Day 21: Proverbs

‘Just mother’

The Book of Proverbs is one of those books of the Bible that we think we know about, but probably hardly ever touch. It gets a maximum of 10 outings in the 3 year cycle of readings, but that includes 2 Saints days and the Easter Vigil. Chances are, most of us will think of it rather like those sayings our grandparents used to trot out ‘ Eat up your crust and your hair will curl’; or ‘mend it now, dear, after all, a stitch in time saves nine.’

Perhaps my best acquaintance with the book has been through funerals. Moving to the Fens 11 years ago, I discovered the ‘laconic Fen son’. When asked to ‘tell me a bit about your mum’ he will sit and say ‘Well, she was just mother.’ Prizing details about what being ‘just mother’ meant is trickier than getting a pearl out of an oyster ( or so I presume). It’s probably a good job I enjoy television detective programmes. Eventually, I’ll get a picture of someone who maybe never left the village, didn’t have a career as we would understand it, yet whose hard work, love, persistence and faith kept a family going through all sorts of difficult times. The picture of the good wife in Proverbs 31 is probably a greater tribute to ‘just mother’ than many eulogies.

God will be giving her the reward at the city gates in heaven, I’m sure.

I’ve just read the Book of Proverbs in one sitting – it took less than half an hour. I used The Message version – which makes the book really accessible.

‘Just mother’ would find a lot to agree with in the book. The introduction starts

These are the wise sayings of Solomon,
   David’s son, Israel’s king—
Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right,
   to understand what life means and where it’s going; (The Message)

and goes on to tell us:

Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God;
   only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.’

The picture of God that the book gives is a picture of God found in creation. There isn’t a strong ‘salvation story’ narrative. Wisdom is found alongside God at the creation. If we are made in the image of God, then we are made to follow wisdom, and not folly. There’s a beautiful hymn to Wisdom in chapter 8. Chapter 10 – 22 read something like those books of manners that were popular in bygone times. This middle section may well have been taken from other, similar Near Eastern Wisdom texts. However, underlying all that is said, is the sense that we are in the image of God, and to live a life of wisdom is to fulfil our vocation as created. The book acts as a kind of manual to live the Torah, the law of God.

There are many funny or beautiful sayings throughout the book. However, one that I loved was

It takes wisdom to build a house,
   and understanding to set it on a firm foundation;
It takes knowledge to furnish its rooms
   with fine furniture and beautiful draperies.

At Epiphany, I used a beautiful meditation found on the internet ( which invites us to think of the year as a house, and of the days of the year as the rooms we inhabit. Proverbs invites us to think of our lives as a house – with God as the builder. I think ‘just mother’ would understand.

Fiona Brampton

Read the Bible on line at Bible Study Tools. Today’s passage (NRSV) is here:


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