It is a fact little known or remembered that the book of Proverbs is immensely gracious and respectful of the wisdom and worth of women. Whether one is looking at the personification of wisdom as a woman, or at the incomparable praise of the virtuous woman, or examines the wise but obscure counsel that King Lemuel’s mother gives her equally obscure son , women are accounted for as wise and discerning in a book written in a time period where this is not generally to be expected. All too often women may have felt as if the level of excellence of the virtuous woman, for example, or wisdom personified as a lady, was a club with which to beat them with when they did not meet up to that high standard, but the misuse and abuse of moral exemplars such as those found in Proverbs does not in any way nullify the fact that the presentation of such noble and virtuous women is a sign of respect and honor. If those led by God’s Spirit 3000 years ago could be so charitable in their mindset, in an age not far removed from the times of the Iliad, surely we can do no less in our supposedly enlightened times.
Yesterday, for example, I received a question about the following verse of the Bible, Proverbs 14:1, which reads: “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.” On the face of it, there is little that is complicated about this particular verse. It is written in the form of antithetical parallelism, of a type common to the Proverbs, where the wise is contrasted with the foolish. Nor is the visual image of this particular passage particularly challenging. We see a wise woman building up, or edifying, a house, while a foolish woman tears down. This ought to clue us in a bit on the mind of God, which rejoices in what is built up and laments what is torn down or destroyed. If we are sensitive to this process, we can apply it in many areas of life. We may read this passage and reflect that it is better to build up our friends and relatives and fellow brethren rather than insult them and ridicule them and serve as an obstacle and a trial for them. It may, of course, be difficult to apply this passage successfully given our own weaknesses, but at least we may understand that it is wise to build others up and foolish to tear them down long before we have the capacity to act and speak (and write) wisely.
Yet there is at least one barrier to understanding this passage successfully, and that is a problem of being too literal, or not properly understanding the sense of a word. Here, the word that is difficult is the word house. A literal minded person, reading this passage, could easily be confused about the expectation of Solomon that women literally build houses. To be certain, I have known women in my life who were better at building construction than I am, but such women are definitely unusual in my own acquaintance, unusual enough that it ought to signal to us that what is being spoken of is not a literal building, but something involving people that are being built up. A similar confusion exists when one speaks of the Church, where one focuses on buildings and corporate institutions rather than the people who these buildings and institutions are meant to serve. As a fan of games and books dealing with aristocratic matters , one gets used to seeing “House of So-And-So” referring to a family extending over generations, and this helps us to better understand exactly what Solomon, himself a member of the House of David, was getting at when he referred to the role of women in building up their house. We should also note that Solomon was painfully familiar with the fact that marrying foolishly could tear down the glory and honor of one’s family house, given his own foolish marriages to women who worshiped false gods and induced him to allow them to build up their altars in Jerusalem, leading to divine judgment.
When we properly see a house as a dynasty and not a building, we may readily see how it is that a wise woman can build it up and how a foolish woman can tear it down. The amount of influence a woman has over the happiness and success (or unhappiness and failure) of her family is considerable. Her wise and generous stewardship of family resources contrasts with the selfish and materialistic tendencies of the foolish. Her graciousness and kind wit may build up the reputation of her family and to its interpersonal relationships, while a woman who lacks the ability to communicate kindly and well may drive away her husband and children and sabotage the workings of a family. That which drives people away, or tears them down, is to be counted as foolish, while that which builds up others allows them to succeed. By helping to build up others, we show ourselves wise, for our lives are not here merely for our own benefit, but to serve the best interests of others. God’s desire is to build up a family of people like ourselves, and we are among His instruments in building others up, which we do as we provide a good example, as we are kind and gracious and abounding in love and mercy. Such acts are not only good, but they are wise, in that they help others to be better, and help others out as well, the ripples of our lives and our behavior expanding across time and space, spanning even generations. Who would not want to build a house as lasting and glorious as that?
 See, for example, as a representative sample: