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Proverbs 31:10-0 by Robert Dean
How's this woman's ad on a popular dating site? "Not afraid of hard work. Owns successful business. Invests money for maximum profit. Believes wife should help, enhance, and honor husband. Does everything with grace and kindness." Listen to this lesson to learn what the Bible says about the traits of an ideal wife and see how they're not the ones we usually think of today. Discover how the woman in Proverbs 31 cares for her family and those around her. Find out how her husband and children will praise her and she will be honored in Heaven.
Series:Proverbs (2013)
Duration:56 mins 26 secs

The Woman of Valor.  Proverbs 31:10-31

 

This is a chapter often ignored in a lot of contemporary discussions related to Christian values and Christian teaching on the role of men and women. Make no mistake. We are in crisis here and have been more impacted by the pagan viewpoints that have been promoted in our culture over the last 100 years than we are willing to admit. That is an increasing problem that is occurring within evangelical churches. And it doesn't just impact issues of what does it mean to be a woman and what does it mean to be a man, and what is the proper role and responsibility of men and women in marriage, and authority issues and things of that nature. It has spilled over, as perceptive people knew it would, into the whole issue of identification of gender.

 

From the point of the fall there was a fragmentation in mankind's understanding of the roles of men and women. When Eve listened to the serpent instead of staying under the umbrella of the authority of Adam she set a precedent for women acting independently of the authority of their husband. That is not a popular concept today but it is clearly taught in Scripture. But authority is so poorly understood in our culture today that when you hear somebody teach the biblical viewpoint balloons over some people's heads can almost be seen going up: that's so patriarchal, or that's so old fashioned.

 

Another problem is that even in the Christian community there is often a stereotypical pattern established for what men are supposed to do and what women are supposed to do that in and of itself is not necessarily biblical. It is often misrepresented that if you listen to the Bible women are just supposed to stay home and be barefoot and pregnant. That is a misrepresentation of Scripture.

 

Proverbs 31 looks at a different facet of the issue of the role of women. It is a glorious passage and is a challenge not only to women, in terms of setting a standard or goal for what a virtuous and valorous woman is like, but it is written in the context of a mother's advice to her son that this is the kind of woman he is to look for in a wife.

 

The chapter begins in verse 1, "The words of King Lemuel …" We don't know who King Lemuel was, his exact identity. "… the oracle which his mother taught him." This includes the entire chapter, not just the first nine verses. His mother is giving him guidance and direction on how to find a virtuous wife and what that woman looks like.

 

There are basically three sections in the chapter. The first is a general introduction in the first three verses. Verses 10-12 emphasize her value, that she is highly valued; she is rare. It is rare to find a woman who exhibits these qualities and characteristics. Women like this are out there and these values are attainable by every woman, especially one who is a church age believer filled by God the Holy Spirit and capable of pursuing spiritual maturity.

 

Then in vv. 13-27 we see the specifics of her life. In these specifics we come to understand what it means to be a virtuous or valorous woman, a woman of integrity. It is defined by her character and by her life.

 

Then there is a summary praised of the virtuous, valorous woman in vv. 28-31.

 

Proverbs 31:10 NASB "An excellent wife, who can find? …" The implication here is that it is rare, hard to find. "… For her worth is far above jewels. [11] The heart of her husband trusts in her …" Emphasis on the intimacy, the honesty and trust that takes place within this union because of her character and his. "… And he will have no lack of gain. [12] She does him good and not evil All the days of her life."

 

There is more to this than meets the eye in English. There is a lot that is going on in this particular poem that is almost untranslatable. The word chayil, translated "virtuous" is a word that can have a wide range of meanings and so it is difficult to find one English word that does it justice. That is why we have been saying "virtuous/valorous." There are different things that are indicated by the style, and one thing we should note is that Proverbs 31 is a poem that is written as an acrostic—a poem where each verse or line begins with the next letter in the alphabet. So the first line in Proverbs 31:10 begins with a word that starts with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet—aleph. The next verse begins with the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet—beth.

 

Some think that this is merely done in order to facilitate memory and memorization of the passage. But it was also done as a way of forcing the writer, as well as the reader, to think precisely about what is being said. When you are forced by the style of poetry to slow down and reflect upon how it is written and why it is written this way then you pay more attention to the context; we see more things.

 

The word chayil is often used in the context of war. It is a word that is often used to describe a warrior, a man of great courage and accomplishment on the battlefield; someone who has learned the skill of combat and excelled at that skill. So it is translated as valiant or courageous, valor, virtue, strength, wealth. It has a wide range of meaning, so it is not always easy to compress those senses into one English word. So this is a woman who is the personification of the application of wisdom, which is the main idea in the entire book of Proverbs. So this is a woman who has learned the Word of God and has worked at skillfully applying it in every area of life. She is competent. It is not simply a matter of virtue.

 

The NASB translates the term as a "godly woman." But that term in English gives more of the idea of a spiritually mature woman than a physically and economically competent woman. This is a woman who knows how to live life and live it well, not just a woman who has a great spiritual life but is engaged in her culture, in her community and commerce in a way that benefits all those who are around her. So it is not simply a matter of simple spiritual maturity.

 

Her value is said to be far above rubies in the KJV, but in the Hebrew it is peninim which is a word for corals. A coral was something very rare and valuable in the ancient world and so the emphasis here is that she is a rarity. It is not usual, not common to find a woman who exhibits these qualities. There is one woman in the Scriptures, though, who is mentioned as being a chayil woman, and that is Ruth (Ruth 3:11). What we see here is that this woman is a valiant, trustworthy woman. She is energetic, she works hard not only in the home but outside of the home; she is resourceful, which leads to economic prosperity and wealth. We see a sense in which all of her efforts are oriented towards the success of the family and the prestige and influence of her husband is enhanced. That is an important principle to learn.

 

We live in an age today when individuality has been so overstressed in many areas that the concept of marriage as a team effort has often been lost. It only takes one person to destroy a marriage but it takes two to make that marriage successful. When they are working together towards the standard of having a successful marriage to the glory of God they can achieve that. But if the substitute individual goals and individual agendas for the biblical goal of a solid spiritually based marriage they run the risk of it collapsing and falling apart.

 

"The heart of her husband trusts in her …" This is the Hebrew word batach which means to trust or rely on someone, or to have confidence in someone. In all but one other use of this word in the Scripture it emphasizes trust in God. Outside of this particular verse and Judges 20:36 the Scripture condemns trust in anyone or anything apart from God.

She is so faithful and trustworthy within the family that her husband relies and has great confidence in her. She herself is one who fears the Lord and because of her spiritual and physical confidence this also implies a rich spiritual relationship between the husband and the wife.

 

The second part presents the cause of his trust. "… And he will have no lack of gain." Here we have an interesting word, one that is normally used to refer to the spoils of war. It pictures that what she is doing is engaging within the home and outside of the home in something analogous to a combat relationship in order to win spoils for the benefit of the family. As a result, we are told in verse 12 in summary, "She does him good and not evil." The word translated "good" is the Hebrew word tob, which does not in and of itself imply moral goodness or righteousness. When God created the heavens and the earth He said that they were good. They were neither moral nor immoral, they are what He intended them to be. That is the core meaning of the word. Later on when  God talks about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden the word tob is used in juxtaposition with ra, the word for evil. So then it picks up from the context a moral connotation. But here in Proverbs we see that it is emphasizing what she does for him. She does him good; she does that which benefits him and which benefits the family. It is the family and the prosperity of the family that is the goal in her decisions. And she does it "All the days of her life." There is a consistency here, a pattern that goes throughout her life. It characterizes her relationship with him.

 

At this point the poem goes on into some specifics to itemize the deeds of the virtuous, valiant woman. This shows that she is valuable, not just to herself, not just to her husband, but her industriousness overflows to be a blessing to the community around her. She contributes in such a way that it ultimately leads to the blessing for her husband and empowers him to a position of influence and leadership in the entire land. In fact, what we see here is a great illustration of the idea first presented in Genesis chapter two, that the woman is the helper for the husband. He is the one given the mission, the responsibility, and her role is to enhance and aid him in accomplishing God's will and plan for his life. We see in Deuteronomy 33:29 that same word azar is used in reference to God: NASB "Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, Who is the shield of your help [azar]...." In the Old Testament that word azar is only applied to one other person—God. God is consistently referred to as out help. This is not a position of subservience but a tremendous position of honor.

 

The word is also used in a compound word, Ebenezer, in 1 Samuel 7:12 where Samuel and Israel are under attack by the Philistines. They had already been defeated by the Philistines in the past and now they fear for their lives. The Israelite army begs Samuel to pray to God to give them victory. Samuel offers a sacrifice and prays for God's protection. God responds and gives the Israelite army victory. The Philistines suffer a massive loss and retreat back into their own territory. Then we are told that after the battle Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer [eben = rock; ezer = help]. It was a stone memorial to remind Jews that God is the one who helps them. And he says, "Thus far the LORD has helped us."

 

This word shows up in a hymn we sing, and often words in some hymns strike us as a little odd because we are not biblically literate enough to understand what is being said. In the second verse of the hymn Come thou fount of every blessing, by Robert Robinson in 1758, are the words "Here I raise my Ebenezer". A lot of people sing that and the only Ebenezer they know of is Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens' Christmas Carol. But what he is saying here is that just as the Jews in the Old Testament raised the monument to the fact that God had helped them at this point, so far in life I have gotten to this point because God has helped me, and He is the only one to help me. This is reinforced in the next line in that verse, "Here by Thy great help I've come."

 

So the role of the virtuous wife is to enhance the husband to make him a success in pursuing God's calling upon his life.

We see the emphasis here on what she does in the home. Proverbs 31:13 NASB "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."

 

A little bit in terms of the organization here. We see a parallel between vv. 13-15 in terms of vocabulary with the next three-verse set. Her hand/palms are mentioned in verse 13, trade is mentioned in verse 14, at night is mentioned in verse 15. Then hands/palms are mentioned again in verse 16, trading in verse 17 and the first part of 18, and then night is mentioned again in verse 18. By organizing it this way these key terms expose for us the close connection between these six verses as they talk about her industriousness and her economic value to the household.

 

She labors. Obviously this is more of an aristocratic woman because she has maidservants. So it is a successful household that has been very prosperous but she is not above doing the labor. Once again we see reflected in this the emphasis in the Scripture on the value of individual labor, the individual laborer, and the importance of taking care of one's self through hard work—the economic value of that. "She looks for wool and flax." This indicates two different kinds of material used in the production of clothing. She is using these two materials in order to weave them together and create textiles for the purpose of clothing. So she has a business that is within the home. It would be wrong to press that too far because we live in a very different culture than they did. At that time almost everything was done within the home or close to the home.

 

She is involved in production here and the sale of what is produced. This is what is known as capitalism. She has invested in these products, she works, and then she sells those products and makes a profit. There is nothing wrong with making a profit. And she uses that profit to make even more money. She makes it to invest it in other things to make even more money to enhance the economic prosperity of the home. But it is based upon the value of labor, not on the assumption that somehow somebody is going to come in and take care of me. 

As a result of this we read, "She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar." This verse links the manufacturing of textiles to her trade. She has developed a certain profit from her weaving industry and she uses that in order to seek out food for the family. This is not a matter of going down to the local markets and getting local produce but she is seeking foreign delicacies. Because she has worked hard and made a greater profit so that now she is able to use this to buy a greater variety of food for her family. The word "food" here is lechem.

 

Then we read in verse 15 that after planning and executing her various trades to buy food and nourishment for the family there is a shift in the image from the person who is the trader to the prowling lioness on the hunt. (We don't see that in the English)  "She rises also while it is still night …" This isn't depicting the fact that she is just an early riser and getting a start on the day before anyone else. It is the idea that she is seeking prey. The word translated "food" in this verse is prey. She is pictured as a hunter, like a lioness going out at night as a predator seeking provisions for her family. The providing of food for her family is based on her ingenuity, industriousness and her ability to go out and hunt, and work hard to provide the needs of the family.  "… And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens." She provides for those who work for her. This is an implication here from Scripture that part of the job for an employer is to provide well for those who help him be a success.

 

She has accumulated a certain amount of wealth as a result of her industriousness, and so what is she going to do with this capital? She is going to invest it—vv.16-18. 

Proverbs 31:16 NASB "She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard." From her profits. So man y people think it is wrong for people or corporations to make profits or for people to advance in wealth. Yet the Bible emphasizes that. In fact, the gospel and missionary activity has expanded throughout the world because numerous people of wealth have used their wealth to contribute to and support missions. [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."

 

The word "considers" is the Hebrew word zamam, a word that indicates investigation, study. She goes out and look at available real estate and she is going to make sure it is a good purchase. She investigates and makes sure of all the different things that would make her investment in the land profitable. She then plants her vineyard. So she is expanding her business and giving it thought.

 

Girding herself with strength and strengthening her arms is a picture of the fact that she is involved herself in the labor, not just hiring others to do the work. She is applying everything she has in order to make her venture successful. She "senses" that her merchandise is good. This is the Hebrew word taam meaning to taste or to enjoy, and in this context she is enjoying the fruits of her own labor. "Her lamp does not go out at night" is an interesting idiom. Scripture teaches that it is not wise to work late into the night (Psalm 127:2), especially if you arise while it is still dark. We need to have the proper amount of sleep. So this is not a literal phrase saying that her lamp doesn't go out all night but it is related to a proverbial idiom in the ancient world that indicates that if you are poor you can't afford oil for your lamp. Her lamp not going out at night indicates that she has the resources to keep it going all night. It is a metaphor for the fact that there is always enough money in the house. 

 

Proverbs 31:19 NASB "She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle." This brings to a conclusion the emphasis on her cottage industry at home and lays a foundation for going forward. These are different parts of the spinning wheel creating the textiles.

 

Then the result of her prosperity. Proverbs 31:20 NASB "She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy." Poor people don't give money to causes. Poor people don't hire people for jobs. Those who have wealth supply wealth for many different causes. 

 

Proverbs 31:21 NASB "She is not afraid of the snow for her household …" She is prepared for disasters. "… For all her household are clothed with scarlet." You don't have scarlet linen because it doesn't hold the dye well. This is wool, which is more expensive, so they are well clothed with expensive clothing. [22] "She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple." Purple stands for the kind of clothing—purple wool—so again it is emphasizing the value of her clothing. She is clothed well against the elements.

 

The focal point of all this. Proverbs 31:23 NASB "Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land." The emphasis here is that because of her effort it has enhanced her husband's position in the community, and it enables him to better do what he is doing to fulfill the call of God in his life. 

 

Proverbs 31:24 NASB "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." The emphasis here shifts from what she does to who she is. What she does is a result of her internal character. She will have joy in view of what is to come. She is not afraid of what might happen in the future.

 

Proverbs 31:26 NASB "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."

 

All of this is structured in a way that shows that she is bringing blessing upon her household and upon her husband. It isn't just about her becoming a financial success on her own; it is for the purpose of enhancing the family and her husband. 

 

She is involved in charitable causes, taking care of those who are truly in need. In then Mosaic Law there was a minor safety net in terms of the tithe taken up every third year, but primarily it was the responsibility of individuals to take care of the poor and the widows. It was not a government program. Once you shift to a government program it destroys individual incentive and an individual sense of responsibility for taking care of those who are less fortunate.

 

The 21st verse indicates that she is prepared for adversity, both physically as well as spiritually. "… For all her household are clothed with scarlet." They had been properly prepared for whatever negative things and adversity might come. Verses 22 and 23 emphasize the fact that she has provided for herself and that her reputation also enhances her husband's reputation. The reason gates are mentioned is that in the ancient world a lot of the commerce was conducted and where the courts would sit were at the gates. So her "husband is known in the gates" means that his wisdom and advice is sought after. He has a position of power and influence. That isn't because of her but it is enhanced by what she does.

 

In vv. 28-31 we see that because of her emphasis on, first, spiritual values and wisdom and the way that works itself out in terms of application, she receives glory and honor from her children. 

 

Proverbs 31:28 NASB "Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband {also,} and he praises her, {saying:}…" Because what she has done is sacrifice and give of herself for the benefit of the family. And it is responded to in gratitude.

 

Proverbs 31:29 NASB "Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all." He values his wife for what she has done—her contribution to the family—and he praises her for that.

 

The focus at the end is on the real value, which is eternal: charm, external activities and beauty, are passing; they are temporary and don't last. The real value is the spiritual value: the woman who fears the Lord.

 

Proverbs 31:30 NASB "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 …" The right to enjoy the fruit of her labor. "… And let her works praise her in the gates." Her accomplishments at the end of her life is what will bring her eternal respect, value and rewards because of what she has done.