Proper 15B/Ordinary 20B/Pentecost 12
August 19, 2012
“Johnny, take a walk with your sister, the moon
Let her pale light in, to fill up your room
You’ve been living underground, eating from a can
You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand (love)”
– “Mysterious Ways,” U2
Woman Wisdom is one of the more mysterious and intriguing characters of the Bible – a Holy Book that is supposedly about the works of a monotheistic male deity. She appears in several of the works of what is known as “Wisdom Literature” in the Hebrew Bible, and appears the most frequently in the Book of Proverbs, called “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel” (Proverbs 1:1). In Proverbs, we first see Woman Wisdom in the street (unescorted by a man – very risky behavior for a woman in that time!), crying out at the busiest corner:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you” (1:22-23).
Woman Wisdom not only invites us, but scolds us for our failure to heed her cry up until this point. Her message is simple: Wisdom is the way of success, foolishness is the way of failure: “For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them” (vv.32).
Woman Wisdom calls to us in the present, but she also speaks of being with YHWH from the very beginning:
“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 [YHWH] marked out the foundation of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (8:22-23, 29-30).
According to scholar Claudia V. Camp, this vivid imagery “cannot help but recall certain ancient goddesses, in this case especially Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of justice, who was also understood both as the child of the creator god and (especially in Egyptian wisdom literature) as the ordering principle of creation” (“Woman Wisdom: Bible“).
In the Hebrew Bible reading for today, Woman Wisdom establishes her household and sets out a feast for us:
“Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars,
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls” (9:1-3).
It seems that Woman Wisdom is very strong and resourceful, pulling loads that would strain a Ford pick-up! Bit in spite of all her hard work, she is still unconditionally hospitable:
“… she calls from the highest places in the town,
‘You that are simple, turn in here!’
To those without sense she says,
‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight'” (vv.3-6).
The imagery of bread and wine call to the modern mind an image of the Christian Eucharist – the celebration of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ where He symbolically gave broken bread as His body and wine as His blood to His disciples to eat and drink in His memory.
While some scholars feel that Woman Wisdom is simply a domesticated version of powerful Near Eastern goddesses such as Ma’at, Ashera and Astarte, her portrayal in the Book of Proverbs is still striking and memorable. As Claudia V. Camp says, it is undeniable that “this quintessentially male book [Proverbs] is framed with a woman’s voice” (Ibid.) By including Woman Wisdom in our meditations on the Divine, may we likewise make room in our worship, our leadership and our lives for women’s voices.