Women of Valor

January 21, 2013

The title itself piqued my curiosity: A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master.” And I had enjoyed reading Rachel Held Evans’ blog before. So when the Kindle store ran a special on the book, I snatched it. And read it. And liked it.

I wanted first to see how Evans used humor to carry on a serious conversation. Fans of her book bragged on her being disarming, thoughtful and witty, smart and funny, and on her showing “humor, humility, and truth.” I agree. She uses humor to expose “public tomfoolery” for what it is, prompting laughter to shed light on the absurd, the contrived, and the exaggerated. She also creates space with humor to explore difficult subjects. I found many places where Evans makes readers laugh out loud while she’s telling the truth.

I have not personally aspired to “biblical womanhood,” but a burgeoning supply of books, audios, and videos promises to help those who do. Of course, they disagree on what it means and have a hard time choosing which biblical woman should be the standard. Should it be sneaky Rebekah, or Jael, who nailed a guy’s head to the ground, or Huldah the prophet, or the women who traveled with Jesus, or the women who prophesied, taught, and were “elders” in the emerging Church? A lot of the books focus on the hard-to-find woman of Proverbs 31, sometimes shortened (embarrassingly) to “P31 girl.”

Evans, with the help of a Jewish friend and mentor, treats the Proverbs 31 woman beautifully as eshet chayil, a “woman of valor,” a woman of courage, grace, and wisdom. She rightly describes how the song of Proverbs 31 honors women without turning them into stay-at-home moms who run home businesses and knit socks. But I’ll let you read her for these insights.

As an Old Testament teacher, I’ve been puzzled by the rules-based views some hold of Proverbs 31. Let me tell you why. Lady Wisdom (or Wisdom Woman) stars in Proverbs: she helped God create the world, she calls out to everyone as teacher in the public square, she warns young men about themselves and dangerous Dame Folly, she puts on a huge banquet for all who will come and learn her wisdom, and much more. In later Jewish wisdom books, ones that many Christians include in their Bibles (in the “Apocrypha”), her prominent role grows ever greater. In the light of this, many interpreters see Proverbs 31 as a distillation of who Lady Wisdom is and what she teaches. Even as it uses the metaphor of a “woman of valor,” it continues to teach both men and women how to live well. It models lessons of Proverbs about hard work, compassion, planning, paying steady attention to what needs to be done, and more. Men, too, are to be women of valor, even if they hesitate to pursue biblical womanhood.

Thanks to Rachel Held Evans for showing so well how humor can help tell the truth. Thanks, too, for her thoughtful study and interpretation in a time of loud and mixed voices. Her book will serve women and men well, I’m sure. It’s very worth getting, even if it’s not on sale.

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  1. Nancy says:

    Thanks for this review, Howard. I just finished the book myself and agree with your insights. “Tell the truth, but tell it slant,” says Emily Dickenson, and humor is one way to tell the truth slant. In addition to the humor and the outlandish project of taking certain passages literally for a year, I appreciated her careful historical hermeneutic and resulting insights into the underlying meanings.

Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

Fun Nooks and Crannies

There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

Sometimes I’ll brag on some of the friends I’ve been given or share some photos I’ve enjoyed taking. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not, but they’ve brought joy in my journey.

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