The Agora
Bible Commentary

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Proverbs 9

Pro 9:1

Pro 9 forms the conclusion of the lengthy introduction to the book. Both wisdom and folly will make their final appeals; and both appeal to the simpletons. Wisdom offers life with no mention of pleasure; folly offers pleasure with no mention of death. The first twelve verses concern accepting wisdom: the invitation of wisdom (vv 1-6), the description of the responses (vv 7-11), and the consequence (v 12). The last six verses concern accepting folly: the invitation (vv 13-17) and the consequence (v 18).

This chapter contrasts wisdom and folly in a very symmetrical structure. Vv 1-6 -- regarding Wisdom -- correspond to vv 13-18 (Folly) in a quite remarkable fashion.

Vv 1-3: This section makes a transition from the previous passage; there, Wisdom was last seen as the observer and "crafts(wo)man" of God's work on the universal level (Pro 8:30,31), but now she is portrayed among humans. She has prepared a house and established it on seven pillars (the seven days of the original creation?). This is probably, in the first instance, a reference to the habitable world (Pro 8:31), which is spacious and enduring. For the equation of the world with a house, set on its foundations, see Pro 8:29; Job 38:6; and Psa 104:5.

WISDOM HAS BUILT HER HOUSE: Moving to the spiritual level, and considering the "New Creation" as the successor, and ongoing work, of God the Creator... the house may also equate to the saints (1Ti 3:15), the church or ecclesia of God (Psa 23:6; Eph 2:20-22; 1Pe 2:5), and the spiritual "city" of Rev 21. "And we are [God's] house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast" (Heb 3:6).

SHE HAS HEWN OUT ITS SEVEN PILLARS: Architecturally and historically, seven pillars (four on the corners, and the other three in the middles of three sides, leaving the fourth side relatively open) form what is essentially an open courtyard; this arrangement defines the "house" of Wisdom. Spiritually, "Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God" (Rev 3:12). And the seven pillars may point to the seven churches of Revelation as well.

HEWN OUT: By a slight change, LXX reads "set up", in the sense of "caused to stand" or "erected"; either possibility is quite reasonable.

SEVEN: Cp seven "ones" in Eph 4:4-6. Also, 7 ecclesias of Rev 2-3.

Examples of personification: riches (Mat 6:24); sin (Joh 8:34; Rom 5:21; 6:16); spirit (Joh 16:13); wisdom (Pro 3:13-15; 9:1); Israel (Jer 31:4,18); people of Christ (Eph 4:4,13; 5:23; Rev 19:7; 1Co 12:27; 2Co 11:2; Col 1:18,24).

What, specifically, are the "seven pillars" of the house of Wisdom? Various elaborations have been proposed:
¶ EA Stallworthy (in Logos, Aug and Sept, 1953) suggests the seven stages of development, after the introduction of Pro 1:1-7: (1) the exhortation to wisdom (Pro 1:8,9); (2) the resisting of evil (Pro 1:10-14); (3) the practical value of wisdom (Pro 1:15-33); (4) developing in understanding (Pro 2); (5) applying knowledge (Pro 3:1-10); (6) the trial of faith (Pro 3:11-20); and (7) constant vigilance (Pro 3:21-35).
¶ Waddoup relates the "seven pillars" to the seven aspects of the Spirit that were placed upon the Messiah-Christ in Isa 11:2: "The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him -- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD." All of these actually have easily-traceable counterparts in the Book of Proverbs: "To those who heed her call Wisdom has promised: (1) The spirit of the Lord: 'Turn you at my reproof: behold I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you' (Pro 1:23); (2) The spirit of wisdom: 'To know wisdom and instruction' (Pro 1:2); (3) The spirit of understanding: 'To perceive the words of understanding' (Pro 1:2); (4) The spirit of counsel: 'A wise man will hear, and will increase learning... unto wise counsels' (Pro 1:5); (5) The spirit of might: '...shall attain unto...' (Pro 1:5) ('for when I am weak, then am I strong'... 'strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man'); (6) The spirit of knowledge: 'My son, hear the instruction of thy father...' (Pro 1:8); and (7) The spirit of the fear of the Lord: 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction' (Pro 1:7)."

Pro 9:2

SHE HAS PREPARED HER MEAT AND MIXED HER WINE; SHE HAS ALSO SET HER TABLE: In general, the figures of meat and wine represent the good teaching of Wisdom that will be palatable and profitable (cp Isa 55:1,2 and Joh 6:51,55 for similar uses of the figures). As to the future, and the hope of the "house" of saints, cp the marriage feast of Christ (Mat 22:1-4; Isa 25:6).

SHE HAS PREPARED HER MEAT: Literally, "she has killed her killing" -- referring to a sacrifice (contrast the "sacrifice" of the woman "Folly" in Pro 7:14). Cp Christ's parable in Mat 22:3,4. And of course, the killing of the sacrifices under the Old Covenant points, practically uniformly, to the one perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the sins of the world; THIS is the true "sacrifice" that Wisdom has offered! "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1Co 5:7).

AND MIXED HER WINE: This refers to the practice of mixing wine with spices or with water (eg, Pro 23:30; Isa 5:22). Mixed wine could be the most intoxicating; thus, her wisdom is attractive. All the imagery lets the simple know that what Wisdom has to offer is marvelous. Spiritually, the love of Christ is compared to wine (Song 1:2,4).

SHE HAS ALSO SET HER TABLE: Reminiscent of the Passover meal: "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover" (Luk 22:8; cp Mat 26:17; Mar 14:12). Also, of Psa 23:5: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies."

"How complete is the preparation which God has made for us in the gospel of grace and life! The whole of the OT may be said to be a part of the history of his preparation. All his dealings with his ancient people, and his control of the heathen nations, were leading up to the one great issue -- the redemption of mankind by a life-giving Saviour. The NT continues the same account; the birth, the ministry, the life, the sorrows, the death, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the evangelizing work and the interpretive letters of the apostles, form the last part of the Divine preparation. And now everything is complete. The house is built, the table is spread, the wine outpoured. There is nothing which a guilty, sorrowing, striving, seeking soul can hunger or thirst for which it will not find at this heavenly feast. Mercy, full reconciliation, unfailing friendship, comfort, strength, hope, joy in God, everlasting life, -- everything is there" (Clarkson, Pulpit).

Pro 9:3

SHE HAS SENT OUT HER MAIDS: The messengers of the gospel (2Co 5:18-20).


Pro 9:4

Vv 4-6: Wisdom's invitation.

"LET ALL WHO ARE SIMPLE COME IN HERE!" SHE SAYS TO THOSE WHO LACK JUDGMENT: Notice how this invitation is precisely mirrored by that of Folly in v 16; the woman "Folly" is the counterfeit of the true woman "Wisdom". Cp also Luk 14:21: "Then the owner of the house... ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame'."

WHO LACK JUDGMENT: Literally, "to those who lack heart."

"Life is reduced to an alternative; there is clearly marked out for us all, at the beginning of our life, that all is one thing or the other, wisdom or folly. To these two voices, all the noise and tumult of life, and all the diverse voices in your own souls, may be reduced. They are all either the call of the wisdom of God [vv 3,4], or they are the call of folly, sense, and sin [vv 14-16]... Look at these two personified claimants -- Wisdom and Folly. Wisdom is closely connected with uprightness of heart. It is both an intellectual and a moral excellence. Wisdom has rectitude for an essential part of it, the fibre of its very being is righteousness and holiness. This wisdom is not only an attribute of the human soul. We rise to righteousness. If a man would be wise, it must be with a wisdom that was in God before it is in him. Our prayer should be, 'In Thy wisdom make us wise.' A further step has to be taken. Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. There, in that living person, is the highest embodiment of all wisdom. All which is not of God is the 'foolish woman.' All which does not inhere in Christ, and appeal to us through and from Him, is that clamorous and persistent voice which leads us all astray, if we listen to it. The world and sense -- these are her grossest forms. But there are less offensive forms besetting us all.

"Wisdom appeals to conscience. Folly appeals only to the sense of pleasure and the desire for its gratification. Both ask for your decision now. There is a strange tendency to put off decision. But it is an awful risk for a man to run. Every day that you live makes it less likely that you will choose. Every day that you live makes it harder for you to choose aright. Every day that you live takes away some of the power of resolving, and takes away some motive to resolve" (Maclaren).

Pro 9:5

COME, EAT MY FOOD AND DRINK THE WINE I HAVE MIXED: Compare this invitation with that of Rev 19:9: "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'"

Pro 9:6

LEAVE YOUR SIMPLE WAYS AND YOU WILL LIVE: Cp Pro 4:4,14,15; Jam 4:4; 2Co 6:17,18.

WALK IN THE WAY OF UNDERSTANDING: The verse hearkens back to the ideas of "way" and "life" that have been featured in earlier chapters. The food is indeed unto "life," for Wisdom is the tree of life: cf Pro 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4.

"But, in addition to the command to forsake the foolish, our text adds, 'And go in the way of understanding.' These two duties are indeed inseparable; for the first step out of the path of destruction is a step in the path of life; yet it is important that each should be particularly noticed, because we are too apt to content ourselves with a few feeble advances, a few superficial attainments in religion, as if the victory were complete when we are but girding on our armour for the warfare. It is not enough that we have learned that the ways of sin are ways of bitterness and folly; we must, in addition, learn what is the way of understanding: we must walk in the paths of righteousness. And infinitely important is it that we should go in this way of understanding; for by no other path can we arrive at the kingdom of heaven. The language of the text shows us that religion involves active and zealous exertion. There is one path to be forsaken, and another to be discovered and pursued. To forsake means more than careless indifference, or partial reformation, or a temporary suspension of our evil habits. It is a fixed and determined resolution" (BI).

Pro 9:7

Vv 7-12: Pro 9 begins and ends with the respective dinner invitations of the two women. In between are vv 7-12, which some scholars are inclined to reject -- or at least discount -- as a later addition, out of keeping with what otherwise is considered the main theme of the chapter. But the writer in WBC argues for their inclusion in the chapter: "While the interruptive character of vv 7–12 was recognized, it may be also asked if it is a bias on the part of the modern reader to characterize these verses so. If they are an insertion, are they really interruptive? What was the intention behind this? It is a delicate operation to determine the 'intention' in such a case. Ultimately we tend to ascribe motives, always based of course on the thrust of these verses, to another hand. Indeed, we may rightly assume that the architect of this final contrast regarded, or would have regarded, the intervening verses as somehow necessary or at least fitting. In that case, can we legitimately conclude that they are an insertion? Could they not have been there from the beginning? Our concept of logic and esthetics is modern and has its own presuppositions. We cannot glibly assume that the ancients operate along the same lines. The importance of v 10 on 'fear of the Lord' may indeed be the pivot of the chapter in ways that the modern interpreter does not fully comprehend. The problems and joys of instruction, highlighted in vv 7–9, are surely the concern of the sage. The theme of personal responsibility in v 12 is congenial to the wisdom enterprise. This is a final unit to the variegated but passionate instructions in Pro 1–9. Should it be chopped up?" And he concludes, "Although it does not fit into the invitation scene, vv 7–12 are not to be separated from Wisdom."

This section, then, separates the invitation of "Wisdom" in vv 1-6, and the invitation of "Folly" in vv 13-18. Here one can see the descriptions of the scoffer (vv 7-8a) and the wise man (vv 8b-11) as samples of the two responses to the invitation of "Wisdom". Then v 12 summarizes the two responses, with the last phrase there introducing the woman "Folly" -- who is herself a great "mocker" of "Wisdom"!

WHOEVER CORRECTS A MOCKER INVITES INSULT; WHOEVER REBUKES A WICKED MAN INCURS ABUSE: The scoffer has been met before in the book. He is the person who will not live by wise and moral teachings, and -- moreover -- is not content to let others do so without his cynical mocking. The fool's folly has closed his mind to correction (cf Mat 13:12-16). Jesus warned of such men: "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs" (Mat 7:6). Cp Pro 23:9: "Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words."

A practical example of mockers and scorners is found in 2Ch 30:10: when righteous king Hezekiah invites the men of Israel to Jerusalem for a renewal Passover, "the couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but the people scorned and ridiculed them." This is like the parable of Jesus: when the King invites guests to His Son's wedding banquet: "They paid no attention and went off -- one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them" (Mat 22:5,6).

INSULT... ABUSE: The first word means "dishonor" or "disgrace." It is paralleled with "mumo", translated "abuse." The latter term means "blemish," although some would emend the text to read "reproach." The MT is figurative but not impossible to interpret: 'Whoever tries to rebuke a wicked person will receive only insults and [perhaps] physical attack.'

"Perhaps we are surprised to be advised not to reprove a scorner? It is a Christian duty to reprove the unfruitful works of darkness, and to have no fellowship with them (Eph 5:11), but Jesus also said, 'Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.' Wilful scorners will laugh the Lord's servants to scorn and use them deceitfully. To persist in reproof of such may do more harm than good. Such cases should not be pursued. Jesus said, 'Let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind' (Mat 15:14). Because they are likely to 'lay a snare for you in the gate' (Isa 29:21), beware!" (Waddoup).

Pro 9:8

DO NOT REBUKE A MOCKER OR HE WILL HATE YOU; REBUKE A WISE MAN AND HE WILL LOVE YOU: Cp Amo 5:10; Luk 16:14; 18:9. "To one of wide experience this might be taken to imply that there are very few wise men. Even with a little wisdom, however, we may take the lesson to heart and become wiser. It is unquestionably true that the man who shows us where we can improve, serves us better than the one who gives indiscriminate praise. So even a rebuke may be a gesture of love evoking the gratitude of a truly wise man" (PrPr).

REBUKE A WISE MAN AND HE WILL LOVE YOU: "Let a righteous man strike me -- it is a kindness; let him rebuke me -- it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it" (Psa 141:5). "Rebuke a discerning man, and he will gain knowledge" (Pro 19:25). "Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear" (Pro 25:12).

Pro 9:9

INSTRUCT A WISE MAN AND HE WILL BE WISER STILL; TEACH A RIGHTEOUS MAN AND HE WILL ADD TO HIS LEARNING: The parallelism of the two phrases points to the equation of the "wise" man with the "righteous" man. A wise man will continue learning from God all his life; he will "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2Pe 3:18). Elsewhere the book of Proverbs declares, "How good is a timely word" (Pro 15:23), and "Wounds from a friend can be trusted" (Pro 27:6), the "wounds" referring to the "open rebuke" of the previous verse.

INSTRUCT A WISE MAN AND HE WILL BE WISER STILL: "President Lincoln once said that he was willing to learn from any one who could teach him anything. Dore seems to have had a like spirit. Some years ago, a clever young Englishwoman -- something more than an amateur artist -- was brought one day by some friends to Dore's studio. Unlike most Englishwomen, this was a very impulsive and irrepressible young person; and she offered the frankest criticism of all the works around. The picture on which Dore was then engaged occupied her attention particularly; and not content with recommending various improvements, she suddenly caught the brush from the artist's hand, and saying coolly, 'Don't you think, Mr Dore, that a touch of this kind would be an improvement there?' she actually altered the artist's work with her own audacious fingers. Her friends were rather astonished, and one of them afterwards took occasion to apologise to him for her impulsiveness. Dore seemed only surprised to find that any apology or explanation should be considered necessary. He thought there was some justice in the suggestion thus practically made, and it seemed to him quite natural that one artist should help another. It did not seem to have occurred to him that there was anything presumptuous in the volunteer effort of the young beginner to lend a helping hand to one of the most celebrated and successful artists of the day" (BI).

"The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism" (NV Peale). Criticism should always leave people with the feeling that they have been helped.

Pro 9:10

THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM: Very similar to Pro 1:7; thus the whole introductory section of Proverbs (Pro 1--9) begins AND ends with the same observation. "Beginning" here is a different Hebrew word: " 'Beginning' [in Pro 1:7] is 'reshith' -- the sw as in Gen 1:1: 'In the beginning God created...' It refers to foundations, to the groundwork rather than to the time of commencement. But in Pro 9:10 -- where, once again, 'The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom', 'beginning' is a different word ('techillah'), which does mean 'commencement'. So the fear of the LORD is to be considered not only as the commencement but also as the very basis of wisdom. How comprehensive, then, is this 'fear'! (Waddoup).

AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE HOLY ONE IS UNDERSTANDING: The word is in the plural -- "Kadoshim" (literally "holy ONES"). But probably it has nothing to do with "angels", but rather was meant to signify the majestic nature of the one LORD -- being an example of what OT scholars call "the plural of majesty". Yahweh is "the ALL-HOLY One!"

Pro 9:11

FOR THROUGH ME YOUR DAYS WILL BE MANY, AND YEARS WILL BE ADDED TO YOUR LIFE: Cp Pro 3:2,16,18; 4:10,13; 8:35. See Hezekiah in Isa 38:1-8, and the kingdom age in Isa 65:20.

Pro 9:12

IF YOU ARE WISE, YOUR WISDOM WILL REWARD YOU; IF YOU ARE A MOCKER, YOU ALONE WILL SUFFER: Cf Job 22:2,3. These words anticipate James' warnings that the words we speak will haunt us through life (eg, Jam 3:1-12). Wiersbe bluntly warns: "Verse 12 reminds us that the Lord wants to build godly character into our lives, and we can't borrow character from others or give our character to them. This is an individual matter that involves individual decisions. Belonging to a fine family, attending a faithful church, or studying in an excellent school can't guarantee the building of our character. Character is built on decisions, and bad decisions will create bad character." And Kidner writes: "This is perhaps the strongest expression of individualism in the Bible. Such statements (cf Eze 18; Gal 6:4,5) are not meant to deny that people benefit or suffer from each other's characters (cf Pro 10:1), but to emphasize that the ultimate gainer or loser is the man himself. Your character is the one thing you cannot borrow, lend or escape, for it is you. Cf Pro 14:10."

This passage provides a possible OT background to the parable of Mat 12:43-45. The LXX version has an interesting addition: it says of the man who, like the hostile Pharisees, depends on lies: "He goes through a dry desert, and a land appointed to drought, and he gathers barrenness with his hands." This is strikingly similar to Jesus' picture of the evil spirit in the wilderness.

Pro 9:13

Vv 13-18: The call of the woman "Folly" is vividly contrasted with that of "Wisdom" (vv 1-6). The contrasts between these sections are rich with subtle nuances -- so alike, yet so profoundly different! (So the wolf dresses like the lamb: cp Mat 7:15; Act 20:29; Rev 13:11!) It is a contrast that was familiar to the apostle Paul: "We cannot drink the cup of the Lord, AND the cup of demons" (1Co 9:21).

"I am strongly inclined to interpret the passage of Folly as an allegorical personage set in contrast with Wisdom -- Folly under all the forms and phases which it assumes in the world; all being included under this personification that entices from the gates of that house where Wisdom receives and entertains her guests. The characteristics of this second personage are the reverse of those of Wisdom. They are ignorance and thoughtless emptiness: what is wanting in solid and substantial ideas is made up by loud clamour and noisy importunity. She, too, hath builded her house. She, too, hath provided her entertainment. She, too, invites her guests. The houses are over against each other -- on opposite sides of the way. Wisdom's is on the right hand; Folly's on the left. They are thus in the vicinity of each other; it being the very purpose of Folly to prevent, by her allurements, those who pass by from entering the doors of Wisdom. Each addresses her invitations, and uses -- but from very different motives -- every art of persuasion. Folly presents all her captivating allurements to the lusts and passions of corrupt nature; and she shows her skill in seduction by holding out, in promise, the secret enjoyment of forbidden sweets. There are pleasures in sin. It is from these that its temptations arise" (Wardlaw, BI).

Constable puts it quite simply: "In view of what God has revealed so far about wisdom, any person can determine just how wise or how foolish he or she may be. This is not a mystery. It has little to do with intelligence but everything to do with commitment. If a person recognizes divine revelation as such and decides to understand it, submits to it, and lives by it the best he can, he is wise. On the other hand, if he rejects God's Word and decides to live his life with no regard to what God has said, he is a fool."

THE WOMAN FOLLY IS LOUD; SHE IS UNDISCIPLINED AND WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE: The NETn says: "The text of v 13 has been difficult for translators. The MT has, 'The foolish woman is boisterous, simplicity, and knows not what.' The LXX reads, 'A foolish and impudent woman comes to lack a morsel, she who knows not shame.' The Syriac has, 'a woman lacking in discretion, seductive.' The Targum of Pro 9:13 translates it, 'a foolish woman and a gadabout, ignorant, and she knows not good.' The Vulgate has, 'a woman foolish and noisy, and full of wiles, and knowing nothing at all'."

THE WOMAN FOLLY IS LOUD: Even stronger: she is "brash" (NET), or "riotous", even "stormy" (WBC) or "turbulent". The description here is decidedly unflattering, when set alongside the dignified appeal of "Wisdom's" maids (v 3).

SHE IS UNDISCIPLINED: Or "foolish", paying no attention to instruction or correction. This Hebrew word is closely connected to the word for "simple" in v 16. "Folly" the prostitute is, in her own way, as "mindless" and "ignorant" as the youths she is attempting to seduce!

AND WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE: Probably referring to MORAL ignorance, as is usual in Proverbs.

Pro 9:14

SHE SITS AT THE DOOR OF HER HOUSE, ON A SEAT AT THE HIGHEST POINT OF THE CITY: In Pro 7:10-12, this same woman Folly was prowling the streets, and frequenting the dark corners, so as to lure her victim. Now she is masquerading as the woman Wisdom -- sitting at the door of her house [although a "great lady" would scarcely sit at her own door, calling to those who pass by!], and also calling from the highest point of the city (Pro 9:3).

Pro 9:15

CALLING OUT TO THOSE WHO PASS BY: The KJV's "passengers", as used here, is altogether archaic now (it is so used also in the KJV of Eze 39:11,14,15); we would say "passengers" are those who rides by, in a car or other vehicle, whereas here the word means simply "those who pass by" (NIV).

WHO GO STRAIGHT ON THEIR WAY: An important clue to the meaning of this verse is the word "yashar", translated "straight". Those who go "straight" on their way are the upright, or righteous. They are not like the foolish young man described in Pro 7:8, who paced back and forth, and "hung out" near the house of the adulterous woman, until he found some "action". No, this verse gives the distinct impression that, in this instance, "Folly" the whore is fighting a desperate but losing battle. Her would-be "suitors" seem to have no interest in her blandishments; they are "passing her by", for they are intent on making their way to the house of "Wisdom" instead! One feel likes cheering!

Pro 9:16

"LET ALL WHO ARE SIMPLE COME IN HERE!" SHE SAYS TO THOSE WHO LACK JUDGMENT: The appeal of "Folly" can sound suspiciously like the appeal of "Wisdom" (v 4). Be warned! To the eye of the "simple" the words of both wisdom and folly can appear to be the same, but with what totally different consequences!

But perhaps there is yet a further subtlety here: it may be that these young men -- who seem so intent on reaching the house of "Wisdom" -- are not "simple" at all, but rather wise. It may be that the desperate woman "Folly" is attempting to brand them as "foolish" and "simple" for being interested in that which is good and true. Henry writes, "She calls them 'simple' and 'wanting understanding,' and therefore courts them to her school, that they may be cured of the restraints and formalities of their religion. This is the method of the stage, where the sober young man that has been virtuously educated is the fool in the play, and the plot is to make him seven times more a child of hell than his profane companions, under colour of polishing and refining him, and setting him up for a wit and a beau. What is justly charged upon sin and impiety (v 4) that it is folly, is here very UNJUSTLY retorted upon the ways of virtue; but the day will declare who are the fools."

Pro 9:17

"STOLEN WATER IS SWEET; FOOD EATEN IN SECRET IS DELICIOUS!": Cp 1Co 15:32 and Isa 22:13: "Let us eat and drink, for then we die!" This verse describes "all the illicit desires of man" (CPro 162). "Wisdom offered flesh and wine to her guests; Folly offers bread and water. Wisdom invites openly to a well furnished table; Folly calls to a secret meal of barest victuals. What the former offers is rich and satisfying and comforting; what Vice gives is poor and mean and insipid. Yet this latter has the charm of being forbidden; it is attractive because it is unlawful... There are many things which we do not care to have so long as they are within our reach, but which are clothed with a sudden attractiveness directly they are shut out from us. If we see a notice, 'Trespassers will be prosecuted,' we feel an irritating restraint, although we have had no previous desire to enter the path that it blocks. Innumerable fruits grew in Eden, but the one forbidden fruit excited the greatest longing of appetite. Advertisers sometimes head their placards with the words, 'Don't read this!' -- judging that to be the best way to call attention to them. If you say, 'Don't look!' everybody is most anxious to look. To put a book on [a banned list] is the surest means of advertising it" (Pulpit).

But notice that, instead of the meat from "fellowship offerings" (Pro 7:14), which the adulterous woman "Folly" offered earlier, there now seems to be ONLY bread and water -- a poor diet indeed, no matter how she tried to dress it up! Has she now fallen on hard times? Has her "business" dried up?

STOLEN WATER IS SWEET: On this Kidner comments, rather perceptively: "Eve had to be convinced that the sweetness would survive the stealing [Gen 3:1-6]; we have fallen far enough to be persuaded that [the sweetness] DEPENDS on [the stealing]. If v 10 is the motto of the wise ['The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom'], then here is the motto of the sophisticated."

STOLEN WATER: "Wells and fountains of waters in those hot countries were very valuable, and were the property of particular persons; about which there were sometimes great strife and contention; and they were sometimes sealed and kept from the use of others; see Gen 26:18-22; Song 4:12" (Gill). Symbolically, stolen waters are a corruption of the pure "waters" of marital joy in Pro 5:15-18, and perhaps also of the "water of life" in Rev 7:17.

FOOD EATEN IN SECRET: Generally, of course, this is the "bread of life" (Joh 6:48-50) corrupted by sin. The Hebrew is, more literally, the "bread of secrecies". It could mean "bread [eaten in] secret places" (ie, referring to location); or it could mean "bread [gained through] secrets" (ie, referring to source), the secrecies being metonymical for theft. The latter makes a better parallelism in this verse, for bread (equated with "sex" here!) which has been gained secretly would be like water which has been stolen. (For the correspondence between "eating" and "having sex", cp Pro 30:20: "This is the way of an adulteress: She eats and wipes her mouth and says, 'I've done nothing wrong'." This is, admittedly, an especially vile and disgusting image -- in a couple of different ways. But there it is -- in the pages of Scripture -- and we ought not to ignore it altogether; it is tawdry, it is lewd, it might even be called "pornographic"; but it does vividly describe the woman who should be avoided at all costs. And in that it has some merit!)

"One of the things to note about Madam Folly is that she too is skilled in the use of proverbs. When she seeks to seduce her prey she quotes this proverb: 'Stolen water is sweet; And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.' While Dame Wisdom speaks only truth, Madam Folly brazenly proclaims folly. She does not apologize for sin or seek to excuse it. As a matter of fact, she flaunts sin, for it is because a relationship with her is illicit that makes it so appealing. Stolen water, she suggests, is sweeter than 'drinking from your own well' (cf Pro 5:15). It is sinning that is exciting to the fool, and she does not hesitate to capitalize on this.

"Madison Avenue has nothing to teach Madam Folly. She knows that it pays to advertise. Her methods are no different, and not one whit inferior, to those of the most sophisticated advertising agency. Basically she appeals to the fleshly desires of her victim. She offers him a sumptuous meal and a sexual encounter which matches his wildest fantasies. She assures him that there is no danger of being caught. She emphasizes momentary, short-lived pleasure, and minimizes long-range consequences.

"Have you consciously analyzed the advertising on the billboards and television screen lately? Everything from deodorant to dishwashing soap is sold by women who are clad in sensual garb, who appeal to our basest appetites. We are encouraged to satisfy our desires now, and not to wait until later. We are given little plastic cards so we do not have to wait for what we want, and we are not encouraged to consider that month after month we will end up paying for something we really didn't need. Madison Avenue and Madam Folly both would have us live today as though there were no tomorrow, offering us short-term thrills at very painful and long-term prices" (Deff).

Sin has a thrill -- especially for the young man -- that seduces him. But he never considers the bitter aftertaste: "in the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper" (Pro 23:31,32). The folly of his inexperience blinds him to the future. It is fascinating to realize that Hollywood never glamorizes marital sex. It would seem that would be totally contrary to its mission, the gratifying of the lusts of the flesh, and of the most degraded public appetites. Hollywood is committed to the lie of this very proverb -- that fornication, adultery, and sodomy are pleasures to be enjoyed without fear. Stolen waters are sweet! Secret bread is pleasant!

Because of this lie, the adulteress always has the advantage over the faithful wife. The sinful fantasy of the forbidden unknown creates a curious craving that wrecks the souls and lives of men. The strange woman always looks better, speaks better, kisses better, and makes love better... and so the foolish young man is deluded -- until it is too late (Pro 7:10-27)! It is all an illusion! The grass is NOT greener on the other side of the fence. Once you enter the forbidden field, you find it no better than your own, but now you have committed a horrible crime that cannot be undone (Pro 6:20-35).

Pro 9:18

BUT LITTLE DO THEY KNOW THAT THE DEAD ARE THERE, THAT HER GUESTS ARE IN THE DEPTHS OF THE GRAVE: See Pro 2:18 (and the notes there); Pro 5:5; Rev 3:1 ("You have a reputation of being alive -- 'a name to live': AV -- but you are dead.")

DEAD: "Rephaim": sw Pro 2:18n; cp also Psa 88:10; Isa 26:14,19.

IN THE DEPTHS OF THE GRAVE: "Sheol" -- the hidden, or covered place -- obviously the grave, as in Pro 5:5; 7:27. The text has "in the depths of Sheol". The parallelism stresses that those who turn to this way of life are ignorant and doomed. It may signal a literal death lying ahead in the not too distant future, but it is more likely an analogy. The point is that the life of folly, a life of undisciplined, immoral, riotous living, runs counter to God's appeal for wisdom and leads to ruin. That is the broad way that leads to destruction.

The scene is familiar to all of us: the man dying of thirst has crawled and clawed his way through the desert to find, at last, a water hole. He drinks eagerly. But only after he has satisfied his desperate thirst does he notice that dry bones and rotting corpses are strewn about nearby. The well is poisoned! What a shock! What a disaster! But what irony!

A beautiful woman seduces a man to have sex outside marriage. Her attractiveness, flattery, and willingness overwhelm him. He cannot believe his good fortune -- this exciting and erotic woman has invited him home to her bed. But as he awakes from his night of "pleasure", he discovers the appalling truth: her house is full of dead bodies, they are lying all about them! He who sleeps with an immoral woman discovers that he is sleeping with all her previous partners -- and there have been dozens, hundreds! What he thought was a bed of pleasure is a morgue, a funeral parlor, a cemetery -- all around are the corpses of her previous victims, and now he knows: he will soon join them in "Sheol", the grave! His fantasy "love story" has become a "horror flick", and he is "starring"! 'Here I am, the next victim!'

The LXX adds to the end of v 18: "But turn away, linger not in the place, neither set your eye on her: for thus will you go through alien water; but abstain from alien water, drink not from an alien fountain, that you may live long, that years of life may be added to you."


Clifford (in "Woman Wisdom" 27,28) has described appropriately the transition from the extended introduction of Proverbs to the following collections of individual proverbs: "Pro 1–9 have helped readers re-imagine morality. The chapters teach that Wisdom herself is more important than any single wise action. The disciple must first desire her and pursue her over any good. She lies within their grasp. Pro 8; 9 have promised that the disciple can live in Wisdom's house. The following chapters will suggest that living with her will be partly through pondering the sayings in Pro 10–31. We will see that most of the sayings are not immediately obvious, that they challenge the reader to read and think, that is, to practice discernment. Living in Wisdom's house is as challenging and rewarding as living with one's spouse" (cited in WBC).

Previous Index Next