Proverbs 11:22 is a metaphor comparing incompatible or incongruous things: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion” (ESV). This startling analogy is part of a broader admonishment for men to carefully and wisely choose a prudent woman as a wife.
Bible commentators interpret this graphic comparison in various ways, with each view offering a slightly different take on the proverb’s morsel of wisdom. For background context, it’s essential to understand that nose rings were commonly worn as jewelry by women in ancient Israel (Genesis 24:47; Isaiah 3:21; Ezekiel 16:12), just as they are worn by some women today. Such fine gold jewelry, however, would be ridiculously out of place in a swine’s nose.
First Interpretation: The pig could represent a woman who lacks good sense, and the gold ring is her beauty. The word discretion in Proverbs 11:22 refers to the ability to judge wisely. A woman with discretion has the attractive gift of moral perception. A woman without discretion “has no moral sensibility, no propriety, no good taste—she is unchaste. Her beauty will be put to wrong uses” (The NET Bible First Edition Notes, Biblical Studies Press, 2006). “Outward female beauty with indiscreet conduct is valueless and morally ugly,” explains another commentator (Buzzell, S., “Proverbs,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Vol. 1, Walvoord & Zuck, eds., Victor Books, 1985, p. 929).
Second Interpretation: Considering the structure of the metaphor—“A beautiful woman who lacks discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout” (NLT)—the gold nose ring would more likely represent the woman, while the pig is the one “wearing” her, meaning her husband. In this sense, the proverb warns that although, the woman may be beautiful, she’s not a suitable choice for a wife if she lacks discretion. Marrying a woman without moral judgment would be just as inappropriate as selecting a valuable piece of jewelry to adorn the snout of a pig, a notoriously unclean animal for Jews.
Third Interpretation: The gold ring is the beautiful woman, and the swine is her woeful lack of discretion. The jewelry is attractive—but look at what comes with it! The woman’s impropriety and lack of taste completely overshadow and devalue her physical charms. The message is, men, when you’re looking for rings, watch out for pigs.
Some commentators view the “gold ring in a pig’s snout” as a comical comparison, showing that it’s ludicrous to suppose a woman’s physical loveliness might somehow excuse her lack of character. The same idea is expressed differently in Proverbs 12:4: “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.” Proverbs 31:30 warns, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Outer beauty is often what initially attracts a man to a woman, but it can also trap him. Instead of obtaining a wife who is a crowning jewel to be highly praised, the man who selects a beautiful woman who lacks discretion gains a frivolous, insensible companion who will make him look like a fool.
Abigail, who later became the wife of King David, was praised by him for her discretion: “Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!” (1 Samuel 25:33, ESV). Abagail’s good sense made David look wise rather than foolish.
“A beautiful ornament and a pig are as incongruous as a beautiful woman who has no taste or ethical judgment,” asserts the notes in the NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006). “Beauty is wasted on a foolish woman like a gold ring is wasted on a pig’s snout,” suggests A Handbook on Proverbs (Reyburn, W., & Fry, E., United Bible Societies, 2000, p. 254). In either case, the beauty is decidedly misplaced.
No matter how you interpret the metaphor, the lesson for the wise man is clear: make sure to choose a prudent wife. Building a strong marriage is challenging enough. Add to it a spouse who lacks discretion, and you’ll only increase the potential for countless more problems, like infidelity, misuse of resources, financial instability, and disagreements about how to parent.