When reading through the Introduction to Proverbs in the first nine chapters, it’s difficult to miss the rather obvious feminine personification of wisdom and foolishness. This reaches a climax in chapter 9 where the two women are portrayed as both calling out from the high point of the city to all who pass by. They represent well the two ways spoken of in Proverbs and in the rest of Scripture (i.e. Matthew 7:13).
The Woman Wisdom is a builder who has carved out her house with its seven pillars representing many of the characteristcs spoken of in the previous chapter. Like the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 (who might well be a metaphor for the wisdom with which the Proverbs end) she is extremely creative in fashioning a home that speaks of love, security, and true beauty. By contrast the Woman Folly (Vs. 13) is loud, undisciplined, and without knowledge, uncaring about the future of her own life and those who come to her. Her interest is simply in the pleasure of the moment. She is a picture of a person like Esau who exchanged his entire future for a bit of fast food or of Samson who traded his supernatural strength against the Enemy for the sake of a passing relationship with Delilah.
Woman Wisdom is rich having servant girls who help her prepare an unbelieveable banquet of good things. Woman Folly, on the other hand, has no real banquet; instead she offers only lies about “stolen water and delicious food eaten in secret,” euphenisms for the sordid sexual exploits by which she traps the unwary. While Woman Wisdom is able to offer life and “the way of understanding,” Woman Folly provides only a passing pleasure that ultimately lands her “customers” in death before they even know it!
The contrast between these two women and their offerings is unbelieveably stark and real in the ordinary experiences of our daily lives. We all are as men going through life seeking the ultimate satisfaction of a companionship that God intended. And in the course of our daily lives which intersect with others “downtown” — at the high point of the City — we find these two women constantly competing for our attention, continually offering the companionship that our souls were made to want. One is beautifully prepared to give us what God intended; but the other is an insiduous evil that leads to corruption down a false garden path.
What is the essential difference between the offerings of Woman Wisdom and Folly? I wonder in the context of this imagery, if it might not best be summed up by the word, faithfulness. For the adulterous woman in the words of Proverbs 2:17 “has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.” The Woman Wisdom, on the other hand, like the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, is characterized by faithful commitment to her husband and family. “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them upon your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart,” we read in Proverbs 3:3. Faithfulness is definitely an important theme in the Book of Wisdom. Again and again, we are reminded to be faithful in matters of speech, friendship, marriage, parenting, work, stewardship, and in faith toward God. And in a society like ours where so much of human activity is motivated by impulse and the satisfaction of immediate desire, the need for faithfulness is huge – in marriage and family, in business and friendship, and in the worship and service of Christ and His kingdom.
How is it possible, in this world of many distracting calls, to be faithful to principles of righteousness and justice at home and in business? Perhaps the best answer lies in Proverbs 3:5, 6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Thus the wisdom that is faithfulness justifiably begins with the “fear of the Lord.” And it leads us to Christ, the perfectly faithful One who is the great Gift of our Covenant-keeping God, and in whom are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
I find this Parable of Two Women in Proverbs very relevant to the challenge of living these days. It is not so much about the calls of these two kinds of women (though we might think of some like them who are models of their representation here) as it is about these two kinds of voices which continually call to us. Through Christ, the call to faithfulness is possible to achieve and deeply satisfying, though not particularly easy. And it has promise of great reward for the future when we meet with Christ for the Great Banquet that He has promised (Revelation 19:7 – 9).