The book of Proverbs is addressed to the sons of God – first to the princes of Israel and ultimately to Christ, and then to us in Him. This is not meant to be sexist but it is necessary for the literary devices employed by the book – devices like personification of God’s wisdom as woman wisdom. Remember that a particular addressee is not mentioned in the opening intro to the book because it is written for all Israel.
We were introduced to woman wisdom back in Proverbs 1. Within his ten speeches the father has mentioned how his son needs to seek out an intimate relationship with woman wisdom. In the larger context of Proverbs we remember that the book ends with a poem about the worthy woman. The worthy woman is the ideal wife for the faithful sons of God. As the ideal wife for the Christ, she points to the church. So we have to remember that Proverbs on one level is written for the prince who will become king, for young men, but is really also for all Israel.
Reading the book this way may suggest that woman wisdom and the worthy woman are related concepts. Remember the two ways to read the book – first as written to Christ and the woman is the church (embodying God’s wisdom) and second as written to us in Christ and the woman is God’s wisdom.
It is not much of a leap from this for men to consider the characteristics of the worthy woman for a wife. After all, remember Proverbs 5 where it was not yet all that clear whether we were talking about relationships between men and women or about the relationship between people and woman wisdom or woman folly. The father said about the foreign wife in Proverbs 5, ”Her feet go down to death, her steps follow the path to Sheol” (5:5).
Proverbs 6:20-35 was the lecture Waltke called, ”the high price of an unchaste wife.” It began as expected, ”Guard, my son, your father’s commandment, and do not let go of your mother’s teaching” (Prov 6:20, Waltke).
Proverbs 7, the tenth lecture by the father, he called, ”the unchaste wife’s seductive tactics.” By this speech it is clear that we are talking about the choice between woman wisdom and woman folly.
Waltke says that the poem of the unchaste wife (Proverbs 7) and the poem about woman wisdom (Proverbs 8) form a diptych. A diptych is two plates attached at a hinge.
The hinge connecting these two different poems is Proverbs 7:24-27 an 8:1-3 (cf. 1:20-21). The end of Proverbs 7 encourages the son to stay away from the unchaste wife and the beginning of Proverbs 8 to go listen to woman wisdom.
The unchaste woman and woman wisdom are competing for the youth/simple. But these two women are very different.
The unchaste woman tries to operate in the dark: ”in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness” (Prov 7:9). Woman wisdom operates in public: ”at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud” (Prov 8:2-3).
The unchaste woman ”with much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him” (Pro 7:21). Woman wisdom says, ”Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right, for my mouth will utter truth…” (Prov 8:6ff).
As Waltke puts it, ”the foreign wife leads her victims to slavery, impoverishment, and death; Wisdom’s speech leads her followers to kingship, wealth, and life. The foreign wife inhabits the earthly and mundane; Wisdom soars in heaven above space and time.”
He also says that the appeal of the foreign wife is erotic but the appeal of woman wisdom is Spiritual. She is called the foreign wife because she is married to another man and she is an adulteress.
The foreign wife’s home is a death trap (7:27) and woman wisdom’s mansion is life (8:35).
Such connections/contrasts assure that the reader will not divorce the father’s speeches from the poems about woman wisdom.
Thus Proverbs 1-9 is a unit, which is further shown by the way Proverbs 9 concludes the unit (more about that later).
Longman’s commentary emphasizes how Proverbs 8:12ff is a typical ANE autobiography.
After the chapter opening with a third person introduction of woman wisdom, then she begins speaking her own preamble (Prov 8:4-11). In the preamble she is encouraging the young/simple man to listen to her.
Proverbs 8:12-21 then is the typical form of an introduction to an autobiography in ANE literature. She tells us who she is, ”Wisdom.” Then she tells us ”those traits with which she is associated” (Longman): prudence, knowledge, and discretion (Prov 8:12). The next verse mentions the phrase associated with woman wisdom: ”the fear of YHWH.”
After the typical autobiographical introduction, comes her story about her great deeds (Prov 8:22-31). In this case, woman wisdom tells us about being there at the beginning – before creation – and then she tells us about her role in creation. The conclusion of the autobiography is Proverbs 8:32-36.
The concluding section in ANE autobiographies show great variation – some give blessings and curses, some end with advice, prophetic predictions, etc. This conclusion appears to give advice and has beatitude sayings (”blessed are those who keep my ways…blessed is the one who listens to me…”). The advice: ”And now, O sons, listen to me” (Prov 8:32). That introduction to the conclusion sounds like the introductions used for the ten lectures by the father. The advice: ”Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it” (i.e. do it!). Chapter 8 concludes: ”For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from YHWH, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death” (Prov 8:35-36).
The challenge of the passage is knowing who woman wisdom is. We know, of course, that in literary terms woman wisdom is the personification of God’s wisdom. In other words, if God’s wisdom were a person she would be ”woman wisdom.”
However, later Jewish tradition equated woman wisdom with the Torah (the five books of Moses). And the NT sees Jesus as the fulfillment of woman wisdom.
A few examples of how Jesus is linked to woman wisdom is Matt 11:18-19 where we find that wisdom is proved right by her actions, John 1 where the Word of God sounds like Proverbs 8, and Colossians 1:15-17 where the role of the Christ in creation sounds like Proverbs 8 even saying both are the firstborn.
However, we must recognize that woman wisdom is a poetic device and that some heretics have read the poetic language of Proverbs 8 ”literally” to teach their heresies.
Proverbs 9 concludes the first section of the book. The chapter presents the choice that is before the son: woman wisdom and woman folly. These two women are opposite figures – thus just as the unchaste wife and woman wisdom had been contrasted (Proverbs 7 and 8), now we see the contrast between woman wisdom and woman folly. The unchaste wife and woman folly are obviously related.
This chapter repeats ideas we saw back at the beginning of Proverbs.
The characters addressed include the simple (Prov 9:4, cf. 1:4) and wise men (Prov 9:8-9, cf. 1:5); scoffers are to be ignored because they will not listen.
”Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (Prov 9:9, cf. 1:5).
”The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov 9:10, cf. Prov 1:7).
”For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life” (Prov 9:11).
The six verses concluding part one of Proverbs say things that we have seen about the unchaste/foreign wife attributed to a character called woman folly. For example, she is loud (Prov 7:11, 9:13). But she also sits at the door of her house and takes a seat on the highest places of the town calling out to those who pass by her. In other words, she is a street preacher calling for people to come into her home. Still the end of Proverbs 7 and 9 are similar: ”Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Prov 7:27) and ”But he does not know that the dead are there [her home], that her guests are in the depths of Sheol” (Prov 9:18).
Introduction to Proverbs 10
These wisdom speeches – the ten speeches by the father and the four interludes (3 with woman wisdom, and the one appendix) – provide the context for reading Proverbs 10ff.
The new section is entitled, ”the proverbs of Solomon” (Proverbs 10:1).
The first proverb is not surprising given the context – ”A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (10:1).
First, it is not surprising that the new section opens with a proverb that mentions both the father and the mother (cf. Prov 1:8). Second, note the assumptions of the proverb: for example, that the father and mother are wise. Third, the context clarifies for us that the person being addressed by the proverb is not the father or mother but the son.
This particular proverb stands alone in the sense that it the next few are grouped together by the theme of wealth/poverty.