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Will You Choose Wisdom or Folly? | Proverbs 9

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

1) Wisdom and folly are two ways of worship (1-6, 13-18).

2) You will choose to worship in one of these ways (7-12).

Will You Choose Wisdom or Folly?

Proverbs 9

June 30, 2024

Bob Dylan has a song that goes like this, 

“You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You might be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve accomplished, what people say about you, or even how you feel: you’re gonna have to serve somebody. You’ve got a master. The only question is whether or not you are aware that you are always serving somebody.

Such an idea cuts away at the lie that you can stand alone and under no authority. We want to be stand alone figures that influence, but aren’t influenced; who act, but are not acted upon; who can sway others, but cannot be swayed; who can correct, but cannot be corrected. But just like we all don’t want to be mortal yet still are, even if you don’t want to serve somebody, you always will. 

Proverbs 9 is the end of section one of Proverbs. This section is a series of lectures from a father to a son about wisdom. The father is Solomon and whoever listens becomes his son in the ways of wisdom. These lectures are punctuated by sermons from wisdom personified. When lady wisdom speaks, it is as if the book of Proverbs itself is standing up and calling out to us to take it up and devote ourselves to understanding it. As she speaks in Proverbs 9, what we receive is a summary of section one of Proverbs. In short, there are only two paths from which you may choose, and you will choose one. You’re going to have to serve somebody. 

The main idea of Proverbs 9 is that there are two paths from which you may choose—wisdom and folly—and you will certainly choose one of the two. Let’s dive in to see how this passage communicates this reality to us. 

First, Wisdom and Folly Are Two Ways of Worship (1-6, 13-18)

Proverbs 9 pictures two feasts and two invitations. The invitation given from wisdom in verses 1-6 is mirrored by that given by folly in 13-18. Wisdom has built her house, prepared her feast, and sent out her young women to invite people to her feast. Likewise, folly sits at the door of her house calling in people to partake of the feast that she offers to them. These are metaphorical feasts to which we are invited and the language in each of these sections gives away what these invitations really mean. 

Look down at verse 1, “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.” While this is language you may skip by, 7 pillars identify this structure as a house of worship, not a mere dwelling. This is supported by the language of verse 14, which says of lady folly, “She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of town.” Again, this language is not insignificant. Pagan temples of worship were built on high places. The thinking was that the higher the place, the closer to heaven you were and more likely your worship would be accepted. If you read through First and Second Kings, you will hear a judgment about the kings of Judah, saying whether or not they allowed worship on the high places to continue or not. 

Meals as well are associated with houses of worship. Sacrifices at the Temple in Israel were eaten. At Israel’s feasts, sacrifices were often eaten (depending on the type of sacrifice) as a sign of sharing in the Lord’s table with him. God provided the food, now Israel joined in worship together to thank God. But the food they gave in worship was then given back to the people to eat together at the Lord’s table (see Deuteronomy 15:19-23, 16:1-17). The meals that are offered by wisdom and folly are meals of fellowship and devotion. They are meals of worship. 

Wisdom and Folly Are More Than Behavior

It is easy to read a book like Proverbs and focus on behavior. After all, the next section of Proverbs, the wisdom sayings of Solomon, are short and authoritative, calling you to do one thing or not do something. But wisdom is so much more than behavior. 

Wisdom is worship of the one true God. To walk in wisdom is to align your thinking and acting with God’s order and design. It is to look at God’s created order and design and love it. It is to embrace his ways as good and beautiful. This is why wisdom begins with faith. “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) is a faith statement first and foremost. 

To embrace folly is to embrace idolatry. To walk in folly is to align your thinking and acting with a lie about God, his order, and his design. It looks at God’s created order and design and hates it. It is to embrace the ways of the devil. This is why folly begins with rebellion. “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7) is a rebellion statement first and foremost. 

And don’t miss this: folly can sound religious. Rejecting God’s words can look like atheism, but it can also consist of twisting God’s words to make them into what you want. The devil twisted and lied about God’s words in the garden and he continues to do so today.

The Call and the Invitation

Look at the audience of wisdom and folly. Wisdom calls out through her maidens in verse 4, “‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense she says…” Now compare that to what woman folly cries out in verse 16, “‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ And to him who lacks sense she says…” 

They give the exact same call. The simple, to which we can all relate ourselves, are called to follow these two exclusive ways of worship. 

While the call is the same, the invitations could not be more different. While wisdom offers well-mixed wine and meat in verse 2, folly offers stolen water and secret bread in verse 17. In Proverbs 5:15-23, water was used as an analogy for enjoying one’s covenant partner in the marriage bed, so the allusion to “stolen water” is likely a reference to sexual immorality. It is water that is not yours, but you partake of it anyway. Bread eaten in secret is likely a reference to partaking in an idolatrous event, a meal that you would not want the wider community to know about because it would put you at odds with them. In short, folly offers sin and promises you won’t have consequences. 

When humanity fell, it was because of a similar lie. Satan told Eve point blank that she would not die if she ate the forbidden fruit. This is the continual lie of sin. The lie of sin always begins with, “I know God has said to partake of this sin will lead to death and destruction, but that isn’t true for you.” 

Verse 18 lays out the fate of all who grasp onto this lie and make it the theme of their lives. The reason anyone pursues sin is because they believe this lie is true, which is why verse 18 says, “But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” That is, to pursue folly, which is to pursue sin, is to pursue death—physical and spiritual. 

What is the invitation of wisdom? Look at verse 6, “Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” There are 3 calls here: leave, live, and walk. Wisdom invites you to enter into true worship by doing these three things. 

Leave Ignorance. To be simple is to be ignorant. Ignorance is not knowing something. Wisdom cries out that we are to leave behind ignorance. How? By taking up her teaching as students and being conformed to it. 

Ignorance is a normal state. It is expected for all of us to be ignorant of certain things. Wisdom cries out to the ignorant to make them wise by imparting her teachings. Yet, wisdom can also be a chosen state. If you ignore wisdom’s call, then you are choosing ignorance. You are electing to stay untrained and unable to discern. 

God is calling out to all of us, “Don’t stay ignorant! Take up Proverbs and learn how to be wise and walk in my ways.” Christ calls out to us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” 

You’ve probably heard the expression “Ignorance is bliss.” But in the context of Proverbs, ignorance is bliss only if you want to continue to live in the flesh. Wisdom cries out, “There is something better than sin and that is communion with God. Won’t you receive it by leaving ignorance behind?” 

Live by faith in God. What wisdom offers is the gift of life. Wisdom is saying, “If you leave your simple ways, you will live. If you grab hold of what I am saying to you, then life will be yours.” But this is not primarily about behavior. The behavior that follows from Proverbs begins with faith. Only those who believe the call of wisdom will come. 

Here is an illustration that will hopefully help. Imagine you are at an airport waiting for your flight, and someone comes up to you and says, “This place is about to explode. That plan over there is the only plane that will leave in time. Come with me!” You hear this, but you feel uncertain. Nevertheless, you get up and go, but dragging your feet a bit. Once on the plane, you are feeling foolish. You think, “Maybe I should get off?” You express your doubt to others on the plane. Still, you stay on the plane. It takes off. After a few minutes, the airport explodes. Suddenly, you are filled with inexpressible joy that you are on the plane. No doubt remains! Only joy!

The instrument of salvation in that story is the plane. The man dragged his feet and expressed doubt that now seems silly. Yet, he was saved by the plane. Even though his faith was weak, the plane was effective.

In the same way, we live by placing our faith in God’s promise. And the promise of Scripture is clear: if you trust in Jesus Christ, you will receive the verdict of life. When you leave ignorance and turn to Christ, you have life. By his work, you are pronounced righteous. 

Walk in understanding. To walk in the way of insight is to walk in God’s instruction. As you learn from God’s word, you will be able to discern what is good, right, and pleasing to the Lord. In other words, you will grow in your understanding of how to worship. When you are faced with a choice and ask, “What would please the Lord in this situation?” You are able to answer. This doesn’t come by some download of information. This comes by learning what God has said. As you receive the Holy Spirit by faith in Christ, your eyes will be opened to understand more, but you must still take up God’s word in order to understand more of who he is, what is good, and how you can live in a way pleasing to him. 

The way of wisdom and the way of folly stand before all of us. These are not abstract ideas but real choices we must make, which is what verses 7-12 tell us.

You Will Choose to Worship in One of These Ways (7-12)

As is obvious, verses 7-12 stand in between the calls of wisdom and folly. The teacher takes up the task of instructing us after the call of wisdom and before the call of folly because he wants us to understand this reality: if you do not heed the invitation of wisdom, you will partake in the feast of folly. 

These verses call us to consider 3 things as we weigh these invitations: how wisdom calls, how wisdom begins, and how your relation to wisdom dictates your fate

How Wisdom Calls: Through Correction and Rebuke

The teacher explains to us in verses 7-8 that just as there are two invitations, there are two kinds of people: those who will choose wisdom and those who will reject it. He wants you, hearer, to consider what kind of person you are living as. Verse 7 tells us the same thing in two ways, “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.” 

A scoffer and a wicked man are the same. He is called a scoffer because he wickedly scoffs at God’s instruction as to what is good and instead goes his own way, the way of folly. If anyone tries to correct him and show him the truth, he rewards that person with abuse and injury. We can read on in the first half of verse 8, “Do not remove a scoffer, or he will hate you.” The teacher is telling us to pick your students wisely. If you aim to correct someone who has no fear of God, they will reward you with hate, abuse, and injury. 

In contrast, look at the second half of verse 8 and then all of verse 9, “Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”

What a difference. A scoffer will attack you for trying to correct him, but a wise man will love you for it and then grow from it. 

To a scoffer, correction seems like you are attacking him with a knife because he is proud and does not need correction in his eyes. But a wise man knows that he has the disease of sin, so correction doesn’t look like a knife attack. Instead, it is a scalpel being used to heal him, even if it is painful in the moment. 

So what kind of person are you? When someone corrects you, how do you receive it? Do you laugh it off as nothing? Do you inwardly seethe and think, “How dare she correct me?” Do you quietly listen and then go to others and say, “Can you believe he tried to correct me?” Do you jump on the person correcting you by laying out reason after reason as to why he is wrong, and then top it off with correction for him? 

If that is you, then be warned: you are lining up on the path of folly. You are embracing the idol of self. You are swimming in an ocean of pride and you need to be rescued. How? Stop scoffing at God’s word and receive correction that is based on his word. 

In line with this, let me just take a moment to encourage us as a church in regard to correction. We must not shy away from correcting when another when it is needed. Correction is life nourishment, as you see in verse 8, it is a key means of spiritual growth. So do not shy away from speaking the truth in love to one another. We need it or we will not grow. As you consider correcting another, however, do it in love—seeking to nourish and build up, not destroy—and correct using Scripture, not your personal opinion. Remember: the aim is to be built up into the image of Christ, not the image of you. There is a big difference. 

How Wisdom Begins: Fear the Lord

Until you grasp the root of wisdom, the book of Proverbs, and the Bible as a whole, will not make sense to you. Wisdom will seem like random directions and the commands of the Bible will seem like floating decrees until you grasp the center of it all: God himself. 

This is why, at the beginning of this section in Proverbs, the theme of the book was given to us in 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Now, at the end of section one, this theme is repeated with different verbiage in verse 10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” 

Wisdom is not mere instruction. It is the way of true worship, so it must live in the fear of the LORD. As I have said before, the fear of the LORD is not constant dread that God will punish. It is a preoccupation with his glory, goodness, justice, mercy, love, and power. In short, it is a preoccupation with all that God is. 

What you truly fear—have as preeminent in your thinking—is what you truly love. 

Worship is about your heart delighting in something. What delights your heart directs your life. If your heart delights in sexual escapades, then that will be the pursuit of your life. If your heart delights in receiving the approval of other people, then that will direct the pursuit of your life. If your heart delights in being seen as smart, then that pursuit will direct your life. If your heart delights in personal autonomy, then that will direct your life. 

If your heart delights in the Lord, which means you fear him, then he will direct the pursuit of your life. 

Until you grasp this, wisdom will allude you and the invitation of folly will seem all the more pleasing to you. 

How Your Relationship to Wisdom Dictates Your Fate: The Choice of Life and Death

The fate of every person who ever lived or will live is summed up in verses 11-12. Verse 11 tells us that wisdom increases life. In general, the wise will live longer, but even if they do not, they have eternal life and will thus live forever. 

But verse 12 is what I want to draw your attention to as we close. “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.” 

In short, if you choose the path of wisdom, then you will personally reap the benefits of it. But if you choose the path of folly, you alone will bear the penalty and consequences. 

Everybody’s gotta serve somebody, but not all masters are equal. If you heed the call of wisdom, you will have life through fellowship with God in Christ. If you ignore wisdom, then the call of folly will follow and take you up. Folly tells lies that promise pleasure, but she only delivers hell. Christ calls you on the path of suffering and dying to self, but he delivers you eternal life.

This section of Proverbs ends and invites you into the rest of the book by asking, “Who will you serve?” 


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