Most Bible-readers and church-goers are familiar with Proverbs 31 — particularly verses 10-31 about the “virtuous woman” or “excellent wife.” Even occasional church attendees typically hear this text around Mother’s Day or Women’s Day celebrations. Interestingly, this chapter is often met by various objections. Female readers protest, “The Proverbs 31 Lady is doing too much; I don’t have time for all that! I need balance! I don’t cook, I don’t sew, and I certainly don’t have a maiden!” While sisters conclude that the woman can’t be real, many men chant, “She sounds perfect!”
Perhaps we should consider the broader meaning of Proverbs 31. The Book of Proverbs is primarily a collection of parallelisms and symbolisms that points to universal truths through word pictures and a series of moral statements. The goal of these sayings is to teach the fear of God through practical wisdom for life. Chapter 31 from this Old Testament wisdom literature poetically describes a life marked by wisdom. The key to understanding and applying Proverbs is this: they offer general truths, not absolutes. As such, even the epilogue that closes the final chapter is more descriptive than prescriptive. In other words, Proverbs 31 describes what the wise life is like in the context of family and society rather than giving a recipe for favor and success.
Throughout the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman and in this chapter, “she” is a senior mother advising her kingly son, a wife attending to her husband, a young mother caring for her children, a boss-lady managing her business, a homemaker watching over her household, a daughter pursuing excellence, and a godly woman seeking to honor the Lord. But lest we become overly impressed or overwhelmed by “her” résumé, the poetry of Proverbs 31 is in reality painting a picture to teach us a lesson.
While the cultural setting is different from ours, this ancient ode is packed with present-day relevance. If you desire to be a woman of virtue or man of valor, here are some principles for establishing a life of noble character:
- Impart wisdom to the next generation. (vv. 1-2)
- Don’t underestimate the influence of the company you keep and indulgences you enjoy. Be holy, sober, and compassionate. (vv. 3-9)
- Seek the welfare of those under your care, in your circle, and in need. (vv. 8-9, 11-12, 15, 20)
- Don’t be an idle busy-body or a gossip. (vv. 13, 26-27)
- Plan ahead, be prepared, and work diligently. (vv. 13-15, 21-22)
- Choose what is good and profitable, not easy and pleasurable. (vv. 16-18)
- Don’t overemphasize fashion, form, beauty, and charm. (vv. 17a, 25a, 30)
- Guard your reputation and pursue excellence not perfection. (vv. 10, 11a, 23, 29, 31)
We can let go of our objections to Proverbs 31. There’s nothing wrong with seeking a good spouse, being a wonderful parent, or achieving great success. However, the bottom line is in the last line of verse 30: “A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” The text points the reader back to God. Wise women and men reverence God and live to please Him. You may not have a spouse who praises you or child who calls you blessed. Just remember this: the ultimate nod comes from God and the best any of us can hope for at end of our day is to hear Him say, “Well done!”
© May 2018
Originally prepared for and published by Mt. Sinai Church of Los Angeles