The image for wisdom in Proverbs is overwhelmingly feminine—but so is folly. The book of Proverbs is dedicated to teaching young men to walk up rightly, and this means taking women into account, women of both kinds. Women must learn from the book of Proverbs also, but need to do it in reverse. Don’t be the kind of woman that godly fathers and mothers are warning their sons about.
“Every wise woman buildeth her house: But the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” (Proverbs 14:1)
Summary of the Text:
The wise woman and the foolish woman have this in common—they are both women, which means that they both do their work in distinctively feminine ways. Edification is feminine, and so is the opposite of edification. The wise woman is a woman who builds her house. The foolish woman gives her task her personal attention as well, and tears her house apart with her own hands.
There are distinctively feminine temptations and sins. They do exist; they are a reality. And we live in a time when to say something like this is considered to be an outrage, an attack upon all women everywhere. If you say that certain sins are distinctively feminine, you are heard to be saying that all women are distinctively sinful, which is absurd.
But this automatic indignation has the effect of preventing women as women from receiving exhortation, admonition or rebuke, which is simply a way of denying them pastoral care.
But the reality is this. Distinctively feminine sin is a parody of something that is also distinctively feminine, which is to say, wisdom. A distinctively pearl-like necklace would not be possible without real pearls. And to attack fake pearls is not to attack pearls.
So let us begin with the two main feminine caricatures or parodies—seductiveness and shrewishness.
As a book of instruction for young men, it is not surprising that a lot of time is spent on warning them against those denizens of countless rock songs, the kind of women who promise you a great time “all night long.”
She tarts herself up in order to flatter with her tongue and flutter with her eyes.
“For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; And reproofs of instruction are the way of life: To keep thee from the evil woman, From the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; Neither let her take thee with her eyelids.” (Prov. 6:23–25).
She is a woman who forgets the covenant. She forgets her upbringing as well. And note again how she flatters.
“When wisdom entereth into thine heart, And knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, Understanding shall keep thee: To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, From the man that speaketh froward things; Who leave the paths of uprightness, To walk in the ways of darkness; Who rejoice to do evil, And delight in the frowardness of the wicked; Whose ways are crooked, And they froward in their paths: To deliver thee from the strange woman, Even from the stranger which flattereth with her words; Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, And forgetteth the covenant of her God.” (Prov. 2:10–17).
She is not aware that she is a set of walking incongruities, an aesthetic and moral oxymoron.
“As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a fair woman which is without discretion” (Prov. 11:22).
She finds the existence of an almighty and holy God an inconvenience. When she is beautiful enough, she finds it easy to persuade idiot men of the same doctrine.
“Such is the way of an adulterous woman; She eateth, and wipeth her mouth, And saith, I have done no wickedness” (Prov. 30:20).
Women Out of Temper:
We can see that immorality is a real snare for men by how often it is mentioned. We can draw a similar conclusion from how often a contentious women is mentioned. Don’t marry anyone who has the potential to become that.
It is better to live in a teeny loft alone than in a spacious mansion with a woman who will find you in any corner of it.
“It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, Than with a brawling woman in a wide house” (Prov. 21:9; see also 25:4).
For another comparison, it is better to go out and live in a hovel in the woods than with a contentious and angry woman.
“It is better to dwell in the wilderness, Than with a contentious and an angry woman.” (Prov. 21:19).
If your roof leaks, you can sometimes fix it. But a very rainy day just keeps on coming, and so does a woman with disputation on her mind. Trying to fix it is like trying to gather up the wind with both arms, as though it were a bundle of sticks. Or to take up oil in your right hand and clench it tight, as though it were a single stick. Good luck to you.
“A continual dropping in a very rainy day And a contentious woman are alike. Whosoever hideth her hideth the wind, And the ointment of his right hand, which bewrayeth itself” (Prov. 27:15–16).
In our time, the temptation is to start choosing up sides, as though such observations were unfair to women generally, as though men were all on one side, and women all on the other. But the actual state of affairs is the prudent men and women are on one side, and foolish men and women are on the other.
Women gather honor over time, the way men accumulate wealth.
“A gracious woman retaineth honour: And strong men retain riches” (Prov. 11:16).
A virtuous woman is the best thing that a mortal man could possibly have. But note the second half of the proverb. In this world, there is no honor without the possibility of dishonor. If you outlaw dishonor, because it make somebody feel bad, what you have in effect done is mandated dishonor for all women across the board.
“A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: But she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (Prov. 12:4).
A good woman is the grace of God to a man.
“Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, And obtaineth favour of the Lord” (Prov. 18:22).
Note again the domestic affliction of a woman who is a continual dripping. But the contrast to this is, again, the grace of God.
“A foolish son is the calamity of his father: And the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping. House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: And a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Prov. 19:13–14).
The Virtuous Woman:
The Proverbs 31 woman has become . . . well, proverbial. But let us take a moment and consider what is actually involved in being prized far above rubies. She is reliable. She is an artisan, working with her hands. She shops long distance, like a merchant ship. She is a true cook. She is involved in real estate. She is engaged in agricultural, planting a vineyard. She weaves and sews and tailors. She is wise, and can explain what she has been doing. Everyone in her family knows her worth, and is eager to talk about it.
“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, So that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil All the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, And worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; She bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, And giveth meat to her household, And a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, And strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: Her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, And her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: For all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; Her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, When he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; And delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honour are her clothing; And she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; And in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, And eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, But thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: But a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her own works praise her in the gates” (Prov. 31:10–31).