Saturday, January 21, 2023

Saturday Reflection: "Lady Wisdom, Madam Folly"

Wisdom is often represented in Scripture as a woman. For example, in Proverbs 1:22ff, “Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city she speaks her words.…” Indeed, the classic passage on wisdom is addressed by Wisdom herself (Prov. 8:1–36). There’s a flip side to this; but first, consider why the Bible would personify Wisdom as a woman.

God gave Eve to Adam as a “helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18). The Hebrew word most often refers to divine help, refuge, and protection that God gives His people as our source of practical, real-world wisdom and defense (see Ex. 18:4; Deut. 33:7, 26, 29). How is a woman a “comparable helper,” and even a protector and defender, to man?

Wisdom Is a Woman

The fact is that a woman has a unique, God-given perspective on truth. After God surveyed His vast creation, seeing everything as “very good” (Gen. 1:31), He made an astonishing statement: Even in a perfect environment, it still was “not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18)! Man needs woman, in order to be complete.

That’s not to say a woman is always right. Eve’s advice to her husband was not only foolish but had eternally devastating consequences. In general, one of the most basic differences between men and women is that, while men tend to be “geared” toward abstract thinking, women tend to have an almost intuitive sense regarding practical issues. There are, of course, remarkable exceptions to the rule: there are some (but not many) great lady mathematicians and philosophers. The point isn’t sexual intelligence, but orientation. Men and women are different by God’s wise design, a design that is a key to the whole created order. God’s wisdom is displayed in creating us different, by making us “suitable” to each other. The differences between men and women are deep and profound, and basic to the whole created order. For this reason, men and women should not attempt to be in competition with each other. We need to share each others’ perspectives. There is nothing more beautiful than a wise woman, fulfilling her calling as Helper.

Foolishness Is a Woman

Nothing is more abhorrent and dangerous than a woman who abandons her calling as her husband’s assistant, counselor, and protector. Biblically, Woman “incarnates” both Wisdom and Folly. Many references speak of “harlots,” but that isn’t always meant literally, because an important Bride/Harlot theme runs through the Bible. There are “brides” who became “harlots,” such as the apostasy of Jezebel, Athaliah, and even Israel herself (Isa. 1:21).

But the foolish harlot can also, through redemption, become a wise bride again: for example, Eve, in redemption; Rahab, literally a redeemed harlot who was given divine wisdom to protect Israel’s spies; Ruth, the heathen Moabitess who converted to Israel’s God; a multitude of wise women, counselors, and protectors such as Jochebed, Deborah, Jael, Hannah, and Mary; and, ultimately, the church: the restored Israel, God’s faithful Bride (Heb. 12:22–24; Rev. 21:2). All this is based on the biblical view of womanhood, and of her God-given potential as she was created.

The Wise Woman

The Bible defines wisdom in specific terms, many of them in the opening passages of Proverbs:

First, wisdom, understanding, and instruction are all related to each other (1:2, 7; 2:3; 4:1, 5–7). Second, instruction and law are paired (1:8–9; 4:1–2). Third, knowledge, understanding, and the fear of the LORD go together (1:7, 29; 2:5–6; 9:10). Fourth, counsel, rebuke, chastening, and correction unite in wise instruction (1:30; 3:11–12; 12:1). Fifth, righteousness is inseparable from justice (2:9; 8:20).

All these emphasize that pursuing wisdom is far from easy: It requires hard work, a disciplined training in righteousness. “Exercise yourself toward godliness,” Paul says (1 Tim. 4:7; cf. 1 Tim. 6:11–12; 2 Tim. 2:22). That’s why Solomon advises us to “seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures” (2:4–5). In other words, you can’t always “look it up”: true wisdom requires a seasoned, trained mind, disciplined to the rigors of diligent study and reflection.

Listen to Wisdom again: “Whoever finds Me finds life, and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 8:35). The punch line, however, is given ten chapters later: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 18:22). “Get wisdom!” Solomon urges (Prov. 4:5)—and, according to the man who must have been the world’s foremost expert on women—both wise and foolish—the best way to “get wisdom” is to marry her!