Come Follow Me: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes “The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Wisdom”

  • What was some of the best advice you have received?
  • Who gave it to you?
  • How was it helpful for you?

Today we are going to study two books of wisdom literature, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that pass down wisdom from one generation to the next. It’s advice so good, clever and memorable that people kept sharing it. People like to share proverbs not only because they are wise but also because they are witty and entertaining and they blend well into pop culture in a way that other scriptures often don’t. They are designed to live in the wild, popping up everywhere in common vernacular.

  • Are there any proverbs that you tend to remember or even quote as you go through your daily lives?
  • What makes them memorable to you?
  • How do they impact you?
  • Which proverbs or verses stood out to you from your reading?
  • What appealed to you about them?

One category of Old Testament poetry is what scholars call “wisdom literature.” Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes fall into this category. While psalms express feelings of praise, mourning, and worship, wisdom literature focuses on timeless advice or deep, philosophical questions. The book of Job, for example, explores the justice of God and the reasons behind human suffering. Proverbs offers counsel on how to live well, including wise sayings collected and passed down from earlier generations. And Ecclesiastes calls into question the purpose of life itself—when everything seems fleeting and random, where do we find true meaning? You might think of wisdom literature as thoughtful conversations with inspired mentors who want to share some observations about God and the world He created—and maybe help you understand these things a little better than you did before.

Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families: Old Testament 2022: Reading Poetry in the Old Testament

  • How would you approach wisdom literature differently from other kinds of scripture?

Unlike other scriptures, which are part of a narrative context, a proverb is a solitary creature, meant to stand on its own. You read one, you think about it, you memorize it, you display it in your home. You let it simmer in your heart and mind. It loses its effect if you move on too fast to the next one. In the Bible, however, the proverbs are aggregated into a giant, unorganized list.

Because the proverbs address such varied topics, a verse in Proverbs often has no connection to the verses before or after it.

Introduction to the Book of Proverbs, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Although the proverbs were recorded as a long list, that does not mean they should be read that way.

Reading a thousand or so short, pithy wise sayings might loom as an overwhelming task for anyone. This gives us a clue as to how the Book of Proverbs should be read and understood. It is not something that is intended to be read as we would a novel. …Thus, the numerous sayings in the Book of Proverbs are meant to be pondered individually and slowly, reflecting on the wealth of wisdom contained in these brief phrases. Each saying is to be slowly digested and considered so that the individual may be brought to conversion – a change of mind and heart that leads to a new way of life and a new reality. …One of the best ways to read Proverbs is to read one saying or one small section at the start of the day in order to reflect on it throughout the day, thinking about how it applies to your real-life situations.

—Joe Paprocki, Can you suggest a good way to read and understand the book of Proverbs? June 4, 2010

The point of a proverb is that it is something you have you have to chew on and you really have to spend some time with. …The word count for each day’s reading is pretty low and that is by design so that you can have a minute to say, “What does this mean? How do I understand what this proverb is speaking into my life and the experiences that I have?” And if you just try to read 50 of them, eventually it’s going to be a point where you are saturated. It’s just white noise at a certain point. You’re not using a proverb in the way that a proverb is intended.

—Russ Ramsey, Proverbs Week 1, She Reads Truth

  • What are some more effective ways to study proverbs?

Here are some great ways to study proverbs:

  • Read and discuss a proverb as a devotional with your church group or loved ones.
  • Recite a proverb aloud to yourself like an affirmation.
  • Embroider it.
Needlepoint based on Proverbs 10:12 and 15:1 by Stitching Bits and Bobs
Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.
Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
  • Carve it into a rock.
Rock carving of Ecclesiastes 12:7 by Thomas Battersby Child, Jr at Gilgal Sculpture Garden, Salt Lake City, Utah
Ecclesiastes: 12:7 Then shall the adust return to the earth as it was: and the bspirit shall return unto God who cgave it.
  • Tweet it.
Tweet of Proverbs 3:27 by @Sojourners
Proverbs 3:27  aWithhold not bgood from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.
  • Make a meme out of it.
Meme based on Proverbs 17:17 by Latter-day Saints Channel
Proverbs 17:17 A afriend loveth at all times, and a bbrother is born for adversity.
  • Listen to a song based on a proverb. (Pro tip: listening to music is a great way to “read” Psalms, too.)
Trust in the Lord: 2022 Youth theme song of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based on Proverbs 3:5-6
Proverbs 3:5-6 aTrust in the Lord with all thine bheart; and lean not unto thine cown dunderstanding.
In all thy ways aacknowledge him, and he shall bdirect thy cpaths.
  • Read a book or watch a play or a movie that explores a theme centering on a proverb. (There are many of them.)
  • Memorize a proverb and casually slip it into a conversation; proverbs have become such a part of our vernacular, many people quote them without even realizing it.

Here are some less effective ways to study proverbs:

  • Read the whole Book of Proverbs, in order, in one week. And while you’re at it, finish up the whole Book of Ecclesiastes, too! On your mark, get set, go!
  • Discuss the whole Book of Proverbs in one Sunday School class in one sitting. Ecclesiastes too! Talk fast!

Unfortunately, the Come Follow Me curriculum designates only one week of personal study for both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, followed by just one Sunday School lesson covering both books combined. It will not be possible to cover all the wisdom in these books on such an abbreviated timeline, but we will orient ourselves to the genre of the proverb and sample a few verses as an introduction.

What is a proverb?

As you read these explanations, consider these questions:

  • What are the strengths and limitations of a proverb?
  • What would be appropriate and inappropriate ways to interpret a proverb?

What proverbs are is they are statements that are generally true. It’s not formulaic. So you may read a proverb that says, “Good sense wins favor,” which is Proverbs 13:15. That’s generally true. We also know that’s not always true. Sometimes, good sense wins mockery and scorn. …And so you have proverbs that are wisdom, they are not formula. They are wisdom, They are, “This is the way. Walk in it.” And the value is in the cumulative effect of walking in the way of wisdom is that you’ll walk with the Lord, you’ll develop humility, you’ll have a deeper compassion and empathy for other people, you’ll have a more mature understanding of the Lord’s love for you and His perspective on the world. …What we’re doing and what we’re about is developing instinct for how to live in a world where it is hard to live. …So how do you develop instinct to walk into a room, read a situation and say, “The wise response here is to do this instead of that”?

—Russ Ramsey, Proverbs Week 1, She Reads Truth

Wisdom literature often stresses the way things “should be” as opposed to giving detailed descriptions of the way things are. The goal, of course, is to change the way things are! One must approach the Book of Proverbs with the intention of being instructed in the ways of seeing the world as it ought to be, in other words, through the eyes of God.

—Joe Paprocki, Can you suggest a good way to read and understand the book of Proverbs? June 4, 2010

Some of its content is deeply spiritual, while some does not rise above the plane of worldly wisdom, but throughout it is taken for granted that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (1:7; 9:10)

Introduction to the Book of Proverbs, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Who wrote the proverbs?

People like to believe their quotes came from celebrities, like President Abraham Lincoln or King Solomon.

Both the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are traditionally attributed to King Solomon, but…

Solomon’s name lends authority to Proverbs. Tradition tells that Solomon’s wisdom was granted by God, surpassed that of all others, and was celebrated and sought by world leaders of his day (1 Kgs. 3–11). At the same time, Solomon’s larger-than-life status as a patron and author of wisdom cautions against interpreting claims of his authorship as historically reliable. Like David with the psalms and Moses with the law, Solomon is identified conventionally with wisdom. The compilation of Proverbs occurred over centuries.

—Christine Roy Yoder, Proverbs, Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe and Jacqueline E. Lapsley

Some of the book of Proverbs is attributed to “Solomon the son of David, the king of Israel.” However, while Solomon is considered an author of many of the proverbs, it is best to think of the book of Proverbs as a library of the wisdom of the Israelites. …We do not know exactly when or where the book of Proverbs was written, but the initial compilation of Proverbs is traditionally thought to have taken place during the reign of King Solomon in Jerusalem, between 1015 and 975 B.C. It is likely that many of the proverbs came from oral traditions that existed before Solomon’s time. Also, some proverbs were added after Solomon’s time: chapters 25–29 were added in the days of King Hezekiah of Judah (see Proverbs 25:1). It is unknown when the book reached its final form.

Introduction to the Book of Proverbs, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The truth is actually much better than the traditional claim that the proverbs can be traced to one celebrity author. In actuality, many diverse, wise people contributed to the collection. Some of them were not even Israelites, and at least one of them was a woman.

From wisdom identified explicitly as Israelite (“the proverbs of Solomon,” 1:1; 10:1), readers move to internationally inspired instructions: the first of these two sections attributed to the “wise,” 22:17–24:22, is an artful adaptation of the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope. That the transition occurs rather seamlessly in the Hebrew suggests that movement between Israelite and foreign wisdom is rather ordinary. The sages assume that their work requires critical engagement with the wisdom of cultures—an assumption that directs their attention outward and presses the question, to whom should we be listening now? At the same time, because the sages rework Amenemope in various ways, they teach that the borrowing of traditions and texts is not done mechanically but critically, mindful of one’s contexts and purposes. Attentiveness to the world’s wisdom becomes even more explicit at the end of Proverbs with two other sections that are or are made to appear foreign—the wisdom of Agur (30:1–33) and of King Lemuel’s mother (31:1–9). …Agur is a stranger. His name and that of his father, Yaqeh, are not Hebrew, and neither of them is mentioned elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. Agur is likely from Massa, a north Arabian tribe descended from Ishmael’s son Massa (cf. Lemuel, 31:1–9). …[Proverbs 31:1-9] is the only instruction attributed to a king’s mother known from the ancient Near East.

—Christine Roy Yoder, Proverbs, Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe and Jacqueline E. Lapsley

  • Why do we need to look beyond our own culture when seeking wisdom?
  • Why is it important to incorporate the wisdom of multiple genders and ethnic/racial groups?
  • When should we ask the question, “To whom should we be listening now?”

The prophecy of King Lemuel’s mother

When Christians mention the “Proverbs 31 Woman” we typically think of the idealised woman mentioned in Proverbs 31:10-31. Myriads of messages, books, and website articles have been devoted to extolling, and sometimes sentimentalising, the virtues of this woman, and she is put forward as a role model for all godly women to follow. …But we must never forget: this woman is not real. She is an idealised fabrication.

There is another woman mentioned in Proverbs 31, a real woman who is often overlooked but who also serves as a model for women. …This woman taught, or admonished, her son with an inspired message that is contained in Proverbs 31:2-9. Lemuel was a grown man and he was a king, but this didn’t stop him from receiving and appreciating instruction from a woman. He recognised and respected the wisdom of his mother’s words. Her words were even recorded and included in the canon of Holy Scripture. This means that the teaching of King Lemuel’s mother has the authority of Scripture. (Many Christians believe Scripture has the highest level of spiritual authority.) Furthermore, by being part of Scripture, the sayings of this woman continue to authoritatively instruct men and women, and even kings. Her admonition remains relevant and much-needed today!

—Marg Mowczko, King Lemuel’s Mother: The Other Proverbs 31 Woman, July 19, 2012

The first verse of Proverbs 31 identifies the teachings that follow as a prophecy from a woman named only as the mother of King Lemuel.

The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his amother taught him.

Proverbs 31:1

So who was this prophet? Unfortunately, we do not know her name, and although her son’s name, Lemuel, is given in the text, his identity is also debated. Various sources suggest that the mother of Lemuel may be Abijah, the mother of King Hezekiah; Bathsheba, mother of Solomon; or the queen of the Arabian Ishmaelite nation of Massa; among other theories. (See Who was King Lemuel by Claude Mariottini and King Lemuel and His Mother by Shonda Holt.)

While we may have lost her backstory, we still have her inspired words. At the beginning of her prophecy, she warns Lemuel about vices he should avoid.

What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?

Give not thy strength unto awomen, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink awine; nor for princes strong drink:

Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.

Proverbs 31:2-5

  • Why do you think King Lemuel’s mother focused on these sins?
  • Why is it particularly dangerous for a king, or anyone with power and authority over other people, to engage in these sins?

Then she exhorts King Lemuel on how he should use his power:

Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.

Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the acause of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9

  • Who needs us to open our mouths for them in our modern society?
  • How would it affect our community if more of us followed the counsel of King Lemuel’s mother?

The virtuous woman (or women)

Following the prophecy of King Lemuel’s mother, King Lemuel writes an ode to virtuous women that is one of the more famous poems in scripture. Dr. Wendy Zierler points out that these verses were most likely inspired by his mother.

In the context of our own times, when so many of us work outside as well as inside the home, negotiating on a daily basis a heroic set of professional as well as domestic duties, does Proverbs 31 provide inspiration or does it enshrine a set of unrealistic expectations? …I refer to the issue of context. We typically ignore the fact that the Eshet Hayil [virtuous woman] poem is preceded in Proverbs 31 by nine verses of instruction offered by an unnamed Queen Mother to her son King Lemuel, in which she warns him against drunkenness and debauchery (with women), encouraging him instead to judge righteously and be an advocate for the needy. One way to read the Eshet Hayil poem, then, is as King Lemuel’s eulogy for his valorous and wise mother, bearing in mind the genre of the eulogy, which often includes hyperbole and sacralizing of the lost loved one.

—Dr. Wendy Zierler, How To Read Eshet Hayil: Explaining this ancient song about a ‘woman of valor’

In English, the structure of the poem is not apparent, but in Hebrew…

The poem is a sequential and complete alphabetic acrostic; each new line begins with the next letter of the twenty-two-letter Hebrew alphabet.

—Christine Roy Yoder, Proverbs, Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe and Jacqueline E. Lapsley

I would caution against interpreting the proverb of the virtuous woman as a long to-do list of things every woman must do on her own to meet the minimal standards of virtue. I like to read the poem as if each sentence introduced a new woman. “Who can find a virtuous woman?” asks King Lemuel in verse 10. He looks around, and he sees a woman who is a trustworthy wife (verse 11) and another who is a terrific mother (verse 28). These are the kinds of women who are often praised in our modern church meetings. But he also sees other women. He finds a working woman (verse 13), an investor (verse 16). an entrepreneur (verse 18) a philanthropist (verse 20) and a philosopher (verse 26). These are also virtuous women! In a world where women, more often than men, are pigeon-holed into one rigid set of roles and expectations, Proverbs 31 reminds us that there are many different ways to be virtuous and we can find virtuous women everywhere, leading their best lives on their own unique paths.

Invite class members to choose a few verses of the virtuous woman poem to read on their own, while asking themselves these questions.

  • What can we learn about the attributes this woman possesses from what she is doing in this verse?
  • How can modern women and men follow her example?

For example, in verse 15, we read about a woman who gets up early to prepare food for her household and her employees. Getting up early to get the work done demonstrates that she is industrious and sets priorities: first things first. She provides meat to her maids, which implies that she is a good employer who honors her obligations to her employees. We can emulate her by organizing ourselves and setting priorities in our own lives. We can take special care to be fair, kind and generous toward the people who work for us, whether they be our employees or the service professionals who help us at the venues we frequent.

A note to men: it may feel awkward looking for guidance for your own life by reading a scripture that is all about women. Lean into this awkwardness. Since most of our scriptures were written within the context of patriarchal societies, when modern women “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23) more often than not we find ourselves likening stories about men and advice directed toward men to our female world. This exercise gives men a brief opportunity to work on a skill that women practice all the time!

10 ¶ Who can find a avirtuous bwoman? for her price is far above rubies.

11 The heart of her husband doth safely atrust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.

12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her ahands.

14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.

15 She ariseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.

16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.

17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.

18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.

19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the adistaff.

20 She stretcheth out her hand to the apoor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.

22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her aclothing is silk and purple.

23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.

24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.

25 Strength and honour are her aclothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.

26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of akindness.

27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of aidleness.

28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.

30 Favour is deceitful, and abeauty is vain: but a woman that bfeareth the Lord, she shall be praised.

31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

Proverbs 31:10-31

To everything there is a season

Since the Book of Proverbs was written by multiple people, it presents different points of view, even contradictions. But at least some of these apparent contradictions are intentional, like this one:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

aAnswer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his bown conceit.

Proverbs 26:4-5

  • Can both statements be true? How?

Neither intention nor accident can explain why these two exhortations would come back to back if they were really contradictory. They are too close to be an accident. …We will infer that he’s telling us that it’s okay for proverbs to sound contradictory. Why? Because the real nature of most proverbs is not a rule that is used the same way in all circumstances at all times. Rather, a proverb is often a recommended way of acting that will be wise in some settings and not in others. Or: a general observation of experience that is very often true and useful, but not always true in every situation. The same act may be wise in one setting but foolish in another. The same fact may hold in one situation and not in another. All proverbs are true. But they are not always true in every situation.

—John Piper, The Best Discoveries Begin as Problems: How to Read Proverbs, Desiring God, May 16, 2017

  • What is the difference between a proverb and a rule?
  • How can the same act be wise in one situation and foolish in another?

One proverb may have multiple meanings.

Each proverb has several possible meanings and may “mean” differently, depending on who says it and how, to whom, and in what circumstances. That is, proverbs are contingent claims, not static and universal moralisms. The wise, then, need to know not only the proverbs, but also how to read the world so that they use the proverbs rightly.

—Christine Roy Yoder, Proverbs, Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe and Jacqueline E. Lapsley

  • How do we learn to read the world?

Speaking of different courses of action being right in different times and contexts, there is a great poem about that in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. You can just open the Bible and read it, but my preferred format for these verses is this one:

Turn! Turn! Turn! by the Byrds, as performed on the Ed Sullivan Show on December 12, 1965, based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

To every thing there is a aseason, and a btime to every purpose under the heaven:

atime to be born, and a time to bdie; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to alaugh; a time to bmourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to aget, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to arend, and a time to sew; a time to keep bsilence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to ahate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

  • Why is it important to consider timing?
  • How do we know when our timing is right?

Seek wisdom

5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
6 To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings [riddles].

Proverbs 1:5-6

  • According to this proverb, how do we learn how to understand and apply proverbs?

Read the following proverbs silently, looking for insights about how we can a attain wisdom. Then discuss your answers to these quesitons:

  • How should we attain wisdom?
  • What pitfalls should we avoid as we seek wisdom?

2 So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

Proverbs 2:2-5

10 When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul;
11 Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee:

Proverbs 2:10-11

5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.

Proverbs 3:5-7

8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.

Proverbs 9:8-9

Dr. Glenn Pemberton has identified three themes about the quest for wisdom from the early chapters of Proverbs.

These three themes constitute the message of Prov 1–9: the importance of wisdom (it is life over death), the nature of wisdom as a path to walk rather than a destination at which we arrive, and an emphatic appeal to make a decision for wisdom and decide now to listen to the voice of the sages rather than the voices promising “the good life.”

—Glenn Pemberton, Daughter Divine: Proverbs’ Woman of Wisdom. April 29, 2018

  • How is wisdom more like a path than a destination?
  • Why do we need to make a decision for wisdom?

Wisdom as a woman

Since the sages were primarily using proverbs to instruct young men, they described wisdom in the most attractive way possible to their audience: as a woman. (See Glenn Pemberton, Daughter Divine: Proverbs’ Woman of Wisdom. April 29, 2018) Wisdom would be like the best possible girlfriend:

Wisdom mural by Robert Reid, United States Library of Congress

6 Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.

Proverbs 4:6

But like any self-respecting girlfriend, Wisdom will break up with the young man who neglects her.

In fact, Woman Wisdom is an exasperated prophet. She has spoken to young men (1:22) and done everything possible to get their attention so that they would listen to her (1:22–23). But they have refused to respond, to accept any of her counsel or correction (1:22–25). So in a bold move she tells the young men that when disaster hits them (and it is coming) she will laugh and mock them, apparently just as they have responded to her (1:26–27).

A slight but significant shift in pronouns occurs between 1:27 and 1:28. Prior to 1:28 Wisdom refers to the young men with second person plural pronouns (“you”). But in 1:28 and afterward, she refers to the young men with third person plural pronouns (“they”). This clue denotes that her audience has changed between v. 27 and v. 28. She no longer speaks to the young men, but explains and defends her behavior to another audience; the young men become an object lesson. She tells the new audience that she will ignore the young men when they call to her in crisis (1:28) because they hate knowledge and have not chosen “the fear of the Lord”—a proper relationship of fear, respect, and intimacy with God (1:29). They have rejected everything she has tried to teach them (1:30). Therefore, they now get what they wanted: their “waywardness” and “complacency” will destroy them (1:31). But Wisdom assures this second audience that those who listen to her voice will be secure and will have no reason to fear disaster (1:32).

—Glenn Pemberton, Daughter Divine: Proverbs’ Woman of Wisdom. April 29, 2018

  • What are the risks of neglecting Wisdom?
  • How does Wisdom lead to security?
  • How do we cultivate our relationship with Wisdom?

Speaking of proverbs with two meanings…

Some theologians see a second meaning to the discourse about wisdom as a woman in Proverbs 8.

22 The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his aworks of old.

23 I was set up from aeverlasting, from the bbeginning, or ever the earth was.

24 When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.

25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:

26 While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor athe highest part of the dust of the world.

27 When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a acompass upon the face of the depth:

28 When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:

29 When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:

30 Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;

31 Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.

32 Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.

33 Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.

34 Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.

35 For whoso findeth me findeth alife, and shall obtain favour of the Lord.

36 But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love adeath.

Proverbs 8:22-36

What if this passage were more literally about a divine woman?

Yet amid these admonitions, magnificent poetry in Proverbs 8:22-31 raises Wisdom’s status to divinity. Here Lady Hokmah [Wisdom] identifies herself “set up . . . before the beginning of the earth” to become a co-creator with Yahweh! [Jehovah] “I was beside him, like a master worker” (verses 23, 30). Perhaps the plural Elohim in Genesis is a way of saying that the feminine aspect of God provided the wisdom to match the power of the masculine aspect of God.

—Reta Halteman Finger, Divine feminine: Wisdom to match the power, March 9, 2021

In terminology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “the feminine aspect of God” is Heavenly Mother.

This unity of Father and Mother that is affirmed in Mormon theology seems to be beautifully expressed in Proverbs 8: 22-36 where Mother speaks of creation. …This passage contains word play on the name Asherah, one of the names of Mother in Heaven. It suggests that to know Heavenly Mother is to find life and favor with God. To deny her and hate her is death.
—Val Larsen, Hidden in Plain View: Mother in Heaven in Scripture, SquareTwo, Vol. 8 No. 2 (Summer 2015)

  • Do you see Heavenly Mother in theses verses?
  • What do they tell you about Her?
April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at


  1. I love your examples of ways to study proverbs! I feel like reading a proverb before lesson-time could be a nice class opening ritual (kind of like I’ve seen the articles of faith used at the beginning of Primary sharing time).

    As you noted, Proverbs were written to instruct young men. Some bible translations make an effort to use gender inclusive language wherever possible. I really loved reading in my NRSV “hear, my child” instead of “hear, my son”. It also made me realize that we really don’t have any scriptures written specifically for girls. So I tried to write my own:

  2. I LOVE this! What a wealth of resources? I desperately want two years with the Hebrew Bible – our Old Testament. It is rich and deserves more than the skimming Come Follow Me gives it in a year.

    The songs you included – how would that be to start Sunday School with The Byrds!

    The discussion questions you included were also fantastic. The question about why is particularly dangerous for someone in power to engage in the vices Lemuel’s mother warns him about reminds me of what Coriantion did in the BoM.

    Thank you for including the section about Wisdom personified as a Woman. The questions ” What are the risks of neglecting Wisdom?” and “How does Wisdom lead to security?” are connected. Replaced wisdom with female/women and you have questions that pertain to Dr. Valerie Hudson’s work. She and her team spent twenty years researching the connection between how women are treated and a country’s national security.

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