Monday 22 July 2019

Proverbs #6: A Wisdom That Works

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Honour her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Proverbs 31:30-31

The book of Proverbs closes with a poetic celebration of a woman who ‘fears the LORD’. Significantly, we reach the end of the book and discover that the model to emulate is not a religious ‘professional’, like a priest or a prophet or a scribe, but a woman whose faith is shown in her daily life.

In fact, this remarkable portrayal is the Bible’s fullest description of the regular activity of an ‘ordinary’ person – a woman whose fear of the Lord is demonstrated in her everyday activities of being a wife to her husband, a mother to her children, providing for her family, managing her household, engaging in international trade in cloths and textiles, negotiating the purchase of fields, looking out for the poor, and more besides!

The book which begins with the affirmation that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (1:7) ends with praise of one who embodies it.

No wonder we are called on to honour her for ‘the fruit of her hands’, as more literal versions translate the phrase in verse 31. In what does this fruit consist? How is it demonstrated? The ‘fruit of her hands’ is the result of her work, that which allows her to plant a vineyard (31:16). Her spinning of yarn and reaching out to the poor are also actions performed by her hands (31:19-20). Whether it’s savvy commerce, technical competence, or tender compassion, all are attributed to the work of her fruitful hands – the deeds that bring her praise.

In keeping with the command to our first parents in the Garden of Eden, the fruit of her hands is a life which brings forth the potential of God’s good creation. As such, the woman becomes a model for all of us – men as well as women, attached or unattached – who are called to be faithful stewards of all that God has given us, in a way that’s productive and beneficial to others.

And, as the book of Proverbs makes clear, the call to fruitful living is applicable in different spheres of life – at the city gates and in the market squares, in our homes and in our workplaces. Far from being removed from the rhythms of everyday life, such fruitfulness embraces a range of skills and tasks, worked out concretely in the kitchen, on the field, at the desk, wherever God has placed us.

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