Real Life: The Two Great Ladies

The Two Great Ladies

Proverbs 9




There was one thing in common with each of those videos. And no, it wasn’t alcohol. It was more basic than that. Every one of those stupid acts was performed by … a man. Ever wonder why women live longer than men? There’s your answer. It’s not just that men tend to perform more dangerous tasks, although there’s some truth to that. It’s that men tend to take perfectly safe situations and make them unsafe. We could fill this room with really smart people, Nobel laureates, and if we took all of the women out of the room, we’d still have a lot of smart people in here, but the level of wisdom would plummet precipitously. Now, I’m not saying women don’t do foolish things. They just don’t tend to wind up in the ER after their foolish acts.


We all WANT to live wisely. No one WANTS to make foolish decisions. Unfortunately, we all do. Every one of us. We say dumb things. We do dumb things. We think even dumber things that fear usually keeps us from trying. The TV show “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” now in its 28th season, relies on the fact that we do dumb things, and rewards us for being dumb with a $10,000 weekly prize and a $100,000 seasonal grand prize. And the fact that pretty much everyone now carries a video camera with them wherever they go on their smart phone means the videos just keep getting funnier. And let’s be honest – funny usually means dumb. Foolish. Unwise. Some of them are funny. Many of them are not.


We’re going to be looking at the book of Proverbs this summer. The Hebrew word that we translate as “proverb” has a wide variety of applications and appears in many literary forms, on of which is the short sayings collected in the book of Proverbs. A proverb expresses an insight, an observation, or some advice that has been popularly accepted as a general truth, and it states that truth, often poetically, in as brief a form as possible. Now, we have to understand that proverbs are not typically viewed as being universally true. They’re true if they’re applied at the right time. “He who hesitates is lost” is an example of a proverb. And we can all think of circumstances where this proverb is true. But sometimes, the opposite is true – “haste makes waste.” The key is knowing when to apply the specific proverb. And it’s typically practical, not theoretical, stuff. In the book of Proverbs, we have a collection of these sayings pointing us toward wise living in a foolish world. The book of Proverbs is applied, practical theology. So this summer we’re going to be applying God’s truth, God’s wisdom, to friendships and relationships, to parenting and mentoring, to appropriate discipline, to work, and to money.


But before we do all of that, there’s something about the book of Proverbs that we need to understand. You see, two characters keep showing up in Proverbs, especially in the first 9 chapters, which serve as a sort of introduction to the book. Those two characters are Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly, or Lady Foolishness. And these two ladies present us with a choice, a life choice between living wisely and living foolishly. Turn with me to Proverbs 9. (Read Vv. 1-6, 13-18.) Two ladies. Two very different paths. Why ladies, instead of men? Well, we’ve already established that wisdom can sometimes be in short supply among men, but really we don’t know, other than that wisdom of always depicted in the feminine gender, both figuratively and grammatically, in the Bible.


And the rest of the book of Proverbs really lays before us the difference in these two paths, in these two ladies – wisdom and foolishness. Let’s look at folly, foolishness, first. V. 13 describes foolishness, foolish living, as the easy path, seductive, and empty. Foolishness is loud. That doesn’t mean that loud people are necessarily foolish. It means that foolishness is easy to find. It’s an easy path to find and follow. It’s not that foolishness is always easy to discern AS foolishness. Just that it’s often the loudest voice in the room, the easiest one to hear. The most obvious path to take. It’s the path we take without thinking. Our default mode. We don’t have to be intentional to be foolish.


And it’s seductive. Now, throughout Proverbs, foolishness is actually pictured as a seductive prostitute or adulteress. Proverbs 7 is entirely dedicated to avoiding “the adulteress.” And it’s easy to read this as a father encouraging his son to avoid seductive women, to not live a morally loose lifestyle, and while that is fine instruction, that isn’t what he’s doing here. In reality, he’s painting a poetic picture of woman folly. Of foolishness. So what’s he saying? That like a seductress, like a prostitute, foolishness is, for men and for women, a seductive, attractive thing. There’s something alluring about it.


And it’s empty. Look at V. 17. Bread and water. She advertises a feast for the body, but all she really has is bread and water. Easy to find. Attractive and loud. Seductive, but ultimately empty. And look at V. 18. Her house is a house of death. Her path is a path of death.


Now let’s look at Lady Wisdom. Several words are used to describe her too. She is industrious and skilled, she generous, and complete. Unlike foolishness, who is pictured as lazily shouting from the door of her house, Lady Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her pillars herself. This ISN’T saying that the truly wise never need help. Remember, this is Lady Wisdom herself. It’s saying that wisdom takes effort. You have to work at it. It isn’t mindless. There’s an intentionality to wise living. We have to choose wisdom and intentionally, consistently walk that path. It isn’t the path of least resistance. In fact, sometimes wise living is the path of most resistance. And she isn’t loud. She sends out her handmaidens to personally invite us. And she is generous. There is plenty of room for everyone. All who wish to come may come.


You see, wisdom is different than knowledge. Knowledge, knowing, depends on our ability to know, on our intelligence. But wisdom doesn’t. How many of you like the signs on Roy’s General Store at the corner of 3 Mile and Hammond? Roy’s is an east side treasure, and I drive by there often enough. This week, their sign said, “Knowledge –  a tomato is a fruit” Now, that’s true. Biologically, a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable. But the sign went on, “Wisdom – not for fruit salad.” I can say to a person who isn’t very smart, “Can you make a fruit salad for the church picnic?” and they might just make a perfect fruit salad, with no tomatoes, even if they think that a tomato is a vegetable, even though it isn’t. And unlike foolishness, which looks good but is ultimately empty, wisdom is complete, full, filling. Foolishness offers the world but only has bread and water. But wisdom has prepared a feast, slaughtered cattle from her herd and has her wine ready. And her house has seven pillars. The number seven is the number of completion, of perfection. Wisdom is all you need. The house of Lady Wisdom is the house of life. Her path is the path of life.


Now, look at Vv. 7-9. Here lies the biggest difference between wisdom and foolishness: wisdom accepts correction. Wisdom is teachable. Wisdom has an open heart and an open mind. Foolishness isn’t, and doesn’t. Foolishness not only ignores correction, feedback, instruction, it attacks the one offering it.  In his book Resolving Everyday Conflict, Ken Sande tells about observing a visually impaired woman who resisted the repeated warnings of her loyal and protective guide dog:


One day during my morning run I noticed a blind woman walking on the other side of the street with her Seeing Eye dog, a beautiful golden retriever. As I was about to pass them, I noticed a car blocking a driveway a few paces ahead of them. At that moment the dog paused and gently pressed his shoulder against the woman’s leg, signaling her to turn aside so they could get around the car. I’m sure she normally followed his lead, but that day she didn’t seem to trust him. She had probably walked this route many times before and knew this was not the normal place to make a turn. Whatever the cause, she wouldn’t move to the side and instead gave him the signal to move ahead. He again pressed his shoulder against her leg, trying to guide her on a safe path. She angrily ordered [the dog] to go forward. When he again declined, her temper flared.

I was about to speak up … when the dog once more put his shoulder gently against her leg. Sure enough, she kicked him …. And then she impulsively stepped forward – and bumped square into a car. Reaching out to feel the shape in front of her, she immediately realized what had happened. Dropping to her knees, she threw her arms around the dog, and spoke sobbing words into his ear. Those who want to live wisely accept instruction and correction. Only a fool doesn’t accept feedback, isn’t teachable.


And the foundation of wisdom? Look at V. 10. Look also at Proverbs 1:7. The fear of the Lord. Reverence for God. Let’s talk about fear for a minute. The phrase “Be afraid, be very afraid” comes from the horror flick The Fly. Google the phrase and you’ll get about 183 million results for that phrase. But the trick is to be appropriately afraid of the right thing. What people commonly fear is not always what should be causing that spike of adrenaline. Here are some examples:


Are you afraid to fly? You have a 0.00001 percent chance of dying in an airplane crash. On the other hand, the car insurance industry estimates that the average driver will be involved in three or four car crashes in their lifetime and the odds of dying in a car crash are one to two percent.


Are you afraid of heights? It’s the second most reported fear. Your chance of being injured by falling, jumping, or being pushed from a high place is 1 in 65,092. The chance of having your identity stolen is 1 in 200. Do you fear being killed by a bolt of lightning? The odds of that happening are 1 in 2.3 million. You’re much more likely to be struck by a meteorite—those lifetime odds are about 1 in 700,000.


How about dogs? They’re bark really is worse than their bite: Your chance of suffering a dog bite is 1 in 137,694. On the other hand, your chance of being injured while mowing the lawn is 1 in 3,623. How about sharks? You’re much more likely to be killed by your spouse (1 in 135,000) than a shark (1 in 300 million). Won’t ride a roller coaster? If you have the patience to stand in the line, the chance of a roller coaster injury is 1 in 300 million. But if you play with fireworks on the Fourth of July, you’re really playing with fire: the chance of injury is 1 in 20,000.


Do we get that spike of adrenaline when we come to church? Oh, if we really knew, really understood the greatness of God we would. Fear is a mix of respect and terror. It acknowledges that I am in the presence of someone or something much greater than I. To fear God is to acknowledge the greatness of God, and the lack of the fear of God not in culture, but in the church today, is evidence that we no longer understand the greatness of God. The magnificence of God. The power of God. We have reduced God, in our minds, to the level of a glorified genie in a bottle, and our worship and our lives reflect that.


The wise path takes effort and intentional living. We can’t just float down the river on the currents of our culture and expect to live wisely. To be wise is to acknowledge the greatness of God, and to have a teachable, coachable spirit. And it is a path of fulfillment and life. Foolishness is loud and seductive and lazy, and ultimately empty.


Now, there’s one more thing we need to understand about wisdom, and that is that the way of Christ is the way of wisdom. In the New Testament, Jesus actually takes upon himself the role of Lady Wisdom. Luke tells us that the child Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him (2:40), that even as a child “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (2:47) and that he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (2:52). Mark tells us that as an adult, when Jesus began to teach, the people “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority” (1:22) and they asked, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him?” (6.2). He claimed to be greater, more wise, even than Solomon – “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31) – and claimed that his actions were wisdom itself –  “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matt 11:18-19). One of wisdom’s primary teaching tools is the parable. Jesus taught almost exclusively in parables. And of Christ St. Paul, by training a Jewish Pharisee, said “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). The way of Christ is the way of Lady Wisdom. The way of Lady Wisdom is the way of Christ. The two are one and the same. But to the foolish, the way of wisdom looks foolish. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).


So why can’t I be wise? Why do I say and do so many dumb things? Well, we all have a history. No one is a blank slate. In fact, we were flawed before we had a history. We were born complicated. We were born with a bent toward the foolish way, the way of not acknowledging God and his greatness. We are born selfish, self-centered, sinful, and guilty. And going through life that way just adds to it. We have scribbles and erase marks and misspellings and doodles written messily all over us. Add to our own sinful natures layers of scar tissue from our own shortcomings and mistakes and the wounds we have received from others, and we realize that every human being is very complicated. We all have a history. Sometimes just knowing, much less doing, the right thing is hard enough, and even obvious choices can be difficult to make wisely.


This morning you and I stand at a crossroads. We have a choice to make. One is to take the path of Christ, the path of wisdom. To acknowledge the greatness of God and to live intentionally, to live on purpose, for Christ and to accept instruction and really live. The other is the path of this world, the path of foolishness. To ignore the greatness of God, to lazily go with the flow, ignoring the consequences. Wisdom is always built on an understanding of the greatness of God, and is always intentional and teachable. Foolishness celebrates the greatness of humanity, goes with the flow, and ignores and despises instruction and feedback. Two paths lie before us. Lady Wisdom, or Lady Folly: the choice is ours.