I would guess that nearly every Christian woman has an opinion on the thirty first chapter of Proverbs. The woman described in those verses if often envied for being a great homemaker who has it all together. She raised well behaved kids, her husband adores her, she is probably very beautiful, she is skilled with her hands, and more. We may see her as an unattainable goal; something that just draws attention to our own shortcomings as a wife, mother, homemaker, etc. But at the risk of sounding smug, I do not dislike this woman. On the contrary, she has helped me become a better wife and homemaker! In today’s post I want to break down Proverbs 31 and explain why we don’t need to be intimidated by this nonexistent woman.
Many people seem to forget about the first several verses of Proverbs 31, and even fewer realize that this passage is written as instruction from a MOTHER to her SON about looking for a good wife. Verses 2-9 are basically saying that King Lemuel (or really any man, in our context today) should be careful about the kind of woman he chooses as his wife.
Then verses 10-31 go into greater detail about the kind of wife he should be looking for. The New American Standard Bible titles this section “description of a worthy woman”, which I love!
The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him:
2 What, O my son?
And what, O son of my womb?
And what, O son of my vows?
3 Do not give your strength to women,
Or your ways to that which destroys kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine,
Or for rulers to desire strong drink,
5 For they will drink and forget what is decreed,
And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
6 Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to him whose life is bitter.
7 Let him drink and forget his poverty
And remember his trouble no more.
8 Open your mouth for the mute,
For the rights of all the unfortunate.
9 Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
Description of a Worthy Woman
10 An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands ]in delight.
14 She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
15 She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
18 She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hands grasp the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.
Reading through those verses is sort of like going through a mental checklist for ourselves, isn’t it? We may think we’ve got it all in the bag when we read verse 11 but then it goes into detail about all the homemaking this woman does, and then we cringe a bit, because we certainly don’t “rise while it is still night” (verse 15). But what some of us fail to realize at first, is that this oft-quoted passage of scripture is not describing a woman who actually existed! The Proverbs 31 woman has no name, no family, no birthdate, nothing! She is a checklist for men to consider when they are looking for a wife that will be pleasing to God.
Does that make you feel better about how you stack up to her? It sure helped me!
God didn’t include this passage in Proverbs just to torment us or make us feel inadequate. He included it (2 Timothy 3:16-17) as a way to encourage us to be the best wives we can be. Back in February I decided to do some personal Bible studying and began with Proverbs 31. I listen to many podcasts about it, read some books, and did plain old Bible reading. I found that looking at this passage as an encouragement and a goal to achieve was tremendously better than viewing it with a sense of doomed failure. It is my personal belief that God’s role for me at this point in time is to be the keeper of my home, and what better way to ensure success than studying what his Word says about it? Not only does this section of the Bible talk about homemaking, but it gives clear goals for the kind of woman I want to be in general.
Verses 10-12 talk about what being an “excellent wife” is like and how it benefits a husband. I believe this verse is also saying that by aiming to be like, and do the things, listed in the following verses, we can be that excellent wife who is worth more than jewels.
Verses 13-22 are various homemaking tasks such as fabric arts, cooking, gardening, etc. This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert in those things, but it DOES mean that you need to be joyfully tending your tasks, as it says in verse 13 (working with her hands in delight). The excellent wife knows that this role is God-give, and she desires to enjoy it as a gift!
The husband is mentioned a few times in this passage, and the verses all reference how his wife does good for him. How she, being a follower of God and desiring to keep His commandments, directly contributes to his reputation. Previously, I had not thought of it that way! But upon reflection I realized that my behaviours and attitudes DO reflect on my husband.
Do you know why this ideal wife smiles at the future and opens her mouth in wisdom? Because she makes time for God. She prays and spends time in the Word, so she knows that He holds her future in His hands, and that causes her to feel peace. Since she studies the Bible, she knows how to converse with others in a way that reflects the love of God in her. She can also give godly counsel when needed, because her knowledge of scriptures is sound.
Verse 30 is often quoted, but it really resonated with me. Charm and beauty are not going to last, because in reality, nothing on earth lasts. But a woman who fears, respects, teaches about, the Lord is to be praised. What does praised mean here? I imagine a scenario in my own life, many years into the future, after I have gone home to Jesus…my children and grandchildren have personal relationships with God and trust Him with their lives because I have done my duty to teach them the best I can. A legacy of faith is what I want to leave behind. I may not be praised by my future generations in the sense of “Christina was so smart, and pretty, and creative, etc” but I’d hope they would remember me as someone who truly tried her best to live for God, and encouraged her family to do the same. That is the kind of praise I desire!
When I stopped looking at this list of attributes as a depressing measuring tool, I could view it as a way to better myself. I don’t need to be skilled in all the ways mentioned, but I do need to be diligent and productive at home. I need to be mindful of my words and actions, and how they affect my family. I need to study and be familiar with God’s word so that it penetrates every part of my life.
I hope this lengthy post encourages you to rethink how you see Proverbs 31.