Proverbs opens on a battlefield of a young man’s life, where competing voices are vying for his heart. His father recognizes the power of words and their influence on his son. Wanting to combat these dangers, he adopts the voices of those who present the greatest threat to the young man—a malicious gang and a seductive woman. The father is accompanied in the pursuit of his son’s heart by both Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly, who speak truth and ignorance. Their speeches present the son with a choice:
Who Will You Listen to?
The father is a wise man, and his words are based on experience and verifiable facts. He does not distort or twist his words to persuade. He always has his son’s best interests in mind. Everything he says is spoken with honesty and exemplified in his own life.
The father distills his son’s greatest temptations into the spoken invitations of a gang (“men of perverted speech”) and a seductress (“the adulteress with her smooth words”; 2:12–16). By describing scenarios involving each, the father brings to life the destructive nature of speech as he seeks to help his son see what lies behind temptation.
The gang invites the son to join them in violence against an innocent man: “Come … let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason” (1:11). A real gang is unlikely to describe their behavior in such terms, but since the father is the one speaking on behalf of the gang, he can expose the truth behind their words. The gang urges the son to throw in his lot with them: “We shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” (1:13–14). The destructive power of their speech lies in its promise of easy gain through violence.
The sweet-talking woman and her “smooth” words drip honey (2:16, 5:3, 6:24). When she speaks in chapter seven, she vividly portrays the dangers lurking behind her words (7:12–20). There is little description of her appearance when she enters the scene with the “young man.” It is her speech—not her beauty—that seduces. She describes the extravagance of her bed, spread with fine linens and spices, and boldly invites him to have sex. She even provides a safety net—her husband is far away, and they will not be caught.
When her speech ends, the father tells his son the rest of the story. She persuades the man, but her house leads to destruction (see 2:18–19; 6:26–35). The young man pays for his pleasure with his life (7:22–27).
The voice of Lady Wisdom is interspersed among the father’s lectures. On the heels of the gang’s enticement, she speaks to whomever will listen, and she warns of dire consequences should they ignore her voice (1:22–33). Later, she praises her own words and the effect they will have on those who embrace them (8:4–36). Unlike the seductress and the gang, she speaks candidly, uprightly and truthfully. Her words can be trusted—and when they are, the benefits exceed silver and fine gold (8:19).
Alongside Lady Wisdom is Dame Folly. Her description is reminiscent of the seductress in chapter seven, but Dame Folly’s words are not smooth and sweet; they are loud and ignorant (9:13). She summons listeners with the same words as Lady Wisdom—“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” (9:16; compare 9:4). But the rest of her speech reveals her true character. while Lady Wisdom invites the simple one to eat her bread and drink her wine and walk in the way of insight, Dame Folly extols the sweetness of stolen bread and water (9:17). Dame Folly is a cheap imitation of Lady Wisdom, and her invitation is one that leads to death.
Whether the son of Proverbs 1–9 matures into a wise man or lapses into an idiot will be determined by his ability to sort out the voices, evaluate their words and choose the right path. The interplay of speech highlights the need to truly listen. The one who chooses thoughtfully can turn the page to chapters 10–31, where wisdom for all of life can be learned.