Oct 28th, 2018
Hello and welcome to episode 97 of The Berean Manifesto, brought to you by The Ekklēsian House. This is Pastor Bill and over the next 10 minutes or so we’re going to finish up our series in Proverbs taking a look at the 31 Woman.
Have you ever noticed when you’re walking or driving, you tend to drift in the direction you’re looking? Is that just me? Of course not just me, it’s everyone. And in the same way, we get distracted by the latest fashions, the newest gadgets, or the latest TV shows, game updates. Just all this stuff. You walk through the mall and you’re pulled in all these different directions. You watch TV and you’re pulled in all these different directions. You look at things online and you’re pulled in all these different directions. Everything demands our time, money, and attention. They look fulfilling or helpful, but many of them are designed to last for only a season. The writer of Proverbs spends a good amount of effort to remind us that wisdom transcends the superficial, the fleeting, the seasonal (Proverbs 31:30). But, when we pursue wisdom the way we would pursue a romantic relationship, wisdom will captivate us. The more deeply we study wisdom, the more attractive wisdom will become to us, and the easier it will become to make wise choices.
Proverbs 31:10–31 is probably one of the most misunderstood and misused passages in the book of Proverbs. This passage is often taught to women in the church as a list of things they must do to be a good spouse. Teaching this passage as a checklist for wives can lead women to feel inadequate. There are those who feel empowered by it. The list is long, and the tasks demanding. One person carrying out all of them would never be able to rest or have ample time to enjoy her family and life. We shouldn’t discount the wisdom in carrying out the tasks listed in the passage, but we must remember the writer of Proverbs is using common tasks of the day and time that he was around to represent wisdom in the fullness of its splendor.
The book of Proverbs was written to the writer’s son. This particular passage is an acrostic poem the writer uses this acrostic poem to describe wisdom’s desirable qualities by comparing wisdom to a good wife. Each phrase in this section starts with a letter of the alphabet starting with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph, and ending with the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, tav. Poems, and especially acrostic poems, often use idyllic imagery and hyperbolic statements to extoll the attributes of their subjects. In other contexts, we view this type of poetry as cute and don’t generally take it all that seriously. Likewise here, it’s unlikely the author literally intended for one woman to carry out every task listed. If we are going to assume we are speaking of real qualities of a spouse, we should, at the very least, read this passage as an amalgam of the best traits possessed by many spouses the author has observed.
Many courthouses display a statue of Lady Justice. We display the statue as a visual representation of Justice’s attributes. She is blindfolded to keep her impartial. She holds a scale in one hand, which she uses to measure the weight of each side’s argument, and she carries a sword to remind us her decisions are final. Reading every line of Proverbs 31:10–31 as a literal representation would be like saying our court systems are operated by literal blindfolded women who place arguments on a scale and then dispatch the guilty party with their swords. Who knows one day some archeologist in the future may dig up one of these statues and claim that’s exactly what our culture did.
Reading Proverbs 31:10–31 in harmony with the rest of the book leads us to understand the specific tasks listed are used to bridge the gap between wisdom as an abstract concept and the physical fruits of a wise person’s work. Both men and women will benefit from the blessings wisdom brings. I’m not going to sit here and say there isn’t anything in these verses to aspire to. Far from that. But we should, as a culture, move away from the “cosmic female to-do list” interpretation and begin to ask how we all can better reflect the character of the wisdom portrayed throughout the bible. I don’t have anything against someone wanting to call themselves a Proverbs 31 wife, or aspiring to be a Proverbs 31 woman. As long as you are using it in the spirit that it was intended; as a tool to increase your relationship with wisdom and to give you a grasp on life. Not a to-do list that you may or may not measure up to.
Back to the romantic pursuit of wisdom, if you go on a date and the person you are out with hands you a list of rules as soon as you meet, the relationship is not likely to go very far. If you want to learn about someone, you spend time with them. You do things together. You learn what foods they like, what they like to do in their spare time. Are they into sports or video games? Do they like sushi or BBQ? Are they a Target or a Wal-Mart person? Do they like mega-churches or do they like more small group style churches? Over time, you learn what they like. Wisdom in its complexity is just like that. We do not learn wisdom by simply memorizing dos and don’ts and the jots and the tittles in the book of Proverbs. We learn to respond to who is in front of us and what is going on around us. Spend some time with wisdom, pursue her.
This is Pastor Bill saying, “Until next time…”