Posted by: ritagone | March 11, 2015

Thinking a New Way About an Old Subject

 

open bible

I’m involved right now in studying to teach a two-part series on the Proverbs 31 woman. Oh no, not that again! Haven’t we heard everything there is to know about that subject?

Maybe not.

What if there were a new way to look at the subject matter of this chapter of Proverbs so that we were seeing it with new eyes, in a new way, a way that could shake us up positively and make us approach quite a few related subjects differently – and better? Wouldn’t you want to know about that? I know I would.

My friend Karen loaned me a book by Rachel Held Evans called “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” in which the author attempted – sometimes humorously, often quite successfully – to live out the mandates of certain biblical passages that we have all come to take for granted, one of which was, of course, Proverbs 31, that chapter which extols the virtues of a “wife of noble character.” If you haven’t read the passage in a while, please take the time to get a Bible and do so. It will certainly make clearer what I’m about to say to be familiar with the passage of scripture I’m referring to.

(I know that people are hyperventilating as they are reading these words: they are interpreting what I’m saying as that I’m trying to re-interpret scripture, moving away from traditional ways of seeing things, becoming a pagan, all kinds of horrid assessments of something really rather banal. Please let me explain before you have me up before the spiritual authorities, as I hope you’ll understand better what I’m trying to say.)

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see that there seem to be two ways of looking at scripture: one is to follow tried and true pathways without wavering, the “if it was good enough for Grandpa and Grandma, it’s good enough for me” viewpoint. These are the folk who have had a hard time using anything but the King James translation of the Bible, believing that the King and his cohorts were inspired by God Himself and no one since then has been touched by God when it comes to making the original Greek or Hebrew come alive.

The other group is composed of people who push the envelope by looking for new translations, trying to find different interpretations of tried and true passages and books of the Bible, and appreciate seeing things with new eyes and in various contexts as times change. This group has tattoos; the first group does not.

You get my point.

I’ve decided I want to be a part of the second group, the people who are not afraid to wonder and work at passages of the Bible, or to be so bold as to say, “I don’t really know. I will just be satisfied that this passage or book or chapter or whatever is unknowable for me at this time.” It’s okay to not “get” everything. We can keep trying and reading and praying and asking questions.

So with the Proverbs 31 passage. I have read a few commentaries and one or two books that cast a completely different slant on the passage, and it’s exciting and challenging to me to re-think my interpretation of this text. It’s like seeing something with new eyes…or even with someone else’s eyes. And I like the feeling, the experience. So think about this: what if the passage isn’t meant for us women to compare ourselves to and find ourselves mostly lacking, as I know myself and other women have been doing for as long as I can remember? “What, you’re not getting up in the middle of the night to buy a building or plant a field or sew something for your loved ones? Shame on you!” What if, instead, this passage, as Rachel Held Evans indicated, was meant for men to read as a tribute to the women around them, not about a specific woman, but as an ode to women in general for what they can potentially be? In Hebrew the term is eshet chayil, meaning “valorous woman,” and that’s a completely different and exciting interpretation of Proverbs 31:10-31 than I have ever run into before.

Again, please don’t misunderstand me. No, I am not advocating heresy or a wild, crazy interpretation of Scripture that says the Proverbs 31 woman came from another planet, landed in Israel, and is sprouting wings. And we should all do the same.

I am saying that we sometimes miss the context, the setting, and the milieu in which something was written, and that can make all the difference. Seeing scripture with fresh eyes can also improve our perception of what it’s saying and how it speaks to our hearts.

And that’s always a good thing.

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. Thank you Rita. I always so appreciate your perspective. Gail

  2. What Rachel Held Evans has uncovered concerning the Pr 31 woman is groundbreaking, game- changing and liberating.

    As I’ve studied and continue to study Pr 31, I’ve discovered and developed a couple of very important perspectives.

    1.) The description of the Pr 31 woman is very likely a composite taken from several virtuous women listed throughout the Bible. The Pr 31 woman’s traits mirror the traits of some of the real life women documented throughout the Bible.

    A wife of noble character who can find? (v. 10) Ruth was know as a woman of noble (eshet chayil) character (Ru 3:11). Like the Pr 31 woman, Lydia was a woman of noble character. The name “Lydia” means noble. She is clothed in fine linen and purple (v. 22b). Lydia sold purple cloth (Ac 16:14). Both Lydia and the Pr 31 woman were merchants.

    She has been like a merchant’s ship that brings its merchandise from far away (v. 14). The Queen of Sheba literally brought Solomon large quantities of spices from far away. (1 Ki 10:6-10). Reward her for her work— let her actions result in public praise (v. 31). The
    Queen of Sheba’s quest for wisdom brought her public praise. Jesus publicly acknowledged and commended her (Ma 12:42). She came from afar to hear the wisdom of a mere man. She was amazed at what she saw and heard. However, when Jesus who was greater than Solomon came, many despised, rejected, slighted and slandered Him.

    Doesn’t let her lamp go out… (v. 18b). In the parable, the wise virgins didn’t allow their lamps to go out. They were prepared when the Bridegroom came (Ma25:1-12). Anna’s lamp didn’t go out at night because she worshiped God day and night by fasting and praying (Lu 2:36-38).

    Helps the poor (v. 20). Dorcas helped the poor (Ac 9:36). Both Dorcas and the Pr 31 woman were seamstresses.

    … speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue (v. 26). The Wise Woman of Abel’s instruction saved her city from destruction (2 Sa 20:19-22). Pilate’s wife spoke with wisdom and faithful instruction (Ma 27:19). Huldah spoke with wisdom and sent the king a message from God (2 Ki 22:14-20). Deborah wisely instructed the people of Israel (Ju chapter 4 & 5). Esther spoke wisely to the king and helped save the Jews from annihilation (Book of Esther). Priscilla helped her husband give Apollos wise and faithful instruction (Ac 18:26). Abigail spoke wisely to David. David recognized the wisdom in Abigail’s words, and he decided not to kill Abigail’s foolish husband and the other men in that household (1 Sam chapter 25).

    She watches over the affairs of her household (v. 27a). Rahab watched over the affairs of her household. She wisely and faithfully instructed the spies about how to hide and escape. She also negotiated a plan that saved her life and the lives of those in her house (He 11:31).

    Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all (v. 29). Like Pr 31 woman, these women were also called blessed. Most blessed among women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. May she be blessed above all women who live in tents (Ju 5:24). Mary – Thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women (Lu 1:28).

    She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life (v. 12). Because of Zipporah’s proactivity as it relates to circumcising their son, God’s anger against Moses was calmed and his life was spared (Ex 4:14-20).

    The description listed for the Pr 31 woman is very meaty. There’s a lot that women (and men) of all generations can learn from her. Her description can also serve as a springboard that can compel us to appreciate and study more about the virtuous women listed in the Bible.

  3. 2.) The second perspective that I’ve discovered is that the Pr 31 woman could be a metaphor for the church (bride of Christ). The old school, traditional interpretation of Pr 31 fails to recognize and acknowledge that a number of the traits and duties listed in Pr 31:10-31 are mutual, collective and congregational. Our dear brothers in Christ should also possess many of the traits listed in the description and perform many of the duties. However, that rarely gets highlighted.

    Do Good
    She will do him good … (v.12). As believers, men and women are admonished to “do good” to our enemies (Lu 6:27, 35). Christian men and women are admonished to “do good” and to share with others (He 13:16).

    Do No Harm
    She brings him good, not harm … (v.12). Husbands are instructed to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). Romans 13:10 tells us that “love does no harm.” Therefore, if a husband loves his wife, he will not harm her.

    Work With Your Hands
    She … works with eager hands (v.13). Christian men and women are called to live a quiet lives, mind our business and “work with our hands” … (1 Th 4:11).

    Don’t Be Idle
    She … does not eat the bread of idleness (v.27). Paul proclaimed the value of hard work and sternly warned men and women not to be idle (2 Th 3:6-12). “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” ( 1 Th 5:14).

    Speak With Wisdom
    She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue (v.26). “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just” (Ps 37:30).

    Care for the Poor
    She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy (v.20). Christian men and women are admonished to care for the poor and needy (Ma 25:34-40).

    Fear the Lord
    … a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (v. 30). “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!” (Ps 112:1)

    When we read Pr 31, it’s important to remember that many of the traits and duties listed in the passage are collective, mutual and congregational: doing good, doing no harm, working with our hands, not being idle, speaking wisdom, caring for the poor and fearing the Lord. Those traits and duties are not distinctively feminine, although that’s how the old school, traditional interpretation presents Pr 31.

    When I hear some men use Pr 31 as a check list in order to determine a woman’s worth, I wonder if those particular men are leading by example and doing their wives good and not harm, working with their hands, not being idle, speaking wisdom, caring for the poor and fearing God.


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