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This Little Piggy

Wisdom in seeing inner beauty

Proverbs 11:16, 22 

16 A gracious woman retains honor,
But ruthless men retain riches.

22 As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout,
So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion. 


Let’s face it: men are pigs. 

At least this has been a theme of literature and a cultural staple for thousands of years. In Homer’s The Odyssey, the embattled Odysseus and his men land on the island of Aeaea on their long journey home from the Trojan War. There they encounter Circe, a goddess and enchantress who quickly had the seafarers under her spell:

So she enticed
and won our battle-hardened spirits over.–The Odyssey

Tired of war and wandering, Odysseus accepts Circe’s invitation. She gives his men wine and leaves them to feast and enjoy her luxurious home. As she works her magic on Odysseus, she makes promises of trust that raise alarm bells in his mind.

As Odysseus struggles to resist, his friend Eurylochus arrives with news that Circe has turned his entire crew into pigs with the enchanted wine she has given them. With advice from Hermes, Odysseus resists Circe and breaks the spell–gaining a promise from her not to harm them again. 

It is not difficult to imagine Odysseus’s crew, drunk on the wine and good food, rowdily enjoying themselves as they slowly turned into the creatures they were imitating. 

Solomon knows of this tendency of fools to lose themselves in earthly pleasures. The book of Proverbs is filled with warnings of self control and wise living. The phrase, “happy as a pig in slop” may not have originated in the Bible, but it certainly captures the lifestyles of those who live to excess. Here in chapter 11, he flips this almost cliched image around with a startling comparison:

22 As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout,
So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion.–Proverbs 11:22

Depending on who you are, this proverb may generate a number of reactions. If you are of a more old-fashioned upbringing, you may see this as a cautionary tale against odd body piercings, or non-traditional styles. You may be on to something there, but something deeper is involved.

In our modern, feminist, culture this passage may strike the reader as a crass or even callous indictment of an independent woman. After all, the modern morality holds, a woman is free to have a say over her own sexuality, is she not? This proverb, then, is yet another chauvinistic message from the “patriarchy” to keep women in their place. 

On the other hand, the proverb is kind of funny. 

When you think of a pig, happily rooting about an wallowing in a filthy mud hole with a fancy ring in its nose, you cannot help but smile a bit. Who can say that God does not have a sense of humor or that the Bible is boring with passages like this? 

There is a great children’s song, penned by artist Judy Rogers, who sings through the Proverbs. She seems to have a lot of fun with this passage in her song “Isabelle is a Pig:”

Isabelle is a pig with a ring in her snout 
You can dress Izzy up but you can't take her out 
She will jump in the middle of a big mud puddle 'cause Isabelle is a pig! 

If you know pigs, or grew up on a farm, then you know that pigs can often have a ring attached to its nose to help control its behavior. This is a useful thing for raising livestock, but a farmer would never place a beautiful gold ring in a piggy’s nose. It would be a colossal waste. This cuts to the heart of the proverb itself, as commentator Bruce Waltke explains:

It draws an absurd comparison between a decorative gold ring in the snout of the unclean pig, which roots in swill, and the superficial beauty of an unwise woman who immerses her beauty in evil.–Bruce Waltke

You see, this is a proverb that looks into the heart of women–and men–to reveal that which truly motivates each of us. It is a call to look beyond the surface and to see reality through the eyes of wisdom and righteousness. 

This is not about jewelry or adornment in women. In fact, a nose ring can be very beautiful and it carries with it an ancient origin. All throughout the Bible, even, the nose is mentioned in conduction with beauty. Isaac’s future wife Rebekah is adorned with a nose ring (Genesis 24), and later Ezekiel reveals God’s love of Jerusalem in a graphic description of how He covers her in finery:  

12 And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. –Ezekiel 16:12-13

No, as with most of Solomon’s teachings, this is an issue of the heart.

Solomon uses this verse as an inclusio (yes, I had to look that up). An inclusio is a device in Hebrew poetry to bring the reader back to a previous thought. In this case, Solomon pumps the brakes on the message of verses 17-21 to bring you back to verse 16: 

16 A gracious woman retains honor,
But ruthless men retain riches.–Proverbs 11:16

Here you see a similar comparison, but flipped. In verse 16, the woman is wise, but the man is a fool. The message of proverbs was meant for the teaching of young men and women (remember Mary’s magnificat)–but it was written specifically with young men in mind.

And young men usually have only one thing on their minds. 

If you think it is difficult to be a parent in today’s sexually-saturated world, just know that there is nothing new under the sun. Solomon feels your pain.

Solomon’s message to young men in these proverbs is this: do not lower the bar of your expectations. This is not necessarily to discourage women or to condemn them, but to urge men to righteous desire and a standard of godliness in their search for or relationship with a wife.

As an infatuated young man chases a worldly, permissive woman, it is akin to reaching for a shiny gold ring–only to find it connected to a muck-swilling pig. The irony is, the lowered expectations or the base desires of men will often drive young women to debase themselves to gain attention.

The pressure for sex is not confined to young people, as those of all generations are drawn by the lies of the devil to seek their own pleasures. The carnal desires of men will often lead them to behave like Odysseus’s crew–without the magic of a sorceress. 

A woman may ask herself “why pursue virtue,” when none is expected: “If men only care about my looks, why should I pursue righteousness?” Equally as disastrous is the fact that, as Tim Keller ponders, this can cause men to miss good marriage partners right in front of them because of looks (And no, he is not talking about the classic song by Jimmy Soul). Keller expounds on this: 

When you enter into a relationship with someone who is physically and superficially attractive and polished but who is selfish, immature, and cruel, it is you who are the fool.–Tim Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life” 

Ouch. How many relationships have “cooled” when it was realized that one or the other spouse was only attracted to outward beauty? You are called as a believer to not be “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14), and if you are seeking a mate only for looks, wealth, or social advancement, then you are well on the road to disaster. 

Your faith is a precious thing, and to be blessed with a godly spouse is a true gift. He or she may struggle with their own sins, but the two of you can meet on the level ground of the cross. Jesus cautions against throwing such precious things to pigs:

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.–Matt 7:6 

This proverb is a call to look deeper into the heart, to see life through the eyes of the One who is the “wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:30).

Jesus knew this message well, and not just because he knew Proverbs–He lived it each day he walked the earth. As King of Kings, Jesus did not fit the mold of the expected savior. He not only disappointed the Jews by not taking a sword and laying siege to the Roman-packed Fortress Antonia, He did not even look the part. As Isaiah prophesied: 

For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.–Isaiah 53:2 

This “no form or comeliness” business means, simply, that Jesus probably was not much to look at. If the people of Israel expected a messiah to look like George Clooney, they perhaps got George “Goober” Lindsey instead–and were keenly disappointed. 

Not only that, Jesus was a bit of a letdown when it came to His message. Instead of “Death to Caesar,” Jesus was the death of sin and the death of Death itself. It is speculated that this may be one reason that Judas, a militant zealot, betrayed Christ: out of sheer disappointment.

What is Jesus’s message? Well, he often dealt with and spoke of pigs. He cast out demons from the man of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-21), and sent them into pigs. He told a parable of a bitter son who stayed home (Israel), and a prodigal son (Gentiles) who went to live with pigs for a while:   

15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.–Luke 15:15-16

When that son came home, his father rejoiced–as your Father rejoices over your salvation. 

Jesus continually fought against those who were too blind to see the glory of God’s promised One before them. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the Priests and Scribes called him a blasphemer, and even His own brothers poked fun at him. They urged him to take his tricks and healing shows to Jerusalem to take the heat off them in Galilee. And as the people grumbled, Jesus urged:  

24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”–John 7:24 

Can you do this in your life? What is Jesus calling you to see with His eyes, instead of the rheumy, star-struck eyes of the world? Do you seek a mate from among the glitz and glamor of the world, and risk a superficial relationship? Has your wife or husband lost the bloom of youth, and your interest in them has waned? 

More importantly, do you have a superficial view of your savior? Is Jesus just a wise teacher, or someone who makes you feel better about yourself–or is He the Son of the Most High who went obediently to the cross for your sins, and calls you now to be a living sacrifice? 

This world calls you to wallow in the mud and filth of self-pity and self-focus. Remember, that you were created and redeemed for far more than that. Look to see life through the eyes of Jesus, and the gold ring in your nose will become a crown of gold instead. 


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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