(4) Wisdom as a strange woman …

Continuing on our theme of “Folly to be wise ..”.

Wisdom is spoken of highly in the Bible, something to be sort after, something to be treasured.  A gift that will bring a person wealth and prosperity, but if ignored, or treated unkindly, or unjustly, could also turn on the person and cause them great harm.  Is it folly to seek wisdom knowing that it is fickle and untrustworthy?  And why describe it as a woman?  Was that the patriarchal view of the women in the centuries over which the instructions in the Book of Proverbs was collected?  Or could there be a more interesting challenge?  Was Wisdom a being that interacted with the living, much as the angels do today?  People experience God’s grace today, through miracles of many sorts, through visions and prophecy.  Could Wisdom have been one of the messengers that humans were meant to trust, and in falling, then become a being people were warned against?  Could the description in Chapter 9 of the wise woman and the foolish one, so very much alike, be a subtle way of reminding people not to trust someone who offers you treasures from unknown sources? (Proverbs 9:2 compared with 9:17)

If we did a direct comparison between the first section and the second section of the chapter we can clearly see the differences between the wise woman and the the woman given many names ‘strange’ or ‘loose’.  She is described as a prostitute, loud and ignorant, but her words are the same as the woman who would be wise .. so why do we differentiate between the two?  How does this confusing, and often threatening, speech teach us wisdom?  The motto of this Book is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline”.  How do we apply it here?

Wisdom seems to have two different messages.  To the wise she offers food and wine she has mixed herself, to the simple she offers illicit pleasures.  My first thought was what had she mixed in the wine?  She still believes the wise are immature and require her guidance or need to be led.  What measuring stick do we use to review Wisdom’s character?  Do we find it in the New Testament in James 3:13-18?

Proverbs 9:1

1  Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars.

Why does Wisdom specify seven pillars in her house?  The number seven means ‘complete’ – God took six days to create the world and on the seventh day he rested.  Does that relate to what is written?  There does not seem to be a clear answer, so let us begin by reviewing them through James 3:13-18?

James 1:13-18

13 Who is wise and understanding among you?  Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.
15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.
16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full   of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Given Wisdom’s behaviour in Proverbs 1:24-28 I do not think we can describe ‘her’ as pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits or partiality (given she only calls to the simple(-minded)) or hypocrisy .

Another writer (1) says that the seven pillars of ‘wisdom’s solid foundation’ (of her house) are found in Proverbs 8:12-14

12 I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I attain knowledge and discretion.
13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
14 I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight, I have strength.

I enjoyed that webpage for the show of confusion that the Wisdom literature creates.  To start with, it was not the best translation, but after the writer says that Wisdom lives in a house with a woman called Prudence I had to keep reading.  I read it four times just to make sure I was not mistaken.  I do not think the writer realised exactly how the words would be taken, but it is a good example of how we see what we want to see in the Bible – myself included.  And to stretch the point, another writer on the internet decided that Wisdom and Prudence were married to each other .. only many churches are not happy with same sex marriages, and certainly not during the centuries when the ‘wisdom’ was gathered, so perhaps we will discount that one.

And this lady (2) gives us another version.  She writes: “I’ve always wondered what the seven pillars of wisdom were. After studying the seven-fold anointing spoken of in Isaiah 11:2, I concluded that the seven pillars of wisdom must be the seven aspects of the Holy Spirit of the Lord. Isaiah 11:2 says, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord“.  But there are only six, so I guess it is disqualified.

Wikipedia (3) gives us a slightly different set, calling them the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord .. which they define as ‘wonder’.

Where does that get us?  We agree that no one is sure what the seven pillars of Wisdom’s house are.  The notes in my NOAB (4) state “9:1 Seven pillars may allude simply to the pillars of Wisdom’s house or may suggest the pillars on which the earth was founded”.  (Job 9:6, 26:11, Ps 74:3)  (Can we read that as the commentator appearing to believe that Wisdom was a living person?)  And everyone appears to agree that we should fear the Lord, apart from me.

And then there is the possibility that the building of the house refers to when Wisdom says she helped create the world, an ‘understanding’ which was anticipated in the Babylonian Talmud (6) where the Talmud explains the purpose of Adam’s creation on the even of the sabbath “that he might straightway go in to the banquet. The matter may be compared to a kind of flesh and blood who built palaces and furnished them, prepared a banquet, and thereafter brought in guests”.

We shall move on …

Proverbs 2 – 18

2  She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.
3  She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town,
4  “You that are simple, turn in here!”

Were the servant girls Wisdom’s procurers?  In modern times we see them in the streets outside restaurants, cafes, bars and brothels.  The verse continues ..

To those without sense she says
5  “Come and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6  Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight”.

Why address this to only ‘those without sense’?  Wouldn’t the wise also like to join a feast?  I wonder if the ancients had hallucinogenic drinks that provided ‘insight’, or certainly visions of some kind?  The seers at Delphi would sit over volcanic fumes and then the priests would interpret their ‘prophecies’.  Mixing wine with spices was not unusual, but what was mixed into it  that required a person to ‘grow up’ (something we say to immature people even today) and ‘live, and walk in the way of insight’ (while smoking the peyote smoked by the Amerindians to get advice from their gods? Or modern people getting stoned for fun? (7))

And then did someone so severely doubt her that they said so at which point a comment like this might sound wise.  Was she trying to tell them to “fear the Lord” and they scoffed at her ..

7  Whoever corrects a scoffer wins abuse; whoever rebukes the wicked gets hurt.
8  A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.
9  Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
11 For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.

Is this a promise she thought she could make – to multiply the days and years of someone’s life literally, or do we take it as an allegory, that Wisdom will help a person live longer?  Did she think she could do this herself, or that the Lord would do this for anyone she directed to him?

And then the theme changes completely, and we are advised that this next woman is a fool, called Dame Folly in the NIB, and yet her behaviour is much the same as the wise woman ..

13 The foolish woman is loud; she is ignorant and knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the high places of the town,
15 calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way,
16 “You who are simple, turn in here!” And to those without sense she says,
17 “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant”.

Perhaps she was being more honest than Wisdom? She offered the foolish ‘stolen water’ and secret bread, which in the end would kill them (v. 18). My NOAB (5) comments that the ‘stolen water’ is probably a euphemism for illicit sex, with a reference to Proverbs 5:15-21. The comment about those ‘who are going straight on their way’ might suggest that the lady wants to lead them off the straight/right path and into iniquity, if not death?

18 But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.

Who else would have her guests in Sheol, a name given to hell, than a fallen angel?

Strangely, but not unexpectedly, here is a perfect example of where the commentators choose to ignore what they cannot explain.  The NOAB (8) completely ignores verses 11-16 and the brief comment in the NIB (9) is “9:13-18  The chapter and the book’s first major section now conclude.  Dame Folly is an explicit contrast to Wisdom in v 16, even to the point of making an identical invitation (v. 4 = v. 16).  But this passage also sums up virtually every theme expressed in Proverbs 1-9 by means of its repetition of key words.  In particular, Dame Folly masterfully integrates the portrait of Folly as a seduction to bogus good, in contrast to the genuine good of Wisdom.”

Only Wisdom is definitely not genuinely good.

A few last thoughts – were the sayings gathered together in these chapters of Proverbs because the lady was writing her autobiography, and/or someone later thought them wise?  To some degree this whole section reminds me of God in Job professing the wonder of being God while punishing the innocent.  Either that or someone, in the far future, is going to find a book like Anne Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire” and think its actually history. If someone came to me offering me sweet words and sweet wine, I would be wondering what they wanted. Does that make me wise or the fool? When a couple came from a Christian Sect offering me “God their way”, I tested their waters through their writings briefly and then they ran away. Don’t question someone too deeply or they might get very uncomfortable. Is that what wasn’t done here, the words were accepted, confusion and all, by Irenaeus and his cohort, much as they accepted Job, because it appears they are wise .. but on close reading you find the snake still in the garden whispering “bite the apple, Eve”.

(Yes, I know it wasn’t an apple, but when I was a child I was taught that it was by a number of ministers of various Christian churches, different denominations. You have to wonder who trained them!)

Thank you for reading …

(1)  Wisdom creates confusion http://www.bridgetothebible.com/Bible%20Lists/7%20Pillars%20of%20Wisdom.htm
(2)  Seven Pillars of Wisdom – http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/devotionals/around-the-word-in-365-days/?aid=2939
(3)  Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_gifts_of_the_Holy_Spirit
(4) The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th Edition, New Revised, Standard Version, with the Apocrypha. MD Coogan, Editor, Oxford University Press, 2010, page 907
(5) ibid page 903
(6) The New Interpreter’s Bible, A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1997, Proverbs 9, page 101
(7) Hallucinogenics in Ancient Israel – http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/israeli-town-yavneh-had-thriving-drug-culture-3000-years-ago-003159
(8) The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th Edition, New Revised, Standard Version, with the Apocrypha. MD Coogan, Editor, Oxford University Press, 2010, Proverbs, page 907
(9) The New Interpreter’s Bible, A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1997, Proverbs 9, page 103

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Why did God require Sacrifice?

Afternoon all,

This one has always been a puzzle for me. A God, who ‘is’ everything, ‘created’ everything, ‘owns’ everything, is omnipotent, omnipresent, very controlling (OT), or not controlling at all (NT), etc, wants the puny humans to go and kill others of It’s creations and lay them on an altar of ‘stone’ or whatever, or burn them to ashes, to appease Itself. Please make that make sense. God wanted us to murder innocent animals, and innocent people, to keep agreements we have made with It; but not all people, no, sometimes It might stay the hand of one or two .. like Abraham and Isaac .. but what about Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:35) .. what was so special about her that she could not be saved by an angel .. or was it that she was simply unworthy of the gift, in her innocence, something so highly treasured by the Israelite society? And then we have Job, who, while he wasn’t murdered, appears to have been a sacrifice to God’s ego? And Jesus, seen as the ultimate sacrifice .. why was that necessary – why, as someone wrote on a webpage I visited today on this subject .. couldn’t God just simply forgive us without Jesus having to die for our sins? And then there’s Cain, who bore the mark of his betrayal forever .. he murdered his brother because God didn’t like his sacrifice of the fruit of the ground (Gen 4:3) .. no, it had to be a blood sacrifice or nothing .. so Cain ‘sacrificed’ his brother .. was he trying to buy back God’s favour in doing so? Human blood, we assume, is more important, or more full of vitality, than animals – since we have dominion over the animals? Is that what ‘god’ wants, the vitality (life force) from the blood .. the energy of creation returned to the creator .. or was it the creator? Why would the creator of all things need the energy of creation from one of its created beings? Again, that makes no sense to me, knowing what I know about metaphysics. But what feeds on the vital energy of humanity, or the terror of innocence animals as they die? It’s not a god in my opinion.

Love & Peace
Ama

Vengeance is Mine!

Let me set the scene: a discussion on another site, with a person (A) who says that the Bible says s/he is justified to seek vengeance against another person (B), by cursing them .. literally using a spell. This person (B) had done the victim (A), and others s/he says, harm, and the curse had changed them (B) into a better, now God fearing, person. What do I believe? When I asked the caster (A) to remove the curse and forgive the person (B), s/he refused .. s/he said it had been God’s will that s/he had done it, and it would be God’s will when the curse came off, if it ever did. I suggested s/he removed it to see if it had been the curse that had forced the person (B) to change, or had the person simply chosen the happier path themselves? S/he (A) also refused to do this. S/he is still angry at the person for what they did to her/him. By her/his own admission s/he is unforgiving.

It got me thinking about the bible, and as usual, comparing the OT with the NT .. and so I dipped into both, via Strong’s Concordance .. and was flabbergasted at the amount of times the word revenge, avenge or vengeance was used by Strong’s, only to find them retranslated, occasionally, in my NOAB into retribution, or switched between avenged and revenged, or verses where it was removed completely and taken back to a better translation. What it showed to me was the mindset of the person who first did the translation of the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek that Strong bases his Concordance upon – Vengeance is mine! or is it? How do we justify vengeance when Jesus words ask us to choose another path?

Dictionary meanings –

Vengeance – Infliction of punishment in return for a wrong committed; retribution.
Idiom: with a vengeance
1. With great violence or force.
2. To an extreme degree.

Revenge – tr.v. re•venged, re•veng•ing, re•veng•es
1. To inflict punishment in return for (injury or insult).
2. To seek or take vengeance for (oneself or another person); avenge.
n.
1. The act of taking vengeance for injuries or wrongs; retaliation.
2. Something done in vengeance; a retaliatory measure.
3. A desire for revenge; spite or vindictiveness.
4. An opportunity to retaliate, as by a return sports match after a defeat.

Avenge – tr.v. a•venged, a•veng•ing, a•veng•es
1. To inflict a punishment or penalty in return for; revenge: avenge a murder.
2. To take vengeance on behalf of: avenged their wronged parents.

There is a lot of vengeance (revenge/avenging) going on in the OT, and lots of folk asking God for it, and joyfully naming God ‘vengeful’, and glorying in what God might do to their enemies. Isaiah said there is even a Day of Vengeance (34:8, 61:2, 63:04) (later Luke calls it ‘days’ 21:22 – wasn’t one enough?) Jeremiah calls it a Day of Retribution (46:10), but the meaning is the same. A day when harming others will not anger God? Oh yes, doesn’t Psalms advise us that “the righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked ..”? But who decides who is wicked?

I guess if we all play ‘follow the leader’ seeking revenge/vengeance is not so surprising, given that Jehovah either did it, or threatened to, on a regular basis. Or, as one lady I know said, this is how the writers wanted believers to see Jehovah, as defending them when they were in strife, but .. what happened when they broke the rules .. the jealous God (Psalm 94:1, Proverbs 6:34) of Vengeance suddenly turned the tables and attacked them … look at Saul and his torment by an ‘evil angel from the Lord’ because he spared the life of one man. Was Moses being banned from the promised Land God’s revenge for disobedience, and then there is Jephthah having to sacrifice his daughter because of his promise to Jehovah, even though Abraham’s hand was stopped when he went to do the same to his son? Even Revelation demands it .. written after Jesus’ teachings – what was ‘John’ thinking? “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth”? This is the Jesus that taught ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love one another’, it’s a puzzle that John ignored him.

But there was a quiet, very quiet, voice of reason within the OT. Leviticus 19:17 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself ..”. And questions can be raised by Psalm 99:8 .. how a forgiving God can be an ‘avenger of their wrongdoings’? A person who forgives has no reason to seek vengeance; surely a God who forgives would be even less inclined to do so? After all, ‘he’ laid down the rules.

Jesus went up the mountain to speak to the people, to give them a new way of living, a new way of thinking about how they acted in their lives. He called us ‘the Light of the World’ (Matthew 5:14). He said our light should shine for others (5:16), but how can it when our hearts are filled with pain and darkness? 1 Sam 14:24 called casting a curse a ‘rash act’, and it is, for none of us can know the repercussions of our actions. Oh, we might see an immediate effect, and pat ourselves on the back for it, but what about the long term, and what about if we choose to continue to hate instead of loving, to glory in another’s pain, what then?

Jesus taught ‘if you are angry you are liable to judgment’ (Matt 5:22) and he disputed the old teachings of ‘an eye for an eye’ (Matt 5:38), which is what so many use as their excuse to do harm to others – ‘they did it first’ or ‘they hurt someone else’. He said “… do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also …” (Matt 5:39), and keeping turning, and walk away. He placed God’s love, and our place in heaven, far above any earthly concerns. He also said ‘be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:48).

Ok, now I go back to shaking my head in puzzlement. The God of Vengeance is perfect, but we are not allowed to act like him? Which God was Jesus talking about? Oh I know, the one he called out to from the Cross .. EL, not Jehovah.

Jesus taught ‘forgive and keep forgiving’ (Matt 18:22). He did not teach ‘punish first, and then stay angry’. Paul continued the theme with a few add-ins .. Romans 12:19-21 “Beloved, never avenge yourself, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In my opinion Paul needed to work on his ‘forgiving’ attitude, but I do understand what he meant. When you do good to others who would harm you, you can make them very angry. They want you to react from the same pain they are feeling; when you don’t, when you ‘love’ instead of hating .. you show them themselves in a very ugly mirror. If you will hold Love in your heart, instead of pain and fear, you become the Light Jesus wants us all to be, which he says we already are.

The bible is confusing people .. again. Who do we choose to follow when the OT teaches of a vengeful God, and the NT says “don’t be vengeful”, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31), “Love one another as I have loved you” (Luke 13:34), “turn the other cheek”? I suppose it depends on our mood at time .. given that the Bible isn’t consistent as well? But I would rather follow Jesus .. consistently. So Vengeance isn’t mine, and nor do I think it is Jesus’ God’s first thought either. How could ‘He’ have said “love one another as I have loved you” if he was planning on judging us all in the near future (his version anyway) and sending most of us to hell?

But that’s another story.

Love & Peace
Ama