28 July. Proverbs chapters 7-9
We first saw mention of the “loose woman” in chapter 2, and she appears also in chapter 5 (part of yesterday’s reading that I did not comment on). In chapter 7 she takes centre stage. Although most translations use the word “prostitute”, the woman here is not like the modern “sex worker”, rather she is portrayed as a married woman who dares to go out in the streets looking for a lover while her husband is away.
Given the number of references I found in the prophets to prostitution, which were nearly always metaphors for idolatry, it might be the same here – is the word of wisdom really about not being lured away by exotic religions, and attractive-sounding philosophies (which nowadays might include some of the self-help crazes and health fads that actually harm people rather than help them)? Possibly, but I think it is probably meant literally. Even in our libertarian society where adultery is not a crime, it is still socially frowned on and an acceptable ground for divorce. Not only does it lead to jealous partners who might turn to violence in revenge, but affairs rarely last long and only end up damaging everyone involved.
There is also a clear parallel between the adulteress of chapter 7 roaming the streets and charming young men astray, and Wisdom as presented in the first half of chapter 8, likewise as a woman roaming the streets, but this time offering to share her virtues such as prudence and honesty. Which way will a young man turn? To the obvious but harmful attractions of a promiscuous lifestyle, or to a more virtuous and ascetic one that leads to wisdom? Fortunately, many people who try the former when they are young do end up happily and faithfully married, but not everyone.
In chapter 9, Wisdom is contrasted again (v.1-9) with another woman, this time Folly (v.13-18). Both invite people into their houses – to eat either the bread and wine of insight, or the or the “stolen water” and “secret bread” of death.
In the second half of chapter 8, Wisdom is presented, astonishingly, as having existed before Creation itself. It is for that reason that Christians have often understood her to be the personification of the holy Spirit, or of the Word of God who became incarnate in Jesus, who is acknowledged in the Nicene Creed as “begotten, not made … through him all things were made”.