“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” Proverbs 11:22

Our world places exorbitant value on physical beauty and material wealth.  How can it be, however, that those who possess riches and good looks can be cursed and held captive by the very thing this world treasures? A beautiful woman without discretion, the Proverb tells us, is like “a gold ring in a pig’s snout.”  What does this even mean?  What does it have to do with us today?  To understand the depth of wisdom woven within this ancient adage, you must first become familiar with the two cultural practices which are carefully overlaid to lead us to a poignant conclusion.

A Gold Ring In A Woman’s Nose: In the ancient middle east, a common form of jewelry among the wealthy was a “Nezem;” a gold ring about an inch in diameter that pierces the septum and covers the upper lip of the adorned.  In Genesis 24:47, we read that Rebekah received a gold nose ring and two bracelets from Abraham’s servant (Eliezer) as a pledge towards marriage for Abraham’s son Isaac.  This gift was of such value that Rebekah’s brother Laban quickly springs into action to ensure the hospitable welcome of this wealthy dignitary.  In short, to wear a “Nezem,” was the highest in women’s style and fashion in that day.  A Gold ring in a woman’s nose signified value and worth, beauty and allure; the very things which are prized in our day as well. 

A Steel Ring In A Pig’s Snout: Also an ancient practice, placing a steel or copper ring through a pig’s snout was a common method for controlling and exhibiting power over a pig. The ring through the pig’s nose was used both to prevent the pig from “rooting” (foraging for food) and to effectively control the beast by pulling the ring in whatever direction the owner wanted to go. For the pig, a ring through its nose essentially meant slavery and the inability to provide food for itself. Thus, as it would be today, no woman would want to be enslaved and unable to feed herself like a pig with a ring in its snout.

Beauty, or for that matter, any gift or ability that is highly valued by our world, which is not paired with discretion, can make one a slave to its own gift and those who seek to control it. The word “discretion” (טָֽעַם׃ (ṭā·‘am), which literally means, “to taste,” describes a person who exhibits discernment or good judgement, as well as self-control, particularly when it comes to lust or sexual immorality or immodesty. In this instance, a beautiful woman, who lacks taste (judgement, discernment, self control) becomes like a pig, easily controlled and enslaved by the ring in its snout. Her beauty becomes the means by which the Enemy, and those who wish to take advantage of her, exercise power over her. 

What does this look like practically? The gift of beauty draws attention to a young woman from men who desire her and women who despise her for it. With a lack of discretion, she forms her identity, self-worth and means of engagement around her physical appearance and allure, instead of striving to be known as a woman of virtue and Christ-like character. Now, she is a prize to be possessed and used more than a person to be known and loved. Finding this attention and these accolades intoxicating, she gives into this persona, only to discover that once she embraces this identity, she can only continue to find her value in this unhealthy pursuit. As her beauty fades, her innocence is stripped away and her allure is tarnished, her value is diminished and she will do anything to maintain the identity she once gloried in. She has become entrapped by her beauty, enslaved by her gift.

What is true about beauty, is also true about many of the gifts and abilities that are celebrated in our culture. Without discretion, affluence, athletic ability, work ethic, intellectual prowess, parenting, musical talent, popularity and even the ability to speak or lead others can become “like a gold ring in a pig’s snout.” Any cherished attribute that is not fully surrendered to God and practiced with wisdom and discretion can become the very thing that controls us and prevents us from experiencing true freedom. 

A young man grows up being told he is great at basketball, can become a slave to basketball and the adulation that it brings. He doesn’t notice that his mad handles are soon handling him as everything in his life becomes oriented around this one gift. The gold ring has been driven through his snout, and now others are controlling him with it. 

A man is praised for his sales and business acumen, so he pours himself into his work, forming his identity and basing his worth on the success of his career. He too, has become like the pig, controlled by the gold ring of career success which drives him to forsake his responsibilities as a friend, husband and father and holds him captive to the acceptance of his boss or the praise of his peers.

Now it is time to look within and ask, what are the gifts and abilities which I possess that could become “like a gold ring in a pig’s snout” in my life? What does it look like for me to honor and steward those gifts with wisdom and discretion? Anything that you are regularly praised for can become a device for your own enslavement if not practiced with discernment, judgement and self-control. Celebrate your identity in Christ. Rejoice in your value in Christ. Explore your purpose in Christ. Give your glory to Christ. While beauty without discretion is a cruel master, beauty in the hands of God is a tribute to our Creator! 

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