Proverbs 9 contrasts two banquets, one hosted by “Lady Wisdom” and the other hosted by “Lady Folly.” While the two banquets share many similarities, there is a major difference between them: Lady Wisdom’s banquet is a source of life, but Lady Folly’s banquet is a source of death.
Lady Wisdom hosts a banquet: “She has prepared the feast, Mixed the wine, And also set the table… she says, ‘Come, eat my food And drink the wine that I have mixed; Give up simpleness and live, Walk in the way of understanding!'”
III. Important Verses
vv. 2-6: [Wisdom] has prepared the feast, Mixed the wine, And also set the table. She has sent out her maids to announce On the heights of the town, “Let the simple enter here”; To those devoid of sense she says, “Come, eat my food And drink the wine that I have mixed; Give up simpleness and live, Walk in the way of understanding.”
v. 8: Do not rebuke a scoffer, for he will hate you; Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
v. 10: The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD, And knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
vv. 17-18: [Folly says} “Stolen waters are sweet, And bread eaten furtively is tasty.” [The fool] does not know that the shades are there, That her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
1-6. Wisdom’s Banquet
13-18. Folly’s Banquet
Proverbs 9 is the last “introductory” chapter of the book. It contrasts two banquets, one of personified Wisdom (vv. 1-6) and the other of personified Folly (vv. 13-18). As shall be seen, it also contains a short interlude (vv. 7-12).
The two banquet passages share many similarities: both describe the setting (vv. 1-3, 13-14), contain invitations to guests (vv. 4-5, 16-17), and end with an outsider’s comment (vv 6, 18). Note the identical phrases found in vv. 3b and 14b, and vv. 4 and 16. But, there are still differences between the two passages. First, only Wisdom’s meal is described (vv 2, 5), and she is said to have maidens working for her. Second, unlike Lady Folly, Wisdom is said to dwell in a house (cf. 14:1, 24:3-4) with seven pillars (the importance of the “seven pillars” is unknown). Third, Wisdom addresses the “fools” (vv 4, 6) but Folly addresses anyone (the “wayfarers,” v. 15). Lastly, the two differ in their respective outcomes: Wisdom’s meal gives life and understanding (v. 6, cf. 3:18 where Wisdom is called a “tree of life”), but Folly’s gives death (v. 18).
It is interesting to note that many of the characteristics of the ‘ishah zarah “forbidden woman” mentioned in the previous chapters are attributed to Lady Folly. For example, Lady Folly is said to be homiyyah “bustling about” (v. 13), just like the forbidden woman in 7:11. Also, Lady Folly’s house is associated with death/Sheol (v. 18), much like the forbidden woman’s house: “Her house is a highway to Sheol Leading down to Death’s inner chambers” (7:27, also see 2:18).
While one might have expected the two banquets to be juxtaposed, they are “interrupted” by the seemingly unrelated sayings of vv 7-12 which begin “To correct a scoffer, Or rebuke a wicked man for his blemish, Is to call down abuse on oneself…” In regards to vv 7-12 Fox writes (306), “The passage does not echo the vocabulary of the preceding section and does not confront Wisdom’s invitation directly; it speaks instead to the issue of effective chastisement. It appears, then, that the present passage originated as an independent epigram and was subsequently inserted as a response to Wisdom’s summons of the ignorant.”
But, according to Fox, why would anyone choose to “interrupt” the two parallel banquets? He writes (ibid.), “the later scribe who inserted these verses apparently doubted that the ‘callow’ and ‘senseless’ [see vv 4, 6] are the right recipients of the invitation to wisdom, and so introduced a caveat.” The caveat basically says that wisdom isn’t for everyone: “To correct a scoffer, Or rebuke a wicked man for his blemish, Is to call down abuse on oneself. Do not rebuke a scoffer, for he will hate you” (vv. 7-8a). Thus, according to Fox, vv. 7-12 interject in order to explain that most people – but not all people – are fit to learn Wisdom.
It should be noted that the Septuagint, which seems to continue the trend of “building on” to the middle section, seems to support Fox’s theory because it . See the LXX’s lengthy v. 12 which contains many lines not included in the Masoretic Text: “Son, if thou be wise for thyself, thou shalt also be wise for thy neighbours; and if thou shouldest prove wicked, thou alone wilt bear the evil. He that stays himself upon falsehoods, attempts to rule the winds, and the same will pursue birds in their fight: for he has forsaken the ways of his own vineyard, and he has caused the axles of his own husbandry to go astray; and he goes through a dry desert, and a land appointed to drought, and he gathers barrenness with his hands.”
VI. Works Used
Anchor Bible Proverbs 1-9 (Fox), and World Biblical Commentary Proverbs (Murphy). See “commentaries” page.