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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 9

 

 

Introduction

Discourse 10. Solomon Here Deals With The Question Of The Naive, The Scorners And The Foolish (Proverbs 1:22). The Appeal Of Woman Wisdom Is Contrasted With The Allure Of Woman Folly, And In Between These Appeals Is A Warning Against Scorners (Proverbs 9:1-18).

In the opening reference to Woman Wisdom (Proverbs 1:18-33) in the Prologue the question was asked as to how long the naive would be naive, how long scorners would delight in scorning, and how long fools would hate knowledge. Now in this last chapter of the Prologue a final view is taken of the naive (Proverbs 9:4-6), scorners (Proverbs 9:7-8; Proverbs 9:12 b) and the foolish as represented by Woman Folly (Proverbs 9:13-18). Chapter 9 thus caps off the Prologue.

In this final discourse in the Prologue the deliberate contrast between Woman Wisdom and the ‘strange woman’, now named Woman Folly, is clearly brought out. In Proverbs 9:3 b Woman Wisdom ‘calls out from the highest places of the city’. In Proverbs 9:14 d, 15a, Woman Folly does the same, although obviously their appeal is different. Both cry out, ‘whoever is naive let him turn in here’ (Proverbs 9:3 c, 16a). Both speak to ‘him who is void of understanding’ (Proverbs 9:4 a, 16b), challenging for his response. Both offer ‘food’ (Proverbs 9:5 a, Proverbs 9:17 b), although whilst Woman Wisdom’s food is eaten publicly, on a large table open to all, Woman Folly’s is eaten in secret, no doubt on a table made for two. Whilst, however, Woman Wisdom calls on them to ‘live’ (Proverbs 9:6 a), Woman Wisdom is calling them to death and the grave world (Proverbs 9:18). And whilst Woman Wisdom has gone to great trouble to build a large house which is well provisioned for all (Proverbs 9:1-3 a) so that all can eat and celebrate together, Woman Folly simply sits at the door of ‘her house’ and makes her appeal to the individual. She offers ‘stolen waters’ (Proverbs 9:17) rather than ‘mingled (specially prepared) wine’ (Proverbs 9:2). Woman Wisdom is open and honest. Woman Folly is furtive and secretive.

The passage divides up into three subsections:

A The appeal of Woman Wisdom to the naive (Proverbs 9:1-6).

B The contrast between the scoffer, who does not like reproof, and the wise who heeds it, (a warning to the naive), centred round the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 9:7-12).

A The appeal of Woman Folly to the naive (Proverbs 9:13-18).


Verses 1-3

Preparation Of The Great Feast (Proverbs 9:1-3 a).

‘Wisdom has built her house,

She has shaped (hewn out) her seven pillars,

She has killed her beasts,

She has mingled her wine,

She has also furnished her table,

She has sent forth her maidens.’

Wisdom has, of course, been around from the beginning of creation (Proverbs 8:23). She does not use a house built by another, but has built her own house, one which is large and spacious and built around seven pillars, especially shaped by wisdom herself. Seven is the number of divine perfection (something recognised throughout the Ancient Near East). Houses would normally, at the most, have three pillars, so that her house is a splendid one, large enough for all. It is divinely established. One of the aims is to bring out Woman Wisdom’s status. She is one to be looked up to and heeded. It was the norm for those in high places to set up such feasts and dispense lavish hospitality (compare 1 Kings 4:22-23; Nehemiah 5:17-18; Esther 1:3-7; Daniel 5:1).

There is no suggestion that a temple is in mind, and it should be noticed that the beasts for the feast were ‘killed’ not ‘slaughtered sacrificially’. The Hebrew word is distinctive and another word is used where ‘slaying in sacrifice’ is intended. This is a rich person’s feast, not a religious celebration. And the stated aim is not specifically to worship God, but to ‘live and walk in the way of understanding’ (Proverbs 9:6). It is a call to feast at Wisdom’s table, and partake of her wisdom.

All that is needed for a great feast has been prepared. Animals have been killed, wine has been mingled (probably with honey and spices. In Isaiah 1:22 wine mixed with water was seen as spoiled), the table has been prepared (tables were only found in the houses of the wealthy), all is now ready. And now the maidens are sent out to invite people to the feast (maidens because extensions of Woman Wisdom). They represent all who proclaim wisdom (including Solomon (Proverbs 5:1), fathers and mothers (Proverbs 1:8), and ‘the wise’ (Proverbs 1:6)). They are ‘maidens’ in comparison with ancient Woman Wisdom. These are pure maidens, inviting men to hear, in contrast with Woman Folly who can only invite men to bed.

Those who respond to wisdom will find themselves satiated with good things. They partake freely of her beasts and her mingled wine. They can ‘obtain wine and milk without money and without price’ (Isaiah 55:1). In Isaiah too they could ‘hear -- and live’ (Isaiah 55:3).

It is tempting to see in this description a parallel with the words of Jesus, ‘Tell those who are bidden, behold I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready, come to the marriage feast’ (Matthew 22:4). He may well have had this passage in mind when He gave the parable, for He was offering the greatest wisdom of all.


Verses 1-6

The Appeal Of Woman Wisdom To The Naive (Proverbs 9:1-6).

After making full and generous preparations Wisdom calls on the naive to respond to and partake of her feast. ‘The naive’ might be better translated as ‘the seduceable’, those still open to wisdom, but also open to scorning and to folly. They are those whose views have not yet been determined. Their aims are not yet fully formed. They have not yet fixed on the basis for their way of living, and may therefore easily stray into waywardness (Proverbs 1:32). They may on the one hand be seduced and become scorners or fools, or they may on the other hand heed wisdom and become wise. They are the opposite of ‘the shrewd’ who have thought things through (Proverbs 14:15) and are crowned with knowledge (Proverbs 14:18), which as we know from Proverbs 2:6 is ‘the knowledge of God’ or from Proverbs 9:10 is the knowledge of the Holy One. Thus the naive are in danger of ‘acquiring folly’ (Proverbs 14:18). This appeal is therefore directed to them. The appeal is constructed chiastically:

A Preparation of the great feast (Proverbs 9:1-3 a).

B Appeal to the naive and those lacking in understanding (Proverbs 9:3-4).

A Partaking of the great feast (Proverbs 9:5-6).


Verse 3-4

Appeal To The Naive And Those Lacking In Understanding (Proverbs 9:3-4).

The emphasis now moves to Wisdom’s call to the naive, and to ‘those who are void of understanding’, that is, those who have not yet responded to Wisdom. .

She cries on the highest places of the city,

“Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”

As for him who is void of understanding,

She says to him,

Wisdom’s appeal is to the naive and those lacking in understanding. It is made on the highest places of the city, which is probably where her house is (otherwise she could not say, ‘turn in here’), and it is therefore heard by all. And it is an open invitation to all. All who will may come. Her desire is that they might ‘turn in here’.

(It will be noted that the divisions we have made are not fully satisfactory. The writer did not, of course, divide it up like this. But our purpose is to bring out the ongoing of the themes and their structure).


Verse 5-6

Partaking Of The Great Feast (Proverbs 9:5-6).

“Come, eat you of my bread,

And drink of the wine which I have mingled.

Leave off, you naive ones, and live,

And walk in the way of understanding.”

All are called to come and eat of her food (her bread included the slaughtered beasts - Proverbs 9:2), and drink of the wine that she has mingled. This food and wine was to be found in the words of YHWH (Proverbs 2:6) as revealed through their teachers. How different it was from the food of wickedness and wine of violence in Proverbs 4:17. They are to leave off whatever they are doing, their naive way of living, and come to partake of what she has provided so that they might truly live, and walk in the way of understanding. (In our Lord’s parables some refused to leave off, and were therefore rejected - Luke 15:16-24).

This call to ‘live’ has been prominent in the Prologue. As we have seen, it includes not only longevity (Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 9:11), but also wellbeing and spiritual prosperity (Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 3:8; Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 3:24-25; Proverbs 4:8-9; Proverbs 4:16; Proverbs 8:21). It is the way of security and peace (Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 3:24-25). And it is the opposite of entering into the grave world (Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18), for that is the threat made against those who reject wisdom. It is a ‘life more abundant’ (John 10:10), and it promises on death entrance into the presence and joy of YHWH (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15). And all this comes to the one who walks in the way of understanding.

These concepts of ‘living, and ‘walking in the way of understanding’ will in the next subsection be related to the choices made by ‘the wise’ and ‘the scorner’. There ‘understanding’ will be related to the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of the Holy One (Proverbs 9:10), whilst wisdom will reward her followers with long and prosperous lives (Proverbs 9:11). In contrast scorners will sink into hate.

We all have to choose which way we will go, whether in the broad way, the way of the naive, fools and scorners, or in the narrow way, the way of wisdom and life (Matthew 7:13-14), or, as here, the way of understanding.

Jesus, of course, could take this one step further. Wisdom could only offer knowledge, and understanding, and words, and shrewdness and discernment. Jesus Christ offered us Himself. ‘I am the Bread of Life,’ He said. ‘He who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’ (John 6:35).


Verses 7-12

The Contrast Between The Scorner, Who Does Not Like Reproof, And The Wise Man Who Heeds It, (a warning to the naive), Centred Round The Fear Of YHWH (Proverbs 9:7-12).

The prologue initially began with a warning concerning ‘the naive, -- scorners -- and the foolish’ (Proverbs 1:22). Here in this final chapter wisdom addresses the naive, for whom there is still hope (Proverbs 9:4-6), reveals the truth about scorners, for whom there is little hope (Proverbs 9:7-8), and epitomises the foolish in terms of Woman Folly (Proverbs 9:13-18). Thus the fact that Solomon deals with scorners here ties in with the pattern of the book. This not the first mention of scorners. They are mentioned in Proverbs 1:22 but from then on the scorners tend to be ignored, probably precisely because they were deemed unreachable. Up to this point all that we have learned further about them is that ‘God scorns the scorners’ (Proverbs 3:34). Now in giving his final warning he wants the naive to learn why that is so. It is because scorners react violently to rebuke. They will not examine themselves. They do not want anyone to suggest that their lives are not satisfactory.

So Solomon now moves on to emphasise the distinction between the wise, the followers of wisdom, and the scornful. Many cavil here at the interruption of two smooth comparisons (Proverbs 9:1-6; Proverbs 9:13-18) by something presented in a complete change of style. They do not see it as fitting. It conflicts with their sense of what is appropriate and artistically acceptable. And so they see it as ‘a later insertion’ which does not really fit into the text. But the ancients were more rugged in their presentations than we are, and we regularly find in their writings sudden changes like this which to us at first appear inexplicable. We must therefore give it fair consideration.

And in fact this subsection is not completely inexplicable. Solomon is bringing his prologue to an end and wants to do more than finish it with a nice, smooth parabolic contrast. He wants to cover ‘the naive -- the scorners -- and the foolish’ (Proverbs 1:22). So having spoken to the naive of ‘walking in the way of understanding’ (the way of the fear of YHWH and knowledge of the Holy One - Proverbs 9:10) he does not want to move simply into a comparison with the woman Folly. It would be nice and smooth, but it would not bring his readers up sharp, and face them with their choice. However, that is what he wants to do. He wants to bring the naive among his readers up sharp, by vividly letting them know what will happen to them if they become scorners. And he does it in vivid fashion, by changing his style and letting them know that if they become scorners they will become hardened. For, he points out, those who become scorners refuse to accept correction or rebukes. They become almost unreachable and unresponsive to wisdom. He knows that it is something that the naive might easily become, and he does not want that.

Accepting the text as it stands these words are seen as continuing to be spoken by Wisdom to the naive. Note the ‘by me your days will be multiplied’ (Proverbs 9:11). Some seek to amend the ‘by me’. However, that requires amending the text in line with the versions. And the versions probably translated in the way they did because they also saw ‘by me’ as difficult. On the other hand ‘by me’ makes perfectly good sense if we accept it.

So here those who hear the call of wisdom are being advised not to become scorners, but rather to become wise men who love reproof and gladly receive wisdom. Proverbs 9:6 spoke of the way of understanding, so before going on to portray Woman Folly, Solomon wants to bring home what that way of understanding is (Proverbs 9:10), and warn the naive of what they might become if they refuse to walk in it, as others have done.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A He who corrects a scorner gets to himself reviling, and he who reproves a wicked man gets to himself an injury (literally ‘it is his injury’). Do not reprove a scorner, lest he hate you (Proverbs 9:7-8 a).

B Reprove a wise man, and he will love you (Proverbs 9:8 b).

C Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser, teach a righteous man, and he willincreasein learning (Proverbs 9:9).

D The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10 a).

D And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10 b).

C For by me your days will be multiplied, and the years of your life will beincreased(Proverbs 9:11).

B If you are wise, you are wise for thyself (Proverbs 9:12 a)

A And if you scorn, you alone will bear it (Proverbs 9:12 b).

In A the scorner is laid bare, and in the parallel a warning is given to the scorner that he is personally responsible for the consequences which will affect him alone. In B a wise man is defined, and in the parallel the wise learn that they too are personally responsible for what they are. In C the wise and the righteous manincreases in wisdom and learning, and in the parallel the years of his life will consequently. Centrally in D the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of the Holy One are paralleled.

Proverbs 9:7-10

“He who corrects a scorner gets to himself reviling,

And he who reproves a wicked man gets to himself an injury (literally ‘it is his injury’,

Do not reprove a scorner, lest he hate you,

Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.’

Give (instruction) to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser,

Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom,

And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Solomon could have said something like this (following Proverbs 9:6), ‘do not become a scorner for they are unreachable by wisdom, rather become a wise man who loves to receive reproof’. And in effect that is what he does say (see Proverbs 9:12). But first he wants to puts it in a way that pulls the reader up short, asking him to consider a scorner from the point of view of Wisdom. The naive one thereby learns that if he becomes a scorner Wisdom will want nothing to do with him. Why? Because anyone who corrects a scorner simply gets reviled by the scorner, and anyone who reproves a wicked man can simply expect injury. Note the equation of the scorner with a wicked man, that is, a man who is not righteous and who therefore does not respond to YHWH in His covenant relationship.

Then Wisdom reinforces the lesson by facing the naive man up with a scorner directly. ‘Do not reprove a scorner lest he hate you.’ In other words, ‘recognise that that is the kind of person scorners become. Their hearts are hardened, they will not admit to fault, and they hate anyone who shows them up.

In contrast Wisdom points out how different is the wise man. ‘Reprove a wise man and he will love you.’ Why? Because a wise man wants to know his faults so that he can put them right. He wants to become wiser and so he loves anyone who genuinely reveals his faults to him.

The wise man is then revealed by Wisdom to be also a righteous man (a man who observes the covenant with YHWH). The two are seen as necessarily going together, because the fruit of wisdom is righteousness, and to walk in the way of righteousness is to be wise. She points out that if you give instruction to a wise man he will learn from it because he is a wise man, and will become wiser. If you teach a righteous man he will listen because he is a righteous man and wants to know more of righteousness, and will therefore increase in learning.

As a consequence of the naive young man being faced up with these issues in this way, he has had abruptly brought home to him what is involved in being a scorner, and how much better it is to be a wise man. And it is done by a sharp apparent change of subject, rather than just by a smooth transition. He is jolted into considering the difference between a scorner and a wise and righteous man.

Note On Proverbs 9:7-9.

It will be noted that in these verses we have a chiasmus within a chiasmus:

A He who corrects a scorner gets to himself reviling, and he who reproves a wicked man gets to himself an injury (literally ‘it is his injury’ (Proverbs 9:7).

B Do not reprove a scorner, lest he hate you (Proverbs 9:8 a).

B Reprove a wise man, and he will love you (Proverbs 9:8 b)

A Give (instruction) to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser, teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

In A the scorner and the wicked man are contrasted in the parallel by the wise man and the righteous man. In B the consequence of reproof to a scorner are compared with the consequences of reproof to a wise man.

This might suggest that it is this portion (Proverbs 9:7-9) which was originally incorporated by Solomon, for the purpose explained above, on the basis of a well known proverbial comparison. If Proverbs 9:7-9 were a wellknown saying which Solomon incorporated it would adequately explain both the disjointedness, and the change in the modes of address, while still fitting easily into the narrative. Modern man would precede it by saying, ‘consider the adage --’. But that was not the ancient way. Solomon can then be seen as continuing his own narrative in Proverbs 9:10, in order to explain what the way of understanding is, having first faced the young man up proverbially to the choice between being a scorner or being a wise man.

End of note.

When we come to Proverbs 9:10 it clearly connects back to Proverbs 9:6, and is indeed explanatory of it. The reader may ask, ‘What does it mean to walk in the way of understanding?’ Wisdom now gives her answer. “The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Let the naive young man learn to reverently fear YHWH, which is the first step in being wise and will have the continuing consequence of obedience to YHWH, and let him come to a true knowledge of the Holy One, which will have the consequence for him of knowing God (Proverbs 2:6) and knowing what He requires, and he will then walk in the way of understanding. Thus we have confirmed at the end that the wisdom which Solomon is speaking of all the way through is based on the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of God.

It should, perhaps, be noted that ‘Holy one’ is actually in the plural (holy ones). But in view of the parallel with YHWH we are probably to see this as an intensive plural indicating the supreme holiness of God. The idea of ‘the Holy One’ fits in well here, for the fear of YHWH partly arises from an awareness of His ‘otherness’, His moral splendour and uniqueness, which brings men in submission to His feet. It is when we know God as He is that we truly fear Him. And for this we can compare Isaiah 57:15, ‘I am the high and lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is Holy’, which then goes on to say that only the humble and contrite can dwell with Him.

Proverbs 9:11-12

“For by me your days will be multiplied,

And the years of your life will be increased,

If you are wise, you are wise for thyself,

And if you scorn, you alone will bear it.”

In Proverbs 9:6 Wisdom had pointed out that if they left off their old ways, and responded to her, they would ‘live’. Now she concludes by pointing out that it is by responding to her, and her message concerning the fear of YHWH, that their days will be multiplied, and the years of their life be increased. And this has within it the implication that those lives will be worthwhile. But it will all depend on their response to God’s wisdom. Each must make an individual choice, to become wise and respond to reproof, or to be a scorner and reject reproof. And they will be responsible for their individual choices. If they are wise it will be because that is the path that they have chosen, recognising that it is for their own benefit. If they scorn the way of wisdom, it is they, and they alone, who will suffer the consequences. It is a fitting aspect of the conclusion to the Prologue.


Verses 13-18

The Appeal Of Woman Folly To The Naive (Proverbs 9:13-18).

There is no suggestion that Woman Folly’s house is opulent or well-provisioned. And indeed she herself is described as ‘turbulent’ and ‘knowing nothing’. She may make a show of being like wisdom (she is on a seat in the high places of the city), but she rather offers ‘stolen waters’ (illicit sexual enjoyment) and ‘bread in secret’ (surreptitious pleasure). And whilst her house is also opened up to those who are naive and lacking in understanding (compare Proverbs 9:4), they never get beyond that stage. They do not ‘live’ and walk in the way of understanding, rather, like her, those who come to her know nothing. They die. For they ‘do not know’ that in her house are the ‘shadows’ (rephaim) of the dead, and that her guests are in the depths of the grave-world.

Like all the Prologue this is presented chiastically:

A The woman Folly is noisy (disquieted), she is naive, and knows nothing, and she sits at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city (Proverbs 9:13-14).

B To call to those who pass by, who go right on their ways, “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here” (Proverbs 9:15-16 a).

B And as for him who is void of understanding, she says to him, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:16-17).

A But he does not know that the shades of the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol (Proverbs 9:18).

In A the woman Folly knows nothing and the door of her house is in the high places of the city, and in the parallel those who enter her house also ‘do not know’ and her house proves to be in the depths of Sheol. The exaltation that she offers is spurious. In B she appeals to the naive to ‘turn in here’ and in the parallel we find the terms of her offer which are to those lacking in understanding, and are stolen waters and bread in secret.

Proverbs 9:13-14

‘The woman Folly is noisy (vociferous),

She is naive, and knows nothing,

And she sits at the door of her house,

On a seat in the high places of the city,’

In contrast with Woman Wisdom, Woman Folly is noisy but empty. She is all bluster and no content. She makes a lot of noise, but is naive and knows nothing, that is, has nothing positive to offer in her words. Whereas wisdom has spoken positively and given guidance and direction, Folly has nothing of any importance to say. All she can do is use enticing words. For she too is naive. She too is lacking in wisdom and understanding.

She sits at the door of her house, on a seat, in the high places of the city. Thus like Woman Wisdom her house is in the high places of the city. But whereas Wisdom was active and outgoing, Folly sits on her seat. She is seeking to make herself impressive. And she calls to men from there. She has no urgency, only enticement. The fact that she has a seat to sit on, a rarity in those days (people would normally sit on stools or cushions), brings out that she is a woman of status. It may be that this is to be seen as one of her enticements.

Proverbs 9:15-16

‘To call to those who pass by,

Who make straight their ways,

“Whoever is naive,

Let him turn in here.”

The people whom she calls to are the naive and gullible. Whilst seeking to walk in straight ways, (they are therefore not open sinners), they are open to the tempting voice. She too cries, ‘whoever is naive let him turn in here’ (compare Proverbs 9:4 a). She is trying to make herself look and sound as much like Wisdom as possible.

Proverbs 9:16-18

And as for him who is void of understanding,

She says to him,

“Stolen waters are sweet,

And bread (eaten) in secret is pleasant.”

But he does not realise that the shadows of the dead are there,

That her guests are in the depths of Sheol.’

Like Ms Wisdom, Ms Folly speaks to ‘him who is void of understanding’ (Proverbs 9:4 b), in other words the one who is vaguely going on through life without having established the principles by which he will live. She also offers drink and food, but in her case it is not principles by which to live, and find life, but temptations which lead to death. Rather than mingled wine which speaks of that growth in understanding which will enable him to walk in the way of understanding, she offers ‘stolen waters’, illicit sexual pleasures enjoyed behind her husband’s back. Instead of solid spiritual food she offers ‘bread in secret’, indicating the same furtive, illicit sex, the illicit pleasure of adultery. She offers ‘the pleasures of sin for a season’ (Hebrews 11:25).

And what the young man does not realise is that ‘the shadows of the dead (rephaim) are there’. He is not moving on to life (Proverbs 9:6 a), but lies in a bed that has been occupied by many others, who have gone on into the depths of Sheol. For ‘the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). He is moving from being a naive young man to being a scorner and a fool.

‘The shadows of the dead.’ The word is rephaim, which elsewhere speaks of the shadowy forms of the dead existing in the grave world who will not rise (Isaiah 14:9; Isaiah 26:14).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 9:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/proverbs-9.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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