There is a great deal of difference between being simple and being stupid. To most of us the word “simple” conjures up thoughts of a near imbecile, or, as some would put it, a person who is several bricks short of a load. That is not what is meant by the term “simple” in the Book of Proverbs. Being simple is a stage in the development of every person, very much like adolescence. Everyone must go through the “simple” phase of life, just as they go through puberty. But simplicity is also a very dangerous time in life because those who are simple are so vulnerable and gullible. Furthermore, being simple is one short step from being a fool, so this critical period in life must be lived very carefully. Those of us who have already passed this point in life may now have children who fall into this category, but if not, we will nevertheless find it necessary to deal with those who are simple. Therefore, we too must listen well to the words of Proverbs as they define both the condition and the cure for those who are simple.
Our study of the simple will begin with an analysis of the passages in Proverbs which describe the character traits of the simple as well as the consequences and the cure of simplicity. We will then look at a case study of the simple given in Proverbs 7.From this we will attempt to derive some specific principles which will enable us to deal more effectively with the simple. I will also try to demonstrate that it was not simplicity which resulted in the fall of the simple in Proverbs 7. I believe that all men fall in the same way as the simple did in this account, and thus this passage will provide all of us with a lesson in avoiding needless temptation and the devastating results of sin.
Being simple is like having pimples--it comes with adolescence. Almost unconsciously we regard the simple as those who are young. Several Proverbs suggest by their parallelism that being simple is nearly synonymous with being young:
To give prudence to the naive [lit., simple], To the youth knowledge and discretion (1:4).
And I saw among the naive [lit., simple ones], And I discerned among the youths, A young man lacking sense (7:7).
If simplicity is a malady of the young, there are several implications to this truth which should be noted:
1. BEING SIMPLE IS NOT A SIN, BUT A PHASE IN ONE’S GROWTH TOWARD MATURITY. Everyone goes through the stage of being simple, just as all go through adolescence. It is not a sin to be simple, just as it is not a sin to be immature.
In I Corinthians 3, Paul was writing to the carnal Corinthian saints. When they were first converted these saints were described by Paul as “men of flesh,” as “babes” (I Cor. 3:1). As such, they could only handle milk, but not meat (I Cor. 3:2). There was no condemnation for this stage of immaturity because nothing more could be expected. But Paul was writing to them after considerable time had passed, and their immaturity had become carnality--willful ignorance and immaturity. While it was not wrong to be fleshy (babes), it was sin to be fleshly (carnal). What begins as immaturity can become carnality. As a rule, those who are simple in Proverbs are simply immature.
2. SIMPLICITY IS A STAGE IN ONE’S GROWTH; BUT ONE CANNOT REMAIN SIMPLE JUST AS ONE CANNOT REMAIN AN ADOLESCENT. As the Corinthian babes had to mature or become willfully carnal, so the simple must decide to become wise or he will become a fool. Because it is a phase of life, simplicity passes and grows into something else. No one can stay simple.
3. SIMPLICITY IS NOT REMEDIED BY TIME, BUT BY CHOICE. The “son” who is being taught by his father in chapter 1 is, I believe, simple; but his father is fully aware that this lad must make a choice, either to walk in the way of the wise or to follow evil men (or wicked women) in the path of folly. This change will not be brought about by the passing of time, but by a conscious decision (1:10,15,22-23). Wisdom does not evolve, a product of time and chance; it comes from the resolve to forsake folly and to pursue wisdom as a precious treasure.
4.WHILE SIMPLICITY IS NORMALLY A MALADY OF THE YOUNG, EVERY AGE HAS ITS PITFALLS. Do not think that once one has passed through the pitfalls of youth, all danger has passed. Madam Folly has in her bag of tricks a temptation for those of every age. Paul warns Timothy about the dangers of youthfulness (cf. I Tim. 4:12; 5:1-2; 6:11), but he has instructions for the older saints as well (cf. Titus 2:2-5). Today we are well aware of what has been called the “mid-life crisis.” This helps explain David’s fall into immorality (II Sam. 11). We will never outgrow temptation. Simplicity, however, does seem to be the malady of the young.
5. SIMPLICITY IS A CONDITION FRAUGHT WITH DANGERS. The simple face great danger as a result of three contributing factors:
The naive believes everything, But the prudent man considers his steps (14:15).
The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, But the naive go on, and are punished for it (22:3; cf. 27:12).
“How long, 0 naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge?” (1:22).
“For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, And the complacency of fools shall destroy them” (1:32).
The naive inherit folly, But the prudent are crowned with knowledge (14:18).
6. SIMPLICITY, WHILE A DANGEROUS MALADY, IS NOT AN INCURABLE ONE. There is hope for the simple, for not all who are simple succumb to the wiles of Madam Folly. Since simplicity is a phase in the normal growth and development of a young person, it is one that every wise man and women has passed through--successfully. Simplicity is something like Vanity Fair in Pilgrim’s Progress. Every pilgrim must pass through it, and while some will succumb to its temptations, others will pass through it and be stronger for the experience.
While Madam Folly seeks to lead astray those who are simple (7:6-26; 9:13-18), Dame Wisdom also calls to the simple, warning them of the dangers ahead and urging them to turn from folly and to seek wisdom (1:20-33; 8:1-36; 9:1-6). The solution for the simple is to turn from folly, to reject wicked men and refuse evil women, and to pursue wisdom (1:23; 2:1-11; 3:1-26; 4:1-27).
There is hope for the simple. They need not learn by personal failure, for they can be instructed by the sinful choices of others:
Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd, But reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge (19:25; cf. 21:11).
Furthermore, the Lord does sit idly by as the simple are being seduced. For those who fear the Lord and seek wisdom there is protection:
The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me (Ps. 116:6).
While the Lord may directly intervene for the preservation of the simple, the Scriptures are His primary means of protection:
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple (Ps. 19:7).
The unfolding of Thy words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple (Ps. 119:130).
My son, keep my words And treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, And my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” And call understanding your intimate friend; That they may keep you from an adulteress, From the foreigner who flatters with her words (Prov. 7:1-5).
While the simple face many dangers, they are not left to fend for themselves. Wisdom calls out to them with words of warning and a way of escape. The Scriptures are provided to make them wise. And God Himself preserves the simple who fear Him. The temptations which face the simple are no different than those faced by others, and God has provided all with a “way of escape” (cf. I Cor. 10:13).
We have attempted to summarize the teaching of Proverbs concerning the simple. In Proverbs 7 Solomon drives his point home by dramatizing the seduction of one simple fellow by Madam Folly, Verses 1-5 are the prologue, verses 6-23 the drama, and verses 24-27 the epilogue.21 Since we have already studied this chapter, focusing on the methods of Madam Folly, we will now concentrate on her victim, whom we shall name Sir Simple. Several observations will serve to clarify the reasons for his fall.
It took several readings of this passage for me to make a crucial observation: while Sir Simple fell, there were many others who were simple and did not. In verse 7 wisdom speaks of what she observed from her window: “And I saw among the naive, And I discerned among the youths, A man lacking sense.”
Sir Simple was one of a number of youths, whom Dame Wisdom could correctly call simple. Wisdom focuses attention on this young man because he, by his own waywardness, falls into sin. My point is that it was he alone, and not all those youths (all of whom were simple), who was seduced. The inference is clear: being simple is not the real problem--being sinful is. Sir Simple did not have to fall; he fell because of his own wrong choices. It is these choices which we will now look at more carefully.
In nature there are some creatures which do not stalk their prey but simply let their victim come to them. For example, some sea plants lure their prey toward them by appearing to be what they are not. Madam Folly, in chapter 7, does not stalk her prey, she waits for him to come to her. While Madam Folly was a wanderer, whose “feet do not remain at home” (v. 11), on this occasion, at least, she seems to be near her home (v. 8; cf. 9:14). Sir Simple was wandering about late at night, “passing through the street near her corner” (v. 8).
I do not think he was near her house by accident. It is my opinion that he wandered toward her house purposefully, knowing where she lived. There is a song which most of you know, a very romantic one, which has to do with a man standing on the street where the one he loves lives. Had that song been written in the days of Sir Simple, he might have been humming it the night he wandered down the street near the house of Madam Folly.
I am reminded of what I think was a true story of what an older man witnessed at a rock concert. There was a body of water nearby and the man indignantly declared that he was repulsed by the fact that a number of young people were bathing nude, and that he knew this was so because he had been watching them for hours--with binoculars. I think Sir Simple knew about Madam Folly because she was the talk of the town. He lingered about her house because he wanted to get a look at her, to see what sin was really like. I doubt very much that he planned to sin, or even wanted to initially, but he was looking for a thrill.22
Incidentally, this is typical of many, especially the immature who try to get as close to the flame as possible without getting burned. I don’t know how many times I have heard young people ask, in effect, “How far can I go?” Any time we seek to learn what the rules are, solely to come as close to breaking them as we can, we are courting sin. That is what I believe this young man was doing. If I have gone too far in what I have suggested, you will at least have to agree that if he did not actively seek out Madam Folly, neither did he flee from her. Many of us may prefer to be pure, but would like to be propositioned first, before we say no.
We cannot know the intentions of this young man as we wandered about in the darkest and most dangerous hours of the night. What we do know is that he was not deceived by Madam Folly. This woman was cunning, but not deceptive. Our text tells us that she was dressed like a harlot (v. 10).She was not a harlot, but an unfaithful wife. The reason she dressed like one was to appeal to what she knew Sir Simple was looking for. He was a thrill seeker. If he was not sophisticated enough to see what she wanted, she would dress in such a way that he could not miss it. Her approach was far from subtle. She brazenly greeted him with a kiss (v. 13), something a nice girl would never have considered doing to a stranger. She told him she was married (v. 19) and eager to drink the cup of love to the fullest (v. 18). She was anything but indirect. No matter how simple this young man was, he knew what she wanted. For whatever reason he ended up near her house, he could have (and should have) fled, once her intentions were known to him--but he stayed. He was seduced, but not deceived.
Suddenly he follows her, As an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool. I have made many quick decisions in my life, some of which I have later regretted. I can remember having a salesman sitting in our living room, urging my wife and me to make an immediate decision because his offer was only good for the moment. Sir Simple made a quick decision to follow Madam Folly, as it were, to the slaughter. To Sir Simple the spiced sheets of Madam Folly were like the carrot dangled before the ox as he is coaxed into the slaughter house (vv. 22-23). Fixing his attention only on the momentary pleasures offered by Madam Folly, Sir Simple had no sense of the danger ahead. He virtually pushed and shoved, hastening his own destruction.
While it is important to observe the Sir Simple’s decision was made on impulse, it is also necessary to point out that it was but the last of a sequence of sinful decisions finalizing what had already been set in motion. I have had the experience of buying only one house, but I learned that purchasing a house involves a series of decisions and signings. One first makes a formal offer and signs it; then there is a contract signed by both parties. Finally, some time later, there is the closing, when the papers are signed which transfer the ownership of the house to the buyer.
Sir Simple only “closed the deal” with his decision in verse 22. He unwisely strolled about town, in the wrong place and at the wrong time of night., He was, as they say, “looking for trouble.” When Madam Folly approached him and boldly propositioned him, he did not flee. She flattered him, and he liked it. She enticed him, and he pondered her proposition. She assured him that a night with her would be both sensual and safe, and he believed her.
My point is that none of us should ever willingly put ourselves in the position of having to make a decision with Madam Folly standing before us on a lonely street corner in the middle of the night. Decisions made in these circumstances are exceedingly dangerous. Once we have determined to court sin, going as far as we can without getting caught, we are an easy prey for Madam Folly. How much easier it would have been for Sir Simple to have decided to go home and go to bed, than to “stand on the corner, watching all the girls go by.”
I have deliberately saved what I believe to be the initial step in this sequence of sins until last. Verses 24-27 urge the simple to listen to the warning of wisdom, and to turn from the path of Madam Folly. The end of that path is inevitably death and destruction. But why is it that Sir Simple made his way merrily down that path without any sense of danger? Was he so ignorant of the danger? Verse 25 provides us with a significant clue: “ Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths.” The problem was in the heart of Sir Simple, not his head.
My son, keep my words, And treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, And my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” And call understanding your intimate friend; That they may keep you from an adulteress, From the foreigner who flatters with her words.
It was not so much a decision of willful disobedience as one of default. He strayed into her path.6 Verses 1-5 of chapter 7 teach us that while Sir Simple fell due to a deliberate choice, the sequence of sinful choices begin with his neglect of wisdom. Take a closer look at these verses.
This wise father urged his son to diligently pursue wisdom through conscientiously adhering to the teaching he had given him. His commandments should be treasured, his teaching carefully guarded (“as the apple of your eye,” v. 2).23 This teaching should not go “in one ear and out the other,” but should be etched into his conscious memory and frequently meditated upon. Not only should this son master the law which his father had taught him, but he should allow the law to master him. It should be written on his heart (v. 3).
The first three verses of chapter 7 have much in common with Deuteronomy 6. Notice the words which God spoke through Moses to the Israelites:
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teaching them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on you hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write then on the door posts of your house and on your gates”(Deut. 6:5-9; cf. also vv. 20-25).
This wise father has done what Moses commanded in the Book of Deuteronomy. He has taught the law of God to his son, and now he exhorts him to make this teaching his own to treasure it and to live in obedience to it.
It is much more than just adopting the faith of his father; it is coming to value the wisdom of God as the most precious possession in life. Indeed, it is the possession of life (cf. 3:18). Because of this, this son should seek the most personal and intimate relationship with Dame Wisdom (7:4).The way of wisdom is not an academic pursuit, but a deep commitment and an intimate relationship. Wisdom is to be viewed as a “sister.” I personally understand this term “sister” in the same sense in which it is employed by the same writer, Solomon, in the Song of Songs (4:9,10,12; 5:1,2), where his “sister” is his bride and lover. Wisdom is to be sought as a lover and intimate friend. Wisdom will have no casual relationship with those who would be wise, nor is she a “stranger in the night,” as is Madam Folly.
This kind of relationship with Dame Wisdom is the preventative for the folly recorded in verses 6-27. The difference between Sir Simple and the other simple souls mentioned in verse 7 is that he had chosen to disregard the wisdom of God’s word, and his fall was the final outcome. Thus, while the fall of Sir Simple seems to occur in verse 22, it really began long before when he failed to value wisdom and casually neglected it. It was when this simple fellow chose to neglect wisdom that he began to walk in the way of folly. While its deadly end was not then in sight, it was inevitable.
Here is a tragic truth, but one that must be underscored: Sir Simple did not fall because he was simple, but because he chose to neglect the truth of the Word of God and the Wisdom of God. As Proverbs repeatedly informs us, the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10; cf. 1:7). Those who fail to value the teachings of the Word of God set themselves on a course which inevitably leads to destruction and death. That ultimate destruction is not immediately apparent, however, for:
There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death (14:12).
May I ask you very candidly, my friend, which way are you on? Perhaps you have consoled yourself by thinking that you have not rejected Christ so much as you have chosen to delay a decision. You may have intended to think more of spiritual things, but you really have never gotten around to it. The danger does not seem apparent to you, just as it did not to Sir Simple. Because of your indifference to the wisdom which God has offered in the person of His Son (Col. 2:3) you have become insensitive to the destruction which lies ahead. Such decisions by default are both deadly and damning. Sir Simple has shown us the folly of his way.
I want to ask you to do something this very moment. I urge you to face the fact that the passing of time will not bring you any nearer to salvation. If you are on the way of folly, every day takes you farther away from God and renders you that much more insensitive to the Word of God. Granted, God is able to dramatically break into your life, as he did into Saul’s on the road to Damascus. But the difference between you and Saul is that he was deceived by thinking that he was really serving God by killing Christians. You are not as deceived by sin as you are seduced by it. You, like Sir Simple, know that what you are doing is wrong, but you are choosing to do it anyway. I encourage you to make a decision this very hour, as though it were your last opportunity, for it may well be. Acknowledge your sin, flee from the path of folly, and trust in Jesus Christ as God’s provision for your salvation. He died in the sinner’s place, taking your guilt and punishment. By trusting in Him as God’s provision of righteousness you will be saved. To reject Him is to reject life. To delay this decision is to continue on in the way that leads to destruction.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).
My Christian friend, let us learn the lesson from Sir Simple that sin frequently occurs sequentially. That is the lesson which James sought to teach in his epistle:
Let no on way when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt any one. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (James 1:13-15).
God warned the Israelites of old that when they entered into the Promised Land and began to enjoy prosperity they would become complacent and would neglect their relationship with Him (Deut. 6:10-19). The Book of Judges records numerous examples of how the people of God neglected their spiritual lives when things were too comfortable. Neglect of God’s Word is also the first step in the downfall (not the loss of salvation) of a Christian. The church at Ephesus, had lost its initial love of God (Rev. 2:4).The saints there had not denied Him, but had become complacent and had lost the fervor of their love, which resulted in a spiritual decline.
Some among us may already have lost their first love of the Lord Jesus and His Word. While the destructive results of this may not yet be evident, they are, in my estimation, inevitable. David did not make a snap decision to sin with Bathsheba, though it may seem so. David was laying around the palace, basking in his success as a military leader, while his army was away fighting his battle in his absence (II Sam. 11:1). David should never have been laying around in bed in the first place. Had he been fulfilling his obligation as Israel’s king and military leader, he would not have been at home, lusting after another man’s wife. Probably even before this, David had grown cold in his walk with the Lord. His most fervent and passionate psalms were those written during his days of suffering and persecution under the cruel hand of Saul. But now things were going well--too well. Sin is sequential. Almost imperceptible flaws and decisions of default will eventually and ultimately lead to disaster.
Christian friend, if you will be honest, as I also must be, we should all admit that it is the tendency of our hearts, like Sir Simple, to wander from God and to neglect His precious Word. As the hymn writer put it, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the One I love.” Is that you, my friend? It is me. Let us learn from this passage that sin often is conceived long before it is born.
I have been impressed with the fact that the first nine chapters of Proverbs are almost entirely devoted to extolling wisdom and exhorting the reader to pursue it as the most valuable treasure one can acquire. Diligence and discipline are required to obtain it, but it is worth every effort. Why is so much time and effort spent to establish this point? Sir Simple has reminded us that we are inclined not to regard wisdom as highly as we must if we are to talk in the way of wisdom. Sir Simple disregarded wisdom because it was not that valuable or important to him. We disregard the Word of God and our relationship with the Lord for the same reason. No one is willing to make the sacrifices wisdom requires without first regarding it as worth the effort.
To me, this is one of the compelling reasons for worship. When we worship our Lord we concentrate on His infinite worth--His grace, His power, His love, His sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. Worship reminds us of who God is and of the infinite privilege of knowing and serving Him. Worship rekindles our desire to serve Him, regardless of the cost. We only disregard what we fail to value. Worship reorients our priorities and our value structure so that we desire to please Him at any cost.
This also serves to rebuke those of us who would seek to promote the Gospel by minimizing its cost. In one sense, salvation costs men nothing, for we cannot contribute anything to it by our works (Eph. 2:8-9). But while our salvation is free, it was not cheap, for it was obtained at the cost of the shed blood of our precious Lord. Becoming a Christian is no simple matter of giving mental assent to the fact of the Gospel. To be saved, men must not only believe certain things about Him, they must believe in Him, as God’s only provision for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Becoming a Christian involves much more than a once-in-time decision, as important as that is. Being saved is choosing to walk in a new way. It involves repentance--the forsaking of sin, and following the Lord Jesus as His disciple. When we minimize the cost of discipleship, we imply that being saved is not all that important. I find the Book of Proverbs stressing both the value of wisdom and the need for diligence and devotion on the part of those who would be wise. Let us never diminish the value of our salvation, nor imply that following the Savior is a matter of minimal commitment and cost.
And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” And another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62).
May God enable us to follow Him, whatever the cost, knowing that no sacrifice is ever too great when compared with the joy of knowing and serving Him.
22 Delitzsch believes that Sir Simple loitered about the corner of Madam Folly, waiting and watching for her. He says, “On the street he went backwards and forwards, yet so that he kept near to her corner (i.e. of the woman who he waited for), i.e. he never withdrew himself far from the corner of her house, and always again returned to it.” Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans [photolithoprinted], 1968), I. p. 159.
23 The pupil of the eye upon whose undamaged condition the sense of sight depends, and consequently something to be guarded with the utmost care. “A. Cohen, Inaignha (London: The Soncino Press, 1946), P. 39.