Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home; it’s supported by seven hewn timbers. The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. Having dismissed her serving maids, Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place, and invites everyone within sound of her voice: “Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on? Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, roast lamb, carefully selected wines. Leave your impoverished confusion and live! Walk up the street to a life with meaning.” Then there’s this other woman, Madame Folly—brazen, empty-headed, frivolous. She sits on the front porch of her house on Main Street, and as people walk by minding their own business, calls out, “Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on? Steal off with me, I’ll show you a good time! No one will ever know—I’ll give you the time of your life.” But they don’t know about all the skeletons in her closet, that all her guests end up in hell. (Proverbs 9:1-6, 13-18, The Message)
JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!! How many times have we thought this, or said it out loud, to an unhappy spouse, to a boss who was a bully and could NOT be pleased, to a counselor from whom we were seeking guidance. JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!! How many times have we prayed our children or grandchildren would say this to us!
Every day of our lives we are required to make choices: Big choices, little choices, sometimes life-changing choices. I don’t think there is anyone in this room who got up this morning thinking, “I’m gonna make some BAD choices today! Woo hoo! Let the party begin!”
Every one of us wants to make the best choices possible: in our food choices which affect our health, in our life choices of relationships and jobs, in our environmental choices as we try to make the smallest carbon footprint possible, in our stewardship choices as we manage the time and resources God has given us.
We all want to make the best choices possible: Choices that lead to prosperous paths, choices that bring joy and happiness to our lives, choices that make us and our loved ones feel safe and secure. None of these choices I’ve named should ever be made off the cuff. In fact, when we make these choices quickly, there is a strong possibility we’ll make a bad decision.
Have you ever bought a shirt that was 75% off retail because it was such a bargain. Then you got it home and thought to yourself “You know, this is the ugliest thing I have in my closet. What was I thinking?”
Have you ever experienced love at first sight and were immediately convinced that this was the right person for you? You fell hard and heavy for them. Then, several weeks into the relationship, you discovered the steamer trunks of emotional baggage your beloved brought with them? Come on, it’s confession time. Most of us have been there!
When making choices in life, a general rule is that it’s not a good thing to make them quickly. We need to give at least a little bit of thought to the choices we make in life. When they’re life-changing ones, it’s best to do a little research, seek the wisdom of others, and prayerfully consider our options.
This brings us to our first lesson for today which presents us with a choice between two tables where we can metaphorically dine in life: Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly. The tricky part is discerning which table we’re dining at. The tricky part is trying to figure out if we’re making a good decision or a bad decision in life. In this instance, JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO doesn’t cut it. The writer of Proverbs is telling us that both tables have their appeal. It may not always be easy at first glance to figure out what table we’re dining at! So, let’s look at the two tables, Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly, and see what they can teach us about making good choices in life.
We begin with Lady Wisdom. Verse 1 says “Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home; It’s supported by seven hewn timbers.” The word HOME used here refers to a school of learning which became associated with the wisdom movement. SEVEN HEWN TIMBERS refers to the pillars surrounding the central courtyard of a house for someone who is wealthy and prosperous.
Gary & I saw houses like this in the ancient city of Pompeii. All the rooms open up into a central courtyard that was used for lounging, entertainment and eating. Part of this courtyard had a roof over it that was supported by three columns on each side, and one column at the far end. The walls which surrounded this courtyard were decorated with colorful frescoes.
So the visual picture we get of Lady Wisdom is a beautiful woman in a white toga with a laurel wreath around her head. Her house is absolutely stunning. She shows us into the central courtyard and we know we’re in for a treat!
Verse 2 says “The banquet meal is ready to be served: Lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers.” Lady Wisdom has prepared a banquet for us. It’s quiet a feast! Like an Old Testament Giada de Laurentis or Rachel Ray, she has prepared for us the very best and we know it’s going to be absolutely delicious.
Verses 3-6 say “Having dismissed her serving maids, Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place, and invites everyone within sound of her voice: “Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on? Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, roast lamb, carefully selected wines. Leave your impoverished confusion and live! Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”
For those of us who are tempted to ask Lady Wisdom JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO, she invites us in for a delightful feast. In the NRSV, Lady Wisdom’s invitation reads “You that are simple, turn in here. To those without sense she says…” The Hebrew word for simple is PATHAH which means “to open.” i.e. One who is open to any influence; someone who is impressionable and easily molded. “Those without sense” can be translated as “Those who lack judgment.” The root word means “to separate or divide.” i.e.those with an inability to distinguish between right and wrong.
The image we get in Proverbs is of an impressionable young person who is being invited to dine at wisdom’s house. It is there that they will learn to distinguish between right and wrong. They will be influenced in a good and positive way and learn how to make better choices in life.
Now we turn our attention to Dame Folly. She looks quite different from Lady Wisdom. Verse 13 says “Dame Folly is brazen, empty-headed, frivolous. Folly is personified here as a lady of the evening if you know what I mean! We picture her in the window of a bordello in Amsterdam. She is trying to lure us into her establishment.
In other translations of this text, they describe Dame Folly as someone who is “loud, ignorant and knows nothing,” [NRSV] “Noisy, stupid and doesn’t even know it.” [CEB] The Broadway equivalent of Folly is any woman in the cast of Cabaret. She is sexy, provocative and enticing. [If you like that kind of thing!] Whatever image comes to your mind as alluring and seductive, this is how you should picture Dame Folly.
Verses 14-17 say “She sits on the front porch of her house on Main Street, and as people walk by minding their own business, calls out, “Are you confused about life, Don’t know what’s going on? Steal off with me, I’ll show you a good time! No one will ever know—I’ll give you the time of your life.”
Notice the identical phrasing that us used by both Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly: “Are you confused about life Don’t know what’s going on/” Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly issue the same invitation to come and dine at their table. But what each of them offers is as different as night and day. The Message does a really good job of highlighting the seduction game that Dame Folly is playing: “Steal off with me, I’ll show you a good time! No one will ever know—I’ll give you the time of your life.”
Human nature, for whatever reason, if often drawn to the house of Folly rather than the House of Wisdom. We see this in the newspapers all the time as people from all walks of life make tragic and self-destructive decisions: Adultery, corruption, murder, abuse of power, accumulation of wealth at the expense of others, escape from reality through drugs and alcohol.
These are just some of the meals that are offered at Folly’s house which begs the question “Why is the forbidden so enticing?” I guess its sort of like a child that is told by a parent they cannot do this or that. Suddenly the forbidden becomes the very thing they want to do. We often do crazy things and make bad decisions in order to obtain what Folly offers us. We enter the House of Folly with our blinders on, ignoring the consequences of our actions, until they hit us upside the head like an 18 wheeler going 120 M.P.H.
The results of dining at the House of Folly are stated clearly in vs. 18: “But they don’t know about all the skeletons in her closet, that all her guests end up in hell.” The best translation of this verse comes from Today’s English Version: “Her victims do not know that people die who go to her house; that those who have already entered are now deep in the world of the dead.”
When we enter Folly’s House, We might have a good time for a season but ultimately we will pay a heavy price for it. This is the difference between the two houses: Wisdom offer us a fuller life where we “walk up the street to a life with meaning.” Folly offers us rotten fruit in a flashy wrapper where we end up “deep in the world of the dead.”
There is a lot we can learn from these dual images of Wisdom and Folly. I would encourage everyone to read Proverbs 9 this week preferably in several translations and absorb its meaning. As we make choices in life, I hope we will keep these two images in mind and continually ask ourselves: Are we going for the cheap thrill OR something that is lasting and eternal? Are we going for something in a flashy wrapper OR something that may have little style but lots of substance? Are we going for the things that will lead us to a fuller life OR that will ultimately lead us to misery and unhappiness?
Friends in Christ, life is a series of choices. I have seen godly men and women who were brought to their knees because the entered the House of Folly instead of the House of Wisdom. Unfortunately, no one is going to stand around and tell us what to do all the time. We are going to have to make most decisions on our own. I pray that God would grant us the discernment to know the difference between dining at the House of Wisdom and dining at the House of Folly. AMEN
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck