The word “folly” occurs 23 times in Proverbs and only 16 times in the rest of the Bible. The dictionary defines folly as “a lack of good sense, understanding, or foresight; an act of foolishness; or a costly undertaking having an absurd or ruinous outcome.” I think that is exactly what Solomon had in mind as he advised against folly.
Over half of Proverbs’ verses that include “folly,” also pair it with the word “fool.” That gives the perspective that folly is foolishness.
Also, just like the word “simple,” “folly” is often contrasted with being “prudent.” This implies that prudence is the prescription for folly.
Interestingly, in one instance, Solomon personifies “folly” as a woman who is loud, undisciplined, and without knowledge. That is a most effective metaphor, explaining why folly is to be avoided.
Of course, there are the simple who may desire a woman like Folly, but that just wouldn’t be prudent — and Solomon repeated cautions against liaisons of that nature.
[23 occurrences of folly in Proverbs]
The word “simple” is found 14 times in Proverbs and only six other times in the entire Bible. The dictionary defines a simple person as a “simpleton” or a “fool.” However, the way “simple” is used in Proverbs seems to go beyond merely being a fool or a simpleton (that is, lacking common sense), but carries with it a lack of moral and ethical character.
Looking at these 14 occurrences reveals some reoccurring themes as someone who is foolish, who lacks understanding, judgment, knowledge, or wisdom, who is wayward, and who needs to be prudent. In fact, half of the verses in Proverbs that mention “simple,” also mention “prudent” or “prudence,” presenting it as a contrast to the “simple” or something that the “simple” should seek.
Fortunately, being simple is not an unchangeable condition, but a trait that can — and should be — overcome. The adages contained in the book of Proverbs are a good place to start.
[Mentions of “simple” in Proverbs]
In contrast to the sluggard, is the prudent person. The word “prudent” also predominates the book of Proverbs with 10 appearances, contrasted to only two in the rest of the Bible.
“Prudent” means “wise in handling practical matters; exercising good judgment or common sense; careful in regard to one’s own interests or conduct.” It seems that in many ways being prudent is the opposite of — and therefore the desired alternative to — being a sluggard.
Interestingly, half of the mentions of “prudent” specifically reference the male half of the population (“prudent man”), with only one to the female side (“prudent wife” — she is a gift from God). The remaining mentions are directed to all people.
Based on this disparity in gender mentions, one might assume that being prudent is a bigger issue for men than women — but that conclusion might not be prudent! The reality is that most everyone can improve in this area, that is, to be more prudent. Plus, it is easier (albeit shortsighted) to be a sluggard than prudent.
How might one’s prudent behavior honor God?
[Mentions of “prudent” in the Bible.]