Solomon takes two primary approaches in the first nine chapters of Proverbs to encourage us to become wiser. First, Solomon assumes the role of a father instructing his sons to heed his sage counsel (Proverbs 1.8; 4.1). Second, Solomon uses the personification of wisdom as a woman to provide his students with something tangible to follow (Proverbs 1.20; 8.1).
Regarding this latter approach, Solomon even provides a foil to Lady Wisdom in the personification of folly. So, those who want to become wise have someone to follow and avoid. We have seen Miss Folly wield her influence over men and women in chapters one through eight, nearly coming out of the shadows in the form of the adulteress in Proverbs 7. Yet, in Proverbs 9, Miss Folly comes out into the open to extend her competing invitation alongside Lady Wisdom’s offer.
Wisdom and Folly compete for the same audience. They both desire to receive the companionship of the naïve and those lacking understanding (9.4). There is no need to compel the righteous or wise as they will already want to be in the companionship of Wisdom (9.8-9). But Wisdom opens her house and has her servants invite people to her feast (9.1-6).
Wisdom is a gracious hostess. She has a great house with seven pillars. In terms of the identity of these pillars, is it a coincidence that our Lord’s half-brother uses seven adjectives to describe the wisdom from above in James 3.17? If not, the pillars of Wisdom’s house are purity, peace, obedience, industry, impartiality, and sincerity. Indeed, these qualities are not inconsistent with the wisdom Solomon encourages others to possess. And entry into Wisdom’s house multiplies one’s days and adds years to their life (9.11).
Wisdom does more than send out her servants to garner the most attendants. Instead, she calls out to the people from a high vantage point above the city. Lady Wisdom is proactive in her approach, demonstrating her genuine concern for people. But despite how admirable her actions are, one realizes that she must be passionate because her enemy can accomplish much more while doing less.
Miss Folly ensures others can see her (9.14), but she does even get up out of her seat. As I read about Miss Folly’s approach, I could not help but think of a prostitute’s solicitation. For example, if one visits Amsterdam’s red-light district, he sees sex workers standing in store-front windows as if on display in lingerie, smiling and flirting with the passersby. Yes, if someone walks through the red-light district, he knows what he wants. I believe Miss Folly likely realizes this as well.
One has to put forth no effort to remain naïve. The wisdom-averse can continue to scoff and act wickedly (9.7). However, this one believes Miss Folly when she says, “Stolen water is sweet; And bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (9.17 NASB1995). In other words, Miss Folly requires no discipline from her guests. They do not have to reform themselves or strive to do and be better.
Miss Folly would be nothing more than a nuisance if it weren’t for her boisterousness attracting the attention of even those attempting to keep their paths straight (9.13-15). But, as Christians know, the alternative to the “strait gate” and narrow way is that colloquial “highway to hell” (Matthew 7.13-14). Solomon warns us that Miss Folly’s houseguests end up in the depths of Sheol (9.18). That is reason enough to avoid Miss Folly and attend Lady Wisdom’s feast.
We must choose which invitation to accept. We will listen to Lady Wisdom, who has done a lot of planning and always keeps her promises. Or Lady Folly, who promises much but delivers nothing? The choice should be obvious.
A woman is again the embodiment of Wisdom in Proverbs 8. And we find language similar to what we saw earlier in Proverbs 1.20-23: Wisdom desires to be heard by men (8.3-4). Not unlike other women, Wisdom craves attention and acknowledgment. However, Wisdom isn’t shy about raising her voice to get people’s attention.
In contrast to the harlot in the previous chapter (Folly?), Wisdom does not play coy. Instead, she chooses to be in the spotlight. As a result, she is the center of attention. She perches herself on the rise overlooking the gateway to the city below (8.3). Wisdom does not want to be heard by a select few; she wants to be heard by everyone, whether the sons of men (8.4) or the fools (8.5). She hopes to impart wisdom to anyone open to hearing it.
Wisdom gives us praiseworthy and righteous counsel (8.6), words of truth and righteousness (8.7-8), and a straightforward and virtuous way of thinking (8.9). The benefits of wisdom are priceless, far exceeding the value of any material possession (8.10-11).
Thus, Wisdom implores everyone to listen so that she may impart her excellent knowledge. But even if that weren’t impressive enough, verse 12 shows that she is wise, knowledgeable, and has good judgment. Consequently, Wisdom hates conceit, lust, and evil because she respects God (8.13). That’s why she’s a reliable source of guidance, wisdom, and resolve (8.14).
Wisdom delights in providing these things to everyone, including those to whom God has given earthly authority. Wisdom will bestow riches, honor, righteousness, justice, and wealth on those who love her (8.15-16). She makes it possible for kings, princes, nobles, and judges to rule justly (8.17-21).
Wisdom testifies that she was God’s companion even before He made the world. Therefore, she existed before the cosmos (8.22). So, according to Solomon, Wisdom is eternal (8.23). Indeed, Wisdom is “older than dirt” (8.26), existing before the oceans, mountains, and hills (8.24). So, Wisdom was present to see the Lord at work, creating the universe. Wisdom saw God create the heavens and the world (27-29) and stood beside Him as a master craftsman, rejoicing in His creation (8.30-31).
Those who are open to Wisdom’s advice will prosper (8.32). Therefore, instead of disregarding her message, we should listen to her advice and act wisely (8.33). Those listening to her with care will be blessed (8.34a). They’ll sometimes have to wait for her (8.34b), but she’ll bring those who are patient new life and the Lord’s favor in return (8.35). However, those whose sins bring dishonor to her suffer spiritual damage (8.36a).
Those hating Wisdom demonstrate a desire to die (8.36b). This mindset means that people who like death will get what they want. Thus, wisdom implores us to listen to her so that she may impart wisdom, knowledge, truth, and righteousness; and endow our lives with wealth and glory, especially as the Lord bestows.
To quote Wisdom:
“Blessed is the man who listens to me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life And obtains favor from the Lord.” (Proverbs 8.34-35 NASB1995)
Five hens were safely back in the coop, but one would not go back inside. When the man and his wife tried to coax her back in, she began darting left and right and back and forth. The closer the couple came to her, the more frantic she grew. She darted away from her house toward the woods. When the man went after her, she flew over the fence and deeper into the neighbor’s woods. The man and his wife went inside their home and waited. Later, the hen was back outside the coop. Her sisters were pacing inside their run and she was trying to go head first through the small square of the welded wire to join them. The man and his wife herded her into the corner where the coop meets the run. The man caught the frantic hen as she tried to fly away. As he held her and tossed her inside the coop, she squawked and wailed the whole way. A few minutes later, she was mindlessly and meekly scratching and pacing with the rest of the girls.
It was tempting to let her go, to conclude that she asked for that. But, we thought about the feed and care that has gone into her, the fact that she is just about ready to start laying eggs, but also the humane aspect. There are so many predators on or near our place–foxes, raccoons, snakes, hawks, coyotes, a bobcat, and even an occasional long-tailed weasel. We also have seen the carnage that befell a Green Egger in this current flock. So, we did not give up on Pearl. She’s safely home and doing the things hens do, scratching, pacing, eating, and so forth.
I could not help but think how often I act like Pearl. My Father has given me so much. He supplies my every need (Phil. 4:19), and then some! He takes care of me (Mat. 6:25-32) and has my best interest at heart. He has invested more into me than I can possibly comprehend (John 3:16). Yet, so often I fail to trust Him and even run away from Him in favor of my own, misguided way (Prov. 3:5; 14:12). When I go astray and get into harmful predicaments, I reveal a rejection of His wisdom in favor of my own folly. I don’t have near the excuse of a chicken. Despite journal articles outlining the spatial capacities, very basic arithmetic capacities, complex communication system, and complex emotions of chickens, the most generous assessment is that they are, at best, of average intelligence in the animal world and not remotely comparable to humans. Of all God’s creation, only we are made in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). Only we were valuable enough to Him that He devised a plan to save us from our sins.
Why would I run from Him? Why would I evade His care and His guidance? Why would I protest and fight His efforts to help me and bring out my best good? While the parable in Luke 15 and the 23rd Psalm are about sheep rather than poultry, the reminder is spot on: “He makes me lie down…He leads me…He restores my soul…He guides me in the paths of righteousness” (Psa. 23:2-3). He is with me, He comforts me, He generously provides for me, and He heals me (Psa. 23:4-5). The Bible helps me see the big picture, to see beyond the desires of the flesh and the perceived need of the moment. God wants me to trust Him and follow His way. May I be “smart” enough to know that and never run away!
“This chapter is one of the most excellent in all this book, both for argument to persuade us to be religious and for directions therein,” Welsh Nonconformist theologian and commentator Matthew Henry said of Proverbs 3.1 I agree that it is a practical chapter. And a couple of verses of this section land on my toes. However, Proverbs 3 contains surprises for everyone, such as one verse that tells us that Jehovah has a school. This phrase is used in verse 11 by Lutheran commentators Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch. 2
I’ve seen different plans for Proverbs 3, but the one I like best right now is to divide the chapter into 8 points. Lady Wisdom tells her students to do the right thing first (1-4). Next, she advises students to believe in God’s plan (i.e., Providence; 5-10). The student is then told by Lady Wisdom not to look down on the “school of Jehovah” (11-12). After that, Lady Wisdom will offer a discourse about the practical applications of wisdom in our lives (13-26). Then, in verses 27 and 28, Lady Wisdom tells people not to put things off. (There go my toes!) Lady Wisdom then tells students to love each other and be patient, and then she tells them not to feel sorry for bad people who get what they deserve (29-32). Finally, lady Wisdom ends by comparing the house of the wicked to the home of the humble and wise (33-35).
However, those who do the right thing will avoid many pitfalls into which the foolish repeatedly fall. Sin can have both natural and long-term consequences. Sexually promiscuous people are at risk of contracting a disease. A car accident may kill a drunken driver. When a curious teen tries illicit drugs for the first time, he or she may overdose. Those who do the right thing will avoid these scenarios. Those who do good will also have peace of mind. Their conscience does not interfere with their sound sleep. They also have peace because they have a good relationship with God. Before I go, I’d like to make one more point. Doing the right thing gives someone a sense of purpose (Ecclesiastes 12.13-14). That certainly adds to the quality of life.
Lady Wisdom advises us to put our trust in God’s plan (i.e., Providence). Following God’s plan leads to our greater industry and avoiding the previously identified pitfalls. Lady Wisdom says wealth results from working in concert with God’s Providence, as opposed to the prosperity gospel’s teaching that faith alone can produce wealth. We trust God for the increase, but we contribute by working. Unlike those who make rash plans, we pray for God’s will to be done (cf. James 4.13-16). We have faith in God’s wisdom.
We are now at the text portion where Lady Wisdom enrolls us in the “Jehovah’s school.” Interestingly, this passage shows that Keil and Delitsczh change God’s “chastisement” to His “school.” According to their understanding of Hebrew, the word in the original text means “taking one into school.” 3 But isn’t that in line with what God says about His correction elsewhere in the Bible? He corrects us through His love for us to share in His holy nature and bear righteous fruit (Hebrews 12.1-13). Of course, God could let us go without discipline, but that would not be in our best interests.
Lady Wisdom describes the practical benefits of wisdom obtained through diligence after we enroll in Jehovah’s school. On a much smaller scale, the person willing to apply himself or herself can receive the same information God used to create and sustain the cosmos. No, our wisdom will never be as great as God’s (Isaiah 55.8-9), but it can be significant enough to serve as a badge of honor. Wisdom, once established, also provides a peaceful life. It’s worth noting that Solomon mentions peace twice in Proverbs 3. We could say that wisdom makes life easier, which leads to peaceful outcomes.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, what do you do? Anxiety and fear fill your heart. Those thus afflicted shut down and cannot process rational thought, and there is no peace. I jokingly referred to this phenomenon as “panic logic” to my speech therapist. In other words, one loses reasoning and follows the first impulse that comes to mind. I told her about when I stepped into a fire-ant bed as a kid. The ants were already halfway up my leg and stinging when I realized what I had done. My rescuer was watering his garden when he ran over to me with the garden hose. Rather than spraying my legs with water and sending the ants flying, as would have been more logical, he began swatting them away with the hose itself—what a way to add insult to injury. So, I had to contend with stinging ants as well as stinging blows from a rubber hose. A person who follows Lady Wisdom not only has peace of mind because of his relationship with God, but he can also keep his cool in worldly dealings because he “knows stuff.” It’s no surprise that wisdom is valuable!
And now we come to the part of Proverbs 3 that I need to remind myself of daily. Lady Wisdom instructs us not to procrastinate by using a benevolent illustration. If we are in a position to act and have the resources to do so, we should act immediately. Why? It is because we are easily distracted. Remember how Joseph predicted in Genesis 40 that an imprisoned servant would return to serve the pharaoh as a cupbearer? Joseph requested that the cupbearer communicate his plight to the pharaoh since he had his ear. But the cupbearer managed to forget Joseph. Was it because he was a bad guy? No, not necessarily. We can get caught up in the minutiae of life and lose sight of our responsibilities or promises. Or, if it is a matter of money, it vanishes (Proverbs 23.5). You may intend to assist someone with his financial burden “tomorrow,” but tomorrow arrives with an illuminated check engine light. So, whenever the opportunity arises, do good (Galatians 6.10).
Outside of the example of benevolence, how does this relate to the overall procrastination problem? When given a deadline or promise to do something, it is easy to become distracted by other things or waste resources, such as time. As someone who has written many term papers in the final hours before they are due, I can tell you that procrastination is not a good idea, even if you claim that you need the adrenaline rush to finish projects!
At the end of the chapter, our other lessons from Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 3 now flow together. Solomon says God gives people what they deserve and sometimes uses men in His Providence. As a result, we can be blessed by others while also becoming a blessing to others. We should maintain good relationships with others and avoid arguing with anyone without justification. When we come across someone who is suffering as a result of his foolishness, we are to leave him alone. That may appear harsh, especially considering Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19.10). However, God explains it to us by making it clear what He means when He speaks of the fool. Remember that a fool is someone who lacks moral character. As a result, a fool is rebellious and stubborn. When people rejected the message, Jesus told His disciples in the limited commission to shake the dust from their sandals and walk on (Matthew 10.14). So, we preach the Gospel to the world (Mark 16.15-16), but we recognize when it devolves into throwing pearls before swine or giving holy things to dogs (Matthew 7.6).
Finally, there is a clear distinction between these two paths. Those seeking wisdom live in homes where God’s grace has healed their wounds and declared them righteous. The foolish scoffer will live in the filth of his own dishonorable home. God will laugh when he sees his house. Are you paying attention to Lady Wisdom? Do you refrain from disparaging Jehovah’s school? All the decisions you make today and the effort you put in to become wise will make all the difference.
In the first chapter of Proverbs, Lady Wisdom was shouting at the crowd in the town square. From our last article, we know that she was looking for simpletons, mockers, and fools to warn about what would happen if they didn’t listen to her advice. In Proverbs 2, we meet another set of three people, but these are servants of Lady Folly who are ready to lead people down the path to eternal damnation. But first, we are told to find wisdom once more.
Lady Wisdom is not always in plain sight. If she were, you wouldn’t have to dig sometimes to find her, just like a miner who digs precious metals and ores out of the ground. One can, thankfully, also cry for her (2.3-6; cf. James 1.5). Crying is a good way for a baby to get food (1 Peter 2.2), and it works just as well for people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness (Matthew 5.6). God will not only feed us, but He will also tell us what to do to please Him.
Lady Wisdom also helps people deal with their neighbors fairly and correctly (2.9). She shows us what God’s justice looks like so we can do the same thing when dealing with others. This example is critical because people don’t always see things as God does. But her advice is also helpful when dealing with risks posed by others. God’s wisdom, which Lady Wisdom represents, is great because it acts as a shield and watchman (2.7-11).
But here is where our triplet comes in. We have a perverse guy, people who walk in the dark, and the adulteress (2.12ff). God’s wisdom is helpful because it tells us more than just what to avoid. It gives us what we need to do. So, when our triplet comes, we know how to send them away. This wisdom comes from letting God’s word into our hearts, where it guides us. As David said, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119.11 NASB1995).
But we must do more than say no to evil. We must take charge of being good. How does that happen? When you don’t hang out with bad people, you hang out with good people instead (2.20-21). Paul told the Corinthians that the people they hung out with could change their morals (1 Corinthians 15.33). Lady Wisdom helps you tell the difference between good and bad people so you can be a good judge (Matthew 7.20).
The end of Proverbs two is a warning. Those who aren’t looking for Lady Wisdom or calling for her will be led astray by our trio. Once a person is lost, God will take them out of His garden like he would a dead branch or tree. No one wants this to happen to them. In the meantime, let’s also remember what Jesus said about seeking, asking, and knocking:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7.7-8 NASB1995).
I doubt I’ve ever fully appreciated the book of Proverbs more than now as I’ve undertaken the task of teaching it in a Bible class. The reason for this, I suppose, is that I always viewed Proverbs as a group of wise sayings that one could visit and choose from as you might items on a buffet. “Yes, I will take a side of the ‘virtuous woman’ with ‘train up the child,’ please.” But it is an anthology about wisdom whose contributors include Solomon, Agur (Proverbs 30.1), and King Lemuel (Proverbs 31.1). Moreover, we know scribes during the reign of King Hezekiah took proverbs attributed to Solomon and added them at that later date (Proverbs 25.1). So, the book of Proverbs came together over an extended period. Yet, we know that by the time scholars translated Proverbs into Greek for its inclusion within the Septuagint, it was in its present form.
Despite being an anthology, the compilers have done a marvelous job fleshing out two “characters.” One character, whom we must pursue, is “Lady Wisdom.” The other character we are to shun, “Lady Folly.” (Is she Lady Wisdom’s doppelgänger in the original sense of that word? An evil counterpart?) The ultimate form of “Lady Wisdom” is King Lemuel’s mother, the woman of virtue. However, there is a question about whether this woman is real, like Bathsheba, if Lemuel is a pseudonym for Solomon or a metaphor for the woman who embodies all Lady Wisdom’s traits. Solomon’s section treats his audience as a son, so we get the idea that Lady Wisdom is like that ideal woman for whom a young man should pine. How much more thrilling, then, when one catches a glimpse of the beautiful Lady Wisdom as she calls out in the streets or lifts her voice in the square (Proverbs 1.20). It is evident that the authors don’t anthropomorphize wisdom with every usage of that virtue, but enough to conceptualize wisdom as God’s companion, His daughter, perhaps, with whom we must also associate ourselves.
Given this elaborate backdrop, the first six verses of Proverbs 1 strike me like a collegiate syllabus. Professor Solomon enters the classroom and passes out his plan for the material he will cover during his course. Wisdom 101. It is a level one class since it is “To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion” (1.4 NASB1995). So, there are no prerequisites for this “class.” Even so, enlightenment is granted even to the more learned by the assistance of the one giving them wise counsel (1.5). But the authors outline their intentions. Their “purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, help them understand the insights of the wise…teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, and to help them do what is right, just, and fair” (Proverbs 1.2-3 NLT). After one has learned the basics, he will “receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Proverbs 1.5-6 NLT).
I will be honest with you. I didn’t always pay attention to the syllabus when I was a student earning my degree. I’d hear my classmates talking about a due research paper. When I protested that the professor had said nothing in class about a term paper, my friends pointed me back to the syllabus, where the professor had given details of the assignment in black and white. My previous problem of not appreciating the book of Proverbs likewise extended from my failure to read Solomon’s syllabus in the first chapter. It is not just a collection of pithy sayings. God introduced me to the most remarkable woman whom I could ever hope to meet. And if I play my cards right, I will make her my companion also. Along the journey, I will become a better person and, subsequently, a better person to others. Eventually, I will even stand in a position to help guide others through life. Not bad for a book of poetry.
A qualified fool is someone who lacks wisdom and also tends to have an embarrassing lack of common sense. In the ancient past, being called a fool held a lot of weight and it wasn’t something that was taken lightly. There’s a healthy emphasis placed on the fool throughout the Psalms and Proverbs, and his time in the spotlight is far from flattering. He’s often in sharp contrast to the wise and intelligent person. What may cause some of these passages to sting in a personal kind of way is when they reflect our own actions or inclinations.
Psalm 14 begins stating, “The fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God.’” Today the atheistic minds that fill the rolls of teachers, scientists, and authors are held in high regard. To some they are seen as the “brains of society” and the pioneers of the future. Evolutionary doctrine may dominate the classrooms and laboratories, but God calls them foolish. They are not “progressive” or “admirable” because they’ve missed or rejected something crucial. The one that denies the existence of a God that they are surrounded by, alive because of, and will be judged by— is the fool. David goes on to state in the same Psalm how God had looked down on the earth to see if anyone had been seeking after Him. When God looks down on our lives what does He see?
Maybe you would never audibly state, “I don’t believe in God!” But we can’t forget that our repetitive actions are those true statements that tell the world what we believe.