The first product ever manufactured for human use in Biblical history is clothing – more on that in a minute….
First, consider this, the Noble Woman in Proverbs 31:10-31 is arguably Lady Wisdom personified as an entrepreneur in the marketplace. This noble woman who makes history as the exemplification of wisdom has a profitable business in the textile industry. She manufactures and sells sashes and garments. The culmination of the wisdom literature of Solomon’s courts is Proverbs 31:10-31. In these 21 verses, we find a woman who blesses those around her by making clothing. I love clothes. I love shopping for clothes all over the world whether I’m bartering in the night market of Ben Thanh in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam or perusing the shops on Champs-Elysées Avenue in Paris, France (extra emphasis on perusing). I even like sewing clothes from time to time. However, I’ve given up on wearing my own creations after some rather disastrous ensembles were forever captured in my childhood history. It’s not surprising that I’m fascinated with the idea that clothing is the product of choice for Lady Wisdom.
As I jump into the Bible in a year, chronological scripture reading for 2022, I was struck by the uncanny references throughout scripture to clothing. Check this out… In Genesis 1-3, the Bible opens with the phrase “in the beginning.” In the beginning a lot of things happened. We have the macro and micro stories of creation in Chapters 1-2. In Chapter 1, God creates the earth and heavens and the entire eco-system that we live in. In Chapter 2, we get the up-close narrative of God’s creation of humanity. In Chapter 3, the sneaky serpent entices Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent’s tactics center around God-like knowledge. Eve perceives that the fruit on the tree is desirable for gaining wisdom. In a more direct translation, you could say that she “covets wisdom.”
Unlike Solomon, who asks God for wisdom in 1 Kings, imperfect Eve in her perfect garden life takes forbidden knowledge to gain wisdom. The immediate result of the knowledge of Adam and Eve (Adam has had some fruit at this part of the story as well) is to realize that they are naked. So, Adam and Eve start sewing leaves together as covering. This is the first time in the Bible were manufacturing takes place, raw materials are collected and transformed into a good. Sewing is the first non-garden tending/ animal naming work we see in scripture.
At this point, post plant sewing, God finds them – He curses the snake and curses Eve. However, before he kicks them out of the garden, he makes one more thing. A good is manufactured for the first second time in the story. God creates something from something else. First, he creates Adam from dirt and Eve from Adam, second, he creates clothes from an animal. He makes them leather outfits. Then… he kicks them out of the garden.
Unlike, the fig leaves that Adam and Eve sewed together (see Gen. 3:7), God creates more sustainable clothing that requires the first death since the beginning – he kills an animal in order to create their clothes. Bible scholars believe that this act foreshadows the need for animal sacrifice for forgiveness of sin and the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
So… clothing is really important in the story of humanity. It exemplifies dignity in the face of shame. Clothing is the first gift that God gave humanity before he set them outside the perfect garden and into an imperfect world.
Why does Lady Wisdom make clothes? When Adam and Eve pursued wisdom on their own accord in Genesis, they ended up with plant clothes and then leather clothes. Psychologically speaking, clothing is on of our most basic needs. At the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we find food, clothing, and shelter. If you want to win a battle or a war, you need ammunition, food and water, and clothing.
Throughout Proverbs and Psalms (the main books of wisdom), we find wisdom focused on providing shelter and food and creating clothing. Lady Wisdom builds a house (shelter) and provides a feast (food), and creates clothing. I don’t know why Lady Wisdom makes linen clothes in Proverbs 31, instead of leather clothes, but I do know that the clothing she delivers to the marketplace is of excellent quality and is profitable, allowing her to buy vineyards and add wine to her feast.
I think it all comes down to this, even though her clothing is fine linen and purple (the Champs-Elysées fashion of her time) … It is more important that she is clothed in strength and dignity. Like our clothing, our character is on display for all around us to see. Today, I pause and ask myself… what am I clothed in? Am I merely clothed in a label or brand that defines me extrinsically or am I clothed in strength, dignity, and character that defines me intrinsically and for all the world to see?
I’m going to think about that for today… but next time I think I’m going to think a little more about the brokenness of the clothing industry. The entire supply chain of clothing is broken:
- the cotton industry (at the heart of American slave-trade),
- the textile industry (at the root of labor abuse and human suffering and catastrophes like the Rana Plaza Collapse in Bangladesh)
- the rise of fast fashion consumerism (driving an insatiable need to buy new, cheaply made clothes to maintain an external appearance of trendiness)
Hold that thought until next time!
 Proverbs 9:1-6, Proverbs 31:15
 Proverbs 31:24
 Proverbs 31:25