17 Oct 2022

Women, Caricatures and Lady Wisdom (Thoughts inspired by Daughters)

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Contemporary Ethics, Ecclesiastes, Hebrew Bible, Ministry, Proverbs, Women
Lady Wisdom, Proverbs 8 & 31

Genesis 1

Women. It is beyond irony the subject of “women” can be so contentious among those who claim to follow the Bible. In some corners saying something positive regarding women gets you dismissed as following culture. If you say that women are equal, then you can be branded as a “radical feminist.”

Down the centuries numerous tropes have been put forward to promote the inferiority of women. One of the most frequent has been the attack upon women as intelligent rational creatures of God. Their brains are simply not as good as male brains (as the trope goes). It has been a long battle and one that is far from over even among those who claim to believe in the God of the Bible. This is ironic in the extreme. In the Bible itself we find women performing every conceivable role that men do from teachers, prophets, rulers, deacons and even apostles (see my article A Biblical Register of Roles God Has Called Women).

But the first page of the Bible declares that women are ontologically equal with men.

Then God said, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.

 So God created humans in his image,
 in the image of God he created them;
 male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1.26-28, NRSV)

They are equal image bearers. They equally rule within God’s creation. This is the Creator God’s evaluation of male and female. When we speak of how it was “in the beginning” then males and females are, from the beginning, equal in image bearing and equal in being tasked in mission. However, Genesis 1 typically exercises little influence over Evangelical Christians (except to argue about Darwin).

There are numerous other “silenced texts” in the Bible about women and the equal status they have with God and should have with us. These texts shape how we should think about women themselves and even how we hear two lone (and highly contested) texts in Paul. (On the central contested text, 1 Timothy 2.12, see my article First Timothy 2.8-15 & the Silencing of Women in Worship).

Protests notwithstanding, what we think of women as human beings profoundly impacts how we interpret two texts for many sum up everything the Bible says about women.

It is the case that women are often – frequently – presented in Christian history (in sermons, commentary, articles, conversations) as simpletons, naive, prone to sin, the source of sin and just mindless creatures. They are emotional and less rational in the common male created stereotypes. These caricatures of “woman” that are totally at odds with Genesis 1. That so many fail to recognize the direct conflict in these false images and the biblical narrative makes us wonder if we ever actually read the Story.

Who is Wisdom?

But it is not just Genesis 1 these sinful caricatures are radically at odds with. It is safe to say that many ancient Israelites also held these misogynistic views of women (just as many down through the centuries). But biblical authors were not your average Israelite. They frequently are radically countercultural by recasting images of women more in a Genesis 1 mode.

For example take those collection of books we sometimes call “Wisdom” literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and if we include the Septuagint that would include Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon). These books teach us, that is they “instruct us in righteousness” and “equip us for every good work.” That is they are inherently authority in the life of God’s people (2 Tim 3.15-16). They provide God’s guidance for simply living a good life and wrestling with the most profound of questions. They speak of the “fear of the Lord.” They are wisdom. They are the product of the Holy Spirit.

But wisdom, in the Bible, is a Woman. Wisdom herself is a Female. Wisdom is Lady Wisdom. She teaches. She preaches. She instructs. She calls the listener to follow her. Wisdom, smarts, intelligence, knowledge … is a woman.

How do we know the Bible uses “women” as the paradigm of wisdom? Well because “the Bible told me so.” Where?

Here …

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise HER voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads SHE takes her stand …
SHE cries out

What does the Woman preach? What is Lady Wisdom going to instruct Israel (and any person that listens to God’s word today?) The Wisdom Woman claims she is the Truth …

To you, O People, I call,
and my cry is to all that live …
All my words of my mouth are righteous …
I, wisdom, live with prudence,
I attain knowledge and discretion …
I have insight and strength …
I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice

Wisdom, the Woman, informs us that She is in fact the first creation of God. Adam is not first, Lady Wisdom is first. She in fact was by God’s side as “adam” was created. Which in one way actually reframes the whole false notion of progenitor.

The LORD created ME at the beginning
of his work
the first of his acts long ago
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
when he had not yet made earth and fields
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above

Then Lady Wisdom informs us that the Creator God used Her to design and to create the rest of the marvels of creation.

when he [God] marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him,
I was his [God’s] delight

Those who find the Woman will have life we are told.

Whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the LORD;
but those who miss me injure themselves;
all who hate me love death.

All of these wonderful quotations from our Female Instructor come from Proverbs 8. Wisdom is not a Male. Wisdom is a Woman.

We find Lady Wisdom preaching in Proverbs 1.20-33; 4.1-9. Woman Wisdom is described in Proverbs 9.1-6. In the Greek version of the Old Testament we find Lady Wisdom in Sirach 24; and also Wisdom of Solomon chapters 7-9 along with Baruch 3.9-4.4.

We learn in Job 28 that God loves and treasures Wisdom. And it is not without significance that over 70 percent of the Song of Songs is the voice of a Woman (I believe the book is literally authored by a Woman). Second Samuel 14 presents us with one of those wonderfully wise women from Tekoa. But Proverbs goes much further.

Since Wisdom itself is a Woman, her teaching is not merely the selected verses quoted above. ALL Wisdom comes from Lady Wisdom. Lady Wisdom, since all wisdom in Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and its frequent appearance throughout Scripture. So a Woman is the implied author of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.

Talk about “authority.” The Holy Spirit is confronting our prejudices big time here my brothers. (Of course many will immediately dismiss this because this is metaphorical language. As if metaphors do not carry any weight. But the moment we apply that logic to the metaphors of God as Father or baptism washing sins away, they say we just don’t believe the Bible anymore! Ohhhhhh the special pleading and irony).

But the Holy Spirit was free to chose any image for Wisdom. The Spirit could have easily chosen a male (or an owl or tree or anything) to be wisdom. That was after all the prevailing prejudice and has been so down the centuries. Men were the smart ones and women foolish. But God’s Spirit sinks that bigotry and brings us back to a Genesis 1 perspective on Women. When God thinks about wisdom in relation to the human race it is the Woman that God holds up and says “perhaps you need to rethink this.

Perhaps, just perhaps, one reason Wisdom is a Woman in Scripture is because in the Hebrew Bible the Ruah (God’s Spirit) is also FEMALE! Ruah is Feminine in Hebrew (always has been and always will be). I have witnessed some disciples literally become discombobulated when they learn this fact.

Women. Some rebel at the very notion of a woman teaching them anything. But the Holy Spirit (the feminine Ruah) decided that the very image of wisdom was not to be a male but a woman. She teaches “all” who love her. Her teaching is holy. Her teaching is authoritative. Her teaching is inspired. Her teaching is the word of God.

What is your image of wisdom? In the Bible when Wisdom is pictured we see a woman staring back at us.

Rachael and Talya are no less, in any respect, to God than any male on the planet. Genesis and Wisdom teaches us this. Thank you for being my teacher Rachael and Talya.

Some things just make us go hmmmmmm.

Accessible Resources for Lady Wisdom

Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament. Her chapter “Desirable Discipline, Proverbs 8,” is wonderful.

Roland E. Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature, 3rd Edition. Murphy gives an extended overview of Lady Wisdom in Job, Proverbs, Sirach, Baruch, and Wisdom of Solomon.

One Response to “Women, Caricatures and Lady Wisdom (Thoughts inspired by Daughters)”

  1. JT Says:

    Discombobulated. Nice word. I use it occasionally but haven’t noticed it from others for a long while.

    Bobby, don’t you realize that it is men who build skyscrapers, go to war and fight enemies, and generally run the world? What’s all this about women created with “equal status” as men?

    All sarcasm and kidding aside, women are most amazing among God’s creation! What absolutely amazing creatures! I don’t fully understand them. But I am in awe at how valuable they are in the fullest sense that might be expressed. And without one, my particular one, daily life would seem dreary.

    No doubt they are different from men, but not of lower status in any degree. Just different. And aren’t we male species thankful they are different?

    Women deserve the highest consideration and degree of respect that can be shown to them. They are created in the image of God!



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