Fleeing Folly

The following is an adapted transcript from one of Ken’s teaching series on the book of Proverbs. He also walks through this transcript in his latest Wisdom series.

We are continuing to look at the introductory material in Proverbs—the first nine chapters. We learned in chapters 1–4 six of the ten sermonic exhortations, which were designed to create a sense of hunger and thirst for the material contained in Proverbs. The exhortations continually remind the reader that the pursuit of wisdom is far greater than silver or gold or precious gems—there is nothing in this world that can compare with wisdom.

Proverbs 5: The Folly of Sexual Immorality

Moving into chapter 5 of our text, we see the seventh exhortation. This particular exhortation talks about the pitfalls of immorality. The first of the basic principles of this exhortation is this: The father wants the son to “give attention” to wisdom (v. 1).1 One of the benefits to wisdom is that you will be able to discern the voice of folly, particularly the folly related to sexual temptation and immorality. We see in verse 3, for example, that “the lips of an adulteress drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech.” In the culture of that time, prostitutes were invariably married women. Of course, it is a different situation now, but the issue we must focus on is one of sexual intimacy outside of the covenant of marriage.

An Unsatisfying Relationship with Folly

While “the lips of an adulteress drip honey,” we see that “in the end she is bitter as wormwood” (5:3–4). What appears to be so enticing at the beginning produces a different story when viewed in total. Actually, we see that “Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold of Sheol. She does not ponder the path of life; her ways are unstable, she does not know it” (vv. 5–6). By following her enticement, you are placing yourself on the path of folly.

Remember what is happening here: Folly is portrayed as a woman—but wisdom is also portrayed as a woman. Wisdom calls us to the light, to good character, and to fulfillment. Wisdom may not seem so enticing at first because it calls us to sacrifice our immediate pleasure. And yet in the end it provides something far deeper than folly. Folly only gives us the illusion of what appears to be valuable; stolen bread seems to taste so good, but after a while it will lose that taste (see Proverbs 9:17–18). What appears to be enticing and good on the front end actually leads to disappointment in the end—emptiness, shallowness, and guilt—and ultimately leads away from light and life.

Wisdom may not seem so enticing at first because it calls us to sacrifice our immediate pleasure. And yet in the end it provides something far deeper than folly.

Verse 8 tells us to “Keep your way far from her,” and it urges us to look at the consequences; those who give themselves to immorality will not really be fulfilled by it. There are thousands of years of history that bear this out. When people give themselves over to immorality and to using others, in the long run it will not lead to satisfaction. In fact, it only leads to self-indulgence. Scripture describes several reasons why we should not engage in extra-marital sexual intimacy. But this is a counter-cultural vision.

It is my view that you either judge Scripture according to your culture, or you will judge your culture according to Scripture. Today, even among believers, following Scripture is regarded as something of a personal preference. But we must eventually ask what Scripture really teaches, and whether it is possible for us to walk and thrive in obedience to God by obeying it. We will find that God is not calling us to do something that He is not also empowering us to do.

One thing I find in Scripture is that it calls us to a relationship with Christ; Christianity is not a set of rules—it is a relationship. Therefore, it empowers you to lead a quality of life that you could not lead on your own. As you depend upon God and trust Him for the power to do that which He calls you to do, you discover that without His power, you won’t be able to walk in obedience. But, if you rely on the life of Christ, and if you are putting your hope and trust in Him, it becomes supernaturally possible for you to live a life that is really pleasing to Him—and to keep your focus on the long-term perspective on life. The Christian walk is always for the long haul, while culture beckons with the short haul. That is why temptation is always of an immediate nature. We rationalize and fantasize about sexual conquests, but we never fantasize about getting caught, about the consequences.

If you rely on the life of Christ, and if you are putting your hope and trust in Him, it becomes supernaturally possible for you to live a life that is really pleasing to Him—and to keep your focus on the long-term perspective on life.

I’m not suggesting that God is a cosmic killjoy; nor is He is some kind of celestial Scrooge who looks down on earth and thinks we are having too much fun. Actually, God is saying that He wants something better for us, but we keep on choosing what is second best. If the Bible really is a book that is the revelations of the living God, it might actually be a good idea to see what He says, because He is the One who created you—and He also knows the blueprints for the way life ought to be led. Scripture, then, is God’s blueprint for true success in living life, having skill, and having wisdom, so that at the end of your journey you can look back with satisfaction and say, “This was something that actually was ultimately fulfilling.”

Jesus said that He came to give us life, and that we might have it abundantly (John 10:10). His desire is that you be full of His love, of His joy, and of His peace. He doesn’t want you to be miserable, but the way of obedience is always the way that is far more fulfilling than is the way of our own rebellion. As I have said many times, I have never regretted an act of obedience; but I have always regretted acts of disobedience. If you look over your life—and at your own track record—I think you’ll agree with me on that.

Three Reasons for Sexual Chastity

Let me give you three suggestions—and this is not going to be a popular teaching, but I have to be faithful to what I see in Scripture. There are three themes in Scripture that relate to the issue of why sexual dalliance is not even in your own best interest.

The first reason has to do with God. God’s purpose in giving us sexuality is that sex in marriage has two real blessings: one is creative, and the other is redemptive. It is creative insofar that there is not only procreation, but the creation of a new life in a covenant context where that child is raised in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. God’s intention is to have parents who care and create a matrix of love, protection, provision, teaching, and guidance as the child is nurtured, molded, and shaped in a way that will lead to great wisdom and pleasure—not only for the child, but also for the One who created him or her.

Sex is also redemptive. Marriage and sexuality are redemptive insofar as they bring us out of ourselves; instead of self-centeredness, they cause us to be concerned for someone else. The one-night stands or sexual conquests turn out to be self-centered; they are not other-centered but are focused only on trying to get something while the getting is good—and then get out to find another promising situation. That is a very selfish and self-centered mode of life; whereas, in a covenant relationship, as the years go by, it becomes more and more a nurturing relationship—a nurturing of the other person. Sexual union is seen as an illustration and a manifestation of a spirit oneness and a soul oneness. Being concerned about the needs of the other person and committing oneself to the highest good of the other person actually bring something out of us that would not have been there otherwise. This is especially true when children come along—that is yet another way of becoming less selfish. There is a lot of satisfaction, but there is also a lot of sacrifice. I think parts of this are redemptive because they bring us out of ourselves and our natural selfishness.

The second reason also involves the principles of covenant; a covenant where there is an unconditional relationship, where we enter into a bond and the two become greater than the sum of the parts. The two become one flesh, and there is a mystery to this that points beyond itself to the mystery of Christ and the church, and the mystery of the Trinitarian relationship (see Ephesians 5:22–33).

Consider Exodus 20 and the other commandments; not to murder, to commit adultery, to steal, or to bear false witness. Let’s just take those four. In these four commandments we see four fundamental rights that are given to each person on this planet. There is a right to one’s life, which relates to murder; there is a right to one’s home, which relates to the issue of committing adultery; there is the right to one’s property, which relates to stealing; and there is the right to one’s reputation, which relates to bearing false witness. These are fundamental rights, and when we violate those rights, we are defrauding another person of their God-given dignity.

The third reason is “myself.” As we see in 1 Corinthians 6:18, other sins like stealing, murder, and bearing false witness are outside of the body, but the sin of adultery is a sin against “myself.” Proverbs 5:7–14 portrays the self-destructive nature of sin. When we put ourselves in situations of compromise, manipulation, or using others for our own gratification, we destroy our own wellbeing. It is foolish to become involved in these ways, but it is extraordinarily tempting, and this is the reality we are going to constantly encounter.

Now, these three components are clearly negative, so let me give you a positive component, seen in 5:15: “Drink water from your own cistern, and fresh water from your own well.” He is implying that the reader is now in a covenant relationship in marriage. The father is exhorting the son to have an attractor in the home. If you want an antidote to adultery and immorality, you need a magnet in the home. Of course, this is why he says to “drink water from your own cistern” (v. 15). The metaphor here is simply to not go to another well: “Should your springs be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets?”—as in having children all over the place (v. 16).

The imagery here of the cistern and streams is quite sexual; and in fact, the most sensual terms in the Hebrew language are being used here. Yet it is also an image of actually developing and growing in that relationship; that growth needs to happen, but many people begin to get a roving eye. It is a natural flesh tendency, but Scripture invites us to see that God has called us to enjoy the wife of our youth.

Now, what happens when we disobey and fall into sin? When we violate these mandates, it is painful—and many of us have gone through the pain of divorce. But, the grace of God is such that even having gone through that, He still receives us back, wanting us to pick it back up where we left off. Rather than constantly regretting the past, prudence tells us to move forward. “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). This is to walk with God in the present tense—and in obedience to Him. In many ways God is the God of the second chance, because we all stumble, and we all commit grave errors—if not in the sexual arena, it is in another areas.

In many ways God is the God of the second chance, because we all stumble, and we all commit grave errors.

I am giving you a portrait of what God says is His ideal. Because of rebellion or the illusion that we know better than God, when we stumble, the real issue is whether we are going to get back up again and commit ourselves, by His grace and His power, to walk in obedience to the truth.

Proverbs 6: The Folly of Small Surrenders

Chapter 6 gives us the eighth exhortation, and this exhortation moves us through verses 1–18, where we see three follies and seven abominations.

A folly is a blunder, a foolish situation that you get into. Wisdom is being illustrated by contrasting it to three rather dumb things—and then seven abominations are thrown in for good measure.

The first folly is found in verses 1–5. There is a term used in verse 1, becoming a “surety for your neighbor.” What this means is that you have put yourself in a position where you are financially obligated to someone even though you do not have the resources to do so. Usually this involves a speculative investment of some sort. The idea expressed here is that you have over-committed yourself—beyond all your possible resources. In doing this there is the folly of being ensnared and entrapped. This is not to suggest that you do not loan or give to the poor; in fact, in Deuteronomy 15:7–8 there is an exhortation that you can loan to the poor, but do so with an “open hand” because you might not get it back. Additionally, you do not loan at interest to the poor.

But this is not what this proverb is talking about. It is referring to a speculative deal where you have committed yourself beyond the possibility of recovery. In a practical way, many would say that this proverb is telling us that it is not wise to co-sign a note—that is what “surety” means. It is significant to observe that in that culture, if you could not repay a debt, you would become a slave to the person who loaned you the money.

The second folly is the sluggard. The sluggard is one of those tragi-comic figures in Proverbs. The sluggard is just plain lazy, and we see, therefore, in verse 6: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise.” The text describes how the ant “Prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest” (v. 8), then asks “How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (v. 9). Then the sluggard responds: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” (v. 10). That is his motto. In other words, it is “a little, a little, a little”—and this is where Derek Kidner observes in his commentary on Proverbs we deceive ourselves by the smallness of our surrenders. It is never a blowout; it is always a slow leak, starting with something very small. In the end, it is astounding how we can rationalize our disobedience.

We deceive ourselves by the smallness of our surrenders.

The sluggard won’t begin anything, he won’t finish anything, and he is exasperating to anyone who employs him. Look at Proverbs 18:9 for example: “He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys.” Another image of this is found in Proverbs 10:26: “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him.” The sluggard, then, is one who makes too many excuses, too many refusals, and too many postponements.

The problem is that we are creatures of extremes. Work is often either totally unimportant to us or, in the opposite direction, work is all-important to us and we let it define us; it consumes us—and we become human “doings” instead of human beings. In that circumstance, the urgent takes precedence over the important things in life. You miss out on relationships and all the other things that give life quality and meaning.

Moving on in our text, the third folly is found in verses 12–15, and this is the folly of the knave—the mischief maker. He is described in a lot of ways, but he is a “worthless person” who “walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; who with perversity in his heart continually devises.” He always means one thing but says another; he is constantly trying to deceive, and he cannot be open with anyone. There is a lack of integrity and a lack of righteousness in his heart. You never feel you are getting a straight story from him. We admire a man, to use a phrase from Jesus, “in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47). Have you encountered people like that? They don’t have a false agenda and what you see is what you get—they say what they mean, and they mean what they say. That is the quality that we all ultimately admire and that is a part of what wisdom looks like.

Now we come to the seven abominations, and they are found in 6:16–19:

There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.

Training Up a Child

The ninth exhortation is found beginning in Proverbs 6:20 and runs through the end of the chapter.

Here we have yet another word on the folly of adultery and the consequences of extra-marital relationships. Again, we see: “My son, observe the commandment of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother” (v. 1). This is educating the child in the way of the world before the world pulls him into its lures and snares. The best sex education is found in the home—and not having sex education from people who do not have the same values as you do, which would have been unthinkable to the Hebrew mind. It was the duty of the parents to provide that education, giving them discernment and teaching them in advance where the temptations are going to be. In verses 22–23 we see: “When you walk about, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you.”  You will have wisdom that speaks to you if you listen to the guidance of your parents, especially since you will be talked to by a lot of other sources that are not wise.

The text returns to the issue of immorality, saying, “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” (v.27). Clearly, the implication here is that you are playing with fire. And by the way, in that culture, a man who saw that his wife had engaged in an adulterous relationship would not take anything for restitution. We see:

The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking in sense; he who would destroy himself does it. Wounds and disgrace he will find, and his reproach will not be blotted out. For jealousy enrages a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not accept any ransom, nor will he be content though you give many gifts. (vv. 32–35)

There are applications concerning even sexual glances, as we see in verse 25: “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, nor let her catch you with her eyelids”—a very interesting image, indeed.

Wouldn’t it be great if the things that are hostile to us in the physical world were obvious—if all the animals that are harmful looked ugly and nasty? Then all the people who were hostile and harmful to us would look ugly and nasty as well. Sadly, the world is far more subtle than that, and it leads only to great compromises. Think about conventions; people go off to a convention and often go on a moral holiday. They have the illusion, somehow, that it is a short time and they’ll never get caught. I’m actually talking here about people who know the Lord but end up compromising themselves in those situations anyway.

I want to tell you that small, small acts of compromise can have enormous consequence. When you have the illusion, somehow, that your actions won’t be known, don’t kid yourself—do you think God is so stupid that there won’t be an accounting? God is not going to be mocked (Galatians 6:7), and ultimately, we need to order our ways before Him. Wisdom would tell us that we must be prudent before Him because it is not that God is trying to make us unhappy. He wants success for us; He wants us to have abundance. The way of abundance is not the way of selfishness and the way of self-indulgence. Indulgence might work sometimes in the short run, but over the long haul it is like drinking wormwood; it may taste sweet at first, but it becomes bitter to the soul—and this is the primary image we have in this chapter.

Small acts of compromise can have enormous consequence

Proverbs 7–8: Contrasting Folly and Wisdom

Chapters 7 and 8 are a unit, and they contain the tenth and final exhortation—chapter 9, as we will see, is an epilogue. In these two chapters, we have the contrast between two women. Chapter 7 is the personification of the spirit of folly, and chapter 8 is the personification of wisdom.

Chapter 7 talks about strategies that are often employed in folly’s seduction. For example, in verses 6–8a we see: “For at the window of my house I looked out through my lattice, and I saw among the naïve, and discerned among the youths a young man lacking sense, passing through the street near her corner.” Remember the gallery of fools: the naïve, the scoffers, etc. Here we have one who flatters himself as being a man about the world, but he really doesn’t know a thing. This young man is tempting fate and fooling with temptation—at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

Verse 8b–9 continues, “And he takes the way to her house, in the twilight, in the evening, in the middle of the night and in the darkness.” This is a clear image of progression as it gets increasingly dark. “And behold, a woman comes to meet him, dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart”—a woman who has a history; a woman who has shrewdness (v. 10). The young man is naïve and is a lost cause. She flatters him, telling him how great he is and how good it would be to be with him and how she has her bed all set up: “Come, let us drink our fill of love until morning” (v. 18a). Then in verses 22–23, “Suddenly he follows her as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, until an arrow pierces through his liver; as a bird hastens to the snare, so he still doesn’t know it will cost him his life.” Ultimately, it is a path that leads to death.

Chapter 8, by contrast, is the public call to wisdom. One contrast here is that we have a picture of darkness in the description of folly; it is covert, whereas wisdom is in the light. Folly makes her offer cloaked in darkness, whereas wisdom cries out publicly—in the daytime, “at the opening to the city” (Proverbs 8:3), for all who are passing by.

Yet another contrast is that the harlot (folly) is sexually loose and has a lack of character, whereas wisdom is characterized by holiness. The harlot cannot be trusted, but wisdom is true and, “All the utterances of [her] mouth are in righteousness” (v. 8).

As well, folly has no heart; she hates her victims and her goal is merely to use them; she entices but gives them nothing. Wisdom, by contrast, is true and loving, offering us a commitment to the other person. Folly is merely a fleeting pleasure, but wisdom is everlasting: everlasting honor, everlasting life, and a way that leads to blamelessness.

Folly is merely a fleeting pleasure, but wisdom is everlasting: everlasting honor, everlasting life, and a way that leads to blamelessness.

Another contrast between these two chapters is that folly, in essence, is selfish, seeks only her own gratification, and gives almost nothing. Wisdom, on the other hand, has a house of life and is other-centered; she considers the needs of others and not her own needs.

Take a look at just a few characteristics of wisdom: In verse 12 we see, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.” In verse 8 we have, “All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing crooked or perverted in them.” By contrast, chapter 7 was nothing but crooked and perverted; it was seductive, and it enticed with far more than it ever provided. But wisdom, from verse 11, is “better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her.” Then, in verses 17–19, we see: “I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield better than choicest silver.”

A Hymn of Wisdom

In 8:22–31, we have a hymn about how wisdom was actually with God when He created the world:

The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; while He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there. When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed, when He set for the sea its boundary, so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.

What beautiful imagery we see in that text. We see a picture of God’s wisdom being with Him—and we know that in the New Testament wisdom is incarnated in Christ; and in Christ all things were made. He created the heavens and the earth. He is the Word and in Him is the light.

Look at John 1:1–3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being”—this is the Word, the logos. Then it says it verse 14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Here is the One who created the galaxies—hundreds of billions of galaxies—with each galaxy having between one hundred and five hundred billion stars. The One who holds all these on their courses is the very One who became incarnate, who came in wisdom and humility—yet was so weak that He had to be provided for by Mary and Joseph. He humbled Himself to come into this world so that we might know Him who became for us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

Proverbs 9: An Epilogue and an Invitation

Now to some final thoughts as we move into chapter 9. This chapter is an epilogue, but it really is wisdom’s ultimate invitation to us. In verses 1–6 we see wisdom calling the foolish and the simpletons to her banquet. Then the third stanza, verses 13–18, portrays folly calling the simpletons to her banquet. So, first we see wisdom’s banquet, followed by folly’s banquet—and both are calling to the simpletons. In fact, wisdom calls to all the fools except the scoffers, knowing that the scoffers will not receive her offer anyway.

In the middle of the chapter, verses 7–12, we have a picture of two responses—the word of the scoffer and the mind of the wise person. We see two minds—one that receives, and one that rejects. This epilogue, then, ties together all the themes we have seen in this study.


  1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture translations are taken from the NASB 1995.

Fleeing Folly

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