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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.

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Proverbs: Living the Garland Life

series-on-proverbs-blog-001We think we are so cool when we are young. At least I did. As a teenager, I remember feeling like this was the life. I was in control of my time, where I went, my tribe of friends, and I looked good doing it. Okay, that last one is debatable.

The audience of Proverbs was, as we saw last time (Pr. 1:4), primarily “the simple.” In modern terms, the teenager. While it seems like teens stay that was well into their twenties, that’s a different topic.

In Hebrew culture, the simple person was moldable, immature, and could be easily swayed into becoming either wise or foolish. Being a simpleton was a fact of life for every person at some stage of their development, as is true today. It was vitally important that these young men hear the words of their parents and other wise people who had lived life ahead of them and learned how to act wisely.

In Proverbs 1:8-19, we see the first of several mini-sermons or exhortations written to this group of simple, young boys on their way to manhood. They are addressed from a father (and mother) to a son.

8Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
9They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck (Pr. 1:8-9, TNIV).

Listen! Code for catch what I’m about to tell you and obey it. It is interesting that the father’s and mother’s teachings are placed on the same level–they have equal weight and authority. These verses introduce all of 1:8-9:18, giving the impression that it all falls under parental wisdom.

The very first thing these simple young boys needed to hear was that this teaching was a garland for the head, a chain for the neck. Not “like” a garland, but a garland. Since the only time we grab garland is at Christmas, this doesn’t quite inspire obedience. “Oh, yeah, I’d better listen to my dad. Is that garland pre-lit?”

Since Proverbs draws on wisdom literature from other cultures, some of the imagery we find has its background there. The garland and chain were one example. In Egypt, the garland and chain were given by one of their gods to a person prior to his death if he had lived in that god’s service. It was a symbol of being granted eternal life. They would also symbolize to others that this person lived for the god and therefore was not going to be swayed into immoral behavior.

The point is this: Listen to our teaching and you’ll be headed down a path that ultimately leads to God. Live by it, and others will know that you are not chasing after the foolish things of this life.

I think back to my parents. They didn’t give me a garland–that might’ve made the teenage years even more awkward than they already were–but they did instill in me the need to differentiate myself from “the crowd” by living for God. And I’m glad they did.

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