“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.’”
Proverbs 9:16-17 (ESV)
Think back to your English 102 class. Do you remember the literary term personification? It means giving human qualities to an animal, inanimate object or abstract idea. Solomon uses personification in Proverbs 9 to illustrate the differences between Wisdom and Folly. Because this chapter concludes five chapters of Solomon counseling his son against the perils of adultery, Wisdom and Folly represent faithfulness and adultery. But they can also represent wise and foolish ways in a broader sense.
The first half of chapter 9 describes Wisdom as a woman who is hard-working (v. 1), prepared (v.2), persistent, available and visible (v. 3). The benefits of following her are long life and understanding (v. 6, 10, 11). She welcomes all to her home, especially those who are “simple” and who lack understanding (v. 4). That means everyone is welcome. We don’t go to Wisdom already knowing the answers.
The Lady Wisdom lives in a large house (it has seven pillars according to verse 1), so there is enough room and wisdom for us all. So, why is it that so many ignore Wisdom and are more attracted to Folly?
Folly sits atop a hill like Wisdom, but she is described as loud, undisciplined and without knowledge (v. 13-14). She promises fun. The party’s at her house, but she did not prepare a meal like her opponent Wisdom did. Instead the food she promises is stolen (v. 17). There are no benefits to following Folly, and the consequence of following her is death (v. 18), which her guests do not learn until they are already in her presence.
What do Wisdom and Folly look like in modern times? Wisdom is God’s way. I think of Wisdom as God’s word and friends who give us godly counsel. If Wisdom were a store like the School House Rock store of adverbs (Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here!), we could choose from items like faithfulness, humility, love, peace, joy, patience, goodness, honesty, mercy, and generosity. When you find yourself in any situation in your life where you need wisdom, see if one of those things would help the situation. Wisdom is God’s way.
Folly, on the other hand, is shown by listening to the lies of the world and following any advice that is contrary to God’s word. Folly’s store offers selfishness, pride, hate, anger, impatience, dishonesty, and discontent as her valuable items. They are disguised as ways to find happiness but in the end they bring misery because the items are stolen goods, quick fixes, shortcuts or counterfeits.
How could Folly’s harmful items look like something we would pursue? Remember Folly is loud, and she offers treats that appeal to our humanness – those things we think will make us happy. Consider some of Folly’s enticements:
“Love and security”: My husband/wife hasn’t been paying me much attention and that man/woman over there seems to like my company, so I’ll pursue him/her.
“Riches”: The government doesn’t need all my taxes. A slight change in the numbers will really help me. My money is my money.
“Self Love”: I will never forgive that person for what he/she did to me. Never!!!
“Self Pride”: That person makes me so mad I’m going to tell everyone about it and ruin his/her reputation. He/she deserves it!
Folly’s enticements only end in adversity. When we follow Folly, it might be fun for a while but eventually we find ourselves in a world of hurt, disappointment and broken fellowship with God, friends and family. So avoid Folly’s call and resolve to listen to and follow Wisdom. She has plenty of room at her house, and she’ll be glad you came!