William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars:Proverbs Chapter 9
In the beginning of chapter 9, it is not wisdom in eternal relations, or in founding and building up the earth, preparing the heavens, and imposing on the sea the decree that the waters pass not the prescribed limits, yet withal delighting in the sons of men. Here the fruit of these delights appears. Wisdom acts among men.
"Wisdom hath built her house; she hath hewn out her seven pillars; she hath slaughtered her slaughtering [or, sacrifice], she hath mingled her wine, she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens; she crieth upon the summits of the high places of the city, Whoso [is] simple, let him turn in hither. To him that is void of understanding she saith, Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine I have mingled. Forsake follies [or, simplicities] and live, and go in the way of understanding." vv. 1-6.
We had wisdom's cry in the preceding chapter - her active testimony that her voice might be heard. Here we have much more, for Jehovah strenuously and elaborately adopted means for the well-being and true enjoyment of man, so ready to turn aside and perish in the ways of the destroyer.
Hence, and in Israel when in possession of the land under Solomon it was above all conspicuous, that Jehovah drew public attention to His commandments as the sole wisdom and condition of blessing on the earth. This is what Moses yearned for, as their entrance there approached, that the surrounding peoples might say, Verily this great nation is a wise and understanding people; for what great nation is there that hath God near to them, as Jehovah our God is in everything we call upon Him for? And what great nation is there that hath righteous statutes and ordinances, as all this law which I set before you this day?
Only more is said in Solomon's day, and by the king in this Book where wisdom is personified so admirably by the Spirit who had the Son of God in view. And who so well could introduce the figure of wisdom's house as he who was given to build the house for Jehovah's name! a settled place for Him to abide in forever? Yet how much the past or the present says to the contrary! as indeed Jehovah warned was to be because of their apostasy, even to a proverb and a byword among all peoples.
"Wisdom hath built her house." Nowhere on earth was there a suited habitation. She could find no dwelling, but has prepared one for herself; for wisdom had to promote the entire life and the most intimate relations and the habits of every day. Hence the necessity for "her house," to which she liberally invites. "She hath hewn her seven pillars." There is a completeness of support exhibited in no other, and due to the divine aim herein sought.
Then the provision is no less bountiful. "She hath slaughtered her slaughtering, she hath mingled her wine, she hath furnished her table." How could it be otherwise if divine love undertake to entertain worthily of God? There is no more intelligible or common figure of communion than that which is expressed by eating and drinking under the same hospitable roof. So the Lord repeatedly set forth the welcome of grace in the gospel; so He signifies our feeding on Himself by faith to life eternal; so He instituted His supper for our habitual remembrance of Himself till He come. It is presented here that His people might know the pleasure Jehovah took in their enjoyment of wisdom as He revealed it.
But there is more. "She hath sent forth her maidens, she crieth upon the summits of the high places of the city, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither." Wisdom had her messengers, who are fitly represented as maidens whom she dispatched on the errand of loving-kindness. But she spares no pains personally; for there she stands on the loftiest vantage ground, whence she may invite. And who are the objects of her appeal? Not the rich or great; not the wise or prudent; but whoso is simple, let him turn in hither." God is ever the giving God when truly known. He may test man for a special purpose; but as God loves a cheerful giver, so is He the most liberal of all Himself; and so wisdom here makes known. "To him that is void of understanding she saith, Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine that I have mingled." In the world that is, such generous unselfish love is unknown and hence the need and value of reiterated welcome.
Still in the same world admonition is requisite, and the word follows, "Forsake simplicities [or follies] and live; and go in the way of intelligence." Wisdom does not admit of inconsistency. If received notwithstanding our folly, it is that we may become wise according to a wisdom above our own; and this is truly to "live" where all else is death, and, as living, to walk in the way of intelligence, looking up to Him who is above, and not as the beasts that look down and perish.
How blessed for us that to those that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God's power and God's wisdom! And how fitting that he who was of old endowed with wisdom beyond all others should be the one to reveal in the Old Testament Him who is that Wisdom in His own eternal Person!
Chapter 9 began with wisdom, or the wise woman; the Holy Spirit turns aside to point out how disappointing it is to instruct the scorner - a very aggravated form of evil, though increasingly common as Christendom hastens in its unbelief and moral ruin to judgment.
"He that correcteth a scorner getteth to himself shame; and he that reproveth a wicked [man], a blot to himself. Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee; reprove a wise [man], and he will love thee. Impart to a wise [man], and he will become yet wiser; teach a righteous [man], and he will increase learning. The fear of Jehovah [is] the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy [is] understanding. For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and years of life shall be added to thee. If thou art wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself; and [if] thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear [it]." vv. 7-12.
Every scripture, we know, is not more surely God-inspired than profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for discipline that is in righteousness; but we need wisdom to apply it. Faith needs not only the Word, but the God who gave it, to direct the heart and mouth livingly; and for this we have by grace the Holy Spirit's guidance. So the Apostle commended those who watched over souls to God, as well as to the word of His grace. While the simple and unintelligent are invited, the foolish must be shunned and the way of understanding followed. Then freely we are warned against meddling with the scorner. To correct such! is vain; they willingly put on you shame. Let them alone, said the Lord to the disciples. You may only gain a blot in reproving a wicked person. They have a deeper need - to be born again. Where no life is, hatred is the result. There is no wisdom in reproving a scorner, more than in giving that which is holy to the dogs or in casting pearls before the swine. The upshot may be that they will trample the misdirected word under their feet, and turn and rend you.
Now the Christian has the gospel to urge on the heedless but this is the glad tidings of what God has done in Christ for him, wicked as he may be, to bring him to Himself. Thus all is harmonious. Correction and reproof are for those who have an ear to hear, that they walk not inconsistently with their profession. Hence we are told here to "reprove a wise man, and he will love thee." A wise man may not always pursue the path of wisdom; he may need reproof. A fool is one who never hears, though always ready to find fault. A wise man listens and weighs; when he recognizes what is of God, he will love you.
Another thing which distinguishes wisdom is the appreciation of what is good and helpful. Egoism is necessarily unwise and evil, because man is sinful, and God is unknown and untrusted. It is self-satisfied and refuses to learn, having no distrust of its own dark, selfish, and sinful state. On the other hand, "impart to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser, teach a righteous man, and he will increase learning." It is not the great that are wise, nor does age of itself understand judgment. Every good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation nor shadow of turning. Dependence on God is our only right attitude habitually, and hearing from one another what approves itself to our consciences as His truth; for we are members of one another; and He despiseth not any, let him be ever so lowly. But He hateth the proud and will punish the scorner.
The secret of it all is plain. "The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding." Creature intelligence is of no value for the soul, for eternity, for relationship with God. It begins, and must begin with fearing Him, the True and the Good, the Righteous and the Holy. There is repentance no less than faith, and therefore trembling at His Word, the direct reverse of judging it and trusting in self, justifying ourselves instead of God. But growth belongs to life in our present condition; and growth is by the right knowledge of God, who has communicated it in His Word for this purpose. The Christian readily knows why "Holy" should be in the plural, without allowing that it means "holy things." The knowledge of such things is not the intelligence that grows from the enlarging knowledge of God.
The pious Jew addressed looked for long life here below, through divine favour. As things were, much might come in to modify this, as we see in Josiah and many another. But when divine principles have their just and unimpeded result, every word will be fulfilled, as when Christ reigns over all the earth. We Christians have a far different calling new, and look for a higher glory. Nevertheless, we can say and do believe that piety is profitable for everything, having promise of life - of the present one, and of that to come.
It remains true also that "if thou art wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself; and if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it." God remains in changeless majesty; but in His righteous judgment, each shall bear his own burden, and reap as he sows, from the flesh corruption, from the Spirit life everlasting.
In full contrast with wisdom, and quite distinct from the scorner, is "the foolish woman." Here we have the picture of herself and her ways, her guests, and their end. Only we must not think that the folly in question means a feeble intellect, but rather the absence of care or thought, of heart or conscience, toward God, which Satan fosters in benighted man. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God," and therefore neither seeks nor calls on Him. This at the last is antichrist. Here it is "the foolish woman," the state of things that entices, fleshly corruption rather than the haughty antagonist that sets it up.
"The foolish woman [is] clamorous; senseless (or, simplicity), and knoweth nothing. And she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, to call those that pass by who go right on their ways. Whoso [is] simple, let him turn in hither. And to him that is void of understanding she saith, Stolen waters are sweet, and the bread of secrecy is pleasant. But he knoweth not that the dead [are] there, [that] her guests [are] in the depths of Sheol." vv. 13-18.
Wisdom pleads for Jehovah and therefore in the true interests of man, no less than for the divine glory. The foolish woman is zealous only for the indulgence of sinful pleasure, regardless of all consequences. Yet it is remarkable how similar are the thoughts and words the Holy Spirit uses in speaking of each. Not that wisdom is "clamorous" as is folly; but she does cry and put forth her voice, for understanding is hers,
and the immense value she has to communicate from God and for Him, no less than to man. She does not sit on a seat or throne at the door of her house. But she yet more than folly stands in the top of high places by the way, a cheerful giver, who knows the ample resources for all that come. Not so the foolish woman. What house had she built? No pillars had she hewn out. She had neither beasts to kill, nor had she mingled wine, nor furnished her table, like wisdom with a heart delighting in good and in doing good where need abounded and dangers are without end and evil without measure.
Wisdom had her maidens to send forth, as she herself cried; for she was earnest to win for Jehovah and warn from Him, and sought the highest places of the city. Folly had no such maidens, any more than the generous provision of wisdom. Maidens indeed! She might well be ashamed and blush if she could before maidens, as they would assuredly blush for her words and ways. Yet both are represented as making appeal in terms of strong resemblance, but how opposite their wish and aim! "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither" (vv. 4 and 16). And it is to be remarked, that the foolish woman in particular addresses her call to those that pass by, who go right on their ways. What malicious pleasure to lead such astray!
The difference comes out strongly in what wisdom, as compared with folly, says to him that is void of understanding. "Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake follies, and live; and go in the way of understanding." All was open, sound, holy, and unselfish on wisdom's part. How sinister the speech of the foolish woman! "Stolen waters are sweet, and pleasant is the bread of secrecy." But the appeal of wisdom needs grace to make it palatable; her rival's invitation is just suited to the dark heart of man as he is. He enjoys what is prohibited, and can only be snatched guilefully or by cunning; he suspects what is given freely, and cannot understand the greatest good as a matter of grace. Wisdom's gifts are therefore distrusted and despised; folly's call to stolen waters is as sweet to fallen nature as to drink them, and the bread of secrecy is as pleasant in prospect as to the taste.
How solemn when the curtain is drawn enough to let us see the dread reality! "But he knoweth not that the dead (or departed, shades) [are] there; that her guests [are] in the depths of Sheol." As the language about wisdom rose in the chapter before into a living and glorious person, an incomparable object of delight to Jehovah, and with no less incomparable delight of love going out to the sons of men, so here chapter 9 ends with a more awful view than is at all usual in the Old Testament of the lot that befalls those that lend their ear, and follow the tempting words of the foolish woman. What a contrast with leaving off folly and going on the way of intelligence!
She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table.
She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city,
Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him,
Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.
Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.
He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot.
Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.
For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.
If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself: but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it.
A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing.
For she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city,
To call passengers who go right on their ways:
Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: and as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him,
Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.
But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell.