Proverbs and Wives

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Proverbs contains two themes that might seem in tension with each other.

House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the LORD. (Prov 19:14, ESV)

As James says, any gift is from God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (James 1:17, ESV)

On another level, there's a human role in acquiring certain kinds of things that can also be gifts of God:

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.(Prov 18:22)

So both houses/riches and an insightful wife are a gift from God. Both might come by means of some process that doesn't on the surface involve God, but one's own finding might be a significant part of it.

So what's the contrast in Prov 19:14 supposed to be, then? If everything is from God, then why are some things from God while others only from human beings? I puzzled over this for a while. Perhaps it had something to do with coming from God in one sense (the way everything comes from God) and coming from God in another sense (a sense in which only some things are from God).

That's certainly one way to make sense of such a distinction, but it doesn't strike me as the best solution. The most natural way to make such a distinction is between things God intends for the good of the person receiving them and things God intends not for the good of the person receiving them but for some other reason. I can't see how that fits well with this verse, though. Couldn't both things be intended by God for the good of the person receiving the gift?

I have another suggestion. This particular verse speaks of a prudent wife, not just any wife. It's not as if Proverbs only speaks of wives in good terms or anything. There's a long section in chapter 31 devoted to the industrious wife, but there are proverbs here and there about how hard it is to live with contentious wives (as in the previous verse), too, and one of the big opponents of the first nine chapters is the adulterous wife. Critics of the biblical wisdom literature sometimes focus on the negative pictures of wives while ignoring the good ones, usually to argue for some kind of sexism at work. But it takes selective appeal to certain parts of Proverbs to think the perspective behind the book is simply negative toward women and wives. It would be a similar mistake to think it's simply positive toward women and wives. Like the book's attitude toward people in general, including men, it places people into the wise category or the foolish category, and there are some particular ways of being wise and foolish that it emphasizes about how wives can be wise or foolish.

So here's my suggestion. The contrast in Prov 19:14 is not about some gifts being from God and some gifts not being from God. It's about some gifts that can come from people and some gifts that can only come from God. If my is right, then Prov 19:14 is about how parents can leave you possessions, and they can set it up so you get pretty much what they intend you to get. They might give you a spouse, but they can't guarantee a good spouse. Only God can do that. That's not to say that an inheritance isn't also a gift from God. It's hard to read Proverbs as a whole, never mind the rest of the Bible, and get that impression. But even if parents can arrange a marriage, there's part of the gift that can only be arranged by God, and that's something that requires depending on him. For anyone about to arrange a marriage, this is something to keep in mind.

At various moments in my life, it's occurred to me that the people who have been most important to me or most influential in bringing me to a certain point or simply those who have been most enjoyable for me to be around have not always been the people I would have chosen. They simply were around at the same time I was, and circumstances worked themselves out. To those who accept a sufficiently strong view of divine providence, then, it seems impossible to see such events as anything but the hand of God, and the same should be true of the events leading to a marriage, even if nowadays it's a lot less often from the organizing hands of parents and may even sometimes be simply due to two people finding themselves together often enough and finding that they want to continue spending time together in a deeper way.

1 Comments

Proverbs is the best book of the Bible to use as a guide. Next to that, probably the Five Love Languagues

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