When I was working, I had printed out Proverbs 31 and carried it in my Franklin Planner, where I read it daily and sometimes took advantage of downtimes during meetings to pray, meditate, or just ponder over the verses. (I attended a lot of boring meetings.) I do not have this verse posted in my home office, though, and I really should. (Actually, I think it used to hang in my office, but it must’ve fallen off last summer when the humidity got out of control.)
I think it’s interesting that the whole passage here is an acrostic, with each line beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet. Does it have any meaning? I’m not sure. Many times in the Bible, when various literary tricks are used, it’s an indication that the passages are story, or metaphor, or are otherwise not to be taken completely literally. I think, personally, in this case, it’s a pleasing little poem about a good wife. To be taken seriously, but not 100% literally. (And I’m not one of those “don’t take this literally” people usually, just so you know.) To take it absolutely literally, we’d need to import all of our food from overseas. See what I mean? Take it seriously, not word for word literally.
So here’s my take on the verses, backed up by experts and Those Who Know, along with some commentary about my personal journey to becoming a Proverbs 31 woman.
10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
This passage speaks to the fact that it is hard to find a wife such as that described herein. I personally find encouragement in this verse. It’s like it’s saying “it’s OK, this is a tough standard. You can do it! But it won’t necessarily be easy!”
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
Her husband has full confidence in her. He knows he can trust her. He does not hesitate to leave the household in her hands. This is an area I somewhat struggle with. I know Randy trusts me to make most household decisions, particularly those about childrearing. When we were struggling with the vaccine issue, he ultimately said “hey, you’ve done lots of reasearch, and the household is really in your hands. If you say no vaccinations, then I’m completely on board with it. I trust your judgement.” That was huge for me.
But this is my stumbling block: I am guilty of making too many phone calls to Randy at work, complaining about this or that, or Wally’s annoying, or the sink’s clogged, or Office Depot is annoying me, or can you call X person because I’m too busy to get it done. I pull his attention from where it needs to be – on work – back to where it shouldn’t have to be – on household affairs. This is an area I need to work on. No, I need to just stop. I am fully capable of running the house and should just do so.
12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
I like the inclusion of “not harm” since it’s often the contrast that allows us to see the right path. I’ve learned more about how to bring my husband good by watching those around me fail to do so. I will not pretend to be perfect by any means. But I decided long ago to never bash my husband to others. I try not to indulge in the womanly art of complaining about one’s husband to one’s girlfriends. Neither Randy nor myself have any problems with teasing remarks that we would just as easily make to each other with no hurt feelings – things like joking with my sister (whose husband is remarkably like mine) that Randy had just run inside to change clothes but it’d probably be a few minutes because he probably had to turn on the TV and flip through all the channels to find just the right program to change clothes to. Quirky habits, I guess you might say. Randy and I have always enjoyed a relationship where we can joke about our quirky habits without getting bent out of shape, but we also both know where the line is and are careful not to cross it.
I personally believe this verse is also talking about just a general attitude, a mindset. A servant’s mindset. A helpmeet’s mindset. A love mindset. A building up your husband mindset. Could I be better at this? Yes. But I try. Most days.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
heh heh. She uses natural fibers in her daily life, like wool and linen. See, the Proverbs 31 woman had exquisite taste in fibers.
This verse, to me, has always seemed to encourage the home arts, like sewing. Handwork. She is not shy or resistant to the daily work of her life, but eager to take care of her household in a very hands-on way.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
This one has always puzzled me. Wesley suggests it means that “By the sale of her home – spun commodities she purchases the choicest goods which come from far countries.” To apply to our present-day lives? She makes things and sells them to enable her family to buy local, organic goods. I think the important thing here is not the “from afar” but what the “food from afar” represents – choice goods. The best things for her family. I do OK here.
15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.
Though my friend Sara has suggested that the woman is getting up to study the Word (or take time with God I guess since, well, the Bible was not yet written during Prov 31 woman’s days!), I disagree. Not that taking time with the Word is not important. But I don’t think that’s where this verse is headed.
This woman gets up early to provide for the needs of her household. She’s baking, she’s cooking, she’s busy doing her work. The semicolon here throws me, and I’d be curious if this is as close to a literal translation as we can get. The commentaries aren’t too overly helpful on this verse. I’m not saying this woman is not focused on God, but she seems to be focused on God in a more practical, hands-on manner. She is busy doing the work which God has laid out for her.
I do not get up while it is still dark, at least not this time of year, lol. I used to. When I was in college, and early marriage, I rose every day near 5 to have quiet reflective time. Not always studying the Bible, but usually trying to focus on conversing with God, even while pursuing other tasks like exercising. I do miss those days of early bed/early rise. I think I’m one of those people who can go either way. I can stay up late, I can get up early. I can’t do both at the same time. But Wally is a night owl, and I’m not about to go to sleep while he’s still awake just so I can get up early. That would be foolhardy and unkind. We decided early on in this parenting adventure that Randy getting sleep at night was always more important than me getting sleep at night. Randy has to work, and he has to be awake and focused. So if someone’s going to stay up with an unsleepy Wally, it’s me.
Arising early after staying up late is unwise. Not only is it unhealthy, but it leads me to bad moods, which is really not encouraged by the Bible, either.
I would like to get up before the family, spend some time with a pot of tea and the Bible. But that’s not my reality right now, and that’s OK. I do not feel that God is leading me to be overly concerned with this particular item right now. Getting healthy amounts of sleep, respecting Randy’s needs, and respecting Wally’s needs are all more important right now. And I’m sure in God’s own perfect timing, He will lead me towards early study time when it is time.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
Another “serious but not literal” one. The woman is wise in her ability to both acquire and spend wealth. She manages her household finances wisely. She invests.
I used to be good at this. I’m struggling lately, as it seems that there are more things to pay for than there is money to pay for them. Investing? uh, no.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;her arms are strong for her tasks.
She doesn’t let schedule problems keep her from resuming her kickboxing. No, really, she just doesn’t trifle. She works hard, diligently. This is usually me with exceptions, of course.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,and her lamp does not go out at night.
She is wise in business. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown suggest “The last clause may figuratively denote that her prosperity is not short lived.”
19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She doesn’t consider these lowly tasks to be beneath her. This is apparently servant’s work, yet she does it, too.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
She is charitable, she cares for the poor and those not as well off as her. We do OK here, but could always use improvement.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
She has provided for the needs of her family – not only basic needs, but she is so profitable with her vineyard and flax and whatnot that she’s actually buying some of the finest goods she can for her family.
OK, this is soooo not me. But this would not be good stewardship of our resources at the present time.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
I think this verse is saying two things. First, she brings her husband respect by being such a model wife. He has no reason to feel ashamed, others in the city respect him because of his wife. Second, because she is being so effecient and good at running the household, she is freeing him up to focus on man’s work – running things around the outside world.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
Again, the woman is very productive. She has several income streams, which is wise diversification.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
She has the admirable traits of strength and dignity. She is not worried for the future, but rests firmly in the knowledge that God will provide and that she has done her part to ensure her family is well taken care of. She knows they can weather any storms that may come their way.
Me? I could do better on the strength and dignity aspect. The dignity, particularly. And, too, the laughing at days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
Here I like Wesley. “Openeth her mouth – She is neither sullenly silent, nor full of impertinent talk, but speaks discreetly and piously, as occasion offers. In her tongue – Her speeches are guided by wisdom and grace, and not by inordinate passions. And this practice is called a law in her tongue, because it is constant and customary, and proceeds from an inward and powerful principle of true wisdom. ”
As for me, I strive for this, really I do. But I fall far far short most of the time.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
She doesn’t waste time posting on the internet, for one. She maintains a diligent eye on the affairs of the house. She doesn’t let things slide. She is attentive.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
Her family is even inspired to praise her for being such a wonderful human being.
Um, some days my husband is inspired to praise me for being wonderful. Other times, well, not so much. This area needs improvement.
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
I think these are self-explanatory. Living for God, living to His expectations, is far better than being pretty. This is really, IMO, more instruction to a husband. Yes, everyone wants a hot wife, but you’d be better in the long run to look for someone Godly. As Bob Marley said “if you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife…get an ugly girl to marry you.”
A few things I try to bear in mind when reading Prov 31.
First, most women of any means (and this woman certainly seems to be of some means) had household help back then. Yes, having someone else to help with the cleaning, baking, and laundry would help in the attainment of this picture of perfection. Then again, I have machinery to help. I don’t have to spin my own yarn, or weave cloth, or wash clothes by hand. I don’t have to sew stitch by stitch using a needle and thread. I don’t have to grow my own food if I don’t want to.
Second, the Prov 31 woman, or any woman of her time, likely did not devote as much of her time to parenting as my personal parenting philosophy requires that I do. She had work to do, and the work had to be done regardless. I’m not actually super familiar with early jewish households, but many traditional cultures have the older children look after the younger ones, to free the adults up to pursue their daily tasks. At the very least, the woman portrayed here would have had extended family around for support, help with children, etc. This is something most of us modern women do not have.
Third, society at that time was much more agraian. The men did not work 8-5 jobs selling commercial insurance policies in Texas. They didn’t have to pay for health insurance, or dental surgery. They didn’t have to work two jobs. Society was set up around the idea of a man working during the day away from the home and the woman working in the home, unlike our society which is structured completely around a two-worker ideal.
These are not meant to be excuses or cop-outs. They don’t get us off the hook. But they are little bits of reality that are too often left out of analyses of Proverbs 31. The verses are very applicable to us today, definitely. But they also need to be read in the context in which they were written, to help us understand how to apply them to our modern lives.
A while back, 2005 I think, I had set a goal of working on one Proverbs 31 verse each week (or several weeks for particularly difficult or just large verses) until I was the picture of perfection. (Ok, or at least an improved version of myself.) I think I might start that again. I’ll keep you posted.
PS I enjoy Matthew Henry’s commentary on this subject and have pasted it here courtesy of Crosswalk.