Question: "Why are both wisdom and foolishness pictured as women in Proverbs?"
Answer: Chapter 9 of Proverbs uses personification to describe wisdom and foolishness as women. Why would the author use women as his examples?
The answer is found in the descriptions used of these two terms. Wisdom is discussed in Proverbs 9:1–12, where it is personified as a wise woman. This wise lady has built her house (verse 1), has prepared a great dinner (verse 2), and gives wisdom to those who lack it (verses 3–5).
The benefits to those who seek wisdom include becoming wiser and increasing in learning (verse 8). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (verse 10). Wisdom is even said to add years to one’s life (verse 11).
In Proverbs 9:13–18, folly is associated with a seductive woman. Folly (“foolishness” in some translations) is loud, seductive, and knows nothing (verse 13). She seduces the simple who pass by (verses 14–17). Those who turn to her find death (verse 18). In contrast to the lady Wisdom who provides fine food and wine, the woman Folly provides stolen water and bread eaten in secret (verse 17).
The ninth chapter of Proverbs, then, calls readers to embrace wisdom and to flee from folly or foolishness. Those who do receive many benefits, while those who do not will experience judgment.
These teachings resemble in some ways the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 22:1–14 and Luke 14:15–24 of responding in a positive manner to God’s Word. The call to wisdom also closely resembles the New Testament’s call to salvation.
Further, a chiastic structure is present in Proverbs 9 that highlights verses 7–12 as the central focus of the teaching. These verses include a clear call to the benefit of wisdom. Verse 10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, / and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
The personification of both wisdom and folly as two different women presents the benefits of wisdom and the judgment associated with folly. A woman of wisdom benefits her husband, just as a woman of folly can destroy a husband.
These words are written as advice from a father to a son (Proverbs 2:1; 3:1; 4:20; 5:1, 20; 6:20; 7:1), so the illustrations of two kinds of women are a powerful method to illustrate God’s wisdom. Reading these words in this context provides a deeper understanding of the passage and much application for life today.