THE CONTEXT: WISDOM AND FOLLY
The book of Proverbs is generally considered to have eight sections, each introduced by a verse that usually gives the author of that particular collection. For instance, the first section begins with the words, “The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel” (1:1). The eight sections are as follows:
Chapters 1-9 (Solomon)
10:1 – 22:16 (Solomon)
22:17 – 24:22 (no attribution)
24:23-34 (sayings of the wise)
Chapters 25-29 (Solomon)
Chapter 30 (Agur son of Jakeh)
31:1-9 (King Lemuel)
31:10-31 (no attribution)
Proverbs 9, then, concludes the first section of the book, which contrasts wisdom and folly and the consequences that typically follow from each, as a way of preparing the reader for the wise sayings that follow, beginning in chapter 10.
Wisdom is personified as a woman here and elsewhere in Proverbs 1-9 (1:20-33; 3:13-20; 7:4; 8:1-36). It seems odd that, in a patriarchal society, scripture would present a woman as speaking and acting with Godly authority. However, “in languages that mark their nouns as masculine or feminine, that gender marking guided the poetic imagination in personifications” (Waltke, 83, citing Karl Brugman’s findings).
Wisdom is the antithesis of the foolish “strange woman” or “adulteress” of 2:16-19; 5:3-14, 19, 20; 6:24-35; 7:1-27.
Lady Wisdom’s words are reminiscent of the Deuteronomist and the prophets, but she speaks of wisdom versus foolishness instead of right living versus sinfulness. Wisdom, Deuteronomist, and prophets all spell out the consequences of right versus sinful living in the hope of persuading listeners to choose the right way instead of the sinful way.
In this chapter, Lady Wisdom (vv. 1-6) is contrasted with Foolish Woman (vv. 13-18). In the middle, (vv. 7-12) are a series of maxims that contrast the scoffer with the wise person—encouraging the reader to choose wisdom. They repeat the signature verse of Proverbs, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom” (v. 10a; see also 1:7; 1:29; 2:5; 8:13; 10:27; 14:26; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 23:17).
PROVERBS 9:1-3. WISDOM CRIES FROM THE HIGHEST PLACES OF THE CITY
1 Wisdom has built her house.
She has carved out her seven pillars.
2 She has prepared her meat.
She has mixed her wine.
She has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her maidens.
She cries from the highest places of the city:
“Wisdom has built her house” (v. 1a). In most societies, and especially in patriarchal societies, the building of a house would be the work of a man rather than a woman. Here, though, Lady Wisdom builds her house. We are reminded of the ideal woman presented in chapter 31, who “considers a field, and buys it” (31:16)—and “arms her waist with strength, and makes her arms strong” (31:17)—and “opens her mouth with wisdom” (31:26).
“she has carved out her seven pillars” (v. 1b). This contrasts with the Foolish Woman, who does not build her house but merely sits at its door (v. 14).
Scholars debate the meaning of these seven pillars. In the Bible, seven is an ideal number that symbolizes completeness or perfection. It was on the seventh day of creation that God rested, symbolizing the completion of the task (Genesis 2:2-3). Jewish law requires people to let the land to lie fallow every seven years (Leviticus 25:2-7). Solomon’s temple had seven pillars (1 Kings 7:17).
The size of a house would dictate the number of pillars needed to support the roof. Waltke says that three would be typical (Waltke, 433), although some modest homes probably required none. A house so large as to require seven pillars would be a grand house indeed.
“She has prepared her meat. She has mixed her wine” (v. 2a). Like building a house, slaughtering animals would usually be a man’s job, but Lady Wisdom isn’t intimidated by difficult and messy work. Like the ideal woman of Proverbs 31, she is quite capable of doing what needs to be done.
Animals are good for more than meat. Some animals pull plows or provide milk or wool. Others provide eggs. In that culture, most people would count their livestock as a significant portion of their physical assets, so they would not casually slaughter an animal to eat. Lady Wisdom is providing abundant food for the banquet to which she intends to invite those in need of her instruction. This contrasts with the Foolish Woman, who provides only “stolen water” and “food eaten in secret” (v. 17).
“she has also set her table” (v. 2b). Her table is set with words of wisdom from this book—proverbs and maxims that enable growth and prolong life. If we have any doubt that wisdom can be life-enhancing, we need only look at the many people in our communities who live foolishly and pay a terrible price for their foolishness.
“She has sent out her maidens” (v. 3a). That Lady Wisdom has servant girls suggests the kind of prosperity that would naturally result from wise living. There is no mention of servant girls in the verses about the Foolish Woman (vv. 13-18).
“She cries from the highest places of the city” (v. 3b). The highest places in town would typically be used for temples or palaces. Shouts from high places carry further than calls from low places. While the Foolish Woman is loud (v. 13), she issues her invitations from the door of her house (v. 14)—surely in the lowest part of town.
PROVERBS 9:4-6. LEAVE YOUR SIMPLE WAYS, AND LIVE
4 “Whoever is simple (Hebrew: peti), let him turn in here!”
As for him who is void of understanding, she says to him,
5 “Come, eat some of my bread,
Drink some of the wine which I have mixed!
6 Leave your simple ways (Hebrew: peta’·yim), and live.
Walk in the way of understanding.”
“Whoever is simple (peti), let him turn in here!” (v. 4a). The peti are the foolish—the simpleminded—the naive—the inexperienced—the young (Baker & Carpenter, 930). The purpose of this book is “to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young man” (1:4). Those who are already wise can also listen and learn (1:5), but it is the young and foolish who most desperately need wisdom for living.
“As for him who is void of understanding, she says to him, ‘Come, eat some of my bread, Drink some of the wine which I have mixed'” (v. 4b-5). Wisdom has set the table with the best of the best. She has shouted the invitation from the rooftops. She has sent servant-girls to call the simple to her banquet. Now it is up to those who have been called. Will they respond, or will they ignore the invitation? We can expect that some will ignore her, but others will respond.
Lady Wisdom’s bread and wine contrast with the Foolish Woman’s “stolen water” and “food eaten in secret” (v. 17).
“Leave your simple ways (peta’·yim), and live” (v. 6). Peta’·yim is related to peti in verse 4a. Verse 6, then, calls foolish, inexperienced young people to lay aside their foolishness and inexperience so that they might avoid the dangers that so often ensnare the young. The benefit of doing so is life. The way of life offered by Lady Wisdom contrasts with the way of death offered by the Foolish Woman, whose “guests are in the depths of Sheol” (v. 18).
“Walk in the way of understanding” (v. 6b). When the peti—those who are foolish, simpleminded, naive, and inexperienced—accept Lady Wisdom’s invitation, they will gain insight and cease to be foolish.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2009, 2010, 2015, Richard Niell Donovan