Pete F. Wilbanks ETS SW Regional
Non-Proverb Proverbial Bookends: A Possible Lens
for Viewing the Book of Proverbs
provides a framework at the beginning and the end of the canonical
Book of Proverbs. In the rework of her doctoral dissertation entitled Wisdom and the Feminine in
the Book of Proverbs, Claudia Camp noted eight features that demonstrate this feminine
framework between Proverbs 1-9 and Proverbs 31.1 Roger N. Whybray agreed with Camp’s
assessment of the feminine framework and further stated that over half of the 256 verses found in
Proverbs 1-9 are concerned with a female figure of some type (i.e. mother, bride, wife,
adulteress, prostitute, personified Wisdom or Folly).2 The sheer preponderance of feminine
imagery at the beginning and end of the Book of Proverbs seems to demonstrate an editorial
eight features are as follows: (1) the mother’s teaching in 1:8 and 31:26 (also
mother’s teaching is thematic in 31:1-9 [Lemuel’s mother instructing her son]); (2) both Wisdom
and the woman of strength are more precious than jewels (3:15, 8:11, and 31:10); (3) the one
finding Wisdom and the one finding the woman of strength will have no lack of material gain
(3:14, 8:21, and 31:11); (4) nothing compares to Wisdom or to the woman of strength (3:15 and
31:29); (5) one should hold fast to Wisdom (3:18), prize and embrace Wisdom (4:8), love
Wisdom (4:6 and 8:17, 21), just as a husband should be completely infatuated with the love of
his wife (5:18) and completely trust in her (31:11); (6) as wisdom calls people into security and
happiness (8:34 and 9:1-6), so the woman of strength assures the comfort of her household
(31:21) and extends her abundance to the poor (31:20); (7) as Wisdom takes her stand in the city
gates (1:21 and 8:3), so the works of the woman of strength praise her there (31:31); and (8) the
problem of discerning appearance from reality with respect to Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9 is
repeated in 31:30 (Charm is deceitful, beauty is vain; but a woman who fears the Lord shall be
praised). See Claudia Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs (Sheffield:
Almond Press, 1985), 188-89.
N. Whybray, The
Composition of the Book of Proverbs, JSOT Supplement Series
168 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994), 159-62.
redacting that results in an inclusio for the Book of
Proverbs. While the pericope of
instruction of Lemuel’s mother to her son (Pr. 31:1-9) does contribute to the feminine
framework, the closing acrostic poem about the Awoman of strength”3 provides the majority of
the connections (seven out of eight of Camp’s connections were between Proverbs 1-9 and Pr.
one can say that an inclusio of feminine imagery
exists in the Book of
Proverbs; however, the consensus view that Proverbs 1-9 and Pr. 31:10-31 forms an inclusio
deserves to be further examined. Camp cited the findings of David Noel Freedman as evidence
that an author or editor could use the technique of inclusio surrounding a large body of literature,
as opposed to the most common use of inclusio around a smaller literary unit.4 Freedman argued
that the Massoretic ordering of Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles is framed by an inclusio of a
virtually identical passage at the beginning of Ezra and at the end of 2 Chronicles.5 Thus,
according to Freedman, the inclusio between the beginning of Ezra and the end of 2 Chronicles
demonstrates, at least in part, the reason for the Massoretic ordering of the text. Based upon this
technique of inclusio around a larger literary unit, Camp deduced that Proverbs 1-9 could form an
inclusio with Proverbs 31. However, Freedman’s example contained two passages of
3The translation of lyiHa-tw,xe@ used throughout this paper
4Camp, 184-85. Freedman’s findings are unpublished. Camp
noted that she gleaned this
information from a lecture that Freedman presented at Texas Christian University in April of
1981 and from a personal letter from Freedman to Camp dated 15 August 1981 (see, Camp, 316,
exact scripture references are Ez. 1:1-3 and 2 Chr. 36:22-23. Both of these passages
are the proclamation of Cyrus that the Jews could return to their homeland and rebuild the temple
of their God.
similar size, theme, and vocabulary. In other words, both elements of the inclusio in Ezra and 2
Chronicles are balanced in size, vocabulary, and theme. While Camp’s inclusio between
Proverbs 1-9 and Proverbs 31 does have vocabulary (lexical) and thematic similarities, the size of
the the first element of her inclusio (Proverbs 1-9) is grossly disproportionate to the second
element of her inclusio (Proverbs 31). While Proverbs 1-9 constitutes a major portion of the book
(256 verses), Proverbs 31 constitutes only a minor portion of the book (31 verses). More
specifically, since seven out of eight of Camp’s feminine connections between the beginning and
the end of Proverbs come from Pr. 31:10-31, the inclusio virtually has a 22 verse second element.
The sheer inequality of text between the two elements of the inclusio elicits the response that
Camp’s inclusio is somewhat “lopsided.” Perhaps the final editor/redactor of Proverbs did use
the technique of inclusio to frame the Book of Proverbs, but in a more specific fashion than
Camp (et al.) have suggested.
The first speech
of personified Wisdom, found in Pr. 1:20-33, contains striking
similarities with the closing acrostic poem of Pr. 31:10-31 (the hymn to the woman of strength).
The purpose of this paper is to examine Pr. 1:20-33 and Pr. 31:10-31, by means of rhetorical and
lexical analysis, in order to determine if the two pericopes form an inclusio (of similar
vocabulary, themes, and size) through which one should interpret the Book of Proverbs, and if
so, to give the theological implication(s) for such an observation. I will seek to accomplish this
purpose by giving attention to the following items.
rhetorical features and structures of the two pericopes
must be delineated. A
translation of the pericopes, so as to allow even the non-Hebrew reader to grasp both the syntax
and number of words in the Hebrew text, falls under this section. The heart of this section is the
macrostructure of each pericope and its significance. From this rhetorical analysis, one can see
that a thematic connection exists between Pr. 1:20-33 and Pr. 31:10-31 in the form of leitmotif6
similarities. Primarily, the connection comes between the one who heeds the wise words of Lady
Wisdom (Pr. 1:33) and the one who finds a Awoman of strength” (Pr. 31:10). Both of these
people are blessed and secure. Also, the idea of a “thesis-antithesis” motif is present. In Pr. 1:20-
33, the leitmotif of the passage is calamity coming upon those who reject the words of Wisdom;
however, a secondary motif of security is present as well. In Pr. 31:10-31, the leitmotif is the
value of the Woman of Strength and inextricably intertwined with her value is the security and
blessings that she provides. When viewed together, these two passages present a “bad/good,” or
an “evil/righteous,” or a “negative consequences/positive consequence” dialectic for the
reader/hearer. Adding to this connection is the idea of Pr. 31:10-31 containing a marriage
metaphor. If indeed the lyiHa-tw,xe@ of Pr. 31:10-31 is Lady Wisdom,7 then the connection
between Pr. 1:20-33 and Pr. 31:10-31 is virtually certain.
Second, counting the syllables of the pericopes reveals symmetry in the respective
structures. Rather than attempting to reconstruct the Hebrew behind the Massoretic Text, the
Massoretic Text will be the basis for the syllable count.
Third and finally, root lexemes connect these two passages. These lexemes demonstrate
both linguistic and thematic connection. For example, in Pr. 1:33, the wise person who heeds the
use this term to mean Aa
dominant theme.@ See,
Phyllis Trible, Rhetorical Criticism:
Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah, Guides to Biblical Scholarship Old Testament Series
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 250.
7See, McCreesh, 25-46.
words of Lady Wisdom will dwell in “security”.8 In Pr. 31:11, the heart of the man who is
married to the woman of strength “trusts” (HFb) in her. Both translations of HFb, “security” and
“trust,” are in a common semantic field; thus, revealing a thematic connection between the two
These steps will
demonstrate the possibility that Pr. 1:20-33 and Pr. 31:10-31 form an
inclusio through which to interpret the canonical Book of Proverbs. Both of these pericopes are
non-aphoristic; therefore, they would form Anon-proverb proverbial bookends@ around the text of
The Rhetorical Structures of Pr. 1:20-33
and Pr. 31:10-31
Wisdom9 in-the-outside10 crys-out11
In-the-outdoor-common-areas12 she-gives her-voice.
Thomas P. McCreesh, “Wisdom as Wife: Proverbs
31:10-31,” Revue Biblique 92
use of the Pluralus Majestaticus, tOmk;HA*, brings out the all-encompassing nature of
Lady Wisdom. She alone encapsulates the many facets of wisdom.
10For justification of translating CvHBA as “in the outside,” see BDB, 299-300.
11The LXX, Syriac,
and Targums relate the infinitive u[mei?tai
whereas the Hebrew
employs the Qal Imperfect 3fs.
At-the-entrances of-the-gates of-the-city
22. How long,15 O-naive-ones will-you-love naivete?
And-scoffers, in-scoffing delight for-themselves?
And-fools hate knowledge?16
23. Turn-you to-my-reproof!
Behold, I-will-indeed-pour-out upon-you-all my-spirit!
I-will-indeed-make-known17 my-words to-you-all!18
24. Because I-called and-you-all-refused,19
I-stretched-out my-hand and-no-one gave-attention.
13tOy.miho) is a Qal
Infinitive Construct from the root lexeme hmh meaning Ato
“to murmur” (see BDB, 242). The LXX, Syriac, and Targums contain teixe<wn, which literally
translated is “of walls.” The Hebrew equivalent would be tOmHo, see BDB, 327. The similar
Hebrew orthography explains this discrepancy.
14BHS editors suggested that “of-the-city
Her-sayings” should be deleted from the phrase
“At-the-entrances of-the-gates of-the-city her-sayings she-speaks.” The apparent reason is metri
causa. Since no manuscript evidence suggests such a deletion, the editorial proposal is rejected.
15Nam noted that the Hebrew
phrase ytama-dfa^ is frequent in
the prophetic literature: Jer.
4:14, 21; 12:4; 31:22; 47:5; and Hos. 6:5. See
16Note the twice used Hiphil Cohortative for intensity.
17Citing metrical and poetic
peculiarities, John A. Emerton proposed a compression
verses 22 and 23. His final translation for these two verses would read Ahow long, ye simple
ones, will ye love simplicity? When will you turn to my reproof?@ For support, Emerton cited the
following similarities between Pr. 1:22 and Pr. 6:9: (1) both verses begin with yt^m*-du^; (2) both
verses have a verb in the second person imperfect after a vocative; and (3) both describe a
reprehensible action--simpletons rejecting knowledge and sluggards sleeping. See, John A.
Emerton, “A Note on the Hebrew Text of Proverbs 1:22-23,” Journal of Theological Studies 19
19Note that when the foolish reject Wisdom, the action of “rejecting” ( or “refusing”) is in
the intensive Piel stem.
25. And-you-all-neglected all my-counsel,
and-my-reproof not you-were-willing-to-receive.
26. Also, I-myself at-your-calamity will-laugh,
I-will-mock when-it-comes your-dread.20
27. When-it-comes as-a-storm21 your-dread,
when-it-comes upon-you-all distress and-anguish.24
28. Then, they-will-call-to-me but-not I-will-answer,
29. So-then26 because they-hated knowledge,
and-the-fear of-the-Lord not they-chose,
30. not they-were-willing-to-accept27 my-counsel
they-spurned all of-my-reproof;
20Later in the chapter, the use
of a chiastic quatrain in verses 26 and 27 will be a
significant rhetorical feature.
21Ketib = hvAxEwak;+; Qere = hxAOwk;; however, the Cairo Geniza rendering adds the vowel
for the definite article underneath the initial k.
22Again, the Cairo Geniza rendering adds the vowel for the definite article underneath the
23The root lexeme htx occurs only in poetry in Biblical Hebrew; however, the lexeme is
common in Biblical Aramaic. This fact could demonstrate a later date for the composition of this
pericope. See BDB, 87; and Alger F. Johns, A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, Rev. ed.
24BHS editors propose deleting the phrase “when-it-comes upon-you-all distress and-
anguish.” They offer no reason for the deletion; therefore, their proposal is rejected.
25Note that after the consequences of rejecting Wisdom have come upon the foolish, they
“diligently seek” Wisdom as noted by the use of the Piel stem; however, the most common usage
of both rHw and wqb is in the Piel stem. The action of seeking implies intensity.
25tHaTa^ used as an adversative. See BDB, 1065-66.
26From the root lexeme hbx which incorporates a sense of volition. See BDB, 2.
31. Then-they-shall-eat of-the-fruit of-their-own-way,
32. For the-turning-back of-the-simple will-slay-them,
and-the-careless-security of-fools will-destroy them.
33. But-the-one-hearkening to-me will-dwell in-security,29
and-he-will-be-at-ease from-the-dread of-evil.
10. A-woman of-strength31 who will-find?32
For-far-above more-than-jewels (is) her value.33
11. It-trusts in-her (the)-heart of-her-husband,
28An interesting morphological
construction: Mh,ytecofEmo.miU. One could translate the
construction as “and from their own counsels,” or “and from their own devices.” The root lexeme
at work in the construction is tcf which is an integral word in the wisdom vernacular, see
Roger N. Whybray, The Intellectual Tradition in the Old Testament, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter,
29The root lexeme is HFb which most commonly translates as “to
trust.” This lexeme
provides one a major connection between this pericope and Pr. 31:10-31.
30In the LXX, Pr. 31:10-31 follows Pr. 29:27, yet the hymn to the woman of strength still
concludes the Septuagintal text of Proverbs. The difference between the order of the MT and the
order of the LXX occurs only in Pr. 24:23-30:9 (MT versification). For further reference, see
Johann Cook, The Septuagint of Proverbs, Jewish and/or Hellenistic Proverbs? Concerning the
Hellenistic Colouring of LXX Proverbs, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 69 (Leiden: Brill,
31The phrase “lyiHa-tw,xe” occurs only
three times in the MT: Pr. 12:4, Pr. 31:10, and Ru.
3:11. The typical translation of lyiHa^ is “strength;” however, the word does have a wider semantic
range of possibilities, such as valor, nobility, military might, and virility.
32This translation of xcAm;yi y.mi! is unusual. The traditional translation is Awho can find,@
(denoting the imperfect of capability) rather than “who will find.” However, “who will find,” is a
legitimate translation of the imperfect form of xcamA*. Contra, Bruce Waltke (who holds to the
imperfect of capability).
33Cf. Pr. 3:15 and 8:11.
and-gain34 not he-will-lack.35
12. She-deals-out-to-him good and-not evil,
all (the)-days of-her-life.36
13. She-seeks wool and-flax,
and-she-works in-delight with-her-palms."
14. She-is like-ships merchant,
from-far she-brings her-food.
15. And-she-rises while-yet night,
and-she-gives food38 to-her-house,
16. She-considers a-field and-she-takes-it,
34The root lexeme llw, usually denotes "booty" or "plunder" as in an act of war.
Only in this verse is llw, understood apart from the context of war. Beth LaNell Tanner
noted the possibility of a militaristic undercurrent in this pericope when coupling LLW
and LyiHa with verses 15 and 17.
See, Beth LaNell Tanner, "Reading Betwen the Lines:
The Book of Psalms and Intertextuality" (Ph.D. diss.,
35Although the Hebrew is ambiguous, the husband is the probable recipient of the
gain. Contra, LXX, but cf. Roland Murphy, Proverbs, Word Biblical Commentary
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 244.
36Although the MT omits the qamets under the final he, many manuscripts in the
Kennicott collection include the final vowel; thus, making clear the third person feminine
suffix which renders "her life."
37The text literally reads "her palms;" however, the root lexeme, Jk, functions
synonymously for "hand."
Also, Jk functions as an inclusiastic
marker in verse 13 and
verse 20 denoting the second stanza of this poetic pericope.
38The root lexeme JrF usually denotes "prey" (BDB, 383); however, the poetic
parallelism in this verse aligns JrF with qHo ("portion") thereby creating the idea of "food."
39Since the third colon of this verse creates the only tricolon in this pericope, BHS
editors suggested a deletion of the phrase "and-a-portion to-her-maidens." Again, deletion
for metri causa is
suspect and to be rejected.
from-the-fruit of-her-palms she-plants' a-vineyard.
17. She-girds with-strength her-loins,
18. She-perceives that good (is) her-merchandising,
not it-is-extinguished in-the-night her-lamp.
19. Her-hands she-stretches-out to-the-distaff,42
and-her-palms they-grasp the-spindle.
20. Her-palm spreads-out to-the-poor,
and-her-hands she-stretches-out to-the-needy.43
21. Not she-fears for-her-house the-snow,
because all of-her-house are-clothed doubly.44
22. Coverings she-makes for-herself,
fine-linen and-purple (are) her-clothing.
40Read the Kere (hfAF;HA). Cf. Murphy, Proverbs, 244.
41LXX adds "for
work" before "her arms." Tanner noted that "strong arms are
associated with the ability to fight." See, Tanner, 182.
traditional translation of "distaff' is given for yrOwyKi, this translation
is tentative at best. rOwyKi is a hapax legomenon and continues to perplex
scholars regarding its meaning. Al Wolters offered an insightful article on the meaning of
rOwyKi in which he posited that the word represents a special kind of spindle. See, Al
Wolters, "The Meaning of Kisor (Prov. 31:19),"
43Note that verses 19 and 20 form a chiastic quatrain marking the end of the
second stanza (verses 13-20) of this poem. The chiasm revolves around the use of the
words Jk and dy in verse 19 and dyand Jk in verse 20. As well as marking the end of a
stanza, this chiasm turns the focus of the poem from a description of the woman of
strength to the blessings received by those associated with this woman in the next stanza
44While some Syriac and Targumic manuscripts support the MT reading MyniwA,
("scarlet") in agreement with Is. 1:18, the LXX and the Vulgat:, offer a more sensible reading
with MyinAw; ("double"). "Doubly clothed" is most plausible when paralleled with
"snow" in the first colon of verse 21.
23. He-is-known45 in-the-gates her-husband,46
when-he-sits with the elders of-the-land.
24. Linen-garments she-makes and-she-sells (them),
and-a-belt she-gives to-the-tradesman.
25. Strength and-dignity (are) her-clothing,
and-she-laughs at-the-day later-ones.47
26. Her-mouth she-opens in-wisdom,
and-the-instruction of-lovingkindness (is) upon
27. She-watches-over48 the-ways (of) her-house,
and-the-bread (of) sluggishness not she-eats.
28. They-rise49 her-sons and-they-bless-her,
29. "Many daughters have-done nobly,
but-you go-over upon all-of-them.
30. Deceitful (is) the-appearance and-vanity (is)
45 fdAOn is the only Niphal in this pericope.
46 Note that the husband of the woman of strength is the center of third stanza in
this poem. He is "clothed" or "bounded" on both sides, in the preceding and subsequent
verses of this stanza, with the semantic field of "clothing."
47 The LXX places verse 25 after verse 26.
48 hy.ApiOc is a Qal participle. This fact is interesting for two reasons: (1) all other
descriptions of the woman of strength employ either the perfect or imperfect verbal
forms; and (2) the participle itself represents a rare inflection. See, Al Wolters,
"SOPIYYA (Prov 31:27) as Hymnic Participle and Play on Sophia." Journal of Biblical
Literature 104 (December 1985):
577. In this article, Wolters asserted that the rare
form of this word constitutes a play on the Greek word for wisdom,
pun, Wolters argued for a third century B. C. E. date of composition for
this poem (well into the Hellenistic period).
49 For some reason BHS
editors suggest UmD;qi, meaning "they come before."
While the meaning of the suggested emendation is fits the context of the verse, the editors
offer no manuscript evidence for such a change.
a-woman fearing Yahweh' she shall-be-praised.
31. Give-you51 to-her from-the-fruit-of her-hands,
and-let-them-praise-her in-the-gates her-deeds."
Phyllis Trible put forth a structure of Pr. 1:20-33 that seems to have held the field. She
demonstrated that the poem has a chiastic arrangement and that the apex of the chiasm is
chiastic quatrain in verses 26 and 27 (or chiastic pentacolon
depending on one's
preference). Her diagram is as follows.
A Introduction: an appeal for listeners (20-21)
B Address to the untutored, scoffers., and fools (22)
C Declaration of Disclosure (23)
D Reason for the Announcement (24-25)
E Announcement of Derisive Judgment (26-27)
D' Result of the Announcement, with interruption (28-30)
C' Declaration of Retribution (31)
B' Address about the untutored and fools (32)
A' Conclusion: an appeal for a hearer (33)52
50 For the complex
argument of how to translate the phrase "hvAhy;-txar;yi" see McCreesh,
51 Wolters argued that the imperative UnT; derives from a verb meaning "to sing"
rather than from im meaning "to give." Thus, he renders the first colon of the verse as
follows: "Extol her for the fruit of her hands." See, Al Wolters, "Proverbs XXXI 10-31 as
Heroic Hymn: A Form-Critical Analysis," Vetus Testamentum 38 (1988): 449-50.
Murphy held that the change of meaning is negligible. See, Murphy, 244-45.
52 Phyllis Trible, "Wisdom Builds a Poem: The Architecture of
Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (1975): 511. Other scholars have accepted her
structure. See, Wilfred G. E. Watson, "Chiastic Patterns in Biblical Hebrew Poetry," in
Chiasmus in Antiquity, ed. John W. Welch (Heldesheim: Gerstenberg Verlag, 1981),
Trible made a strong case with for this structure with her very thorough rhetorical
analysis, but the weakest part of her structure is C and C' (verses 23 and 31). By her own
admission, these two sections have no lexical similarities, they have different lengths, and
neither section contains a signal word.53 Although he did not offer a rhetorical analysis,
Bruce Waltke opted for a different structure of the speech. Waltke saw two major
sections in the speech and asserted that the first major section (Pr. 1:20-27, which he
entitled "Sermon to Fools") has a "twiceness" in its structure. He organized the structure
I. Sermon to Fools (20-27)
A. Introduction (20-21)
B. Sermon (22-27)
1. Invitation to Fools (22-23)
2. Denunciation of Fools (24-27)
a. Scolding (24-25)
b. Grounds for Scolding (26-27)
1. Not Listening
II. Statement Addressed to the Children of the Covenant (28-33)
A. Withdrawal of Wisdom (28)
B. Inevitability of Judgment (29-31)
C. Generalizing Substantiation of Condemning Fools
and Commending the Wise (32-33)54
Waltke well illustrated the "twiceness" that is present in Pr. 1:20-27 and he also
accounted for the use of the third person in Pr. 1:28-33 by arguing that Lady Wisdom, in
these verses, removed herself from the company of the foolish and began addressing the
children of the
covenant. Implicit in Waltke's argument is the
assumption that the children
of the covenant heed the words
53 Trible, "Wisdom Builds," 517.
54 Bruce K. Waltke,"Lady Wisdom as Mediatrix:
An Exposition of Proverbs
1:20-33," Presbyterion: Covenant Seminary Review 14 (1988): 4.
of Wisdom. Although both Trible and Waltke dealt extensively with the idea of judgment
and/or consequences within this pericope, neither explicitly stated these ideas as the
leitmotif of the passage. Only verses 23 and 33 present positive ideas; the remainder of
the verses in this pericope exude with negativity, consequences, and judgment.
An independent rhetorical analysis of this passage has
revealed the following
eight stanza structure.
Stanza 1 Introduction (20-21)
Stanza 2 Exasperation and Promise (22-23)
Stanza 3 Reason for Calamity and Dread (24-25)
Stanza 4 Calamity and Dread (26-27b)
Interlude Temporal clause of distress and anguish (27c)55
Stanza 5 Finality of Calamity and Dread (28)
Stanza 6 Reason for Calamity and Dread (29-30)
Stanza 7 Further Consequences for Rejecting Wisdom (31-32)
Stanza 8 Blessing for the Wise/Freedom from Dread (33)
From the stanzaic titles in this structure, one can see the predominance of negativity and
distress within the passage--the leitmotif is the calamity elicited by rejecting Wisdom.
55 Even though this clause contains a second person address and verse 28 contains
a third person address, the clause provides a Janus link with both the preceding and
subsequent stanzas. Authorial shift in person is a common feature in prophetic literature;
thus, Pr. 1:20-33 does manifest similarities with the prophetic corpus and does so without
necessitating a change in the audience addressed (Contra Waltke). For confirmation of
this fact, see Claus Westermann,
Basic Forms of Prophetic Speech (
Westminster/John Knox, 1991), 152-171; and Scott L. Harris, Proverbs 1-9: A Study of
SBL Dissertation Series 150 (
1995), 83-86. Futhermore Although BHS editors suggest deleting this
colon, the rhetorical effect of the colon is crucial.
However, in similar fashion to
condemnatory prophetic speeches,56 Lady
offers a ray of hope to the remnant who will heed her words (verses 23 and 3:3).
Brief Rhetorical Analysis of Pr. 1:20-33
Stanza 1 (Pr. 1:20-21). The pericope begins with the common method of
introducing the Lady Wisdom--giving her physical locus and demonstrating that she
speaks. In verses 20 and 21, the reader becomes familiar with the setting of Lady
Wisdom's speech. As always,57 Lady Wisdom appears in the public arena (outdoor
common areas, head of the noisy streets, etc.). One will never find her slinking around
She speaks so that all might hear--she is public, visible, and candid. Although the Woman
of Strength in Pr. 31:10-31 is a paragon of domesticity (versus being a public prophet),
she also must venture into the openness of public life; otherwise, she would not be able to
bring her food from afar (Pr. 31:14), consider a field and buy it (Pr. 31:16), interact with
the poor (Pr. 31:19-20), and give/sell her wares to the tradesman (Pr. 31:24).58
Additionally, although she herself is not a major public figure, her husband (the one most
intimately related to her) is quite the public figure (Pr. 31:23). In fact, her husband in
known in the gates,59 one of the precise locations for Lady Wisdom to utter her speeches.
56 For treatments regarding the prophetic nature of this passage, see A. Robert,
"Les attaches litteraires bibliques de Prov. 1-9" Revue Biblique 43 (1934): 172-81;
Christa Kayatz, Studien zu Proverbien 1-9: Eine form-und motivgeschichtliche
Untersuchung unter Einbeziehung agyptischen Vergleichsmaterials, Wissenschafliche
Monographien Zum Alien und Neuen Testament (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag,
1966), 119-29; and Harris, 68-109. Harris offered a thorough, scholarly, and extremely
readable view for connecting Pr. 1:20-33 with Jeremiah 7 and 20.
57 See also Pr. 8:1-3 and Pr. 9:1-3.
58 Tradesman coming to her house in order to purchase her wares is an unlikely
scenario. "Presumably as he administers justice and wise decisions with the elders of the
On the other hand, the Woman of Strength never offers a public invitation to receive her
sayings, as does Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 1. She does, however, portray the scenario of
security and blessing for the one who is related to her (primarily in familial terms) in
verses 23 and 31.60
Stanza 2 (Pr. 1:22-24). This stanza begins the actual speech by Lady Wisdom. She
starts in an exasperated tone when she asks "how long, 0-naive-ones, will-you-love
naivete? And scoffers, in-scoffing delight for-themselves? And-fools hate knowledge?
(Pr. 1:22)." The signal phrase ytamA-dfa denotes the beginning of this stanza and betrays
the speech's ties to the prophetic tradition.61 Also, within verse 22, Lady Wisdom begins
with a second person address to the naive (or simpletons) and then switches to a third
person address to the scoffers and fools. As noted above, this shift in person does not
necessitate a change in audience. The technique is a rhetorical attempt to broaden Lady
Wisdom's address. If a reader understands a second person address, then he or she easily
could hold that the address is not directed at the reader personally; however, when Lady
Wisdom speaks in the third person, the reader understands a broader audience and
thereby experiences the text in a vicarious manner.
In verse 23, Lady Wisdom offers a positive and invitational promise. For those
turn to her reproof, she will pour out her spirit upon them and make her words
known to them.62 Although Murphy rejected this invitational view based on the overall
60 Cf. McCreesh, 30. Also, compare Pr. 1:23 and 33 with Pr. 31:10-31.
"See above, footnote 15. Also, see Roland Murphy, "Wisdom's Song: Proverbs 1:20-
33," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48 (January 1986): 457.
62 This writer takes the
imperfect UbUwtA to denote an
invitation: "If you turn."
Murphy translated the imperfect as "turn aside," denoting more of a scornful tone in Lady
Wisdom's voice. Murphy asserted[ that Lady Wisdom does not offer an invitation in this
pericope. Regarding verse 23, he held that the foolish had already rejected Lady
words and the reader is not privileged to know when
such a rejection took place.
Murphy, "Wisdom's Song," 456-60.
tenor of verses 24-32,63 the use of the root lexeme Mt, in verses 23 and 32 forming a
type of inclusio, and the assertion that one does not offer an invitation to repent by
rehearsing past infidelities,64 this writer disagrees with Murphy on a few key points.
Murphy has rightly deduced that the overall tenor of the poem is one of negativity and
judgment. Further, he also has rightly deduced that the condemnation present in verses
24-32 is the result of a prior refusal to accept Wisdom's words. He did not, however, see
the possibility that verses 23 and 33 can form a type of positive inclusio around the
condemnatory heart of the pericope (verses 24-32).65 Granted, verses 22, 23, and 32
have root lexeme connection (bUw, ytp, and lysk) thereby forming an inclusio, but
verse 23 intentionally interrupts the exasperated tone of Stanza 2 (also, on a larger scale,
interrupts the negative tone of 22 and 24-32). This intentional interruption
Stanza 2 to Stanza 6, and verses 23 and 33 mitigate the harsh words of verses 24-32 in
the ears of the hearer. Although destruction is certain fix the group addressed in verses
24-32, future hearers might learn from their calamity and heed the words of Wisdom.
Another shortcoming in Murphy's
article is the fact that he relegates verse 33 to virtual
obscurity in this pericope. He held that verse 33 hardly
63 Regarding the tenor of verses 24-31, Michael V. Fox asserted that in these
verses, Lady Wisdom acts like a "spurned lover nursing a grudge." See, Michael V. Fox,
Ideas of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9," Journal of Biblical Literature 116 (1997): 625, n 23.
64 Ibid., 459-60.
65 An inclusio of positivism is a thematic inclusio, not a root lexeme or key word inclusio.
softened the "unremitting, ineluctable condemnation" of verses 24-32.66 Although for the
foolish who have already rejected Wisdom verse 33 does not soften the judgment of
verses 24-32, Murphy omitted the implicit invitation of Wisdom present in verse 33. If
Wisdom would state that security and peace come to the one who heeds her words, an
invitation is implicit. Perhaps the judgment of those who remained fools is the content of
verses 24-32, while the target audience of verses 23 and 33 are later generations.
Wisdom's promise to pour out her spirit and make known her words to the one who will
heed her reproof finds hypothetical fulfillment and result in verse 33. Then in turn, verse
33 amply portrays the security and blessings for the family (particularly the husband) of
the Woman of Strength.67
Verse 24 begins with the signal word, Nfaya, and functions to signify the reason for
the judgment contained explicitly in verses 26 and 27.68 Although signal words often
function to denote a new stanza of a poem (or section if in a narrative passage), this
contends that the signal marker in verse 24 marks the end of the stanza in
fashion with the signal marker that began the stanza in verse 22.69 In other words, both
the opening and closing verses of this stanza, verse 22 and 24, begin with signal markers
(a type of inclusio around this stanza). Verse 24 explains the exasperated tone of verse
22, and although Trible highlighted the root lexeme
66 Murphy, "Wisdom's Song," 460.
67 See above, footnote 60.
68 See Trible, "Wisdom Builds," 512.
69 Contra, Trible, "Wisdom Builds," 511-12. Although Trible made a strong case
for verses 24 and 25 comprising a major section of the poem, both the symmetry of the
text (which will be shown later) in verses 25-30 and the large number of repetitions that
occur in verses 25 and 30 seem to show that these two verses form an inclusio within this
connection of xrq in verses 24 and 28, she did not mention the same root lexeme in
verse 21. Verse 21 and verse 24 are the final verses within their respective stanzas;
therefore, the use of xrq in these verse links the first two stanzas of the poem. In verse
21, Lady Wisdom was calling to the foolish. In verse 24, she already has called to the
foolish. In verse 28, the foolish who have met with their destruction call to Wisdom,
forming a type of antanaclasis with the root xrq. The
first two uses of xrq
were invitational, the last use of xrq is a call of distress. This ironic, possibly even
comic, use of xrq emphasizes the consequential destruction that comes upon the ones
who reject the words of Lady Wisdom.
Both of the verbs in verse 24 are in the perfect stem; thus, denoting a completed
action. Here, Wisdom has already called and stretched out her hands to the foolish, but
apparently they have rejected her, as verse 25 elucidates. Such a rejection is repeated in
verse 25, which begins the next stanza.
Stanza 3 (Pr. 1:25-27b). In the third stanza of this pericope, Lady Wisdom gives
further reason for the destruction that will come upon those who have rejected her and
states that she will laugh at their calamity and dread. The initial verse of this stanza, verse
25, forms an inclusio with the final verse of the subsequent stanza, verse 30. Three root
present in both of these verses: tcf, HkOt, and hbx. Further, even the
particle words, lkA and xlo are repeated in these verses. The root lexemes in the inclusio
form a skewed chiasm (ABC//C'A'B').
Verse 25 And-you-all-neglected all my-counsel,
and-my-reproof not you-were-willing-to-receive.
Verse 30 not they-were-willing-to-accept my-counsel
they-spurned all of-my-reproof.
The particle words in the inclusio form a symmetrical chiasm (AB//B'A').
Verse 25 And-you-all-neglected all my-counsel,
and-my-reproof not you-were-willing-to-receive.
Verse 30 not they-were-willing-to-accept my-counsel
they-spurned all of-my-reproof.
The inclusio forms the framework around Lady Wisdom's announcement of destruction
and the inability of the fools to find Wisdom in the time of their calamity by giving the
calamity will come--they rejected the counsel and reproof of Lady
Wisdom.20 This inclusio reinforces the idea that rejection of Lady Wisdom brings
destruction, which is the leitmotif of the pericope.
The rhetorically rich verses of Pr. 1:26 and 27 contain a chiastic quatrain which
marks the end of this stanza and roughly the middle of this poem. These verses, that
relate Lady Wisdom's scornful contempt at the calamity that befalls her rejecters, form
the apex of Trible's chiastic structure. The chiastic quatrain revolves around the root
lexemes dyx (calamity) and dHp (dread). The quatrain is arranged as follows.
26. Also, I-myself at-your-calamity will-laugh,
I-will-mock when-it-comes your-dread.
noted the connection between verses 25 and 30; however, she
saw verse 24 and 25 as a stanza and verses 28-30 as comprising another stanza
(sections D and D' in her chiastic structure). Ibid., 512-17.
27. When-it-comes as-a-storm your-dread,
and-your-calamity as-a-whirlwind it-comes-on
In verse 33, the word dHp occurs again; however, this time with positive connotations—
the one who heeds the words of Lady Wisdom will be at ease from the dHp (dread) of
evil). This repetition connects stanzas 3 and 6 in a manner of "thesis/antithesis"' in much
the same manner as the leitmotif of this pericope connects with the leitmotif of Pr. 31:10-
Interlude (Pr. 1:27c). The final colon of Pr. 1:27 seems to be an enigmatic riddle
capable of being solved only by Solomon himself. BHS editors proposed that the phrase
should be deleted; however, they do so with no manuscript evidence and deletion for
metri causa is tenuous at best. Along the same line, Crawford C. Toy held that the colon
scribal insertion.73 Trible viewed the
colon as a recapitulative statement for emphasis,74
and Duane C. Garrett held that the temporal clause, xboB;, echoes the first
colon of verse 27 and thereby completes the symmetry of the verse.75 This writer
proposes that the colon in Pr. 1:27c forms a Janus interlude between stanzas. The Janus
nature of the colon comes from the fact that one can read it as a codaic line at
71 While Stanza 3 presents the idea of "dread," Stanza 6 presents the idea of
"freedom from dread."
72 Also note that Pr.
31:10-31 also contains a chiastic quatrain roughly in the center
of the pericope. Although, this writer noticed the central chiastic quatrain in both of these
pericopes on his own, also see Thomas R. Hawkins,"The Meaning and Function of
Proverbs 31:10-31 in the Book of Proverbs" (Ph.D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1995),
73 Crawford H. Toy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Book of
Proverbs, International Critical Commentary (
74 Trible, "Wisdom Builds," 514.
75 Duane A.Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The New American
Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993), 72 n 19.
the end of verse 27 or as an introductory phrase before reading verse 28. If one takes the
colon as a coda to verse 27, then it serves to reemphasize, in alliterative, assonantal, and
paronomasial fashion, the calamity and dread of the chiastic quatrain in verses 26 and 27.
If one chooses to read the statement as an introductory phrase for Stanza 4 (verses 28-30),
then the distress and anguish set the stage for the ineffectual call from the foolish after
their calamity has struck (verse 28). As stated earlier, the shift from second person (verse
27c) to third person (verse 28) does not necessitate a change in audience; therefore, the
colon can have a Janus like function even with this shift in person from verse 27c to verse
Stanza 4 (Pr. 1:28-30). This stanza begins the third person address from Lady
Wisdom. The beginning word of the verse 28, zxA functions as a marker for this new
stanza. The Hebrew text of verse 28 is rich with repetition, alliteration, and vocalic
assonance. A copy of the verse is given: i xlov; ynin;rUHEway; hn,f<c, xlov; ynin;xurAq;yi zxA
ynin;xucAm;y. The phrase xlov; is
repeated twice to emphasize that Wisdom will not hear
the cries of the foolish nor will she be found when they seek her. Alliteration occurs in
with the preformative yodh of the imperfect three times. Also, these imperfect verb forms
with their lcs suffixes provide a repetitive sound to the ear as the all have vocalic assonance
with the chireq-yodh. This verse marks the point of no return in this pericope--destruction
has happened but one will not find Wisdom at that time.
Verses 29 and 30 both provide reason for the destruction of the foolish. In that
respect, they mirror the theme of verses 24 and 25, which also contain the reason for the
destruction of the foolish. Trible asserted that verse 29 is an interruption between verses
28 and 30;76 however, the verse seems to be an integral reason for the destruction
76 Trible, "Wisdom Builds," 515-16.
of the foolish (much more so than verse 28 that Trible included in her D' section entitled
"result of the announcement"). Although verse 30 forms an inclusio with verse 25, the
verse also seems to belong to a larger motif--the reason for the destruction of fools. Verse
24, 25, 29, and 30 all give a reason for judgment and consequential destruction of fools.
These verses ring the chiastic quatrain of calamity and dread in verses 26 and 27, the
Janus colon of verse 27c, and the rhetorically rich bicolon that demonstrates the
judgment--verse 28. This "ring of reasons for destruction" leaves no
doubt in the mind of the reader why such destruction would take place: rejection of
Lady Wisdom's words and not choosing the fear of the Lord (both of these ideas function
this pericope). Again, negativity and destruction
mark this stanza, which
is commensurate with the leitmotif of the pericope and in opposition to Pr. 31:10-
Stanza 5 (Pr. 1:31-32). This stanza functions as an anacephalaeosis77 for stanzas
3 and 4.The destruction and judgment of the two prior stanzas are seen in these verses as
the natural result of failing to heed Lady Wisdom's words. The initial waw of verse 31
carries the force of a resultative and marks the new stanza.78 Also, the metaphor "the
fruit of their own way" also conveys result. In verse 31, an antanaclasis occurs with the
root lexeme tcf. When the lexeme refers to the counsel of Wisdom (verses 25 and 30)
the conveyed idea is that Wisdom's counsel is good. When the lexeme occurs here
77 Anacephalaeosis is the rhetorical term for a summary or review intended to
refresh the readers's memory (at times called a recapitulation); however, here the reader's
memory could not need refreshing. The anacephalaeosis is used for emphasis.
78 Contra, Trible, "Wisdom Builds," 517 n 36; and Kayatz, 121. Trible
held that she did see the initial waw as "having the force of a 'therefore' or any other
in verse 31, the conveyed idea is that the fool's own counsel will cause him to be sated
and wish he had not chosen his own way.
Verse 32 provides intensification of verse 31. Whereas verse 31 gives the results
of rejecting Wisdom in a "matter of fact" tenor, verse 32 intensifies the results by
employing the verbs "kill" and "destroy." So that one will not think that rejecting
Wisdom is a matter to be taken lightly, the intensification shows the reader that death and
destruction follow for the one who rejects Wisdom. Verse 32 also provides a connection
between Stanza 5 (verses 31-32) and Stanza 2 (verses 22-24). As noted earlier the root
lexemes in verse 32, bUw, ytp, and lysk, also occur in verses 22 and 23. Precisely, bUw
verse 23 and 32, and ytp, and lysk occur
in verses 22 and 32. Depending on
how one translates bUw , another antanaclasis could be present. If one translates bUw in verse
23 as "repentance" (with the idea of repentance that avoids destruction) then the translation
of bUw, in verse 32 of "waywardness" provides the opposite idea. The word in
verse 23 would connect with a life-saving repentance whereas the word in verse 32
denotes a life-ending waywardness. The words ytp, and lysk form a type of inclusio
around the condemnatory verses of this pericope (excluding verse 23) and identify the
ones who will be destroyed (verses 26-27, and 31-32). One might ask at this point, "has
not the sage poet made his point that the ones who reject Wisdom will suffer
Stanza 6 (Pr. 1:33). This final stanza serves as a antithesis against the leitmotif of
the poem. No longer do judgment and destruction occupy the eyes of the reader and the
ears of the hearer. The initial waw in this verse indicates a new stanza and a new train of
thought--the promise of security and ease for the one who will heed the words of Lady
Wisdom. "A-class" assonance, so common in the Hebrew language, marks this final
verse in the pericope as Lady Wisdom offers an implicit invitation for the current reader
to learn from the negative example of the fools and not to choose their "counsels" that
lead to "destruction." Although the leitmotif conveyed throughout most of the pericope is
judgment and destruction for the ones who have rejected Wisdom, the last verse sets the
tone for the life-giving words that follow throughout the book. Lady Wisdom offers a
strong example of the fate of fools; however, she tempers her harsh words with the
implicit promise of security and ease for those who still hear her words that seem to
foreshadow the one who finds a "Woman of Strength" (Pr, 31:10).
Brief Rhetorical Analysis of Pr. 31:10-31
The macrostructure of the closing acrostic poem in the Book of Proverbs has
received much attention; therefore, a plethora of outlines are extant that describe the
overall structure of the pericope.79 One of the preeminent scholars concerning Pr. 31:10-
31, Al Wolters, gave the following outline:
1. Introduction (10-12)
2. The Deeds of the Woman (13-27)
3. Call to praise the Woman (28-31)80
Although Wolters approached the pericope as an heroic hymn, his outline has merit for
any approach to the text of Pr. 31:10-31. A rhetorical analysis of this pericope has
79 For a thorough sampling of outlines regarding the macrostructure of Pr. 31:10-
31, see Hawkins, 238-51.
80 Wolters, "Heroic Hymn," 449. Wolters gleaned from Gunkel that a heroic
hymn had three basic sections: (1) an introduction, which announces the praise to be
given; (2) the body, or the Hauptstuck, which enumerates the praiseworthy deeds of the
person being heroicized; and (3) the concluding exhortation, in which the poet elicited the
audience to join him or her in praise.
revealed basic agreement with Wolter's outline. The main area of disagreement is in the
second section. This writer's analysis of this pericope has revealed the following stanzaic
Stanza 1 Blessing for the husband of the Woman of Strength (10-12)
Stanza 2 Description of the Activities of the Woman of Strength (13-20)
Stanza 3 Blessing for all associated with the Woman of Strength (21-25)
Stanza 4 Description of the Activities of the Woman of Strength (26-27)
Stanza 5 Blessing of Praise for the Woman of Strength (28-31)81
This outline is justified both by the rhetorical structures and themes present within the pericope.
Brief Rhetorical Analysis of Pr. 1:20-33
Stanza 1 (Pr. 31:10-12). After an introductory rhetorical question, verse 10
reveals the leitmotif of this passage: the worth of a Woman of Strength is far above
jewels.82 When coupled with verses 11 and 12 which mention her husband, the idea that
the reader will seek an intimate relationship with such a woman, whomever she might be,
is implicit in this motif Verse 11 specifies that the heart of her husband trusts (hFb) in
her. This same root lexeme is present in Pr. 1:33 to denote that the one who listens to
Wisdom will dwell in security (HFb). Through this common semantic field, the husband
of the Woman of Strength (Pr. 31:11,12, 23, and 28) and the one who hearkens to
Wisdom both share a common security. Verse 12 also reflects this idea of security that
the husband has. In this verse, the Woman of Strength "deals out to him good and not evil
all the days of her life." One can easily visualize a pleasant and peaceful scenario for the
husband of such a wife. Even though her worth is more than jewels, her husband still
benefits in a material fashion (Pr. 31:1 lb). She is worth more than jewels to her husband,
but he still does not do without wealth--he has no lack of gain.
81 To the best of this writer's knowledge, this is an original outline.
82 Compare this statement to Pr. 3:15 and 8:11 where Wisdom's worth is far above jewels.
Three root lexemes provide connection between Stanza 1 and Stanza 5 in this
pericope: twx (verses 10 and 30), lyH (verses 10 and 29), and lfb (verses 11, 23, and
28). The lexeme lfb also provides connection with Stanza 3, which shares a common
theme with the first and fifth stanzas, and serves to demonstrate the importance of the
husband in this pericope. These words form an inclusio around this pericope.
Stanza 2 (Pr. 31:13-20). With these verses. the reader has a glimpse of the
amazing deeds that the Woman of Strength accomplishes. She displays heroic attributes
in the areas of domesticity (verse 13, 14, 15, and 19), business dealings (verses 16 and
18), physical prowess (17), and altruism (verse 20). The structural marker that denotes
this stanza is the lexeme Jk. The lexeme occurs in both verses 13 and 20; hence, forming
an inclusio around this pericope. Also, this word only occurs within this stanza. The other
occurrences of the word are in verses 16 and 20. This repetition highlights both the
artisan/working ability that the Woman of Strength possesses and the giving spirit that
she has as she extends her "hand" to the poor and needy (verse 20). This extension of her
hand in a spirit of generosity is similar to Lady Wisdom's invitational nature in Pr. 1:23-
24. While the Woman of Strength extends her "hands" to the poor and needy, Lady
Wisdom stretched out her "hand" to the foolish (Pr. 1:24). This stanza ends with a
chiastic quatrain that revolves around the synonymous terms dy and Jk. The quatrain is
structured as follows.
19. Her-hands she-stretches-out to-the-distaff,
and-her-palms they-grasp the-spindle.
20. Her-palm spreads-out to-the-poor,
and-her-hands she-stretches-out to-the-needy.
Just as the Lady Wisdom pericope has a chiastic quatrain in its center, so does this
pericope. In both pericopes, the quatrain ends the stanza and might serve to denote the
midpoint of the poem. To the best of this writer's knowledge, the only other chiastic
quatrain like those in Pr. 1:26-27 and Pr. 31:19-20 occurs in Pr. 8:30-31. This rhetorical
device could denote a connection between these three pericopes.
Stanza 3 (Pr. 31:21-25). In this stanza, the motif of blessing for those associated
with the Woman of Strength is most prominent. In a "cloaking," structural fashion, the
secondary motif of clothing wraps around the apex of this stanza. This secondary motif
serves to highlight the husband of the Woman of Strength. This stanza has a chiastic
structure with A and A' elements that provide a Janus link to the preceding and
subsequent stanzas (much like Pr. 1:27c). The structure is as follows.
A No Fear of Snow (gl,w, - metaphor for future) - 21a
B Clothing (wbulA) - 21b
C She makes / linen (htAW;fA/wwe) - 22
D Reputation of her husband - 23
C' Linen / she makes (vydisA / htAW;fA) - 24
B' Clothing (h.wAUbl.;) - 25a
A' No Fear of the Future (NOrHExa-MOyl;) - 25b83
The themes/motifs of this stanza are clothing and how those associated with the Woman
of Strength are blessed; however, both the A and A' elements are more descriptive of the
Woman of Strength rather than informative of who she blesses. The first colon (verse
21a) provides a further description of the Woman, similar to Stanza 2, thereby creating
83 Although this writer discovered this structure independently, Duane Garrett
already has published this basic structure for these verses. A few differences exist
between this structure and Garrett's structure. See, Garrett, 248.
a backwards link. The second colon (verse 21b), serves to explain the first colon (verse
21a), thereby creating a forward link. The Woman has no fear of the snow for her
household (description and backwards link), because all of her household members are
doubly clothed (clothing motif and the reason that she has no fear of the snow. Since
snow rarely occurred in Ancient Israel, a strong possibility is that the snow
metaphorically represents a future threat and her family is "doubly-prepared" to meet
such a remote threat. Verse 25 (the A' element of the chiasm) functions in Janus fashion
as does verse 21. The first colon (verse 25a) echoes the clothing motif in that the Woman
of Strength is clothed with strength and dignity. Because she is so clothed, she laughs at
the future (verse 25b). Verse 25b provides a description of the Woman of Strength,
thereby providing a forward link to the next stanza which also describes this Woman.
Also, she can laugh at the future because she is "clothed" with strength and dignity,
thereby providing a backwards link to the clothing motif of Stanza 3. This Janus linking
demonstrates the inextricable nature of describing the Woman of Strength and the
blessing that she provides to those associated with her.
The apex of this structure is verse 23, where the husband has a good, public
reputation. The structure of this stanza draws primary attention to the husband, even
though the Woman of Strength is the predominant character within this pericope.84 The
Woman of Strength "clothes" her husband and the structure of this stanza emphasizes that
the Woman's action of clothing is one of the primary, if not the primary, reason that the
84 Garrett held that verse 23 actually establishes the central message of this
pericope, which is that a man needs this type of woman in order to be a success in life.
This statement is correct. The question remains, however, is this type of woman a real
person that a young man should look for, or is she primarily a symbol for Wisdom? The
woman in this pericope seems almost "superhuman" with her varied expertise in so many
areas of life. Could anyone, male or female, attain such a standard in life?
husband has such a good public reputation. Additionally, the husband's reputation is
public by virtue of his being known "in the gates," a precise location as to where Lady
Wisdom to offer her speeches (Pr. 1:21).
Stanza 4 (Pr. 31:26-27). This short, two verse stanza provides the final
descriptions of the Woman of Strength in this poem. While Stanza 2 primarily describes
her "hands-on" abilities, Stanza 4 describes both her mental and managerial abilities. By
means of a syntactical chiasm, verse 26 relates the wisdom with which this Woman
speaks and teaches.
26. Her-mouth she-opens in-wisdom,
and-the-instruction of-lovingkindnes s (is) upon her-tongue.
Roy Zuck has argued that this verse demonstrates that the Woman of Strength must be a
real person as opposed to the personification of Wisdom. He argued that Wisdom
speaking with wisdom makes no sense; therefore, the woman of strength must be a wise
woman and not Wisdom personified.85 If this argument is true, how could Wisdom
prudence in Pr. 8:12 unless prudence is another personification? Furthermore,
how could sound wisdom belong to Wisdom in Pr. 8:14a, or how could Wisdom either
possess understanding or be understanding in Pr. 8:14b?86 Perhaps, we should give the
Sage Poet a little poetic license in his task rather than holding him to a twentieth century
standard of thought. By means of poetic rhetoric, he is demonstrating the pervading
Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, eds. Roy B. Zuck, Eugene H. Merrill, and
Darrell L. Bock (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 237.
86 See textual note for verse 8:14b in K. Elliger and W. Rudolph, eds. Biblia
Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 2d ed (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1983), 1285.
nature of Wisdom in all areas of life (the Woman, regardless of her identity, both speaks
and acts with Wisdom--as does Lady Wisdom).
Verse 27 reemphasizes the diligent nature of the Woman of Strength in tending to
her household. The initial word in the verse, hy.ApiOc, provides the tsadhe line of the
acrostic and is the only participle within the poem.87 Also arranged in a syntactical
chiasm (like verse 26), this final verse of Stanza 4 is a recapitulation of all prior
descriptions of the Woman of Strength.
Stanza 5 (Pr. 31:28-31). The concluding stanza forms the ending element of the
inclusio with Stanza 1 by means of the root lexemes twx (verses 10 and 30), lyH (verses
10 and 29), and lfb (verses 11, 23, and 28). The primary motif of the stanza is the
blessing of praise, which is provided by the lexeme llh (the lexeme occurs in verses 28,
30, and 31). In verse 28, the children of the Woman of Strength rise to "bless" (jrb) her
and her husband praises (llh). Praise and blessing function synonymously in this verse.
In verse 29, either the husband alon or the husband with his children directly
address the Woman of Strength. The praise itself is contained in this verse: "Many
daughters have done nobly, but-you go-over upon all-of-them!" The use of the second
person demonstrates that the verse is a direct address.88 Further, pleonasmus, or using a
superflous word, enriches and intensifies the praise accorded the Woman.89
87 For further information on hy.ApiOc, refer back to footnote 48.
88 This pericope has not ties to the prophetic tradition; therefore, a shift in person
is a noteworthy feature which can indicate a change in audience.
89 The preposition, lf, is not needed in the text because the verb hlf carries
the sense of going up. Literally, verse 29b reads, "but you go over/up upon all of them."
Verse 30 contains the sense of a third person address. While no grammatical
indicators demonstrate the third person, the hortatory tone of the verse conveys a larger
audience. The Sage Poet enlarged the audience with this verse with the didacticism that
"charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman fearing the Lord is to be praised."
Although young males are the primary audience of the Book of Proverbs, even a woman
could hear this verse and learn that her primary goal in life should be to fear the Lord
(which should be the primary goal for a man as well) rather than aspiring only to look
beautiful and act charming.
In codaic fashion (juxtaposed with the prefatory fashion of verse 10), verse 31
concludes both Stanza 5 and the entire poem. With a large audience in mind, the Sage
Poet, in the imperative mood, now calls on all who hear his words "to give the Woman
her due, and to let her works praise her in the gates." A woman of such rapport deserves
to be praised and justly recompensed. The ones who have been blessed through their
association with her could not offer too many accolades for this Woman. With this
thought of public praise, the Book of Proverbs ends "in the gates," the same place where
the husband of the Woman of Strength enjoys a splendid reputation (Pr. 31:23) and the
place where Lady Wisdom begins speaking her words of wisdom.
The first conclusion of the preceding analysis is that the motif of blessing/security
in Pr. 1:23 and 33 resurfaces in the closing acrostic poem in the Book of Proverbs. The
one who heeds the words of Lady Wisdom will dwell in security, much like those
associated with the Woman of Strength. The second conclusion is that an antithetic al
motif is present within the two pericopes as well. In Pr. 1:20-33, the leitmotif of the
passage is the calamity that comes upon those who reject the words of Wisdom. In Pr.
31:10-31, the leitmotif is the value of the Woman of Strength and inextricably
intertwined with her value is the security and blessings that she provides. These
two passages present a "negative consequence/positive consequence" dialectic for the
reader/hearer; thus, forming a type of inclusio.
The syllable count of poetic lines, stanzas, and pericopes can reveal symmetry in
structure. A problem, which most every Hebrew Grammar book addresses, is how to
count syllables. Authors are divided as to what constitutes a full syllable, half syllable,
etc. For the purposes of this investigation, a syllable equals one sound unit, regardless of
whether or not the syllable is a whole or half syllable.90 Also, the covenant name of God
sounds as three syllables, Qere takes precedence over Ketib, and the common dipthong
equals one syllable. Furthermore, this writer makes no assertion that the hearers of a
publicly read text would tally syllables in their minds. Counting the syllables does,
however, have the potential to illuminate authorial intent in the structure of a pericope.
90 For further details about syllable counting, see David M. Howard, Jr., The
Structure of Psalms
Biblical and Judaic Studies, Volume 5 (
Eisenbrauns, 1997), 28-31. Howard followed the lead of his mentor, David Noel
Freedman, in reconstructing the Hebrew behind the MT. In this investigation, however,
the MT is the basis for the syllable count.
Syllable Count of Pr. 1:20-33
Verse Syllables91 Total
20b 2+2+3 14
21b 2+4+2+3+3 21
22c 2+3+4 31
23c 2+3+3 24
24b 2+2+2+3 18
25b 3+1+4 16
26b 3+2+2 15
27c 3+2+3+2 27
28b 4+2+5 21
29b 3+1+3+3 18
30b 3+1+3 14
31b 3+7 19
91 Since Hebrew reads
right to left, the number of syllables reflects this right
to left order. The last number (in left to right order) in each line of arabic numerals
corresponds with the first word of the Hebrew colon.
32b 4+3+3 19
33b 2+3+4 18
GRAND 275 275
The most salient feature of the syllable count for this paper is the fact that the
midpoint of the pericope occurs in the chiastic quatrain of Pr. 1:26-27b. According to the
syllable count, the midpoint is between the 137th and 138th syllable, which occurs in Pr.
1:26. Precisely, between the first and second syllable of the word Mk,D;H;pa is the midpoint
of the pericope.
Syllable Count for Pr. 31:10-31
Verse Syllables Total
10b 2+4+3 16
1 la 2+1+1+2
1 lb 2+1+3 12
12b 3+2+1 14
13b 3+3+3 17
14b 2+2+3 16
15c 6+2 23
16b 2+3+3+3 21
17b 5+4 17
18b 2+3+2+1 15
19b 2+3+4 18
20b 4+3+4 18
21b 2+2+2+1+1 18
22b 3+4+1 15
23b 2+2+1+3 16
24b 5+3+3 19
25b 3+2+3 15
26b 3+1+2+3 17
27b 2+1+2+3 16
28b 5+2 18
29b 3+1+2+2 16
30b 3+1+3+2+2 21
31b 4+4+5 22
GRAND 380 380
The midpoint of this pericope falls at the 190th syllable. This syllable occurs
immediately after the chiastic quatrain of Pr. 31:19-20. Precisely, the last syllable of the
word xrAyTi is the 190th syllable of this pericope. While the precise midpoint is not located
within the chiastic quatrain itself, the midpoint is exceedingly close to the quatrain. Using
a reconstructed Hebrew text, Freedman counted 360 syllables in this pericope.
Employing Freedman's count causes the midpoint of the pericope to fall also in verse 21
(the 180th syllable is the first syllable of verse 21 for Freedman--xlo).92 Thomas
Hawkins also has done work with the syllable total for this pericope. In Hawkin's count,
he saw 371 syllables in the pericope.93 Using Hawkins's count, the midpoint of the
pericope also falls in the first colon of verse 21 between the 185th and 186th syllable,
which is the middle of the word xrAyti. As one can see, whatever method is used in
syllable counting, the midpoint of this pericope falls immediately after the chiastic
Due to the fact that only four such chiastic quatrains occur in Proverbs 1-9 and 31
and the fact that the quatrains in Pr. 3:11-12 and Pr. 8:30-31 do not mark the midpoint of
a passage, having a chiastic quatrain in the virtual center of two poetic pericopes, one at
the beginning of Proverbs and the other at the end of Proverbs, is too unique to dismiss as
coincidence. This rhetorical technique gives a comparable symmetry to each of the
respective pericopes and links them together.
92 See, David Noel Freedman, "Acrostics and Metrics in Hebrew Poetry,"
Harvard Theological Review 65 (1972): 368-85.
93 Hawkins, 258. Although Hawkins listed 372 as the total number of syllables,
the numbers he used to arrive at his total equal 371.
Common Lexemes in Pr. 1:20-33 and
A total of fifteen common lexemes occur within these two pericopes.94 These
lexemes have varying degrees of significance depending upon their frequency of
occurrence within the Book of Proverbs. The lexemes are as follows on the next page.
94 This number excludes the common particles that the pericopes share: lkA, yKi,lfa, and xlo.
Common Root Lexemes Verses of
between Pr. 1:20-33 and Occurrence
Ntn 1:20; 31:15, 24, 31
MkH 1:20; 31:26
Htp 1:21; 31:26
rfw 1:21; 31:23, 31
fdy 1:23: 31:23
dy 1:24; 31:19, 20, 31
qHW 1:26; 31:25
xB 1:26, 27; 31:14
xcm 1:28; 31:10
xry 1:29; 31:30
hvhy 1:29: 31:30
yrp 1:31; 31:16,31
HFb 1:33; 31:11
fr 1:33; 31:12
lkx 1:31; 31:27
Out of these fifteen common lexemes, four occur ten times or less in the Book of
Proverbs, two occur eleven to twenty times, and nine occur more than twenty times.
While one cannot use statistical significance in biblical studies with the precision of a
statistician, one can notice the rarity of words and the attention that these words
command. Since the common lexemes occurring more than twenty times are so frequent
in the Book of Proverbs, those occurring less than twenty times will be the major focus
of this section. The following table gives the frequency of occurrence within the Book of
Proverbs for all fifteen of these lexemes.
Common Root Lexemes Frequency of Occurrence
between Pr. 1:20-33 and within the Book of Proverbs
Htp, rfw, qHw, yrp 1-10 times
HFb, lkx 11-20 times
Ntn, MkH, xry, fdy, dy, xB, More than 20 times
xcm, hvhy, fr
While all fifteen of these common lexemes show connection between Pr. 1:20-33
and Pr. 31:10-31, the rare lexemes are the most significant (rarity = significance). Upon
closer inspection of the six lexemes that occur ten times or less, one can deduce whether
or not the lexemes convey the same sense of meaning in both pericopes. As most all
words are polysemous and convey a wide range of semantically related meanings, an
emphatic connection between the pericopes will exist if the common lexeme achieves
identical sense conveyance.
In Pr. 1:31, lkx95 functions to convey result: "so they shall eat of the fruit of
their own way." The word does not refer to a physical consumption of food, as it most
often does. Rather, the word conveys the sense of consequential calamity that occurred
because the foolish chose not to listen to Lady Wisdom. In Pr. 31:27, the Sage Poet
declares that the Woman of Strength "does not eat the bread of sluggishness." Here, the
word conveys a metaphoric sense of diligence.
95 lkx occurs sixteen times in the Book of Proverbs: 1:31; 13:2; 13:23; 13:25;
18:21; 23:7; 23:8; 24:13; 25:16; 25:21; 25:27; 30:1; 30:17; 30:14; 30:17; and 31:27.
While the root lexical forms
are identical, the contextual meanings of this lexeme are
diverse enough to say that lkx does not convey the same sense of meaning within these
Though closer than lkx, the lexeme Htp97 also falls short of identical sense
conveyance. In both Pr. 1:21 and Pr. 31:26, Htp conveys the sense of "opening." The
lexeme functions as a locative in Pr. 1:21 (at the opening of the of the gates) and as a verb
in Pr. 31:26 (she opens her mouth in wisdom). Al though the lexeme conveys a similar
meaning in both pericopes, the contexts in which the lexeme occur are too diverse to
declare that identical sense conveyance exists. In the two different contexts, however, the
lexeme does achieve an "overlapping sense conveyance" in that both objects relate the
function of opening.
The lexeme HFb98 might possibly achieve identical sense conveyance. While the
common lexeme has two distinct grammatical functions (adverbial in Pr. 1:33 and verbal
in Pr. 31:11), a similar sense of meaning is conveyed in both pericopes. While the one
who heeds the words of Lady Wisdom dwells in "security" (Pr. 1:33), the heart of the
husband "trusts" in his wife (Pr. 31:11). The occurrence in Pr. 1:33 denotes both a
physical and mental state of security and the occurrence in Pr. 31:11 seems to denote
more of an emotional action, yet trust and security mesh together. When HFb occurs in
the Hiphil stem, one can translate the construction as "make secure." In Pr. 31:11, trust is
more relationship oriented and in Pr. 1:33, security is more of a stative description.
96 For further explanation about word sense, see Peter Cotterell and Max Turner,
Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 134-
97 Htp occurs nine times in the Book of Proverbs: 1:21; 8:3; 8:34; 9:14; 17:19;
24:7; 31:8; 31:9, and 31:26.
98 HFb occurs fourteen times in the Book of Proverbs: 1:33; 3:5;
3:23; 3:29; 10:9;
11:15; 11:28; 14:16; 16:20; 28:1; 28:25; 28:26; 29:25; and 31:11.
Although the word sense in these pericopes achieves overlapping sense
conveyance, the two occurrences fall short of identical sense conveyance.
A lexeme that does achieve identical sense conveyance is rfw.99 In both
pericopes, this lexeme conveys the sense of a gate. Lady Wisdom offers her words at "the
gates of the city" (Pr. 1:21), the husband of the Woman of Strength "is known in the
gates" (Pr. 31:23), and the Sage Poet calls all who hear his message to praise the Woman
of Strength "in the gates" (Pr. 31:31). In each of the three occurrences of rfw, the
same physical location is denoted; therefore, rfw achieves identical sense
conveyance in both of these pericopes.
qHW100 also acheives identical sense conveyance. In Pr. 1:26, Lady
Wisdom "laughs" at the foolish when their calamity comes upon them. In Pr. 31:25, the
Woman of Strength "laughs" at the future. While the object of the laughter is different,
the derisive sense of the laughter is the same. As opposed to joyous laughter, qHw often
denotes derisive laughter101 and both Lady Wisdom and the Woman of Strength
engage in this action.
Although the word denotes both positive and negative results, the lexeme yrp102
also achieves identical sense conveyance. While in Pr. 1:31, the results are negative, in
99 Since Though one might think that rfw would be a frequent word in the Book
of Proverbs, the word occurs only six times: 1:21; 8:3; 22:22; 24:7; 31:23; and 31:31.
100 qHw occurs only six times in the Book of Proverbs and four of the six
occurrences are found in either the Lady Wisdom pericopes or the closing acrostic poem:
1:26; 8:30; 8:31; 10:23; 14:13; and 31:25.
101 See BDB, 965-66.
102 yrp occurs ten times in the Book of Proverbs: 1:31; 8:19; 11:30; 12:14;
13:12; 18:20; 18:21; 27:18; 31:16; and 31:19.
Pr. 31:16 and 31, the results
are positive. Nevertheless, in all three occurrences
within this pericopes the idea of result is common through the use of metaphor.
While lkx, Htp, and HFb do not acheive identical sense conveyance, they do
function respectively within similar or identical semantic domains in each occurrence
between these pericopes. Also, they do provide direct lexical connection between the
The words that do achieve identical sense conveyance have an inverted
correspondence between these pericopes. Due to the root lexemes rfw, and yrp
within the pericope of Pr. 31:10-31, the
correspondence is in the
form of a skewed chiasm.103 This repetition serves an important linking function within the
acrostic poem and one should not view the repetition as a hindrance to forming a mirror
chiasm. Chiasm was a tool in the arsenal of the poet, not an end to be achieved.
A rfw, (Pr. 1:21)
B qHW (Pr. 1:26)
C yrp (Pr. 1:31)
C’ yrp (Pr. 31:16)
A' rfw (Pr. 31:23)
B' qHW (Pr. 31:25)
A' rfw (Pr. 31:31)
C' yrp (Pr. 31:16)
103 This phrase comes from Wilfred G. E. Watson, "Chiastic Patterns in Biblical
Hebrew Poetry," in Chiasmus in Antiquity, ed. John W. Welch (Heldesheim: Gerstenberg
Verlag, 1981), 132. Further, see Watson's entire article for a thorough and exhaustive
treatment of the use of chiasmus in Hebrew poetry, 118-68.
Regardless of the above
structure, all six lexemes listed above are significant in
connecting Pr. 1:20-33 and Pr. 31:10-31. Words rarely used in the Book of Proverbs
could denote authorial intent to link these two pericopes together.
Much like a professor or teacher might begin a new course by attempting to instill
the "fear of God" in his or her students with a gruff manner and warnings of the
consequences that will befall sluggards, Lady Wisdom so behaves in her initial speech in
the Book of Proverbs. The location of this speech in the first chapter of the book initiates
a tone of warning and consequences that befall those who do not heed her words. This
scathing beginning is tempered somewhat by Wisdom's promise to imbue with her spirit
and words those who turn to her reproof The security and well being (the idea of
MOlwA) promised in Pr. 1:33 also tempers the stern speech. This tempering of tone
foreshadows the end of the Book in which security and well being prevail and pervade.
Just as the one who finds Wisdom dwells in security and peace, the man who finds the
Woman of Strength dwells in security and peace. This antithetical idea of calamity verses
peace permeates the entire Book of Proverbs. This type of inclusiastic framework
between Pr. 1:20-33 and Pr. 31:10-31 reveals this dialectic and leaves the hearer to
choose his or her path.
An inclusio is a lens through which to interpret the text; therefore, the
interpretation of the Book of Proverbs is a dialectic between calamity and comfort,
problems and peace, poverty and prosperity--even death and life. Perhaps Proverbs
promises too much. If so, then God's Word completes itself in the New Testament where
one must die before one can truly live. The earthly world view in Proverbs is elevated to
a spiritual world view in the New Testament. While the follower of the Wisdom of God
(1 Cor. 1:24) might not acquire the wealth of the world that Wisdom promised, he or she
will indeed have the security and peace mentioned in Pr. 1:33 and also will have life to
the full (Pr. 8:35 and Jn. 10:10).
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