Men and Women; Husbands and Wives
The Proverbs display remarkable attention as to sexual roles. There is no room for the shifting “gender” decisions of the modern world. Men and women are men and women, with their different and similar issues1.
The addresses in Proverbs repeatedly reference wisdom being taught in the home. And while “my son” may very well be a circumlocution for “student”, the fact remains that the student becomes like one in a home. Both parents are held responsible for such teaching, even though the predominate task is given to the father2.
There are multiple references to the sexually immoral/enticing woman3. It is considered a fundamental aspect of wisdom to be “deliver[ed] from the strange woman” ( 2:16; see also, 6:24; 6:32; 7:10; 23:27; 27:13; 30:20). The basic paradigm here is of the man being enticed and the woman enticing4. While both are equal partners in wickedness, the paradigm proves true in general practice. Men can be so easily led by their sexual desire, that a woman can quickly gain control over men by simply making herself available. (To the dismay of the lazy5, sexually immoral men who populate society and too often the church, it rarely works in the opposite direction.)
The solution to this problem is given by the converse instruction: “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (6:29). This proverb, along with 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, are a portion of sound instruction for married men who have struggles with pornography. Obviously this instruction alone is insufficient and can easily lead to other problems (since self-centeredness in sexuality is a fundamental problem with pornography/masturbation); yet appropriate sexual channels can be of great help. (A contrary command is not provided to the wife: The implication seems to be that a woman’s sexuality functions along fundamentally different lines than a man’s desires.) Jim Newheiser rightly explains that a proper channel for sexuality is not sufficient:
The father describes Wisdom as the perfect lover. She is better than a wife. A wife alone without Wisdom will not be enough to keep you from sin. You may not always have a wife nearby. Some wives are not helpful in overcoming temptation (21:9), but Wisdom protect every man who seeks her from sexual impurity. No man who falls into sexual sin can blame his singleness or bad wife, because Wisdom alone would have protected him, if he had sought her. The love of Wisdom is the love of God (Mark 12:30). Wisdom teaches you not to live for worldly pleasures (2 Tim. 3:4) but rather to find perfect satisfaction in the Lord . . . . Wisdom will exalt you (4:8) like a good wife who is a crown to her husband.6
If laziness and sexual immorality are the besetting sins of men (a proposition which observation seems to bear out), unhappiness is a besetting sin of women. Solomon draws some true and painful pictures of the life with this vexatious woman: “It is better to live in a corner of a roof” (21:97; 25:248). And, “It is better to live in a desert land” (27:13) than to live with this woman. She is “A constantly dripping” roof (27:15). Related is the woman who “lacks discretion” (11:22), who “tears it [her own house] down with her own hands” (14:1). Folly is described as “boisterous”. She is contrasted with the wise woman of Proverbs 31 and the “gracious woman” (11:16)9. The solution for both sets of women is “a woman who fears the Lord” (31:30).
Another unhappy situation is the unloved wife. Agur tells us that the world cannot bear “an unloved woman when she gets a husband” (30:23). Waltke explains this woman as follows:
The topsy-turvy social order now moves from the body politic to the home . . . . First, the home is threatened when from without it comes under the control of a hated woman . . . . The chiastic parallel, “a churlish outcast,” points to an odious, quarrelsome, unlovable woman whom society rejects, the opposition of the prudent wife . . . . When she gets married . . . connotes that the hateful woman, who cannot rule her own tongue, now rules the home . . . , or at least the portion under the wife’s normal supervision . . . . Having rightly been shunned by society, she now gets even with it from the security of her elevated place within society.10
Peter’s instruction is that a woman find her hope, treasure and joy in Jesus Christ alone (1 Pet. 1:3-9). Such a woman can then present a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pet. 4:4), even when married to an unbeliever!
The final group of husband-wife proverbs concern the blessed marriage: The “excellent wife is the crown of her husband” (12:411). The remaining three proverbs all occur within the Proverbs 31 Woman section: “Her husband trusts her” (31:11); her husband blesses her (31:28); and her husband has respect – in part because his wife is such a blessing (31:23). This combination of proverbs tells us that a wise wife & a wise husband mutually reinforce and support one another, the marriage and society generally.
Seeing the beauty and good of marriage is a bar to a great many sins. Our society has repeatedly and is constantly degrading marriage. This is understandable in that marriage is the
first seat of God’s commands, God’s first institution, the site of government and church. Marriage causes human beings to care for another repeatedly and necessarily in contradiction to their own selfish tendencies. It is bulwark against many sins, particularly sexual immorality.
Therefore, the direct teaching in Proverbs extolling marriage is a necessary antidote (18:22; 19:14).
Sexual immorality is seen in the context of deliberately forsaking marriage: The immoral woman, “leaves the companion of her youth” (2:17). A fool, “goes into his neighbor’s wife” (6:29). These passages refer to those already in a marriage, which has been the de facto status of most cultures through out history. Yet, many have forsaken marriage by never marrying in the first place. The cause seems to be (1) laziness: it takes work, discipline and consistent desire to become married (particularly for the men); and/or (2) the availability of sexual outlet beyond marriage. Sexual pleasure outside of marriage is readily and easily available for even the laziest of men.
Another temptation to women is to put their hope primarily in physical beauty. The immoral woman relies upon sexual immorality to gain her ends. Peter warns women to not let their value reside in physical beauty but in their right standing with God (1 Pet. 3:3-4). This woman is seen in Proverbs 11:22. She is beautiful yet since she lacks discretion, her beauty is of no value.12 In a culture which values physical beauty over everything, this is certainly a snare to women. Such women need to be counseled to gain wisdom properly grounded in the knowledge and fear of the Lord13.
1Longman argues that the references to male or female are incidental to the meaning of the book and should, essentially, be ignored or replaced with the “appropriate” sex to make the matter comprehensible (Tremper Longman III, Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 72-74). While the male can function as the generic, care must be taken in application.
2Concerning the command in Proverbs 1:8, Bridges writes, “The command supposes the godly character of parents, and recognizes the responsibility of both parents” (Charles Bridges, Proverbs (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth, 1998), 4).
3Waltke provides a far more comprehensive analysis of various types of references to the immoral woman (unchaste wife, unchaste woman, outsider, unfaithful apostate wife) (Bruce Waltke, Proverbs 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 119-25). In conclusion he writes, “The unchaste wife also serves a paradigmatic purpose. By definition, the proverbs and the sayings of this book are exemplars by which to judge one’s life in many situations, and as such the unfaithful wife’s sexual infidelity against her godly husband functions as a paradigm for spiritual infidelity against the Lord” (Waltke, 125).
4Of particular interest is the cuckolded husband of the immoral woman: “my husband is not at home” (Prov. 7:19; see also, 6:29). One wonders what this husband has been doing with his wife. While the main point of the reference is to the lack of danger to the potential adulterer, there is a backhanded slap at her husband in this verse. In the case of long physical absences, the question of adultery should at least be considered before it is ruled out.
5The besetting sins of men, according to Proverbs, are laziness, sexual immorality and the related concept of the quick-buck (instant gratification without effort). As laziness will be dealt with in a separate paper, I will skip that topic in this paper.
6 Jim Newheiser, Opening Up Proverbs (Leonminster: Day One Publications 2008, 2008), 76.
7 Longman’s gender neutral reading of Proverbs is shown in his comment on this verse, “Women who read it today must simply substitute ‘man/husband’ into the proverb; it can be applied with equal force in that direction” (Longman, 392).
8 Speaking of this verse and the husband’s response in verse 16, Wardlaw writes, “So, the efforts of gentleness and calmness to mollify and to conceal may have the very opposite effect, – provoking all the more to openness, from resentful disdain, and the very love of contradiction – exposing herself, for the purpose of fretting, and mortifying him” (Ralph Wardlaw, D.D., Lectures on the Book of Proverbs: Volume III (Edinburgh: A Fullarton & Co., 1869), 235).And, “[A]s the wind pent up howls more frightfully; so the attempt to still her noise only makes her clamorous” (Bridges, 515). There is an interesting dichotomy at play here: The wife is so interested in destroying her husband’s name, that pacification only provokes her further.
9 “A noble wife enhances the public stature of her husband. When in public, she honors her husband through her modesty and godly behavior. Like a crown upon the head of a king, she becomes for her husband his public glory” (Anthony Selvaggio, A Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships (Wapwallopen: Shepherd Press, 2008), 140).
10 Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15-31 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 494.
11 Waltke, “A wise husband fears the LORD and is wise and righteous in general. More specifically, he depends on God for a prudent wife (18:22), presumably in connection with prayer (15:8, 29; 16:3), looks for one who is noble and competent (31:10-31), and rejects one who is unloved by the godly community (30:23) (Waltke, 118).” “And if Assuereus for the beauty of a woman did cause all his kingdom to be sought and surveyed: how much more ought Christian Princes to seek her for her virtue. And if we shall well examine the matter, this is one and a chief cause of this rareness: because there are so few men which do seek after such women. . . . But now, when women do consider themselves, that virtue and piety is not regarded, but beauty, nobility and riches; and that if only they have them, they please their wooers: Therefore are they so careful for them, and do set their rest upon them. Whereof also it is, that the chief care of parents is to make them most beautiful & most rich; altogether neglecting piety and good huswiferie.” John Dod and William Hinde, Bathshebaes Instructions to her Son Lemuel (London: John Beale, 1614), 23. I have noted this often: Most especially among the young single men who too often treasure beauty above godliness and then sorrow for their choice. Interestingly, the same is becoming true of the women: favoring physical beauty over all other considerations.
12 “[A]ll men naturally are so besotted and blinded with an overweening of the excellency of these outward things, that they admire & magnify themselves and all such as have them, how vain, profane & ungodly soever they be” (Stephen Egerton, Indecorum: Or, a Brief Treatise Upon one of Solomon’s Proverbs. Chap. 11.22 (Blackfriars: Felix Kyngston, 1613), 59). If anything, this book is more incisive now than at the time of its publication.
13 For character in marriage for both men and women, see generally, Salvaggio, pp. 139-151.