Chapel – Scott Masson

Dr. Scott Masson

In continuing our summer series of reflections in the Book of Proverbs, Dr. Scott Masson explores the treatment of the two women from Proverbs 1 to 9, entitled “The Two Women of Proverbs”.

Dr. Scott Masson is an Associate Professor of English at Tyndale University.

Speaker: Dr. Scott Masson
Chapel Date: Tuesday August 2, 2022
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Podcast Transcript

Good morning, and welcome to our continuing series of reflections on the book of Proverbs this summer. I'm Dr. Scott Masson, and I work in the English department here at Tyndale. I teach a course, this fall, on the Bible as literature. And my sermon this morning, will be looking at a topic related to the Bible as literature, and that will be, namely, the treatment of the two women in Proverbs. And that will be Proverbs 1 to 9. I am not going to spend the entirety of the time reading Proverbs one to nine, I will read Proverbs one at the outset, for the first seven verses, but before I do that, let me begin with a word of prayer.

This is from Psalm 90. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Oh, satisfy us early with your mercy that we may rejoice and be glad with all our days. Amen.

So I said, I would begin by reading Proverbs one. Let me just read the first seven verses here. I'll read other verses as well. And I want to show to you what a profound and obvious theme wisdom is to the entirety of these Proverbs, with that brief introduction. So the proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel, to know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity, to give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion, a wise man will hear, and will increase learning, and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels, to understand a proverb, and the interpretation, the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge but fools despise wisdom, and instruction. So this is these are the words with which the book of Proverbs begins, I was delighted to be asked to speak on this topic, and that our summer series was on the book of Proverbs, because I find the book of Proverbs inexhaustibly satisfying, and indeed, the whole theme of wisdom in Scripture, one that is of constant interest to me, as a, somebody who values Wisdom literature in general. And wisdom is, of course, the subject that is at the heart of the subject of philosophy. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. And this is a form of philosophy here, of Wisdom literature, and we can see that philosophy can be categorized in various ways, in the ways of the academy it's often presented in terms of rationalism, versus empiricism, or continental philosophy versus Anglo American philosophies. We could speak a bit in terms of Eastern versus Western philosophy, or theistic or versus atheistic philosophies. There's many ways of presenting it, but often it's presented in dichotomous terms. In terms of how scripture itself presents it, I think we see a more profound understanding, and that really is that of a very full version, as opposed to an empty, a solid as opposed to a shallow, profound as opposed to trivial. And this is connected with the notion of God Himself, who in Hebrew is described as being heavy, “kabed”, forgive my Hebrew pronunciation, as opposed to being "havel", like a puff of wind, of vanity, as Ecclesiastes presented. And that depiction of two ways of understanding the world, and living life, are represented here in the book of Proverbs, in the terms of listening to two individuals, in this case, two women, and one of the women is presented as Lady Wisdom.

Those of us who have read our Boethius will recognize the figure of Lady Wisdom, who is the tutilary figure in that wonderful work. But we'll see that he or she is again represented in female terms, or many of my colleagues and friends will be delighted to see that, again, wisdom is personified in the form of a woman. And this is often the case in Greek literature as well. Athena is the goddess of wisdom who counsels her favoured servant, Odysseus. He or she is presented in terms of a woman that one should love, and court, and of course, the book of Proverbs concludes with the description of a woman, the so called Proverbs 31 wife, presented in la, in more earthy and practical terms, but nonetheless, to my mind, the fulfillment of personification, represent of, of wisdom represented in a woman, just as much as the King Lemuel probably is the same sort of figure in the guise of a man.

But note how the counsel of this takes place. These are the proverbs of Solomon, the king, renowned for his wisdom, to his son, and he is asking his son to gain wisdom, and to do that he says that he needs to fear the Lord to begin with. Augustine, in his De Doctrina Christiana, talks about various stages of Christian learning and begins again with this verse. Proverbs one, verse seven, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and then talks about humility in various stages thereafter. These things are needful for us to understand and to ponder deeply. But let me, I want to go through a few other of the references to wisdom in Proverbs as well, and just drop the word in and see how widely this word is applied. Proverbs two verse six says, "For the Lord gives wisdom. From his mouth, come knowledge and understanding." In Proverbs three, verse 19, we learned that "the Lord by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding he established the heavens, by his knowledge, the depths were broken up, and clouds dropped down the dew". In four, verse seven, we read that "the beginning of wisdom is this, get wisdom, though it costs all you have get wisdom". And, in 11, verse two we read that "when pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom". And again, note the fear precedes humility, in Proverbs here as well. Proverbs 16:16 says, "How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver". And then in an on a different tangent, "Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues". But what is clear, is that the one who gets wisdom, Proverbs 19, verse eight, loves what, loves life, the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper. And so you can see the varied ways in which wisdom is described here. She's described as something to be sought after, to be cherished, to love, have more value than riches, of being the means by which the whole created order came about.

This is a wide range of applications of the word wisdom, broad, far broader than we would expect. And we see that if we go to the New Testament, similarly, this theme of wisdom is amplified and related specifically to Jesus Christ, who in First Corinthians, one verse 30, tells us "became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption". And He is the one in Colossians, two verse three in whom are hidden, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And so what we see here, in general, is a tendency to take the wisdom which is presented in diverse ways, in Proverbs, and apply them around the person and work of Jesus Christ. And I will, I will return to that at the end. But I want to stick with the text here and apply it specifically to the terms in which we receive them in this book of Proverbs. This is not the only Wisdom literature we have in Scripture by the way, there are, we could look at Ecclesiastes, which who in general portrays life as a vain thing, Job who portrays life as a path of suffering, the Song of Songs, that provides presents life, in terms of love, and all these as ways of wi, wise living. And likewise, the book of James, which is itself written in a very aphoristic form of Wisdom literature. And Jesus himself is presented as a wise teacher in many of his teaching formats, we would say, but the use of two women is striking. And it frames the way in which we approach this wonderful book of Proverbs. And it's not altogether without offence, because on the one hand, the, we could say, as I did say, that the Lady of Wisdom is the source of it. And therefore, we're going to speak rather well of the of women, and, in fact, see them as the source of the very same power that founded the earth, and of something greater, and of greater value, than riches, and something that Solomon himself recommends to his own son. But on the other hand, we have another female figure, and she also is a very much a parallel figure to the first figure that we receive in the text. And that is the lady who is presented as a harlot. The two women are presented as speaking, calling out in the streets, demanding attention.

Wisdom cries out in the streets, and she speaks everywhere, and calls for their attention. Likewise, later on in Proverbs nine, we read that she has built her house and hewn out her seven pillars, whereas the way of folly, and the foolish woman, let me read a few verses here are proverbs 9:13, and forward, and, and so on. "A foolish woman is clamorous, she has simple and knoweth nothing, for she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, to call passengers who go right on their ways. Who so is simple, let him turn in hither. And as for him that wanteth understanding, she says to him, stolen waters are sweet. And bread eaten in secret is pleasant, but he knoweth not that the dead are there, and that her guests are in the depths of hell. And this woman is likewise presented in as an adulteress, who calls on... In Proverbs seven, that's how she's presented. And she is trying to lure him into a sort of a sexual affair. Likewise, the woman presented to him as Lady wisdom and this theme of two women is there, pervasive in Scripture. I think it rises once again, in the book of Revelation, where we once again we meet to woman, one who is the Whore of Babylon, Babylon the Great, presented in the guise of a woman. And likewise, her counterpart, the heavenly Jerusalem, presented as a beautiful bride dess, dressed and prepared for her husband, the City of God, that is also the Bride of Christ. So these, these, what we often will tell you, or I will tell you, as an English professor, you ought not to do, which is to mix your metaphors. The Bible thinks better and knows better than I on this front and does exactly that. So I find this profoundly interesting, in relation to the Psalms. Why, then, why is it that scripture presents wisdom in this fashion? And why does it connect wisdom, or folly, with sexual conduct? These are profound questions, and they're not ones that I'm going to be able to answer in a short sermon here. But I will say that it is very interesting that in the very beginning of Scripture, we see these plays of these dualities if you will, even in the creation of Adam and Eve, the play of the man coming from and working the ground. The word for man is Adam, and the ground is Adam. Ah, and the man is ish and the woman is ishah, and so forth. And there's all sorts of play on man and ground and the ground from which the And we'll return but likewise, the root word for the ground is actually Adam. So that the ground is in, in many ways seem to be there to serve Adam, and with Adam, humanity and with humanity, God, who created all of them.

So there are profound interplays there and puns and plays on words. Likewise here, in the interplay between the adulterous woman and the faithful voice of wisdom, we see a profound interaction and note that it is connected, however, as I said, with sexual conduct. And I simply note on this front, that the idols and the the Baal and Asherah poles of the Canaanites were also connected with sexual transgression. Whereas the people of Israel were called upon to be one flesh, and to be faithful to their husband or their wife respectively. And this was the ideal there, and the ideal there for the for the people of Israel was a reflection we read in Ephesians five, of the relationship of Christ to His church. So once again, what we have here are a series of analogies that are presented and analogies are profound ways of expressing truths. I had a an interview earlier today in which we talked about the way in which the Bible is often seen as a work of fiction. And I took issue to that depiction, not because it's fundamentally wrong, but rather, because the association of the word fiction is usually presented as a contrast to the world of fact. Whereas my point was that the Bible is written in a literary fashion, not because it's presenting things that are not true, but rather, because it is presenting things that are so true, that the best way in which to present them is in the form of a literary way, and here in Proverbs have a contrast in two ways of life. And so it's very much black and white. It's very much "by this way, you shall live by that way, you shall die". And we see that in Deuteronomy 32. And therefore choose life. Those are the terms in which wisdom is presented. And so it is very stark, and it to some degree is offensive, insofar as we don't like such hard choices, we would rather, particularly for academics, want to nuance this situation and consider consider it in terms a little less bleak, or a little less dark than that. Nonetheless, that's how Wisdom literature presents itself. And it does so, as I say, because that is the way in which wisdom is best conveyed, in terms of a dichotomy. You will either do this, and live or you will do that, and die.

Now, I mentioned three other books, that could also be, or even four, that can be considered Wisdom literature. Ecclesiastes, which portrays life as vanity. Job, which portrays life as suffering, and the Song of Songs which presents life in terms of love. These are all three of them, our ways of understanding wisdom as well, in a more nuanced way, but I want to focus finally on this notion of life as suffering, because we very much see that not here in Proverbs, although there are Proverbs that talk about the significance of suffering, but more in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom we are told, Paul says, says this here, and he says it in First Corinthians, one verse 24, that he preaches Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. So the wisdom of God here, is once again, presented in, yes here in terms of suffering, and yes, in terms of foolishness in the eyes of the world. But once again, when we think about the power of the cross, we think about what happened at the cross. And what happened at the cross is that the, that Christ bought, for his bride, His spotless and perfect bride, the the clothing with which she would clad herself. The proverbs 31 woman, who is praised for her practical wisdom, is now the Church. This is the true meaning of wisdom and the effect of wisdom. And it's connected with the work of Christ and His person, and it cannot be separated from that. And there's a fullness to this, on a relational front, on a intellectual front, on a experiential front that I think is, that far transcends other forms of wisdom and philosophy that I have encountered, and that's what I want to commend to you today is to consider how in the person of Christ, we see the wisdom of God, and the power of God, in the very weakness of God, and the apparent folly of God, because we know that in Him, all things hold together. And He, even in the eyes of the world grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men, and yet he was stricken and crucified for our sake.

And so I want to conclude with a word of prayer. We thank You, Lord Jesus, for your sacrifice for us, for the wisdom of God, by which He undid the curse of sin, by which He made us a new people, by which He made us the spotless bride, whom He loved, by which the same power by which He created the heavens and the earth, and by which He will begin a new creation, which has already begun in his people, and will consummate in the new heavens and the new earth, which He speaks of at the end of Scripture. So we thank You, Lord Jesus, and pray in Your name. Amen.

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