Here is the manuscript that I used to preach my sermon on Proverbs 31:10-31. There are some really interesting changes to how I viewed this passage.
I come to this passage in a very unique position. I am a young woman preparing to become a wife in less than 6 months. As I initially read the text I was overwhelmed by the perfection of the Proverbs 31 woman. It was like June Cleaver plus Martha Stewart plus Mother Teresa. She is the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect business woman, the perfect social justice activist, and the perfect international relations liaison. To top it all off she was the perfect Jewish woman, she feared the LORD and she instructed other in the wisdom and love of God. I’ve heard many women, frustrated by their inability to live up to this perfect standard, say that such a woman just isn’t possible. I’m inclined to agree from my own limited experiences. So as I read this poem over and over one question, “How does she do it all??” I kept getting hung up on verse 26, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue”. I knew, call it woman’s intuition, that understanding this verse was the key to understanding why the woman in Proverbs 31 was so successful in everything. So I began to meditate on this verse, I studied the words in Hebrew and it lead me to a shocking discovery. The wisdom that the Proverbs 31 woman teaches is only God-given. Think Solomon’s dream asking for God’s wisdom. The phrase ‘the teaching of kindness’, is a compound word in Hebrew that only appears once in the whole Bible. The word is torah-hesed. Each of these words alone carries a mountain-load of significance to the original audience. Torah is the commands of God, given to Moses, that tell the Israelites how to live a life pleasing to God. Hesed, often translated as loving-kindness, is the description of God’s love toward humanity. It is an unconditional-loyal-strong-kind love. In the New Testament this is the sacrificial, agape love exhibited by Jesus. The Proverbs 31 woman had the wisdom of God enough to teach ‘torah-hesed’ to those around her. She seemed almost too good to be true. Once I began reading what others had to say about the Proverbs 31 woman things began to make sense.
It has been suggested that this Hebrew poem is actually a summary of the rest of the book of Proverbs. These 22 verses are set up as an acrostic poem, with each verse starting with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet, which allows this section to be easily memorized (at least if you know Hebrew, it doesn’t work as well in the English). I believe that the Proverbs 31 woman can also be understood as summary of Wisdom that is personified beginning in chapter 1 and continuing through out the book.
“Wisdom cries out in the street; in the square she raises her voice”. Lady Wisdom, as she has become known in church tradition, offers instruction of how to live a godly life. The key to this life is the refrain, ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” that appears three times in the book of Proverbs. Such fear of the LORD is the final virtue of the Proverbs 31 woman. Proverbs 3:15 exclaims that ‘wisdom…is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her’, the Proverbs 31 woman is introduced by the same phrase, “she is far more precious than jewels’. If we come to read the Proverbs 31 woman as Lady Wisdom her perfection becomes an absolute requirement. Everything that Wisdom attempts is accomplished according to the will of God. This is why the Proverbs 31 woman is able to manage her family life, her business, social justices, and religious responsibilities so well that her husband praises her, “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all”.
The Proverbs 31 woman exists as a poetic paragon that calls all people, men and women alike to move toward godliness in all parts of their lives. There has never been a woman who has lived up to the standard set by this passage, but there was one man who did. In the New Testament Jesus Christ has wisdom as a defining characteristic of his ministry. The second halve of Luke two tells the story of a 12 year-old Jesus speaking among the teachers in the temple, astounding them with his wisdom and understanding and Luke ends the chapter with the epithet that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor”. In every encounter with the religious officials Jesus demonstrated an uncanny ability to know the deeper truth behind their questions. The Gospels as a whole record that Jesus was perfect in everything he said or did. It is on this claim that our belief of his ability to atone humanity is staked.
The claims of Jesus fully embodying wisdom are not limited to the Gospels but are carried throughout almost every epistle. Colossians 2:3 proclaims that, “in Christ himself, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Looking back to the prophets we see Isaiah, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describe the Messiah with the marker, ‘the spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD (11:2). Looking forward to the final reality, we find in the heavenly court of Revelation, the praise to the Lamb seated on the throne extols, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (5:12).
The connection seen between Lady Wisdom and Jesus Christ is not a recent development. Instead it is almost as old as the church itself. Thomas Aquinas, whose great master piece is known as the Summa Theologica has this to say about Wisdom and the Trinity, “though the Son, or Word of God is properly called ‘conceived wisdom,’ nevertheless the name of Wisdom, when used absolutely, must be common to the Father and the Son; since the wisdom that is resplendent through the Word is the essence of the Father, and the essence of the Father is common to Him with the Son.’ John Wesley says of Wisdom, “It is a great question what this wisdom is. Some understand it of the Divine wisdom; others of the second person in the Godhead: and it cannot be denied that some passages best agree to the former and others to the latter opinion. Possibly both may be joined together, and the chapter may be understood of Christ considered partly in his personal capacity, and partly in regard of his office, which was to impart the mind and will of God to mankind.” As believers in the triune God, we can also extend this wisdom to the Holy Spirit.
Throughout Scripture Wisdom is taught as an attribute of God. God has full wisdom, making Him omniscient – a term the Early Church Fathers borrowed from Greek philosophy, literally meaning a love of wisdom. This divine wisdom is not exclusive to the Trinity, but as James encourages is accessible to those who humbly request wisdom from God (1:5). Thus we can affirm that God is the source of wisdom, Jesus Christ the embodiment of wisdom, and the Spirit the gives wisdom to those who are in Christ. Throughout both Testaments an invitation is issued to those who would be wise: come to God and receive it. Wisdom is a divine gift that God longs to share with humanity.
How God gives this wisdom to the humble seeker varies. Sometimes it comes in a vision or a dream like it did for King Solomon. But far more often wisdom is tucked into the pages of Scripture, waiting to be found by those who would read God’s self-revelation. Another place of wisdom is in the shared tradition of the Church, in the lives of all the godly men and women who have walked the Christian life before us. Yet another source of wisdom comes to us in the living body of the church. I’ve never been to a church that didn’t have a least one person who had the gift of wisdom. The funny thing is, everyone in such a church knows exactly who it is, because the role of wisdom is always to direct others to a clearer understanding of, and devotion to, God.
The perfection of the Proverbs 31 woman is meant to attract us to the ultimate source of perfect wisdom, the Triune God. The call of Christian discipleship is to become like Christ, which includes growing in the wisdom of God, to perfectly know and love God, and our neighbors the way Christ does. The woman described in Proverbs 31 stands as an example of what that looks like lived out to its fullest.
Ephesians 1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
Disclaimer only if necessary to clarify ***
I do need to add a slight aside about the recent attempts to introduce Goddess Sophia as the feminine equivalent of God. Lady Wisdom, proclaims that in 8:22 that she is only a creation, so those that would encourage worship direct to Goddess Sophia (as wisdom is translated into the Greek), create an idol. Lady Wisdom’s role in Proverbs is to direct the hearer to the proper worship of God, not to be worshipped. She teaches that every aspect of life must be lived according to the will of God. ???