Proverbs 9
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. THE FIGURATIVE REPRESENTATION. Wisdom was termed, in Proverbs 8:30, a "workmistress," in reference to the structure of the physical world. Here she whose delight is in men and human life is represented as the builder, i.e. the founder of moral and social order. The seven pillars denote grandeur, and, at the same time, sacredness. Her home is a temple. Religion is "the oldest and most sacred tradition of the race" (Herder); and it contains within it art, science, polity - all that makes human life stable, rich, and beautiful. Preparation has been made for a feast. The ox has been slain, the spiced wine has been mixed (Isaiah 5:22; Proverbs 23:30), the table set forth. Her servant has been sent forth, and her invitation has been freely made known on all the heights of the city. It is an invitation to the simple, the ignorant, the unintelligent, of every degree.

II. THE SPIRITUAL CONTENTS. These receive a richer unfolding in the gospel (Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24). Instead of the practical personification of wisdom, we have the living presence of Christ, "the Wisdom of God." Instead of the abstract, the concrete; for an ideal conception, a real Example and a present Object of faith. Instead of the splendid palace temple, on the other hand, we have the thought of the kingdom of God, or the Church, resting on its foundations of apostolic truth. To the provisions of the table correspond the rich spiritual nourishment derivable from Christ, his Word and work - the true Bread sent down from heaven. To the invitation of Wisdom, the call to salvation by Christ.

1. The New Testament echoes the Old, and the gospel is essentially the same in every way.

2. The gospel of Christ is the unfolding, expansion, enrichment, of the ancient spiritual lore.

3. The relation of the Divine to the human remains constant; it is that of supply to want, knowledge to ignorance, love and light to sorrow and darkness.

4. The invitation to the kingdom of heaven is free and general, conditioned by nothing except the need of its blessings. - J.

Wisdom invites the sons of men to a feast. Christ, "the Wisdom of God," is inviting us all to partake of eternal life. A feast may well be regarded as the picture and type of life at its fullest. It combines so many of the best features of human life - bounty generously offered and graciously accepted, nourishment, enjoyment, social intercourse, intellectual and spiritual as well as bodily gratification. In the gospel of Christ there is offered to us life at its very fullest - Divine, eternal. We are invited by Eternal Wisdom to partake thereof, to "lay hold" thereupon. These verses suggest to us -

I. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE DIVINE PREPARATION. (Vers. 1, 2.) The house is built, the full number of pillars hewn, the beasts killed, the wine mingled, the table set out. Everything is arranged and executed; nothing is forgotten or omitted. Every guest will find that which he needs. How complete is the preparation which God has made for us in the gospel of grace and life! The whole of the Old Testament may be said to be a part of the history of his preparation. All his dealings with his ancient people, and his control of the heathen nations, were leading up to the one great issue - the redemption of mankind by a life-giving Saviour. The New Testament continues the same account; the birth, the ministry, the life, the sorrows, the death, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the evangelizing work and the interpretive letters of the apostles, form the last part of the Divine preparation. And now everything is complete. The house is built, the table is spread, the wine outpoured. There is nothing which a guilty, sorrowing, striving, seeking soul can hunger or thirst for which it will not find at this heavenly feast. Mercy, full reconciliation, unfailing friendship, comfort, strength, hope, joy in God, everlasting life, - everything is there.

II. THE GRACIOUSNESS OF THE INVITATION. (Vers. 3, 4.) Wisdom sends "her maidens" and "cries upon the highest places of the city." She charges those to speak who are likeliest to be listened to, and to utter her invitation where it is surest to be heard. Moreover, she does not restrict her call to those who may be said to be her own children (Matthew 11:19); on the other hand, she addresses herself specially to those who are strange to hereto "the simple," to "him that wanteth understanding," In the gospel of the grace of God:

1. It is the gracious Lord himself who speaks to us, and in the most winning way. It is he himself who says, "Come unto me;" "If any man thirst," etc.; "I am the Bread of life," etc.

2. He has, in his providence and grace, caused the message of mercy to be sounded where all can hear it - "upon the highest places of the city."

3. He calks all men to his bountiful board, specially those who are in the greatest need (Luke 14:21-23; Matthew 9:12, 13).

III. THE CHARACTER OF THE MESSAGE. (Vers. 5, 6.) Wisdom calls those who hear her messengers to forsake folly, to walk in righteousness, and thus to enter into life. The Wisdom of God himself calls those who hear his voice to:

1. Turn from their iniquity, turning away from the fellowship of the unholy as well as from the practice of sin.

2. Enter into closest fellowship with him himself; thus eating of the bread and drinking of the water of life; thus walking in the way of truth, holiness, love, wisdom; thus "going in the way of understanding."

3. Partake with him the life which is Divine and eternal - life for God, life in God, life with God forever. - C.

So, in connection with the preceding section, we may take these words.

I. EVERY REFUSAL OF WISDOM IMPLIES THE PREFERENCE OF THE OPPOSITE. It implies that the associations of folly are more congenial than those of sound sense (ver. 6), which is a preference of death to life, in its effect.

II. THE SCOFFING HABIT IS AN INDICATION OF FOLLY. (Ver. 7.) Under the general head of fools come scoffers and wicked men of every degree. The cynic may prefer to speak of evil men and actions as fools and folly - "worse than a crime, a blunder" - and he utters more truth in this than he intends.

III. THE SCOFFER IS ABUSIVE, AND THIS IS SIGNIFICANT OF HIS TEMPER. (Vers. 7, 8; comp. Exodus 5:16; Psalm 115:7.)

1. He neither has nor desires to have self-knowledge, and therefore hates the teacher who holds the mirror up to nature, and makes him see himself as he is.

2. He is the foil to the wise man, who is thankful for corrections, because he is set upon improvement and progress; and therefore loves the correcter, holding him creditor of his thanks, and recognizing the loyalty of the band which wounds.

3. The great distinction of the wise man from the fool is that the former has indefinite capacity of progress; the latter, qua fool, none.

4. As there is an indissoluble connection between folly and wickedness, so are wisdom and rectitude at one (ver. 9). - J.

It is not only the function of the minister of Christ to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" (2 Timothy 4:2); the "man of God" is to be so furnished from Scripture as to be able to administer "reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16.17). But instruction, especially when it takes the form of correction, has its penalty as well as its recompense.

I. THE PENALTY OF INSTRUCTION. (Vers. 7, 8). It is in the heart of the wise to rebuke iniquity. Those who are upright and true, who hate evil even as God hates it, are stirred to a holy indignation when they behold the dark and shameful manifestations of sin, and remonstrance rises to their lips. It is as "fire in their bones" until they have "delivered their soul."

2. Rebuke is often decidedly advantageous. It not, only relieves the mind of the godly speaker, but it shames those who should be made to blush for their deeds. Even when it fails to impress the principal defaulter, the arch-criminal, it may produce a wholesome influence on the minds of those who witness it. A burning flame of righteous wrath will sometimes consume much unrighteousness.

3. Nevertheless, it is true that the wise must count on the contrary being the result. It may be that remonstrance will be thrown away, that it will come to nothing but shame on the part of him that reproves - a "blot on the page," and nothing but provocation to him that is rebuked, inciting him to hatred (ver. 8). The likelihood must be reckoned, and the wise must act accordingly. If there is hope of doing good, some risk may well be run. All interposition is not here discountenanced. Good men must use their discretion. There is a time to speak, using the language of strong and even severe reproach. On the ether hand - this is the truth of the text - there is a time to be silent, to leave abandoned and guilty men to be condemned of God. Reproach would be lost upon them; it would only come back with a severe rebound, and wound the speaker (see Matthew 7:6).


1. There are those in whom is the spirit of docility. They are ready to learn. Of these are the young. Our Lord commended the spirit of childhood partly for this reason, viz. that it is the spirit of docility. It has openness of mind, eagerness of heart to receive instruction. Of these, also, are those in whom the spirit of wisdom dwells, but who have fallen into error.

2. Instruction in these cases will be well repaid. If we rebuke a wise man, a man who is essentially good but accidentally wrong, we shall meet with appreciation: "he will love us." If we impart instruction to those already wise, we shall add to their excellency (ver. 9). So that intelligent, well timed instruction will do two things.

(1) It will restore the erring - a most valuable and admirable action, on which the best of men may truly congratulate themselves.

(2) It will multiply the power of the good. It will add knowledge and wisdom to those who are already wise; it will make good men better, happier, worthier, in themselves; it will also make them more influential for good in the sphere in which they move. This, then, is the threefold lesson of the text:

1. Know when to be silent under provocation.

2. Speak the word of reproach in season.

3. Communicate knowledge to all who will welcome it. - C.

Life is made up of circles. We are ever coming back to whence we started. As history repeats itself, so must morality and religion. The shining points of wisdom appear and reappear with the regularity of the heavenly bodies. The vault of heaven has its analogue in the star-besprinkled vault of the moral relations. Iteration and repetition of first principles are constantly necessary, ever wholesome, peculiarly characteristic of Semitic thought. Wherever life is bounded to a small circle of interests, the same truths must be insisted on "over and over again."


1. Religion characterized. The fear of Jehovah. In other words, reverence for the Eternal One. We may unfold the definition, but can we substitute a better for it? It is a relation to the eternal and unseen, to a supersensual order, as opposed to that which is visible and transient. It is deep-seated in feeling. Reverence is the ground tone in the scale of religious feeling; we descend from it to awe and terror, or rise to joy and ecstasy. It is a relation, not to ourselves, or a projection of ourselves in fancy, but to a personal and holy Being.

2. Its connection with intelligence firmly insisted on. It is the beginning, or root principle, of wisdom, and "acquaintance with the Holy is true insight" (ver. 10). The question, often discussed, whether religion is a matter of feeling, knowledge, or will, arises from a fallacy. We may distinguish these functions in thought; but in act they are one, because the consciousness is a unity, not a bundle of things, a collocation of organs. In feeling we know, in knowledge we feel, and from this interaction arise will, acts, conduct. Hence so far as a man is soundly religious, he is likewise soundly intelligent. In the truest conception religion and wisdom are identical.

II. WISDOM A FIRST PRINCIPLE. (Ver. 11.) Here we come down from the region of speculation to that of practical truth.

1. The "will to live" is the very spring of our activity.

2. Only second to it in original power is the wish to be well, i.e. to have fulness, energy of life, consciousness. The extensive form of this wish is naturally the earlier, the more childlike - to enjoy many years, to live to a green old age, etc. The intensive form is later, and belongs to the more reflective stage of the mind. "Non vivere, sed valere, est vita" (Martial). 'Tis "more life and fuller that we want" (Tennyson). "One hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name." This view comes more home to the modern mind than to that of the monotonous East, where the like fulness of interest was not possible. We say, "Better twenty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay."


1. We have a distinct individual consciousness. "I am I, and other than the things I touch." I know what my acts are as distinguished from my involuntary movements, my thoughts as distinct from the passive reflection of perceptions and phantasies unbegotten of my will.

2. Our wisdom or folly is our own affair, both in origin and consequences. We begot the habit, and must reap as we sow, bear the brunt of the conflict we may have provoked.

3. Neither our wisdom can enrich nor our folly impoverish God (Job 22:2, 3; Job 35:6-9; Romans 11:35; Revelation 22:11, 12).

(1) It is a solemn thought; the constitution of our being reveals the decree of God, and may be thus interpreted: "Let him alone!" We are not interfered with. We are suffered to develop in the air and sun. Woe to us if we pervert the kindly gifts of God, and turn his truth into a lie!

(2) "Take heed to thyself." The effects of our acts may extend to others, but we cannot make others answer for them in the end. - J.

(See homilies on Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 3:1-4.) The fact that we meet with the opening sentence of the text in no less than three other places (Job 27:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7), gives to it a peculiar significance. It indicates that the Divine Author of the Bible would impress deeply on our minds the truth -

I. THAT ON THE FEAR OF GOD, AS ON A SOLID ROCK, ALL HUMAN WISDOM RESTS. Nothing which a man can have in his outward circumstances or in his mind will compensate for the absence of this principle from the soul. He may have every conceivable advantage in his surroundings; he may have all imaginable shrewdness, dexterity, cleverness, acuteness of intellect; but if everything be not based on the fear of the living God, his character must be fatally incomplete, and his life must be a deplorable mistake. Reverence of spirit, devotion of habit, the obedience of the life,-this is the solid ground on which all wisdom rests. Let a man be ever so learned or so astute, if this be absent Wisdom itself writes him down a fool.

II. THAT SACRED TRUTH IS THE LOFTIEST AND WORTHIEST SUBJECT OF HUMAN STUDY. It is well worth our while to give our careful and continuous thought to scientific, economical, historical, political truth. These will repay our study; they will enlarge our mind and heighten our understanding. But worthy as they are, they yield in importance to the truth which is sacred and, in an especial sense, Divine. To "understand and know God," who he is, what is his character, what are the conditions of his abiding love; to know man, who and what he is, what constitutes the real excellence and nobility of human character, what are the perils which threaten and what the habits which elevate it; to know the "path of life," the way back to God, to holiness, to heaven; - this is wisdom indeed. The knowledge of the holy is understanding. All other learning is slight in comparison with this supreme attainment.


1. Obedience to Jehovah would have given a prolonged and enduring life to the Jewish nation in their own favoured land. Conformity to Divine Law, the practice of truth, purity, uprightness, simplicity of life and manners, - these will go far to ensure long life to any nation now.

2. Obedience to Divine Law, especially to one commandment (Exodus 20:12), gave good hope of longevity to the children of the Law (ver. 11; Proverbs 3:2, 16). Piety and virtue now have promise of life and health. The sober, the pure, the diligent, those mindful of God's will, are likely to have their days multiplied and the years of their life increased.

3. To the true servants of Christ, who are faithful unto death, there is assured a "crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). - C.

In this short verse we have some valuable thoughts suggested respecting both wisdom and folly.

I. THE DISINTERESTEDNESS OF WISDOM. If any one should urge against the claims of Wisdom that they are very high, urgent, oppressive, that God's commandment is "exceeding broad;" if it be asked by the young, "Why fling these shadows on our path? why weigh us down with these responsibilities?" it may well be replied by Wisdom, "Your services are not necessary to me. 'If I were hungry, I would not tell thee,' etc.; if I plead with you, it is for your sake. You have need of my voice and my control; apart from me you cannot be blessed, you cannot realize the end of your being. I can do well without your devotion, but you cannot do without my favour. If you are wise, you will be wise for yourself."

II. THE INALIENABLE CHARACTER OF WISDOM AS A POSSESSION. The wise man in the Book of Ecclesiastes laments that riches are things which a wise man may take much trouble to gather, but he does not know who may scatter them. A man may be laborious and frugal, but not for himself; all the good may go to others who come after him. Thus is it with various acquisitions. Men no sooner gain them than they leave them behind for others; e.g. the hero, his glory; the student, his learning; the conqueror or discoverer, the territory he has gained or found. But if a man is wise, he is wise for himself as well as for others; he has a prize of which no accident will rob him, and which death itself will not take from his hands. Once his, it is his forever - it is an inalienable possession.

III. THE PROFOUND NATURE OF TRUE WISDOM. There is a very shallow philosophy which assumes the name of wisdom, which invites us to stake everything on securing a comfortable and prosperous career in this world, leaving out of account the supreme realities of our obligations to God, our duty to our own spiritual and immortal nature, our responsibilities to other souls. This superficial and false teaching overlooks the fundamental fact that a man is more than his means, that ourself is greater than our circumstances, that it is a poor profit to gain a world and lose a soul, that if we are wise we shall be wise for ourselves.

IV. THE STARTING POINT OF TRUE WISDOM. Some are speaking with indignation, not insincere, against so much insistence on a man's seeking his own salvation. They say it is only a refined selfishness. It may be true that there are Christian teachers who enlarge on this aspect disproportionately; but it must ever remain a truth of great prominence that a man's first duty to God is the duty he owes to himself. First, because his own soul is his primary and chief charge; and, secondly, because he can do little or nothing for the world till his own heart is right. If a man, therefore, will be wise, he must first be wise for himself.

V. THE FATE OF FOLLY. "If thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it." This does not mean that only the sinner bears the consequences of his guilt - that is deplorably untrue; sin is widespreading and far-reaching in its evil consequences - it circulates and it descends. The passage means that the foolish man will have to bear alone the condemnation of his folly; every man that lives and dies impenitent must "bear his own burden" of penalty. The remorse and self-reproach of the future none will be able to divide; it must be borne by the sinner himself. There is One that once bore our transgressions for us, and will bear them away unto the land of forgetfulness now. - C.

The picture to be taken in contrast with that at the beginning of the chapter.


1. She is excitable and passionate (ver. 13), and may be fitly imaged as the harlot, the actress and mask of genuine feeling.

2. She is irrational, and knows not what is what. True love is not blind, either as to self or its objects.

3. She is like the harlot again in her shamelessness (ver. 14). Folly does not mind exposure, and rushes on publicity.

4. She is solicitous of company (ver. 15). Must have partners in guilt, and companions to keep her in countenance. Fools cannot be happy in solitude, cannot enjoy the sweet and silent charms of nature. Wisdom finds good both in the forest and the city, in the cloister or amidst the "busy hum of men."

5. Folly is gregarious. Wherever there is a crowd, there is something foolish going on (ver. 16). It may be safely said of habitual gatherings in taverns and such places, "mostly fools." The wise man goes apart to recover and strengthen his Individuality; the fool plunges into the throng to forget himself.

6. Folly is sly and secretive (ver. 17). The secret feast is here the illicit pleasure (cf Proverbs 30:20). The fact that people like what they ought not to like all the more because they ought not, is a complex phenomenon of the soul. The sweetness of liberty recovered is in it, and forms its good side. Liberty adds a perfume and spice to every pleasure, no matter what the pleasure may be. Augustine tells how he robbed an orchard as a boy, admitting that he did not want the pears, and arguing that it must therefore have been his depravity that led him to find pleasure in taking them! In the same way one might prove the depravity of the jackdaw that steals a ring. Let us repudiate the affectation of depravity, a great "folly" in its way; and rather draw the wholesome lesson that the love of liberty, of fun - in short, of any healthy exercise of energy, needs direction. The instinct for privacy and liberty gives no less zest to legitimate than to illicit pleasures.

II. THE END OF FOLLY. (Ver. 18.)

1. It is represented under images of darkness and dread. Shadows, "children of death," dead men, departed ghosts, hover about the dwelling of Folly and the persons of her guests. And these, while even they sit at her table amidst feasting and mirth, are already, in the eyes of Wisdom the spectator, in the depths of hell. Thus the shadows of coming ill "darken the ruby of the cup, and dim the splendour of the scene."

2. The indefinable is more impressive in its effect than the definable. As e.g. Burke has felicitously shown in his treatise on 'The Sublime and Beautiful.' The obscure realities of the other world, the mysterious twilight, the chiaro-oscuro of the imagination: in this region is found all that fascinates the mind with hope or terror. If it be asked - What precisely will be the doom of the wicked, the bliss of the righteous? the answer is - Definite knowledge has not been imparted, is impossible, and would have less effect than the vague but positive forms in which the truth is hinted.

3. The indefinable is not the less certain. It is the definite which is contingent, uncertain. Our life is a constant becoming from moment to moment. This of its nature is as indefinable as the melting of darkness into day, or the reverse. - J.

Solomon, having told us of the excellency of Wisdom, and of the blessings she has to confer on her children, now bids us consider the consequences of listening to sin, when she, the foolish woman, utters her invitation. We learn -

I. THAT SIN IN ITS LATER DEVELOPMENTS IS A VERY ODIOUS THING. What a painful and repulsive picture we have here of the foolish woman, who, though utterly ignorant and unworthy (ver. 13), assumes a conspicuous position in the city, places herself "on a seat in the high places," speaks with a "clamorous" voice, and, herself unaddressed, calls aloud to those who are going on their way! When we present the scene to our imagination, we instinctively shrink from it as repelling and odious. All sin is hateful in the sight of God; to him it is "that abominable thing" (Jeremiah 44:4). And to all the pure in heart it is also, though not equally, repulsive. In its later stages and final developments it is simply and thoroughly detestable.

II. THAT TEMPTATION TO SIN BESETS THE UNWARY AS WELL AS THE EVIL MINDED. Folly addresses herself to "passengers who go right on their ways" (ver. 15). There are those who go wilfully and wantonly in the way of temptation. They seek the company of the profane, the attentions of the immoral. These walk into the net, and are ensnared. Then there are others who have no thought of evil in their heart; they are not "purposing to transgress;" but as they pass right on their way, the temptress throws her net at if not over them, that she may entangle them. The path of human life is beset with spiritual perils; it is necessary to be prepared against all forms of evil. We must not only be upright in intention, but wary and well armed also. "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary," etc. (1 Peter 5:8).

III. THAT TO UNSANCTIFIED HUMAN NATURE SIN IS SOMETIMES A TERRIBLY SEDUCTIVE THING. "The foolish woman," though she is said to "know nothing," yet knows enough to say truly, "Stolen waters are sweet," etc. (ver. 17). It is useless, because it is false, to deny that vice has its pleasures. Lasciviousness, revelry, avarice, usurpation, have their delights; and there is a peculiar pleasure in snatching unlawful gratifications rather than in accepting those which are honourable. When our nature is unregenerated and unsanctified, when passion is at its height, when in the soul there is the ardour and energy of youth, vice has powerful attractions. The young may well provide themselves against the dark hour of temptation with "the whole armour of God," or they may not be able to stand victorious.

IV. THAT THOSE WHO HAVE ABANDONED THEMSELVES TO SIN ARE IN THE EMBRACE OF RUIN. "He knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell' (ver. 18). Not only is it true

(1) that those who yield themselves to guilty passion are on the high road to ultimate perdition; but it is also true

(2) that they are already in the depth of ruin. They are "dead while they live" (1 Timothy 5:6); they are "in the depths of hell" (text). To be sacrificing manhood or womanhood on the altar of an unholy pleasure, or an immoral gain, or an enslaving lamination; to be sinning continually against God, and to be systematically degrading our own soul to be falling lower and lower in the estimation of the wise until we become the object of their pity or their scorn; - this is ruin. No need to wait for judgment and condemnation; the guests of sin are in the depths of hell. If near the door, if on its step, if in its hall, "escape for thy life" (see Wardlaw, in loc.). - C.

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