Similar Invitations To Very Different Parties
Proverbs 9:1–18 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
Epiphany – January 6, 2019 (am)
Have you noticed that Proverbs 1 – 9 is somewhat repetitive? This morning is no exception. It is a constant call to choose wisdom over folly. It can feel like a practical joke to be asked to preach Proverbs 9 after a series on Proverbs 1 – 8 as the message is so similar to what we’ve already heard week in and week out. So the question we need to begin with is, “Why do we need to hear this again?”
While the message is largely the same each week, we, the audience, are not. We’ve spent the entire fall and now into winter in this series and over that course of time we’ve lived a lot of life and we’ve made a lot of choices. Just consider the number of choices you’ve had to make since we were last in Proverbs back in December:
Who should we visit for the holidays?
What should we buy for so and so?
Should I get a third helping of pie? (seconds are assumed)
How much should I donate at year’s end and to whom?
Should I set the alarm this morning?
How should we spend this evening?
If we’re honest with ourselves we’ll see that some of the choices we’ve made have been wise, but others have been foolish – or not so wise if that makes you feel better. So we see that we need to hear the call to choose wisdom again – the repetition is good for us.
A key question this morning then is how does our passage call us to choose wisdom today? What does it add to the prologue of Proverbs by being here?
In our passage we hear two invitations. Just as we’ve made a myriad of choices since beginning this series, we’ve also received a myriad of invitations. Life is full of invitations - from billboards to cereal boxes to radio spots to news articles to Facebook ads to Instagram posts to invitations towards job opportunities and social gatherings. We are constantly being invited towards something.
Whether it’s an invitation to come to our college, or join our firm, or buy our phone, or wear our clothes, or attend our church, or watch our show, or fly our airlines, or visit our hotel, or vote for our candidate – all of these voices are inviting us towards the same thing – the good life. Every invitation puts into its own words why accepting their invitation is the choice you ought to make if you truly want to be happy and whole, but not all invitations can deliver on this promise.
When Angel and I first moved as missionaries to Jerusalem, we were joined by another couple named Keith & Marian. They were an older couple, originally from the South, who spoke with a southern drawl. Marian was a strong, snappy, no nonsense sort of woman who had been raised in a military family. One of the first things she said to us was, “I’ve been called a lot of things in my life but nice isn’t one of them.” She was funny – and she was nice – and she helped look after us that first year.
Keith, her husband, was the personification of nice. Soft spoken, kind, servant hearted, he simply reminded you of Jesus when you were around him. Another thing to note about Keith was his magnificent beard – it was long, white, and bushy. In Jerusalem, more than in America, people use visual markers to identify you. What you wear on your head, what you wear as clothing, and how you wear your hair are all important in identifying your religious orientation. Most notably for our illustration, it may help to know that the Orthodox Jewish men were known for their big bushy beards.
Now it wasn’t long after we met Keith that he showed up to a meeting and his beard had been cut off. There is an unspoken man code out there that says you must lament the loss of anything so manly, even if it looked horrible in the first place, so naturally I asked, “Keith, what happened to the beard!” Keith responded in his southern drawl – “Well, I shaved my beard because I was told it may get me invited to a party I don’t want to attend.”
Many of the invitations we receive in life are invitations to parties we don’t want to attend. That is one thing Proverbs 9 puts into sharp relief for us. It clearly lays out that while there are many invitations in life there are really only two parties we’re being asked to attend - one is that of Woman Wisdom, the other is that of Woman Folly. One of the ways we can evaluate which invitations we should accept and which ones we should reject is by lining them up against the invitations we hear in Proverbs 9, and considering who it is behind our invitation.
Similar invitations to very different parties
Our passage contains two very similar invitations. One is from Woman Wisdom (9:1 – 6) and the other is that of Woman Folly (9:13 – 18). Each is written as poetry with a three part structure. First there is a description of the hostess, then we hear the hostess’s invitation, and finally the purpose of the party is disclosed to us. Let’s begin by looking at Wisdom’s invitation.
1 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. 2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.
The first thing we see is that Wisdom has been hard at work preparing for her guests. She’s building her home, preparing a feast, and setting her table. Next, we see that what she has prepared is her own to give. She has slaughtered her beasts and mixed her wine. Finally, we’re told that what she has prepared is good. Her home is made with seven pillars, a number of perfection. Her table is set with meat, a menu item reserved for special, luxurious occasions. And with it she is serving wine, another special item, suggesting this is a celebration. Next we hear Woman Wisdom’s invitation.
3 She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town. 4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.”
Notice how broad her invitation is. Her invitation goes out with a flurry of activity as she sends out her young women with her message and they are to call from the highest places, the most public places in the town so that all might hear. Also, see how her invitation is worded to invite those who most desperately need what she offers. It is given to the simple and to those who lack sense. Who is that? It is neither the wise nor foolish but those who are naïve or immature. “These are people not yet committed to either side of the polarity, and it is the goal of the one named Wisdom to turn them to her side.” And she invites them to partake of what she has prepared. Eat of my bread. Drink of the wine I have mixed. Which is an invitation to feast on what she has to offer, namely wisdom, knowledge, and insight. Finally, we are invited to leave our simple ways which suggests that a life of ignorance and mindlessness are not simply due to a lack of education. They are conditions that we choose – we choose to remain simple by choosing to not think, to not consider the weight of our actions and choices and decisions and thus it is a condition that we must leave behind if we’re to receive Woman Wisdom’s invitation. If we heed Wisdom’s invitation and come to her and leave our simple ways – Woman wisdom tells us exactly what the result will be
6 Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
The purpose of Wisdom’s party is to give life. What does this mean? – we’re all alive in this room, we’re all living and breathing. Throughout Proverbs life is described as a path. It is a path with many choices. As you walk down that path you will see it fork and split myriads of times and at each split you must choose which direction you will go. Many of these paths will not be good for you. They will cause you to walk further from the Lord and thus be death to your soul. One small death after another leading to an eternal death and separation from God.
But many of these paths will help you to walk closer with the Lord. They will cause you to grow in faith, hope, love, trust, dependence, and joy and they will bring life to your soul and ultimately lead to eternal life in God’s presence. The key attribute that helps you to choose life and not choose death is wisdom. Woman Wisdom is saying, “Choose me and I will help you choose the path that lead to life!”
Now compare this invitation to that of Woman Folly:
13 The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. 14 She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
Like Woman Wisdom, she is throwing a party. Like Wisdom she wants to you to join her party, but you won’t find a rational reason to join her on her lips for Folly is loud, seductive, and foolish. Unlike wisdom, who is hard at work, Folly is lazy. Twice she is described as sitting, once at the door of her house, and once on the high places of the town – where her house is situated. Her laziness is further emphasized by her invitation:
15 calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, 16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
Woman Folly She sends no one out with her invitation, instead she lazily shouts at those who happen to pass by. She even steals the invitation of woman Wisdom – using the same words. Where wisdom reached out to those most in need of what she offers, Folly mimics her, looking to seduce those who are going “straight on their way” – making an attempt to draw them off their straight path and into her home.
And to him who lacks sense she says, 17 “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
Her imitation of Wisdom continues as she promises food and drink, but anyone can see that this is no feast – bread & water is no comparison to meat and wine. Woman Folly again works to seduce her prey by telling them that what she offers is sweet and pleasant – not because it comes close to Wisdom’s feast – but because it has been stolen and to eat of it is forbidden. In his commentary, Fox tells us she is taking up the voices of the adulteress and the violent man and the sluggard we’ve heard in chapters 1 – 8,“which says it’s much easier to cut corners, it’s more exciting to pursue perverted thrills, it’s more lucrative to manipulate and exploit . . .”
She is like the teenager who calls up their friend to tell them they’ve discovered where their parents keep the alcohol – “Come over and we’ll drink it. It’s going to be so great – they’re out of town and we’ll drink it while they’re gone.” And then they cough and sputter as they try to choke down the bitter stuff all the time saying – “Isn’t this sweet? Isn’t this pleasant?” Clearly this is folly.
She’s like the baseball loving kids in the move “The Sandlot.” They acquire a box of chewing tobacco and though they are under age, they split it up and begin jawing on it because that’s what the big league ball players do, and then they head to the amusement park. For those who have seen the movie you know it doesn’t end well for those kids – they all get sick and vomit all over the place as they spin around on the rides. The big leaguers never told them that could happen, similarly, Woman Folly doesn’t divulge what will happen if you join her feast. She just ends her speech here with the words, “It will be sweet, it will be pleasant!” She’s promising us the good life.
Though Folly won’t tell us the purpose of her party, the Father who has been instructing his son throughout Proverbs will – and it is he who finishes off her invitation by saying:
18 But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
So we see that choosing what Folly offers leads down paths that will kill your soul and draw you further from the Lord and ultimately separate you from Him forever.
How does this help us as we evaluate the invitations we receive throughout our lives. We ought to ask ourselves – Who does this sound like? Does this invitation sound like that of wisdom or folly? Does it come from someone who has been hard at work? Or is it coming from someone who is lazy themselves? Are they offering you something they themselves have worked hard to prepare? Or are they enticing you with the sweetness of feasting off of someone else’s goods? Someone else’s hard work? Most importantly, will accepting this invitation set you down a path that leads to life? To greater intimacy with the Lord? Or will it lead you towards death, and separate you from the Lord?
Not every invitation falls neatly into these categories though. For example, if you are being invited to join a new company they may not entice you with stolen goods. They may not come out and tell you all illegal activities they’re involved in. So, if you have trouble identifying the party by the invitation, look at those who are in attendance.
Two Types of Party Animals (vv 7 – 9)
7 Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. 8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. 9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
Some people live to party – two of them are described in this passage. One has accepted Woman Wisdom’s invitation – he is called the wise man or righteous man. A constant member at Wisdom’s table, he loves to feast on her meat and drink her wine – he can’t get enough of it! If you reprove him, which is to say you point out where he is wrong and tell him the wise way to go, he loves you. It’s like you’ve just given him an extra helping of filet mignon, or BBQ ribs, or lamb chops, or pulled pork (my apologies to any vegetarians here – you will have to insert your favorite meat equivalent here). If you instruct him, that is to say you teach him more wisdom, he eats it up and becomes even wiser! If you teach him, it doesn’t fill him up, his appetite only grows as does the size of his stomach.
A wise person at Wisdom’s party is like someone at a sumptuous feast and the more they eat the more you want to eat and the more they can eat! That is the wise person at Wisdom’s party - they’re total wisdom junkies, they want you to correct them and instruct them and teach them, they are teachable and eager to learn and to grow in wisdom, they are on the path of life and they are loving it! They can’t be proud or arrogant or obtuse – they must be humble – otherwise they’d never be like the wise man described here. They’re party animals for Wisdom’s party.
The second party animal mentioned in this passage is the scoffer. You won’t find them at Wisdom’s party though, as they’d be the ultimate party pooper if they could even get in the door that is, which they can’t. A scoffer is defined as “someone who jeers or mocks or treats something with contempt or calls out in derision.” They are arrogant and proud (Prov. 21:24). They are not fun to be around. No one is safe with them, everyone is an open target for their scorn. They think they know everything. They always have a reason for why they are right and everyone else is wrong – not just wrong – but stupid
In our passage we see that if you try to correct them, they abuse you – insult you, mock you, make fun of you, mock you. If you try to reprove them – they want to physically hurt you and any affection they had for you turns to hatred.
Zoom out to the book of Proverbs and we see they are the complete opposite of the wise man. Proverbs 13:1 tells us they don’t listen to rebuke and Proverbs 14:6 tells us they seek wisdom in vain.
Zoom out even more to Scripture as a whole and we see that nothing good is ever said of those who scoff. In Deuteronomy 32:15 it is the one who has forsaken God that scoffs. In 2 Chronicles 36:15 scoffers are those who mocked the messengers God mercifully sent to call them to repent until his anger is kindled and “there was no remedy” for them. In Psalms it is the foe and the enemy and the fool who scoffs (74:10, 74:18).
Scoffers hate what wisdom has to offer. They are without hope and their party is with Woman Folly and they are headed to the grave along with the rest of her guests.
As you evaluate the invitations you come across in your lives, consider who else has accepted this invitation. Who does it appeal to? What types of people work there? If you accept it, who would you be surrounding yourself with? What type of person would you be working under? Would you find yourself in the house of wisdom, with those who are humble and wise and teachable and who love to learn? Or would you find yourself in the house of folly, with those who mock the wise and scoff at wisdom and who already know everything and have nothing to learn?
So we now have two criteria to help us evaluate the invitations that are offered to us in life. 1. Does the invitation sound like Wisdom’s or Folly’s? 2. Do those who accept this invitation look like the wise man or the scoffer?
But even these two criteria may not be enough. We may still be left wondering which choice is the wise one and which choice isn’t. In vs. 10 we get one final criteria to evaluate our invitations – and it is the most important one.
Which Party will you attend? (vv. 10 – 12)
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Here is the bottom line in evaluating life’s invitations. Here is the key to choosing the wise path every time – Fear God! This is where Proverbs began. Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 9:10 brings us back here at the end of the prologue, “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
So the way to choose the wise path is to ask whether or not accepting this invitation is being done out of a fear and reverence for who God is. It is asking whether the path it leads down will help or hinder your ability to fear the Lord. It is saying, will this school, this sorority, this job, this neighborhood, this home, this purchase, this subscription, this membership – bring me into closer communion with the Lord or draw me away from Him? It is making decisions with your Bible open – asking whether this invitation would be sinful or unwise to accept. It is making decisions on your knees – seeking the Lord to lead you and guide you and instruct you as you decide which path to take in life.
If we evaluate invitations in this way, then we can rest in words of verses 11 and 12a:
11 For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. 12 If you are wise, you are wise for yourself;
If we don’t make decisions in this way – if we don’t consult the Lord or His Word, if we function on the assumption that we know enough on our own and don’t need the Lord’s help to make good decisions we should hear the warning in 12b:
if you scoff, you alone will bear it.
For by doing so we sit at Folly’s table among the scoffers and the death that awaits us is a lonely one – for scoffing drives others away from us before Folly ultimately has its way with us.
And that covers our passage for today. Two invitations, two types of people, and the one key to choosing wisdom, but something is missing – we don’t know which of the two invitations the son chooses to accept. One reason for this is to get us to keep reading. Another is to encourage us to fill the void with our own decision. That is the point of this passage, to lay before us one more time the choice we all must make, and it is critical that we make this decision now, at the end of Proverb’s Prologue because what comes next is 21 chapters of proverbial wisdom on many areas of life. For the one who chooses wisdom, it will be a feast that leads to life but for the scoffer, it will be a bore, more material to laugh at and scoff at, and topics to continue to be smarter than others on – and the life they contain will never reach his or her heart.
Our author wants us to approach it with the right mindset. With a heart that is hungry and thirsty for more wisdom so that it will be a feast and not a bore. So that the month of March, our 5 topic series out of Proverbs 10 – 31, will be water to our thirsty souls rather than white noise. This passage clearly tells us which is the right choice – choose wisdom! What will you choose?
As we conclude this morning, I want to draw our attention to a detail that we didn’t focus on in the two invitations. Notice that in v. 3 Wisdom sends her women to call from the high places. In v. 14 Folly sits in her home on the highest place of town. This is significant. The high points of a city were reserved for temples, for places of worship. Those who first read these words would have known that Wisdom personifies Yahweh, his temple, and worship of Him. All who choose wisdom have chosen to serve the living God of Israel. Woman Folly personifies all false gods set up in rivalry to Yahweh to lure people away from the one true God and all who choose folly have really chosen idolatry.
What this is pointing out to us and what we need to recognize, is that every invitation we hear in our lives is an invitation to worship. Every invitation is asking you to worship something, whether it be wealth or prestige or honor or yourself or someone else, we’re constantly being courted to fear and revere someone or something. Therefore – at it’s heart – this passage “is a call for a religious decision, a decision between the true God and false gods.”
Hundreds of years after this book was written, Wisdom offered another invitation from her high place. It came on the lips of a man nailed to a cross and here is what he said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that this man, this scene, was God’s wisdom in physical form.
Like wisdom’s invitation in our passage, it was met with two different responses. Luke tells us that the religious rulers “scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” He tells us one of the thieves crucified with him mocked him saying “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But he also tells us of the thief who said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus, Wisdom in the flesh, responded to only one of these – to the one who sought him in fear and humility he said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
My Friends, wisdom truly does lead to life – and Jesus promises eternal life to all who see and receive the wisdom he offers. You must make a choice – and I encourage you to do as Proverbs has taught us – Choose Wisdom! Choose Christ!
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Fox, Michael V. Proverbs 1 – 9. Doubleday: New York, 2000.
Longmann III, Tremper. Proverbs. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2008.
Murphy, Roland E. Proverbs. Thomas Nelson Inc.: Nashville, 1998.
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