Women and Fools - Proverbs Commentary

Solomon lived in a patriarchal world. He made some remarks about women which would be unacceptable in our society, but which are common wherever male chauvinists control women for their pleasure. In Jesus' day rabbis would pray every day "I thank thee, O God, that you did not make me a woman." One of the terrorists who turned his plane into a human bomb (September 11, 2001) left a last will and testament saying that no woman should be allowed to touch any of his remains for burial.

Here are some proverbs we would call misogynist (Greek mysos means hatred, guny is a woman). "The lips of a loose woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged word. Her feet go down to death" (5:3-5). "With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk which compels him" (7:21). "The foolish woman is loud; she is ignorant and knows nothing" (9:13). "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without good sense" (11:22). "A wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain" (19:13). "It is better to live in the corner of a housetop than in a house shared with a contentious wife" (21:9). And as if saying it once was not sufficient, he added "It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and fretful wife" (21:19). "The mouth of a loose woman is a deep pit; he with whom the Lord is angry falls into it (22:14). "A continual dripping on a rainy day and a contentious wife are the same" (27:15).

We should point out that Solomon is not calling all women bad. He certainly distinguishes a wise woman from a slut. "The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands" (14:1). But the male chauvinist's praise for a woman is only when she serves her husband's interests. "A good wife is the crown of her husband, but she who bring shame is like rottenness in his bones (12:4). "A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain" (31:10-11). "Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land "(31:23). There are many societies where women are to be used only as long as they pander to their husbands, and they can be told to get lost merely by the man saying "I divorce you, I divorce you."

Before concluding that Solomon is totally one sided against women, we should note what he says about fools. And of course the fifty examples of fools in the Book of Proverbs are all men. Here we are not speaking of fools because they have a low IQ. The most brilliant brain in the university can be a fool. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom" (1:7, see 14:24, 33). What then are the characteristics of fools?

A first sign is smug self-satisfaction. "The complacency of fools destroys them" (1:32). It never occurs to them that they could be wrong. Fools prefer to pour out their opinions to learning anything important. "The wise lay up knowledge, but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near" (10:14, 12:23, 15:2, 18:2). As opposed to creative conversation, fools are deadly to have around. "The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense" (10:21, 15:2). And for fools destructive behavior is fun (child abuse, cruelty to animals, vandalism, graffiti, littering, breaking glass bottles on a beach). "Doing wrong is like sport to a fool, but wise conduct is pleasure to a person of understanding" (10:23).

A fool has no doubt that he is right "but the wise listen to advice" (12:15, 17:10). And when they are crossed "fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult" (12:16). As a result "the fool throws off restraint and is careless" (14:16). That includes what we call road rage, and the loudmouths who make democrative discussion impossible. Fools tend to view their parents as stupid. "A fool despises a parent's instruction, but the one who heeds admonition is prudent" (15:5). And instead of growing in the wisdom that is at hand, and serving the needs of others, a fool is constantly looking "to the ends of the earth" (17:24) for another impractical project..

Jesus said "Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called children of God (5:9). But fools have no pleasure in any kind of peaceful solution. "It is honorable to refrain from strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (20:3).

There is an interesting paradox which at first looks like a contradiction. "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). The meaning seems to be that in discussing with a fool on his own terms, you will make a fool of yourself. On the other hand we may need to help a fool to find wisdom by beginning with his own assumptions.

But a fool is very unlikely to grasp the meaning of a metaphor, parable, or proverb (or even a joke!). Fools are the literalists (if your eye offends you, pluck it out) who fail to get the point and make the Bible unbelievable. "The legs of a disabled person hang limp; so does a proverb in the mouth of a fool. Like a thornbush brandished by the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of a fool" (26:7, 9). And Solomon does not have much hope that a fool can change. "Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, but the folly will not be driven out: (27:22). Obviously Solomon did not have the confidence to believe that the wisdom he had received could effect the vast changes which took place by the power of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

A reading of the book of Proverbs only yields ten references to women who are dingbats, but there are more than fifty references among Solomon's proverbs to men who are meatheads. Maybe statistics do not prove anything. But it seems clear that, in spite of his vast wisdom, Solomon remained a male chauvinist belonging to the patriarchal culture of that day. But he was just as conscious of the faults of men who were fools without wisdom as he was of the abominable women in his entourage. But strangely is was the latter who eventually made a fool of him (1 Kings 11:1-4). And I have a feeling he knew it.

Chapter 4 ..... Words and Tongue