Something’s fishy about the 20th book in our Old Testament: Proverbs. I wish I knew more about its background.
Appearing right after the Psalms, Proverbs is filled with wise one liners. The essence of its message is simple: if you behave properly, God will reward you. That’s the first fishy thing: good behavior = good rewards is true, but it’s not the WHOLE truth. If we haven’t figured that out from life itself, the book of Ecclesiastes pops up as soon as Proverbs is over and tells us that everything we just read is bunk, that it doesn’t matter how good we’ve been, that there is a time for everything: birth, death, war, peace, love, hate, mourning, dancing… Just make the best of it: eat, drink, and be as merry as you can.
King Solomon took credit for authoring both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. He would.
Even though Solomon has a reputation for vaunted wisdom, a close look at his life (based on First Kings) suggests otherwise. His “family values” were non-existent. After a forty year reign he left his kingdom in shambles. And his continual disregard for God’s wisdom was appalling. Solomon's reputation was based on spin control, not reality. Which brings us to the second fishy thing about Proverbs: based on his life it is unlikely Solomon even read the book, much less wrote it. But since he was the king, and his kingdom had no copywrite laws, Solomon could pretty much get away with slapping his name on anything he wanted.
Another thing: Proverbs was written exclusively for young men, to educate them for taking an elite place in society, much in the style of what Confucius had written in China. The author of Proverbs takes a distinctly sexist outlook on life, (the best argument there is for its connection with Solomon, whose middle name might as well have been “Sexist,” he of the 300 wives and 700 concubines.) But here’s where it gets fishy again: somebody (maybe one of his wives?) got into the document and rewrote parts of it. “Wisdom” gets personified as a woman. And the book culminates with two ideal women, both smarter and stronger than any men mentioned in the Bible to that point. The first woman warns men against women and wine, and the second woman exemplifies the ideal mother and wife.
On this Mother’s Day, I take note of the second woman in Proverbs 31. Her description starts out simple enough: she does no harm, performs all the good she can, and her husband trusts her. Pretty boring stuff at first.
Then she turns into super-woman: she shears sheep, harvests flax, and goes on long journeys to bring back exotic food to her family. She gets up every morning while it is still dark and bosses the servant girls around. She is simultaneously a real estate tycoon, captain of the nation’s textile industry, and wise counselor to everyone in the country. She evidently does not have time to sleep, as “her lamp never goes out at night.” Every day she makes sure that her kids are the fattest and her husband the best dressed man in town.
“Proverbs Woman” seems to be lacking in nothing, except maybe charm and beauty. We suspect little flaw because because the ode that celebrates her concludes with these sour grapes words: “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.” That sounds to me kind of like a debater trying to anticipate and neutralize points his opponent might make. But even with this rough landing, we have a woman worthy of being nominated “2022 Mother’s Day Mother of the Year.”
But I’m not going to let “Proverbs Woman” run in this contest unopposed. Before you vote on the winner, I nominate my own mom, Esther Smith. Our two contestants are thus the “mother of Solomon” and the “mother of Mike Smith.” Let’s consider their qualities:
I’ve already noted the arguments in favor of “Proverbs Woman.” Even though she evidently lacked beauty and charm, she was definitely a workhorse. People did NOT mess with this Mama. She feared only God. Not a man or child anywhere dared cross her.
Now then, let me introduce our second contestant: my mom. She plays the piano and sings. She does not travel hither and yon to bring back exotic food for her family, but she does make sure they don’t get too much salt, sugar, or fat. She never made her childrens’ clothes, nor her husband’s, (Lord have mercy) but she did teach us that how we dress is an indicator of how much we respect the people we’re with… and how much we respect ourselves. My mom does not buy or sell real estate, as Proverbs Woman does. She just takes care of the little property she has, keeping it clean, orderly, and hospitable… and plants some nice flowers out front. She isn’t a celebrity, but she does welcome all sorts of people into her home, talks with people on the phone, writes letters, sends cards, and texts her acquaintances. She even Zooms with her friends, something I bet Proverbs Woman can’t do. My mom goes to church, tithes, volunteers at the Lincoln Museum, and helps out at the Midwest Distribution Mission Center. She listens to one hour of news each day, then listens to music the rest of the time… to get the news out of her system. She keeps peace in the family, not through terrorizing everyone, but through her grace and charm.
And then there is her beauty. This is where my mom gets in the fast lane and leaves Proverbs Woman in the dust. My mom shows that beauty comes in many forms. There is the beauty of sound: you can hear the birds chirping around her house. You can hear hymns and songs of praise each evening if you hang around her. You can hear a pleasant “Good morning” if you see her first thing in the day. You can hear the happiness in her voice when you call her on the phone: such beauty, the beauty of her sounds and the sounds around her.
You can see the beauty in her person and in her home. She has often been mistaken for my sister, so careful is she with her health and appearance. She is not vain in her beauty, as one who spends hours gazing upon herself in the mirror. She is simple, unassuming, careful, proper. The smile on her lips, her carefully chosen clothes, the attentive look of her eyes: beautiful. The young have no monopoly on beauty, except as culture truncates and reduces beauty. But even so, at 87, she still has a guy here and there hitting on her. Beauty is whatever brings joy to our eyes. And she still has it, in abundance.
Beauty can be seen in the soul. Hers is a beautiful soul, finding a place of rest and peace even though she’s seen many hardships and known many heartaches. Her soul presses on each day, to reconnect with her friends and loved ones, to help her church, to bless her family.
And so, I urge you to pick my mom, for Mother of the Year for Mother’s Day 2022. It seems a no brainer to me, unless that is, you’ve got a mom of your own.