Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the public squares she raises her voice;
on the highest walls she calls out,
at the entrance of the gates to the city she makes her speech;
“How long, you gullible, will you love being gullible” –
and mockers delight themselves with mocking;
and fools hate knowledge?
Turn back to my rebuke;
then I will pour forth my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my sayings.
‘But since I cry out, and you refuse to listen,
and when I stretch out my hand, none gives heed,
and you flout all my counsel,
and to my rebuke you do no consent,
I in turn will laugh when your disaster happens,
I will scoff when your calamity comes –
when your calamity comes like a storm,
and like a whirlwind your disaster arrives,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call out to me, but I will not answer;
they will look diligently for me but will not find me,
because they hated knowledge,
and the fear of the LORD they did not choose.
They did not consent to my advice,
They spurned my every rebuke,
so they will eat from the fruit of their way,
and from their schemes they will be filled.
Surely the turning away of the gullible will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
but the one who obeys will dwell in security,
even at ease, without fear of harm.
The father escalates the grim threat of certain death for all sinners (v. 19) – now referred to as fools – to the awful truth that their death is eternal. There is no third way between wisdom and folly, and there is no second change between life and death.
The setting for Wisdom’s instruction is in the street (v. 20) signifies that this sermon was meant to be heard publicly rather than the standard father-son instruction within the home. Wisdom lifts her voice in the public squares and on the highest walls (v. 20-21), which would be the most advantageous points to be seen and heard in ancient city. Wisdom chooses to stand at the entrance of the gates in order to confront and compel the gullible to make a decision to accept her in order to safeguard them against the fools within the city.
We should also note Wisdom is not dispassionate in her appeal. She cries aloud (v. 20) in order to get a full hearing. She intends that her voice would be heard above the noise of daily life and above the voice of fools within the city. In commenting about this, Kenneth Aitken states
Lady wisdom is no gentle persuader. She shouts, pleads, scolds, reasons, threatens, warns, and even laughs. Pulpit bashing and hell-fire preaching if ever there were! All quite unladylike; and nowadays also quite unfashionable, even frowned upon.
The Call to Repentance
Wisdom begins her sermon with an urgent appeal to the gullible to stop rejecting her and to respond to the stern rebuke she is about to give them. These youths have crossed the threshold into adulthood (with its corresponding responsibilities) and should have made a decisive commitment to Wisdom before this point. Instead of a hear that desires to serve the Lord and retain His revealed wisdom, these youths “love being gullible” (v. 22); in other words, they yearn to remain uncommitted and open to alluring sin. In today’s language, they claim to be “open yet cautious” about the way of wisdom. In truth, their heart is in a state of rebellion. Their guilt is their recalcitrance before legitimate authority and Wisdom pins their guilt to their rebellion against her counsel.
Thus, Lady Wisdom makes her appeal. Although mockers and fools are in a hopeless position, Wisdom calls these youths to repentance. There is still hope for them, but not forever. They must humble themselves and acknowledge that Wisdom is right and they must also acknowledge that they have been in the wrong in nursing their love to be careless and free of her discipline. In response to this repentance, Wisdom will pour forth her thoughts in such a way that they will internalize them and never forget them (v. 23).
The Certainty of Disaster
While wisdom promises blessings for obedience, she also promises consequences for disobedience. Judgment befalls all who ignore Wisdom’s words. First, Wisdom warns the gullible against a progressive hardening in apostasy. If they do not listen, they too may come to hate hear and to mock her, placing them in the same categories as fools and mockers (v. 24-25). Second, Wisdom warns that there is a certainty of catastrophe for all sinners and its finality is pictured as a devastating wind (v. 26). Judgment and calamity will come like a whirlwind and a storm which wreaks havoc. When judgment does come, the gullible will change from complacency and prideful insubordination to extreme terror. The gullible, fools, and mockers will “eat from the fruit of their ways” (v. 31).
Moreover, when the threatened judgment falls, it will be too late to respond. Wisdom does not laugh at disaster, but at the triumph of what is right over what is wrong when disaster does happen. In other words, Wisdom rejoices in turning the present upside-down world right-side up, when wisdom overturns folly, righteousness overcomes wickedness, knowledge overcomes ignorance, humility topples pride, and life swallows up death. Wisdom scoffs when the dreadful disaster of the wicked comes. This laughter expresses the inward joy and disdain that Wisdom experiences over her chief enemy – namely, folly. As Bruce Waltke says,
Truth has a harsh edge and Wisdom does not dull it. Her shock tactics aim to persuade the young to turn to her.
A question that often arises is whether Wisdom’s response to fools at the time of final judgment is a proper response. It should be noted that fools hated true knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord (v. 29). They did not ponder and consider their ways; rather they deliberately chose NOT to walk in the ways of the Lord and sanctioned other lifestyles. Wisdom’s response is valid because this life would be pre-empted of its true dignity if choices made now had no eternal consequences. Fools would be confirmed in treating this life with careless complacency if there were no eternal consequences. Also, those who follow Wisdom would be made to look foolish if the path of folly could be taken without any accountability.
Even if we are not gullible youths, there is much we should consider in this sermon because Wisdom’s sermon reflects on the Scripture’s teaching on final judgment. First, we should note that Wisdom’s saving voice is not at human disposal; it can be forfeited through prior rejection. This is a theme that the prophets repeated proclaimed – do not harden your hearts against the Lord (cf. Hebrews 3:8-15). Second, it should be noted that many people deny the doctrine of final judgment because they do not want to give this life such dignity that current decisions affect an eternal future in a decisive and definitive way.
At the time of the final judgment, sinners will finally recognize that Wisdom possesses the true life and the security they had traded away for a pseudo-life in this world and false security. This false sense of security leads sinners to destruction. Deluded sinners, restricted by their very limited knowledge, foolishly became so wise in their own eyes that they could not see things from the heavenly perspective of God and so utterly misjudged the true situation. Hence, the complacency of fools causes them to fail to take precautions against the inevitable judgment bound up in their folly, and so it will destroy them. This is the warning that we give to all men and women in this world.
However, we also have the promise of the gospel message: the one who listens will dwell in security, even at ease, without fear of harm (v. 33). In Noah’s day, destruction came upon the world except for those who were safely secure within the ark. In the same way, when God brings judgment to this world, only those who have obeyed the gospel will be safe. This is the essence of Paul’s words to the Thessalonians
… when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when he comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed – for our testimony to you was believed. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9