21 October 2013

Proverbs 1:20-33

“Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.” (v. 20)


"Who will buy?" (the song from Lionel Bart's musical, "Oliver") imagines the streets of London in the 19th century, filled with women and men selling their wares. Each develops their own cry into a tune, so "Ripe strawberries, ripe" harmonises with "Any milk today, mistress?" and "Who will buy my sweet red roses, two blooms for a penny?" in a charming (if sanitised) way. However, the scene is not a bad backdrop for the drama of today's passage, and for much of the book of Proverbs. Traditionally the book was ascribed to Solomon, David's son and successor as king of Israel, known for his personal wisdom, which he received as a gift from God following a dream (1 Kings 3:3-14). It is more commonly regarded now as a collection of sayings and writings from different authors over different periods, possibly with the early chapters added after the exile as a commentary on and extended introduction to material dating back to pre-exilic days.

In this passage Wisdom is personified as a female street crier, extolling the virtues of her character in the city squares, competing with the louder but less wholesome appeal of the adulteress (eg Proverbs 6:23-35). So, we note that Wisdom is portrayed as feminine, almost as a celebrity, one of the voices of her day, a social commentator who is there for those with ears to hear. In the 21st century, Wisdom would certainly have a Facebook page and a Twitter account to present her guidance for wise living in the public domain, if we will but listen.

"How long ... will you love being simple?" (v. 22) is a very direct question, reminding hearers or readers that wise living is not a result of intelligence or education, but of choices made. In John 5:6, Jesus asks the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, "Do you want to be made well?" In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf encourages Frodo to realise that whilst many circumstances of life cannot be changed, it is the choices which are made within those circumstances which shape the consequences.

Verses 24-33 outline the dangers of not heeding wisdom, and the 'told you so' tone adopted here may make Wisdom sound rather smug, but reinforces the message that those who ignore Wisdom will end up looking foolish, or worse.

To Ponder

  • Where do you hear the voice of Wisdom today? And what are the voices which threaten to drown out her appeals?
  • What have been the wise choices you have made in your life? What about the unwise choices?
  • How can we avoid sounding smug as Christians, when we emphasise the importance of choice? Where does grace fit in?

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers’ tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where her husband Andrew is superintendent minister. For Jill, the past 20 years have included all sorts of roles within Methodism – further afield (as a mission partner in the South Caribbean) and closer to home (with WFMUCW, MWiB, leading pilgrimages and as part of various committees and groups) and is currently the Vice-President of the Conference 2017/2018. When not engaged in these ways, Jill enjoys walking in the beautiful mountains of Scotland, gardening and writing; she blogs at and "Thanks, Peter God", her book about the life of her son, Peter, who died in 2012, was published in 2016.