Here we come across a collection of twelve chapters that all go together as the Proverbs of Solomon. They are written as short snippets but run together, so we’re going to cover all twelve chapters of them in one big go. I hope you’re ready.
The good news is that they tend to be fairly commonly held beliefs about human behavior and what happens to good and bad people and the like. We’ll mostly stick to the verses that specifically mention women and occasional other issues that I’d call feminist.
This first chapter doesn’t have any that pertain specifically to women, but I had a few favorites:
12Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offenses.
17Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
There does come a point where I start to feel a certain because of another book I’m reading. It’s about Native Americans and history and I just can’t get over this verse:
30The righteous will never be removed,
but the wicked will not dwell in the land.
While I think I understand what it really means (taking good care of the lands means that you will never have to leave but not doing so means it won’t produce for you and you’ll go hungry and broke), I can’t help but see how easily it could be twisted to mean that anyone who thinks of themselves as righteous can come in and seize the land by force from people who rightfully own it and are taking perfectly good care of it.
At the same time, I also recently finished Looking for Palestine and there’s all the references in there about how the Palestinians have been treated ever since all the Christian countries just decided to seize their land and give it to someone else. While I understand the purpose of doing so (not that I’m supporting either side in this specific post), I can’t help but wonder where everyone actually lies with this verse. Who are the wicked and who are the righteous in this?
Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure it’s not the people actually in power in those places, which later begs that question of what should good Christians do? But that is also outside the scope of post. We’re going to revisit the question down the road a bit.
The two that pertain to women are:
16A gracious woman gets honor,
and violent men get riches.
22Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
is a beautiful woman without discretion.
Now remember that these are proverbs, pieces of wisdom handed down from father to son in most cases. They’re pretty true when you look them in terms of being gracious and having discretion. I don’t believe discretion is meant to be that women should be “discreet” in a way that just means modest. Looking at discretion and the context of what most of the references toward women have been getting at, they want their sons to know that it’s wasteful of all their own resources to go after a woman who doesn’t know how to run her own life. She’s probably going to ruin yours. I can’t help but agree with that, and that goes for all genders.
As far as graciousness goes, who doesn’t like being around people who are “pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous”. Remember too that these are modern translations, so no, we are not using modern definitions to define ancient characteristics. I know I’ve felt honored by the benevolence and kindness of people when treat me that way.
4An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,
but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.
9Better to be lowly and have a servant
than to play the great man and lack bread.
24The hand of the diligent will rule,
while the slothful will be put to forced labor.
4: I feel like this is true, but for all spouses. I’ve seen people who have spouses that are less than “excellent” at life and they almost always seem embarrassed by them. There are exceptions when people know the intrinsic value of their spouse is greater than what society values them for, but even then, they cringe a little at social gatherings.
9: I wasn’t sure about this one at first. I didn’t get why someone who didn’t have much with better off with a servant than a rich guy who had given away all his food but apparently that isn’t the intent of the verse. I looked at the other translations and they make it a little more clear that it’s actually about people thinking “lowly” of you while you have the money to take care of more than yourself than it is to look rich and be broke. That made way more sense to me.
24: I hate the way this one reads. I get the basic premise of what it means, but I’m not personally feeling this one. Some other translations do make it seem like the “dilligent will rule” part is more about people who work hard rising into leadership positions, but even that is something that many people have been born into rather than worked for. Remembering context though, maybe this is just what Solomon said about people who rule. They’ll keep their positions if they work hard at them but the lazy may inspire a revolt against them. Either way, I find the use of this verse to say that hard work is the only thing you need for success is grossly misleading. Success has many requirements and hard work is only one of them.
Nothing about women or the treatment of women in this chapter, but there was one verse that has some often debated wisdom that I wanted to spend a minute on:
I know social approval for corporal punishment ebbs and flows in the US and it was interesting to see it pop up here. Of course, this is for another time when life was harsher in general and this is the same practical wisdom that is not uncommon to hear about but that many people these days say is flat out abuse, overused, or not used enough. Still, whatever your feelings may be about the use of corporal punishment as a method, discipline is still a wise thing to impart to children. Not every child necessarily needs to be hit or spanked or whatever you want to call it, mine certainly doesn’t. He’s good with other forms of consequence for his actions already.
Approval for this method seems to be back on the upswing but it may just be where I’ve lived in the last few years.
This one rolls right into a mention of women and it’s not inaccurate at all.
1The wisest of women builds her house,
but folly with her own hands tears it down.
I feel like this is pretty true of all genders. While there are always those circumstances that we can’t control and therefore wisdom doesn’t play a factor, there are many problems that we create for ourselves through a lack of wisdom or manage to sidestep in those cases when we had the wisdom or took the wise advice to avoid them.
The rest of the chapter is full of similar verses that have general truths but tend to lack nuance. I get that a book of wisdom can really only offer general wisdom and not know to make way for this situation or that one, but there are also a few verses that I wish we followed a little more. Like this one:
31Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
20A wise son makes a glad father,
but a foolish man despises his mother.
I don’t get the correlation in this one. A wise son would make either parent glad, sure, and I get how it would be foolish to despise either parent, but it’s possible to be wise and despise a parent or to be foolish and love your mother. I don’t get how it goes with the first half of the verse.
25The LORD tears down the house of the proud
but maintains the widow’s boundaries.
I have a hard time with this one, even when considering context. There are plenty of mentions of widows and laws against taking advantage of them, but I feel like this is referring to them specifically for their level of vulnerability. This is God taking care of those who are vulnerable and humble about it. Except that we don’t get a lot of evidence of this. Sure, it can be that God takes care of them through “accidental saints” like Ruth, but there just isn’t a whole lot of mention of this sort of thing. I know that the Bible is predominantly about men, don’t get me wrong, but I’d just like to have something more substantial for that side of it to lean on. At the same time, I totally understand tearing down the house of the proud. We see that quite a bit with the kings who are too proud to lean on God.
Of course, we’re also assuming the righteousness of the widow in this case, which isn’t always the best idea either.
3Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established.
This reminded me of the saying, “We make plans and God laughs” which sent me on a google excursion to find the origin and then right back to Proverbs. Okay, a distinct difference between the way that saying is interpreted and what this verse says is who you are doing the work for. It suggests that God will make you successful in those works that you do for HIM. Not your plans, but His. Still, I found a few articles in some interesting places talking about God laughing at our plans and one on the Huffington Post that was rather heartbreaking. The Huffpost article basically says that we would really have to be believe in a sadistic God if He laughs at the kinds of plans that this saying gets tossed around at. Personally, I’ve never heard someone say that to people in tragic situations, but someone said it to her in a horrible situation and I don’t understand what those people were thinking.
We say it in our house whenever me and/or my husband plan for a reasonable thing while dreaming something outlandish and ridiculous, then the reasonable plan falls apart in the face of the crazy dream coming true. It doesn’t happen all the time, but once or twice in our lives and it does make us sit back and think about how foolish we were to discount the impossible. We’ve had our own tragedies with plans that didn’t pan out and that involved deaths in the family and I can’t imagine God laughing at those. On the other hand, I can totally imagine God laughing at me for thinking too small and trying not to ask too much and deciding to give me extra of a good thing. That’s a good laugh.
Then my travels brought me back to Proverbs 19:21
Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
It’s not the same thing, but I get the difference here too. It’s not a sadistic laugh at the expense of someone who had the gall to try to make something of themselves. It’s just that the plan that God likes is the one He’ll help you out with. That makes sense to me. So I didn’t quite find what I was looking for and it’s not exactly in keeping with this project, but I thought I’d share it anyway.
21The wise of heart is called discerning,
and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
24Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
These reminded me of a lot of the social conditioning I grew up with and sayings like “you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar”. While this book is directed at men, this is a teaching that women regularly get and it can sometimes feel like the other mainstream gender doesn’t get taught that much.
On the other hand, I feel like women could stand to hear this one more often, maybe it wouldn’t feel so mandatory to prolong this inevitability:
31Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.
6Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their fathers.
While the first part is definitely true, I feel like the second part is only half true. Perhaps men got all the credit back in the day but I have a feeling that women always had just as much pride in how their children turned out.
14The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
This one confused me at first, but it turns out that it means to resolve conflicts sooner rather than later because problems have a tendency to continue getting worse the longer you let them go. I like it as general advice but it can be especially true of marriage.
25A foolish son is a grief to his father
and bitterness to her who bore him.
I’m not sure why mom is bitter and dad is grieved. Don’t get me wrong, I get both feelings but they seem like they would go together rather than be the primary feeling of one parent or the other.
22He who finds a wife finds a good thing
and obtains favor from the LORD.
My study Bible related this back to God not finding it good for man to be alone. I get how settling down is supposed to be good for people but there are all kinds of bad marriages. This maybe could have used some more specifics…..
I like the symmetry of these two verses being right next to each other like this, especially after the vague nature of 18:22 above. Both of these are pretty true…
22What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
and a poor man is better than a liar.
26He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother
is a son who brings shame and reproach.
I wasn’t so sure about this one and checked out the other translations to see if it meant what I was thinking and found the New Living Translation put it just as I was thinking:
False weights and unequal measures–the LORD detests double standards of every kind.
I feel like I may start throwing this one around when people want to throw down with what a man can do and a woman can’t. Or vice versa.
20If one curses his father or his mother,
his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.
Again with the symmetry and even the equality on this one/
3To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
I wanna look out for how this concept grows down the road because so much of the messages I’ve gotten is that sacrifice is almost an expression of righteousness, or perhaps that the righteous will sacrifice. It’s interesting to see them separated like this.
9It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
19It is better to live in a desert land
than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.
I can see how these are true for the man in the relationship, but couldn’t we ask why she’s quarrelsome? I know plenty of guys who don’t know what they’re wife is angry about all the time and it’s not exactly rocket science. Just ask…. okay not all women like that sort of thing, the direct approach, but really, there’s probably a reason.
Maybe it’s not always a good reason, but there’s a reason. It’s not like we’re talking about a liar, here, like with the guys above. And I’m sure some women just like to argue about things but this is not the percentage that some men try to tell me it is.
21Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness
will find life, righteousness, and honor.
This is another one that I feel like women are socialized to a greater degree than men. It would be great if men were equally into kindness and sweetness as women are trained or told to be. I get that there is this whole thing about masculine traits being more desirable and that the women who embody those traits are more respected than women who embody more feminine traits, such as kindness and sweetness, but why can’t these just be desirable traits in a neighbor of any gender?
This is some interesting wording but my study section paraphrases that the she is a kind of trouble that “a man cannot escape by himself”. It also goes on to explain that God uses women like this “to punish the wicked” which sounds a little perverse to me in the world of the way God reacts to things while still really sounding like what the verse is trying to say.
I looked at some other commentaries and one suggests that this is because God is generally angry at people who do the kinds of things that would put them in a situation to hear “the mouth of forbidden women”.
And those are the Proverbs of Solomon! It turns out, by the way, that they end abruptly in the middle of this chapter but I like having them all collected and alone so we’ll finish chapter 22 in the next post!