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Yellow Balloons Devotional Series: Advent

Proverbs 1:20-23

These are the proverbs of Solomon, one of the most renowned kings in the history of Israel. The word translated “proverb” is the Hebrew word “mashal.” The root of the word contains the idea of “compare”—it is translated throughout Scripture as “parable” just as often as “proverb.”

This gives us some insight into the nature of these sayings. Proverbs are not prescriptions. It is not about a formula for how to manipulate circumstances and bend them to our will. That might be wishful thinking, but doesn’t work in reality. The proverbs are, in a sense, “comparing” our human perceptions to the reality of God’s world; trying to connect the two by providing principles that shape our perspective and inform our choices such that we live constructively—that is to say, wisely.

Like parables, the proverbs are meant to guide us “to wisdom”, that is, into a way of living. A way of thinking and perceiving. It is about molding and shaping our perceptions, values, and character into something that is consistently in tune with God, not just as a rule-follower but as someone who understands and practices the essence of the divine. One who sees the world through God’s eyes, and acts accordingly.

Ecclesiastes might be thought of as a philosophical foundation for wisdom. It shows the way to properly view the many aspects of life we cannot control, the “hebel” or vaporous nature of all that surrounds us. The main thing Ecclesiastes shows us is the importance of choosing to trust God, and make good choices based on that trust.

Proverbs will reiterate the philosophical foundations of Ecclesiastes, then zoom in and expand upon the practical application of trusting God and choosing a true perspective within certain areas of life. Proverbs leads us to choose a true perspective in all areas of life, and creates a foundation from which we can choose actions that are constructive, beneficial, and fulfilling.

There are only three things we control in life: who we trust, our perspective, and what we do—our actions. Ecclesiastes makes this reality abundantly clear. Trying to control what we cannot leads to complete futility. Trusting God, however, provides a foundation for constructive living. Proverbs teaches us how best to steward the choices we have—how to trust God, how to choose His perspective, and the key actions to take that lead us to the path of wisdom.


In the first chapter of The Book of Proverbs, Solomon establishes his intent—to teach the value of wisdom so that one might live effectively in an uncertain world. To help provide his audience with a way to navigate the mystery of life through trusting in God, having faith in Him, and listening to His practical advice.

Wisdom is a pathway to effective living, in a manner that serves our true best interest. The alternative is folly. It is a binary choice. Folly often seems best to us, but is actually self-destructive. It’s not always easy to tell which is which. Proverbs provides training on how to discern the wise path.

The Book of Proverbs is a practical guide. It shapes our perspective on life and provides a blueprint for how to live according to the path that leads to our greatest benefit. Proverbs leads us to learn and grow, to apply true insights constructively. It explains how cause-and-effect actually works in God’s creation. In a word, Proverbs shows how to learn wisdom.

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes how life in this world is enigmatic, beyond our control, and in many ways incomplete (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 3:11). His conclusion is that mystery is an invitation to faith, an opportunity to trust God (Ecclesiastes 12:13). In the midst of the conclusion of Ecclesiastes, it says that Solomon (the teacher) has “set forth many proverbs” (Ecclesiastes 12:9). This is a reference to The Book of Proverbs, Solomon’s attempt to get into the weeds and talk about the practical realities of daily life.

Ecclesiastes might be thought of as a philosophical foundation for wisdom. It shows the way to properly view the many aspects of life we cannot control, the “hebel.” “Hebel” is often translated as “vanity,” but a more accurate translation is “vapor.” This is what Solomon ponders in Ecclesiastes—the vaporous nature of life which we cannot grasp. The main thing Ecclesiastes shows us is the importance of choosing to trust God, and make good choices based on that trust.

Proverbs will reiterate the philosophical foundations of Ecclesiastes, then zoom in and expand upon the practical application of trusting God and choosing a true perspective in all areas of life. The wisdom in Proverbs creates a foundation from which we can choose actions that are constructive, beneficial, and fulfilling.

There are only three things we control in life: who we trust, our perspective, and what we do—our actions. Ecclesiastes makes this reality abundantly clear. Trying to control what we cannot leads to complete futility. Trusting God however provides a foundation for constructive living. Proverbs teaches us how best to steward the choices we have—how to trust God, how to choose His perspective, and key actions to take that lead us to the path of wisdom.

Solomon’s audience are youth—young people. He wants to get to them early, to set up the parameters for choices and consequence, for wisdom versus foolishness, and for what is truly in their best interest. Each of these requires making a choice.

In Chapter 1, Solomon sets up the two diverging choices we have set before us. On one hand is the choice of wisdom, calling to us from the streets. It is the design for our lives and for the world. On the other hand is the self-destructive and violent path of sinners, diverging from God’s instructions. Foolish people lose their alignment with reality and truth by derailing to a lesser way.

In this opening chapter, Solomon is working hard to set the stakes. He implores us to see how important and immediate the choice is between wisdom and folly. He wants to show which is truly in our own best self-interest and why. He wants to warn us of the slippery slope of choosing the foolish way, and guide us to the great hope and joy available when we align with God. When we commit to the way of wisdom. Chapter 1 makes it clear that if we desire to follow the path of wisdom, we must be intentional in choosing to listen to wisdom, understand its ways, and choose to follow in its path.


Wisdom (personified as a woman) shouts in public, beckoning all to hear and obey.

Here we are introduced to wisdom personified in the feminine. Lady Wisdom is a consistent character throughout Proverbs. She is held in high esteem: a caretaker and a guide, a disciplinarian, a judge, and a path to success. Solomon also uses a feminine noun to personify folly in Ecclesiastes 7:23-26; he will talk in Proverbs about the adulterous woman (Proverbs 5:3). So Solomon is using these two archetypes (both personified in the feminine) to highlight the choice between wisdom and evil. These young men can choose either folly or wisdom to be their constant companion.

The word for “proverb” is the same Hebrew word for “parable” (see Proverbs 1:1-6), so it makes sense for Solomon to personify wisdom. He does this throughout the book, most notably in Chapter 8. It helps bring life to the characteristics of wisdom, allows us to see wisdom in the context of human activity, and invites us to wrestle with its complexities in the way only a parable can do.

Lady Wisdom is a strong and powerful authority in these verses. She makes herself hard to ignore. She shouts in the street and lifts her voice in the square. She also cries out at the head of the noisy street and utters sayings at the entrance of the gates of the city. She is vocal and she is visible. She is in the streets, in the city square, and at the entrance gates. God has placed wisdom everywhere in His creation. The entire creation speaks of God, so it also speaks of wisdom. As Psalm 19 states:

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge”
(Psalm 19:1-2)

All of this is done clearly and publicly, as opposed to the whispered dealings of the sinners in the previous section (see notes on Proverbs 1:16-19). Lady Wisdom’s shouts are so loud that they rise above the murmur of their surroundings—at the head of the noisy streets she cries out. Her admonitions are prevalent. At the entrance of the gates of the city she utters sayings. The gates of the city would be akin to a modern town square with a court house—the center of civic life. Wisdom makes her realities known loud and clear, “in our face.”

Wisdom is embedded in every observable cause-effect relationship, if it is perceived truly. Solomon gave us an example with the sinners who intended violence against others but actually are setting it up for themselves.

Surely, Solomon says, you cannot miss the call of wisdom. You can ignore it, with great effort, but you cannot claim it is hard to find.

This is what Wisdom is proclaiming to the young or naïve ones (the direct audience of The Book of Proverbs) and to all of us: How long, O naïve ones, will you love being simple-minded? How long will we ignore wisdom and choose a lesser way? How long will we follow the guidance of lesser voices, voices that lead us to destruction? Lady Wisdom is making herself known; if we ignore her, it is on us for making a bad choice. There will be no excuse that the knowledge was hidden.

Wisdom asks How long will you love being simple-minded? And how long will scoffers delight in scoffing? How long will fools hate knowledge? The “how long” question, asked out of lament and longing, stretches to all three clauses in Verse 22. How long (literally “from when to when”) will this continue? This makes clear that these fools refuse wisdom because they love being foolish. Further, Wisdom notes these naïve ones do not merely endure their childish reasoning, but cling to it with affection. They delight in scoffing. A scoffer is one who mocks or ridicules, one full or scorn and derision for the truth.

And perhaps the most scathing question asked by Wisdom: how long will fools hate knowledge? The word for knowledge is the same word used in verse 7 in connection with the fear of the Lord—a knowing that encompasses fact, interpretation, wisdom, and application. Seeing and applying reality as it actually is. We cannot claim passive indifference as our excuse for turning away from Wisdom. Rather, the fool that rejects knowledge is doing so because they hate knowledge. Solomon again makes it clear that there is a binary choice to be made: wisdom verses folly.Those who choose folly do so deliberately, and are fools.

In the strongest possible terms, Wisdom then calls for repentance. She implores the simple-minded fools to lay aside their naïveté, foolishness, and scoffing, admonishing them to “Turn to my reproof.” The word turn (“shuwb”) in verse 23 is better translated “return.” We were made for wisdom, created in wisdom’s image, and have gone astray. The reproof of wisdom shows us where we have gone astray; it is a correction that will turn us back to our proper course. This admonition to turn connects to the first part of the chapter, when Solomon exhorted the student to “receive instruction” (Proverbs 1:3). To turn away from folly and choose wisdom requires embracing reproof.

Lady Wisdom sends forth a promise for those who turn to her reproof—I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.” She is shouting from all over the city. The message is clear: wisdom is available. She is here and ready to share fully. Nothing will be withheld for those willing to listen, to receive instruction. Wisdom will pour out her spirit on anyone who chooses to receive. Not only that, Lady Wisdom will make known her words to anyone willing to hear and embrace instruction. The willingness and commitment to follow in the footsteps of wisdom seem to guarantee the success of achieving wisdom. It is time to turn and pay attention to the truth of her calling.

Biblical Text:

20 Wisdom shouts in the street,
She lifts her voice in the square;
21 At the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
At the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings:
22 “How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded?
And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing
And fools hate knowledge?
23 “Turn to my reproof,
Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you;
I will make my words known to you.