The weekend is over, and so my posts on Proverbs continue. As it is July 9, I will be discussing Proverbs 9.
THE SIMPLE ARE FORCED TO COMMIT
Here is wonderful news for the “simple.” Just as the truth is often hidden from the supposedly “wise and intelligent” and is revealed to “infants” (Matthew 11:25; see also 1 Corinthians 1), so here we find teaching that is for the simple. But how will such teaching be received – with open humility or with prideful resentment?
The simple are given a stark choice. Will they admit their need and find “rest” in Wisdom? Will they take upon the “light yoke” that leads to life, or become burdened by the ways and teachings of Folly (Again, see Matthew 11:28-29)? Here, in Proverbs 9 is a call to convert from simplicity to philosophy, that is, from being naive and uncommitted to being a steadfast lover and pursuer of Lady Wisdom. Here is the call to follow God or leave Him; one cannot sit on the fence.
“The effect is to close this section [chapters 1-9] of the book by presenting the student with the challenge to make a decision between the ways of wisdom and folly” (Lucas, 86). “The issues of choice that have dotted every page and virtually every paragraph are here made starkly clear” (Hubbard, 131). If you are going to move on from here, you had better make the choice: follow wisdom and enjoy her fruit … or not.
We are, in Proverbs 9, presented with two houses; or, even better: two temples. The first temple is that of Lady Wisdom, whose character, call, and fruit are shown in 9:1-6. “Longman takes 9:3 to imply that Wisdom’s house is built on the highest point of the city and says, ‘In the ancient Near East, only one house is built on the high place of a city, and that is the temple. It is not a stretch, therefore, to suggest that Wisdom is not only the personification of Yahweh’s wisdom but also of Yahweh himself’” (Lucas, 89-90).
The second temple is Dame Folly’s; her verses follow the same pattern of displaying her character, call, and finally fruit (9:13-18). According to Longman, v. 14 “[implies] that Folly’s house is also at the highest point of the city, and takes this to mean that she is a personification of the pagan gods and goddesses who desire to lure Israel away from Yahweh” (Lucas, 90).
The choice is between following Christ or the devil, between Wisdom who dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14, 17) and the Deceiver who plots death (John 8:44). “The choice is not good conduct versus bad, though that choice is life-shaking; it is at bottom the choice between true worship and false” (Hubbard, 133). “… behind wisdom’s invitation stands Yahweh; to say yes to wisdom is to respond in reverent obedience to Him…” (Hubbard, 130).
WATCH YOUR RESPONSE (Vv. 7-12)
The verses in between 1-6 and 13-18 are enigmatic – even to scholars (perhaps especially to scholars). It is a bit difficult to understand what is going on there. However, I think we miss a lot if we don’t investigate what is being taught in these passages. In looking at verses 7-12 we will see that the path to the right house is shown by one’s emotional response to the words of others.
“Between descriptions of Lady Wisdomʼs character, call, and consequence on the one hand and Lady Follyʼs temperament, temptation, and effect on the other, the author of Prov. 9 presents the simple with a description of the first steps on the path to wisdom: In light of the consequences of folly and the rewards of wisdom you must love those who correct and rebuke you; despite the pain of being corrected, you must grow to love those who save you from death. Thus, learning to fear the right things is a necessary part of learning to love and know the right people” (*Hubbard, 3-4).
“… the simple learn that to become wise, one must be humble and accept what can feel like an evil: rebuke. Thus, the evil believe that they are correct in their ways, while the wise know that they are imperfect; and wanting to become perfect and more wise, those who are wise and righteous accept and even love rebuke. Consequently, in order that the simple might live, they must love the instruction and rebuke of their father, as it is through such consequences that the simple will grow in wisdom, though such growth might be, at times, painful” (*Hubbard, 8).
This might be deeply troubling for many to hear. We recoil from pain. We have a hard time embracing the fact that trouble is one of our greatest teachers. Today, we seem to turn away in offense so quickly and thus follow what is, in Proverbs 9, the path of the one who will walk to the house of Dame Folly. If you are quick to be offended, you will follow the trail to Dame Folly’s house of horrors.
The scoffer progresses to death is not due to a “lack of mental capacity but his mental attitude. He is full of conceit and utterly self-opinionated. This is shown in his refusal to accept any kind of correction” (Lucas, 226).
As Lucas helpfully notes,
“The most frequently mentioned attribute of the wise in Proverbs is that they are teachable. It is a characteristic of the wise that they accept instruction and so grow wiser (9:9; 13:1; 21:11) …. The process of acquiring wisdom is not easy or comfortable. It involves ‘instruction’ or ‘training’ … [which, in Proverbs] is often linked with ‘reproof/correction’…” (219).
FROM PATHWAY TO RAILWAY -PROGRESSING ALONG ONE’S CHOSEN WAY
As is often the case, we seem to always walk further along the path. We choose one path and it makes it easier to keep choosing that path and it makes it harder to choose another path. Our path turns from flat surface (where we can wander a little from one side to the other), into a track, (on which we are fruitfully stuck on, or else we are derailed).
“… scoffers can be so hardened in their choice that they do harm to the teacher who challenges them; the wise are so open to wisdom’s call that even her rebuke will spark their affection…” (Hubbard, 132).
As Hubbard notes (135), a good parallel to Proverbs 9 is found in Mark 4:1-25. There, Jesus says “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.”
Will the simple and naive hear the word, accept it with joy, and go and bear fruit (Mark 4:1-20)? If so, the simple progress on the path to gaining more and more wisdom. If not, they become scoffers, leading to wickedness and death.
AGAIN: YOU MUST CHOOSE
The great question of the first section of Proverbs is this: Do you desire life?
If so, you will follow the ancient path – the teachings of the wise who have gone before you. You will first accept (sometimes painfully), and then learn to reckon with and struggle over their advice.
But the main point is this: Don’t sit on the fence. Ultimately, you cannot sit on the fence. Either you choose the path leading to wisdom or you choose the other path, the one that leads to Folly. There is no third path.
We see this clearly in 9:12, where “The emphasis of this proverb is on the effect of a life-choice on the person who makes it. People must bear the responsibility for the choices they make” (Lucas, 89). [Note: Paul seems to draw from this verse in Galatians 6:3-5.]
So, will you choose life in Christ, or that of chaotic non-existence in the house of Folly? “The teacher’s final comment is telling (v. 18). You can find folly’s guest list by reading the daily obituaries. ‘Dead’ means ‘shades,’ …. Bluntly but truly put, her past ‘guests’ are now ghosts” (Hubbard, 137-138).
Spend a moment to assess: is it worth it to follow the path of wisdom and to follow Christ?
If so, follow it fully and passionately. Set your will upon it. Ask God to reinforce your desire and choice to seek after Him.
Pursue Christ by making a personal, familial, or corporate plan of discipleship. What resources do you know of that you can go to so that you have a practical discipleship path? How can you find some if you don’t have any?
How does one know that they are following the right path? Well, they are open to rebuke from either side of the isle. However, how does one receive rebuke from one who seems to be mostly a scoffer or a wicked person? Well, then they must assess, I suppose, how much that person’s words align with what they know to be true.
I wonder how much of finding wisdom has to do with discovery and a legitimate kind fo trial and error?