Loose Women and the Fear of the Lord
We’ve said that there is a poetry to the arrangement of the Proverbs. We will notice as we study that several proverbs seem to be arranged around a common theme. For example, Pro 16.10-15 all focus on kingship—except for 16.11, “A just balance and scales are the Lord's; all the weights in the bag are his work.” The proverbs are inviting us to consider just weights and measures in the context of godly kingship and rule. This kind of “interpretation by juxtaposition” is fairly common in the Proverbs. A connective thread between two or more proverbs will pick up other, seemingly unrelated proverbs along the way, challenging us to consider how the wisdom of one set of proverbs is reflected in the other.
The strongest thread in the Book of Proverbs connects its beginning with its conclusion, particularly the first nine chapters with the final chapter.
We’ve already seen how the first nine chapters consist of a father’s wisdom for his son: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (Pro 1.8-9). Just as the book begins with a father’s wisdom, it ends with a mother’s: “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.” (Pro 31.1). Passing down the life of wisdom is the work of both father and mother, not just one or the other.
These bookends show us the transforming power of wisdom. The opening of the book addresses a young man just beginning his education in wisdom. At the end, after thirty chapters of proverbs, the book addresses a king. The men being addressed are different—one is the son of Solomon; the other is King Lemuel—but the arrangement is deliberate. By the end of the Proverbs, we are supposed to see the transformation that occurs through wisdom: wisdom is the power to turn boys into kings.
Another sign of the deliberate arrangement of the Proverbs is the common material shared between the beginning and the conclusion. Solomon and King Lemuel’s mother both focus on two things: relationships with women and the love of the Lord.
Solomon and the kings mother give us two different sides to the same coin as they discuss relations with women. Solomon warns his son against the influences of the adulterous. He says that her ways lead down to death. King Solomon’s advice is not that man should steer clear of all women, only that loose women will be a danger and a hindrance to them.
King Lemuel’s mother gives us the positive side of that coin. She focuses not on the adulterous woman but on the worthy wife. What we find in Proverbs 31 is that the wise woman looks almost exactly like the wise man. She is industrious. She is shrewd. She builds up her family and her house. The most important instruction, though, is at the end: that she fears and loves the Lord just as the wise man does. “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
Implied in all of this is a similar set of criteria for women choosing men. Although the proverbs are presented through a masculine perspective, their wisdom is by no means limited to men as they consider women. Consider for a moment who is being advised as to his choice and women: the first, Solomon’s son, is a future king being raised in wisdom; the second is a sitting king who has taken those lessons to heart. In other words, they are both highly eligible men. What makes them eligible is the same quality which makes the woman of Proverbs 31 eligible: their wisdom.
That brings us last to Solomon’s most famous instructions, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,“ and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pro 1.7; 9.10). We may be tempted to think that the love of the Lord and wisdom are a linear path: one begins by giving reverence to the Lord, then he is able to gain wisdom thereby. But the Proverbs more fully present this as a circular relationship. You can only gain wisdom through the fear of the Lord, but your increasing fear of the Lord and devotion to Him is a function of your growth in wisdom. In other words, if you really want to love the Lord, then you must get wisdom. This means that our treatment of our treatment of the other sex has this same circular relationship with our love of the Lord. If you want good relations with the other sex, then revere the Lord. If foolishness hinders your reverence of the Lord, sexual looseness leads to folly, then sexual looseness will hinder your reverence of the Lord. The fear of the Lord and our relations with the other sex build off of each other.
This ligament, wise parents teaching their children how to choose a worthy wife, runs the whole length of the book and invites us to consider the sum of Solomon’s wisdom in terms of our relationships with the other sex and our relationship with the Lord.