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Wisdom and Folly

Two Women, Two Ways, Two Houses

March 11, 2014Filed under theology#m. div.#sebtsMarkdown source

The following was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Dr. Heath Thomas's Old Testament II class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The book of Proverbs opens with a lengthy introduction to the topic of wisdom, expounding its virtues and necessity and contrasting them with the costs of folly, before moving into the proverbs for which it is named. After a short introductory statement, the book moves into a series of extended metaphors for wisdom and folly to illustrate the point. These metaphors are those of the two women, the two houses, and the two ways—with the choices between the two illustrated in each case by the simple youth who may choose one or the other and become either wise or a fool.

The two women of the book are the Ladies Wisdom and Folly. Throughout the first nine chapters, the two stand in opposition to each other everywhere. Wisdom calls out on the streets, by the gates, and in the highest point of the city. She represents the first aspect of God’s order in the world, that foundational principle on which the world is built. She is an attribute of the creation God made and a reflection of his desires and character. By contrast, the adulteress (or “foreign woman”) who leads astray a simple youth and destroys him in chapter 7 is a picture not only of the particular follies of adultery but a personification of all that is foolish: wherever wisdom stands and calls out, so too does the adulteress—Lady Folly in one of her most deceptive forms. She is an image of what it means to go against the grain of God’s created order, and the consequence of going with her is death. No surprise, that: going against the structure of God’s reality has always led to death, beginning in Genesis 3.

The two ways and two houses pick up this same motif and trace it out further. One way leads to life, the other to death. One house is steadfast and sure, while the other crumbles. One belongs to Wisdom, the other to Folly. These images Jesus picks up again in his own teaaching in the New Testament: The way that leads to life is narrow, and few find it, but the way that leads to destruction is wide and many walk it. The wise man builds his house on the rock that is Jesus’ word, but the foolish man builds his house on the sand that is worldly wisdom. The naïve youth may answer Lady Wisdom’s invitation and follow her along the way of wisdom to the house of wisdom and so become wise, or he may answer Lady Folly’s call, walk down folly’s road to the house of destruction and so become a fool.

The idea of the “wise person” and the “fool” then come up time and again throughout the rest of the book. Whatever one decides has the enormous consequences that the book traces out: fools become insolent, ignorant, murderous rebels against God, while wise people become gracious, temperate, gentle followers of God.