Have you ever paid close attention to Proverbs 31? This is an oft cited chapter that refers to the “virtuous woman” / or the “woman who fears the Lord...” and lists her qualifications. If you have not read the entire chapter, you might mistakenly attribute this chapter to Solomon. Yet verse 1 states:
“The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:”
Now, there is no other mention of this king anywhere else in the Bible, and some older commentaries attribute King Lemuel to being Solomon. Regardless who this king is, the verses in Chapter 31 are quoted from this mother of King Lemuel.
Now read this chapter again, noting that it is written by a woman and if you are one of those women who usually cringes or avoids reading this chapter altogether, because you think it describes a “superwoman” or that it is an impossibility for one woman to display all of the qualities described here, I would encourage you to read the article attached in the link at the bottom of this article, beneath the notes.
The Words of King Lemuel
31 The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:
2 What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
What are you doing, son of my vows?
3 Do not give your strength to women,
your ways to those who destroy kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to take strong drink,
5 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
6 Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
7 let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
8 Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
The Woman Who Fears the Lord
10 An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than 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 harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She dresses herself[e] with strength
and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.[f]
22 She makes bed 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;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with 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 call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
Some short notes which makes some great points from this Proverbs 31 commentary at www.graceinabundance.com:
Her textual identity -
- The text of Proverbs does not name the noble woman it describes in such detail. The author is King Lemuel, who was known by Israel‟s sages even though he remains unknown to us. He received the instruction from his own mother. In addition to admonishing her son that a king must not give in to any unrestrained living that would jeopardize his ability to rule, she summarizes the kind of wife that would add honor to his name. He must look for a truly valiant6 wife who fears the Lord and not be tempted by mere beauty and charm. Lemuel applies the advice to more than the royal household, for the husband described within is an elder of the city, not a king. Thus, what was originally designed as advice for a prince has been included in Scripture for the benefit of all classes.
- Some deny that this too-good-to-be-true wife could be just one woman. She must be an ideal, composite picture of what one could desire in a wife if it were possible to acquire it all in one package. Nevertheless, we cannot escape the textual presentation of her as one, distinct person whose wisdom benefits not only her household but the community as well. Seeing her as a composite creates unwarranted opportunity for excusing ourselves from any obligation to be like her.
Before determining how this instruction should be applied to today‟s woman, several assumptions need to be recognized.
- Assumption 1: She is a mature woman.The woman described in the text is a mature woman, not a new bride. She shows the confidence of one who has gained experience over time, both in her spiritual development and in her skills as a homemaker. Young men hoping to discover a readymade Proverbs 31 wife are setting themselves up for a disappointment if they expect to say “I do” to a bride with this much skill or wisdom. In the same way that homemaking skills become perfected with practice, so also understanding and wisdom increase over time when one walks with the Author of wisdom. A new bride may not match the Proverbs 31 woman‟s skill, but she will be counted wise if she makes a conscious choice to follow the Way of Wisdom.
- Assumption 2: Her husband is a wise and mature man. Second, this woman is married to a man who is qualified to sit in the gates as an elder of his people. He has presumably been successful in his own endeavors and thereby has gained the respect of the community. He recognizes that he has a superb wife and appropriately leaves the management of the home to her.
- Assumption 3: Her household is economically well off. Third, the Proverbs 31 wife is part of a well-to-do household. Waltke mentions that the poem “assumes the husband has founded the home on a sound economic foundation (24:27) and within that context his wife can settle down and function to her maximum ideal.20 The text indicates that the woman‟s prudent management of the family‟s resources brought economic security to all of her household. Many women conclude that it would be impossible to live up to this woman‟s example without also having her servants. In their dreams, the servants would do the household work and leave them free to carry on her other pursuits. However, this betrays both a misunderstanding of the role of servants and of the author‟s point. In the North American context, servant brings to mind either the historical slave of the Southern plantation, or (2) a domestic worker whom only the rich can afford to pay. Neither description comes close to depicting the Proverbs 31 household servant. Even today where modern “electric servants” to which the West has become accustomed do not exist, household chores can be both physically demanding and time consuming. Without readymade clothes, canned foods, and prepared spices, clothing and feeding a household require a huge amount of one‟s day. With no electricity or indoor plumbing, every chore done by the machines the West takes so much for granted becomes a major job. The housewife needs help. Servants help, but they also bring responsibility. The Proverbs 31 woman shouldered this responsibility as normal routine in her household and did it well. The wise woman can live with or without servants. In either case, she organizes and carries out her work with wisdom, overseeing and advising everyone in her household.
- Assumption 4: The Proverbs 31 woman is a healthy woman. The fourth assumption from the text is that the Proverbs 31 woman is healthy, strong and fit for her job. Can a woman excuse herself from being a Proverbs 31 wife, then, if she has not been blessed with a healthy body and a vigorous immune system? If the amount of household tasks accomplished is the rule by which we measure a woman‟s worthiness, then we have established a superficial standard for wisdom. Certainly a healthy body is valuable, but wisdom is not dependant upon physical strength. Being a Proverbs 31 woman does not demand the perfect body. Instead, it needs a healthy spirit that is attuned to the Spirit of God.
In summary, then, although the author of Proverbs 31 delights in all this jewel of a woman does in the ruling of her household, her above-rubies value is not dependent upon her homemaking skills, her worthy husband, her comparative wealth, or her physical health. Her value is in using the wisdom God has given her, a wisdom that springs from her fear of the Lord.
This is no assumption. The writer summarizes this remarkable wife with these words: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”24 Herein is the key to understanding the entire poem: the noble wife is a woman who fears the Lord. Focusing only on this industrious woman‟s work will cloud this crucial point.
Many women, even non-Christians, out of innate common sense and providential goodness devote themselves to caring successfully for their husbands and children, making the needs of their household the primary focus of their lives. What, then, differentiates the wise wife of Proverbs 31 from her counterparts? It is her fear of the Lord, not her wise shopping or her control over her children.
How does the Proverbs 31 woman‟s fear of the Lord make her different from other accomplished homemakers?
1. Her focus is on God.
2. She hates evil.
3. She is compassionate and fair to all.
4. She delights in the Lord’s commands.
5. She is teachable.
You can read the entire commentary here - http://graceinabundance.com/userfiles//Superwoman%20translit.pdf