Women and Wisdom in the Old Testament

Featuring Worshipedia Posted on June 15, 2010

Wisdom had always been a part of Israel’s experience of Yahweh. The wise were regarded as Yahweh’s messengers, showing by their lives and teaching the Yahweh-fearing way to live as member of family, clan, and covenant people. In "winged word," (proverbial sayings that were easy to remember) sages captured the experience of Israel’s faith in action. These proverbs provided models, or morals and cues for action, rooted in the past to renew and shape life in the present.

As Israel returned from exile without the strong national leadership of king and temple, wisdom in daily work" making families and rebuilding homes and villages" was needed more than ever. Israel had lost land and people. Women assumed a larger share in generating family life and managing households and fields. Their wisdom in refashioning home life, households, and communities came to be recognized as the word and work of Yahweh among them. Perhaps in recognition of women’s importance and increased contribution to Israel’s life, this wisdom was even embodied and personified in the female figure of woman Wisdom.
Wisdom was she who, begotten and "given birth" from Yahweh, played before him in the creation of the world and took special delight in human deeds and relationships (Proverbs 8:22–31). She spoke with the voice of Yahweh, calling from the gates of the city into the home. She called to all who would listen. Her word was to forsake foolish, foreign, and unfaithful alliances, to come to her table and feast on her food and wine, and there to be filled with her wisdom and knowledge, the fear of the Lord, which characterized the covenant way of old.

Inviting people to find Yahweh in daily experience; in faithful human relationships between husband and wife, children and parents; in family life and public service, she was rebuilding the house of Israel. Wisdom again became the pattern of life, recognized among the people as the "order" in creation itself. Later wisdom writings identified her with Torah (Sirach 190 B.C.). In the earlier poems of Proverbs 1–9 and Proverbs 31:10–31, Wisdom and her counterpart of the faithful wife, speaks in the very "I am" voice of Yahweh and is hymned by husband, family, and people for bearing the very life-giving qualities of Yahweh, the qualities women and men needed to reclaim their life as family and people. In this way woman Wisdom embodied the very life of Israel and came to prominence in the rebuilding of Israel as a godly people.

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