Two Kinds Of Women
Preached by Pastor Benjamin Vrbicek
If you have a Bible, please turn with me to Proverbs 9. I’ll be reading vv. 1-6, and vv. 13-18.
As you are turning there, let me says this: It may seem strange to start a sermon series in Chapter 9 of a book that has 31 chapters. However, as I see it, Chapters 1-9 are an extended, meandering introduction, that builds into what we normally think of when we think about proverbs (Chapters 10-31). Thus, Chapter 9 is the climax of the introduction to the book, and in some ways a focal point of the book.
Follow along with as I read from Proverbs 9…
1 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. 2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. 3 She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, 4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
13 The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. 14 She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, 15 calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, 16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says, 17 “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” 18 But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
I want to briefly show you something on the screen, talk about it, then we’ll pray and get to work. On the screen is a picture of two lines of Hebrew from Chapter 9. Can anyone see the difference between them?
`AL* hr”m.a’ä ble©÷-rs;x] hN”hE+ rsUåy” ytip,â-ymi
`AL* hr”m.a’äw> ble©÷-rs;x]w: hN”hE+ rsUåy” ytip,â-ymi
It’s not a trick question. The second line has one extra letter in two places. And that letter, a wav, which here, makes up the word ‘and.’ And in this context, the “and” introduces no effective change. In other words, these two lines are exactly the same.
So why bring this up?
Because, despite that fact that they are similar, these lines are said by two very different women. And these two different women are inviting us, perhaps we might even say seducing us, to two very different meals. And if you eat one of the meals, you will live. And if you eat the other, you will die. This, in many ways, is the climax of the introduction of Proverbs, and a lot is at stake.
At this point, I want to cover introductory material of two kinds. First, a brief introduction to the direction of the summer and the fall preaching. Second, provide not quite as brief of an introduction to the book of Proverbs. And then finally, for those that are patient, we will come back to Proverbs 9 and the very similar verses on the screen a moment ago, and come back to my intentionally provocative sermon title of “Two Kinds of Women.” So, introduction to the preaching trajectory, introduction to proverbs, then a sermon from Proverbs 9. Another way to say that is, long introduction, short sermon.
First, let me introduce the direction of the preaching this summer and fall.
This morning we begin an eight-week study in the book of Proverbs. We are calling the series “Wisdom for All of Life.” In it, we will talk about work, and friends, and neighbors, and the family, and sex, and whatever else Proverbs might have to say to us. This series will take us nearly to the end of July.
Then, the first week in August, we will begin a four-week sermon series in the Old Testament book of Haggai. Probably, if you are like Jason and I, you’ve never heard a sermon, let alone a sermon series, on the book before.
Then in the fall, starting Labor Day weekend, we come back to the Gospel of Mark picking up right where we left of in Mark 13:1. But this time—get excited—after about three years ‘on and off and on again’ in the book, this time we intend to finish it just in time for Advent.
And the fine print reads: subject to change without further notice. As it says in the book of James, Lord willing.
Okay, that was the first set of introductory comments. Now for the second set.
As we begin Proverbs, I want to offer three things to keep in mind as we teach through it. I listed them in the sermon notes. I have seven or eight things to say, but I think I’ll wait on a bunch of them and come back to them as we move through the series. I don’t intend for this to be everything that could be said about how to read the book well, but it’s a start.
First, what is wisdom? Lots of ways to answer this, but here is one way: “Wisdom is skill in the art of godly living” (Duane A. Garrett & Kenneth Laing Harris, ESV Study Bible). Another way to say that is to say wisdom is about navigating through all of the data around us and coming at us, and arriving at godly living.
Let me show you two pictures to describe what I mean.
The first picture is of a road nearby. This road, as you can see, leads into a river. In other words, that’s the end of the road. And if you were driving on this road, even if your GPS was telling you to continue on this road, which ordinarily can be a very helpful thing to follow, wisdom would tell you, No; that’s the Susquehanna River and it’s 40 degrees in the water; and if you drive keep driving, bad things happen.
However, that is exactly what happened a week and a half ago. And you can see the result in the next picture (video from Weather.com, http://www.weather.com/video/man-drives-into-river-blames-gps-49049; accessed May 28, 2014).
The young man driving the car survived, but, the reporter said, he had to swim to the other side and wasn’t found until the next morning. And he was very cold. The fire chief that was interview said that it was the second time this year the exact same thing had happened—a GPS lead someone to drive into the Susquehanna River.
Sometimes in life, there are competing voices that speak to us. Sometimes they are bad voices and sometimes they are good voices. Wisdom is about doing the right thing in the right situation with all sorts of information coming at us.
According to Proverbs, wisdom is not simply about knowing a lot of facts and having lots of education; rather, wisdom is about making a skillful and godly decision given a certain situation.
So sometimes in Proverbs there are proverbs in conflict with each other, that is, proverbs that speak to the same issue but they give advice that appears to be in tension. The classic example is in Proverbs 26:4-5. In back-to-back verses it says, you should answer a fool, and then is says, don’t answer a fool.
That’s confusing. Do I answer a fool, or do I not answer a fool? What do I do? Answer: it depends. We need wisdom.
Wisdom is about interpreting the data correctly and acting with godliness. It asks the question, in this given situation, given all that is taking place, do I answer a fool, or do I not answer a fool? In this situation, my GPS says one thing, and my eyes are telling me another thing. Proverbs expects us, as readers, to be able to answer the ‘it depends’ questions in all of life. In other words, wisdom is not knowing lots of facts; rather, wisdom is skill in the art of godly living.
Second, we need to talk briefly about just what these things called “proverbs” are and what they are not. To read the book of Proverbs correctly, we must treat the majority of material in this book as the title suggests, as proverbs and therefore, not as promises. Proverbs, not promises.
What I mean is this: the statements in the book of Proverbs are statements that are generally true, but they are not always true. That’s what it means to be a proverb. Knowing that the genre of this part of the Bible are proverbs will help us understand to how to read the book and keep us from being confused.
For example, if I say to you, “Once upon a time…” You know immediately that I’m about to begin a fairytale of some sort. And in a fairytale it would be perfectly normal to talk about fairies and monsters and talking animals. We don’t get upset with these things because we know that in the genre of a fairytale, it’s okay to have these things. We expect them. The genre communicates this to us.
In the same way, if I said to you, “So the other day, I’m driving to work down I-83, and all of a sudden, out of the middle of nowhere…” and I finished that by saying, “…out of the middle of nowhere, a monster picked up the car in front of me and then a fairy came along and saved me and then I met a talking squirrel. It was crazy.”
You would say, “Wait a second. You were talking to me in one kind of story, namely, a journalistic report of what happened to you on the way to work, and then you started talking about monsters and fairies, and now I am confused.”
And you should be. And this is true of Proverbs as well. If we come with the wrong expectations, then we’ll be confused. If we expect Proverbs to act like promises, then we will be confused.
In John 10, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (vv. 27, 28). When he says, “My sheep don’t perish; I give them eternal life,” that’s a promise! Not a Proverb. And it’s true. Always.
Proverbs, however, are by definition, things that are generally true, but not always. Consider this proverb in 28:19, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty”—hard work equals plenty of bread; no work equals plenty of poverty. Does this mean that there has never been a man who worked his field that went hungry? No, of course not. It is generally true, however, that, in the way that God has ordered this world, that if you want to get ahead in life and you want to have things to eat, then you should work hard because those that work hard and with integrity generally tend to have things to eat.
Job was a classic example of the exception, however—a righteous, hardworking man that lost it all. And his friends tried to quote proverbs to Job as though they were promises (“Hey, Job, a righteous man would never suffer, so you must have sinned.”) God got very upset with Job’s friends for doing this. So we are not going to do this.
Third, and finally, in Proverbs we should expect people to be split into extremes. Proverbs speaks of the wise and the foolish, the righteous and the wicked, the diligent and the lazy, the good son and the bad son, the good wife and the bad wife. For example, Proverb 12:4 says, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.” On the one hand, a crown. On the other hand, rottenness. ‘Crowns’ and ‘rottenness’ are extremes.
Proverbs brings us to the extremes so that we might say, “Ooohhh, I do not want to be like this.” Or, “Ooohhh, I do want to be like that.” The extreme images and word pictures are designed to tug on our hearts. I’ll say more on that in a few weeks when we talk about sex.
Proverbs frequently takes people and splits them into groups in order that we can see people at the final outcome of the way of their life. It does this because sometimes, the difference between choices looks so close that it can be hard to tell what is right and wise. However, when you let people move in the direction they are going, and then you look at them in their extremes, you can see the differences are no longer small.
Jason had a helpful illustration for this last week (borrowing from Francis Schaeffer). He talked of snow on the top of a peak of a mountain on a continental divide. And although the snow looked very close together, if the snow fell to one side, it would go down the mountain, into one river, and then into one ocean. And if it went to the other side, then another river, and another ocean. Proverbs takes us to the two oceans and asks us to consider where we would like to end up.
There is lots more that could be said, but let me briefly come back to where I started: Proverbs 9.
I put two verses on the screen and we saw they were very similar. Those verses are Proverbs 9:4 and 9:16. If you have a Bible, you can put a finger on each of them and see that they look almost exactly the same. They both say,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says…”
But to say that these verses are the same thing, would be like looking at these verses at the top of a mountain, the top of a continental divide. What the surrounding context of the chapter does, is take us to the extreme, take us to the oceans so that we might see the outcome of what happen when we follow Lady Wisdom or Lady Folly.
And hopefully by now you see why the title of the sermon is “To Kinds of Women.” It’s because Proverbs personifies two ways of life as two different kinds of women: Lady Wisdom or Lady Folly.
On a quick glance, the two women the look and sound very similar.
Each of the women invite the simple and those who lack sense. The simple, someone has said are the “swing voters” in Proverbs (Pastor Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, “Learn to Tell the Difference,” Proverbs 9, November 21, 2004). They are not fully entrenched in either wisdom of folly. In the opening verses of the book of Proverbs, it says that the whole book is addressed to the simple, to these swing voters (1:4). And of the women in chapter 9 addresses the group of people. And each woman has a location from which she speaks. And each woman makes an invitation. And the invitation is loud. And each invitation is to a meal where there is some type of food and some type of drink. And to each one that eats the meal, something is promised.
But the question is this: is what one in offered what one actually gets in the end?
Let me show you what I mean. Look with me at vv. 1, 2,
1 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. 2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.
This implies industry. It implies hard work and productivity. She has built a house. She has made a meal that involved slaughtering a beast. And she has mixed wine and set a table.
Think about this. Think about the time involved. We might make special preparations for company coming over for dinner, and that takes a measure of work and effort, but nothing like effort required to raise animal and then kill it, and then prepare it. Meat was a delicacy and a rare treat in their context and Lady Wisdom offers it at great cost to herself.
And look at the following verses. She employs messengers to spread her invitation, and these messengers go to the heights of towns, to a very public place to call out to people. Vv. 3-6,
3She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, 4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
She is generous. She has worked, she has labored, and she gives. Lady Wisdom invites the simple, who have not worked, who have not labored, and she gives to them.
And note, there is a call for repentance. She says, “Leave your simple ways, and live.” She says, “You cannot continue upon the path that you are heading. You must turn. You must repent. You must see in my offer, my invitation, my good news of a rich meal, you must see in all of this LIFE. If you do see ‘life,’ then repent and trust me and come to me for this life. I offer it to you freely.”
That is one ocean. But if we went to the beach of the other ocean and listened and looked, what would we hear? Look at vv. 13-16.
13 The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. 14 She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, 15 calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, 16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says,
Notice that Lady Folly also has a house. But it says she just sits there on the porch yelling at people. And it says, she “knows nothing.” She has something to offer, but she really doesn’t know what she is offering. She is a loud salesperson but also an ignorant one.
And she too, it says, goes to an elevated place from which to spread her message. However, you just get the sense that these are not exactly the same.
Lady Wisdom buys a house right on the corner of main street. It’s very public. She guts the building. She hires contractors to rehab the building. She turns it into something beautiful and stately, something with columns and archways, and it’s a visible, esteemed landmark in the community and she puts a sign out that says, “Open for Business. Free Tours. Free gourmet food.”
However, Lady Folly, she goes to the mall, she rents an eyesore of a kiosk that she didn’t build, and she fills it with trinkets, and she then yells at people as they walk by. And what does she yell? V. 17,
17 “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
That is a different message, a different ocean, a different type of good news, and a different gospel. The only thing she says is that, this will taste good. No effort involved here. Just take and eat. The food that I offer is pleasing to the eye. You don’t have to work for it. You just take it and eat it.
What is interesting, is that the narrator speaks and takes the final word in v. 18. He says,
18But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
Well, I hope you have seen it already, but I want to close by making something explicit that I have been hinting at. I want to close by pointing out the parallels between these two women with two different gospels. On the one hand, there is the good news of Jesus Christ and on the other hand, is the good news of Satan.
Satan says to Adam and Eve in the garden, If you take what is not yours, if you eat from this tree, then it will taste good. Satan didn’t work to plant the tree, to tend to the tree, or to create the fruit on the tree. He just says, steal and misuse the stuff that God has made. You don’t really have to change your ways. You don’t have to repent. You just have to take and eat. It will make you ‘wise.’ And so says Lady Folly. What they don’t say is that his way leads to death.
Jesus, however, says, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense he says, “I have worked, I have labored, I have sacrificed, and now I offer to you a free gift. I offer you rich food. And if you will repent and if you will turn, then I will offer to you true life.
They both offer a meal, but they are very different meals. The one ends in life and the other ends in death, the one in heaven, the other in hell. At a distance, they look similar and sound similar, but up close, they are very different. And you should chose the better woman: Lady Wisdom. We don’t deserve her, we don’t earn her, but we are offered her.
Step one, is that we must chose to receive the free gift of relationship with God through Jesus. And once you and I have received that gift, then we come back to Proverbs to see how this God might want us to live and to have wisdom for all of life. And for the next seven weeks, having come to Jesus to feast on the Gospel, we will see how he might then want us to live with wisdom in all of life.