“Why is Wisdom a ‘She’ in Proverbs?”

Why is Wisdom portrayed as a she and as a her in the Book of Proverbs? That’s the sermon question that we’re dealing with today, on the heels of my message this past Sunday about the wisdom literature of the Bible. And if you look at Proverbs, you’ll find, especially in the first nine chapters, a variety of mentions of she and her in describing wisdom. For instance, we looked at Proverbs chapter eight, where it says, does not wisdom call out, does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way where the paths meet, she takes her stand beside the gate leading into the city.

At the entrance, she cries aloud. What are we to make of that? There have been a number of theories about why this is happening in the Book of Proverbs, and including some outlandish theories. So let’s try to think about this. We’re not entirely sure if Solomon or whoever wrote the Book of Proverbs here.

These first nine chapters where Wisdom is portrayed as a her, we’re not entirely sure if they intended a feminine portrayal of Wisdom from the very beginning. But we do have other places that we can turn, and this process can help us anytime we come along, some confusing or passages in Scripture that we’re not really sure what the answer is. And one place we can look at is figures of speech. Figures of speech in the Bible, for instance, personification giving an inanimate object, person like qualities is something that’s very common that we see in Scripture. One place that comes to mind for me in the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis chapter four, after Cain kills his brother Abel, god confronts Cain with his sin and says, the blood of your brother Abel is crying out to me from the ground.

Now, are we to take that literally? That Abel’s blood is physically crying out to God? I think most of us would say, well, I think that that’s a figure of speech. And indeed, that may be what’s happening in the Book of Proverbs with Wisdom. That we’ve got figures of speech, we’ve got personification taking something that rather than just some vague idea, we’re putting person like qualities to it.

And so that this figure of speech is helping to make a larger point that’s one place that we can look, another place that we can consider, is genre. Genre. We know that what we’re dealing with in the Book of Proverbs, especially the first nine chapters of Proverbs, is a lot of poetry. There’s a lot of poetry in the Bible, and especially in the wisdom literature. And here in the Book of Proverbs, we’re dealing with poetry.

We’re not dealing so much with narrative, we’re not dealing with apocalyptic type of literature. We’re dealing with poetry. And as such, we’re dealing with imagery, and we’re dealing with emotion. And in chapter eight of Proverbs, what we’re dealing with is a praise song that is in honor of wisdom’s, wonderful qualities. And so that figure of speech, that personification that we talked about earlier, combined with poetry, might help us to think that we’re probably not going to get a technical definition of wisdom in this type of genre.

And so that can help us to put together again the pieces of the puzzle. But one last piece to consider is grammar. Grammar. And I know a lot of us want to forget all about grammar, right? We’re done with grammar in school.

But one thing to think about is how in the English language, aside from a few personal pronouns, in English, we don’t typically assign gender to our words. And in other countries, though, with other languages, like, say, for instance, Spanish, when you were learning Spanish or another language, you may encounter that certain nouns and certain words do have gender, masculine or feminine, grammatical gender. Well, Hebrew is like that. The Hebrew language is and the Hebrew word for wisdom that is used in the Book of Proverbs and in the Old Testament is a feminine noun. It’s a feminine noun that doesn’t describe physical gender as much as it describes something that is grammatically gender related.

And so if we take all of those clues together, I think we can come to the conclusion that what we’re dealing with again, is a figure of speech. We’re dealing with some grammatical concerns and some genre concerns that help us to see that wisdom is not specifically being described physically as a female for any other reason other than well, let’s consider who the audience of Proverbs is. The writer of Proverbs we know is writing to a young man, or perhaps multiple young men. And indeed, if we look back historically, we know that the Book of Proverbs was often used as an instruction manual for young men in that day. And so it’s almost as if the writer of Proverbs is extolling the wonderful virtues of wisdom and personifying it as a woman, as a way to encourage a young man or multiple young men to marry wisdom, so to speak, to be in a relationship with wisdom and to pursue wisdom in this relationship.

And that’s something you and I are to do as well. So that is probably what we’re dealing with here in this particular instance. The bottom line for you and me, friends, is, as we talked about on Sunday, we need wisdom. And what lady wisdom in the Book of Proverbs points us ahead towards is what we see Jesus fulfilling in the New Testament, in his life, in his deeds, in his own wisdom. He was full of the fear of God.

And we talked about the fear of God being the beginning of wisdom, and that Jesus is wisdom embodied and that Jesus lived among us as a representation of God’s perfect wisdom. And so that’s the main takeaway for us, friends. We need wisdom. And that begins with a relationship with the Lord so thanks so much for joining us. We’ll see you next time.