: Using symbolic figures, Solomon now presented the foolish way that rejects wisdom. Wisdom is like a gracious woman offering generous hospitality (Proverbs 9:1-12). Folly is like a clamorous, unpleasant woman – one who is simple, and knows nothing – looking for friends.
i. Clamorous: “Speaks loudly, that she may be heard; and vehemently, that persons might be moved by her persuasions.” (Poole)
b. She sits at the door of her house: Foolishness can be found in the home, but also in the highest places of the city. Wisdom works hard to make a wonderful meal and offer impressive hospitality; folly sits at the door and makes her call to those who pass by in either place.
i. On a seat: “Probably chairs were so rare that only the highest nobleman owned one. In Elizabethan times chairs were a luxury. Common people sat on stools and benches, the gentry used cushions on the floor, and even the grandest ballroom rarely held more than one chair. Only the nobleman himself sat on it. When a teacher was raised to the position of professor, he was presented with an actual chair as a symbol of his elevated status in the world of learning. So also in Proverbs the chair or throne symbolizes a seat of honor (cf. Proverbs 16:12; Proverbs 20:8, 28; Proverbs 25:5; Proverbs 29:14).” (Waltke)
ii. Who go straight on their way: “Who were going innocently and directly about their business without any unchaste design; for others needed none of those invitations or offers, but went to her of their own accord. And besides, such lewd persons take a greater pleasure in corrupting the innocent.” (Poole)
2. (16-18) The call of the foolish woman.
“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.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
That her guests are in the depths of hell.
a. Whoever is simple, let him turn in here: Folly imitates the call wisdom makes to the simple (Proverbs 9:4). She works to keep those she already has, the simple and him who lacks understanding. Folly has her own training program to bring her victims further along their path.
i. “Wisdom says, ‘Let the simple turn in to me.’ No, says Folly, ‘Let the simple turn in to me.’ If he turn in to Wisdom, his folly shall be taken away and he shall become wise; if he turn in to Folly, his darkness will be thickened, and his folly will remain.” (Clarke)
b. Stolen water is sweet: This is the message of folly, explaining how good it is to be bad. Things gained through transgression are more sweet and pleasant than what may be rightfully obtained.
i. “If Proverbs 9:10 is the motto of the wise, here is that of the sophisticated.” (Kidner)
ii. “Forbidden pleasures are most pleasing to sensualists, who count no mirth but madness; no pleasure, unless they may have the devil to their playfellow.” (Trapp)
iii. “When Augustine describes how he stole fruit from the pear tree, he says that he did not do it because he was hungry, as he threw away most of the fruit, but for the mere pleasure of sin as sin. He did it to break God’s law.” (Bridges)
iv. Stolen water is sweet: “I suppose this to be a proverbial mode of expression, importing that illicit pleasures are sweeter than those which are legal. The meaning is easy to be discerned; and the conduct of multitudes shows that they are ruled by this adage. On it are built all the adulterous intercourses in the land.” (Clarke)
v. Water…bread: “A contrast is intended between the rich fare offered by Wisdom and the ordinary food tendered by the foolish woman.” (Waltke)
c. But he does not know that the dead are there: There is some truth in the idea that transgression can make something feel better. There is some genuine allure in the excitement, independence, camaraderie, and pleasure in breaking God’s command and wisdom’s counsel. Sin has its pleasures for a season (Hebrews 11:25). Yet folly’s path has an end: the dead are there…her guests are in the depths of hell. Accepting folly’s invitation is to accept ultimate death and permanent misery for a few hours or days of what is sweet and pleasant. What they eat on earth will be digested in hell.
i. “Folly allures her victim with the half-truth that sin gives pleasure (cf. Hebrews 11:25), but, like Satan (cf. Genesis 3:4), she denies the connection between sin and death.” (Waltke)
ii. “She calls to the same simple ones and invites them to her house. But if they accept her invitation, they’ll be attending a funeral and not a feast—and it will be their own funeral!” (Wiersbe)
iii. “In every city, on every street, by every door of opportunity, these two voices of wisdom and folly are appealing to men. To obey the call of wisdom is to live. To yield to the clamor of folly is to die. How shall we discern between the voices? By making the fear of Jehovah the central inspiration of life. By yielding the being at its deepest to Him for correction and guidance.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com