Proverbs 9 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Proverbs 9
Pulpit Commentary
Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars:
Verses 1-18. - 15. Fifteenth admonitory discourse, containing in a parabolic form an invitation of Wisdom (vers. 1-12), and that of her rival Folly (vers. 13-18). The chapter sums up in brief the warnings of the preceding part. Verse 1. - Wisdom was represented as having a house at whose portals persons waited eagerly for admission (Proverbs 8:34); the idea is further carried on. Wisdom hath builded her house. (For the plural form of khochmoth, "wisdom," a plural of excellency, see on Proverbs 1:20.) As the "strange woman" in ch. 7. possessed a house to which she seduced her victim, so Wisdom is represented as having a house which she has made and adorned, and to which she invites her pupils. Spiritual writers see here two references - one to Christ's incarnation, when he built for himself a human body (John 2:19); and another to his work in forming the Church, which is his mystical body (1 Peter 2:5). And the sublime language used in this section is not satisfied with the bare notion that we have here only an allegorical representation of Wisdom calling followers to her. Rather we are constrained to see a Divine intimation of the office and work of Christ, not only the Creator of the world, as in ch. 8, but its Regenerator. She hath hewn out her seven pillars. Architecturally, according to Hitzig and others, the pillars of the inner court are meant, which supported the gallery of the first story. Four of these were m the corners, three in the middle of three sides, while the entrance to the court was through the fourth side of the square. The number seven generally denotes perfection; it is the covenant number, expressive of harmony and unity generally, the signature of holiness and blessing, completeness and rest. So in the Apocalypse the whole Church is represented by the number of seven Churches (Revelation 1:4, etc.; see on Proverbs 26:16). Wisdom's house is said to be thus founded because of its perfection and adaptability to all states of men. But doubtless there is a reference to the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit, which rested upon the Christ (Isaiah 11:2, etc.), and which are the support and strength of the Church, being symbolized by the seven-branched candlestick in the temple.
She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table.
Verse 2. - She hath killed her beasts. So in the parable of the marriage of the king's son (Matthew 22, which is parallel to the present), the king sends his servants to notify the guests that the oxen and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Wisdom has stores of nourishment for understanding and affection; and Christ has offered himself as a Victim in our behalf, and now makes bounteous offers of grace, and especially has ordained the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for the strengthening and refreshing of the soul. She hath mingled her wine; Septuagint, "She hath mixed (ἐκέρασεν) her wine in a bowl." The wine which, untempered, was too luscious or too fiery to drink, was made palatable by a certain admixture of water, it was always so mixed at the Passover; and the ancient Christian Liturgies direct the mixture in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, doubtless from traditional use. Some, however, think that allusion is here made to the custom of adding drugs to wine in order to increase its potency. Among the Greeks, ἄκρατος οϊνος meant "wine without water," and in Revelation 14:10 we have ἄκρατον κεκερασμένον, "undiluted wine mixed." And probably in the text the notion is that the fluid for the guests' delectation is properly prepared, that there may be no trouble when they arrive (see on Proverbs 23:30). She hath also furnished her table, by arranging the dishes, etc., thereon (Psalm 23:5, "Thou preparest a table before me," where the same verb, arak, is used; comp. Isaiah 21:5). Moralizing on this passage, St. Gregory says, "The Lord 'killed the sacrifices' by offering himself on our behalf. He 'mingled the wine,' blending together the cup of his precepts from the historical narration and the spiritual signification. And he 'set forth his table,' i.e. Holy Writ, which with the bread of the Word refreshes us when we are wearied and come to him away from the burdens of the world, and by its effect of refreshing strengthens us against our adversaries" ('Moral,' 17:43, Oxford transl.).
She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city,
Verse 3. - She hath sent forth her maidens, as in Matthew 22:3, to call them that were bidden to the feast. The Septuagint has τοὺς ἑαυτῆς δούλους, "her servants," but the Authorized Version is correct, and feminine attendants are in strict harmony with the rest of the apologue. By them are represented the apostles and preachers and ministers, who go forth to win souls for Christ. St. Gregory sees in their being called "maidens" an intimation that they are in themselves weak and abject, and are only useful and honoured as being the mouthpiece of their Lord ('Moral.,' 33:33). She crieth upon the highest places of the city, where her voice could best be heard, as in Proverbs 8:2; Matthew 10:27. She is not satisfied with delegating her message to others; she delivers it herself. Septuagint, "calling with a loud proclamation to the cup (ἐπὶ κρατῆρα);" Vulgate, Misit ancillas suas ut vocarent ad arcem et ad moenia civitatis, "She has sent her handmaids to invite to the citadel, and to the wails of the town." On which rendering St. Gregory comments, "In that while they tell of the interior life, they lift us up to the high walls of the city above, which same walls, surely, except any be humble, they do not ascend" ('Moral.,' 17:43).
Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him,
Verses 4-12. - Here follows the invitation of Wisdom, urging the attendance of guests at the sumptuous banquet which she has prepared (comp. Revelation 19:9). Verse 4. - Whose is simple, lot him turn in hither. This is a direct address to the imprudent and inexperienced (see on Proverbs 7:7), calling them to turn aside from the way on which they are going, and to come to her. Vulgate, si quis est parvulus veniat ad me, which reminds one of Christ's tender words, "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:14). As for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him what follows (so ver. 16). Wisdom's own speech is interrupted, and the writer himself introduces this little clause. She calls on the simple and the unwise, both as necessarily needing her teaching, and not yet inveterate in evil, nor wilfully opposed to better guidance. "The world by wisdom knew not God" and he "hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen" (1 Corinthians 1:21, 26, etc.; comp. Matthew 11:25).
Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.
Verse 5. - Come, eat ye of my bread. Wisdom now directly addresses the simple and the foolish (comp. Revelation 22:17). And drink of the wine which I have mingled (see on ver. 2). Bread and wine represent all needful nourishment, as flesh and wine in ver. 2. So Christ says (John 6:51), "I am the living Bread which came down from heaven... and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Compare the invitation in Isaiah 55:1, "He, every one that thirsteth!" etc. The Fathers see here a prophecy of the gospel feast, wherein Christ gave and gives bread and wine as symbols of his presence (Matthew 26:26, etc.).
Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.
Verse 6. - Forsake the foolish, and live; Vulgate, relinquite infantiam; Septuagint, ἀπολείπετε ἀφροσύνην, "leave folly." These versions take the plural פְתָאִים (petaim) as equivalent to an abstract noun, which gives a good sense; but the plural is not so used in our book, so we must admit the rendering of the Authorized Version, "Quit the class, give up being of the category of fools," or else we must take the word as vocative, "Leave off, ye simple ones" (Revised Version), i.e. quit your simplicity, your folly. And live (see on Proverbs 4:4). It is not a mere prosperous life on earth that is here promised, but something far higher and better (John 6:51, "If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever"). The LXX. saw something of this when they paraphrased the clause, "Leave ye folly, that ye may reign forever." Go in the way of understanding. Leaving folly, stay not, but make real progress in the direction of wisdom. Septuagint, "Seek ye prudence, and direct understanding by knowledge."
He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot.
Verses 7-10. - These verses form a parenthesis, showing why Wisdom addresses only the simple and foolish. She giveth not that which is holy unto dogs, nor casteth pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Verse 7. - He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame. He who tries to correct a scorner (see on Proverbs 1:22 and Proverbs 3:34), one who derides religion, loses his pains and meets with ribald mockery and insult. It is not the fault of messengers or message that this should be, but the hardness of heart and the pride of the hearer make him despise the teaching and hate the teacher (Matthew 24:9). He that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot; rather, he that reproveth a sinner, it is his blot. Such a proceeding results in disgrace to himself. This is not said to discourage the virtuous from reproving transgressors, but states the effect which experience proves to occur in such cases. Prudence, caution, and tact are needed in dealing with these characters. Evil men regard the reprover as a personal enemy, and treat him with contumely, and hence arise unseemly bickerings and disputes, injurious words and deeds. To have wasted teaching on such unreceptive and antagonistic natures is a shameful expenditure of power. St. Gregory thus explains this matter: "It generally happens that when they cannot defend the evils that are reproved in them, they are rendered worse from a feeling of shame, and carry themselves so high in their defence of themselves, that they take out bad points to urge against the life of the reprover, and so they do not account themselves guilty, if they fasten guilty deeds upon the heads of others also. And when they are unable to find true ones, they feign them, that they may also themselves have things they may seem to rebuke with no inferior degree of justice" ('Moral.,' 10:3, Oxford transl.).
Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
Verse 8. - Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee (see the last note, and comp. Proverbs 15:12, and note there). There are times when reproof only hardens and exasperates. "It is not proper," says St. Gregory, "for the good man to fear lest the scorner should utter abuse at him when he is chidden, but lest, being drawn into hatred, he should be made worse" ('Moral.,' 8:67). "Bad men sometimes we spare, and not ourselves, if from the love of those we cease from the rebuking of them. Whence it is needful that we sometimes endure keeping to ourselves what they are, in order that they may learn in us by our good living what they are not" (ibid., 20:47, Oxford transl.). Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. So Psalm 141:5, "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me, it shall be as oil upon the head; let not my head refuse it" (comp. Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 25:12; Proverbs 27:6).
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
Verse 9. - Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser. The Hebrew is merely "give to the wise," with no object mentioned; but the context suggests "instruction," even though, as in ver. 8, it takes the form of rebuke. Vulgate and Septuagint, "Give an opportunity to a wise man, and he will be wiser" (comp. Matthew 13:12; Matthew 25:29). To make the best use of all occasions of learning duty, whether they present themselves in a winning or a forbidden shape, is the part of one who is wise unto salvation (see Proverbs 1:5, and note there). Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. Wisdom being a moral and not merely an intellectual, quality. there is a natural interchange of "wise" and "just," referring to the same individual, in the two clauses. Vulgate, festinabit accipere; Septuagint, "Instruct a wise man, and he shall have more given him." The wise are thus rewarded with larger measures of wisdom, because they are simple, humble, and willing to learn, having that childlike spirit which Christ commends (Matthew 18:3).
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.
Verse 10. - Wisdom returns to the first apothegm and principle of the whole book (Proverbs 1:7). Without the fear of God no teaching is of any avail. The knowledge of the holy is understanding. The word translated "the holy" is קְדשִׁים, a plural of excellence (see on Proverbs 30:3) like Elohim, and equivalent to "the Most Holy One," Jehovah, to which it answers in the first hemistich. God is called "Holy, holy, holy" (Isaiah 6:3), in his threefold nature, and as majestic beyond expression. The only knowledge worth having, and which is of avail for the practical purposes of life, is the knowledge of God (see on Proverbs 2:5). Septuagint, "The counsel of the holy (ἁγίων) is understanding," with the explanatory clause; "for to know the Law is the character of good thought." This occurs again at Proverbs 13:15, though in the Hebrew in neither place.
For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.
Verse 11. - The parenthetical explanation being concluded, in which Wisdom has intimated why it is useless to appeal to the scorner and the wilful sinner, she now resumes the direct address interrupted at ver. 7, presenting a forcible reason for the advice given in ver. 6, though there is still some connection with ver. 10, as it is from the wisdom that comes from the fear of the Lord that the blessings now mentioned spring. For by me thy days shall be multiplied (see Proverbs 3:2, 16; Proverbs 4:10, where long life is promised as a reward for the possession and practice of wisdom). The same result is attributed to the fear of God (Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:27, etc.). In ver. 6 the address is in the plural; here it is singular. A similar interchange is found in Proverbs 5:7, 8 (where see note).
If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself: but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it.
Verse 12. - If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself. A transition verse. Wisdom will bring thee good; as thou hast laboured well, so will be thy reward (1 Corinthians 3:8). The LXX. (Syriac and Arabic), with the idea of perfecting the antithesis, adds, καὶ τοῖς πλησίον, "My son, if thou art wise for thyself, thou shalt be wise also for thy neighbours" - which contains the great truth that good gifts should not be selfishly enjoyed, but used and dispensed for the advantage of others (Galatians 6:6). In support of our text we may quote Job 22:2, "Can a man be profitable unto God? Surely he that is wise is profitable unto himself." But if thou scornest, thou alone shalt hear it; i.e. atone for it, bear the sin, as it is expressed in Numbers 9:13, "Forevery man shall bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5). Thus Wisdom ends her exhortation. Septuagint, "If thou turn out evil, thou alone shalt bear (ἀντλήσεις) evils." And then is added the following paragraph, which may possibly be derived from a Hebrew original, but seems more like a congeries made up from other passages, and foisted by some means into the Greek text: "He that stayeth himself on lies shepherdeth winds, and himself pursueth flying birds; for he hath left the ways of his own vineyard, and hath gone astray with the wheels of his own husbandry; and he goeth through a waterless desert, and over a land set in thirsty places, and with his hands he gathereth unfruitfulness."
A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing.
Verses 13-18. - This section contains the invitation of Folly, the rival of Wisdom, represented under the guise of an adulteress (Proverbs 2:16; Proverbs 5:3, etc.; Proverbs 6:24, etc.; Proverbs 7.). Verse 13. - I foolish woman; literally, the woman of folly, the genitive being that of apposition, so that this may well be rendered, in order to make the contrast with Wisdom more marked, "the woman Folly." She is regarded as a real person; and between her and Virtue man has to make his choice. Is clamorous; turbulent and animated by passion (as Proverbs 7:11), quite different from her calm, dignified rival. She is simple; Hebrew, "simplicity," in a bad sense; she has no preservative against evil, no moral fibre to resist temptation. And knoweth nothing which she ought to know. Ignorance is the natural accompaniment of Folly: in this case it is wilful and persistent; she goes on her way reckless of consequences. Septuagint, "A woman foolish and bold, who knows not shame, comes to want a morsel."
For she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city,
Verse 14. - She sitteth at the door of her house. She, like Wisdom, has a house of her own, and imitates her in inviting guests to enter. She does not send forth her maidens; she does not stand in the streets and proclaim her mission. Vice has an easier task; all she has to do is to sit and beckon and use a few seductive words. Her house is not supported by seven pillars, built on the grace of God and upheld by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. like that of Wisdom (ver. 1); it is an ordinary habitation of no stately proportions. but its meanness impedes not the uses to which she puts it, her own charms causing her victims to disregard her environments. On a seat in the high pluses of the city. Her house is in the highest and most conspicuous part of the city, and she sits before her door in reckless immodesty, plying her shameful trade (comp. Genesis 38:14; Jeremiah 3:2). The mimicry of her rival again appears, for Wisdom "crieth upon the highest places of the city" (ver. 3).
To call passengers who go right on their ways:
Verse 15. - To call passengers who go right on their ways. With shameless effrontery she cries to all that pass by, she addresses her solicitations to persons who are going straight on their way, thinking nothing of her, having no idea of deviating from their pursued object. As they walk in the path of right and duty, she tries to turn them aside. Septuagint, "Calling to herself (προσκαλουμένη) those that pass by and are keeping straight in their ways." The Fathers find here a picture of the seductions of heretical teaching, which puts on the mask of orthodoxy and deceives the unwary. Wordsworth notes that, in the Apocalypse, the false teacher bears some emblems of the Lamb (Revelation 13:11). All false doctrine retains some element of truth, and it is because of this admixture that it procures adherents and thrives for a time.
Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: and as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him,
Verses 16, 17. - These verses contain the invitation which Vice, in imitation of Virtue, and assuming her voice and manner, offers to the wayfarers. Verse 16. - Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither. She uses the very same words which Wisdom utters (ver. 4). The latter had addressed the simple because they were inexperienced and undecided, and might be guided aright; the former now speaks to them because they have not vet made their final choice, can still be swayed by lower considerations, and may be led astray. Such persons find it hard to distinguish between the good and the evil, the false and the true, especially when their sensual appetite is aroused and sides with the temptress. No marvel is it that such are easily deceived; for we are told that, under certain circumstances, Satan transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). That wanteth understanding. This is the other class addressed by Wisdom, and which Folly now solicits, urging them to follow her on the path of pleasure, promising sensual enjoyment and security.
Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.
Verse 17. - This is what she says: Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. The metaphor of "stolen waters" refers primarily to adulterous intercourse, as to "drink waters out of one's own cistern" (Proverbs 5:15, where see note) signifies the chaste connection of lawful wedlock. Wisdom offered flesh and wine to her guests; Folly offers bread and water. Wisdom invites openly to a well furnished table; Folly calls to a secret meal of barest victuals. What the former offers is rich and satisfying and comforting; what Vice gives is poor and mean and insipid. Yet this latter has the charm of being forbidden; it is attractive because it is unlawful. This is a trait of corrupt human nature, which is recognized universally. Thus Ovid, 'Amor.,' 3:4, 17 -

"Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata;
Sic interdictis imminet aeger aquis.'
Things easily attained, the possession of which is gotten without effort or danger or breach of restraint, soon pall and cease to charm. To some minds the astuteness and secrecy required for success have an irresistible attraction. Thus St. Augustine relates ('Conf.,' 2:4) how he and some companions committed a theft, not from want and poverty, nor even from the wish to enjoy what was stolen, but simply for the pleasure of thieving and the sin. They robbed a pear tree by night, carried off great loads, which they flung to the pigs, and their only satisfaction was that they were doing what they ought not ("dum tamen fieret a nobis, quod eo liberet quo non liceret"). Septuagint, "Taste ye to your pleasure secret bread, and sweet water of theft." Where water is a precious commodity, as in many pets of Palestine, doubtless thefts were often committed, and persons made free with their neighbor's tank when they could do so undetected, thus sparing their own resources and felicitating themselves on their cleverness. On the metaphorical use of "waters" in Holy Scripture, St. Gregory says, "Waters are sometimes wont to denote the Holy Spirit, sometimes sacred knowledge, sometimes calamity, sometimes drifting peoples, sometimes the minds of those following the faith." He refers to these texts respectively: John 7:38, etc.; Ecclus. 15:3; Psalm 69:1; Revelation 17:15 ("the waters are peoples"); Isaiah 22:20; and he adds, "By water likewise bad knowledge is wont to be designated, as when the woman in Solomon, who bears the type of heresy, charms with crafty persuasion, saying, 'Stolen waters are sweet'" ('Moral.,' 19:9).
But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell.
Verse 18. - The deluded youth is supposed to be persuaded by the seductions of Folly and to enter her house. The writer, then, in a few weighty words, shows the terrible result of this evil compliance. But he knoweth not that the dead are there (see on Proverbs 2:18 and Proverbs 7:27). There are none "there," in her house, who can be said to be living, they are rephaim, shadowy ghosts of living men, or else demons of the nether world. The Septuagint and Vulgate, with a reference to Genesis 6:4, translate γηγενεῖς and gigantes. Her guests are in the depths of hell (sheol); Septuagint, "He knows not that giants perish at her side, and he meets with a trap of hell." The terrible warning may profitably be repeated more than once, It is like Christ's awful saying, three times enunciated, "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44, 46, 48). The LXX. has another paragraph at the end of this verse, which has no counterpart in the Hebrew: "But start away, delay not in the place, nor put thy name ['eye,' al.] by her; for thus shalt thou pass over (διαβήσῃ) strange water; but abstain thou from strange water, and of a strange spring drink not, that thou mayest live long, and years of life may be added to thee."

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