IN REAL LIFE, MOST OF US ARE A MIX of wise and foolish, prudent and silly, thoughtful and impulsive. Nevertheless it helps us to see what the issues are by setting out the alternatives as a simple choice. That is what Proverbs 9 does for us. It pictures two women, Wisdom and Folly, calling out to people. In some ways, this drive toward a simple choice—wisdom or folly, good or evil, the Lord or rebellion—is typical of Wisdom Literature. It is a powerful, evocative way of getting across the fundamental issues in the choices we make.
Let us begin with Folly (Prov. 9:13-18). The way Folly sits in the door of her house reminds the reader of a prostitute. She calls out to those who pass by, to those who otherwise “go straight on their way” (Prov. 9:15). She is “undisciplined and without knowledge” (Prov. 9:13). What she offers is never fresh: it is warmed over, stolen stuff, garnished with promises of esoteric enjoyment—not unlike the promise of illicit sex (Prov. 9:17). Those who are snookered by her do not reflect on the fact that her seductions lead to death (Prov. 9:17).
Wisdom, too, builds a house and calls people in (Prov. 9:1-6). But her house is stable and well-built (Prov. 9:1). Like Folly, Wisdom calls “from the highest point of the city,” where she can be heard (Prov. 9:3, 14); but unlike Folly, Wisdom has prepared a delicious and nourishing meal (Prov. 9:2, 5). The “simple,” i.e., those who do not yet have wisdom but are willing to acquire it, may come and feast, and learn to “walk in the way of understanding” (Prov. 9:6).
Of course, to speak of informing or correcting the simple immediately draws attention to how the counsel of Wisdom will be received. There is a sense in which someone who accepts wisdom is already proving wise; the person who rejects wisdom is a mocker or wicked. Hence the powerful contrast of the next verses (Prov. 9:7-9): “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you” (Prov. 9:8)—with the two alternatives fleshed out in the verses on either side of this one (Prov. 9:7, 9).
The high point in the chapter comes with Proverbs 9:10-12: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10). Normally, there are blessings even in this life for those with such priorities and commitments (Prov. 9:11-12). Above all, this definition of “the beginning of wisdom” powerfully shows that the wisdom held up in Proverbs is neither esoteric insight nor secular intellectual prowess; rather, it is devotion to God and all that flows from such devotion in thought and life.