Tommie van der Walt - 3 May 2020
The Poisonous Banquet (Proverbs 9:13–18)
Albert Einstein once said: “Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the former.” Sadly, I have to agree. I have seen the damage and have experienced the fruit of foolishness far too many times.
Lady wisdom spoke to us in our previous study. She told us to accept instruction and rebuke and to love learning. She instructed us to fear the Lord. She functioned as a prophet.
In this study, we hear what Lady Folly has to offer. She is characterised as an undisciplined woman, without knowledge. She functions as a wayward woman.
There is a huge contrast between wisdom and folly. It is the contrast between life and death. Jesus used the same contrast in Matthew 6:47–49 when he compared the wise man, who built his house on the rock, with the foolish man, who built on sand.
This section is an imitation of vv. 1–12. Like wisdom, folly calls out an invitation. But this time it is loud, undisciplined, and without knowledge. She cries out in the same words that wisdom used, but with a twist. She does not have a marvellous banquet for her guests. She only has stolen, poisonous food, which will kill those who eat from her table. Her cry gets a lot of attention, but her words only attracts those who lack understanding.
The first thing we see in our text is folly’s invitation: “The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way” (vv. 13–15).
Lay Folly, Lady Wisdom’s rival, starts spreading her dangerous words. “Come and eat!” she shouts. She seduces foolish people with her undisciplined and empty shouting. We see that her talking is not grounded on anything. Just like building on sand. Only disaster will follow. She is like the person in 1 Corinthians 13:1: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” She sounds wise but is empty with no love. Her voice is full of emptiness and only filled with noise. I picture someone sitting and banging on a pot incessantly and making only a great noise.
Lady Folly copies Lady Wisdom (see v. 3) by taking a position on the high places for everyone to see but, unlike Lady Wisdom, who sent out her maidens, Lady Folly shouts out. Only the wise would know her camouflaged emptiness. When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 1:1: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” Folly is already sitting. If you sit on her lap, you will be swallowed alive and die.
She is waiting to devour her next prey. Her seat is at the doorway of her house and her house is a place of destruction, unlike Lady Wisdom’s house, which is built on seven pillars. Folly is camouflaged as wisdom and appears wise but is empty.
Part of the camouflage is to also invite guests to her banquet. She calls to those who are accepting or careless, not thinking. She shows great treasures that would, in the end, only destroy them. Her lies are half-truths camouflaged as truth. “You’re tired, so you have the right to be angry. They’re only children.” “You are already engaged, or you have made a commitment to the person. Going that far is fine. By the way, it isn’t sex.” “Nobody will know if you don’t confess this sin. After all, what will people think of you if you confess this kind of sin?” “This was a tough week: You don’t have to go to church. Stay home and rest.” “You read your Bible, pray sometimes, and you go to church, so you must a Christian.”
These are small invitations but, as James says, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15).
Second, we must grapple with folly’s consequence: “‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ And to him who lacks sense she says, ‘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 Sheol” (vv. 16–18).
Folly cries out, using the same words as Lady Wisdom (v. 4) but, because she knows nothing (v. 13), she can’t deliver the same goods as Wisdom. She invites anyone who will listen to her: the ones that don’t have any discernment or have not committed to what is right. They can still be persuaded.
We need to know truth by renewing our minds. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Identify between what is true and what is false” (Romans 12:2).
We see the same as in the previous section on wisdom. The words and ways of folly are compared to food and drink—little morsels spread out, as for Hansel and Gretel. Where Wisdom offered wine, Folly offers water. Why water? She can’t offer wine because she is empty. And, strange enough, these foolish people prefer the water—because it tastes sweet. The water is only sweeter than wine because it is stolen and served in secret. The idea of getting away with something is attractive to the character of the dumb and foolish person.
We see that all this happens in secret. In secret, nobody can show you that what you actually doing is foolish. As Wisdom says, it is wise to be instructed. Nobody can instruct you if you hide away. I want to pause here and ask you to think: How are you feasting or finding pleasure in your secret sins? Are you keeping sin a secret? Folly says, “Keep your sin a secret because people will take your joy and rob your pleasure.”
Solomon tells us what the final consequence is. And to make sure we get the point, he shows us what’s really going on in her house when you enter her house and feast at her poisonous table. The fool who listens to her empty promises, sits, and finds pleasure soon finds himself among the dead. His sinfulness blinds him. Folly’s voice is so loud that his ears are deaf to instruction. He doesn’t know that he is actually feasting on: death itself.
Those trapped by folly are as good as in hell because her house is the throat to hell. One writer says: “Many ‘eat’ on earth what they will ‘digest’ in hell.” When you do not want to be reproved as a wise person and want to continue in your sin, you eventually find yourself among the foolish and the dead. The point is that the life of folly—a lifestyle of undisciplined, immoral, uncontrolled living—runs counter to God’s plan and leads to eternal death. Wisdom warns people to avoid this broad road and to follow the straight and narrow path of righteous, wise living.
Who are we listening to? Are we listening to the ever-pressing world? Solomon clearly shows us the hook, not the worm. The wise will not entertain the worm because they see the bait for what it is. The worm, my friend, is a disguise to the danger underneath. The worm—folly—is the empty, unsatisfying, and deceitful, pleasures that sin possesses. Before you know it, you will bite down into the hook of death.
Now, you might ask, but how do I know what folly is and what it is not. This is a wise question. The only way to be safe and sound in wisdom’s house is if you believe in Jesus. When you trust in him alone to save you from your foolishness you will receive the Helper—the Holy Spirit—who helps you read and understand God’s word. When you are part of his family (the community called the church) where each helps and instructs the other, that is how you stay clear from folly.
Forewarning to Us
We’ve seen the invitation and the consequence of folly. I’d like to apply it in what I believe are the three most hidden dangers that we will encounter in the church.
If you are a person who thinks you are saved because you grew up (or are growing up) in a Christian home, you have heeded the call to folly. Perhaps you go to church and sometimes confess those really bad sins but still enjoy the juicy steaks and crème brûlée of this world. You might be sitting at folly’s table. I want to warn you: Apart from confessing that Christ is the only true way to life, and identifying with Jesus and his family, the church, living a holy life of repentance and depending on Jesus, you’re still listening to folly and you might not be saved. Come to Christ, confess your sins, and enter into a living relationship with Jesus. If you realise you are sitting at folly’s table, reach out to someone you know who is sitting at wisdom’s table.
The Scriptures clearly urge us: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Not confessing sin means we are all alone in fighting our sins. Some of us, deep down, shrink back and don’t confess our sin to one another because we fear what others will think of us. We choose, instead, to live false and hypocritical lives. We are sinners and the gospel allows us to confess our sins to God, but it also gives us the freedom to confess to one another and be healed. When we do this, the Bible tells us, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and we can find healing.
We can’t hide our sins from God. This is where I fear folly creeps in. We know this truth very well. “I confessed to God, so I don’t have to come out with it to others.” I wonder sometimes: Do we hide behind our confession to God so that we don’t have to confess to one another? Do we fear what people might think of us instead of reaching out and ask for help? Is your confession to God something that you use to keep your favourite sin a secret? Do you fear man more than God? If that’s true, your sin keeps you in darkness. I understand that, when you confess to God, your sins are forgiven, but to stand alone in the fight is dangerous. Folly says, “Stay alone and don’t come out! Eat those breadcrumbs in secret!” Why? So that you’re an easy target. Bonhoeffer says: “Sin demands a person to be by themselves. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive the sin will be over the person.”
Sin must be brought to light. You break the last stronghold of self-justification when you confess your sin to a brother or a sister. And sin will lose its power. We all bear it together now. Brother, sister, sin can’t live in the light of the gospel. We need to confess to one another so that it can come to the light. Do yourself a favour: Go and read Ephesians 5:1–21. Pray as you meditate on the text.
We need each other to build a stronger body. To confess our sins to one another, we need to gather with one another. This brings me to the last danger.
As much as we desire to gather right now, we can’t. Lately, I’ve been picturing lockdown in the same way we live our day to day lives until we go to heaven. Since we are under lockdown, we cannot gather. We yearn for the day we can gather. The same is true in life: We yearn to go to heaven and gather with God and the other saints, but we’re still under lockdown here on earth.
Now, how does this fit into listening to folly? Listening to folly would be to not want to gather with the saints when we’re able to—not to have that desire, but rather desiring other things above gathering. Folly is listening to the foolish cry of, “You don’t need the body.” I would suggest to you to look to your heart and do some soul-searching during lockdown. Do you desire to gather? Do you desire to be with Christ’s body? Do you desire to go to heaven? Gathering with the church is a glimpse of what we will experience in heaven one day.
So, Proverbs 9 closes on the dramatic life-or-death decision that lays before us. We read in Psalm 38 how David regretted his foolishness. He wrote, “My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness” (v. 5). Is that you? Do you want healing? Let us not have any regrets. Listen and react.
Let us flee from folly and run to wisdom. Enjoy wisdom’s banquet and feast on what is good. Listen to the instruction of fellow brothers and sisters. Fear the Lord, love him, love his word, and love his people.