Stuart Chase - 26 Apr 2020
The Right Direction (Proverbs 9:1–12)
Marilyn vos Savant is an American columnist and author who was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records from 1986–89 as holding the record for the world’s highest IQ. Guinness retired this category in 1990 but vos Savant was later inducted in the Guinness Hall of Fame for the same record.
A reader once submitted a question to vos Savant’s advice column stating that his life was “more exhausting than he ever imagined” and asked, “Is this normal?” Vos Savant replied that it was, indeed, normal and offered this analogy for life: “Much of the time, life is like going through the airport, steering a loaded luggage cart with one bad wheel. Sometimes you just feel ridiculous, sometimes you actually look ridiculous, and sometimes all you can do is just try to push it in generally the right direction.”
No doubt, many can relate to vos Savant’s analogy. Sometimes, it does indeed feel as though we are simply pushing the broken luggage cart of life in generally the right direction and hoping for the best. Perhaps that is how many feel during a time of unprecedented worldwide lockdown and quarantine. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A far wiser man once offered very different counsel. He assured his son that there is, in fact, a path in life that can be pursued by which we can gain certainty. If we follow his advice, we can know for sure that we are heading in the right direction.
In Proverbs 9, Solomon wrote to his son about the way of wisdom, contrasting it with the way of folly, and assured him that the way of wisdom leads in the direction of certainty and blessing.
In this particular study, our goal is to cover vv. 1–12 and vv. 13–18 will be covered in our next study. However, this chapter is really a single unit, and it is impossible to deal with the first part without also touching on the second. At the risk of repetition, I will at least allude to the second section when necessary while maintaining our focus on the first.
In this chapter, Solomon draws a strong contrast between Lady Wisdom (vv. 1–12) and Lady Folly (vv. 13–18). Each of these women stands in her house, prepares a banquet, and calls from the highest places in town for the “simple” to follow her. Each woman entices the “simple” to eat at her table. But the meal and its fruits are strongly contrasted. We will consider vv. 1–12 under three broad headings.
First, we must consider wisdom’s call.
Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
Both Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly prepare a banquet and invite the “simple” to feast with them. There has been a great deal of creative interpretation as to what the various symbols used in this poetic section represent. We will not speculate much about what each element of the imagery represents because the overriding point, I think, is clear.
Wisdom is portrayed as having “built her house,” a house that is supported by “seven pillars.” A typical family home in Solomon’s day was supported by three pillars, while more modest homes were often supported by one. A seven-pillared house would be built by a particularly wealthy individual. Archaeological excavations have unearthed houses of notable noblemen supported by seven pillars. Lady Wisdom slaughters “her beasts” in preparation for the feast. The beasts she slaughters are her own. “Wine” and “meat” were not everyday meals but reserved for special occasions and often only afforded by the wealthy. Amos 6:4–6 portrays these items as items of particular luxury.
“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”
Lady Wisdom also has servants whom she can send to invite the “simple” to her banquet. These servants have easy access to “the highest places in the town.”
The picture here is that Lady Wisdom is a woman of some wealth and influence. She is a noblewoman of significant means who can provide richly for those who bring themselves under her wing.
Lady Folly seeks to present herself in the same impressive way. She also has a house. She also takes a seat “on the highest places of the town” (v. 14). She targets the same people (the “simple”) (v. 16) with an invitation to her own banquet. She, however, cannot provide in the same way that Lady Wisdom can. She has no beasts to slaughter but can provide only bread and water—everyday food—and even that is “stolen” and must be “eaten in secret” (v. 17).
Throughout Proverbs, wisdom is presented as something that is desirable and to be chosen. “Get wisdom—how much better it is than gold! And get understanding—it is preferable to silver” (16:16, CSB). A part of the senselessness in choosing folly is that it is not actually all that more attractive than wisdom. It is not as if wisdom has a hidden beauty that is only spotted by those who resist the allure of folly. Wisdom is obviously attractive, which only heightens the utter senselessness of rejecting it in favour of folly. So why do so many people reject wisdom in favour of folly? We’ll consider that question in a moment, but first we turn to our second consideration.
The second part of our present text highlights wisdom’s contrast.
Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
Here, Solomon contrasts wisdom and folly’s response to correction. When fools are corrected, they abuse, injure, and hate those who correct them. By contrast, wise men appreciate and love those who correct them, because they understand that correction increases wisdom and learning. In their pursuit of wisdom, the wise appreciate those who do the difficult thing of correcting them in order that their wisdom might increase.
According to these verses the “scoffer” (that is, the one who heeds the call of Lady Folly) is “a wicked man” while the “wise man” (that is, the one who heeds the call of Lady Wisdom) is “a righteous man.” The distinguishing mark between wickedness and righteousness, according to these verses, is response to wise teaching. Righteousness receives and obeys wise instruction and teaching; wickedness resists wise instruction and teaching.
I stress wise teaching and instruction because that is the type of teaching in view here. Wickedness does not resist all teaching. There is a great deal of teaching that wickedness is willing to receive, but it is the kind of teaching that ultimately makes even more foolish rather than wiser.
Wickedness gladly receives instruction that runs contrary to God’s revealed will. For example, wickedness eagerly receives teaching that promotes sexual immorality: same sex marriage, adultery, fornication, polyamory, etc. Wickedness gladly embraces teaching that seeks to remove God from the worldview it promotes. Humanistic evolution and other anti-biblical teachings are a banquet for wickedness. Wickedness revels in teaching that rejects the biblical sanctity of human life. It is not teaching, per se, that wickedness resists, but teaching that accords with godliness.
The question before the reader here is, how will you respond to wise teaching? How will you respond to godly correction? Have you ever been the recipient of correction? Has a brother or sister in Christ ever come alongside you to correct something you have said or done? How did you respond?
What is your first response to correction? Is your first reaction to defend yourself? To resist the correction? To abuse, injure, or hate the one who has offered the correction? Solomon identifies that as wickedness.
Righteousness, by contrast, responds with humility. As Solomon will say later, “The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honour” (15:33). Humility receives the correction, considers whether there is truth in it, and responds by acknowledgement of wrongdoing and genuine commitment to change. Humility does not shoot the messenger.
This is yet another reason to heed the call of wisdom. Who wants to be known as one who violently injures those who try to help them? Who wants to be known as one who rejects wise counsel? And yet that is precisely what folly produces in us. Folly injures those who try to help them. It makes no sense to choose that path, yet so many do. Why? We will return to that later. But first we turn to our third broad consideration.
Finally, our text draws attention to wisdom’s consequences. Here, again, we must contrast the consequence of wisdom with the consequence of folly.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.
We could say a great deal about these verses. It is helpful to note that this first section of Proverbs (chapters 1–9) is bookmarked by reference to the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom or knowledge (1:7; 9:10). The fear of the Lord is really the key to everything we have considered in these opening nine chapters and, indeed, all that we will yet consider in our study in Proverbs.
Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Fools reject Proverbs’s calls to obedience. Fools resist God’s truth and authority.
However, the point that I want to draw your attention to is the consequence of wisdom: “For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.” Lady Wisdom issued this very call to the simple in v. 6: “Leave your simple ways, and live.” Wisdom is the path to life.
Contrast this with the consequence of folly: “But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol” (v. 18). Sheol is the Old Testament equivalent is Hades. It is the abode of the dead. The point, then, is that the consequence of choosing wisdom is life, while the consequence of choosing folly is death.
Once again, we must ask, why would anyone choose folly if it leads to death when wisdom promises life? Surely the choice is obvious? Wisdom’s banquet is more impressive. Wisdom’s reputation is more credible. Wisdom’s consequence is preferable. And yet so many people choose folly rather than wisdom. Why?
Proverbs 9 presents us with a choice: Dine with Lady Wisdom or dine with Lady Folly. Given the ultimate consequence of that choice, it really is a choice between life (offered by Lady Wisdom) and death (offered by Lady Folly).
But notice that this is not a choice unique to Proverbs. Listen to what the Lord said to his people when he brought them out of Egypt: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.” And which choice did the Lord want his people to make? “Therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
The Lord calls people to choose wisdom—to choose life. It makes good sense to do so. Wisdom has so much more to offer—both in this life and in the next—than folly. And yet people so often reject it. Like the guests in Jesus’ parable of the banquet, they do so for no real reason.
When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
Do you see that? “They all alike began to make excuses.” They had no reason to reject the invitation but they made excuses to do so. One needed to go examine a new field he had bought, as if that couldn’t be done later. Another needed to examine five new yoke of oxen, as if that were an emergency need that could not be delayed. Another had recently been married and therefore could not therefore take the time to attend the banquet. The excuses seem ridiculous—and they are—yet they were offered nonetheless.
The same truth remains today. There really is no good reason to reject wisdom in favour of folly. There is no good reason to reject God’s offer of life in favour of death. And yet so many find excuses to do so anyway.
If you are a Christian, I wonder what excuses you have made to reject Lady Wisdom’s call. What other things have gotten in the way of you heeding the call to feast with wisdom? Has the busyness of life, the distractedness of family, or the intensity of social media interaction become an excuse for you to neglect the ordinary means of grace by which wisdom is pursued? Has personal and family devotion, not to mention the corporate gathering of the church, become a distant priority because the call of folly has drowned out the call to wisdom? What do you need to prioritise in order to more wholeheartedly pursue wisdom? Identify your weaknesses and make whatever changes you need to make to prioritise wisdom.
Perhaps you have stumbled upon this as an unbeliever. Perhaps, as an unbeliever, you have heard the calls to wisdom but, for whatever reason, you have rejected them. You have found reasons to reject God’s call to wisdom and life. Know this: The simple choice of life or death remains the choice before you today. The gospel makes the choice simple: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Your choice is simple: Will you perish eternally or will you enjoy eternal life?
The answer to that question depends on your response to the very personification of wisdom: Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30). He stands on the high places of the city calling out to people to hear his call to eternal life. It is a call to repent of your sins and, by faith, believe that, in his sacrificial death on the cross, he paid the penalty for your sins. He perished so that you can have eternal life. If you will believe that claim, repent of your sins, and embrace the crucified and risen Lord as your Saviour, you can inherit eternal life. And as you continue, day by day, to heed the call of the gospel, you can feast with Lady Wisdom. For all eternity, your days can be multiplied as years are added to your life.
Will you heed wisdom’s call today? Will you head in the right direction—the direction of eternal life in Jesus Christ?