Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Proverbs 31 Woman

Pastor preached on this today for Mother's Day, emphasising that this is an impossible ideal and we should rely on grace.  I don't disagree with that point.

But I think the real story is quite different.

Who is the original audience for this text?

The original audience is prepubescent boys being taught practical wisdom that they can reflect on all their lives.  That is what Proverbs is all about. That is why it is all acrostics and other mnemonic devices.  This is a primer on how to live. Learn it, Micah.  There'll be a quiz on Monday.

What about the women?

They weren't taught to read, remember?  They likely picked up some of the sayings by overhearing them - or having them hurled at them.  They may have heard their brothers attempting to memorise them and learned them, too.

But shouldn't we apply it to women now?

Okay, we let women learn how to read.  Maybe that was a bad idea, but the toothpaste is out of the tube on that one and we can't go back. Yet this provides a great example to look at how we should read the scriptures.  These proverbs are 3000 years old.  Women have only been able to read them in the last few hundred years, and even then, not everywhere.  Are we thinking that God puts these words out there only for our wonderful selves in the last few centuries?  Seems unlikely.  These instructions are for the men.  Not to use as clubs, but to appreciate.

But good evangelicals believe that scripture is given for all human time, to apply to everyone.  

Sure, fine, but why limit it to the model that every verse can only be understood as God knee-to-knee with you intoning the words with Deep Feeling?  What's wrong with the model that says "We're listening in to what He is telling the boys is important. Then we try to understand how that applies to girls, women, and grown men." If you don't like that, are you thinking that Jesus is telling you that you are a whited sepulchre?  Or is that something we are - as I am suggesting - listening in on, for our edification?

Theoretically, okay AVI.  But why should I think so here?

Verse 30a:  "Charm is deceitful, beauty is fleeting."  If you're already married, it's a little late for that advice, ain't it?  And it falls differently on female ears.  You might improve your charm (in that sense), but it's a little tougher with beauty - and for adult women, the die is already cast for thee, as well as for the married men.  Who is this advice for?  Young men.  The rest of us are just listening in.

That's only the best example.  Reread the passage for yourself, understanding that the audience.  It will just leap out at you that this is not a section to tell women what to do, but to tell boys what to appreciate in a wife (and a mother.)  Boys are thinking about hot babes, even in societies with arranged marriages (Oh. please.  Get me one of those.  Now.)  The older men are telling them what God thinks is more important.

I think there are valuable things women can learn from listening in.  But you have to get the audience right to get the tone right, here.


Dubbahdee said...

I believe someone from England would say you are "bang on."

I can see my evangelical tribe accepting that re: Proverbs. But watch the tops of their heads blow off when they try to do it with Genesis. ;-)

Retriever said...

Actually, AVI, I always loved the passage, and found it rather inspirational. Because it gave me something to aim for (that fit with all my hardy New England pillar of the church relatives). Beat the #$%^ out of Barbie and trophy brides who were the role models in the communities I was being raised in. For a bookish, religious tomboy who wanted to follow the good example of her altruistic grandmother, Proverbs 31 was kind of cool. Reminding one what really mattered, what GOd cared about, even if boys just wanted hot babes who would sleep with them on the first date, or bimbos who would lie to stroke their egos. If one grew up in a household where a wife was viewed as a helpmate, and utterly essential to a man (my dad bought my mother from her father with plastic cows in a herd, a lobola like in Africa where he spent much of his youth) one can read this passage as a description of a smart, hardworking, dedicated and faithful woman. WOrth ten of the bimbos that our popular media tells young girls they should look and act like. Better to be urged to be virtuous and self-sacrificing than seduced into vanity, narcissism and anorexia by advertising and articles about "is your orgasm as great as it could be??"

GAHCindy said...

I'm just linking to this all over the place. I get so tired of the Proverbs 31 woman. (Not that I don't think it's a beautiful passage, but it ain't easy being a human female Christian when THAT is what you're expected to live up to.)