Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs - Women of Vice, Voice and Virtue - Part 8
John Scarsbrook, Killamarsh, England
We cannot fail to notice as we read through the Proverbs that the wise man is totally impartial in his dealings with the various characters brought before us. He is forthright, honest, incisive and clear. We never find him sitting on the fence or giving advice in a vague, inconclusive manner. He deals with delicate and personal matters without ambiguity, and never will he bow at the altar of ‘political correctness’!
It is evident from just a cursory reading of the book that the precepts given are all-inclusive. Men and women, old and young, educated or otherwise, each in turn will find clear guidance and instruction to apply in the varying circumstances of life.
The purpose in this final study of the series is to consider some of the verses that deal with matters of morality. We listen as the wise man gives counsel to husbands and wives, and to see the dignified place given to the woman by the word of God; a place which is denied to her by the modern concept of ‘equality’ and the strident voice of ‘feminism’.
In the early chapters, we have noted that the wise man’s instruction is to ‘my son’. We see, however, that the responsibility of guiding the family is not solely that of fathers, but for both parents to speak with one voice; the mother’s word carrying equal weight in directing the pathway of the children, e.g. 1. 8; 6. 20. Sad it is that in our society, with the marriage bond so devalued, many families have lost that balance.
From chapter 2 verse 16, throughout the book there is a persistent warning of the danger of becoming ensnared by one who is called the ‘strange woman’, 5. 3; 6. 24; 7. 5, etc. This woman is determined in her ambition to trap the unwary. She flatters, she entangles like a spider in its web. She has deliberately rejected the things of God, 2. 17, and now drags others down a pathway of immorality from which recovery will be almost impossible, vv. 18, 19. The way to avoid and resist the temptation to sin in this respect is given in chapter 2 verses 1 and 2. The wise instructor says, ‘receive my words’; ‘hide my commandments’; ‘incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding’. In our ‘enlightened’ twenty-first-century, many men and women have lost any sense of shame. Adultery no longer carries a stigma and prostitution is considered acceptable, just an ‘alternative lifestyle’. Yet the word of God remains unchanged, ‘whoremongers and adulterers God will judge’, Heb. 13. 4.
In chapters 6 and 7, clear warning is given regarding the folly of immorality and the dangers of giving licence to the flesh. For the unregenerate, it is the pathway to hell, 5. 5; 7. 27. For the believer who succumbs to such temptation, it results in the ruin of a testimony and, possibly, irreparable damage to the Christian’s potential for future service, 6. 32, 33. May we ever keep in mind the exhortation of the Apostle Paul, ‘God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness’, 1 Thess. 4. 7.
It is sad, yet instructive, to note that, having left on record the many proverbs as inspired by the Spirit of God, we should read of Solomon, in 1 Kings chapter 11 verse 1, ‘But Solomon loved many strange women’. How vital it is to always remember, ‘let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’, 1 Cor. 10. 12.
In chapters 8 and 9, the voices of two women are heard. One is the voice of wisdom; she stands in a prominent place and pleads with those who pass by to attend to her instruction. Her heart goes out to those who would be easily led astray; she knows the dangers of rejecting her wise counsel, freely given and more valuable than silver or gold, 8. 10, 11. We are reminded of the priceless treasure that we have in the complete word of God, instruction and guidance for every circumstance of life. Do we really heed it and value it as we should?
In chapter 9 verse 13, in contrast to the voice of wisdom, we hear the foolish woman. We will hurry past her; she is loud and objectionable. She has nothing of value to say to us, yet many of like minds will attend to her with disastrous results!
On our journey through the book of Proverbs, we pause to take a brief look behind some of the doors that we pass. In chapter 19 verse 13, and again in chapter 27 verse 15, we hear the voice of the contentious woman. On other occasions, the same word is expressed as the brawling woman. These are unhappy households; both husband and wife have relinquished their responsibilities towards each other. There is no loving atmosphere in which to bring up a family. No testimony of saving grace to the neighbours. What a desperate need there is today for strong, united Christian homes and families to shine as beacons of light in a dark, dark world.
It is with a sense of relief that we turn to the virtuous women found in the book. There is a lovely expression in chapter 5 verse 18, where the wise man speaks of ‘the wife of thy youth’. There is something very precious, very special in those words. To enjoy a marriage in which, after many years together, she is still ‘the wife of thy youth’ is a blessing indeed! It serves to emphasize to young believers the importance of being assured of the Lord’s will in the choice of a husband or wife, and of being subject to Him in the life together. Such a marriage will be blessed by the Lord, 18. 22.
A number of other women of commendable character have lessons for us in these chapters. There is the gracious woman, 11. 16, the wise woman, 14. 1, and the prudent wife, 19. 14. All these and more are brought together in the closing chapter, that delightful eulogy, the glowing tribute to womanhood that answers King Lemuel’s question, ‘Who can find a virtuous woman’?
The scholars tell us that verses 10 to 31 are recorded in acrostic form based upon the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It has been suggested that this is an aid to memory. The poetic structure has been lost in translation, but there is much practical truth here that we would do well to consider.
Those who know nothing about the word of God, yet insist on giving their opinion of it, would have us believe that the women of scripture are presented as inferior in some way! They are demeaned and imposed upon, mere chattels who must remain silent and subservient. Try telling that to the virtuous woman of chapter 31! Not only does she embody all the finest attributes of a wife and mother, but she is also intelligent, industrious and involved in a wide variety of activities. In verse 16, she is negotiating a land purchase, and meeting the cost of planting a vineyard from the sale of those things she has made, vv. 13, 24. She is a wise and astute business woman, yet has a heart to love and a hand to help the poor and needy, v. 20. The manner in which her husband is mentioned in verses 11, 12 and 23 would suggest that he owes a great deal to his wife for the position he has, and the respect he commands. This is a truly equal yoke, a unity forged by the Spirit of God; a far cry from the pathetic caricature that men in their ignorance promote as ‘equality of the sexes’.
The husband and wife in this chapter provide a number of pointers to a successful marriage. It is a marriage in which there is mutual trust, v. 11. Neither behaves in any way to give cause for suspicion. Each has complete confidence in the integrity of the other. There is a concern for each other’s welfare, v. 12, and it is very clear that both husband and wife also have confidence in the other’s ability to undertake their respective daily responsibilities. They are not so self-centred that the needs of others are ignored, v. 20, they will make available what God has given to them. Notice too the lovely family portrait in verse 28, children and husband alike quite willing to express publicly their love and appreciation to an outstanding wife and mother.
There is so much more we could learn from the characters of Proverbs. The book, like all the word of God, is inexhaustible. May these brief studies, however, be blessed of God as a help and encouragement to His people, as we await His return.