The Call of Wisdom and the Call of Folly
A sermon on Proverbs 8 and 9 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 10/23/05
Have you had this experience? Your cell phone rings. You pick it up and are about to say hello when your other phone, your land line rings. A family member answers and says, “It’s for you.”
How do you decide which call to take? Two people are calling you. Two people are trying to reach you. Two people are trying to get your attention. You can hear them both crying out to you through the receivers. Which call do you take?
That’s the situation we find in Proverbs 8 and 9. Two calls. One will lead you astray. The other is the way to life. Which will you take?
In Chapter 8 Wisdom, personified as a woman, calls out. She is in sharp contrast to the adulterous woman in chapter 7, who also calls out to those passing. The adulterous woman wanders the streets, looking for her next victim, using smooth words. She lies to her victim to get him to lie with her. She looks appealing, but she invites him to a death trap.
Chapter 9 changes the image a bit, but heightens the contrast between the appeals. The simple man, the gullible one, receives two invitations to two very different meals. One is hosted by Lady Wisdom and one by Lady Folly. One leads to life and the other to death. Thus all ultimately depends on the choice. And this isn’t like the famous short story, “The Lady or the Tiger?” There too the story ends with the protagonist making a choice between two doors, one leading to joy and the other to death. But in that story, he doesn’t know which door opens the way to a beautiful bride, and which to the deadly tiger. He has information, but it may or may not be accurate. In Proverbs, on the other hand, Wisdom is standing right there, saying, “This is the door to life! Open it!”
Two doors. Or two phone calls. Two appeals. Which will you choose? To choose one is life. The other is death. And you know which is which. Yet the call to death is attractive, appealing. How will you guard your heart, how will you discipline yourself, so that your listen to the right call, and spurn the other?
Our outline this morning is simple: one heading for each chapter:
Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud. Proverbs 8:1-3
Verse 1 implicitly asks, “Can’t you hear? Don’t you hear her call?” She’s calling out! Not only that, but she stands where everyone is sure to see her, where she is sure to be heard: on the heights, beside the way, beside the gates, at the entrances of the city.
Note in particular one noted location: “at the crossroads” or literally “between the paths.” Remember the image we have seen several times of a fork in the road. You are faced with turning to the left or the right; you must choose the path of death or the path of life. This time, Lady Wisdom is standing right there, telling you which path to take. There can be no doubt which is which.
To whom does she call?
To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. 5 O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. Proverbs 8:4-5
She calls all men, but especially the simple, the gullible. Remember, the gullible are not yet fools (see sermon). Instead, they are easily influenced. They are about to make a choice that will lead them one way or the other. So they need direction.
The gullible are her audience. But note that she also calls out to fools themselves. They are on the path to death, but are not dead yet. They still have an opportunity to turn.
What does she say?
Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right, 7 for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. 8 All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. 9 They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. 10 Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold. Proverbs 8:6-10
Note the characteristics of what comes from her lips:
She also tells us what her speech is not:
This is what all men need to focus on! They need to hear truth, they need to hear what is right. Each person has those two phones, with voices crying out. Listen to this phone! As Paul says in Philippians 4:8:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things. (NIV)
After hearing of her audience and her speech, verses 12-16 tell us more about her character:
"I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. 13 The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. 14 I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. 15 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; 16 by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.
Note: She is the source of all justice on the earth, as well as being prudent, having wise counsel. I think we would anticipate those statements upon thinking about wisdom.
But verse 13 contains an idea that’s contrary to the common assumptions in our culture. Here, the author picks up again on the central theme of the fear of the Lord. Remember Proverbs 1:7, the theme of the entire book:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Thus, verse 13 is saying that the fear of the Lord – that is, the beginning of knowledge – is to hate evil, to hate pride, arrogance, and perverted speech - that is, to hate the call of the adulterous wife in chapter 7. Indeed, the fear of the Lord is to hate the temptation to follow any evil, to hate any voice that calls you to take the path of death.
Furthermore, the fear of the Lord is to hate any manifestations of pride, any urgings to take the path to death, that are in you.
Our culture downplays this. We’re told it’s ok to try to live up to a certain standard, but that we must not hate appeals to something different. “Be tolerant! That’s not evil. That’s just another choice, another lifestyle.”
Do you hate the temptation to evil? Jesus did. Remember what Jesus says to Satan after his third temptation, after Satan offers Him all the kingdoms of this world – without His having to go through the cross – if He will only bow down and worship Satan. Jesus says in Matthew 4:10, “Be gone, Satan!” Similarly, when Peter tells Jesus that He need not suffer and die, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:33).
That should be our practice. When you pick up the wrong telephone receiver, as soon as you begin to hear the appeal, you should hate it. You should put it down. You should despise it. Despite the attraction of the offer, we must learn to hate the call to evil, the call away from God, and to love true wisdom, the appeal to the path of life.
Verses 17 to 21 detail what Lady Wisdom offers:
I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. 18 Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. 19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. 20 I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, 21 granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries.
What is the result of listening to her, of following her? Verse 18 tells us: riches and honor. Is she saying that being wise will inevitably lead to earthly riches? No, for she says her followers will have “enduring wealth and righteousness.” We know from the book of Proverbs itself that earthly wealth is fleeting:
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. Proverbs 23:5 NIV
Jesus tells us the same:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:19-20
Given these verses, enduring wealth can only be eternal, not temporal. The inheritance you gain from Wisdom is guaranteed, because you receive it ultimately in the next life, not this life.
Note another key characteristic of Wisdom’s offer in verse17: Those who seek diligently find her. James underlines this truth:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5
So far we’ve seen that Wisdom is calling to you. She has put herself where you are sure to see and hear her. You will find her – just turn your attention to her voice. Her words are true and right. Her words lead to true riches, enduring riches. So love her! Listen to her! Seek her! Reject the other phone call! Indeed, hate the other phone call!
Verses 22-31 answer another question: What are her origins?
"The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.
Who does Wisdom sound like in these verses? Consider:
Who does she sound like? She sounds a lot like Jesus Himself. And over the centuries, a number of interpreters have argued that she is indeed Jesus.
However, there are some important differences between Lady Wisdom and Jesus. In verses 24 and 25, Wisdom says, “I was brought forth.” She was born. But Christ is the eternal Son. Furthermore, there verses describe Wisdom as a witness to creation, but Christ is much more than a witness. He is the Creator Himself (John 1:3).
So Wisdom in this chapter is more properly called a type of Christ, a picture of Christ, rather than Christ Himself. She is a type of Christ like Melchizedek, like Joseph, like Judah, like the ram in Genesis 22, like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 15). All of these foreshadow the person or work of Jesus in some way; each one provides a picture of Him, but He Himself is far superior to all of them.
For the purposes of this chapter, the key point is: God’s Wisdom is ancient and constant. In contrast to worldly wisdom, which changes with the fads of the most recent year, or the fads of the most recent century, God’s Wisdom has always been the same, and will always be the same. We are subject to chronological snobbery – thinking that things that are new are necessarily better than things that are old. But Wisdom says, “The way to true life hasn’t changed. Mankind hasn’t changed. I’m calling you to the only path to life, the only path that has ever existed. Listen to me!”
The chapter concludes in verses 32-36 detailing the choice presented to each one of us:
"And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. 33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. 34 Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. 35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, 36 but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death."
After the description of Wisdom, this is the only logical conclusion. Listen to her!
Note the image in verse 34 of standing at her gates, waiting at her doors, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to enter in. This verse :provides a transition to the next chapter, where Wisdom sends out invitations to her house.
In chapter 8, the two calls are implicit; we have to look back to chapter 7 to see the other call, and the parallels, though present, are somewhat subtle. In chapter 9, the two calls, and the parallels between them, are made as explicit as possible. Clearly, Folly is imitating Wisdom, trying to make her appeal sound similar. Like the two doors in “The Lady or the Tiger,” she tries to make her door look like that of Wisdom. But the differences are huge!
Wisdom’s call is described in verses 1 to 6, while Folly’s appears in verses 13 to 18. Let’s look at these side by side to draw out the similarities and differences:
Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. 2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. 3 She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town. Proverbs 9:1-3
13 The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive ( or totally gullible) and knows nothing. 14 She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, 15 calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way. Proverbs 9:13-15
Both ensure that their call goes out from high, prominent places; both send out cries, invitations. But Wisdom has built a wonderful house. She has worked hard, making pillars, constructing her house, then preparing a rich, luscious banquet by slaughtering animals and preparing wine. Folly has done nothing. She has not prepared a house for her guests, nor has she prepared a meal. There is no true sustenance there. While Wisdom works, Folly sits on a seat. The word translated “seat” is the normal word for “throne.” Indeed, chairs were uncommon until a few centuries ago. Even in 16th century England, a man promoted to the rank of Professor would receive in recognition a literal chair – and that was likely the first chair he ever owned. So by sitting, Folly is exalting herself, saying how great she is.
The next verses in the two accounts are identical:
"Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" Proverbs 9:4a
"Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" Proverbs 9:16a
To him who lacks sense she says, Proverbs 9:4b
And to him who lacks sense she says, Proverbs 9:16b
But the invitations themselves could not be more different. Wisdom says,
"Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.” Proverbs 9:17
This is a genuine invitation to what will give life, to her wonderful, valuable feast, to true bread and true drink. As Jesus says,
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. John 6:55
But Folly simply calls out,
"Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." Proverbs 9:17
She offers illicit pleasures, and bases their appeal on the fact that they are illicit! They are pleasant because they are wrong! There is indeed something in us that wants to break rules. There is something in us that wants to taste what is forbidden. The adulteress is appealing in part because she is promised to another.
But note the contrast between this offer and the invitation of Lady Wisdom. Folly only offers the breaking of rules, stolen water (a sexual image – see last week’s sermon). Wisdom, on the other hand, offers a full, lovely meal with wine. Folly offers a prison diet.
Wisdom’s final appeal states the final end of accepting her invitation: Life itself.
“Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight." Proverbs 9:6
The narrator has to sum up the final end of accepting Folly’s invitation, for she, intending to deceive, would never do so:
18 But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. Proverbs 9:18
So there are two calls. One leads to life and the other to death. To which will you listen? There are two phone calls – which do you take?
The call of Wisdom often rebukes us. If we have taken steps toward the house of Folly, if we have begun to listen to the wrong voice, following the call of Wisdom can be painful and humbling. Verses 7 to 12, separating the calls of Wisdom and Folly, address this situation, pointing out that the appeal of Wisdom is the right one to follow, even when doing so is painful.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. 9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.Proverbs 9:8-9
You receive two calls, one telling you how special you are, how perfect you are, how all your problems are someone else’s fault; the other rebuking you for the steps you have taken from the path of life. To which will you listen? Will you be a mocker, a scoffer, or will you be wise? Will you learn from a rebuke, or will you hate the one who offers it?
Verse 10 reminds us why we must listen to such rebukes:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10
All advice other than that which comes from the Lord is faulty. He is the source of all true knowledge. So we must desire to hear His words, even when they are painful, even when they rebuke us.
For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. 12 If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it. Proverbs 9:11
These final verses once again promise that no one loses by following true Wisdom. The rebuke may be painful, but the result is true life. Following God is great gain.
To whom will you listen? What voice will you hear? Which phone will you pick up?
Or consider another image: Imagine that there are only two radio stations. You have a radio with a dial, an analog radio. Both stations are broadcasting all the time, both are calling out to you. You have the tuner. You can turn the knob. What station are you listening to?
You must listen to Wisdom! You must block out that other station! The station of Wisdom includes the affairs of this world, but not the appeals of this world, information about the impact of folly and sin, but no the coaxing of folly and sin. Tune to the right station and pick it up clearly!
Consider: Where do you hear the cry of Folly? How does she get your ear?
For me as a young man, Folly gained access to my heart through music. From the time I was 11 or 12, I listened much to the popular music of my day. I knew many of the lyrics were foolish, but I argued, “The lyrics don’t matter. I just like the music.” But after listening dozens and hundreds of times to the same songs, the words permeated my thoughts and my heart. I was tuned to the wrong radio station- literally.
After almost destroying our marriage while overseas in the early 1980s, by God’s grace I finally saw this. When we returned to the US, I went through my record collection, and disposed of any that mocked God, or glorified sex, or exalted human love above all else. That didn’t leave much.
This was a key point in my life, a key choice. What would I fill my mind with? What would I tune out?
What is the equivalent decision for you? What will you do to tune that out, so that you might tune in to the cry of Wisdom?
Jesus’ disciples faced a similar choice. When He began to give hard sayings, such as, “No one can come to me unless it is granted Him by the Father ” (John 6:65), many disciples turned away. Did you hear that? Many turned away from the incarnate God, from Jesus Himself! They quit listening to Him. They didn’t like what they heard. They tuned into another station. They took other telephone call.
Jesus then turned to the Twelve and asked, “Do you want to go away as well?”
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." John 6:68
Jesus has the words of eternal life! They come from no other source. Wisdom speaks His words. Anything that draws you away from His words leads you to death, not life.
So how will you respond? When the words of Wisdom cut and hurt, will you quit listening? Have you already quit listening?
To Peter’s eyes, there was no alternative. There was only one source of life.
Just so here in Proverbs. There is only one way to life. Only one phone call offers truth. Only one radio station provides wisdom.
But many of us here this morning are tempted in another direction. “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil,” but if we don’t hate it, we will fall for it. Do you hate evil?
Consider Romans 6, where Paul uses yet another image of a contrasting pair, a choice of 2 alternatives. In this passage, the choice is between two slaveries. Paul says you are a slave. You will be a slave. The only question is: Whose slave are you?
For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:19-23
Two slaveries. You can be the slave of righteousness, attaining by God’s gift eternal life in Christ Jesus, or you can be the slave of sin, and reap its just reward: death. Shame.
One slavery is so horrid you should hate it. The other slavery is so wonderful you should love it.
Wisdom stands at the crossroads, at the fork in the path. She calls out, offering slavery to righteousness – and thus true life. She offers this for free, by the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Will you listen? Is He worth the price of tuning out all else? Will you take His call?
The wind and the waves obey Him. Will you?
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 10/23/05. Bruce Waltke’s The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Eerdmans, 2004) was exceptionally helpful throughout. Apart from this commentary, I would have taken a completely different approach to preaching this series. I followed his description of the parallels and differences between Lady Wisdom and Jesus. The information in the section on chairs also comes from him.
Copyright © 2004, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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