SCRIPTURE READING: Proverbs 31: 1-31 (NIV/NVI) “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
Around this time last year I was asked to preach about forgiveness. And here we are again having a talk about forgiveness. But this time we are going to talk about what God wants from us as His people.
We just read part of a list of what it means to be a Virtuous Woman. Churches usually pull her out around this time to prepare us for mother’s day. They give her to us as a “perfect woman” that we should emulate. But I want to tell you the other side of that coin.
The book of Proverbs is considered Wisdom Literature. It’s an educational opportunity which most likely happens between a rich man and his parents. Personally I think that daughters received this lesson, probably because they were ignored when they were in the room. But, that’s beside the point.
Proverbs is teaching sons about the type of women that would make great wives. Most people only remember the Virtuous Woman at the end of the book (31: 10-31). In the first half of the book there is a concentration on what the wrong woman is like. The teachers/parents tell the son all about the wrong choice of woman.
Proverbs has a view of women as being either appropriate marriage material (10-31) or inappropriate to the point of leading men astray (1-9). Women are viewed as a commodity that can increase or decrease the value of a man’s holdings, as evidenced in the epitome of a Virtuous Woman who finds ways in which to increase the earning potential of her household (31: 10-31). According to Proverbs, the other type of woman, the “strange woman,” will ignore her covenant before God and will lead a man to his death, “none who go to her return or obtain the paths of life” (2:16-19).
The women of Proverbs are temptress or saint with no room for redemption or salvation for the temptress and no room for a past in a woman of virtue. In Hosea also, we meet a “strange woman.”
Proverbs view of women in general maintains an either/or rather than a both/and philosophy. Women are seen as either bad (i.e. adulteress, strange, brawling, odious, and foolish) or good (i.e. gracious, fair, wise, contentious, and virtuous). In the book of Proverbs there is no room for a both/and woman who has historically been bad but has been restored. Instead, in Proverbs, we find an educational situation, at times between parent and son, at other times between teacher and student, these lessons seem to follow “along the ‘slave and master’ paradigm.”
The tone of unabashed education that begins in 1:1-7 and is reemphasized in 31:1-9, that leads me to think of advice being given to a son who will inherit. This son’s education seems centered along the framework of the dangers that alcohol consumption and women can cause to the business of ruling. Personally, I also imagine these conversations taking place in the hearing of the household’s daughters whom, I imagine, are receiving education by example. I hear a tone that I interpret as reproach and consequence in Proverbs 1:28-29, the disobedient pupil who chooses to disobey the LORD “will call to [Him], but [He] will not answer [for they] did not choose to fear [Him].” On the other hand, the wise man, who realizes that “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting” will be gifted with a woman who fears the LORD and is worthy of praise (31:30).
By God’s choice, Hosea knowingly married a promiscuous woman, Gomer (1:2). Gomer is representative of Israel’s relationship with God; as Gomer, had been unfaithful to her marriage vows, so had Israel been unfaithful to God. Though, unlike the women represented in Proverbs, who remained either worthy or unworthy, Gomer was reconciled to her husband who “[loved] her as the LORD loves the Israelite s, though they turn to other gods” (3: 1b).
Hosea is considered first among the Minor Prophets, and is believed to have prophesied extensively, though not exclusively, about the Northern Kingdom of Israel which he called Ephraim. He prophesied during the prosperous days of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE) and continued through a period of anarchy. Throughout this period, Jeroboam II and his successors paid tribute to both Assyrian and Egyptian deities as well as the God of their ancestors and due to their acts of idolatry, Israel/Ephraim suffered a loss of fidelity to God.
God uses the relationship between Hosea and Gomer as a metaphor for the relationship between Himself (God) and Israel/Ephraim (Gomer). There is a covenant between them, but because of the infidelity that has besmirched their relationship, Gomer has been cast aside, as Israel/Ephraim has been set aside. The relationship has changed, though the change need not remain. There is room for improvement, reparations and reconciliation, between God and His people as between a husband and wife. God wants their relationship to be so clear that even “the names of the Baals will be removed from her lips” (2:17). In the human context, Hosea wants a true reconciliation with his wife in more than just words. Hosea does not want Gomer to return when she is in need without truly repenting of her actions (2:7b-8). Both Gomer and Israel have to return willingly, without need, but through desire and on that day, God “will make a covenant for them…” (2:18).
In Hosea 14, God is a compassionate God, who desires a discerning people to return to Him (14:2). “Return, Israel, to the LORD your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.”
The Lord wants us to ask for forgiveness, repenting of our wrong doings and asking rather than simply expecting that His love will pull us through, though His love is the only thing that allows Him to continue to bequeath us with compassion as we continue to back-slide (11:7). “My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.”
He is expecting that as a discerning, knowledgeable people we are forth coming of our wrong doing (husband/wife, who are able to divorce) rather than simply expecting that we will continue to be in good standing because of our relationship (father/son, which are permanently bonded).