“I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: and I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found” (Ecclesiastes 7:25-28).
What is Solomon talking about here? Why does he appear to have so much hatred for women?
Ah, but remember that Solomon really had a thousand wives. This sounds more like a confession than a diatribe against all womankind. Counting his wives one by one up to a thousand, he realizes that he cannot fully trust even one of them. They have led him astray.
Solomon sounds an altogether different note when he gives advice to other men: “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9). “Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth” (Proverbs 5:18). It seems that now in his old age, Solomon looks back and regrets the day he took a second wife. He had been happy with the wife of his youth, whatever possessed him to think that he would be happier with a second wife? And a third, a fourth, all the way up to a thousand?
In another place, Solomon pronounces a blessing upon marriage: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22). These are not the words of a man who believed that women are inherently evil. Solomon discovered, and demonstrated for our benefit if we will receive it, that multiple marriages do not multiply the blessing. Having more than one wife had filled his family life with jealousy, intrigues and disappointment.
There is some mystery about the author of Proverbs 31. The chapter begins: “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him. What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows? Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.”
Who was king Lemuel? Archeologists and historians have found no trace of a king by this name. Lemuel means “devoted to God.” The preponderant opinion of rabbinical commentators, and of Christian commentators, is that this points to Solomon himself. The first nine verses of this chapter then are the instructions that Bathsheba gave to her son and that he remembered all his days and wrote down for our instruction.
“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:10-12). It is not altogether clear if verses 10 to 31 are a continuation of Bathsheba’s teaching, or an addition by Solomon himself. In any case, it was Solomon who compiled the Book of Proverbs and decided to close the book with a paean to godly women.
“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:28-31).
Mother’s Day is a day set apart for children and husbands to arise and bless and praise the mothers in our families. I trust this is not the only day that we do this.