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I’ve always loved the woman described in Proverbs 31 in the Bible, and at the same time been intimidated by her.
She’s amazing because she gives us clear-cut examples of what God describes as a righteous woman, wife and mother. Many of the points made here describe any woman, not just married ones.
I’m intimidated by her because – who does all of that?
Who can really claim to be a true Proverbs 31 woman?
Plus, some of the situations only really fit the context. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any servants, I don’t hold a distaff, and my husband doesn’t sit at the city gate. I don’t even think we have a city gate.
So what would the Proverbs 31 woman look like today? How can we apply this passage and make it applicable to our generation?
Let’s break down her characteristics by verse.
I had help from the commentaries at BibleHub for interpreting some of the historical context. Below is Proverbs 31 from the New International Version.
Trustworthy: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” – A major part of my relationship with my husband is him being able to trust me with the big and little things. When we got married, we agreed not to talk about divorce, not even as a joke, because we are committed to each other, and don’t even want to acknowledge the possibility of divorce. He also can trust that nothing will come between us. But he also appreciates when I follow through with what I tell him I will do (which admittedly doesn’t happen all the time). It’s something he really values.
Eager: “She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.” – Basically, she didn’t buy cloth ready-made – she made it herself, something common for women of the day. Other versions use the word “seeks” instead of “selects”. The point of this verse, though, is not to make your own fabric and clothes. It is that she went about her tasks eagerly, willingly, and wanting to take care of her family. How I translate it to me is not complaining, even if it’s not my favorite task.
Purposeful and Savvy: “She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.” – I always looked at this verse as meaning she made her meals with lots of variety. But a commentary talks about how buying “food from afar” was a well-planned way to save money, almost like driving an extra distance to get food on sale. I’m sure it involved extra time and planning, but ultimately it was a great way of managing the household budget. And being financially savvy and intentional applies to any walk of life.
Sacrificial, or just plain Responsible: “She gets up when it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.” – Now this one, I get. They say you kiss sleeping late goodbye when you become a parent – it’s true. Whether or not I’m ready to get up, my son usually starts making noise around 7 to 7:30. It’s not like I can press his snooze button (but don’t think I haven’t wished for one). He is my little motivation for getting up, though. This is a great reminder to take care of my responsibilities – even if it means putting them before what I want.
Diligent: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.” – This describes her business practice. She looks at a field and considers whether or not it will be a sensible buy. Because she manages it well, it produces a profit, and she uses it to move forward with another business endeavor. All that to say, she works hard, makes good investments, and reaps the profits. Not every wife and mom has to work a job, but there is something in all of us that wants to be industrious and use our talents. This scripture shows the benefit of working hard and smart.
Physically Capable: “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.” – I think this scripture does reflect what was said above, about diligence. But from my perspective, I think it also encourages physical ability – being able to be healthy and stay up to the task. It’s definitely not talking about shapes and sizes, but rather the importance of being able to keep up with your career and/or your household and family. The bonus of working out for me is that it just makes me a more positive, and likable, person to be around.
Disciplined: “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.” – So this is my interpretation of this: while it shows how diligent she is, it also shows her working the only time she can sometimes, which is late into the night. Also something cool – the distaff was what kept the fibers together. In many ways, so does the woman in the household.
Compassionate: “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” – I love how this is worded, because it shows she’s not just charitable. It doesn’t say she gives some of their income to the poor and sends clothes and canned goods to the needy. This passage shows it’s much more of a personal connection. I think this is one of the biggest areas I can work on – finding ways to volunteer in the community.
Prepared: “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” – She has the foresight to be ready for anything, including the unpredictable weather. Plus scarlet seems warm and cozy, but also seems to convey style too – it doesn’t just say “wool”, for example. In a couple more verses, you hear more about her style.
Tidy/Elegant/Neat: “She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.” – She may not necessarily be trendy or rock expensive clothes, but she definitely maintains her style in appearance, and in her home. Personally, I think you are just more effective in life and relationships if you’re approachable in appearance. It also just helps me to be orderly and focused when I make an effort to change out of my pajamas in the morning, and tidy up the house (but no, it doesn’t happen every day).
Supportive/Submissive: “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.” – A husband that does well in life usually has a supportive wife at his side. It is hard to be well-respected if your own family doesn’t stand beside you. She doesn’t hold him back, but helps him move forward, especially by taking care of things at home. I truly believe this means that she is also submissive, and that the husband is the head of the household. Many women get offended at the word “submissive”, but it’s not only a biblical concept, it’s a word used to describe Jesus. It doesn’t mean the wife is a door mat, or is valued any less. She has a different role, but clearly this passage is meant to build her up just as much as her respected husband (keep reading the passage if you don’t believe me).
Humble: “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.” – She continues to work hard and make a profit. It’s not beneath her to work, or to be part of the business world, even though her husband is well-respected.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘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. Honor her for all that her works have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
The rest is self-explanatory, and a lot of these things apply to women in any stage or situation – strong, dignified, peaceful, joyful, wise, and hard-working. Her family respects her, too.
Reading these, I see a lot of things I want to work harder towards, but it also makes it a little more relatable. Do you see anything I missed? What surprises you about this passage?
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