“Four Characters in Proverbs”Categories: Bulletin Articles
Much of the book of Proverbs is made up of one-shot epigrams without any obvious connection to their context. However, the first portion of the book isn’t like that. Instead, it’s dominated by four imaginary characters, all of whom make speeches that frame the rest of the book. Each one of them personifies some kind of wise or foolish behavior. In the order in which we encounter them, they are:
The Wise Father. Whether or not we have earthly fathers who said and did foolish things, the father in Proverbs does not. Instead, he embodies the wisdom that comes from experience. In his time, he’s seen it all. He’s watched as other young men have gone down inviting paths that ended in disaster. He doesn’t want his son (the reader of Proverbs) to meet the same wretched fate, so he’s instructing him in both wise and unwise choices.
In Proverbs, listen to Dad. He’s right, though the wisdom of his advice may not be obvious. Even if you don’t get it, do what he says. In time, you’ll look back and be glad you did.
The Evil Companions. In Proverbs 1, Dad’s first warning is about some wicked friends who have a speech of their own to make. They want the son to come with them and become a highway robber. They’ll waylay passersby, kill them, and take their stuff. Everybody will be rich!
Don’t listen to these guys, the father says. You might think you’ll end up rich, but really you’ll end up dead.
There is more literal value in this advice than we might think. A young man I once taught in Bible class is currently up on charges for robbery and murder. However, for most of us, other applications are more relevant. First, we have to beware of peer pressure. If we run with the wrong crowd, they will lead us to do the wrong thing.
Second, we must watch out for all the ways that the love of money can distort our conduct. In God’s eyes, Bernard Madoff isn’t any better than Jesse James. If we seek dishonest gain, sooner or later, it will wreck us.
Lady Wisdom. She has the next speaking part in Proverbs 1, and is neither more nor less than a feminine personification of wisdom and its consequences. If you listen to Lady Wisdom, she is very generous. She will see to it that you are rewarded with wealth and honor.
On the other hand, if you ignore her, she turns into a hag. She will watch as you ruin yourself, and she will laugh at you the whole way down. How many of us have known the sting of looking back, seeing what we should have done, and regretting that we did not do it?
The Woman of Folly. Though the woman of folly (my mother would have denied that she was a lady) doesn’t get a speaking part until Proverbs 7, we’re warned about her from Proverbs 2 on. She is the stereotypical seductress: eager to get her hands on naïve young men and destroy them.
From her, all of us, whether male, female, old, or young, have much to learn. She represents the attractions and dangers of sexual sin. The woman of folly lurks in schools and workplaces, at parties, and even on the Internet. Whether we give our bodies to her or merely our hearts, the consequences will be brutal.