Friday, May 25, 2012

The Proverbs 31 Wife

There are many women who are dedicated to being good wives yet still feel they could never match up to the superwoman described in Proverbs 31.

Are the goals we see described in Proverbs 31 attainable or merely set forth for our envy and discouragement?  Does God’s Word set up standards that are impossible to achieve? 

Absolutely not! :)

The same God who inspired Proverbs 31 also said:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)
and through Moses and Peter:
Be holy, because I am holy”  (Lev. 11:44, 1 Pet. 1:16).

We can rest assured knowing that where God sets the standard, he also supplies the power to reach that standard.
That is huge so let me repeat:

Where God sets the standard  

He supplies the power to get there.
I think that the desire to be a godly woman gets a bit frustrated somewhere between the loom on which this woman weaves her family’s clothes and her lamp that never goes out. 

If we focus only on the many jobs this woman occupies her time with, we will fail to pay attention to the extremely important role that wisdom plays within the entire book and ultimately culminates with chapter 31.

I see a lot of evidence that seems to point to the Proverbs 31 woman representing a wise and mature woman.  Her work is a testimony to the understanding she has obtained through wisdom. 

This is good news because this same wisdom is accessible to all Christian women through asking God for it. Through  knowing the Lord, we are transformed to his character through the renewing of our minds.

When studying Proverbs 31, let's not forget that the book as a whole is written by a father admonishing his son not to give in to the sinful lusts that would most certainly come to tempt him one day. The book emphasises choosing wisdom over folly and a life-giving chaste woman over a death-loving whore.

All through the book, we see that the one being addressed is the young man (“my son”) and not the young woman, focusing on his need to get wisdom and shun foolishness.

The conclusion climaxes in verse 23 which emphasizes not the wife, but the husband. This establishes the essential point of the book: this is the kind of woman a man needs in order to be successful. 

Reading it as a woman is like listening in on a private conversation between God and men.  Even though it is not directly addressed to women, the lessons are there for us anyway. We learn from the descriptions of the froward woman just as much as the priceless one.

I think there are some key elements about the woman described in chapter 31 that we need to give some special consideration to.
Super Woman or Mature Woman?

The woman portrayed in the text appears to me to be mature rather than a newlywed. Her confidence and skill are an indication of the experience she has gained over time. Few new brides ever execute this amount of wisdom right out of the chute. 

But they can ultimately expect to achieve exquisite proficiency when they love wisdom and hate evil. Homemaking skills take practice; wisdom and understanding increase as a woman commits her way unto the Lord.

Her Husband's Prestige

We should also take note of her husband who is qualified for the respect he receives in the gates. This does not depict the typical young man in his twenties but rather a more established man who has benefited by his wife’s superb management of their home.

A wife’s practice of godly wisdom does not rely on having a godly or successful husband.

Wives in less than ideal marriages are still capable of reaching for wisdom and exercising prudence, productivity and knowledge.

Both husband and wife can create an environment that enhances the potential of the other - but that doesn’t guarantee success or wisdom in either case.

The Lord God is the giver of wisdom and believers can gain it both by applying their hearts to it and by asking the father who gives to all men liberally.

James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
What about her servants?

Today, modern women have “electric” servants. In the days of the Proverbs 31 woman, it was extremely demanding to clothe and feed a household.

Today we have readymade clothes, canned goods and spices, running water and indoor bathrooms. Back then, it was common for a woman to have young girls in her employ in order to accomplish all the things we take for granted today.

Shouldering the management and training of her servants took quite a bit of organization and skill. Similarly, we can seek to run our “electric” servants within a decent time frame to keep our household running smoothly.

Our children are also wonderful helpers God has given us to help with the workload and a wise mother will teach them to help as soon as they can walk, not expecting any real help at that age, but in years to come.

She Strengthens her Arms

While a healthy body is valuable, and we do want to be physically attractive to our husbands, the air-brushed models so prevalently displayed and admired in our society cause most women feel defeated by an impossible standard. 

But (hooray) the woman in Pr 31 is not depicted as physically beautiful. Not even once. She is characterized and praised by her fear of the Lord (which resulted in wisdom).
That is where true beauty comes from - within.

Pr 31:29-30 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.

The key to understanding Proverbs 31

The entire poem can be summed up in one sentence: the virtous wife is a woman who fears the Lord. Her work and industry testifies of the joy in her heart. All of her wise shopping and care for her husband children and household were the byproduct of her primary focus. What differentiates the wise woman of Proverbs 31 from her counterpart? Her  fear of the Lord.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.  Pr 1:7  

The wise woman lives in obedience to God and therefore submits to her husband for the Lord’s sake.

How does a woman’s fear of the Lord make her different from other accomplished homemakers?

1) Her primary focus is on the Lord.

She looks to the Lord for strength to fulfill her calling in life as a wife and mother. We mustn’t make the mistake to look to vs. 23 where her “children arise and call her blessed” as our end goal. That is the praise of man. We may never receive that kind of tribute or adulation. If a woman works with hope of praise from others in this life she misses the promise of reward in the next. (Matt 6:1-5)

2) She hates evil.
She deliberately shuns foolishness and folly and anything that can be construed as sinful. Her fear of the Lord guides her steps and keeps her on the path of righteousness.  

A household that is led by a godly, upright man, shunning evil might be comparatively easy. But what of the woman who is to exemplify holiness when other members of her household have no such interest? She is confronted with evil on a daily basis.

Scripture addresses such a woman in 1 Peter 3, advising her to live out her faith by being in subjection to her husband and with her chaste conversation. There are numerous examples in scripture, however, where God affirmed His people who refused to obey men when to do so meant to disobey God. 

So it follows that the husband’s authority over his wife is limited ultimately to the Lord himself. A wife who commits sin in obedience to her husband would be disobeying Christ, her higher authority. In doing so she would be violating Peter’s earlier command to be holy as God Himself is holy.

But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation. 1 Peter 1:15

3) She’s compassionate, generous and fair.

A wife who fears the Lord treats all with compassion and fairness. God warns in Mal 3:5,
“And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against…those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.”
Because she fears the Lord, the Proverbs 31 woman distributes what is owed to those who work for her and gives generously to the needy and poor.

4) She delights in the Lord’s commands.

Scripture establishes that those who fear the Lord not only obey his commands but take pleasure in doing so. The psalmist wrote, “Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.”

(Ps 112:1) This joy – joy in and from the Lord – belongs to the wife who fears the Lord. Whatever a wife’s duties are -- whether she sews her family’s clothes or shops for them -- providing with a joyful spirit out of service to the Lord places her in the same category as a Proverbs 31 woman.

When her environment is difficult, her delight in the Lord becomes more crucial than ever, giving her strength to endure without yielding to depression or sinful anger.

When her home environment is less than inspiring, her family members unappreciative or financial pressures escalate, she can take comfort from the inner joy that comes from the Holy Spirit’s comfort that her worth is far above rubies in the sight of the Lord.

5) She is teachable. 

A woman who fears the Lord is wise and therefore continues to grow in knowledge and understanding. A young bridegroom should not expect to find the finished product standing beside him at the altar.

However he will have his treasure in due time if his wife’s heart is committed to learning and fearing the Lord. She will find her husband to be a precious blessing if he has chosen to do the same.

The truly wise are not “wise in their own eyes” but rather will recognize and depend upon their need of the life giving water and wisdom from God.  Proverbs 31 ends with an admonition that the godly wife deserves to be praised. Before praise, however, comes a humble spirit that is teachable.

6) She is a peacemaker.

Whoever fears the Lord strives for peace. Is there a household that exists where squabbles don't arise? The wise woman prepares her heart to respond to the inevitable disturbances within her home with discretion and love.

She does not sacrifice truth for peace, but “keeps her tongue from evil and her lips from speaking lies”. This kind of woman does not just tell her children to live in peace, she exemplifies it in her speech, her tone of voice, her manner and her kindnesses.

The encouragement of Ruth's story

There is much to learn from Ruth, the widowed Moabitess. It's a rather short, fascinating book. If you haven't read it yet, you are in for a real blessing. Like the woman in Pr 31, Ruth left a legacy of being “a woman of virtous character”. And yet, there are many contrasts between Ruth and the Proverbs 31 woman.

Contrasts between Two Virtuous Bible Women:
Ruth and Mrs. Proverbs 31
  1. The Pr 31 woman had a husband, children and servants who called her “blessed” whereas at the time when Ruth was praised, she was a childless widow who hadn't had the opportunity to test her child raising skills.
  2. The Pr 31 woman had wealth and resources to invest and further her husband's financial enterprises. Ruth was a penniless gleaner who gathered in fields where others left behind.
  3. The Pr 31 woman’s faith and wisdom testifies of a godly upbringing. In contrast, Ruth was raised among Pagan gods.

Yet both women were declared virtuous. What was the common thread? They both feared the Lord. Ruth made up her mind to follow the covenant God of the Israelites and even though inexperienced and new to the land and the religion, she quickly - and I mean quickly - earned the reputation of being a righteous woman.

I find it very encouraging that being a Proverbs 31 woman is not out of the scope of any woman who fears the Lord and applies her heart to wisdom and understanding. Isn't that exciting?

As Ruth exampled for us all, whatever background you have, when you commit your path to God and fear and serve him with joy and gratitude, your life can be transformed. This glorifies the Lord and gives us hope for an eternal reward!

Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope. Ps 119:116

If we read Proverbs - the whole book, rather than focusing just on the culmination of it in chapter 31 - we can see that it is a life spent loving and knowing the Lord and shunning foolishness that is at the heart of the Proverbs 31 woman. 

No matter where you are on your journey, you can begin right now, today, to fear the Lord, ask him for wisdom and become busy at home.  The world will tell us there is value in who we are.  But Scripture tells us the only thing worth boasting of is Christ alone.

It is an innate instinct to value and cherish someone who loves God, gives selflessly, works hard and forgives easily. 

These are the traits of a Godly woman and the ingredients of one whose children will one day rise and call her blessed.

If this article was a blessing to you in some measure, I would love to hear from you in the comments section below. 


Melissa Mobley said...

I'm not sure if you check your comments anymore but I wanted to let you know that your take on the Proverbs 31 woman and her similarities and differences with Ruth were fascinating. No matter if we have many resources or few we can be a virtuous woman by fearing God and seeking His wisdom! Thank you!

Simply Keeping Home said...

I am super late checking my blog, but just wanted to say thank you so much for your comment Melissa! We serve such an amazing God who gives us what we need and is so gracious! His yoke is easy and his burden is light! :)

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