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Proverbs 9-12

Lady Wisdom with her three daughters: Faith, Hope, and Love

Proverbs 9 provides a summing up of the first section of this book before we move into the more typical proverbs of chapters 10 through 22. What fascinated me in today’s reading is the personification of Wisdom in chapter 9. Lawrence Boadt has this to say about it….

Wisdom reveals that the transcendent mystery of God actually interacts in the world by its use of personification. Usually pictured as a woman, wisdom invites us to find her in the world through the life of worship and obedience to the law. Several major passages actually treat wisdom as an independent being, often called a hypostasis (in Greek), that stands by God’s side, comes into the world, and speaks to humanity (Prv 1:20-33; Prv 8:22-31; Sir 24:1-31; Wis 9:9-11; Jb 28:1-28). While it is not likely that Israel thought of wisdom as a real divine being, its description as a person signified that God truly communicated himself and his plan to the world and that he could be heard and understood by humanity in personal relationship.[1]

David Atkinson has this to say on the same subject….

Wisdom is no abstract concept; wisdom is personified: she is described as a woman. In some places she is depicted by just a line drawing, one or two of her features emphasized for a particular purpose. In others, we are given a richly coloured, almost three-dimensional portrait. Taken together, these sketches introduce us to a woman who speaks the wisdom of God, and who points the way of life.

This personification of Wisdom is not a (mere) literary device; it reflects the essential nature of biblical wisdom. Wisdom is embodied. Wisdom is for living. In fact, nothing is truly known until it is lived out in the everyday world.

It is not until Proverbs 8 that Wisdom’s full beauty is described. But throughout the earlier chapters, details of her portrait are being filled in, rather like earlier sketches of a great Renaissance painter. In some art galleries you can see the ‘cartoons’—preliminary sketches—of the great works of art, in which the artist has concentrated on one detail or another which will eventually contribute to the finished portrait. Proverbs 1-7 gives us a number of preliminary sketches of Wisdom, before her full-colour portrait appears in chapter 8.[2]

It is intriguing to me that Wisdom stands, almost as a divine being, alongside Yahweh, and that Wisdom is a woman. For a religion, Judaism, that emphasised the masculine side of God, it is interesting that the ancient Jews saw a need to complement this picture with a feminine portrait as well.

It is even more interesting to me that the word “wisdom” appears many places in the New Testament, but not in the Gospel of John. It is in that Gospel that Jesus is identified with the Logos, the reasoning power behind the universe. Thus Jesus, in a sense, is the fulfillment and embodiment of Wisdom. Paul even calls Jesus the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). It makes me wonder: in what ways might Jesus embody the feminine side of God?

Henri Nouwen, in his wonderful book on the parable of the prodigal son, notes how Rembrandt’s portait of the father welcoming home the prodigal reveals both a feminine and a masculine side to the father. Rembrandt depicted these two sides of God in the hands of the father. The left hand is larger, rougher, more masculine, whereas the right hand is smaller, delicate, more feminine.

Is the fact that Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, is depicted as a woman meaningful to you? In what ways do you see both feminine and masculine characteristics in God? Is this a hard concept for you to embrace? If so, why do you suppose that is the case?

[1] Reading the Old Testament, 490
[2] David Atkinson, The Message of Proverbs, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, p. 80.


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