Posted On January 6, 2022

The Proverbs 31 Woman

by | Jan 6, 2022 | Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

The Proverbs 31 Woman

The Proverbs 31 woman has what seems like an endless list of expectations—the A to Z of spiritual etiquette. This list of virtues appears unrealistic for any mortal to accomplish, causing some women to feel inadequate. Yet this must never be the case. First, Proverbs 31 was written to men to describe the kind of woman who would make a good wife. Jewish men memorized this Proverb as an ode to their wives. Second, it did not condemn where a woman fell short but rather celebrated every woman created in God’s image. The characteristics in Proverbs 31 are like beautiful pearls strung together on a priceless necklace. Not every woman has them all, but here’s what it would look like if she did. Also, realize that in the Hebrew Bible, the book of Ruth follows immediately after the book of Proverbs. So, when we look for an example of the Proverbs 31 woman, she’s already there in Scripture. We simply have to turn the page. The phrase “an excellent woman” is even used of Ruth before she marries, before she has children, and before she gains great wealth and honor (Ruth 3:11). You can be an excellent woman without any of those things, as Proverbs 31 applies to every woman who walks worthy of her God.

Still, we must talk about marriage, for the kind of wife you are or the kind of woman you marry will either build up or tear down your house (Prov 14:1). Also, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones” (12:4). A wife can be a crown or a cancer—a blessing or a burden.

Trustworthy

First, a godly wife is worthy of trust: “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:10-12). The excellent or valiant wife is hard to find. Like a precious jewel, she must be cherished by her husband (3:15; Eph 5:29; 1 Pet 3:1-6): “Don’t let this one get away!” He trusts his heart to her completely. His whole body, mind, and soul depend upon his wife. Elsewhere in the Bible, only God is to be trusted with all one’s heart (2 Kgs 18:21). Yet the exception is made here for the excellent wife who fears the Lord because you can trust the one who trusts in God. The husband of a godly wife will receive great blessing and no lack of gain. Everything she does for him is good—spiritually and physically beneficial. She doubles his quality of life, business pursuits, and ministry efforts. This she does for all the days of her life until the parting of death.

Men, consider the blessing of your wife, how you rely on her, and how often she does you good, not harm. Think of all the ways you trust your wife in managing the home and caring for the children. There are hundreds of things you don’t even think about because you trust your wife. Consider also your spiritual well-being. Your godly wife discerns when to be patient and when to speak up. She fills herself with the Word of God to help you lead the family well. A godly wife is worthy of trust.

Purposeful

Second, a godly wife is a woman of purpose. Consider all the work she does in this passage. Her gross domestic product is like a small country. She brings in revenue for the family: “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands” (Prov 31:13). She doesn’t complain about a little hard work shearing sheep and harvesting crops. Her hands take pleasure in crafting clothes. “She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar” (v. 14). It took vast planning, coordination, and financial backing to send a merchant vessel across the seas in ancient times. So, this woman is creatively industrious. She has goods to trade and many connections in the field of commerce. She buys food and brings it to the house. It does not just appear out of nowhere. All this benefits her family with exotic cuisine that is hard to find in other homes. She adds spice and variety to the dinner table. “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens” (v. 15). She puts the well-being of the household before her own comfort. The godly wife is not a lazy sluggard (26:14), but wakes up early to care for her household. In today’s parlance, she cooks and cleans, shuttles kids and shopping for groceries, helps the needy, and serves the neighbors. She is teaching her children, supporting her husband, and praying for sisters in the church. She stays up late with sick kids and wakes up early to feed the baby. She is efficient and organized. She plans out her chores. Yet her life is more than a daily to-do list—an endless cycle of mundane tasks, for she does all her work in fear of the Lord (31:30). She serves the Lord by serving others.

She understands the glory of the ordinary as once displayed in a filthy stable with blue-collar parents from a nowhere-town like Nazareth. Our Lord Jesus, as an itinerant preacher, grew up into the daily grind of having to find food and a place to sleep, commuting to and fro with disciples who constantly complained and fought amongst themselves. Mothers, your children don’t need a Star of Bethlehem example, because most of their lives will be unspectacular. They will bring their own children to school and sporting events one day. They will deal with their own leaking roofs and broken appliances. They will spend the majority of their lives in the mundane. Yet, in Christ, they will find glory in the ordinary and serve others in the everyday crevices of life. One startling truth in this passage is the abundance of military terms to describe the valiant wife. Perhaps it is for her combat in the everyday ordinariness of life as she stands on the front lines of a spiritual skirmish. She battles boredom and discontentment, and frustration in the little things of life. She fights to fear the Lord by the way she serves her family.

Wives, listen to the wisdom of Proverbs 31. You don’t need a vacation or a maid or a preschool or the lottery or two free hours without distraction for a little bit of “me” time. In the chaos of everyday life, what you need most of all is total reliance on Jesus Christ. All those other blessings are good in their place, but where you turn amid a battle reveals what you worship. Your god is what you say will save you. The messy husband, screaming kids, bills to pay, and the seemingly never-ending list of chores may be God’s grace to lead you into total reliance on him. So do whatever it takes to find the glory in the ordinary.

The excellent wife also “considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard” (v. 16). She is wise with money and savvy in the marketplace. She knows just how much things are worth and how to find a deal. She doesn’t simply sit on her earnings but turns them into greater profit. Planting a vineyard takes strategic planning,[1] but she spends their money wisely and never fails to follow through. “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong” (v. 17)—not from frequenting the fitness center, but from working in the fields. “She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night” (v. 18). She works all day diligently long to bring profit to her family. The food on the table, the clothes on their backs, the honor given to her husband, the security of wealth: All depict the fruit of her labor. She keeps the lights on to finish her work, and her work is what keeps the lights on. Proverbs 31 then zooms in at verse 19, “She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.” These tools were like an ancient sewing machine. So, this woman would skillfully select strands of wool and flax, then pull them back-and-forth across the spindle to weave multi-layered garments. Her thread count speaks of quality, for the godly wife is purposefully diligent.

Men, have you created a culture where your wife can flourish in your home? Can she take calculated risks without being intimidated by your criticism? Are you an authoritarian control freak or a servant leader? According to 1 Peter 3:7, “Live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Your believing wife is just as much an heir of grace as you are. She has been given talents and gifts to serve the Lord. But you must treat her as your wife, not just like one of your guy friends. Hopefully, you have learned early on in marriage how to live with her in an understanding way.

Compassionate

The excellent wife cares for her own family, but also for the poor: “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (Prov 31:20). Her compassion overflows beyond the home as she gives generously to those in need (14:21). She not only has concern for the poor but also the means by which to help them. Her desire to be generous motivates her work (Eph 4:28; Jas 2:14-26). This excellent wife can also afford to care for others because she has already provided for her family: “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple” (Prov 31:21-22). The godly woman must be wisely frugal, while still possessing an eye for beauty and excellence. Fine clothes and elegant décor are not without their virtues. Red reveals the color of wealth—a crimson display of costly wool. Purple displays the color of royalty and fine linen, the stuff of kings. Yet the Proverbs do not simply instruct us regarding fashion sense or interior decoration. The point is not color and style but rather the extravagance expended. Her family’s clothing and their bedcovers are of the highest quality. So, if she could afford such costly material, she could certainly keep them warm. Instead of worrying, she prepares for winter. She is fearless of the future because she fears the Lord and nothing else (v. 30).

Helpful

Then in verse 23, “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.” He is well-respected by his peers, one of the city’s leaders. He has achieved that position not merely on his merits but with the help of his wife. He can serve on the city council without worrying about his home. He is not embarrassed by her but blessed. She even compensates for his areas of weakness. She plays the Ruth to his Boaz (e.g., Ruth 3:11)— Abigail to his David (e.g., 1 Sam 25)—the Priscilla to his Aquila (e.g., Acts 18).

How does she do this? Men, you might become a snappier dresser due to your wife. You might eat better and with more variety when you trust the menu to her. Your home will become a welcome place of hospitality and friends, no longer the bachelor pad with ratty furniture and posters on the walls. Your wife will be your conversation partner and your companion to laugh with you through adventures. She will be your intimate lover (Prov 5:15-19), the mother of your children, and the greatest influence in their lives. A godly wife will also pray for her husband and contribute sound wisdom to his decisions. Yet she will sometimes stand in the way of his attempted folly or whisper correction in his ear to keep him from shame. She forgives him when he fails and applauds when he succeeds. A godly wife, in all respects, is a helper to her husband. The chiasm in this passage focuses on declaring her husband as highly regarded among the people (31:23). An excellent woman is the kind of wife a man must have to be successful. Remember, this instruction was written not to young women (about the kind of wife they should be) but to young men (the kind of wife they must find). Men, does your wife make you a better person? That’s the mark of a godly wife.

Faithful

Verse 24 again returns to the subject of her diligence: “She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.” She makes an excess of fine clothing that she can sell for a profit. Thus, she is confident in the future: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (v. 25). She’s not afraid of hard times, even scoffing at the challenge. Her godly character will bring her family through the most difficult of trials. To be clothed with strength and dignity speaks of godly character displayed by conduct (see 1 Tim 2:9-10; Col 3:8-14). This woman of faith takes shelter in the God she trusts.

You cannot fully know the value of your wife on your wedding day. Wedding vows are more the promise of future love, not a declaration of present feelings. For no matter how you feel on your wedding day, you have no idea what will happen throughout your marriage. Wedding vows promise to love “for better or for worse” without yet realizing how bad the worse can get. Marriage is not simply about being “in love,” for there may be times when you are overwhelmingly “in love” and other times when you don’t even feel like you want to be married. Covenant marriage is a promise to love and to cherish even when it’s hard. So, men, a godly wife is one who stays and who carries your family through the difficult times by her confidence in the Lord.[2] Think about the worst hardship your family has ever had to face and consider your wife’s positive efforts to hold it all together. Remember her strength and dignity in the trial and be especially grateful if you were the reason for her hardship.

Wise and Kind

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov 31:26). She teaches her children in the home and blesses others with her insight. She informs her instruction with the wisdom of Proverbs. Men, consider the influence of a godly wife. Other women she mentors will seek her wisdom. She will shape your children in their formative years. She will even counsel you from time to time. Listen to her wisdom (12:15). For a godly woman speaks truth and does so with great kindness. A godly woman does not tongue-tie circles around her husband but speaks the truth in love (Eph 4:29). She is not quarrelsome as in Proverbs 19:13b, “A wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain”—a driving torrent of nagging rain (see 27:15-16). It’s like the old joke: If a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman around to correct him, is he still wrong? The quarrelsome wife will always find something to complain about. Thus, “it is better to live in the corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife” (21:9; see v. 19; 25:24). If you’re always fighting with your spouse, bedtimes get really uncomfortable, and it’s hard to stay warm when your spouse is frigid. So, if you do quarrel, keep short accounts (see Eph 4:26-27). It is better to lose the argument than to lose your spouse.

Proverbs 31:27 then sums up her purpose in work: “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” A godly wife will manage her home well. All that she does is wise. She is never lazy, and if you doubt this, men, try trading places for a day. Whenever I catch myself grumbling about things to do around the house, it always helps to remind myself of the many ways my wife blesses our home.

Godly

The excellent wife is also known for her godly character. Her family praises her: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all” (Vv. 28-29). As far as her family is concerned, she is the greatest wife and mother in the world. Children, are you thankful for all that your mother does? It may not be Mother’s Day, but find a way this week to bless the one who gave you your life. Men, do you praise your wife for the work she does so well (Rom 12:10)? Do you sing her hallelujahs?[3] Like most husbands, you should probably double or even triple your output of praise.

You also honor your wife by what you refrain from doing. Don’t put her down in public or make her the butt of your jokes. Don’t fight with her in front of the kids (even with a bad attitude). Encourage her constantly and love her without prompting or expectation of return. Treasure your wife as precious—more valuable than a promotion at work, a touchdown by your favorite team, or the perfectly-crafted golf swing. Spend dedicated time with her doing activities she likes to do. Then trust that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov 18:22).

Accordingly, “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (31:30). She is more concerned with the gospel than glamor—eternal riches than earthly fame. In both life and in marriage, “the fear of the LORD” is a foundational piece. So, the excellent wife is trustworthy and purposeful, diligent and compassionate, loving and beautiful because she first of all “fears the LORD.” A godly woman obeys the Lord out of reverence for his Word, and she worships him with everlasting joy. A marriage built on superficial attraction may fail when your wife grows old because deceitful beauty will pass away and false hopes will disappear. So, men, cherish your wife for more than just her charm and beauty. “Be intoxicated always in her love” (Prov 5:19). Then as you appreciate your wife’s inner beauty, you will value her as excellent. Solomon exhorts, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth” (5:18)—not because she will always be youthful, but because she will always be yours. The godly woman grows more and more beautiful with age.

Praiseworthy

The poem concludes: “Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates” (31:31). The excellent woman receives honor from her family and publicly in the city gates (11:16a). Her husband goes about town bragging of his wife: “She’s amazing. She’s wonderful. She’s the best wife a man could have.” He sees and proclaims this beauty about her life until others do so. Notice then the reciprocal nature of their praise. Although neither husband nor wife seeks their own adulation, each of them looks to praise the other. The husband exalts the virtues of his godly wife in public (31:31) while she highlights his as well (v. 23). Picture the peace and joy within this godly home in which both husband and wife seek the interests of the other first (Phil 2:4). The Proverbs 31, man and woman will experience this blessed marriage.

[1] After buying the field, she would dig it up and clear it of stones before planting with the choicest vines, building a watchtower, and cutting out a winepress (see Isa 5:2). Thankfully, her husband trusts her with the joint account and doesn’t fight her for control.

[2] Of course, this does not permit a man to abuse his wife and requires that she remain with him. Submission is not a weapon to be wielded by the husband but a grace bestowed by the wife.

[3] Hallelu is the Hebrew word used here for praise.

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