If you’ve read through Proverbs, you’ve no doubt seen the two women of Proverbs: Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. The contrasts between these two characters are important and stark, and chapter 9 of Proverbs brings many of those contrasts into full view. I draw your attention especially to verses 1–6 and 13–18 (ESV).
1 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.
2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town,
4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says,
5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
13 The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
15 calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way,
16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says,
17 “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
18 But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
What do we see about the differences between these two women? These contrasts are not just an interesting exercise in observation, they will help us to think clearly about wisdom and folly moving forward.
- Wisdom works—building a house, preparing a feast (slaughtering beasts, mixing wine, setting the table, even possibly making bread (v5)). In fact, she is so busy with preparations that her maidens go out to call the simple in to the feast. On the other hand, Folly sits (instead of working), both at her house and in the high places of the town.
- Wisdom is prosperous—she has a bountiful table and maidens in her employ. Folly steals.
- Wisdom beckons to the simple—Note that verses 4 and 16 are identical. Both Wisdom and Folly call out to the simple, those who are naive and not yet headed down either the path of wisdom or foolishness.
- Wisdom provides—Verse 5 shows that Wisdom shares an abundance with the simple. Lady Folly offers stolen water (as opposed to Wisdom’s wine) and tucked-away bread.
- Wisdom points to life—We see the connection between wisdom, insight, and life explicitly in verse 6. Folly, on the other hand, has hidden corpses with her paltry meal (see verse 18). Her invitation is an entry to the grave.
Given this clear contrast between Wisdom and Folly, it is fair to ask: why anyone would answer Folly’s call? Who would choose stolen water over carefully-mixed wine? Who prefers a shameful snack over a luscious banquet?
The answer lies, in part, in verse 13. Lady Folly is seductive. She plays to those desires of ours which are not holy. Though she is “loud” and “knows nothing,” she knows how to seduce.
At the crossroads of wisdom and folly, obedience and sin, is often the battle between our reason and our desires. Here reason means Holy Spirit-taught, God-glorifying thinking, and desires refers to those left-over, untamed passions of the sinful nature. Some of the quotes I’ve been sharing recently from chapters 6 and 7 of Jerry Bridges’s book The Pursuit of Holiness address this very issue.
Much of the power of temptation can be neutered if we understand the seductions we face and the power we now have, by God’s grace, to choose wisdom and obedience over folly. We learn to walk by the Spirit, to walk by wisdom, by walking by the Spirit.
Photo by wader, Creative Commons License