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.

One thought on “A Tale of Three Women (Proverbs 8:1-3)

  1. Bob October 12, 2008 / 7:37 am

    Over this past summer I also “discovered” “three women of Proverbs” — this morning, I googled my idea to see if anyone has done the same work and found your post.

    After reading your post, I am going to add a fourth woman to my thoughts — the noble wife.

    I would like to humbly submit that there is a fourth woman, one that you might have missed. This woman is found in Proberbs 9:13-18. She is the foolish woman or the woman of folly.

    My reading and spiritual insight tell me that there are the following three women in the first half of Proverbs:
    The Adulteress – she is out to destroy anyone who falls into her trap.
    Wisdom – Those who find her find God — and ultimately a noble wife.
    The Foolish Woman – she means well — she just does not know anything of eternal value — so her invitations are just as deadly as the evil (adulteress) woman.

    The reason I bring this up is that there are many well meaning simple (foolish) people who give all kinds of unbiblical advice. That advice which I call “the world’s way” is destroying those who follow it.

    I’ve heard many times that we have three enemies: The devil, the world, and our flesh. I believe Proverbs speaks to the first two in the Adulteress woman and the Foolish woman.

    I’d like to know what you think about my insight.


    Bob H.

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