Today’s reading is Proverbs 31.
Proverbs 31 is known for “The Proverbs 31 Woman,” aka the “wife of noble character,” who is described in verses 10-31. It is, of course, fair that this chapter is known for the woman described here. After all, 2/3rds of the verses in this chapter are given to describing her.
I would point out that many of the qualities described in this section are applicable to men and women. Both men and women should be:
- beneficial to family (v. 12: “brings... good not harm”)
- kind to the poor (v. 20)
- hardworking (vv. 13, 15, 17, 19, 27)
- productive (vv. 14, 16, 18)
- prepared (vv. 21-22, 25)
- wise (v. 26)
- God-fearing (v. 30b)
So, when I read this passage, I see more than the description of a great woman. I see the description of what a godly life looks like when lived by a woman. You might call it a feminine portrayal of godliness or, better, a godly life applied specifically to women in daily Old Testament life.
Some of what is described here would have been considered “typical” for women in the time and situation when this was written. For instance, providing “food for her family” (v. 15b), making sure her family has warm clothing (v. 21), and watching “over the affairs of her household” (v. 27) were all considered women’s responsibilities. In many ways, they still are “typical” for women in our times.
But notice that this woman does many things which were not considered “typical” for women, especially in the Old Testament. The women described in this chapter is a first-rate businessperson according to verses 16, 18, 24. Many people who talk about the biblical role of women today don’t seem to notice this particular detail. Also, verse 26 says, “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” In a world where women were confined to an outer place in the temple and, later, to the back of the synagogue, one might not expect a woman to be wise and insightful, but she was.
Also notice that this exceptional woman is not forced to be exceptional because she is married to loser. Instead, “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (v. 23) and he “has full confidence in her” (v. 11a). The point is that this couple makes quite a team! The husband is himself faithful, hardworking, and successful but he is even more successful and resourceful because his wife takes care of business at home and even outside the home as well.
Already I have written more about this passage than I intended, but I never read it without (a) giving thanks for my wife Suzanne who fits the description in these verses and (b) thinking about what a slacker I am compared to this remarkable woman. Guys: this passage gives us a lot to think about for ourselves. Look to your own life before you start judging your wife by these words.
But please indulge me as I come to the real point I wanted to make in this devotional. It is Saturday, after all, so you probably have some extra time to read and think today. So, consider this:
The description of this woman was given in a particular context. The author of this chapter, King Lemuel (v. 1) was trying to give good life-advice to his son, presumably the future king. Lemuel prayed (v. 2b) for his son. Having received him, he urged him to be wise about how he lived his life. Lemuel’s concern was that his son would become a lazy, self-indulgent man. Because he was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” (as they say), he might live for himself. Because he was a child of wealth, power, and privilege, it would be easy for him to make bad decisions that were pleasurable in the moment. Specifically, he could get involved with women who had loose morals and low character (v. 3) and he could spend his days getting drunk (vv. 4-7).
A prince of a guy like Lemuel’s son would probably find it easy to meet beautiful girls who would do and say anything to get with him. Win the future king’s heart and she would be set for life. Likewise, guys who wanted an easy route in life would show up with booze to share with the future king in hopes that they, his drinking buddies from way back, would get high paying, low stress jobs in his administration.
So the description of the wife of noble character in this chapter, while giving us all much to aspire to, was really designed to sober up (pun kind of intended) a young man destined for leadership. It was designed to get him to be wise about his choice of spouse. Don’t look for a beautiful girl who is easy, Lemuel was saying. Look hard for one of those precious ones (v. 10) who loves the Lord (v. 30), cares about people (v. 20), will nurture her family (vv. 14-15, 21) and will be a supportive, hardworking partner with you to build a successful life (vv. 28-31).
Beauty and godliness are not mutually exclusive. But there are great looking people--both men and women--who have low moral character. If we choose a partner in life based on looks alone or based on looks and personality, we are making a serious decision based on very weak grounds (v. 30a). A well-lived life depends on forming a strong partnership with someone you’re attracted to physically who also walks with God and works with you to make the most of whatever God allows into your life (v. 30b). I think my wife is gorgeous; I always have. I was attracted to her the first time I saw her and that has not changed. But I knew plenty of attractive girls before I met Suzanne who seemed to like me but didn’t care so much for the Lord. I kept looking for a godly, wise, and gifted young woman who was also attractive to me. When I found her, I kept pursuing her until she decided she wanted to be with me. Some of the girls I knew when I was single have made good choices and built admirable lives; Lemuel acknowledged in verse 29 that there are plenty of good women out there. But this entire chapter beckons to us all—men and women--to aspire to much more than a pretty good life. It calls us to be men (vv. 1-9, 23) and women (vv. 10-31) who take life seriously as believers in God and work together as a couple to build a praise-worthy union (vv. 28-29, 31).
Are you working with your spouse on that? Or are your wasting your time in self-indulgent behavior such as mindlessly watching TV for hours, undisciplined consumption of food and/or alcohol, dabbling in sinful pleasures, and making shallow, short-term decisions? The beginning of a new year, which arrives on Monday, gives us a chance to look at our lives and change them based on the wisdom we find in this chapter.
And, don’t forget to give your children a vision of what a well-lived life looks like. Encourage them to think about the long-term consequences of their choices in life and to make wise and godly choices.
May God use this convicting chapter as a means of grace to us, calling us to a higher way of living for his glory.