June 14, 2020 | Books of the Bible | Proverbs by Keri Bosch
Good or evil, wisdom or folly, life or death—which will you pursue? That is the question presented by a father to his son in Proverbs 1-9. One doesn’t have to read very far to realize that these two options are personified as females — Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. These two women are closely tied to two paths or ways — the path of the wise and the path of the foolish. The young man must choose which woman he will pursue, which path he will follow during his life. But why are wisdom and folly personified as women? Who are these women? What do they do? Where do they lead?
To see why wisdom and folly are personified as women, one must think of the context in which Proverbs was written. This book is addressed to a young man, so it is fitting that his father employs the metaphor of the pursuit of women to make his appeal. We also see in Scripture examples of men whose decision to remain faithful to God or succumb to idolatry is closely tied to the type of women they choose to pursue. Solomon himself fell into idolatry because of his love for many foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1-8). In Deuteronomy 7:3-4, God commands the Israelites not to intermarry with any of the Canaanite women when they come into the Promised Land, because these women would lead them to worship other gods. Sexual fidelity and spiritual fidelity are intimately connected throughout Scripture. Another reason we see this personification as female is that in Hebrew both the words wisdom and folly are grammatically feminine. For a Hebrew reader, it would be instinctive to refer to either as “she.”
Throughout the first nine chapters of Proverbs, we see glimpses of both women; however, chapter 7 fully describes Lady Folly, followed by the portrait of Lady Wisdom in chapter 8. These descriptions culminate in chapter 9 with a final comparison of both women. In chapter 7, Lady Folly is dressed as a prostitute, an adulteress who receives her visitors under the cloak of darkness (verse 9). She is loud, yet lies in wait for her prey, enticing them with flattery and the promise of sensual pleasure (verses 15-18). Her words are “seductive speech” and “smooth talk” (verses 21). In the end, the path of Lady Folly leads to death (verse 27).
In contrast, in chapter 8, Lady Wisdom calls out in plain sight to all who pass by, speaking what is right and true (v. 6-9). By her, kings reign with justice, and what she offers is enduring wealth and honor, better than gold or silver (v. 15-19). But what is most remarkable about Lady Wisdom is found in verses 22-36. In this section, we see her real significance lies in her divine origin. She was brought forth by God before creation; she was present with God at creation; and she was the delight of God, rejoicing in His creation (verse 22-31).
In chapter 9, both women call out from the highest places of the town to those who pass by. The hope is that passers-by might come into their houses and partake of the feasts they have prepared. One chooses to pursue Lady Wisdom by first fearing the Lord, resulting in knowledge of the Holy One (verse 10). This path leads to life, as Lady Wisdom says in 8:35, “whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.” In contrast, it is by ignorance and lack of sense that one follows Lady Folly, resulting in death, for “her guests are in the depths of Sheol” (verse 18).
The young man could only learn the wisdom of chapters 10-30 by first choosing the pursuit of Lady Wisdom. Yet after having been taught wisdom, in chapter 30:3-4, the text states, “I have not learned wisdom, nor have I the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended to heaven and come down?” Was the pursuit of Lady Wisdom all in vain? To answer this seemingly hopeless cry, one must go to the words of Jesus in John 3:13, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Lady Wisdom foreshadows Jesus Christ in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). It is Jesus through whom and for whom all things were created (Col. 1:16). It is Christ who is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). The fear of the Lord, or faith in Jesus Christ for the New Testament believer, is our only hope of finding wisdom and life for He is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
As Proverbs begins with a choice between Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly, Proverbs ends with a portrait of Lady Wisdom in action. Likewise, as the book of Proverbs begins with teaching us “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the book concludes by revealing that the secret behind the idealized life of the woman in chapter 31 is she is “a woman who fears the Lord” (v. 30). Ultimately, the choice between Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly is not only for the son addressed in Proverbs 1-9, but for each one of us. Jesus calls us to repent and turn away from Lady Folly to faith in Him, just as Lady Wisdom cries out to the simple to follow the way of wisdom leading to life. For “this is eternal life, that they know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).