Exploring Proverbs 31, the perfect wife

So what's a twice divorced woman know about being the perfect wife? Well... let's just say I've grown up in the Lord. Here's my study about the woman who is far above rubies.

She is described as a virtuous woman…excellent woman…capable…noble woman in various translations. But in examining the Hebrew word Chayil, we see it is translated more in tune with strength of armies. In the KJV, it is translated two hundred and forty-three times as valiant describing men of valour, riches, or strength. It is the same word used for the character of good, capable judges in Exodus 18:21. We can conclude then that the author of Proverbs 31 was describing a woman made strong by wisdom and grace and more especially by the love of God. She is not only capable but she is powerful and her worth is far above rubies.

The twenty-two verses exemplify the Hebrew way of writing. The point of all that follows is made in the first sentence or two. Then the point is expounded, first the statement of truth, then the explanation of why it is true. In this example, each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet which is similar to Psalms 119. This is a way of stating that an excellent woman is the beginning and end of a husband’s and a families delight. She is the center and the light of the home. This is why the Hebrew wife lights the candles of the menorah on the Sabbath.

10 An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.

The question “who can find?” is reflective on how scarce the described woman actually is. Although, it may appear to many that a woman is excellent, the character may not sink to the core of the woman. This is an excellent wake up call to women today, although few actually see it as such.

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.

For her husband to have faith in her and trust in her indicates her tremendous character. Trust is earned. She has earned his trust by her actions over a period of time. Too often we will superficially trust someone because of their position (both in the church and in business) then have our trust betrayed because of a word or deed. When trust is lost, it is extremely difficult to regain. Because this wife has the whole trust of her husband, she has exhibited that she is faithful and trustworthy. She has exemplified that she holds her husband in great esteem because trust is a two-way street. And the next verse illustrates that.

12 She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.

The discussion of exactly what is good could take up an entire book and is not the focus of this discussion. The Hebrew transliterated word is towb and means to be good, be pleasing, be joyful, be beneficial, be pleasant, be favorable, be happy, be righteous. This is exactly in line with goodness being listed as a fruit of the Spirit; it is actually a state of being as well as an action. This verse implies that her heart intent toward her husband is one of love as expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. When she demonstrates she is trustworthy in all aspects, this makes her husband easy in his thoughts toward her—without jealousy or rancor. The good comes back as a balm upon her from her husband. It is a warm reflection as we reflect Jesus.

13 She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight.

The capable wife does not sit wringing her hands in worry. She actually takes a delight in providing for her family. She doesn’t ask permission from hubby to go shopping for her “wool and flax”. She takes responsibility for clothing her family. “Works with her hands” is a Hebrew idiom for being a servant. The able wife not only is a servant but takes delight in being a servant. Working does a couple of things for us women. The number one thing it does is keep us out of trouble. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. Idle hands are the devil’s playground (another Proverb). This is true of all humans, not just women. When we women stay busy, we’re less likely to succumb to the wiles of Satan and no matter how unpalatable that may sound… it is the truth. The next few verses illustrate this truth.

14 She is like merchant ships; she brings her food from afar.

This is the Biblical equivalent of “shop till you drop”. It indicates a picky-ness for just the right food to provide at just the right price… and in abundance, enough to fill a ship, a household a husband’s belly and all the children and servants, too.

15 She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens.

A woman’s work is never done. Dr. Phil said that a mother of two children has the work equivalent of a full time job. If she has three children that work is equivalent to two full time jobs. It is astounding that a woman can have children and hold down a full-time job outside the home! That is the equivalent of two or more full time jobs. The “portions to her maidens” indicates she has servants…that’s plural. SuperMom does not have to do everything by herself! Although, even with servants to help, she still needs to be on top… aware of all that goes on in the household. Here again is the suggestion that being busy keeps one virtuous. But we can still sleep late on occasion…I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that it’s a sin to sleep late once in awhile. However, Proverbs 20:13 says we should not love sleep or we’ll go hungry and in Romans 12:11 Paul exhorts us we should be busy serving the Lord.

16 She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard.

Does it say here that she has to ask her husband to buy the field? Does it say here she has to ask his permission to buy the field? She doesn’t even ask him for the money to buy the grape vines to plant. Where in the world did the notion that women should not work or have responsibilities outside the home originate? It came from second and third century influence of worldly culture. It certainly was not from God. Is it easier to care for children if a mother does not have to work outside the home? Absolutely! But it is not a sin for a woman to have a job outside the home. Is her primary concern the job or her husband and children? All twenty-two verses expound the most excellent woman’s main priority. It is her husband, her children and her household. She loves the Lord and the family He gave her. Studying this passage as a whole, it is because she loves the Lord that she labors for her husband and family so selflessly. It is because she loves her family, she gets up before dawn and works all day long, tirelessly – at least that is how it looks on the outside. But we all know it is impossible to keep going twenty-four seven without our daily refreshment in the Lord. We must take refuge in Him by reading His love letter to us and by prayer, bringing everything to Him or we’ll go bonkers. By planting a vineyard, she is providing a legacy for the future. This is the Hebrew equivalent of a 401K…the vineyard’s fruit will provide for them in the senior years and will be passed on to the children as an inheritance. She not only cares for her family in the present, she provides an income for future generations.

17 She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong.

This girding is a term used to indicate protecting the lower back similar to a weightlifter wrapping that leather belt about his lower back and waist. Paul uses it in his description of the full armor of God in Ephesians 6. She practices physical labor and thus her body is strengthened. There was a documentary on Discovery Channel about mummies and one of the mummies was of a female with bones so delicate the slightest pressure could have snapped them into pieces. We were told the owner of those bones had done no physical labor at all, most likely never even stood up for more than a few minutes at a time. She had never lifted anything heavier than a few ounces her entire life so therefore it was concluded the woman was most likely very rich and a ruler of some sort because everything had been done for her. Not so the perfect woman. She is industrious and…

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.

This doesn’t mean that she works all night. This is meant to show that she keeps the home fires burning… she keeps the oil lamps well stocked as Jesus mentions in the parable of the ten virgins. The five virgins who have extra oil for their lamps and are ready for the Bridegroom whenever He comes (Matthew 25) but the other five allow their lamps to go out and beg to borrow some oil from the prudent virgins to no avail. Prudence and planning are her strengths. She recognizes that she can make clothes and other things for her family that are of far better quality and less costly.

20 She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy.

This is another indication of how godly this woman is. This is a command of the Lord in Deut 15:11. Proverbs 22:9 tells us the one who practices generosity is blessed. Surely, she is blessed and her blessing falls upon her family as a warm blanket.

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.

Okay… so now she is SuperMom. But then back then, there wasn’t TV or telephones and I suppose if I got up way before dawn, I’d have time to sew enough clothes for winter and summer plus some to sell in the marketplace, too.
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.

Jesus tells us what ever is in the heart comes out of the mouth. We see that her heart embraces wisdom and kindness. She doesn’t indulge in idle gossip but is careful of the example she sets her children. The Hebrew word Torah means basically “to sit on her lap and learn her wisdom”. It is interesting that this is the word used for the first five books of the Bible and encompasses all the Law given to Moses from God Himself. Just as the Bride of Christ will be clothed in bright white linen which are the righteous acts of the saints, so this virtuous woman is clothed in her own righteous acts. Here are the qualities most valued by God because they are fruits of the Spirit: strength and dignity equal temperance and/or self-control; smiles at the future equals no idle worrying and complete trust that God is in control; wisdom and kindness come directly from the Holy Spirit and are not inbred qualities of the human; keeping her focus on her household keeps her mind and hand occupied so there is no laziness or wasted time. When Paul described women, he most definitely had Proverbs 31 in mind because his admonitions follow so closely to this passage.

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.

Here we see the blessings that result from the godly management of our households. All that men hold dear and hold in high esteem are an abomination to the Lord (Luke 16:15). Outward beauty is not an achievement to be pursued. Beauty that God bestows is what brings eternal and lasting pleasure and glory to the Lord. Paul exhorted women to the kind of beauty that is depicted here in Proverbs 31. A woman with good works will be praised and that clothes her in beauty.


Pilot Mom said...

I can remember when I was a young woman studying this passage, how verse 12 jumped out at me. "She does him good and not evil all the days of her life." What jumped out was the little word ALL...all the days of her life, even when she was young, recognizing that her actions could affect her and her husband-to-be's future.

I've always held a special spot in my heart for this section of Scripture.

Have you ever read the Proverbs 31 "Man?" Check it out:

Pilot Mom said...

Sorry about that...the link is no longer valid. That's too bad because it was an excellent article on how the husband was behind the wife and enabled her to be the kind of woman she was.

Anonymous said...

I really love how you put this together! Verse 12 also jumps out at me. I think I have some studying to do. :)

Corry said...

I have many short comings to be the perfect wife, but I keep working on them:-)

God's Grace.

Refreshment in Refuge said...

I would have loved to read that! That is exactly what I was thinking. The husband reflects all that is good in his wife and the wife reflects all that is good in her husband. Thus the two become more perfect together. That word perfect means complete not necessarily without blemish.

Pilot Mom said...

Gina, it is in a book called The Proverbs 31 Man but I cannot remember the author's name. My BIL originally sent the devotional to my husband and included his name. I'll try to find out for us!

Refreshment in Refuge said...

Corry, I think the whole point is more in being complete than being without blemish. I am quite sure your hubby is satisfied :)

Valerie... GREAT! Thanks :)

Dreamspinner said...

Seems to me that sometimes people idolize the 1950s wife as the perfect wife.
I like this Biblical example better.
I have to admit I feel a little bitter. I am disabled and can't do much, neither do I have children. I'll let it go at that.