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Wisdom and Folly

It must be stressed that you really can't know how to read any biblical passage well (or even rightly) without knowing its surrounding context. Context is important and often critical to a right understanding of any text – biblical or otherwise. Words only have meaning by the company they keep. A word without a sentence doesn't tell us much. A passage or a verse out of its context can not only be misunderstood, but it can be applied in a disastrously wrong way because of the misunderstanding. We must not be people that handle God's word this way.

So with a passage like the first six verses of the ninth chapter of the book of Proverbs, if you look in the larger context, there is a running contrast at work. There are warnings against adultery in the second half of chapter six, followed by warnings against the adulterous woman in chapter seven. Then, in chapter eight, wisdom is personified as a noble and virtuous woman, and the blessings she bestows are extolled. Chapter nine continues this personification of wisdom and speaks of the way of wisdom. It then ends with a contrasting look at the way of folly. The way of folly is also personified as a woman – a woman who sounds an awful lot like the adulterous woman in chapter seven.

There is an intentional interplay and analogy between sexual purity and marital faithfulness and faithfulness to God in a righteous “fear of the Lord." There is also the contrasting analogy between adultery and idolatry, or more broadly between relational unfaithfulness and the folly of wickedness. And yes, the particularly qualities of a beautiful woman give power to the personification of both wisdom and folly, much as beauty might give power to both the adulterous and the chaste woman.

Both women, Wisdom and Folly, cry out with the same invitation: “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” (Wisdom in 9:4, Folly in 9:16). Both have their houses, and both offer food to those who will partake. In other words, both offer something desirable to the simple; both seek to entice the passerby with their wares. But Folly is loud and seductive, and knows nothing. The dead are in her house (9:18). Wisdom, on the other hand, has insight to offer and her ways are the ways of life (9:6). Both women offer to love those who love them, but in the larger context, Folly (like an adulterous) offers only temporary stolen pleasures that ensnare the soul. Wisdom offers a lifetime of riches and honor and righteousness and justice – an inheritance far better than gold and choicest silver.

But it has always been this way, hasn't it? This has ever been the choice confronting mankind since God brought us into being. Wisdom or Folly, Good or Evil, Life or Death, God or …. (hard to know what to put in opposition to that: the devil? self? the abyss of our eternal undoing?). Evil has always masqueraded as something good. The enemy of souls has ever taken the good things of God and given them a little demonic twist of deception, wrong timing and wrong context, or selfish motivation, and offered them up as an improvement upon God's ways and designs. And we are more often than not dupes enough to fall for it.

So remember Wisdom and Folly. Both are beautiful in a way. Both are desirable in a way. Both offer us things we want. But there's a deadly twist with Folly that will lead to our unravelling.

Simple creatures that we are, we should perhaps start each day asking God for the grace to choose Wisdom so that we might truly live.


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