Sunday, October 31, 2010

Proverbs 31 – Wisdom’s Resounding Conclusion

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,

but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

~Proverbs 31:30 (NRSV).

This final chapter of Proverbs is a masterstroke penned in the character of Wisdom herself. It comes in two main sections which are about as divergent as two entities could ever be.

The Oracle of King Lemuel’s

Verses 1-9 of chapter 31 are attributed to Lemuel’s mother; in keeping with Proverbs’ Wisdom tradition, the teachings are handed down from a parent to the child via the oral tradition.

Three separate and compounding imperatives in verse 2 cast over the king an importance in the oracle being taught; one that is never to be lost on him. These are just as important to us too.

Like other areas in Proverbs—notably chapter 23 verses 29-35—the issues of drunkenness are deplored for their weakening of us and our characters. Drink in anything close to vast portions is for neither kings nor vassals; anyone with a hope does not have a part in inebriation (verses 4-7). Now, that’s a biblical statement on drinking and drunkenness if ever there was one.

The king is to “speak out” for the justice of those without voice, of “all children of passing away,” and of those who are poor and needy. Again, the device of compounding the imperative features (verses 8-9). Justice is the king’s most crucial pawn.

The Ode for a Capable Wife

The acid may very well be on the husband as much as the wife for this section. It almost appears that the writer of this section perceives it impossible for a woman to climb these heights of character, and yet she is described.

We are best being careful how we apply these standards, especially in such a tenuous area as marriage and family. And, still, we’re to consider them.

What are the qualities of this woman—this wife of a noble man?

She is Trustworthy in verses 11-12. She is safety for him, a partner who can reliably be leaned upon, for she is sponsored by the Lord.

She is Diligent in verses 13-19, 21-22, 24 and 27. Oh how Wisdom owes a significant part of her very self to this one trait, diligence. It is only right that the writer of these proverbs considers diligence such an important characteristic for the wife of a noble man that there are at least twenty-three lines of text dedicated to it.

Willing hands are hers and the tyranny of physical distance adds no anguish to her. Rising early is a treat to such a woman, one who is not only capable but willing to work hard for her entire family, including the leadership of the servant-girls. From dawn to dusk, and then beyond, she is still working, and she is prudently purchasing both perishables and land. She is not only mentally and emotionally strong, physical strength is hers too. And above all—a learner—she’s skilled too.

She is Kind and Generous in verse 20. Even if only one verse is dedicated to her kindness it is foundational in her service to all. She reaches out passionately and unreservedly. She also teaches kindness (verse 26).

She is Full of Faith in verses 21 and 25b. This woman doesn’t fear for her household. Her diligence has served her and now she can comfortably and confidently rest in her faith.

She is Her Children’s and Husband’s Delight in verses 28-29. What a leader of the family is this wife. Many might be apt at thinking the wife is not the leader; that the husband is. This view doesn’t take into consideration the vital leadership role of the wife and mother in every family. For the Proverbs 31 woman, her most excellent deeds have “surpassed them all,” in the context of others, in the esteem of her family. They have eyes and admiration only for her. How might present-day wives respond to such single-minded and single-sighted familial devotion?

Aligning The Woman with Wisdom (Who’s Personalised as a Woman)

Many chauvinists are unable to reconcile what was laid there nearly three thousand years; Wisdom is a Woman. The final two verses of the 900 or so sayings in Proverbs provide an excellent conclusion for they take us back to the beginning—back to the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:1-7).

The woman of Proverbs 31 seems quite tightly aligned—even as a practical manifestation—with the character that is raised up in Woman Wisdom.

“Praise” seems the connecting word-concept in verses 30-31 and this wife of a noble man is both praised for her work and she’s to be praised. Again I wonder, how might our contemporary “wives” respond to such praise? How might simply that augment marriages like no other thing?

Of two final verses—speaking not only of the wife of a noble man, but now of Wisdom itself—there is now a present majesty about them.

If we gave Wisdom “a share in the fruit of [our] hands,” via the wise way we do them, how might Wisdom repay us? How might we be inadvertently praised, recalling it is how we receive our praise that determines how wise we really are? (Proverbs 27:21)

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

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