Archie Bunker divided his world into women who were dingbats and men who were meatheads. And at first sight this attitude goes back to proverbs which were current in the Middle East three thousand years ago. Here are some remarks about women in the Bible's Book of Proverbs :
"Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without sense" (11:22)
"A good woman is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones" (12:4)
"It is better to live in the corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious wife" (21:9)
"It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and fretful wife" (21:19)
"A continual dripping on a rainy day and a contentious wife are alike" (27:15)
"This is the way of an adulteress: she eats, and wipes her moth, and says I have done no wrong" (30:20)
But these half dozen rude verses about women hardly compare with the string of devastating remarks about males who are fools :
"How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?" (1:22)
"The complacency of fools destroys them" (1:32)
"The wise lay up knowledge but the babbling of a fool brings ruin" (10:14)
"Fools die for lack of sense" (10:21)
"Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice" (12:15)
"Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult" (12:16)
"The mind of a fool broadcasts folly" (12:23)
"The fool throws off restraint and is careless" (14:16)
"Folly is the garland of fools" (14:24)
"Folly is a joy to one who has no sense" (15:21)
"Better to meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs than to confront a fool immersed in folly (15:12)
"The discerning person looks to wisdom, but the eyes of a fool to the ends of the earth (17:24)
"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion" (18:2)
"It is honorable to refrain from strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel" (20:3)
"Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, who will only despise the wisdom of your words" (23:9)
"Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly" (26:11)
"Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, but
the folly will not be driven out" (27:22)
There is also the paradox : "Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself. Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes" (26:4-5).
Statistics do not prove anything. But for every bad thing the collector of these proverbs says about women he has three times as many remarks about stupid men.
All of us can remember doing some very unwise things, but the art of life is to learn the wisdom that saves both men and women from disastrous behavior. The good news is that even the worst of fools could learn wisdom if they looked in the right direction. That is the point of the Book of Proverbs.
The first nine chapters introduce Sophia (in both Greek and Hebrew the word for wisdom is feminine). Wisdom is not one simple definable thing. We are given ten of its more obvious characteristics (Proverbs 1:2-6). We might think of the kind of person we would want to go to when we need advice. Each word is important.
INSIGHT - A wise person sees under the surface, goes to the heart of the matter. The opposite is someone who is superficial.
WISE DEALING - In our daily life we have dealings with all sorts of people. The wise ones are those who are sensible, reliable. The opposite are those who are erratic and unpredictable.
RIGHTEOUSNESS - A wise person is upright, honest, true to his or her word.
JUSTICE - Wisdom is the quality we would want in a judge or magistrate. It involves knowing the rights of both parties, evaluating and weighing the evidence.
EQUITY - Very early in life children can recognize "that's not fair." Equity means being even-handed, not being prejudiced, taking sides.
SHREWDNESS - Jesus put this metaphorically. "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). And sadly it is possible even for devout Christians to be sweetly innocent, and hopelessly gullible. Others can be very clever and very dangerous.
KNOWLEDGE - The writer is not thinking of head knowledge that knows all the facts in the Guinness Book of World Records, or the detailed knowledge of one area required for a Ph.D. The wise person knows human nature, and especially his own quirks, and frailty, and irrational emotions.
PRUDENCE - The wise person thinks ahead. He or she avoids rash, hasty judgments and decisions. The opposite is called opening one's mouth to put one's foot in it.
LEARNING - This is not the ability to learn facts or a new skill. That is very important in any career. Wisdom is the openness to keep learning from the experience of others and from one's own mistakes.
UNDERSTANDING - There is a huge amount of misunderstanding when people fail to grasp the subtlety of another's language, especially the metaphors they use. It takes wisdom to understand (stand under) "a proverb and a figure" (1:6) As opposed to those who miss the point, the wise person knows how we feel and what we are trying to express.
None of us exemplify such a range of wise qualities. But Sophia is willing to take us in hand and give us all the wisdom we need for walking through life. The same idea is picked up in the New Testament. "If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith" (James 1:5-6).
Sophia is pictured as a wealthy woman who delights in sharing her wealth and entertaining any who accept her invitation. "Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars" (Proverbs 9:1). As opposed to a two pillar shack, a four pillar rectangular house, or a house with a high center support, Sophia lives in a huge seven pillar mansion. And she has prepared a magnificent banquet. "She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table." As in Jesus' parable of the wedding banquet, Sophia "has sent out her servant girls, she calls from the highest places of the town" (9:3, see Luke 14:15-24). And the invitation is to all of us. Dingbats and meatheads are welcome. "You that are simple, turn in here!" (9:4).
Jesus also picked up Sophia's call with his invitation to the bread and wine of our communion service. "Come, eat of my bread and drink the wine I have mixed" (9:5). He also said "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10), which echoes Sophia's invitation to "live and walk in the way of insight" (9:6).
The word walk is important. We are not invited to an instant wisdom that is ours for ever. Wisdom is a "way of insight" (9:6). It is a walk through the constantly changing circumstances of life. "Walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just" (2:20). "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" (3:17)
Jesus said "the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life" (Matthew 7:14). And in Pilgrim's Progress John Bunyan described how easy it was to go aside into "bypass meadow." But Jesus also said : "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), which at least means he is willing to go with us, take us by the hand, keep us from dangerous error, and life-threatening behavior (see Proverbs 4:11,12).
How is this wisdom for life's walk received? Jesus said "Ask, and it shall be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you" (Matthew 7:7). He must be echoing Sophia's invitation. "Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures - then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom" (Proverbs 2:2-6, see the parables of the treasure and the pearl in Matthew 13:44-45). The door of Wisdom's banqueting house with seven pillars is always open to anyone's knock (Proverbs 9:4-5).
Finally we should note that wisdom is pictured as coming jointly from
a loved child's parents, both the father and mother. The male and female
aspects of God's love are important. "Hear, my child, your father's instruction,
and do not reject your mother's teaching; for they are a fair garland for
your head, and pendants for your neck" (Proverbs 1:8,9). In a loving
family the mother and father may be conscious of their own mistakes, but
they certainly long for their child to be wise. And many years later they
are rewarded when their children say "my father used to say . . . my mother
taught me." If that is true of human parents, we can imagine the joy of
God when we learn his wisdom.