October 25, 2020

“Two Choices: One Wise, one Foolish”


Proverbs 9:1-18


So, we continue our series on the book of Proverbs. Today we will look specifically at Woman Wisdom, a female personification of God, and what it means to follow her wise ways. Chapter 9 as read by our lay reader this morning might be a bit of a surprise to many of you. Female imagery related to God in scripture is relatively rare. However, there is much to explore here as we consider the origins and place of Woman wisdom.


We begin with her origin story, found in chapter eight, starting at verse 22.


We read that God created Woman Wisdom at the beginning of creation, the first of God’s acts long ago, before the beginning of the earth-as the sea was being formed, so did God make Woman Wisdom. The Hebrew in this section reveals even more interesting information about the origins of Woman Wisdom.


The word translated as “created” in verse 22, hul, actually means more specifically the act of writhing in birth pains. In verse 23, the words, “I was set up” suggests being poured out, perhaps reflecting the birth process when the womb’s water breaks. So, it seems that God gave birth to Woman Wisdom. God is in effect the Mother of Woman Wisdom, something rather buried in our theology.


Next, the order of birth is important, especially in Hebrew society. Wisdom is the firstborn of God. The firstborn son in Hebrew culture held a privileged rank and would receive a double portion of the estate of his parents. In this section of scripture, however, Woman Wisdom is the first offspring of God and of great importance.


Finally, verses 30-31 give us a very interesting description of Woman Wisdom. She describes herself as an anon, translated by the NRSV as “Master Worker.” This translation tells us that Woman Wisdom is an architect, who designs and builds right alongside of God, who in turn delights in her daily.


To sum up, Woman wisdom is the firstborn, beloved child of God who delights in her, the witness of and participant in the creation.


Now that we have shed light upon this female extension of God, let us learn more about her, and what she offers, looking more at chapter 9. This chapter sets before us two choices: one wise, and one foolish. It very likely belonged to a wisdom school that taught the two ways to Israelite youth. The two strophes of this poem present us with a contrast: Woman Wisdom who offers the untaught to participate in God’s wisdom and Woman Folly, who invites the untaught to partake of her stolen feast, which leads to ruin and death.


In studying and contemplating this section over the last week, I was reminded of when I was a young lad and spent a lot of time sitting in the office of an orthodontist named Dr. Inouye. You see, I was born with an extra set of teeth, which meant my mouth was a crowded mess and I would eventually need braces. In Dr. Inouye’s office was the magazine, Highlights. I am sure some of you remember that publication. At any rate, there was always a comic strip in Highlights called “Goofus and Gallant.” Goofus was the foolish one-not being polite, not cleaning his room, not sharing, etc. While Gallant, on the other hand, was the perfect little gentleman who cleaned up after dinner, did his chores, and followed his parents’ wishes. It seemed to me as a child the wise choice was to follow Gallant rather than Goofus.


So, we have a similar parallel to Goofus and Gallant- Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly. What can we learn about these two examples, and which one does God call us to follow? We begin with Woman Wisdom.


In the initial section of this chapter, verses 1-6, Woman Wisdom builds her house of seven pillars, sets up a feast, and calls her maidens to issue invitations to celebrate. This is reminiscent of the pagan fertility temples that surrounded the hills of Jerusalem at the time, but also a contrast from that form of religion, for Woman Wisdom, is connected to the one true God, Yahweh.  Woman Wisdom invites the simple (those who do not yet know the ways of God) to lay aside immaturity, and live, to walk in the way of insight.


In my growing up, when I was “simpler” I began to interact with God’s wisdom- first in Sunday school, learning the teachings of Jesus. My mother would sometimes share some Godly wisdom with me as well. By the time I was in Junior high school, I had let Christ into my heart, and had a decent library in my head of pieces of wisdom from scripture- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. A light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him might have eternal life. Faith without works is dead, etc. Those ways of insight helped steer me through the lovely time of puberty and adolescence and helped me be a bit less simple. I don’t miss those days. How about you? At least Woman Wisdom was there to guide me through that often hot mess.


I even recall an encounter with one of the cool kids in 7th grade- he had long hair and often got into trouble. One day he was wearing this t-shirt that read, “Do unto others, then SPLIT!” I am pretty certain that the character on the shirt was also flipping the bird.   As I looked at his shirt, he said to me, “Ha! You don’t even know what this shirt is about!” I remember thinking to myself, “Well actually I do know what it is about, and you have it wrong!” I then said something to that effect, tried to tell him what Jesus really meant, and he laughed in my face, called me a geek, and walked away. This brings us then to verses 7-8. “Whoever corrects a scoffer wins abuse; whoever rebukes the wicked will only get hurt. A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked will love you.” A scoffer is someone who, according to the Cambridge Dictionary “laughs and speaks about a person or idea in a way that shows that they think that person or idea is stupid or silly.” There are times when we have those insights from Woman Wisdom and are met with, well, Scoffing! Those however who have learned some of Woman Wisdom’s teachings will love you - or at least hopefully appreciate the insight into their behavior.


Verse 9 reminds me that once I began down this road of God’s wisdom, I have become wiser still through learning and studying more. I am gaining in wisdom, not as simple in God’s wisdom as I used to be, but still have a long way to go.


In verse 10, we have the verse we focused upon last Sunday - The awe and understanding of God and our place in the cosmos is the beginning of wisdom. The last two verses promise us a multiplication of our days and years. I don’t know that by studying scripture my life will be prolonged. I do know, however, it will help me steer clear from dangerous habits, and move me towards acts of love, compassion, and justice, making the world a better place to experience life.


We now come to the contrast in verses 13-18 - in effect the Goofus as opposed to the Gallant - Woman Folly as opposed to Woman Wisdom. Folly is a feminine noun meaning, “foolishness, stubbornness.” Her description in this section echoes back to the strange woman mentioned in earlier sections of Proverbs - she who was an adulteress, a prostitute, a devotee of the fertility goddess culture (See 2:21-22; 5:1-23).


In contrast to Woman Wisdom, Woman Folly calls from the door of her house, “You who are untaught, turn in here!”  Her meal is far from a banquet - stolen water and bread eaten in secret.  This foolishness offers the wisdom of the world, to take what you can get, not to care about others, not to pay attention or study God’s wisdom of learning to “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.” (Micah 6:8) This way leads to creating havoc and disorder in God’s creation. The dead are part of this path - dead in the spirit, dead to the needs of others, dead to God’s calls for justice, mercy, and humility.


We see an example of Woman Folly being played out in the news cycles this past month. According to the New York Times, last week it was learned that there are still 545 children who were initially separated by the Trump administration’s controversial and tough anti-immigrant, “zero tolerance” policy begun in 2017 who some three years later have yet to be reunited with their parents. It was estimated that there were approximately2,700 children separated initially. About 60 of those children were under the age of five when those separations took place.


According to Times reporter Caitlin Dickerson, Under ‘zero tolerance,’ the Trump administration directed prosecutors to file criminal charges against those who crossed the border without authorization, including parents, who were then separated from their children when they were taken into custody. But some parents and children who crossed the border at legal ports of entry were also separated from each other.” So, there were in fact more children than first reported, who were separated from their parents in 2017. Many of them make up this number of 545.


What kind of wisdom was this policy? It most certainly was not from Woman Wisdom. What does she teach us?


You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19


The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34


Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow. Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ Leviticus 27:19


These are just some of the many passages of God’s wisdom that teach us how we are to treat the immigrant and their families. We have instead chosen the way of foolishness, of stubbornness, a way of death- separated from God’s loving, compassionate, and merciful Spirit.


Some of these parents made the difficult choice to leave their children with relatives in the United States, where it was safe. Others are still searching. For some, it is much more complicated. Take the story of One such parent, Juana, a mother of four girls ages 9 to 16, who burst into tears last Wednesday when asked about being separated from her children at the U.S. border after fleeing Honduras, where she said their lives had been threatened.


The girls were released by the government to their father in Virginia, with whom they were not close. Juana, who asked to be identified by her first name to avoid being tracked down by people who want to harm her, was deported back to Honduras. She moved into a shelter for victimized migrants in a different city from her home city. When she was contacted by the U.S. government about whether she wanted her girls to be deported as well, she said, it was one of the hardest decisions she had ever had to make. “I’m not safe,” she said. “I’m in a shelter. I don’t go out at all.”


She said the girls were struggling without her, especially her youngest, who is going through puberty. “They cry when we talk on the phone. They say they miss me, that they want us to be back together again,” she said, adding, “Girls need their mother.”


The Health and Human Service department is now working to try to find missing parents and reunite them with their children. However, they have poor contact records of these families, and it is doubtful many of them will ever be reunited. Can you even imagine what that must be like for a young child to have not seen your father or mother for 3 years? Or what it must be like for parents who ache to hold their child again?


This is not a wise policy, walking in the ways of insight, nor a Godly policy. It is a policy from Woman Folly. It is cruel, inhumane, and leads to creating havoc and disorder in God’s creation. As people of faith, we must rise up and call out this injustice, pointing to God’s wisdom and working to bring about change.


The choice is clear for us as individuals, and as a nation - a call to follow Woman Wisdom. Woman wisdom invites us to a life of abundance, feasting on the goodness and wisdom of God’s Word. She comes out into the street and calls us, invites us to receive life as it was meant to be- doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.  Woman Folly offers the choice of being hard, turning away from those at our borders, neglecting the stranger, caring for ourselves over caring for our neighbors. So let me encourage us all to spend time in God’s wisdom so that we also might have insight, that we might be rescued from the poverty of Spirit and instead spread God’s intention for the world in which we live - to provide a way of abundant living for ourselves and all people. Alleluia. Amen.

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