Proverbs 9:1-18

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Wisdom personified is portrayed as a woman who builds her house and invites all who are willing to share in the feast she has prepared for them and to benefit from her counsel. She “builds her house and has hewn out seven pillars.” According to the Septuagint rendering, the “seven pillars” serve to support the house that wisdom has built. “Seven” commonly is a number that denotes completeness, and so the “seven pillars” could indicate that the structure is well-built and spacious, providing ample accommodation for those who respond to the invitation of wisdom. (9:1)

Wisdom prepared a sumptuous feast. She slaughtered animals (literally, “slaughtered slaughtering”) for the banquet, mixed her wine (“in a bowl” [LXX]), and set the table. (9:2) Wisdom “sent out her maids” (“servants” or “slaves” [LXX]) to call out (to assemble “with a lofty proclamation” [LXX]) the invitation from the highest places in the town, making it possible for all to hear. (9:3; see the Notes section.)

Through her “maids” or “servants” (LXX), wisdom made the proclamation, “Whoever [is] simple” (one lacking experience and easily influenced to adopt a wayward way; a “senseless one” [LXX]), “let him turn aside here.” To the one in “want of heart” or lacking in good sense, wisdom says (9:4), “Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine I have mixed” (“wine that I have mixed for you” [LXX]). (9:5)

“Leave simple ones [leave senselessness (LXX)] and live, and walk in the way of insight” or understanding. For one to stay in the company of simpletons would mean to fail to use good judgment and to pursue a way of life that is senseless. Simpletons would not provide an environment conducive to one’s continuing to make progress in abandoning foolish ways and in acting with insight. The Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the extant Hebrew text. “Forsake senselessness, and you will live. And seek insight that you may [continue to] exist; and through knowledge, erect understanding [or keep understanding straight].” By seeking insight or truly wanting to have it and to live accordingly, individuals would continue to live a purposeful life and would not shorten their life through foolhardiness and senseless actions. With knowledge, individuals would have understanding. To erect understanding could mean to elevate it as something by which to live. To keep understanding straight through knowledge could signify to have a correct understanding through the acquisition of knowledge. (9:6)

A ridiculer does not want to change his way and arrogantly turns against anyone who would even suggest that he is in the wrong. Therefore, he who attempts to correct a scoffer will bring dishonor upon himself, opening himself up to insult and abuse. “And he who reproves a wicked man — a blemish” or defect. The relationship of the Hebrew word for “blemish” or “defect” to the rest of the phrase is not specifically expressed. The thought could be that, by his foolish attempt to correct the corrupt individual, the reprover blemishes (or brings shame to) himself. He would likely be subjected to verbal or physical abuse from the one whom he tried to reprove. Translations have commonly added words to convey a more specific meaning than does the Hebrew text. “Reprove a bad one, and you will acquire his faults.” (REB) “He who reproves a wicked man incurs opprobrium.” (NAB) “Whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.” (NIV) “Rebuke the wicked and you attract dishonour.” (NJB) “The one who rebukes a wicked man will get hurt.” (HCSB) “And he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.” (NKJV) The Septuagint rendering is, “He who disciplines [or instructs] evil ones will take dishonor upon himself, and he who reproves the impious one reproaches himself.” (9:7)

A ridiculer resents and rejects any reproof that he may be given and will become hostile toward anyone who might attempt to correct him. Therefore, wisdom dictates heeding the admonition, “Do not reprove a ridiculer [evil ones (LXX)] lest he [they (LXX)] should hate you.” A wise person, on the other hand, is willing to change, humbly responds to merited reproof, and is favorably disposed toward the one who corrects him. “Reprove a wise person, and he will love you.” (9:8)

Wise persons are desirous of making advancement in conducting themselves in a manner that God approves and in a way that observers regard favorably. Therefore, one’s giving sound advice or corrective counsel to a wise person will make him wiser. For one to teach a righteous man would lead to his increasing in learning, for he would value the knowledge imparted to him and would make it his own. The Septuagint rendering somewhat differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “Give opportunity to a wise person, and he will be wiser. Make [things] known to an upright man, and he will continue to receive [more].” (9:9)

The “fear of YHWH [is] the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One [literally, holy ones] [is] insight” or understanding. This “fear” is a reverential regard for YHWH as the God who has communicated his will and purpose to humans and to whom they are accountable for their actions. It is a wholesome fear that reflects itself in being concerned about not displeasing him and promotes an earnest desire to avoid wayward conduct — words and actions that are typical of senseless individuals who have no regard for God. Therefore, true wisdom has its start or its source in a reverential regard for YHWH (the “fear of the Lord” [LXX]). In the Hebrew text, the expression rendered “Holy One” is plural and may be regarded as a plural of excellence that identifies YHWH as the God who is pure or holy in the ultimate sense. One’s knowledge of him would indicate one’s having an approved relationship with him and conducting oneself in a way that results in preserving an approved standing before him. This knowledge is “insight” or “understanding,” for it involves a recognition of what constitutes divinely approved conduct and a desire to live accordingly. The Septuagint rendering preserves the plural “holy ones” and identifies the “counsel of the holy ones” to be “understanding.” Their counsel or advice is a reflection of the good understanding they possess. The Septuagint continues with wording not contained in the extant Hebrew text. “For to know the law is [characteristic of] good understanding” (or a good or sound mind). This knowing of the law includes living in harmony with it. (9:10)

Wisdom personified represents herself as providing the guidance and training that promotes a purposeful life and shields one from acting in ways that can shorten one’s life. “For by me, your days will be many [or increased], and years of life will be added to you.” The Septuagint rendering is similar, “For in this way [one’s knowing the law and obeying it], you will live a long time, and years of life will be added to you.” (9:11)

When a person becomes wise, he benefits himself (but not to the exclusion of others). The wise individual will make the right choices and will be upright in his dealings with fellow humans. According to the Septuagint rendering, neighbors, companions, or fellows will also be benefited. “Son, if you become wise for yourself, you also will be wise for [your] companions.” If, on the other hand, a person ridicules others and what is right, acting contrary to wisdom, he alone will bear the calamitous consequences to which his senselessness leads. The words directed to the “son” in the Septuagint are, “If you turn out to be evil, then you will draw evils [upon yourself] alone” or bear evils, or calamities from your bad conduct, alone. (9:12; see the Notes section.)

In the concluding section of Proverbs chapter 9, senselessness or folly is personified as an immoral woman — a prostitute or an adulteress. Lady Senselessness (literally, “woman of senselessness”) is “boisterous,” “tumultuous,” “loud,” or “rowdy,” completely lacking in the quiet dignity associated with wisdom. She is “simplicity,” a mindless simpleton, and has not come to know anything. (9:13; see the Notes section.)

Lady Senselessness “sits at the door [doors (LXX)] of her house,” and her seat is on the “heights of the town,” suggesting that she wants an audience to see her and to hear what she has to say. According to the Septuagint rendering, she is seated “openly” or “visibly” in the squares. (9:14) Unlike wisdom (9:3), Lady Folly does not send messengers with an invitation to come to a banquet. From her seat at the door of her house, she merely calls to passersby and persons who “are going straight on their paths.” Lady Senselessness wants those who “are going straight” to turn away from the right paths to share with her in her senseless ways. (9:15) She tells the “simple,” (the inexperienced ones, simpletons, or those who are easily seduced to engage in wayward conduct), to “turn aside” to her or to where she is seated. (9:16)

To the one in “want of heart” or to the one without good sense, Lady Senselessness says (9:16; see the Notes section), “Stolen waters [are] sweet, and bread [consumed] in secret is pleasant” or tastes good. The words allude to the temporary pleasure of engaging in illicit relations and doing so in secret. (9:17; see the Notes section). The one whom Lady Senselessness seduces does not “know” or realize that the “Rephaim” are there in the place to which her seduction leads and that her guests are in the “depths of Sheol” or in the lowest part of the realm of the dead. The designation “Rephaim” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word. In this context, “Rephaim” may refer to those who had descended to the realm of the dead like the very tall and powerful Rephaim warriors whom David and his men killed in battle. (9:18; compare 1 Samuel 17:4-7; 1 Chronicles 20:4-8; see the Notes section.)

Notes

In verses 2 and 3 of the Septuagint rendering, there are two occurrences of the word kratér, a noun that designates a “bowl” or a “mixing container.” In its second occurrence (verse 3), kratér possibly is to be understood to refer to the contents of a bowl, with the invitation being to a “bowl” to partake of its contents or to share in a banquet.

After the phrases that basically correspond to those in the extant Hebrew text of verse 12, the Septuagint has additional words. “He who supports himself on lies will pasture winds,” gaining nothing of a substantial or enduring nature and experiencing dire consequences comparable to destructive storms. “And he will pursue flying birds,” suggesting that he will not experience real success through his corrupt dealings. While chasing after gain with lawless means, he neglected honest labor. “For he abandoned the ways of his own vineyard and strayed from the paths of his own field.” His failure to devote himself to honest labor would have consequences comparable to his passing through a “waterless desert and a land appointed for drought.” “With his hands,” he will gather “barrenness.” There will be no crop of any value to harvest.

In verse 13, the Septuagint describes the woman as “senseless and bold,” “insolent, or “rash” and as not knowing “shame.” She is a woman who ends up lacking a morsel of food.

Verse 16 in the Septuagint says, “Who among you is most senseless, let him turn aside to me.” The senseless woman is then said to “exhort” those lacking in good sense, saying to them the words that follow.

In verse 17, the wording of the Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “Take secret breads with pleasure and the sweet water of theft.”

Verse 18 of the Septuagint rendering could be translated, “But he does not know that the earth-born ones perish with her [the senseless woman], and on the tightrope [péteuron] of Hades [the realm of the dead] he meets [or comes to be].” There is considerable uncertainty about the significance of péteuron, with “tightrope,” “springboard,” and “snare” being suggested possible meanings. The Septuagint rendering continues with admonition that is not contained in the extant Hebrew text. “But hurry away; do not delay in the place nor fix your eye on her, for so you will go through strange water and cross a strange river. But abstain from strange water, and do not drink from a strange spring, that you may live a long time and years of life may be added to you.” The wise course is to run away from the seduction of the senseless woman, spending no time with her. To ignore this admonition can lead to serious trouble, comparable to having to pass through “strange water” (where the concealed dangers are not known) and to ford a “strange river,” with its unknown hazards. The strange water and the strange spring of illicit relations must be shunned so as to escape a premature death and to continue enjoying a meaningful life.