Woman Wisdom’s Party (Proverbs 9:1-6)

My wife is the best party-thrower I know. The house looks great, the food tastes great, and everyone has a great time. Excellence characterizes every aspect of a party by Tiffany.
I thought of Tiffany’s parties when I read Proverbs 9:1-6, which describes a party thrown by Woman Wisdom.
Verse 1 describes its location:
Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn out its seven pillars.
They key word in this verse is seven. Although modern people do not attach symbolic importance to numbers (except perhaps the number 13), ancient people did. The number 7 is a number of perfection. Symbolically, then, this proverb is describing the perfection or excellence of wisdom. The life of wisdom is a well-built house, perfect and excellence in all its dimensions.
Verse 2 describes the food Woman Wisdom serves.
She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
In the ancient world, meat was a luxury for all but the very rich. A party with meat was a feast indeed. Mixed wine—i.e., wine sweetened by spices—contributed to the joviality of the party. And a well-set table bespoke the hostesses’ wealth and extravagance. Wisdom, the Book of Proverbs is saying, is rare but delicious, a cause for joy, and a sight to behold.
Verses 3-4 describe the guests whom Woman Wisdom invites to her party.
She has sent out her maids, and she calls
from the highest point of the city.
“Let all who are simple come in here!”
she says to those who lack judgment.
In the ancient world, “the highest point of the city” (in Greek, the Acropolis) always contained a Temple. The highest point of any city was the place where God (in Israel’s case) or the gods (in the case of pagan nations) held court among human beings. By identifying Woman Wisdom’s house with “the highest point of the city,” Proverbs is drawing a tight connection between wisdom and God, between common sense and religion.
And whom does God, personified as Woman Wisdom, invite into his presence? “All who are simple” and “those who lack judgment.” A good deal of Proverbs distinguishes the wise person from the fool. A simple person is somewhere in between. They could go to either extreme, but for now, they are undecided. Woman Wisdom’s goal is to encourage such people—especially simple you men—to choose her. In the ancient world, such an invitation by a woman to a man was brazen; it was an invitation to intimate relationship. But that is what Woman Wisdom wants. She wants to know and be known by us at every level of her being; or rather, this is what God wants at every level of his being.
Finally, verses 5-6 describe what happens at Woman Wisdom’s party:
“Come, eat my food
and drink the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways and you will live;
walk in the way of understanding.”
The good-life journey begins when we accept Woman Wisdom’s invitation (“Come”). It continues as we enjoy the moral and spiritual truths she has prepared (“food” and “wine”). And it ends in life.
Won’t you come to Woman Wisdom’s party?

God’s Wisdom in Person (Proverbs 8:22-31)

Proverbs 8:1-9:16 personifies God’s wisdom as a woman. Some feminist theologians think that more than personification is at work in these verses. They believe that Woman Wisdom is in fact a feminine deity who exists alongside God, and they name her Hokmah (the Hebrew word for Wisdom) or Sophia (the Greek word for the same).
I have several problems with the feminist interpretation of this text. For one thing, biblical religion is monotheistic (Deut. 6:4). One of the key differences between Israel and the surrounding nations is that the latter had many gods, both male and female, while the former did not. The Old Testament is relentless in its criticism of polytheism. The feminist interpretation of Woman Wisdom does an end-run around this critique, and introduces pagan notions into the Bible.
For another thing, while Woman Wisdom is a personification of God’s wisdom, Jesus Christ is God’s wisdom in person. Personification is a literary technique by means of which abstract notions and qualities are given human form. Incarnation, on the other hand, is the miracle through which the person of God takes on a human nature.
In several places, the New Testament alludes to Proverbs 8:22-31 as it draws a theological portrait of Jesus Christ: John 1:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:24; Colossians 1:15-17, 2:3; Hebrews 1:1-4). Of these passages, Colossians 1:15-17 contains the most obvious conceptual parallels with Proverbs 8:22-31. Here’s what it says:
He [i.e., Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
In Proverbs 8:22-26, wisdom is “the first of [God’s] works.” In Colossians 1:15, Jesus Christ is “the firstborn overall creation.” In Proverbs 8:27-31, wisdom is “the craftsman” at God’s side as he creates the universe. In Colossians 1:16, it is “by [Jesus Christ] all things were created.” In Proverbs 8:15-16, Woman Wisdom says:
By me kings reign
and rulers make laws that are just;
by me princes govern,
and all nobles who rule on earth. 
But according to Colossians 1:16, all things were created by Jesus Christ, including “thrones,” “powers,” “rulers,” and “authorities.” Although there is no direct quotation of Proverbs 8:22-31 in Colossians 1:15-17, it is hard to escape the conclusion Paul wants to draw: Woman Wisdom = God’s wisdom = Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s wisdom in person.
Now, this is all very interesting theology, but what—you might ask—is the practical value of this conclusion? Yesterday, I wrote that wisdom is the grain of the universe; if you work against it, you get splinters. The practical value of today’s theology lesson is that rejecting Jesus Christ is working against the grain of the universe. Accepting him is the beginning of wisdom, for he is in fact “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

The Grain of the Universe (Proverbs 8:22-31)

Why is the good life a life of wisdom? Because wisdom is the grain of the universe. As long as you work with the grain, all is well. When you work against the grain, however, you get splinters.
In Proverbs 8:22-31, Woman Wisdom describes the role she played in creation. Some feminist theologians think Proverbs is here speaking of a feminine deity who exists along side God, a Mother Earth to his Father Sky. I think that reads way too much into the text. Woman Wisdom is simply a personification of God’s wisdom.
She is personified as a woman because young men—who are the intended readers of Proverbs—are attracted to women, and Proverbs wants them to be attracted to the right sort of woman. (Indeed, as I wrote earlier, Proverbs has three basic women: the noble wife, the adulteress, and Woman Wisdom. It’s almost as if the book is saying, “Get a good wife, and the best wife is Wisdom.”)
Anyway, back to the role of wisdom in creation. Verses 22-26 describe Wisdom as “the first of [God’s] works.”
The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, 
before his deeds of old;
I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.
When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the earth or its fields
or any of the dust of the world.
Notice the “before” and “when” statements. Before God performed the “deeds” of creation and salvation, before water came into existence or mountains and hills were thrust upward by the shifts of earth’s tectonic plates, before elemental minerals were forged in earth’s fires, wisdom existed.
Indeed, verses 27-30a highlight the role wisdom played in bring such things—and many others—into existence:
I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was the craftsman at his side.
Wisdom is “[God’s] craftsman” who skillfully brought the world into being. Again, this description is a personification of God’s wisdom, not a literal Demiurge who exists separately from God and by means of which God created the world. (A literal Demiurge is a Platonic and Gnostic idea, not a biblical and Christian one.)
Finally, Woman Wisdom describes her joy in God’s handiwork.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.
This delight reminds us of the fundamental goodness of God’s creation. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31a). Joy, it seems, is also the grain of the universe.

Woman Wisdom’s Company (Proverbs 8:12-21)

You can tell a lot about people, whether good or bad, by the company they keep. Whom we associate with both reflects and reinforces our character. When we hang out with the wrong crowd, we reveal our character flaws, and our friends supersize our vices. On the other hand, when we hang out with the right crowd, we demonstrate good choices, and our friends magnify our virtues.
In Proverbs 8:12-21, Woman Wisdom talks about her friends and enemies, that is, the company she keeps and the crowds she avoids. Then she talks about how she influences others in their use of two easily abused divine gifts: power and wealth.
Let’s begin with verses 12-14:
I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have understanding and power.
Here’s a list of Woman Wisdom’s friends: Prudence, Knowledge, Discretion, Counsel, Sound Judgment, Understanding, and Power. This is not exactly the cheerleaders-and-jocks crowd, if you know what I mean. Instead, they are the student government leaders, business majors, and mathletes of the School of Virtues. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good people, but they’re not exactly popular, thrilling, or sexy. The virtues rarely are. They are very ordinary, they must be chosen, and they require discipline.
The vices, on the other hand, are popular, thrilling, and sexy. Who doesn’t love hanging out with the good-looking bad boys or the hot babes with the questionable reputations? The problem is, the more you get to know such people, the more you get to know what they’re really like. They’re filled with pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.
The virtues are plain on the outside but good at heart. The vices look good on the outside, but they’re rotten to the core. Woman Wisdom looks past the façade and sees the interior reality.
And then, she helps her friends reach their full potential in their use of power and wealth. According to verses 15-21:
By me kings reign
and rulers make laws that are just;
by me princes govern,
and all nobles who rule on earth. 
I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.
With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
My fruit is better than fine gold;
what I yield surpasses choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
bestowing wealth on those who love me
and making their treasuries full.
Notice in these verses that wisdom leads to power and wealth. The great issue in life is not whether we have power and wealth, but how we’ve gotten it and how we’re using it. The vices seek power and wealth as ends in and of themselves. The virtues know that Woman Wisdom’s friendship is what really matters. Power and wealth just happen to characterize the company she keeps.

Don’t Forget the Great Commission!

Over at the Christian Vision Project, Ajith Fernando pens a great reminder that evangelicals must not become so focused on doing good works that they forget to proclaim the good news of salvation. Here’s a sample:

I hear evangelicals talking a lot about justice and kingdom values but not proclaiming the gospel to those of other faiths and winning them for Christ. Of course, if someone asks them about Christianity, they will explain the gospel. Thus, some people will be converted to Christ through their witness.

But that is a woefully inadequate strategy. Most of the billions of people in the world who do not know Christ will not come and ask us. We need to take the initiative to go to them.

Earlier evangelicals emphasized proclamation, while liberals emphasized presence—living out our Christianity before the people among whom we live. I fear that the old "presence versus proclamation" battle has come back to the church, or will shortly. Some evangelicals are going down that same road, though they claim to believe in proclamation evangelism.

This is why I am calling for a fresh commitment to proactive evangelism. We can’t wait for people to come to us—we must urgently go to them. We must look for ways to make contact with them and use all our creativity and determination to communicate the gospel.

For my money, the best book-length treatment of this topic is Ron Sider’s Good News and Good Works.

Wisdom’s Incomparable Worth (Proverbs 8:4-11)

A few weeks back, a good portion of Southern California—from Santa Barbara to San Diego—was burning. My sister, brother-in-law, and nephew lived within a couple of miles of one of the fires. As it burned closer to their home, they prepared an evacuation kit, just in case they received a reverse 911 call telling them to flee.
If you had been in their situation, what would you have packed in your evacuation kit? Obviously, the wife, the kids, and the dog would be first on the list. But then what? How you answer that question depends on what you value most.
Proverbs 8:4-11 speaks of wisdom’s incomparable worth. Verses 10-11 describe its worth this way:
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
In the Bible, virtue is always more important than wealth. We don’t always have to choose between them, by the way. Indeed, one of the major themes of Proverbs is that the path of virtue often leads to wealth. But sometimes it’s hard to get excited about virtue when shiny, sparkly baubles are glittering in your eyes. That is why Proverbs emphasizes that we need to “choose” wisdom. Good sense is not a given; it’s an achievement, and like all achievements, it requires hard choices to be made.
Why is wisdom more worthy than wealth? Because it is associated with the authentically good life. Usually, “the good life” refers to our ability to purchase and use whatever we want, without financial worry. In the Bible, however, the good life is moral in nature. Look at how wisdom describes her words in verses 6-9:
Listen, for I have worthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
they are faultless to those who have knowledge.
Worthy, right, true, and just; never wicked or perverse—these are the adjectives which describe wisdom. You can instantly see why wisdom is more important than wealth by asking yourself a simple question: Would you rather have wealthy friends or friends characterized by these adjectives? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? If that’s what we want in our friends, shouldn’t that be what we desire for ourselves?
We end where Proverbs 8:4-11 begins, with verses 4-5:
To you, O men, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, gain understanding.
As I said earlier, wisdom is an achievement that must be chosen, not a given. Who can make that choice? Is wisdom the achievement of an elite few, or can everyone listen to her and learn? Proverbs is plain: it is available to “all mankind.” The only requirement is that we admit we’re “simple” and “foolish” enough to need it.

A Tale of Three Women (Proverbs 8:1-3)

The Book of Proverbs tells a tale of three women. The first is about the Adulteress, the woman we should avoid (Prov. 5:1-23, 6:20-35, and 7:1-27). The second is about the Noble Wife, whom we should marry (30:10-31). The third is about Woman Wisdom, to whom we should listen (8:1-9:18). It is precisely by listening to Woman Wisdom that we avoid the Adulteress and marry the Noble Wife.
We first meet Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 8:1-3:
Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gates leading into the city,
at the entrances, she cries aloud…
Notice several things about her:
First, and obviously, she is not a real woman. Wisdom literature, such as the Book of Proverbs, often personifies the virtues in order to make them accessible to the reader. It is one thing to theorize abstractly about wisdom and understanding. It is an entirely other thing to concretely picture them as a woman who wants your attention, especially if you are a young man badly in need of common sense.
Second, Woman Wisdom wants your attention badly enough to be loud and public about her intentions. Notice the verbiage used to describe Woman Wisdom’s intentions. She calls out. She raises her voice. She cries aloud. She wants to be heard. And not merely heard—she wants to be seen. Notice where she stands: on a high place, along the cross roads, besides the city gates, at the entrances. Wherever people in an ancient city might tend to congregate, there Woman Wisdom takes her stand. Those three words in and of themselves communicate her very deliberate intent to be seen.
And third, aside from the intent to be seen and heard, Woman Wisdom is unlike the Adulteress in every other way. Chapter 7 describes and warns against the Adulteress. And although the word but does not actually occur at the beginning of chapters 8-9, it might as well have, for the description of Woman Wisdom could not be more different than the description of the Adulteress. Just read these three chapters straight through in one sitting, and you’ll see what I mean.
But Woman Wisdom and the Adulteress are alike in two ways: They are loud and public about their intentions. Go back and read Proverbs 7:10-13:
Then out came a woman to meet him,
dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
(She is loud and defiant,
her feet never stay at home;
now in the street, now in the squares,
at every corner she lurks.)
She took hold of him and kissed him
and with a brazen face she said…
Interestingly, Woman Wisdom is loud and public outside the city, while the Adulteress is loud and public within it. Perhaps this is simply the Proverbist’s way of saying that you should listen to Woman Wisdom first, or the voice of the Adulteress may be the last one you hear.

The Witless and the Ruthless (Proverbs 7:6-23)

The Book of Proverbs contains three extended discourses on the perils of adultery (5:1-23, 6:20-35, and 7:1-27). What makes Proverbs 7:1-27 unique is that its warning is based primarily on observation, rather than commandment or common sense.
In verses 6-9, the father sets the stage:
At the window of my house
I looked out through the lattice.
I saw among the simple,
I noticed among the young men,
a youth who lacked judgment.
He was going down the street near her corner,
walking along in the direction of her house
at twilight, as the day was fading,
as the dark of night set in.
Is this young man looking for an adulterous liaison? The text does not say. But it tells us three things about him. He is a fool who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. (How often could we avoid sin simply by being smart about what we do with our time, and where?)
In verses 10-13, a prostitute takes an instant liking to this rube. (What hungry lioness can resist a slow wildebeest?)
Then out came a woman to meet him,
dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
(She is loud and defiant,
her feet never stay at home;
now in the street, now in the squares,
at every corner she lurks.)
She took hold of him and kissed him
and with a brazen face she said…
The young man might not be looking for trouble, but trouble is certainly looking for him. The father’s description of this woman makes it clear that she has no sense of propriety whatsoever. She kisses first, talks later.
 And what does she say (verses 14-20)?
“I have fellowship offerings at home;
today I fulfilled my vows.
So I came out to meet you;
I looked for you and have found you!
I have covered my bed
with colored linens from Egypt.
I have perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
Come, let’s drink deep of love till morning;
let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
My husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey.
He took his purse filled with money
and will not be home till full moon.”
The mention of “fellowship offerings” and “vows” could imply that this woman is a pagan shrine prostitute. But it is more likely that she is an errant wife with a lot of food left over from her fellowship offering at the Temple. (Unfortunately, many people are rigidly religious but loosely moral.) What she offers the young man is good food, a nice bed, all-night sex, and no interference from her spouse.
And he likes what she’s offering (verses 21-23):
With persuasive words she led him astray;
she seduced him with her smooth talk.
All at once he followed her
like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer stepping into a noose 
till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
little knowing it will cost him his life.
These verses make the prostitute out to be the bad girl. But don’t pity the young man too much! He didn’t seek wisdom, and the witless will fall to the ruthless every time.

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