Proverbs, Jesus and Women


H_Kelley1One Sunday morning, a central marketplace in Burundi (the small East African country where I do development work) burned down, gutting the local economy. In the middle of the smoldering ruins, my husband stood by the women, business owners who’d just lost everything. When floodwaters rushed through the city streets overnight, leaving thousands wet and homeless, he sat with those same women, listening to their lament. As I watched him offer the compassion of his presence, I remembered how he labored to ensure that these women would be among the first to receive their citizen identity cards (a symbol of dignity) when we began our work in Burundi. My husband’s compassion and respect for these women gripped me, touching a deep place in my soul.

While Proverbs is a practical book, meant to guide us toward a life of durable character and lasting goodness, it’s propelled by a passion for the dignity of women that reminds me of my husband. In the pages of this great book we get peasant wisdom (on soils, growing seasons, and the value of hard work) and domestic wisdom (on family relations, financial management, and friendships). And, in contrast to most Old Testament books, women are central characters in Proverbs. Much of the action, good and bad, flows out of industrious and even scandalous women. The spotlight is on Lady Wisdom, a personification of God’s deepest truths, culminating in the woman of valor who is praised in Proverbs 31.

These women woven into the proverbs, by their example and instruction, teach all of us who are seeking a life of good character how to embrace wisdom. If you want to stay on the path of justice and steer clear of wickedness, heed the words of the women in the community. For those hungering for a life of blessing, Lady Wisdom has much to offer both men and women. Equally true, and more provocative, is this insight: the way we interact with women in our community might be the most accurate measure of our wisdom. Do we listen to our mothers and wives and daughters? Do we honor the gifts of women in our congregations? Do we respect women in the workplace and within the home? The standard of respect we uphold toward women reveals the depth of our wisdom.

My husband walks with this kind of wisdom—a striking respect and reverence for the women of his community. And Jesus, of course, is the universal standard for wisdom. When we watch Jesus interact with women in the Gospels, we see wisdom personified. Witness Jesus with his mother, or with Martha and Mary going to and from Bethany, or sitting at the well or table, conversing with women. The way Jesus interacts with women, so different from the men of his day, fleshes out the wisdom of Proverbs.


Kelley’s introduction to Proverbs is one of her six contributions to the new Jesus-Centered Study Bible and is published here with permission. There’s also contributions by (our beloved) Kathy Escobar, Brian Zahnd, Carl Medearis, Mark Braverman and other Jesus-centered friends.

Image credit: Communities of Hope