Did you know the Proverbs 31 woman is only one of a cast of women in the book of Proverbs?
The first 9 chapters of the book of Proverbs are a unit, an introduction that points the way forward as a guide on a safari adventure. These chapters set before us the binary choice so familiar to Proverbs and wisdom literature as a whole: the way of wisdom vs. the way of folly. But these chapters also introduce a cast of characters, primarily female characters.
The women of Proverbs 1-9 include the wife of your youth, the adulterous woman, woman wisdom, and woman folly. The former two represent real persons, but the latter are personified ideals. Each of these women appear in a host of passages throughout the opening chapters, and the women in each pair are set in opposition to one another. Here are just a couple examples.
We meet the wife of your youth in 5:15-19, where Solomon encourages us to revel in the (sexual) pleasures of marriage. In verse 19, in fact, we find the only instance in the Bible where intoxication is commanded in a positive light. The adulterous woman, however, is strictly forbidden. Solomon warns us in the darkest of terms: her steps lead to death (5:5), and her house is at the devil’s door (7:27).
In chapter 9, woman wisdom and woman folly each prepare a dinner and summon passersby to join her at table. But the devil is in the details. Woman wisdom prepares a feast with meat, wine, and bread (9:1-6). Woman folly, however, scrapes together some stolen bread and water (9:13-18). Choose your meal (that is the implied ultimatum). But choose carefully, because it just might cost you your life (9:18).
Though the woman of Proverbs 31 gets all the press these days, she’s really just the grand finale in a long line of woman we meet in the book. Interestingly, therefore, the book of Proverbs is framed by a cast of female characters. How creative of God to have crafted his book of wisdom in this way.