One of the most popular philosophies in the late 20th century summarized its core teaching with the slogan, “You are what you choose.” This atheistic philosophy affirmed that what you choose is not important; rather the important matter is that you choose rather than following societal norms. Properly understood, “You are what you choose” summarizes the message of Proverbs. In contrast to existential philosophy, Proverbs emphasizes what you choose is vitally important. Proverbs sets forth two choices—the way of folly or the way of wisdom. The choice between the two has earthly and eternal consequences.
Proverbs contrasts two women, two invitations, two responses, and two destinies. Proverbs portrays both folly and wisdom as women seeking followers. Woman folly (Proverbs 7) works secretly at night, speaks seductively, and builds a house of death. In contrast, Woman Wisdom (Proverbs 8-9), addresses multitudes in the day, speaks spiritual truth, and builds a mansion of abundant life. What is wisdom? What characterizes wisdom? How does one attain wisdom?
First, wisdom graciously extends an invitation to all humans (Prov. 8:1-6). Lady Wisdom calls out to all people in the public arena. She calls out loudly. She speaks from the high places to travelers on the road. She encounters people at the crossroads, perhaps at the crossroads of decision-making. She invites people to follow her at the city gate, the location of commerce and legal decisions in the ancient world. She speaks to people entering the city. She addresses all humans (v. 4), yet particularly calls out to the inexperienced and foolish. Many versions translate “inexperienced” as “simple”—a Hebrew term describing the naïve and morally irresponsible. The term “foolish” describes an obstinate individual with a closed mind. Lady Wisdom demands a response, “Listen.” One gains wisdom by responding.
Second, lady folly also calls for a response (9:13-17). In terms of character, lady folly is rowdy, the translation of a Hebrew term descriptive of a restless, agitated, and boisterous individual. While Lady Wisdom calls out to the gullible (simple)—a term meaning “wide” indicating a person whose mind is so open they cannot discern truth. In terms of attitude, lady folly is arrogant. In the biblical period, few people owed chairs to sit. Sitting was the posture of a teacher. Lady folly sits as an arrogant teacher calling out to travelers. She offers the attractive invitation of forbidden sweet pleasures. Stolen water and secret bread likely refer to adultery (Prov. 5:15-18). The most dangerous aspect of lady folly’s invitation is that those who respond to her invitation become like her: gullible (simple) and lacking true knowledge.
Third, responding to Lady Wisdom’s invitation results in blessed consequences (Prov. 8:17-21, 32-36: 9:12,18). Wisdom calls out for a response. Individuals positively responding to Wisdom’s invitation by loving Wisdom (vv. 17, 21) and searching for Wisdom find not only wisdom (v. 17) but also blessings in life. The verbs “love” and “search” imply a diligent attitude. The terms further imply repentance described as “a hatred of evil” (v. 13) or a “turning from evil” (3:7; 4:27). Righteousness symbolizes the greatest blessing of Lady Wisdom. The primary blessing of Lady Wisdom is righteousness (vv. 18, 20). Righteousness describes an adherence to a moral standard. The value of wisdom exceeds solid gold and pure silver (v. 19), the highest form of wealth in Solomon’s day. Proverbs 8:32-36 describe two contrasts. Blessedness and favor with God are the consequences of a life lived in response to the call of wisdom. The rejection of wisdom results in harm and death.
Christ is Wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24). Choices have consequences. Wisdom (Christ) promises that individuals seeking her will find wisdom and life. People rejecting wisdom (Christ) discover harm and death.
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