Bible Commentary: Proverbs 9

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Proverbs 9

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A Choice of Invitations

The prologue of the book of Proverbs closes in chapter 9 with the choice of two paths represented by the two figurative women, Wisdom and Folly—each here described as making an appeal.

The NIV Application Commentary notes on this chapter: “These descriptions and quotations of Wisdom and Folly are a study in similarities and contrasts. Both Wisdom and Folly call out from a house situated in the highest place. Both begin with the same invitation: ‘Let all who are simple come in here,’ adding an invitation to a meal. Both Wisdom and Folly use proverbs; Wisdom’s speech concludes with a series of proverbs, ending with, ‘If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer’ (Proverbs 9:12). Folly has only one proverb, but it is revealing: ‘Stolen water is sweet; food {bread} eaten in secret is delicious’ (Proverbs 9:17). However, the teacher shows these similarities only to point out the glaring differences. Wisdom works at building and preparing in order to have a sumptuous banquet to offer her guests while Folly sits at her door, loud [as was the adulteress in Proverbs 7:11], undisciplined, and without knowledge. The meals are different, Wisdom offering wine and meat [along with bread], Folly offering only bread and water. There are the differences in outcome. Wisdom offers a future, a call to maturity, and in a word, life. Folly only offers the immediate pleasure of good things enjoyed outside their intended boundaries, hiding the fact that such pleasure brings death.”

Wisdom’s house is supported by seven pillars (Proverbs 9:1)—perhaps merely signifying complete stability, as seven is the number of perfection and completion. Some, however, see a parallel with the creation of the previous chapter standing through the seven creation days of Genesis. Some, on the other hand, take the book of Proverbs as a whole to be the house of wisdom, especially given its seven attributed sections (see Proverbs 1:1; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 22:17; Proverbs 24:23; Proverbs 25:1; Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1).

Wisdom’s banquet, with slaughtered meat, is sumptuous. Mixed wine here may refer to wine mixed with spices, as in Song of Solomon 8:2, or to wine mixed with water, as was common for wine drunk at meals. Joining Wisdom in her house could, as in former parallels, signify marrying her in a sense—dwelling with her in perpetuity.

“The section that follows Wisdom’s invitation [i.e., verses 7-12] appears to intrude, interrupting the contrast with the invitation of Folly. While most interpreters conclude that the section is secondary and therefore unrelated, it is possible to observe an intention behind the inclusion of this discourse. This section not only repeats significant terms from the prologue, it also summarizes the theme of receiving or rejecting instruction that carries throughout the rest of the book (Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 15:5, Proverbs 15:12; Proverbs 16:20; Proverbs 17:16; Proverbs 18:15; Proverbs 19:8, Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 23:9; Proverbs 27:22). The structure of the section begins with the responses of the mocker and the wise person (Proverbs 9:7-9) and ends with their rewards (Proverbs 9:11-12). In the central position of this frame, ‘the fear of the Lord’ links response and outcome” (note on verses 7-12). This being defined as the beginning of wisdom shows chapter 9 as closing the frame opened in the book’s initial instruction in Proverbs 1:7, which said that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.

Verse 12 lays out the choice between two ways one last time. Then the final section, the appeal of Folly, shows the worthlessness of her offer and where the wrong choice will lead—to the “depths of the grave” (verse 18, NIV). Whose invitation will you accept? If you desire wisdom and the abundant life that results, then you are ready to enter the main part of the book.

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