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Commentary On The Book Of Proverbs 2 (chapters 6-9)

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Discourse 6. The Naive, The Fool And The Scorner Illustrated. The First Addressed As ‘My Son’ Is To Avoid Acting As A Security For Others, The Second Addressed As ‘You Sluggard’, Is To Shake Off Laziness, And The Third Unaddressed, Is A Worthless Person And A Troublemaker (6.1-19).

The discourse opens in the usual way as addressed to ‘my son’, but then takes a different course from previous ones. There is no opening appeal to obtain wisdom and understanding. This might suggest that all three are seen as being at fault. It can be seen as three calls on his ‘son’ to avoid 1). acting as a security for another, 2). being lazy, and 3). being a troublemaker, a worthless person. On the other hand many would argue quite reasonably that ‘my son’ only refers to the first subsection, and that the address in the second subsection is to ‘you sluggard’, with the worthless man unaddressed as beyond appeal. This second subsection demonstrates that there is still hope for the person in question, (he can shake himself out of his laziness), but he is nevertheless seen as a layabout, and as not as coming under Solomon’s instruction. The third is then not addressed because he is not seen as worthy of being so. He is seen as a hopeless case and simply used as an object lesson. This would tie in with the lack of an opening appeal to listen to wisdom and understanding. The worthless person would never listen to such an appeal.

There is a possible connection between the three subsections in that in the first the neighbour may, because he has been given a surety, slacken off his efforts and not work hard as he should, like the sluggard in the second subsection, or even deliberately renege on his obligations, ‘winking with his eye’, like the worthless man in the third subsection (he may well ‘devise wicked imaginations’ - 6.18). Thus to act as surety for someone might have been seen as tempting them to become a sluggard or a worthless person. But it is far more likely that it was seen as something to be reprimanded, and as a foolish thing to do. The first and second subsections are also connected by the command to ‘go’ (6.3b, 6), by the words ‘sleep’ and ‘slumber’ (6.4, 10), and by the illustration drawn from nature (6.5, 6). The three together are illustrations of the naive, the fool and the scorner (1.22). They exemplify those to whom wisdom speaks. All three are threatened with judgment coming on them, the first indirectly. The surety is living under the threat of judgment being brought against him, bringing him to bankruptcy and bondage; the sluggard is living under the threat of poverty; the troublemaker is living under the threat of being broken. It will be noted that for the first two there is hope. They can escape if they act wisely. For the third there is no hope. Calamity will come suddenly upon him (compare 1.27).

The theme of poverty, threatening both the surety and the sluggard, and the calamity facing the worthless man, continue the same idea as is found in 5.10-11.

If His Son Has Become Surety For Another He Should Seek To Obtain Release From His Obligation At All Costs (6.1-5).

To become a surety is to guarantee to pay someone else’s debts if that person fails to pay. A surety is usually a man of some worth. The idea here must be that the surety has committed himself to more than he could afford, because he was so sure that he would not be called on to act upon it. He would hardly need to go to all this trouble about something that he could well afford. The thought is that he has put himself under an obligation that could ruin him, and is therefore to make every effort to obtain his release before it is too late. This is in accordance with the words of 22.26, ‘do not be of those who strike hands, or of those who are sureties for debts, if you do not have the wherewithal to pay, why should he take your bed from under you?’

Solomon was very much against the idea of acting as a surety. As he says in 11.15, ‘he who is surety for a stranger will smart for it, but he who hates suretyship is secure, and in 17.18 it is ‘a man void of understanding’ who ‘ strikes hands, and becomes surety in the presence of his neighbour.’ It is, of course, a different matter when a father acts as surety for his own son’s debt, where he is in a sense thereby guaranteeing the household debt.

The fact that he has put himself in the stranger’s (or the neighbour’s) power (verse 1) is reminiscent of putting himself in the strange woman’s power in chapter 5. Both no doubt used assuring words to him. And both are using their influence, one sexual the other commercial, in a way which could bring him down. Of both we could argue ‘beware of the subtleties of strangers’. It is not anti-stranger as such. Israel were to welcome strangers among them. It is a reminder that ‘strangers’ see things in a different way from Israelites. They have no Torah.

Note once again the chiastic structure. He has snared himself by his promises (6.1-2) -- he must therefore seek to deliver himself from the snare (6.5). He is to deliver himself (6.3) -- he is to deliver himself (6.5). Centrally he is to make every effort to obtain release (6.3b-4).

6.1-2

‘My son, if you have become surety for your neighbour,
If you have struck your hands for a stranger,
You are snared with the words of your mouth,
You are taken with the words of your mouth.’

The passage commences with ‘my son, ‘if --.’ Compare for this construction 1.10. Here Solomon follows it up by declaring that to make yourself surety for another person’s debts is to unconsciously have entered into a trap which could spring at any moment. It is to enter into a time of uncertainty, for no one can be sure of what the outcome will be. By this means many good-hearted persons have ruined themselves. Of course if it is for an amount that the surety can easily afford to lose there is no problem. The problem occurs when the surety has committed himself beyond his means because he expected never to be called on to pay. The giving of assurances (the words of his mouth) and the striking of hands was the method of sealing the contract.

There are two possible scenarios here. The first is that the neighbour is the one he has become surety for, as an act of compassion, and the ‘stranger’ or foreigner is the one to whom the obligation will have to be paid, the one who has given the loan. In this case it would necessarily be a foreigner because Israelites were expected to lend to the poor without security (Deuteronomy 15.1-11). The other is that the surety is given to the neighbour (fellow-Israelite) on behalf of the stranger, on a commercial basis. This would tie in with 11.15, and explain better why he has to plead with his neighbour. In this case it would have been a commercial transaction in the sense that the one who gave the surety was doing so in return for a commission. This may well have been somewhat high which would help to explain why the surety is classed with the sluggard, as wishing to obtain wealth without working for it, and with the worthless man as an extortioner.

The striking of the hand to act as surety is elsewhere described as the action of a man lacking in understanding (17.18), and as something to be avoided (22.26). Solomon may well have presided over many cases where sureties were bankrupted and sold with their families into bondage.

6.3

‘Do this now, my son, and deliver yourself,
Seeing you have come into the hand of your neighbour,
Go, humble yourself,
And importune your neighbour,

Note the repetition of ‘my son’. This demonstrates that it was not Rehoboam or another natural son in mind. Solomon with all his wealth would hardly have seen his natural sons as being in danger for acting as a surety. Nor would they have needed to do so. He points out that a person who has entered into such an obligation is to seek to escape from it at all costs. If he has given the surety on behalf of his neighbour, then he has in fact put himself totally at the mercy of his neighbour, for now his neighbour can renege on his obligation leaving him to pick up the debt. He can simply not bother to work it off, because he knows that his surety will pay up (he can be a sluggard), or even deliberately act deceitfully towards his surety (he can be a worthless person). He should therefore go immediately and humble himself before his neighbour, pleading with him and importuning him to work hard to pay off the loan. Note the command to ‘go’ (compare verse 10). He is not to hang about or slumber and sleep, but to act decisively, just as the sluggard is advised to do the same (6.6, 11).

In this scenario the neighbour is in no position to cancel the surety (only the creditor can do that), so presumably the idea is that he importunes him to work hard to pay of his debt as soon as possible. In other words he pleads with him not to be a sluggard.

In the second scenario he is pleading with the neighbour to release the security, and possibly offering him payment in order to persuade him to do so. This seems to fit the sense better. If he succeeds he will be much worse off, but at least he will not be facing ruin.

The point behind all this is in order to bring home the lesson of not acting as someone’s surety. It is to point out that it could lead to many sleepless nights, and even to ruin, and possibly indicates Solomon’s (and God’s) disapproval of obtaining wealth by this means.

6.4-5

Do not give sleep to your eyes,
Nor slumber to your eyelids,
Deliver yourself as a roe from the hand,
And as a bird from the hand of the fowler.’

The situation is so urgent that he must not sleep or give himself to slumber (as the sluggard does - verse 10). He must not be a sluggard. Rather he must put every effort into escaping from the trap into which he has fallen. He has to seek to escape with the desperation of a roe/gazelle escaping ‘from the hand’, that is from the hunter who is trying to capture him (compare ‘the hand of your neighbour - verse 3. The simple ‘from the hand’ emphasises the comparison), or like a terrified bird escaping from the hand of the fowler. And the only way that he can do that is by ensuring that the neighbour does not renege on his debt, or alternatively by buying off his liability to his neighbour.

An alternative interpretation is to see ‘the neighbour’ and ‘the stranger’ as the same person, and therefore the creditor, but that is not to take the obvious meaning of the words. Nor is it clear how someone who has lent on security can be persuaded to relinquish that security before the debt is paid, especially if he is ‘a stranger’. It would, however make sense if it was to be achieved by a commercial payment. This would necessarily be less than the amount assured as the lender would still hope to recover the debt. What he was losing was the security.

A Warning To The Lazy (6.6-11).

The urgency required of the surety in dealing with his problem in 6.1-5, and the possibility that he might be slack in doing so, may well have raised in Solomon’s mind the dangers of laziness. For whereas the ants are also urgent, the sluggard is the very opposite. He puts off his problems and goes to sleep. And the consequence will be that instead of having food stored up for the winter he will be in poverty and need. So as he will not listen to Solomon’s wisdom what he should rather do is learn wisdom from the ant.

It will be noted that this subsection consists of two contrasts, on the one hand the ant which is not under anyone’s instructions and yet works hard, and consequently ensures that it has sufficient provision, and on the other the sluggard who listens to no one’s instructions and slumbers and sleeps, and who will thus will find himself in poverty and want.

6.6-8

‘Go to the ant, you sluggard,
Consider her ways, and be wise,
Which having no chief,
Overseer, or ruler,
Provides her bread in the summer,
And gathers her food in the harvest.

Instead of addressing this man as ‘my son’, he addresses him as ‘you sluggard’, and calls on him to consider the ant. (Note ‘my son -- my son’ (6.1, 3) as compared with ‘you sluggard’ -- you sluggard’ (6.6, 9)). This is an admonition rather than an entreaty. He does not see him as a ‘son’, eager to learn from him, but as someone who has to be stirred up and cajoled. Sarcastically he indicates that as he will not listen to Solomon, he should listen to the ant. He wants him to watch ants scurrying this way and that, and learn a lesson from them. The ant is one of the ‘creeping things’ of which Solomon spoke (1 Kings 4.33). It was probably the harvester ant, which stores grain within its nest, and is found in large quantities throughout Palestine.

And it taught a salutary lesson, for this ant, without any admonition or overlordship, works away busily all through the summer in order to provision its nest. It never stops. It makes use of both summertime and harvest time. The busyness of the ant is proverbial. Arguments as to whether ants are under leadership are irrelevant. Insects do not give instructions to each other in order to be obeyed. They simply respond to their natural conditioning.

6.9-11

How long will you sleep, O sluggard?
When will you arise out of your sleep?
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep,
So will your poverty come as a robber,
And your want as an armed man.

The sluggard sleeps and slumbers (compare 24.33), just as the surety was warned not to do (6.4). He sees it as ‘a little sleep’ no matter how long it lasts. He deceives himself. And paradoxically he dreams of wealth and plenty (13.4). But the consequence will be that poverty creeps up on him like a robber, and want like an armed man (compare 24.34). This armed man could be an armed robber, or a soldier seeking spoils. Thus poverty and want both creep up on a man, and can equally be violent. They wrest his goods from him. They take his goods by stealth or force (as indeed would the creditor in the first illustration).

The Worthless Man (6.12-19).

We now come to the third person in the triumvirate. The first one committed as a surety what he did not have. He was naive. The second was too lazy to do anything to provide for himself. He was a fool. But this third is a scorner. He is totally untrustworthy. He is called ‘a man of belial’, a ‘man without profit’, a man in whom there is no good, thus a worthless man. It will be noted that Solomon makes no appeal to him. He sees him as a hopeless case to be warned against. He simply describes him and his end.

The subsection divides into two parts, the first defining the worthless man, the second listing seven things which YHWH hates. There is considerable overlap. The worthless man has a perverse mouth, insolent and untrustworthy eyes, threatening feet, fingers which indicate unpleasantness, and a perverse heart which devises evil continually. He sins with every part of his anatomy. The seven things which YHWH hates include a lying tongue, haughty eyes, feet swift to run to mischief, hands which shed innocent blood, and a heart which devises wicked imaginations.

The Worthless Man (6.12-15).

This first part, defining the worthless man, may be seen chiastically,

  • A A worthless person, a man of iniquity (6.12a).
  • B Is he who walks with a perverse mouth (6.12b).
  • C Who winks with his eyes, who scrapes/stamps with his feet, who makes signs with his fingers (6.13).
  • D In whose heart is perverseness (6.14).
  • C Who devises evil continually (6.14b).
  • B Who sows discord (6.14c).
  • A Therefore will his calamity come suddenly, suddenly he will be broken, and that without remedy (6.15).

In A the man is a worthless and iniquitous person, and in the parallel he is therefore doomed to calamity. In B he walks with a perverse mouth, and in the parallel he sows discord. In C he makes rude and deceitful gestures with eyes, feet and fingers, and in the parallel he devises evil continually. Centrally in D his heart is perverse.

6.12-13

‘A worthless person, a man of iniquity,
Is he who walks with a perverse mouth,
Who winks with his eyes, who scrapes/stamps with his feet,
Who makes signs with his fingers.’

Note that he describes the man without addressing him. He does not expect any response from such a man, for he is ‘a man of belial’, a worthless person. Such ‘worthless men’ seek to lead others into idolatry (Deuteronomy 13.13). The sons of Eli were ‘sons of belial’, worthless sons who defiled the worship of YHWH (1 Samuel 2.12). Those who imagined evil against YHWH counselled worthlessness (belial) (Nahum 1.11). Those who rejected YHWH’s chosen king and despised him were called ‘sons of belial’ (1 Samuel 10.27; 2 Samuel 20.1). Those who bore false testimony against Naboth were characterised as ‘men of belial, and were chosen because they were ‘sons of belial’ (1 Kings 21.10, 13). ‘Sons of belial’ demanded the right to have homosexual relations against his will with the Levite in Judges 19.22. So a man of belial is totally worthless, takes no account of YHWH, despises justice, and sinks to the lowest level of deed.

The characteristics of this ‘worthless man’ are now described. In his walk he speaks perversely. As he goes on life’s way he has a perverse mouth. A perverse mouth was something which Solomon in 4.24 had told his ‘son’ to put away. Nothing such a man says can be relied on (he has ‘a lying tongue’- 6.17). Thus he will happily bear false testimony on oath (6.19; 19.28; 1 Kings 21.10). He uses his words to cause dissension and trouble (he ‘sows discord among brothers’ (6.19; 16.27-28). He is a troublemaker and peace disturber.

‘He winks with his eyes.’ Winking with the eye is an indication that he is involved in deceit, and wants others to know it, apart possibly from his victim. (This is not ‘a cheeky wink’). He is someone not to be trusted. Even his actions are deceitful. Thus elsewhere we learn that a man who winks with his eye can be relied on to cause sorrow (10.10). He is one who is confident that he will get away with his misdeeds (Psalm 35.19). In early Jewish tradition he who winked with the eye was seen as ‘a contriver of evil things’ (Ecclesiasticus 27.22).

‘He scrapes/stamps with his feet.’ (The meaning of the verb is uncertain. The Targum translates as ‘stamped’, but elsewhere it indicates scraping). Like the wink with the eye the scraping of the feet was intended to be a rude or threatening gesture, possibly not noticed by the person whom he was insulting. (In the list of abominations the feet are swift in running to mischief - verse 18). He was thus an insolent and unpleasant man. Middle easterners regularly used their feet as indicators. Thus, for example, they use them to point the way, in the same way as we would point with the finger. The scraping of the foot may well have indicated that he wanted to humiliate the person and grind him into the ground. Or stamping the foot may have indicated displeasure or an intention to do harm. Coming immediately after ‘eyes’ the idea may also be that ‘he reveals his insulting and deceitful nature from eye to foot’, in other words with every part of his anatomy.

‘Who makes signs with his fingers.’ His fingers too were used for making secret but insulting, and possibly threatening, gestures which were intended to be seen by others but not the person in question. He was deceitful, unpleasant and possibly dangerous.

With regard to these signals we should notice that, in contrast to the list of abominations, there is no specific suggestion in this part that the worthless man is violent. And yet previously violence has been seen as a prominent sin (1.11-12; 3.25, 31; 4.17). This might be seen as indicating that these signals in some way indicated violence.

6.14-15

‘In whose heart is perverseness,
Who devises evil continually, who sows discord.
Therefore will his calamity come suddenly,
Suddenly he will be broken, and that without remedy.’

Not only is his mouth perverse, but his heart is too. And this is revealed by the way in which he continually plans evil. He is without scruples. And one of the ways in which he does this is by sowing discord, stirring people up to rebel against authority, or against each other. But like those who refused to hear the voice of wisdom in 1.22-27, calamity will eventually come upon him, and he will be broken in such a way that there will be no remedy. One point being made in all these examples is that the way of the transgressor ends up in judgment.

Seven Things Which YHWH Hates (6.16-19).

We now have listed seven thing which YHWH hates. The ‘six things -- yes seven’ was a technique saying ‘more than six’ (double completeness) and emphasising the seven (divine completeness), thus stressing the divine completeness of the list. Compare the ‘three things -- yes four’ found three times in 30.15-33 (four times if we include ‘for three things -- and for four’). Again the thought is of being over and above completeness’. Compare in Amos his use of ‘for three transgressions -- and for four’ (occurring eight times in Amos 1-2) emphasising that there were more than the three transgressions, a number which would have indicated completeness, and itself would have deserved judgment. But they had exceeded even that. They had gone beyond the bounds. They had sinned excessively

This part is also constructed chiastically:

  • A There are six things which YHWH hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to him (6.16).
  • B Haughty eyes, a lying tongue (6.17a).
  • C And hands which shed innocent blood (6.17b).
  • D A heart which devises wicked purposes (6.18a).
  • C Feet which are swift in running to mischief (6.18b).
  • B A false witness who utters lies (6.19a).
  • A And he who sows discord among brothers (6.19b).

Note that in A the seventh thing is especially distinguished, and in the parallel we have the seventh thing, and it may be that ‘haughty eyes’ are also to be paralleled ‘sowing discord/rebellion’. In B we have a lying tongue and in the parallel is a false witness who utters lies. In C we have hands shedding blood, and in the parallel feet running to mischief. Central to all is the heart devising wicked purposes.

It will also be noted how many of these abominations have previously been applied to the worthless man. A perverse mouth (verse 12) and sowing discord (verse 14) parallel a lying tongue, a false witness, one who sows discord (verses 17, 19). Perverseness in his heart, devising evil continually (verse 14) parallel a heart which devises wicked purposes (verse 18).

It is not, however, intended to be taken as a summary of all abominations, for there is, for example, no mention of adultery, or of hypocritical sacrifices, or of dishonesty in business. It is rather bringing out that YHWH hates the attributes of the worthless man. Elsewhere the following are specifically said to be abominations to YHWH: the perverse man (3.32; 11.20); a false balance (11.1); lying lips (12.22); hypocritical sacrifices (15.8; 21.27); the way of the wicked (15.9); the thoughts of the wicked (15.26); the proud in heart (16.5); those who justify the wicked or condemn the righteous (17.15); weights and measures which are inconsistent (20.10, 23).

No punishment is mentioned with regard to these abominations. God’s judgment on them is assumed. But it has in a sense already been mentioned in verse 15. Thus the list is not complete in itself but looks back to what has been said about the worthless man.

6.16-19

‘There are six things which YHWH hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to him,
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands which shed innocent blood,
A heart which devises wicked purposes,
Feet which are swift in running to mischief,
A false witness who utters lies,
And he who sows discord among brothers.’

The language is strong. These are things which YHWH hates and abominates. They will thus certainly one day come into judgment. Notice that they cover thought (verse 18a), actions (verses 17c, 18b, 19b), words (verses 17b, 19a) and attitude (verse 17a).

The first three in the list are taken together (the third is introduced by ‘and’). This may simply be because of the importance put on ‘threeness’. The three cover eyes, lips and hands. The first reveals attitude, ‘haughty eyes’. The next two reveal actions, a lying tongue and murderous hands. This idea of ‘threeness’ continues for it is intrinsic in the number six which is specifically introduced. But, as is reflected in the introductory words (‘six things -- yes seven’), in the final analysis one is added to the six (and to the second three) in order to bring the number up to seven This disturbing of the pattern is in order to achieve ‘seven’, the number of divine completeness.

‘Haughty eyes (‘rising eyes’).’ Compare the winking eyes in verse 13, and the proud in heart who are an abomination to YHWH in 16.5. The word ‘haughty’ indicates arrogance and pride, someone who thinks himself above the norm and able to do anything that he likes, as is in fact revealed by what follows. He sees himself as ‘special’, and even as being able to challenge God (compare Isaiah 10.12-15). That is why YHWH has determined a day when ‘the lofty looks of man will be brought low’ and when all that is proud and haughty and lifted up will be brought low (Isaiah 2.11-12). That is why David, in a desire to please YHWH, declared that ‘him who has a proud look and a high heart I will not put up with’ (Psalm 101.5). In Psalm 131.1 it is the one whose heart is haughty and whose eyes are ‘risen’ who exercises himself in things which are above him. But YHWH will bring down ‘risen looks’ (Palm 18.27). For in the end such a man is simply a human being. He turns into dust like everyone else. He struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. In contrast ‘the meek will inherit the earth’ (Psalm 37.11) and YHWH dwells with the lowly and contrite (Isaiah 57.15).

‘A lying tongue.’ The word for ‘lying’ indicates lying with the intention of causing harm. The same word is used in verse 19 of ‘false’ witness. It is regularly used of ‘false’ testimony in court, but is not limited to that for it also refers to lies told in order to damage someone’s position or reputation. Such lying brings a man into judgment for the one who tells lies will not stand in God’s sight (Psalm 101.7), and the mouth of those who speak lies will be stopped (Psalm 63.11). This is because lying lips are an abomination to YHWH (12.22). To lie is to be loathsome (13.5). A lying tongue hates those who are afflicted by it, that is, it shows total disregard for them and treats them with contempt (26.28). The word is regularly applied to false prophets.

‘Hands which shed innocent blood.’ This parallels ‘you shall do no murder’ (Exodus 20.13). It did not apply to killing enemy soldiers, although it did apply to unnecessary killing of women and children. Nor did it apply to the one who sought ‘blood vengeance’. In those days when there was no police force, that was the way in which justice was accomplished on murderers. The wider family were seen as responsible for bringing about the execution of the guilty party (in other words in our terms it does not apply to judicial executions where the case is proved). The emphasis is on innocent blood. Compare 1.11-14 for an example of shedding innocent blood. The cities of refuge were set up to preserve the lives of men who slew another accidentally, lest their innocent blood be shed by avengers of blood (Deuteronomy 19.10). But they would not preserve someone who had deliberately killed. The slaying of another in peace time, except in self-defence or blood vengeance, or after fair trial, was to take innocent blood. Murder has always been abhorrent to God. From the time of the Flood onwards the principle was that ‘He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’, for to kill a man without good cause is to violate God (Genesis 9.6).

We now come to the second group. Again the first in the list refers to attitude, this time attitude of heart. ‘A heart which devises wicked purposes.’ This is then followed by three actions which we will consider shortly. The heart was seen as the centre of the mind, will, emotions and knowledge of God. But a heart which devises wicked (unrighteous) purposes is revealing that it has no knowledge of God. And as we saw previously it is the worthless man whose heart is perverted and who devises evil continually (verse 14). Now that is repeated as being something that God abominates. From within his inner being this kind of man is always planning unrighteous purposes (the word translated wicked is regularly seen as the opposite of righteous). He is evil at heart. We have already seen two of his unrighteous purposes, a lying tongue and a murderous hand. These are now added to by feet which are swift in running to evil mischief, a false witness who utters lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. He has an attitude problem.

‘Feet which are swift in running to (evil) mischief.’ He is always on the look out for some wrong that he can do, some harm that he can cause. And when he finds it he is so eager that he ‘runs’ to fulfil it. He is someone who is without scruples, and he cannot wait to do someone harm. We can compare this with 1.16 which speaks of those whose feet run to evil. There are many today who think it funny to cause harm to people. They need to recognise that they are abominated by God.

‘A false (lying) witness who utters lies.’ In the chiasmus this parallels ‘the lying tongue’. But here the double stress on lying brings out the awfulness of the crime. He is a lying witness who lies. The crime is all the greater because it occurs within the sphere of justice. Today we would call it perjury. And there, in the very place where truth was of vital importance, the worthless man was a lying witness who lied in the sight of God and men. And he did it, not in order to defend himself, but in order to cause harm to others. In Deuteronomy 19.15-21 such a false witness was to be punished by having the same harm caused to him, as he had caused by his false witness, so that others might ‘hear and fear’.

‘He who sows discord among brothers.’ The final abomination is the one who sows discord among brothers. ‘Brothers’ could mean full brothers, relatives, or simply fellow-countrymen. In the modern day it could mean fellow-Christians. The aim of the worthless man is to bring disunity where there is harmony, in order to further his own interests. He delights to arouse antagonism and hatred. This can range from causing rebellion in the kingdom, to stimulating feuds between tribes, to arousing general animosity, to breaking up family relationships. And it is done for self-satisfaction or self-gain. The worthless man ‘sows discord’ (6.14). He is in direct contrast to the ‘peace-maker’ who seeks to bring harmony, thereby demonstrating that he is one of the Lord’s blessed ones (Matthew 5.9).

Discourse 7. Addressed To ‘My Son’. He Is Urged To Observe The Commandment And The Torah, Avoiding The Enticement Of The Adulterous Woman, And Being Aware Of The Wrath Of The Deceived Husband (6.20-35).

Having illustrated in 6.1-19 the different types of people to whom wisdom speaks, the naive, the fool and the scorner, Solomon now returns to pleading with his ‘son’ to listen to wisdom, and to avoid the enticing woman who is the very opposite of woman wisdom, and is in this case his neighbour’s wife. Nevertheless she is still seen as ‘a stranger’ (6.24), partly because he would not normally come across her in daily life, and partly because she is operating outside the covenant.

It must be remembered that to Solomon his ‘son’ would have little to do with women whom, apart from his own relatives, he would not meet in daily life, for women in Jerusalem lived sheltered lives. Outside their family they kept themselves to themselves. His experience of life would mainly be of interaction with men. The only exception, of course, was women like the one described here, who thrust themselves on men’s attention. This is one reason why, when giving instruction concerning women, Solomon only refers to immoral women. It was not because he was anti-women. Indeed he made wisdom a woman. It was because they were not, on the whole, involved in community life.

The passage divides up into three sections (determined by the chiasms) as follows:

  • 1). An appeal to ‘my son’ to keep his commandment and not forsake the torah (6.20-23).
  • 2). A warning that giving way to the flattery and lust of a strange woman will have unpleasant consequences (6.24-29).
  • 3). A warning that to commit adultery will bring on him the wrath of the offended husband (6.30-35).

1). An Appeal To ‘My Son’ To Keep His Commandment And Not Forsake The Torah (6.20-23).

That Solomon sees ‘his’ commandment and torah as based on the commandment and Torah as given by Moses is brought out here by the description of the commandment as a lamp and the torah as a light. This was how Israel saw the Torah (Psalm 119.105; 43.3). It is also made clear by the technical terms used (commandment and torah were descriptions closely connected with the Torah. See for example Exodus 24.12; Deuteronomy 30.10; Joshua 22.5; 1 Kings 2.3; etc.), and by the fact that ‘the Torah of Moses’ (Joshua 1.7-8; 8.31; 22.5; 23.6; Judges 1.16; 4.11) would undoubtedly have formed a background to Solomon’s thinking, having been taught to him from an early age (his knowledge of them is assumed in 1 Kings 2.3).

This subsection follows the usual chiastic pattern:

  • A My son, keep the commandment of your father, and forsake not the law of your mother, bind them continually on your heart, tie them about your neck (6.20-21).
  • B When you walk, it will lead you (6.22a).
  • C When you sleep, it will watch over you (6.22b).
  • B And when you awake, it will talk with you (6.22c).
  • A For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life (6.23).

Note than in A reference is to the commandment and the torah (law) which are to be constantly heeded, whilst in the parallel similar reference is made to the commandment and the torah which indicate the way of life. In B and parallel they give daily guidance. Centrally in C they watch over him while he sleeps.

6.20-21

‘My son, keep the commandment of your father,
And forsake not the law (torah) of your mother,
Bind them continually on your heart,
Fasten them about your neck.’

He was to ‘keep the commandment of his father’, that is guard it and observe it. He was ‘not to forsake the torah (law) of his mother’. These words assume a body of specific teaching passed on by father and mother which are in conformity to each other. We can contrast here 1.8 where the exhortation was to ‘hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother’. It was the responsibility of the family heads to ensure that their children were taught the covenant law (e.g. Deuteronomy 11.19). Any instruction by father or mother would therefore inevitably involve the Torah, and in the case of youngsters this would be done by the mother. The use of torah here is therefore significant.

The same combination of commandment and torah is found in 3.1 except for the fact that there it speaks of ‘my commandments’, and is in the plural (and has been in every reference up to this point - 2.1; 3.1; 4.4). Its primary reference there was to Solomon’s commandments, although as reflecting God’s commandments. It may be that here the aim of the singular is in order to emphasise that there is reference to a specific commandment, the commandment not to commit adultery. Or more likely it may be because ‘the commandment’ is a composite word in parallel with torah (compare Deuteronomy 17.19-20), both referring to the law of Moses as passed on by father and mother. Solomon’s assumption is that father and mother are passing on sound teaching (he can hardly be saying, ‘do whatever your father and mother tell you no matter what it is’), and in Israel that would be based on the Torah of Moses..

‘His son’ is to bind them continually in his heart (inner being). He must treasure them and consider them and respond to them continually. He is to ‘fasten them about his neck’. Like a necklace he is to make them an adornment to him. For this picture compare 1.9; 3.3, 22.

This verse reminds us of Moses’ instruction in Deuteronomy 11.18 (compare Deuteronomy 6.6-9; , ‘therefore you shall lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes’, but here abbreviated and altered in order to conform to the previous illustrations. This is another indication that the torah (law) of Moses is in mind.

6.22

‘When you walk, it will lead you,
When you sleep, it will watch over you,
And when you awake, it will talk with you.’
.

Note the change from ‘them’ (referring either to ‘the commandment’ and ‘the torah’ or to the instructions that they contained) to ‘it’, referring to the combination of both, or to wisdom, which is, of course, an exemplification of both. If the latter it emphasises the close connection between wisdom and the commandment and torah on which the teaching of father and mother is based.

God’s wisdom, His commandment and Torah, will lead him in his daily walk, will watch over him when he sleeps, giving him peaceful sleep (3.24), and will speak to him when he is awake (‘when I awake I am still with you’ - Psalm 139.18). It will be to him like a shepherd, and indeed like a mother and father. It will thus affect every part of his life. It is a reminder to us that we should look to the guidance of God’s word in our daily walk, and allow it to talk to us when we first wake up, whilst through the night our knowledge of that word will give us peaceful sleep (compare 3.24; Psalm 4.8).

6.23

‘For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light,
And reproofs of instruction are the way of life.’

The commandment and the torah of his father and mother, as given by God, will lead him because they are a lamp and a light. They give him light when he first wakes up. They continually illuminate his way. They show him the way that he should take, and enable him to avoid objects over which he might stumble. They guide him in the way that is pleasing to God. In the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 119.105), ‘your word is a lamp to my feet, and light to my path’. The Psalmist may well have obtained his thought from this passage.

‘Reproofs of instruction are the way of life.’ For the way of wholesome and abundant life is entered into and walked in by responding to the reproofs of disciplinary instruction, and these come from the commandment and torah. In order to enjoy life disciplinary instruction is necessary (compare 3.11).

One Intention Of The Commandment And Torah Is To Keep Him From The Adulterous Woman Who Will Seek To Lead Him Astray (6.24-29).

In contrast with ‘woman wisdom’ (e.g. 1.20-33; 3.13-20) is the ‘strange woman’ who will seek to lead him astray. She will speak smooth words and seek to entice him with her beauty and her eyelids. But her way only leads to poverty and judgment.

Once again note the chiasmus:

  • A To keep you from the evil woman, from the flattery of the stranger’s tongue (6.24).
  • B Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her take you with her eyelids (6.25)
  • C For on account of a prostitute/immoral woman a man is brought to a piece of bread, and the adulteress hunts for the precious life (6.26).
  • B Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be scorched? (6.27-28).
  • A So he who goes in to his neighbour’s wife, whoever touches her will not be unpunished (6.29).

Note that A refers to the evil woman, the female stranger, and the parallel identifies her as the neighbour’s wife. In B he must not burn with lust and passion, and in the parallel this is likened to playing with fire. Central is the idea of the consequences.

6.24-26

‘To keep you from the evil woman,
From the flattery (‘smoothness’) of the stranger’s tongue,
Do not lust after her beauty in your heart,
Nor let her take you with her eyelids.
For on account of a harlot a man is brought to a piece of bread,
And the adulteress hunts for the precious life.’

One of the dangers of dividing up the text under headings is a loss of continuity. The original text, of course, is continuous, as is often the thought, even though chiasms do serve to indicate the subsections. Here verse 24 continues on directly from verse 23. It is the commandment, the torah and reproofs which were aimed at keeping the young man from the evil woman.

In this case the evil and strange woman is in fact a neighbour’s wife (previously she has been a foreign wife, or a prostitute). But like a prostitute her aim is to inveigle the young man into wrongful sexual activity by means of her smooth tongue (her flattery), her sexual beauty, and her fluttering eyelids. She is behaving like a prostitute, and is an adulteress. Like the worthless man she has deceitful lips. To heed her is to play with fire (verses 27-28). It is an interesting lesson that in Proverbs the only other reference to a woman’s beauty, as opposed to her sexual attractions (5.18-19), is of it as ‘as nothing, vain’. What is seen as far more important is that she fears YHWH (Proverbs 31.30)

‘For on account of a harlot a man is brought to a piece of bread, and the adulteress hunts for the precious life.’ The opening clause is literally ‘on account of/by means of a harlot unto/around a loaf of bread’. There are a number of possible interpretations:

  • 1). On account of a prostitute the victim is reduced to poverty, having as a result of his extravagances only a loaf of bread left of all his possessions (compare 1 Samuel 2.36 where an impoverished priest humbles himself for ‘a piece of silver or a loaf of bread’, a minimum requirement for survival). Compare 5.10-11 which supports this.
  • 2). On account of/by means of a prostitute the victim himself is reduced in value to that of a loaf of bread. That is all he can be seen as worth.
  • 3). On account of having/by means of a prostitute the victim has to pay the cost of a loaf of bread. This is based on a suggested meaning for be‘ad as ‘cost, price’, or as meaning ‘exchange for’ (compare Job 2.4), but indicates a very low charge for a prostitute. It may, however, be seen as unlikely that someone who could say what Solomon has said previously about prostitutes (2.18-19; 5.4-5) would so belittle the cost of going with a prostitute.

The question must be answered by considering the parallel that ‘an adulteress hunts for the precious life’. In other words an adulteress is pictured as hunting down, by her allurements, a man’s very life, the most precious thing of all that he possesses. And this because the sentence for adultery was death.

So the thought may be that the harlot ruins a man wealthwise, but an adulteress ruins him totally, taking his very life from him; that a prostitute lowers a man’s personal value, but an adulteress ruins him totally, because through death he ceases to have any value; or that a prostitute is cheap by comparison as the adulteress costs him, not a loaf of bread but his very existence (for the penalty for adultery was death).

6.27-29

‘Can a man take fire in his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?
Or can one walk on hot coals,
And his feet not be scorched?
So he who goes in to his neighbour’s wife,
Whoever touches her will not be unpunished.

If a man holds fire against himself, probably in a pot, his clothes will undoubtedly be singed, although the thought might be to postulate an absurdity, a man actually carrying fire in his clothing (the thought being how absurd the man is who engages in adultery). A man who walks on hot coals must expect his feet to be burned. So a man who plays with fire by going in to ‘his neighbour’s wife’ (the wife of a fellow-Israelite) must certainly expect to be severely punished. It is inevitable.

‘Whoever touches her.’ A euphemism for someone who touches her sexually, and has sex with her.

To Steal A Man’s Wife By Adultery Is Far Worse And Far More Costly Than To Steal His Possessions, For Compensation Can Be Made For Stolen Possessions, But No Compensation Will Be Considered As Satisfactory For Adultery (6.30-35).

A comparison is now made between a man who is hungry and steals in order to satisfy his hunger, who in consequence has to pay a heavy price, and a man who is sexually hungry and steals his neighbour’s wife in order to satisfy his hunger. But in his case no price will be sufficient. The husband will not be satisfied by anything that he can offer. He will require the ultimate penalty.

This subsection may be analysed as follows:

  • A Men do not despise a thief, if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry (6.30).
  • B But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold, he shall give all the substance of his house (6.31).
  • C He who commits adultery with a woman is void of understanding, he does it who would destroy his own soul (6.32).
  • C Wounds and dishonour will he get, and his reproach will not be wiped away (6.33).
  • B For jealousy is the rage of a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance (6.34).
  • A He will not regard any ransom, nor will he rest content, though you give many gifts (6.35).

Note that in A men do not despise a thief who steals for good cause, but in the parallel a husband totally despises a man who steals his wife. In B a thief may have to give all that he has in reparation, but in the parallel no reparation will be satisfactory. He will not be spared. Finally in C an adulterer destroys his own life, for in the parallel he will receive wounds and dishonour, and everlasting reproach.

6.30-31

‘Men do not despise a thief, if he steals
To satisfy himself when he is hungry,
But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold,
He shall give all the substance of his house.’

All decent men will sympathise with a thief who is driven to stealing by pure hunger (we might translate ‘when he is famished’). Nevertheless if he is caught he will be called on to make reparation. He will restore ‘sevenfold’ is a way of saying that he will be called on to make reparation to the full extent required (compare how Cain would be avenged sevenfold - Genesis 4.15). If necessary he will have to give everything that he possesses (all the substance of his house), and become a slave, in order to make reparation.

6.32-33

‘He who commits adultery with a woman is void of understanding,
He does it who would destroy his own soul.’
Wounds and dishonour will he get,
And his reproach will not be wiped away.

But there can be no sympathy for a man who steals his neighbour’s wife. He is void of understanding. He has no justification. And the one who does it is not satisfying hunger, he is destroying his own life. All he can expect to received are wounds and dishonour. He may expect to be attacked physically by the husband, who may also have assisted with the death sentence, and psychologically by the whole of society. It was a crime that society looked on as heinous and unforgivable. It hit at the very root of family life. Thus his reproach would never be wiped away. If he did live (it may be that by Solomon’s time the death sentence had been replaced by a lashing), he would always be seen as the man who stole another man’s wife (compare Deuteronomy 25.10 of the one who refused to raise up seed to his brother). And if he died he would carry his reproach beyond the grave.

6.34-35

‘For jealousy is the rage of a man,
And he will not spare in the day of vengeance,
He will not regard any ransom,
Nor will he rest content, though you give many gifts.’

Nor would there be any relenting by the husband who had been cheated. For jealousy more than anything else inflames men’s burning rage, indeed it is regularly the source of that rage. Thus the husband will be filled with constant rage against him and will not spare him or relent in the day when he is able to obtain his vengeance. Nor will he be bought off. He will not accept any offer of ransom. Nor will he rest content and allow his rage to subside, even though he is given more and more compensation. Nothing will stop him. He will not rest until he feels that he has been fully requited through maximum judgment coming on the adulterer.

It will be noted that 6.24-35 began with ‘you, your’ (verses 24, 25), referring to the young man, and now ends with ‘you’ (verse 35) with the verses in between referring to an impersonal ‘he’ which refers to the ‘man’ in verse 37. His aim is to make the young man feel involved, and take the warning personally.

Discourse 8. Addressed To ‘My Son’. After Appealing To Him To Observe His Words Solomon Vividly Describes The Wiles Of An Adulteress And Warns ‘Sons’ Against Her (7.1-27).

This is the fourth reference to the dangers of the ‘strange woman’. In 2.16-19 the emphasis was on her betrayal of both man and God; in 5.1-23 there was an emphasis on the financial and social loss involved in consorting with the strange woman and the encouragement to look rather to a true wife; in 6.20-35 the emphasis was on the resultant anger of the husband which can only be assuaged by extreme judgment; here the emphasis is on the details of the seduction of the young man in preparation for the contrast with the activity of Ms Wisdom.

For it is surely not a coincidence that this long passage dealing with the woman who seeks to lead men astray is followed by an equally long passage exalting Ms Wisdom (8.1-36). Just as the adulteress here goes out seeking the foolish young man (7.10-12) so as to persuade him with words to follow her (7.14-20), and offers him love (7.13, 18), so in chapter 8 does Ms Wisdom go out (8.1-4), so as persuade men to follow her (8.18-21), and offers them love of a different kind (8.17). And as the adulteress lists what she has to offer (7.16-17), so does Ms Wisdom (8.18-19). Both end with a warning of men going down into death (7.27; 8.36). And this association and contrast is confirmed in 7.4-5 where treating Wisdom as his sister will keep him from the strange woman. We may add further that, in a similar way to the strange woman in 7.14, Ms Wisdom in 9.2 is portrayed as having offered a sacrifice in preparation for feasting the naive ones.

There are also a number of contrasts. The adulteress works at night, the impression we have of Ms Wisdom is that she speaks openly during the day. The adulteress’s words are deceptive, and encourage deceit and unrighteousness. Ms Wisdom’s words are open and honest, encouraging truth and righteousness. The adulteress leads her hearer to into certain death, Ms Wisdom leads her hearers into life. The adulteress is very much of the earth and temporal, Ms Wisdom is heavenly and eternal. The adulteress offers sexual love, Ms Wisdom offers spiritual love.

What is more the direct contrast between Ms Wisdom and Ms Folly is made explicit in 9.1-12, 13-18. Thus Ms Wisdom is seen as God reaching out to man through His wisdom, whilst the adulterous woman represents the lures of the world and the flesh which lead men away from God. Both are in competition with each other. We can compare how Moses ‘chose rather to be treated badly with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt’ (Hebrews 11.25-26).

Once again the passage divides into three subsections:

  • An appeal to ‘my son’ to observe his words and his commandments and to take wisdom and understanding as his close female relatives, so as to be protected from the foreign woman (7.1-5).
  • A detailed description of the seducing of the young man by the ‘strange woman’ (7.6-23).
  • A further appeal addressed to ‘sons’ not to follow her because her way is the way of death (7.24-27).

An Appeal To ‘My Son’ To Observe His Words And His Commandments And To Take Wisdom And Understanding As His Close Female Relatives, So As To Be Protected From The Foreign Woman (7.1-5).

This appeal follows the pattern of earlier appeals. For the combination of ‘words’ and ‘commandments’ compare 2.1; for the combination of ‘commandments’ and ‘torah (law)’ compare 3.1, and see 6.20; for the combination of wisdom and understanding compare 2.2; 3.13, 19; 4.5a, 7; 5.1; 8.1, 5, 14; 9.10. In it the young man is called on the embrace wisdom as his sister and understanding as his kinswoman in order to be delivered from the strange woman who speaks smooth words.

The appeal is presented chiastically:

  • A My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with you (7.1).
  • B Keep my commandments and live, and my law as the apple of your eyes (7.2).
  • C Bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart (7.3)
  • B Say to wisdom, “You are my sister, and call understanding your kinswoman (7.4).
  • A That they may keep you from the strange woman, from the foreigner who flatters with her words (7.5).

Note that in A his ‘son’ has to ‘keep’ his ‘words’, and in the parallel these will ‘keep’ him from the strange woman who flatters with her ‘words’. In B he is to treat his torah as the apple of his eyes, and in the parallel he is treat wisdom and understanding as close relatives. Centrally in C he is to bind on his fingers, and write on his heart, Solomon’s commandments and torah.

7.1-2

‘My son, keep my words,
And lay up my commandments with you.
Keep my commandments and live,
And my law as the apple of your eyes.’

In the typical phraseology of his previous appeals Solomon calls on ‘his son’ to treasure and observe his words, and to lay up his commandments with him. There would appear in this to be an encouragement for him to learn them by rote. And by treasuring and observing his commandments he will ‘live’ (compare 4.4), that is he will enjoy a wholesome spiritual life before God. Elsewhere such life is promised to those who treasure and observe the Torah of Moses (Leviticus 18.5; Deuteronomy 4.1; 5.33; 8.1, 3; 16.20; 30.6, 16, 19), thus Solomon is here connecting his commandments and torah with the Torah of Moses. It demonstrates his supreme confidence that he is acting as God’s mouthpiece. And this is confirmed by the accompanying use of ‘my torah’ (instruction). His torah, based on God’s Torah, was to be guarded and treasured by the young man, as he guarded and treasured his own eyesight. The ‘apple’ or ‘little man’ of his eyes were the pupils, in which a man’s image might be reflected in miniature. Compare Deuteronomy 32.10.

7.3-5

‘Bind them on your fingers,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,
And call understanding your kinswoman,
That they may keep you from the strange woman,
From the foreigner who flatters with her words.

‘Bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart.’ Compare for this Deuteronomy 11.18 (and see Deuteronomy 6.6, 8), ‘you shall lay up these words in your heart, and bind them for a sign on your hand’. This was what was to be done with God’s Torah. The importance of their being bound on their fingers lay in the fact that what was bound on the fingers would constantly be observed in daily life. Being written on the tablet of the heart they would affect the will and mind of the person involved. For ‘writing on the heart’, signifying God’s activity in bringing home His word to us, compare Jeremiah 31.33.

Solomon then calls on him to see wisdom as his sister, and understanding as his close kinswoman. By being closely related to them as insiders he will hopefully escape from the woman who is an outsider, the strange woman, the foreign woman, who seeks to introduce to him her own smooth words. Note that verse 5 is a repetition of 2.15. Solomon wants to ensure that ‘his son’ is delivered from a stranger’s flattering words. If he allows ‘his words’ to guard him (verse 1), he will be guarded from the words of a stranger.

A Detailed Description Of The Seduction Of The Naive Young Man By The ‘Strange Woman’ (7.6-23).

This account divides up into three, what the father observes of the naive young man’s actions (verses 6-13), what the strange woman says to the naive young man (verses 14-20), and the resulting response of the young man (verses 21-23). It is presented chiastically:

  • A For at the window of my house, I looked forth through my lattice, and I beheld among the naive ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, passing through the street near her corner, and he went the way to her house, in the twilight, in the evening of the day, in the pupil of the night and in the darkness (7.6-9).
  • B And, see, there met him a woman, with the attire of a prostitute, and wily of heart, (She is clamorous and wilful, her feet do not remain in her house, now she is in the streets, now in the broad places, and lies in wait at every corner) (7.10-12).
  • C So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face she said to him, “Sacrifices of peace-offerings are with me, this day have I paid my vows, therefore I have come forth to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you (7.13-15).
  • D I have spread my couch with carpets of tapestry, with striped cloths (embroidered stuff) of the yarn of Egypt (7.16).
  • D I have perfumed my bed, with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon (7.17).
  • C Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning, let us solace ourselves with loves, for the man is not at home, he is gone a long journey, he has taken a bag of money with him, he will come home at the full moon (7.18-20).
  • B With her much fair speech she causes him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she drives him along (7.21).
  • A He goes after her immediately, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the correction of the fool, until an arrow strikes through his liver, like a bird hurries to the snare, and does not knows that it is for his life (7.22-24).

Note that in A the young man is drawn to her house, and in the parallel he follows her there. In B she is ready with her wiles, and in the parallel she drives him along with her wiles. In C she flirts with him and says that she has been looking for him, and in the parallel she calls him to go with her for love-making. Centrally in D she has laid her seductive and foreign trap.

7.6-9

‘For at the window of my house,
I looked forth through my lattice,
And I beheld among the naive ones,
I discerned among the youths,
A young man void of understanding.
Passing through the street near her corner,
And he took strides towards the way to her house,
In the twilight, in the evening of the day,
In the middle (pupil) of the night and in the darkness.’

In very descriptive words Solomon pictures himself as looking through a window (an open space in the wall, probably covered with lattice work) on the second floor of his house (the ground floor would have no windows) and watching a group of youths who were standing aimlessly around and had little to do (naive ones). As he watched he saw a naive young man, ‘void of understanding’ (i.e. lacking in wisdom), detach himself from them and wend his way towards the prostitute’s house on the corner of the street. The young man has waited for darkness to descend. To that extent he is aware of his folly. The verb ‘took strides’ seems to suggest the activity of someone showing off to his fellows (walked pompously). But it should be noted that he stops short of actually entering her house. The picture is psychologically true to life, portraying the cockiness of a young man wanting to show off to his friends, whilst not being quite so sure when he actually approaches his goal. It requires the wiles of the prostitute to achieve this.

It was twilight. The sun had gone down and darkness was advancing. The repetition brings home the slowly gathering darkness. The ‘pupil’ of the night may signify blackness, or the time when the eye has to acclimatise because it is growing dark. There may here be the hint that he was walking into darkness.

7.10-12

‘And, see, there met him a woman,
With the attire of a prostitute, and watchful of heart,
(She is unruly and wilful,
Her feet do not remain in her house,
Now she is in the streets, now in the broad places,
And lies in wait at every corner).’

In contrast is the woman. She has been scouring the town looking for just such a person. She has walked the streets and visited the open square in front of the city gate and waited at corners. She is dressed as a prostitute (possibly in order to disguise her true identity) and watchful of heart. She is unruly (clamorous) and wilful. She is not prepared to stay quietly at home in the dark hours sewing like other women. She is a rebel at heart, and is taking the opportunity of her husband’s absence to enjoy some illicit sex. But she does not want everyone to know it.

On the other hand ‘in the streets -- in the broad places -- at every corner’ may indicate that she is a fictitious person who represents a number of prostitutes. He may be saying that they were to be found everywhere.

7.13-15

‘So she caught him, and kissed him,
And with an impudent face she said to him,
Sacrifices of peace-offerings are with (upon) me,
This day have I paid my vows.
Therefore I came forth to meet you,
Diligently to seek your face, and I found you.’

Note how she tries to indicate her personal interest in him. He is the one that she has been looking for! So she seizes him, kisses him, and invites him to a private feast. The impudent face may indicate that at this point she unveils for him. The mention of ‘sacrifices of peace offerings’ indicate a coming feast. The flesh of a peace offering was eaten by the offerer and his/her family. The plural may have in mind that she will have received a number of portions of meat from it. And it is because she has this feast, with no one to share it, that she has come looking for him. She is even trying to give the impression that his going with her will be a kind of religious celebration connected with making an offering to YHWH and making vows to Him. To the naive young man it even begins to seem respectable.

7.16-17

‘I have spread my couch with coverlets of tapestry,
With striped cloths (or ‘embroidered stuff’) of the yarn (linen) of Egypt,
I have perfumed my bed,
With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.’

But as she reels in her catch she offers even greater delights. Her couch has been prepared ready to receive him. She has spread coverlets over it, made of embroidered linen material from Egypt, (probably red in colour, indicating her status), so that they can feast together as they lie on them in comfort. It is intended to sound mysterious and romantic. But to the godly Israelite the mention of Egypt would bring to mind the insidious lure of Egypt (Exodus 16.3; Numbers 11.5). Solomon no doubt hoped that the ‘young man’ whom he was addressing would hopefully take warning.

And not only was there a couch with Egyptian coverlets, there was also a bed perfumed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon (compare Song of Solomon 4.14). Such a bed would only be owned by the wealthy. And once they had feasted he would share her bed. He was to enjoy every luxury.

Myrrh was a fragrant gum-resin obtained by tapping Arabian or African balsam trees. It was mentioned at Ugarit. Aloes were obtained from the eaglewood tree in south-east Asia and North India. Cinnamon was obtained from the bark of the cinnamon tree. They were all very valuable and spoke of great luxury, although, of course, she may have been exaggerating the delights in store. But the naive young man would be mesmerised..

7.18-20

‘Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning,
Let us solace ourselves (or ‘make each other delighted’) with loves,
For the man is not at home,
He is gone a long journey,
He has taken a bag of money with him,
He will come home at the full moon.’

She calls him to a feast of love. They can make love (sexual love) all night, without any likelihood of interference. It will be a feast of love. And they can delight each other, with each other’s love (loves, the same word as used by Wisdom in chapter 8) hour by hour until the morning.

And it will be quite safe, for ‘the man’ is at present not at home. He is away for some time. He has gone on a long trip, with a bag full of silver, and is not due back until the full moon. So the young man can be sure that he will not arrive unexpectedly and catch them at it. Note the cold description of her husband as ‘the man’ and not as ‘my husband’. The naive young man is not to think that he is interfering in a love match. It may also indicate her own cold-heartedness.

7.21-23

‘With her much fair speech she causes him to yield,
With the flattering of her lips she coerces him along.
He goes after her immediately,
As an ox goes to the slaughter,
Or as one in fetters to the correction of the fool,
Until an arrow strike through his liver,
As a bird hurries to the snare,
And knows not that it is for his life.’

With her fair speech she breaks down his resistance, and with her smooth lips she coerces or ‘forces’ him to accompany her. But as we know he was already on the way to her house, so she has a willing victim. That is why he accompanies her immediately. So there is a clever paralleling of the enticements of the woman, and the folly of the young man. But what Solomon’s ‘son’ is to recognise is that really the naive young man is as an ox that is going unaware to the slaughterhouse. He may see himself as a powerful and virulent ox, but really he is heading to his death. He is like a man in fetters (the fetters of sin and lust) being dragged helplessly to what Solomon sees as the physical punishment arising from his foolish behaviour, unaware that shortly an arrow will be shot through his liver as he is executed. He is unaware that he is going to his execution. (A particular instance of such an event may be in Solomon’s mind). He is like a bird hurrying into the snare, not realising that it will lead to the loss of its life, just as the young man is hurrying into the honeytrap, not realising that it is to his death (compare 5.3-5). These pictures and their consequences may well indicate that he can only expect the death penalty for his behaviour, as required by the Torah. Notice the downward movement. The strong and virulent ox, the prisoner restricted by fetters, the foolish flapping bird. He may think of himself as a young ox, but really he is a man in fetters, yes, and even a foolish helpless bird. And in all cases only death awaits.

A Final Appeal Addressed To ‘Sons’ Not To Follow Her Because Her Way Is The Way Of Death (7.24-27).

This final appeal is addressed, not to ‘my son’ but to ‘sons’. He may well be thinking, not only of the young man, but of those who will follow in later generations. And he calls on them not to be led astray, because such women have had many victims, and the consequence for all of them has been death.

The subsection is in the form of a simple chiasmus:

  • A Now therefore, sons, listen to me, and attend to the words of my mouth, Do not let your heart decline to her ways, do not go astray in her paths. (7.24-25).
  • B For she has cast down many wounded, yes, all her slain are a mighty host (7.26).
  • A Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death (7.27).
.

In A he warns against declining into her ways, and going astray in her paths, and in the parallel he shows where those ways lead, for her house is the way to Sheol (the grave world). Central in B is the number who have been caught out by her.

7.24-25

‘Now therefore, sons, listen to me,
And attend to the words of my mouth,
Do not let your heart decline to her ways,
Do not go astray in her paths.

‘Now therefore sons listen to me’ is a repeat of 5.7 coming before a similar previous incident. The sons must therefore listen to him and not to the woman, and he calls on all who will hear his voice to take note of what he says and carry it into action (‘listen’). Let them attend to his words, and take them seriously. They must beware of letting their hearts take a downward path, descending into her ways. They must beware of going astray in her paths. Again we have the important emphasis on the fact that life is a way along which we walk, for good or ill, and we must beware of going downhill, or going astray in it. And the ways of this woman lead to deceit, the disintegration of society, shame and death.

7.26

For she has cast down many wounded,
Yes, all her slain are a mighty host.

For such women have had many victims, some wounded, others slain. And the dead have been many, ‘a mighty host’. Such women can be more destructive than a huge army. For no temptation destroys men more than straying sexually. Sex is a mighty force for evil, as well as, when properly used, for good..

7.27

Her house is the way to Sheol,
Going down to the chambers of death.

For the house of such a woman is the road to the grave world. Through it men go down to the chambers of death. The word for ‘chambers’ indicates inner rooms cut off from outside. There may well have been ‘chambers of death’ connected with Solomon’s palace, dark places into which men go never to return alive. For this description compare 2.18; 5.5.

Discourse 9. The Call of Ms Wisdom As The One Who Seeks Response, Gives Men True Instruction, Ensures Good Government, Enriches Men Physically and Spiritually, Was Present With God During Creation, And Blesses Men And Brings Them Into Life So That They Find God’s Favour (8.1-36).

Having concentrated on the wiles of the woman who sought to lead men astray in chapter 7, we are now introduced again to Ms Wisdom who leads men in the right way. We were first introduced to her in 1.20-33; 3.13-20; 4.6-9, and will meet her again in 9.1-12. In this chapter, lest we think of her as just human wisdom, we learn that she is eternal, having been the instrument of God at creation, and now as ensuring on His behalf right living, just government, a wholesome life and God’s blessing on those who hear her. She is YHWH’s wisdom.

The passage divides up into six subsections:

  • 1). Wisdom Calls On Men To Hear Her (8.1-4).
  • 2). Wisdom Calls On The Naive And On Fools To Pay Heed To Her Words Because Her Instruction Is Both True And Valuable (8.5-13).
  • 3). Wisdom Hates Evil Attitudes And Behaviour But Enables Just Government From Those Who Love Her (8.14-17).
  • 4). Wisdom Gives Riches And Honour Both Physically And Spiritually To Those Who Love Her, And Enables Men To Walk Rightly (8.18-21).
  • 5) Wisdom Was With God In Creation And Rejoices In His Ongoing Creation (8.22-31).
  • 6). Wisdom Brings Blessing On Those Who Hear Her For Through Her They Find Life And Come Into The Favour Of God (8.32-36).

1). Wisdom Calls On Men To Hear Her (8.1-4).

Wisdom had been defined for us earlier in the Prologue. She is based on ‘the fear of YHWH’ (1.29; 2.5; 9.10). She is given by God (2.6). She brings men to the knowledge of God (2.5). She is closely connected with the chastening of YHWH (3.11). And in what she says she reveals herself as the mouthpiece of YHWH (1.23-33). Indeed YHWH, by wisdom, knowledge and understanding, created the world (3.19-20). This last reference, referring to ‘wisdom, knowledge and understanding’ warns us against taking the personification too literally, and reminds us that wisdom is an attribute of God, along with knowledge and understanding. Thus she is equated with knowledge and understanding. Bible wisdom teaching is therefore about God and His ways. And yet this wisdom is communicable to men and can be possessed by them. It can be ‘known’ along with understanding (1.2), we can incline our ear and apply our hearts in order to obtain it along with understanding (2.1-4), we must obtain it along with understanding (4.5-8), along with understanding we are to see her as our sister and our kinswoman (7.4). The constant parallel with understanding warns against seeing her literally as an individual. She can be paralleled with the Scriptures, the word of God (2.6). She cannot be paralleled with our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

The subsection forms a chiasmus:

  • A Does not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? (8.1).
  • B On the top of high places by the way, where the paths meet, she stands (8.2).
  • B Beside the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors, she cries aloud (8.3).
  • A “To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men” (8.4).

Note how in A wisdom and understanding call, and in the parallel her call is to the sons of men. And in B and parallel ‘she’ reaches out in every place where men are to be found.

8.1-4

‘Does not wisdom cry,
And understanding put forth her voice?
On the top of high places by the way,
Where the paths meet, she stands,
Beside the gates, at the entry of the city,
At the coming in at the doors, she cries aloud.’
“To you, O men, I call,
And my voice is to the sons of men.”

Note again the combination of wisdom and understanding. Wisdom cries out to men, understanding puts forth her voice. And she does so openly and forcefully wherever men are found. There is nothing secretive about her, in contrast with the strange woman who represents the world and its desires. She speaks from the top of high places by the way, she is found at road junctions, she is found beside the gates where men meet to converse, and justice is meted out (compare 1.20-21 where it was ‘in the streets -- to the public squares -- at the entering of the gates, the chief places of concourse’). And her words are for all men, she calls to men, her voice is to the sons of men.

In the days when the only way to disseminate news and information was by the voice (as with the ancient town crier) those who sought to do so would stand on a high spot and proclaim what they had to say. It enabled them to project their voices. Indeed there was a well known stone in Jerusalem from which lost and found things were called out. Thus those who would proclaim wisdom would stand in such places. ‘By the way’. As men proceeded on their way they needed guidance on the way of life. ‘Where the paths meet’. At junctions and crossroads, to which men came from all directions, they needed to know which way to take, not only literally but spiritually.

‘The gates’, through which all entering or leaving the city had to pass, and where men used to gather to share information, hear news, pass judgment, and come to important decisions, was above all the place of concourse. Here too proclaimers of wisdom were to be found.

“To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.” It is to man that ‘wisdom and understanding’ speaks. It is the voice of Heaven speaking to mankind (8.22-31). While she may be heavenly she delights in ‘the habitable earth -- the sons of men’ (8.31). In Proverbs wisdom and understanding are not earthly, humanistic wisdom and understanding, but the wisdom and understanding imparted by God (2.5-6).

2). Wisdom Calls On The Naive And On Fools To Pay Heed To Her Words Because Her Instruction Is Both True And Valuable (8.5-13).

Wisdom’s words come especially to the naive and to ‘fools’ (compare 1.22), that is to those who are still grappling with life without having any agenda, often at a loose end (compare 7.7), and at the behest of any voice that speaks to them, and those who, while believing vaguely in God, live their lives apart from His will and direction (compare Psalm 14.1). Her aim is to rescue them from their naivety and folly. And she does so because what she has to say is truth, and is excellent and precious.

Once again the subsection is presented chiastically:

  • A O you naive ones, understand shrewdness, and, you fools, be of an understanding heart (8.5).
  • B Hear, for I will speak excellent things (princely things), and the opening of my lips will be right (straight, equitable) things (8.6)
  • C For my mouth will utter truth, and wickedness is an abomination to my lips, all the words of my mouth are in righteousness (8.7-8a).
  • C There is nothing crooked or perverse in them, they are all plain to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge (8.8b-9).
  • B Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it (8.10-11).
  • A I wisdom have made shrewdness my dwelling, and find out knowledge and discretion (8.12).

Note how in A the call is to understand shrewdness and be of an understanding heart, and in the parallel wisdom has made shrewdness her dwelling, and finds out knowledge and discretion. In B men are called on to ‘hear’ princely things and equitable things, and in the parallel to ‘receive instruction, knowledge and wisdom’ which are more precious than gold, silver and rubies, and are beyond compare. Centrally in C wisdom emphasises that her words are truth and in righteousness, because wickedness is an abomination to her lips, and in the parallel there is nothing that is crooked or perverse in them, for they are plain to those who understand, and right to those who find knowledge.

8.5-7

“O you naive ones, understand shrewdness,
And, you fools, be of an understanding heart,
Hear, for I will speak excellent things (princely things),
And the opening of my lips will be right (straight, equitable) things,
For my mouth will utter truth,
And wickedness is an abomination to my lips.”

Note that here, where we might have expected the word ‘wisdom’, we have the word shrewdness, although we then learn in verse 12 that wisdom has made shrewdness her dwelling. So while Wisdom may be personified, she is defined by a number of words such as ‘understanding’ (with which she is regularly combined - 2.2; 3.13, 19; 4.5, 7; 5.1; 7.4; 8.1, 14; 9.10), ‘knowledge’, ‘disciplinary instruction’, ‘discretion’, ‘shrewdness’ and the like. She is a clearly not an individual but a composite concept (compare especially 1.2-4; 2.2-3, 10-11; 3.19-20; 5.1-2), and regularly thought of in terms of Solomon’s ‘wisdom’, ‘words’, ‘commandments’, ‘torah (instruction)’ and ‘disciplinary instruction’ (1.7-8; 2.1-2; 3.1; 5.1; 6.20, 25; 7.1-4). Note how in verses 1-4 ‘wisdom and understanding’ are seen as one and spoken of as ‘she’ (compare 2.2-4 where wisdom, understanding and discernment are spoken of as ‘her’).

So the naive are called on to understand shrewdness, and the fools (those who live carelessly) are called on to be of an understanding heart. They are to pay heed to the excellent and princely things, the right and equitable things, which ‘wisdom and understanding’ (verse 1) speaks. For the main concern of true wisdom and understanding is ‘truth’. Indeed false words and wickedness are an abomination to her. When put in apposition to ‘truth (what is reliable)’, ‘wickedness’ is ‘falsity, (what is unreliable)’.

8.8-9

“All the words of my mouth are in righteousness,
There is nothing crooked or perverse in them,
They are all plain to him who understands,
And right to those who find knowledge.”

For all her spoken words are ‘in righteousness’, they are true, honest and upright, and there is nothing crooked (twisted) and perverse in them. For her there is no ‘lying or deceitful tongue’ (6.17). All her words are plain to those who understand, and they are right (straight, open, honest), to those who find true knowledge (the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of God - 2.5). In the words of Jesus, ‘if any man wills to do His will, he will know of My teaching, whether it comes from God’ (John 7.17).

Thus we have here the assurance that what is true will be known to those whose hearts are truly open to God. It is only when sin distorts men’s thinking that they are unable to come to truth. Thus people today have much knowledge, but because their hearts are closed to God and are sinful, they do not come to truth. Each sees things from his own perspective. Men who will devote countless hours and huge amounts of money to discern an invisible and elusive particle in nature, have no time to consider the many things that point to an invisible, and to them elusive, God. But to those who are open to understand, and who find knowledge, because it is given to them by God (2.6), all is plain.

8.10-11

“Receive my instruction, and not silver,
And knowledge rather than choice gold,
For wisdom is better than rubies,
And all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”

In verse 6 wisdom called on men to ‘hear’ excellent things, princely things’ and ‘equitable things’. Here they are assured that Solomon’s instruction, knowledge and wisdom are more valuable than silver and fine gold, and better than ‘rubies’ (possibly red coral). Indeed nothing else can be compared with them for value. God’s word is the most precious thing that this world contains.

Note on Verse 11. .

There are no conclusive grounds for excluding verse 11 from the narrative as an interpolation, even though this is often suggested. It is found in all manuscripts and versions, and Hebrew poetry has a habit of not falling into line with the structures that moderns expect of it. The use of wisdom in the third person, paralleling instruction and knowledge, was to be expected if Wisdom was to speak of wisdom. She is underlining her own worth in terms of her attributes. This also explains the unusual ‘I, Wisdom’ in verse 12. She has to indicate who the personal pronoun refers to precisely because of the variation in verse 11. The fact that something similar was said in 3.15 is not a valid argument. Solomon often repeats good ideas. Thus there are no good grounds for excising this verse.

End of note.

8.12

“I wisdom have made shrewdness my dwelling,
And find out knowledge and discretion,

Wisdom ends the subsection, which is all in her words, with a reminder of what she is. Shrewdness is her dwellingplace. The two are inseparably connected. That was why the naive could be called on to ‘understand shrewdness’ rather than wisdom (verse 5). ‘Knowledge and discretion’ are what she seeks out. Knowledge is the knowledge of God and His ways, and is a revelation from God (2.5-6); discretion is the ability to discern and devise wisely. Discretion parallels knowledge in 1.4; understanding in 2.11; and is a companion of wisdom in 3.21. In other words wisdom, shrewdness, knowledge and discretion are all an essential part of one another. Note how they all appear together in 1.4-5.

3). Wisdom Hates Evil Attitudes And Behaviour But Enables Just Government From Those Who Love Her (8.13-17).

This subsection which majors on wisdom’s role in ensuring just government where she is accepted, commences with an indication of YHWH’s attitude towards it and the impression that all rulers are to rule in the light of it. The fear of YHWH results in hating evil. And this includes hating pride, arrogance, behaving in an evil way, and speaking with a perverse mouth. These were very much the general attributes of bad rulers, although not limited to them. But for those who love her, and diligently seek her, wisdom is able to supply counsel, sound knowledge and understanding, thus enabling them to rule and judge justly. So in Solomon’s eyes even foreign kings are reliant on YHWH to enable them to govern justly. His faith knew no boundaries, as befitted the man who could say, ‘heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You’ (1 Kings 8.27).

The subsection is presented chiastically:

  • A The fear of YHWH is to hate evil, pride, and arrogance, and the evil way, and the perverse mouth, do I hate (8.13).
  • B Counsel is mine, and sound knowledge, I am understanding, I have might (8.14).
  • B By me kings reign, and princes decree justice, by me rulers govern, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth (8.15-16).
  • A I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me (8.17).

Note that in A wisdom hates evil: pride and arrogance, the evil way and the perverse mouth, all especially characteristics of rulers. In the parallel she loves those who love her and find her through seeking her diligently. In B she has counsel, sound knowledge, understanding and might, and in the parallel good rulers and judges operate through her counsel fostering justice.

8.13

The fear of YHWH is to hate evil,
Pride, and arrogance, and the evil way,
And the perverse mouth, do I hate.”

The world is full of ‘rulers’, some evil and corrupt, and some good and just, with a lot of rulers in between, and so the subsection commences with YHWH’s view of corrupt rulers, although it is not, of course, limited to rulers. Pride, arrogance, following the way of evil and speaking perversely are all characteristics of forceful men whether in politics or in business (see 16.19 where the wise avoid them). To fear YHWH is to hate evil, and that is precisely because YHWH Himself hates evil. And because hating evil is a product of the fear of YHWH, evil is hated by Wisdom, for what she teaches is in line with the fear of YHWH. We can have no clearer indication that wisdom in Proverbs is very much related to YHWH than these words. Wisdom in Proverbs is inculcating, not humanistic wisdom, but YHWH’s wisdom.

Wisdom expands on what the evil is that is to be hated, especially in rulers. It is pride, arrogance, following the way of evil (i.e. not aiming at the good of people in general) and being deceitful and dishonest, and possibly rebellious against YHWH, in what is spoken. They reflect the haughty eyes and lying tongue that God hates (6.17), and the perverse mouth of the worthless man (6.12; compare 2.12). All these attributes are reflected in Isaiah 16.6; Jeremiah 48.29-30, where it is the leaders of Moab who were in mind. Compare the high looks and boastful words of the Assyrian king in Isaiah 10.12-15. They were the attributes of many rulers as revealed in Scripture and inscriptions. They are the attributes of many politicians today. Those who should be a pattern for good are so often a very bad example, or worse, for power corrupts.

8.14-17

“Counsel is mine, and sound knowledge,
I am understanding, I have might,
By me kings reign,
And princes decree justice,
By me rulers govern,
And nobles, even all the judges of the earth.
I love those who love me,
And those who seek me diligently will find me.”

In contrast to what Wisdom hates (evil), is what Wisdom loves. She loves those who love her, that is who eagerly hear her and follow her instruction. Here then she speaks of those who respond to her. To them she gives counsel and sound knowledge in all that they do in war and peace, for basically she ‘is understanding’. That is her very nature. And she has might as revealed by her influence on kings, rulers and governors. For by her kings reign, princes decree justice, rulers govern, as do also nobles. She influences all the judges of the earth (and kings and governors were the premier judges). Note the assumption that all who rule or judge wisely owe it to YHWH and His wisdom. He disseminates it to all whose hearts are right and who seek it. There were very few rulers who were totally corrupt.

It is noteworthy that both this and the following subsection end with describing Wisdom’s response to those who love her. For those who love Wisdom receive the benefits of doing so. She pours out her spirit to them, she makes known her words to them (1.23). Thus to love Wisdom is to love oneself in the right way. It impacts on every part of life. As Solomon said earlier of Wisdom, ‘do not forsake her and she will preserve you. Love her and she will guard you’ (4.6). Wisdom is to be loved in the same way as the strange woman is not. Note that she was to be ‘sought diligently’. Men should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest her. Then they would receive her fruit in their lives. Paul’s words are relevant here, ‘study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2.15).

4). Wisdom Gives Riches And Honour Both Physically And Spiritually To Those Who Love Her, And Enables Men To Walk Rightly (8.18-21).

Wisdom does not just enable rulers. She also gives durable riches, honour and righteousness to all those who respond to her. Part of the lesson is that those who behave wisely will, in general, prosper. They will be hardworking (contrast 6.6-11), abstemious and careful (consider 6.1-5). They will not, for example, waste their substance on foolish living (5.9-11). They will rather honour YHWH with their substance so that their barns will be full (3.9-10). This is the promise to all who love her (verse 21), and in consequence they will enjoy her fruit (verse 19). But there is a deeper thought here, for not all who love wisdom outwardly prosper. They may not pile up gold and silver. But what they will do is build up in their treasuries a fruit which is better than gold, a revenue which is better than silver. They will inherit a substance which is far better. For they will dwell in security and will be quiet without fear of evil (1.33). And that because her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace (3.17). And she will bestow on them spiritual beauty (4.8-9; compare 1.9).

These words are presented chiastically:

  • A Riches and honour are with me, yes, durable wealth and righteousness (8.18).
  • B My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold, and my revenue than choice silver (8.19).
  • B I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice (8.20).
  • A That I may cause those who love me to inherit substance, and that I may fill their treasuries (8.21).

    Note than in A riches, honour and durable wealth and righteousness are with wisdom, and in the parallel she causes those who love her to inherit substance and have filled treasuries. In B her fruit is better than fine gold and her produce better than choice silver, and in the parallel that fruit is revealed in walking in righteousness and justice.

    8.18-19

    Riches and honour are with me,
    Yes, durable wealth and righteousness,
    My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold,
    And my revenue than choice silver.”

    The first things that Wisdom offers to those who love her are riches and honour. They will prosper, and gain and keep the respect of good men. Compare for this 3.4, 16, 35; 4.8. But more than that they will gain durable wealth and righteousness. The fact that the wealth is durable and paralleled with righteousness suggests that here the idea is of spiritual wealth, for wisdom’s fruit is immediately stated to be better than gold and choice silver. Compare 3.14. Thus we are probably to see here wealth that is lasting and permanent which does not, in Jesus words, get affected by moths, rust or thieves (Matthew 6.19-20). Such ‘wealth’ is portrayed in 1.9, 23, 33; 3.2, 17-18, 33b, 34b, 35; 4.9 and can especially be summed up in the promise of abundant life (3.18, 22; 4.13, 22, 23; 6.23; 8.35). So Wisdom offers those who love her spiritual wellbeing and righteousness. They will enjoy God’s favour (8.35) with all the blessings that come with it. They will walk in the path that grow brighter day by day until its glorious summation (4.18).

    8.20-21

    “I walk in the way of righteousness,
    In the midst of the paths of justice,
    That I may cause those who love me to inherit substance,
    And that I may fill their treasuries.”

    And this will happen because they are walking with Wisdom in the way of righteousness, and in the midst of the paths of justice. They can walk without fear of the Law, because their lives are just and right as they respond to God’s wisdom. They will enjoy the favour of both God and man (3.4). And in consequence, because they love God’s Wisdom she will cause them to inherit substance and fill their treasuries. Once again Solomon probably has in mind spiritual benefits that are better than silver and gold, as described above, but it need not deny physical benefits as well. Walking with God’s Wisdom enhances every aspect of life.

    5) Wisdom Was With God In Creation And Rejoices In The Ongoing Of His Creation (8.22-31).

    Lest we have any doubt about what wisdom Solomon is speaking about he now makes it very clear (as he has indeed in he had in 3.19-20, compare 2.5-11). It is the wisdom and understanding that God used when He created and fashioned the heavens and the earth (3.19-20). It is God’s wisdom. And this Wisdom, which was necessarily present from eternity (God could never be without wisdom), and which was involved in the fashioning of all that is, is now active among mankind (8.31).

    This passage has been much misused by those who have interpreted Wisdom as representing our Lord, Jesus Christ, but it has been quite apparent throughout this prologue that this Wisdom is an attribute of God, not a personal being. Indeed, Solomon can call it ‘my wisdom’ (5.1), because God has imparted to him His own wisdom, and its constant paralleling with ‘understanding’, ‘knowledge’ ‘shrewdness’, ‘disciplinary instruction’, and ‘discernment, some of them also personified (2.11), which is found right from the beginning (1.2-4) counts very much against it referring to any other than wisdom, albeit God’s wisdom. Furthermore the fact that Wisdom is always presented as a ‘she’ and not as a ‘he’ should settle the matter completely.

    In this regard we should notice that there is no suggestion that Wisdom creates or fashions anything. It is YHWH Who creates and fashions. Wisdom is there as a kind of assistant. In contrast it is said of Jesus Christ as the Word that ‘all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1.3). He was the Creator, not an assistant.

    The subsection is presented chiastically:

    • A YHWH possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old, I was set up (poured out, woven) from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was (8.22-23).
    • B When there were no depths, I was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water, before the mountains were settled (or planned), before the hills was I brought forth, while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the beginning of the dust of the world (8.24-26).
    • C When he established the heavens, I was there, when he set a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above (8.27-28a).
    • B When the fountains of the deep became strong, when he gave to the sea its bound, that the waters should not transgress his commandment, when he marked out the foundations of the earth (8.28b-29).
    • A Then I was by him constantly (or ‘as a master craftsman’), and I was daily wholly delighting, rejoicing always before him, rejoicing in his habitable earth, and my delight was with the sons of men (8.30-31).

    Note that in A YHWH possessed wisdom from the beginning, before He began His work of creation, and in the parallel wisdom was with Him continually (or was His master workman), rejoicing in that work of creation. In B her bringing forth was before the waters were brought forth or the earth was planned and made, and in the parallel the waters were brought forth and He marked out the foundations of the earth. Central in C is the establishing of the heavens.

    8.22-23

    “YHWH possessed me in the beginning of his way,
    Before his works of old,
    I was set up (poured out, woven) from everlasting, from the beginning,
    Before the earth was.”

    Wisdom portrays herself as ‘possessed by YHWH in the beginning of His way, before His works of old’. His ‘works of old’ spoken of here are outlined in verses 27-30a. Thus from the very beginning, before ever creation took place, YHWH possessed wisdom. This was necessarily so, for YHWH without wisdom is inconceivable. But the aim of the passage is not to inform us about YHWH’s attributes. It is in order to establish the status of wisdom (and in the light of the parallel passage in 3.19-20, the status of understanding and knowledge). Along with God they are eternal, for God is all-wise, all-understanding and all-knowing.

    But even while establishing her own status as involved with YHWH from the beginning, Wisdom stresses the pre-eminence of YHWH. For YHWH is the first word in the text, underlining His importance, and is pre-eminent throughout. Thus she says reverently ‘YHWH possessed me’. He was all-important. She is insistent that what she is must not in any way take our eyes off YHWH.

    So the subsection commences here with the Name of YHWH, Who is seen as the Creator and Fashioner of heaven and earth (verses 26-30a). And it ends with reference to ‘the sons of men’ (verse 31), the climax and aim of YHWH’s creative work, with whom God’s wisdom is to be seen as directly involved (as made clear throughout the prologue). For one of Solomon’s aims is to bring out that wisdom, which is as old as God Himself, and was present with Him with regard to every aspect of creation, is now at work in man bringing him into conformity with God’s ways.

    In this passage it is Wisdom who is portrayed as speaking, and she describes herself as ‘possessed’ by YHWH ‘before His works of old’ (portrayed in verses 27-30a) and ‘from the beginning of His ways’. This was necessarily so, as God could never be, or act, without wisdom. Thus His wisdom was ‘possessed’ and ‘poured forth’ and ‘brought forth’ from of old, from the beginning’. In our terminology Wisdom is eternal (as is understanding), and proceeds forth from God in His creative work.

    The attempts to indicate that wisdom had to be created must be firmly resisted. It will be noted that none of the verbs used in Genesis 1 are used of wisdom, and it is certainly not the primary meaning of the verbs used here. What is more, to suggest that God was ever without wisdom would be illogical (if wisdom was created God would need wisdom in order to create it). Solomon’s whole point about wisdom is that it issues forth from God, older than creation itself. It is His wisdom.

    The verb rendered ‘possessed’ also means ‘bought, obtained’ (this is its regular meaning in Proverbs - 1.5; 4.5, 7; 16.16; 17.16; 18.15; 23.23). It was as a consequence of this latter that it came to mean ‘possessed’, but, as it is quite clear that God neither needed to buy or obtain wisdom, the meaning is clearly ‘possessed’. Using our terms, ‘God was wise from eternity’. This is confirmed in Job 28.20-28. ‘From where does wisdom come, and where is the place of understanding? --- then (while creating) did He see it and declare it, He established it, yes, and searched it out. And to man He said, Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, that is understanding.’ Here Job portrays God as seeing and searching out an already existing wisdom during His activity in creation. He then also significantly relates that wisdom to the fear of the Lord, linking God’s wisdom and understanding in creation with His wisdom and understanding imparted to man, which is Solomon’s idea also.

    The root meaning of the verb rendered ‘set up’, is ‘poured out’, and it is the latter which fits better with the parallel ‘brought forth’ (verses 24, 25). It is a vivid way of saying that wisdom came forth from God, that is, that God acted in wisdom.

    8.24-26

    “When there were no depths, I was brought forth,
    When there were no springs abounding with water.
    Before the mountains were settled,
    Before the hills was I brought forth,
    While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields,
    Nor the beginning of the dust of the world.”

    Solomon is not here saying that wisdom was created prior to anything else, indeed the very verb ‘brought forth’, indicating birth not creation, militates against that. The point is that God ‘brought forth’ wisdom from Himself, a wisdom that He already possessed. It was an essential part of what God is. Then He exercised that wisdom in the creation of the world. So important is wisdom that it existed prior to all things.

    The importance of water to mankind is brought out in that it is His first-mentioned creation. He created the depths (3.20; Genesis 1.2) and the springs which abound with water and enable the growth of vegetation and the satisfaction of man’s thirst. They are essential to man’s very existence. He also created the mountains and hills, the earth and the fields (the countryside), the last named being the source of man’s provision.

    ‘Nor the beginning of the dust of the world’ The dust of the world was important because from it God formed man (Genesis 2.7; 3.19). This ties in with the later order, waters, foundations of the earth, man (8.29-30a).

    8.27-28

    “When he established the heavens, I was there,
    When he marked out a circle on the face of the deep,
    When he made firm the skies above,
    When the fountains of the deep became strong,

    Wisdom now turns her thought to the heavens. She was there, and therefore in use, when YHWH established the heavens, and when He made firm the skies above. Through His wisdom the heavens were established, and therefore made secure in their place. Through His wisdom the skies were made firm above. Man has thus no fear of the sky falling in on him. Indeed when such does happen it will be a sign of the end of time (Revelation 6.13). Here was a sign of God’s wisdom.

    The ‘circle on the face of the deep’ probably refers to what man sees as he looks to the horizons, land surrounded by water. It was established when the seas were thrust back and dry land appeared (Genesis 1.9-10; Job 26.10; Isaiah 40.22). That this is the meaning comes out in that it is in contrast to the establishment of the heavens, and parallels the fountains of the deep becoming strong. YHWH pushed back the deep in order to provide a place for man to dwell in, another sign of His wisdom. This militates against the idea that the circle refers to ‘the vault of heaven’ as suggested by some, for this would not fit in with the parallel or with the contrasts. ‘When the fountains of the deep became strong’ contrasts with the ‘making firm of the skies above’, and this suggests that it means that the deeps were allotted, and firmly settled in, their own fixed place, just as the skies above were. That was when ‘He gave to the sea (and waters) its bound’ (verse 29). They only broke those bounds once, and that was at the Flood (Genesis 7.11), an experience that God promised would never be repeated (Genesis 8.21).

    8.29-30a

    When he decreed to the sea its bound,
    That the waters should not transgress his commandment,
    When he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    Then I was by him constantly (or ‘as a master craftsman’,

    YHWH’s sovereignty and wisdom was involved in His making a decree, giving the sea its bound, in order that the waters ‘might not transgress His commandments’ (literally ‘might not go beyond His mouth’). They may at times be unruly and fierce, but they are restrained for the benefit of man, and limited in what they can do. As Job points out, God says to them ‘here shall you come and no further’ (Job 38.11). Here was another example of His wisdom.

    As YHWH had ‘marked out a circle on the face of the deep’ (verse 27b), now He ‘marks out the foundations of the earth’. All was determined by His wisdom who was there with him, either ‘constantly’ (compare ‘daily’, ‘always before Him’ in verse 30b, c) or ‘as a kind of master craftsman’ (or should we say craftswoman). For these alternatives see note below. If we take the latter as correct (see below) it must not be overplayed. It is highly figurative. There is no hint in the narrative that wisdom actually directly participated in creation. She was rather with God as an attribute of His as He Himself created. In other words all was planned and ordered by God’s wisdom.

    The ‘foundations of the earth’ is a vague term indicating what man saw below him. He knew that the earth was firmly established on ‘foundations’, because he saw a firm earth below him, but he did not speculate about what those foundations consisted of (compare Deuteronomy 32.22; 2 Samuel 22.16) Note also that in 2 Samuel 22.8 heaven was also seen as having ‘foundations’, something even more figurative. He could have asked with Job, ‘on what were the foundations of the earth fastened?’ (Job 38.6), expecting the answer, ‘we do not know, only God knows’. To speak of foundations was a description of what he saw and experienced, (just as we speak of the sun rising and setting), not an attempt at a scientific reconstruction.

    Note on The Translation Of ’amown.

    There is disagreement about whether we should translate ’amown as ‘continually’, or as ‘master workman/craftsman’ (RV; NIV), or as ‘one brought up with Him’ (AV). The word only occurs in one other place and that is in Jeremiah 52.15 where its meaning is also in doubt (but there it is with the definite article).

    In this regard we should note that the description of Wisdom as a master craftsman or workman would, in fact, come in unexpectedly here, for all through the passage creation has been seen as the work of YHWH (verses 26-30a), not of Wisdom. Wisdom has rather been seen as alongside Him as an attribute, as something ‘possessed’, ‘poured out’, ‘brought forth’. She has been a personified attribute which was there from the beginning. Indeed, in 3.19-20, where the same idea is in mind, Wisdom is specifically paralleled with Understanding and Knowledge in the fashioning of creation, and as therefore being one of YHWH’s attributes used in the work of fashioning His creation.

    The truth, therefore, is that the meaning of ’amown (’mwn) is in doubt. As stated above it is found only once elsewhere, in Jeremiah 52.15, and there it is with the article (ha ’amown). But its meaning there is also in doubt. Indeed, there we would expect it to be a collective noun and AV/RV translate as ‘multitude’ because the parallel passage in 2 Kings 25.11 has he hamon (‘multitude’). Some therefore see ha ’amown in Jeremiah 52.15 as a by-form of he hamon. This is all the more so as in 2 Kings 24.14, 16 we do find ‘artisans, craftsmen’ mentioned as hecharas, so that if 2 Kings 25.11 had referred to craftsmen we would have expected hecharas to be used.

    In Song of Solomon 7.1 a similar word, ’amman (’mmn), does mean craftsman, but it is unique (and it lacks the waw). A possible alternative ha ’omen (’mn) can mean a keeper/nursing-father (Numbers 11.12) or in the plural keepers/bringers up (ha ’omenim - 2 Kings 10.1) of children. (Thus the AV’s ‘then I was by Him as one brought up with Him’). But if that was in mind here we might have expected a feminine form because Wisdom is feminine.

    However, elsewhere ’amen (’mn) means ‘surely’, and therefore ‘faithfully, continually’ (from the verb ’mn - ‘to be sure, reliable’), and ‘continually’ fits well in the context here, paralleling ‘daily and ‘always’. This translation therefore would tie in well with the context, and must possibly be preferred.

    In the end, the truth is that we are not sure of the meaning of ’amown, and the wisest thing therefore is to translate it in such a way that it is not influential on the meaning of the whole passage.

    End of note.

    8.30b-31

    And I was daily wholly delighting,
    Rejoicing always before him,
    Rejoicing in his habitable earth,
    And my delight was with the sons of men.”

    ‘I was daily wholly delighting.’ This is literally, ‘daily I was delights’. So Wisdom is declaring that daily she ‘was delights’, that is, that day by day she was ‘wholly delighting’ as YHWH continued His work of creating (day by day possibly reflecting Genesis 1). In other words that she wholly approved of, and was thoroughly pleased with, all that YHWH had done and was doing. She was wholly in alignment with YHWH and His activities as just described. In her view they were in accordance with wisdom.

    She rejoiced ‘in His presence’ (‘before Him’) always. She was wholly in accord with Him. To put it more mundanely God’s wisdom approved of what God had done. And especially and continually she ‘rejoiced in His habitable earth’, the place that He had made for men to dwell in, for her delight was especially with the sons of men. They were the final pinnacle of God’s wisdom as revealed in creation. This was a powerful way of saying that all that YHWH had done was wise, and especially His creation of the sons of men who could participate in His wisdom (by hearing Solomon’s words).

    6). Wisdom Brings Blessing On Those Who Hear Her For Through Her They Find Life And Come Into The Favour Of God (8.32-36).

    Because her delight was with the sons of men Wisdom calls on men to listen to what she says, and that is because she wants them to be blessed by God. And she assures them that those who find her will find life, and will obtain YHWH’s favour. For she is His wisdom, and therefore to follow her is to walk in the fear of YHWH. And that is why those who sin against her wrong their own souls, and those who hate her love death. It is because by doing so they have turned against YHWH.

    The subsection is in the form of a minor chiasmus: p>

    • A Now therefore, sons, listen to me, for blessed are those who keep my ways, hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not (8.32-33).
    • B Blessed is the man who hears me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors (8.34). >li> A For whoever finds me finds life, and will obtain favour of YHWH. But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul. All those who hate me love death (8.35-36).

    In A those are blessed who keep Wisdom’s ways, hear disciplinary instructions, and are wise (and therefore have wisdom), and who do not refuse it. In the parallel those who find wisdom find life and obtain YHWH’s favour, and therefore are doubly blessed, whereas those who do refuse wisdom destroy themselves. In B Wisdom herself blesses those who steadfastly seek her.

    8.32-33

    “Now therefore, sons, listen to me,
    For blessed are those who keep my ways,
    Hear instruction, and be wise,
    And refuse it not.”

    These words are similar to previous exhortations and would not have been out of place on the lips of Solomon, but they are actually the words of Wisdom. However, this is not too surprising as she is Solomon’s wisdom (5.1). And yet at the same time she is God’s wisdom, far transcending the wisdom of Solomon, for this follows immediately after the passage where wisdom came forth from God and was continually with God, long before Solomon existed. She calls on ‘sons’, a regular pattern of address for Solomon, to listen to her, because ‘blessed are those who keep her ways’. For this reason they are to hear disciplinary instruction and be wise enough not to refuse it. Hearing, of course, involves obeying. They are to hear and obey God’s wisdom. Then they will be truly wise. In contrast are those who refuse it. The consequence of such refusal is found in verse 36. They wrong their own inner selves, and forfeit true life.

    8.34

    Blessed is the man who hears me,
    Watching daily at my gates,
    Waiting at the posts of my doors,

    A general statement is now made about the blessing that comes on the one who does ‘hear’ with an intention of obeying, and who eagerly watches and waits. We learn in Esther of the way in which important officials waited in the gateways to the king’s palace in expectancy of being called on to fulfil some duty or of being summoned into the king’s presence (Esther 3.3). Alternately the idea may of suitors eagerly awaiting admission (4.6; 8.17, 21; Song of Solomon 5.2). But the emphatic point is of eagerly watching and waiting at Wisdom’s gates and doors. Blessing come to the one who does it.

    There may here be a reference back to 8.3 where Wisdom cries out ‘beside the gates at the entry to the city, at the coming in of the doors’, with the idea being of those who eagerly gather there to listen before she comes, waiting and watching for her arrival . Others, however, see it as signifying that Wisdom is in her house (9.1), and people are to wait eagerly outside for her to appear (as newspaper photographers wait eagerly outside a house for an important person who lives there). But however we see it the important lesson is not to be missed which is the eagerness and desire with which we should seek wisdom.

    ‘Blessed is the man.’ We can compare here the blessedness of the man who delights in the Torah (Law, Instruction) of YHWH, and meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1.1-3). He too rejects the way of the wicked, of sinners and of the scornful.

    8.35-36

    For whoever finds me finds life,
    And will obtain favour of YHWH.
    But he who sins against (or ‘misses’) me wrongs his own soul.
    All those who hate me love death.”

    Solomon points out that finding wisdom is a life and death issue. For the one who finds true wisdom finds life, whereas the one who hates true wisdom ‘loves death’. ‘Life’ includes not only longevity (3.2, 16, 18; 9.11), but also wellbeing and spiritual prosperity (1.9, 23; 3.8, 18, 24-25; 4.8-9, 16; 8.21). It is the way of security and peace (1.33; 3.2, 18, 24-25). And it is the opposite of entering into the grave world (2.18; 5.5; 7.27; 9.18), for that is the threat made against those who reject wisdom. It is a ‘life more abundant’ (John 10.10), and it promises, on death, entrance into the presence and joy of YHWH (Psalm 16.11; 17.15).

    Finding wisdom also results in obtaining the favour of YHWH (compare 3.4), possibly here indicating that the reception of life indicates YHWH’s favour (compare 18.22). For the one who follows God’s true wisdom finds life because he is pleasing to God and acceptable in His sight. In contrast are those who ‘sin against wisdom’, that is who do not receive her and follow her ways, or who ‘miss wisdom’ because of their own carelessness. By failing to find wisdom they wrong their own inner lives. They do not find life. For those who hate God’s wisdom, love death, which is not only physical death (compare 2.18; 5.5a; 7.27), but also spiritual death (the opposite of spiritual life - 1.31-32; 2.19; 4.19; 5.6; 6.32), and entry into the emptiness of the grave world (Sheol - 5.5; 7.27).

    Discourse 10. Solomon Here Deals With The Question Of The Naive, The Scorners And The Foolish (1.22). The Appeal Of Woman Wisdom Is Contrasted With The Allure Of Woman Folly, And In Between These Appeals Is A Warning Against Scorners (9.1-18).

    In the opening reference to Woman Wisdom (1.18-33) in the Prologue the question was asked as to how long the naive would be naive, how long scorners would delight in scorning, and how long fools would hate knowledge. Now in this last chapter of the Prologue a final view is taken of the naive (9.4-6), scorners (9.7-8, 12b) and the foolish as represented by Woman Folly (9.13-18). Chapter 9 thus caps off the Prologue.

    In this final discourse in the Prologue the deliberate contrast between Woman Wisdom and the ‘strange woman’, now named Woman Folly, is clearly brought out. In 9.3b Woman Wisdom ‘calls out from the highest places of the city’. In 9.14d, 15a, Woman Folly does the same, although obviously their appeal is different. Both cry out, ‘whoever is naive let him turn in here’ (9.3c, 16a). Both speak to ‘him who is void of understanding’ (9.4a, 16b), challenging for his response. Both offer ‘food’ (9.5a, 9.17b), although whilst Woman Wisdom’s food is eaten publicly, on a large table open to all, Woman Folly’s is eaten in secret, no doubt on a table made for two. Whilst, however, Woman Wisdom calls on them to ‘live’ (9.6a), Woman Wisdom is calling them to death and the grave world (9.18). And whilst Woman Wisdom has gone to great trouble to build a large house which is well provisioned for all (9.1-3a) so that all can eat and celebrate together, Woman Folly simply sits at the door of ‘her house’ and makes her appeal to the individual. She offers ‘stolen waters’ (9.17) rather than ‘mingled (specially prepared) wine’ (9.2). Woman Wisdom is open and honest. Woman Folly is furtive and secretive.

    The passage divides up into three subsections:

    • A The appeal of Woman Wisdom to the naive (9.1-6).
    • B The contrast between the scoffer, who does not like reproof, and the wise who heeds it, (a warning to the naive), centred round the fear of YHWH (9.7-12).
    • A The appeal of Woman Folly to the naive (9.13-18).

    The Appeal Of Woman Wisdom To The Naive (9.1-6).

    After making full and generous preparations Wisdom calls on the naive to respond to and partake of her feast. ‘The naive’ might be better translated as ‘the seduceable’, those still open to wisdom, but also open to scorning and to folly. They are those whose views have not yet been determined. Their aims are not yet fully formed. They have not yet fixed on the basis for their way of living, and may therefore easily stray into waywardness (1.32). They may on the one hand be seduced and become scorners or fools, or they may on the other hand heed wisdom and become wise. They are the opposite of ‘the shrewd’ who have thought things through (14.15) and are crowned with knowledge (14.18), which as we know from 2.6 is ‘the knowledge of God’ or from 9.10 is the knowledge of the Holy One. Thus the naive are in danger of ‘acquiring folly’ (14.18). This appeal is therefore directed to them. The appeal is constructed chiastically:

    • A Preparation of the great feast (9.1-3a).
    • B Appeal to the naive and those lacking in understanding (9.3b-4).
    • A Partaking of the great feast (9.5-6).

    Preparation Of The Great Feast (9.1-3a).

    9.1-3a

    ‘Wisdom has built her house,
    She has shaped (hewn out) her seven pillars,
    She has killed her beasts,
    She has mingled her wine,
    She has also furnished her table,
    She has sent forth her maidens.’

    Wisdom has, of course, been around from the beginning of creation (8.23). She does not use a house built by another, but has built her own house, one which is large and spacious and built around seven pillars, especially shaped by wisdom herself. Seven is the number of divine perfection (something recognised throughout the Ancient Near East). Houses would normally, at the most, have three pillars, so that her house is a splendid one, large enough for all. It is divinely established. One of the aims is to bring out Woman Wisdom’s status. She is one to be looked up to and heeded. It was the norm for those in high places to set up such feasts and dispense lavish hospitality (compare 1 Kings 4.22-23; Nehemiah 5.17-18; Esther 1.3-7; Daniel 5.1).

    There is no suggestion that a temple is in mind, and it should be noticed that the beasts for the feast were ‘killed’ not ‘slaughtered sacrificially’. The Hebrew word is distinctive and another word is used where ‘slaying in sacrifice’ is intended. This is a rich person’s feast, not a religious celebration. And the stated aim is not specifically to worship God, but to ‘live and walk in the way of understanding’ (9.6). It is a call to feast at Wisdom’s table, and partake of her wisdom.

    All that is needed for a great feast has been prepared. Animals have been killed, wine has been mingled (probably with honey and spices. In Isaiah 1.22 wine mixed with water was seen as spoiled), the table has been prepared (tables were only found in the houses of the wealthy), all is now ready. And now the maidens are sent out to invite people to the feast (maidens because extensions of Woman Wisdom). They represent all who proclaim wisdom (including Solomon (5.1), fathers and mothers (1.8), and ‘the wise’ (1.6)). They are ‘maidens’ in comparison with ancient Woman Wisdom. These are pure maidens, inviting men to hear, in contrast with Woman Folly who can only invite men to bed.

    Those who respond to wisdom will find themselves satiated with good things. They partake freely of her beasts and her mingled wine. They can ‘obtain wine and milk without money and without price’ (Isaiah 55.1). In Isaiah too they could ‘hear -- and live’ (Isaiah 55.3).

    It is tempting to see in this description a parallel with the words of Jesus, ‘Tell those who are bidden, behold I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready, come to the marriage feast’ (Matthew 22.4). He may well have had this passage in mind when He gave the parable, for He was offering the greatest wisdom of all.

    Appeal To The Naive And Those Lacking In Understanding (9.3b-4).

    The emphasis now moves to Wisdom’s call to the naive, and to ‘those who are void of understanding’, that is, those who have not yet responded to Wisdom. .

    9.3b-4

    She cries on the highest places of the city,
    “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”
    As for him who is void of understanding,
    She says to him,

    Wisdom’s appeal is to the naive and those lacking in understanding. It is made on the highest places of the city, which is probably where her house is (otherwise she could not say, ‘turn in here’), and it is therefore heard by all. And it is an open invitation to all. All who will may come. Her desire is that they might ‘turn in here’.

    (It will be noted that the divisions we have made are not fully satisfactory. The writer did not, of course, divide it up like this. But our purpose is to bring out the ongoing of the themes and their structure).

    Partaking Of The Great Feast (9.5-6).

    9.5-6

    “Come, eat you of my bread,
    And drink of the wine which I have mingled.
    Leave off, you naive ones, and live,
    And walk in the way of understanding.”

    All are called to come and eat of her food (her bread included the slaughtered beasts - 9.2), and drink of the wine that she has mingled. This food and wine was to be found in the words of YHWH (2.6) as revealed through their teachers. How different it was from the food of wickedness and wine of violence in 4.17. They are to leave off whatever they are doing, their naive way of living, and come to partake of what she has provided so that they might truly live, and walk in the way of understanding. (In our Lord’s parables some refused to leave off, and were therefore rejected - Luke 15.16-24).

    This call to ‘live’ has been prominent in the Prologue. As we have seen, it includes not only longevity (3.2, 16, 18; 9.11), but also wellbeing and spiritual prosperity (1.9, 23; 3.8, 18, 24-25; 4.8-9, 16; 8.21). It is the way of security and peace (1.33; 3.2, 18, 24-25). And it is the opposite of entering into the grave world (2.18; 5.5; 7.27; 9.18), for that is the threat made against those who reject wisdom. It is a ‘life more abundant’ (John 10.10), and it promises on death entrance into the presence and joy of YHWH (Psalm 16.11; 17.15). And all this comes to the one who walks in the way of understanding.

    These concepts of ‘living, and ‘walking in the way of understanding’ will in the next subsection be related to the choices made by ‘the wise’ and ‘the scorner’. There ‘understanding’ will be related to the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of the Holy One (verse 10), whilst wisdom will reward her followers with long and prosperous lives (verse 11). In contrast scorners will sink into hate.

    We all have to choose which way we will go, whether in the broad way, the way of the naive, fools and scorners, or in the narrow way, the way of wisdom and life (Matthew 7.13-14), or, as here, the way of understanding.

    Jesus, of course, could take this one step further. Wisdom could only offer knowledge, and understanding, and words, and shrewdness and discernment. Jesus Christ offered us Himself. ‘I am the Bread of Life,’ He said. ‘He who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’ (John 6.35).

    The Contrast Between The Scorner, Who Does Not Like Reproof, And The Wise Man Who Heeds It, (a warning to the naive), Centred Round The Fear Of YHWH (9.7-12).

    The prologue initially began with a warning concerning ‘the naive, -- scorners -- and the foolish’ (1.22). Here in this final chapter wisdom addresses the naive, for whom there is still hope (9.4-6), reveals the truth about scorners, for whom there is little hope (9.7-8), and epitomises the foolish in terms of Woman Folly (9.13-18). Thus the fact that Solomon deals with scorners here ties in with the pattern of the book. This not the first mention of scorners. They are mentioned in 1.22 but from then on the scorners tend to be ignored, probably precisely because they were deemed unreachable. Up to this point all that we have learned further about them is that ‘God scorns the scorners’ (3.34). Now in giving his final warning he wants the naive to learn why that is so. It is because scorners react violently to rebuke. They will not examine themselves. They do not want anyone to suggest that their lives are not satisfactory.

    So Solomon now moves on to emphasise the distinction between the wise, the followers of wisdom, and the scornful. Many cavil here at the interruption of two smooth comparisons (9.1-6, 13-18) by something presented in a complete change of style. They do not see it as fitting. It conflicts with their sense of what is appropriate and artistically acceptable. And so they see it as ‘a later insertion’ which does not really fit into the text. But the ancients were more rugged in their presentations than we are, and we regularly find in their writings sudden changes like this which to us at first appear inexplicable. We must therefore give it fair consideration.

    And in fact this subsection is not completely inexplicable. Solomon is bringing his prologue to an end and wants to do more than finish it with a nice, smooth parabolic contrast. He wants to cover ‘the naive -- the scorners -- and the foolish’ (1.22). So having spoken to the naive of ‘walking in the way of understanding’ (the way of the fear of YHWH and knowledge of the Holy One - verse 10) he does not want to move simply into a comparison with the woman Folly. It would be nice and smooth, but it would not bring his readers up sharp, and face them with their choice. However, that is what he wants to do. He wants to bring the naive among his readers up sharp, by vividly letting them know what will happen to them if they become scorners. And he does it in vivid fashion, by changing his style and letting them know that if they become scorners they will become hardened. For, he points out, those who become scorners refuse to accept correction or rebukes. They become almost unreachable and unresponsive to wisdom. He knows that it is something that the naive might easily become, and he does not want that.

    Accepting the text as it stands these words are seen as continuing to be spoken by Wisdom to the naive. Note the ‘by me your days will be multiplied’ (verse 11). Some seek to amend the ‘by me’. However, that requires amending the text in line with the versions. And the versions probably translated in the way they did because they also saw ‘by me’ as difficult. On the other hand ‘by me’ makes perfectly good sense if we accept it.

    So here those who hear the call of wisdom are being advised not to become scorners, but rather to become wise men who love reproof and gladly receive wisdom. Verse 6 spoke of the way of understanding, so before going on to portray Woman Folly, Solomon wants to bring home what that way of understanding is (verse 10), and warn the naive of what they might become if they refuse to walk in it, as others have done.

    The subsection is presented chiastically:

    • A He who corrects a scorner gets to himself reviling, and he who reproves a wicked man gets to himself an injury (literally ‘it is his injury’). Do not reprove a scorner, lest he hate you (9.7-8a).
    • B Reprove a wise man, and he will love you (9.8b).
    • C Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser, teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning (9.9).
    • D The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom (9.10a).
    • D And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (9.10b).
    • C For by me your days will be multiplied, and the years of your life will be increased (9.11).
    • B If you are wise, you are wise for thyself (9.12a)
    • A And if you scorn, you alone will bear it (9.12b).

    In A the scorner is laid bare, and in the parallel a warning is given to the scorner that he is personally responsible for the consequences which will affect him alone. In B a wise man is defined, and in the parallel the wise learn that they too are personally responsible for what they are. In C the wise and the righteous man in wisdom and learning, and in the parallel the years of his life will consequently . Centrally in D the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of the Holy One are paralleled.

    9.7-10

    “He who corrects a scorner gets to himself reviling,
    And he who reproves a wicked man gets to himself an injury (literally ‘it is his injury’,
    Do not reprove a scorner, lest he hate you,
    Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.’
    Give (instruction) to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser,
    Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
    The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom,
    And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

    Solomon could have said something like this (following verse 6), ‘do not become a scorner for they are unreachable by wisdom, rather become a wise man who loves to receive reproof’. And in effect that is what he does say (see verse 12). But first he wants to puts it in a way that pulls the reader up short, asking him to consider a scorner from the point of view of Wisdom. The naive one thereby learns that if he becomes a scorner Wisdom will want nothing to do with him. Why? Because anyone who corrects a scorner simply gets reviled by the scorner, and anyone who reproves a wicked man can simply expect injury. Note the equation of the scorner with a wicked man, that is, a man who is not righteous and who therefore does not respond to YHWH in His covenant relationship.

    Then Wisdom reinforces the lesson by facing the naive man up with a scorner directly. ‘Do not reprove a scorner lest he hate you.’ In other words, ‘recognise that that is the kind of person scorners become. Their hearts are hardened, they will not admit to fault, and they hate anyone who shows them up.

    In contrast Wisdom points out how different is the wise man. ‘Reprove a wise man and he will love you.’ Why? Because a wise man wants to know his faults so that he can put them right. He wants to become wiser and so he loves anyone who genuinely reveals his faults to him.

    The wise man is then revealed by Wisdom to be also a righteous man (a man who observes the covenant with YHWH). The two are seen as necessarily going together, because the fruit of wisdom is righteousness, and to walk in the way of righteousness is to be wise. She points out that if you give instruction to a wise man he will learn from it because he is a wise man, and will become wiser. If you teach a righteous man he will listen because he is a righteous man and wants to know more of righteousness, and will therefore increase in learning.

    As a consequence of the naive young man being faced up with these issues in this way, he has had abruptly brought home to him what is involved in being a scorner, and how much better it is to be a wise man. And it is done by a sharp apparent change of subject, rather than just by a smooth transition. He is jolted into considering the difference between a scorner and a wise and righteous man.

    Note On Verses 7-9.

    It will be noted that in these verses we have a chiasmus within a chiasmus:

    • A He who corrects a scorner gets to himself reviling, and he who reproves a wicked man gets to himself an injury (literally ‘it is his injury’ (9.7).
    • B Do not reprove a scorner, lest he hate you (9.8a).
    • B Reprove a wise man, and he will love you (9.8b)
    • A Give (instruction) to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser, teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

    In A the scorner and the wicked man are contrasted in the parallel by the wise man and the righteous man. In B the consequence of reproof to a scorner are compared with the consequences of reproof to a wise man.

    This might suggest that it is this portion (verses 7-9) which was originally incorporated by Solomon, for the purpose explained above, on the basis of a well known proverbial comparison. If verses 7-9 were a wellknown saying which Solomon incorporated it would adequately explain both the disjointedness, and the change in the modes of address, while still fitting easily into the narrative. Modern man would precede it by saying, ‘consider the adage --’. But that was not the ancient way. Solomon can then be seen as continuing his own narrative in verse 10, in order to explain what the way of understanding is, having first faced the young man up proverbially to the choice between being a scorner or being a wise man.

    End of note.

    When we come to verse 10 it clearly connects back to verse 6, and is indeed explanatory of it. The reader may ask, ‘What does it mean to walk in the way of understanding?’ Wisdom now gives her answer. “The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Let the naive young man learn to reverently fear YHWH, which is the first step in being wise and will have the continuing consequence of obedience to YHWH, and let him come to a true knowledge of the Holy One, which will have the consequence for him of knowing God (2.6) and knowing what He requires, and he will then walk in the way of understanding. Thus we have confirmed at the end that the wisdom which Solomon is speaking of all the way through is based on the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of God.

    It should, perhaps, be noted that ‘Holy one’ is actually in the plural (holy ones). But in view of the parallel with YHWH we are probably to see this as an intensive plural indicating the supreme holiness of God. The idea of ‘the Holy One’ fits in well here, for the fear of YHWH partly arises from an awareness of His ‘otherness’, His moral splendour and uniqueness, which brings men in submission to His feet. It is when we know God as He is that we truly fear Him. And for this we can compare Isaiah 57.15, ‘I am the high and lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is Holy’, which then goes on to say that only the humble and contrite can dwell with Him.

    9.11-12

    “For by me your days will be multiplied,
    And the years of your life will be increased,
    If you are wise, you are wise for thyself,
    And if you scorn, you alone will bear it.”

    In 9.6 Wisdom had pointed out that if they left off their old ways, and responded to her, they would ‘live’. Now she concludes by pointing out that it is by responding to her, and her message concerning the fear of YHWH, that their days will be multiplied, and the years of their life be increased. And this has within it the implication that those lives will be worthwhile. But it will all depend on their response to God’s wisdom. Each must make an individual choice, to become wise and respond to reproof, or to be a scorner and reject reproof. And they will be responsible for their individual choices. If they are wise it will be because that is the path that they have chosen, recognising that it is for their own benefit. If they scorn the way of wisdom, it is they, and they alone, who will suffer the consequences. It is a fitting aspect of the conclusion to the Prologue.

    The Appeal Of Woman Folly To The Naive (9.13-18).

    There is no suggestion that Woman Folly’s house is opulent or well-provisioned. And indeed she herself is described as ‘turbulent’ and ‘knowing nothing’. She may make a show of being like wisdom (she is on a seat in the high places of the city), but she rather offers ‘stolen waters’ (illicit sexual enjoyment) and ‘bread in secret’ (surreptitious pleasure). And whilst her house is also opened up to those who are naive and lacking in understanding (compare verse 4), they never get beyond that stage. They do not ‘live’ and walk in the way of understanding, rather, like her, those who come to her know nothing. They die. For they ‘do not know’ that in her house are the ‘shadows’ (rephaim) of the dead, and that her guests are in the depths of the grave-world.

    Like all the Prologue this is presented chiastically:

    • A The woman Folly is noisy (disquieted), she is naive, and knows nothing, and she sits at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city (9.13-14).
    • B To call to those who pass by, who go right on their ways, “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here” (9.15-16a).
    • B And as for him who is void of understanding, she says to him, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (9.16b-17).
    • A But he does not know that the shades of the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol (9.18).

    In A the woman Folly knows nothing and the door of her house is in the high places of the city, and in the parallel those who enter her house also ‘do not know’ and her house proves to be in the depths of Sheol. The exaltation that she offers is spurious. In B she appeals to the naive to ‘turn in here’ and in the parallel we find the terms of her offer which are to those lacking in understanding, and are stolen waters and bread in secret.

    9.13-14

    ‘The woman Folly is noisy (vociferous),
    She is naive, and knows nothing,
    And she sits at the door of her house,
    On a seat in the high places of the city,’

    In contrast with Woman Wisdom, Woman Folly is noisy but empty. She is all bluster and no content. She makes a lot of noise, but is naive and knows nothing, that is, has nothing positive to offer in her words. Whereas wisdom has spoken positively and given guidance and direction, Folly has nothing of any importance to say. All she can do is use enticing words. For she too is naive. She too is lacking in wisdom and understanding.

    She sits at the door of her house, on a seat, in the high places of the city. Thus like Woman Wisdom her house is in the high places of the city. But whereas Wisdom was active and outgoing, Folly sits on her seat. She is seeking to make herself impressive. And she calls to men from there. She has no urgency, only enticement. The fact that she has a seat to sit on, a rarity in those days (people would normally sit on stools or cushions), brings out that she is a woman of status. It may be that this is to be seen as one of her enticements.

    9.15-16a

    ‘To call to those who pass by,
    Who make straight their ways,
    “Whoever is naive,
    Let him turn in here.”

    The people whom she calls to are the naive and gullible. Whilst seeking to walk in straight ways, (they are therefore not open sinners), they are open to the tempting voice. She too cries, ‘whoever is naive let him turn in here’ (compare 9.4a). She is trying to make herself look and sound as much like Wisdom as possible.

    9.16b-18

    And as for him who is void of understanding,
    She says to him,
    “Stolen waters are sweet,
    And bread (eaten) in secret is pleasant.”
    But he does not realise that the shadows of the dead are there,
    That her guests are in the depths of Sheol.’

    Like Ms Wisdom, Ms Folly speaks to ‘him who is void of understanding’ (9.4b), in other words the one who is vaguely going on through life without having established the principles by which he will live. She also offers drink and food, but in her case it is not principles by which to live, and find life, but temptations which lead to death. Rather than mingled wine which speaks of that growth in understanding which will enable him to walk in the way of understanding, she offers ‘stolen waters’, illicit sexual pleasures enjoyed behind her husband’s back. Instead of solid spiritual food she offers ‘bread in secret’, indicating the same furtive, illicit sex, the illicit pleasure of adultery. She offers ‘the pleasures of sin for a season’ (Hebrews 11.25).

    And what the young man does not realise is that ‘the shadows of the dead (rephaim) are there’. He is not moving on to life (9.6a), but lies in a bed that has been occupied by many others, who have gone on into the depths of Sheol. For ‘the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23). He is moving from being a naive young man to being a scorner and a fool.

    ‘The shadows of the dead.’ The word is rephaim, which elsewhere speaks of the shadowy forms of the dead existing in the grave world who will not rise (Isaiah 14.9; 26.14).

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