Wisdom and Folly

Our church is working it’s way through the Epistle of James. We are in chapter three currently and looking at the concept of wisdom, both in the text itself and other parts of Scripture. Last week I brought a sermon regarding wisdom and folly, one of the texts being Proverbs 9. Here wisdom and folly are personified as two women.

The author does an awesome job at paralleling the two. If you were to lay the two descriptions (1-6, 13-18) next to each other not only would you see their differences, but also their similarities. Both of them call out from high places and both of them have the exact same initial invitation: Whomever is simple, let them turn in here. These two voices are in competition with one another, calling us at the same time to come to their tables. Which one will we choose?

While the first words we hear from Wisdom and Folly are identical, their character, along with the fine print of their proposition, are diametrically opposed. Wisdom is complete and invested, giving of her table which is full; she leads us to becoming fully alive. Folly, however, is empty, only able to allure by seduction, though quite successfully so. She steals to fill her table and serves death.

Wisdom isn’t a sticker. It’s not a simple label that we can slap on something and say “Hey, look! This is wise.” There are subtleties we need to be aware of as we seek it, else we might find ourselves in Folly’s dinning room. That’s why, as Proverbs 9 has at it’s core (v. 10), the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

As I was doing word research[1] I discovered some inter-relational dynamics to both wisdom and folly in the Hebrew language. I took a hint from the author of Proverbs and wrote brief character sketches of each helping my imagination to see the layers and nuances of each.

Character Sketches of The Five Fools

Pethe is the simple one. She is immature, usually unaware of her folly. Her mind is open, but not in the good sense. Unable to make good judgments, she is easily enticed. Though the most “innocent” person of folly, she will suffer much if she does not mature.

The obstinate one is Kesel. He is not flashy in his arrogance, but sluggish, slow to choose correctly even if he sees the truth. Wisdom is on his shelf, sitting there unused. He has a certain affinity for his dog which repeatedly returns to its vomit.

Evel is proper, the foolish one. His candor is rude and morally perverse, mocking the consequences of sin. With a quarreling tongue he provokes others, laying burdens heavier than stone. He has multiple mouths and no ears to listen to authority.

Navaal is the shameless one. Her hands are withered and her heart busy with sacrilege. As a practical atheist, she abandoned God, not even acknowledging His existence. She has flowers all around from her lovers for she is an open grave, a walking corpse.

The scoffing one is Luts and is odious to all men, even the previous fools. His language is his own, babbling senselessly to himself as he sits in ridicule of others. Condemnation goes ahead of him; destruction is trailing not far behind.

Character Sketches of The Three Sages

Hokma is wise. She can be found, though not often befriended, in all arenas of life: morality, craftsmanship, political rule, counsel, war tactics. Her gift is the ability to discern, to separate, to provide good judgment when inquired.

The understanding one is Tavun. With eyes that are insightful and hands laced with character, his underlining work is to build. He gives of himself more than a mere gathering of information; instead, a process of construction, of piecing everything together.

Knowledge belongs to Daath. Intelligence and perception? Yes. Her roots, however, are not in the head, but in the heart. She spends time in the deep recesses of creation, holding experience in her hands, giving of herself intimately and personally.

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Having It All and Nothing At All

When we think of wisdom, Solomon has to come to mind. After all, he was the wisest person in the Bible (Son of God excluded). His story is very bothersome to me. He has a humble beginning, asking God for wisdom to rule well. God answers his prayers and he becomes the wisest person in the world. And yet, even with all that wisdom, near the end of his life his heart was turned towards other gods, making sacrifices to them, not being wholly true to the Lord his God.

How the heck does that work?

Are we to seek wisdom and do what we can to get understanding? Yes. But it isn’t enough as we can see in Solomon’s story. Perhaps he lost the fear of the Lord and that’s what blocked his heart to listen to God’s warning about taking foreign wives (who were the instigators of Solomon’s apostasy).

It’s easy to think that if we can just be [__fill__in__the__blank__], the outworking of our faith will be secure. But the pursuit of God isn’t static, it’s always further up, further in. Eternal life is to know God and Jesus, whom He sent. There is a need to constantly remember that we can’t do God’s ways without God. If we divorce wisdom from God we either start to walk down Solomon’s path or attain the carnal wisdom that James 3 talks about.

Ultimately we need a wisdom that comes from outside of ourselves or we’ll just be smarter fools. Ultimately we need Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul writes about how God turns this whole wisdom and folly thing on it’s head. And God does this through Jesus, through the crucified savior who show how God’s weakness is stronger than man’s strength; how God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. In fact, Jesus became to us wisdom from God. And not only that, but righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. We have no right to boast in our wisdom. We have every right to boast in the Lord.


Photo Credit: ugod via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Charlón via Compfight cc
Art: http://www.smrvl.com/blog/new-composition-for-wisdom-folly/
[1] References: Theological Workbook of the Old Testament; BDB Lexicon; mental workspace of Justin’s brain; hebrew4christians.com; ancient-hebrew.org; Strongs: H6612, H3684, H191, H5036, H3887, H2451, H8394, H1847

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