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Proverbs: Wisdom is a Woman?

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The authors of Proverbs were no dummies. One would hope not, since they were writing about wisdom. In targeting young men, they personified wisdom as a woman.

20Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
21on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:

Evidently, Lady Wisdom is eloquent, too. She speaks in the most public places she can–out in the open, in the public square, on top of a wall, at the city gate. It’s like she’s Sam I Am from Green Eggs and Ham, going wherever necessary to receive an audience. Luckily, she’s not offering free samples of said meal. She’s offering a change.

When I was dating Jamie, she didn’t have to make herself accessible like this. I was already attracted to her. But with wisdom, there is some attraction necessary. And yet, she doesn’t express her message in an endearing way. She’s harsh and rebuking.

22“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
24But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
25since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
26I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
27when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

Those who are simple and foolish have been so for too long, she says. It is time for repentance. Do this and she will teach. This is a huge point–we are all in need of repentance of foolish ways, and we will not be able to hear the voice of wisdom until we do. We won’t be able to do what wisdom requires until repentance does its work in us.

She continues. Apparently no one is listening to her or has listened to her in the past. Since this is the case (vv. 24-25), she will laugh. She does not laugh at the disaster, but, “at the triumph of what is right over what is wrong when your disaster happens” (Waltke, Pr. 1-15, NICOT). Disaster is coming. It is, in the worldview of the ancients, a natural result of foolishness and failure to heed wisdom’s call.

We are so accustomed to political correctness and tolerance that many of us “scoff” at these verses. But perhaps we are the ones who need to be laughed at. It will do us some good and remind us that not every idea is valid, not every meme or video we see accurately portrays a situation, and that we are not inherently wise.

28“Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me,
29since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
30Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
31they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm” (Proverbs 1:20-33, TNIV).

Lady Wisdom’s last words (until we hear from her again in chapter 8) are sad. She warns there will come a point when it is too late for the simple, naive person to change his/her ways. And again, she’s not talking about death. Life and death are fruits of wise and foolish living. Death will come, but it will not be the reason that the foolish have run out of chances to repent. Her strong language bears this out: they ‘hated’ knowledge and ‘did not choose’ to fear the Lord. They ‘spurned’ rebuke. She had called and they refused to listen (v. 24); now when they call, she will not answer (v. 28).

I am convinced that the motive for fearing the Lord goes beyond wanting to live in safety. And yet, part of God’s covenant with Israel was a gift of the land and peace. We see throughout Israel’s history exile, judgment, and war as they do not choose the fear of the Lord. So verse 33 makes perfect sense. At the same time, we choose wisdom because in doing so, we are choosing God’s way of living, trusting that the God who created both us and wisdom knows what is best. Regardless of our quality of life or safety, we live in such a way that we do not have to search out wisdom, but rather are attracted to it like a young man to a woman.

Ordo Salutis: False Narratives into True

What we’re really doing when we are concentrating on our ideas, images, gaining new information and using our ability to think is rejecting false narratives we used to believe and exchanging them for true narratives. This doesn’t sound super-Scriptural or super-spiritual, but it is a quite practical application of one of the meanings of repentance.

Getting rid of false narratives was one of Jesus’ hopes when he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He was calling the crowds to reconsider an old narrative–my sinful life prohibits me from participation in the rule and reign of God. Jesus said, A) turn from your sin, and B) know that it is for you that God’s kingdom has come, and you must enter it.

Perhaps the very thing that stops us today from choosing to enter the kingdom is the false narrative we have believed about God or ourselves.

James Bryan Smith, in his Apprentice Series, outlines several false narratives prevalent in Christian circles. Here are three of them.

False Narrative True Narrative Scripture
God is an angry judge. If you do well, you will be blessed; if you sin, you will be punished. God is good. Matthew 5:45; 19:17; John 9:2-3
God hates sin so much he will send you to hell for just one unconfessed sin. God is trustworthy as our Abba Father. Matthew 6:9-11; Mark 14:36; Romans 8:28
God needs us to earn His favor and will only give His forgiveness and love to those who deserve it. God is generous with His grace to us. Matthew 20:1-15; Romans 5:8

The hardest part of narratives is that they are so deeply engrained in us that they are subconscious. We don’t think about them, we just think them. And yet, with God’s grace, He can transform and renew our minds so that these ideas are not the ones we choose to trust, but rather, we choose to trust the One who gave us the capacity to think in the first place.

Ordo Salutis: Renewing the Mind

For those who are Christians, we think of spiritual formation as grounded in the work of God at salvation. God has already saved us but he has not finished saving us. Ordo Salutis Repentance

The mind is where we begin. Before our conversion, our thoughts were directed by sinful hearts. Now they are directed by a regenerated heart, capable of loving God…and yet our minds need “renewed.”

Our thoughts involve four things, according to Dallas Willard:

1. Ideas: Patterns of interpreting reality. They may involve beliefs. They are shared by those who know. Examples are freedom, education, happiness, the American dream, progress, death, home, government, church, fairness, God, etc. We all have ideas of what these things are and should be. We cannot precisely define ideas: they are hard to pinpoint and yet we try to define them as a way to control them. For example, whoever can define “marriage” in our country can control who is allowed to be married. We are largely blind to our ideas; but exploring what we think of as “natural” or “obvious” shows us just where our ideas lie. Our idea systems need to be transformed. For example, if we once thought of “blacks” as people inferior to “whites,” this is something God must work on in us.

2. Images: Images are tied to ideas but are not abstract. They are concrete. Images evoke emotions. When we think of an idea, we have an image that runs through our head. Jesus chose one image–the cross–and made it the most powerful image in the world. Again, our images must be transformed.

Dallas Willard says, “When [Satan] undertook to draw Eve away from God, he did not hit her with a stick, but with an idea. It was the idea that God could not be trusted and that she must act on her own to secure her own well-being” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 100).

Part of spiritual formation is rewiring our minds to have new ideas and images of God too. The other two areas of thought help us to break the power of our toxic ideas and images.

3. Information: The first task of Jesus in the gospels, in his public ministry, was to proclaim to people the availability of entrance into God’s kingdom, to give them new information about eternal life in God. Jesus had to combat false information about God in his teaching and proclaiming. Just as Jesus gave us information about God, so we need to know who God is.

4. Ability to think: Dallas Willard defines thinking as “the activity of searching out what must be true, or cannot be true, in the light of given facts or assumptions” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 104). He says, “The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well” (p. 105). Today, we easily dismiss those who think about God as people disconnected from real life. But perhaps this is because we have not taken the time to think about how we think. We all think. And our minds are no less important than any other parts of us. Those who think this way are like the Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia who produced the “killing fields,” where anyone with any sign of education, even those who simply wore glasses, were killed in the late 1970s.

Scripture uses the phrase “renewing of the mind” when it speaks of our mind’s transformation.

Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

Ephesians 4:20-24: That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 

Note that in both passages, the renewing of the mind is contrasted with the sinful thought patterns of this world. It is combined with other acts of putting off the old self and putting on the new self. The renewing of the mind, then, can be thought of practically as changing our ideas and images with new information and the ability to think (with the assistance of the Holy Spirit).

Ordo Salutis 4: Repentance

After we acknowledge our sin, it is time to repent of it. Generally this all happens in one moment, but we have to know the difference between confession or acknowledgment and repentance.

John Wesley called repentance a “change of heart from all sin to all holiness.” Where once we had lived in sin with little thought of God, now we have had a change of mind. Sin must be forsaken, God must be followed. The true end of repentance is a change of mind. For sure it involves an awareness of our sinful condition and a conviction that we must do something in response to it, in cooperation with God. But in the end, repentance is a function of the mind where our thoughts are changed.

Repentance has been one of the elementary teachings about Christ since the time of the early church (see Heb. 6:1). We repent by turning from our former way of life and turning toward the God who can save us from it. Repentance must come before any initial, true belief in Christ and it must come before further spiritual formation as Christians. Oden writes, “Godly repentance refuses to be comforted until the work of conviction is thoroughly done. It is a radical act of self-examination reaching into every chamber of the house of willed experience…. Repentance includes both contrition and reformation–not only a genuine sorrow for sin, but also a desire to make reparation for sin to counteract the consequences of our previous decisions so as to show forth fruits fitting to repentance” (Classic Christianity, p. 572).

One can confess sin and acknowledge sin and still not repent. I can say that I’ve been wrongly angry with my children, but until I repent of this sin, I will continue in a pattern of anger without a heart softened and changed by the mercy of God. God’s mercy will not flow through me to my kids on a regular basis; I may be able to control my anger from time to time, but this is a matter of willpower, not an act empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said in Luke 5:32, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” At the end of the very first Christian sermon, Peter said that the proper response to the gospel was, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).

Other passages about repentance include:

  • Ezra 9: Ezra prays a prayer of repentance for Israel’s sin of intermarriage with women from other nations.
  • Psalm 51: David’s prayer after his adultery with Bathsheba is one of the most powerful prayers of repentance.
  • Daniel 9: Daniel prays a prayer of repentance for the sins of Israel, noting God’s mercy and ability to forgive.
  • Luke 15:17-21: The prodigal son repents to his father for running off.
  • Luke 18:13: The tax collector who prays for mercy because he knows full well he is a sinner, in contrast to the Pharisee who is self-righteous.

Repentance in the sense of turning from sin and turning to God is the natural next step after hearing the good news of God. There is no other response. What about repentance after you become a Christian?

One of the answers to this question is that we remain sensitive to our sins through the witness of the Holy Spirit. We turn from them as we are made aware of them. Another answer is that repentance is a necessary part of salvation, but that it does not stop there. At this point in the ordo salutis (way of salvation), repentance refers to the repentance of the sinner. This step cannot be skipped, however uncomfortable we are with it. The context may change, but the call must remain.

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