Proverbs 31:1-31 - EXEGESIS
CONTEXT: Chapters 1-9 of the book of Proverbs bears witness to the virtues of Lady Wisdom (1:20-33; 3:13-20; 7:4; 8:1-36) and the evil of the foolish "strange woman" or "adulteress" (2:16-19; 5:3-14, 19, 20; 6:24-35; 7:1-27).
Chapters 10-30 are a collection of wisdom sayings.
Chapter 31 begins by relating the advice of King Lemuel's mother to him against the evils of bad women and too much wine (vv. 1-9).
Chapter 31 continues with this hymn of praise in honor of a capable wife (vv. 10-31). We don't know whether or not verses 10-31 are a continuation of the advice of Lemuel's mother. The subject and style change at verse 10, but it is easy to imagine Lemuel's mother telling him what to look for in a wife.
There appears to be a relationship between chapters 1-9 and 31:10-31-the first part of the book and the last part. As noted above, those earlier chapters contrast the virtues of Lady Wisdom with the evil of the foolish "strange woman" or "adulteress." While the bulk of 31:10-31 talks about the virtues of the capable wife, verse 30 reminds the reader that there are bad as well as good women and draws a contrast between the charming, beautiful temptress and the virtuous woman who fears the Lord. This is very much in keeping with the content of chapters 1-9.
AN ACROSTIC POEM: Verses 10-31 are an acrostic poem-meaning that each verse starts with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with aleph and ending with tau-the equivalent of our A to Z. That constitutes a lovely bit of poetic structure. Other examples of acrostic poems include Psalm 119 and Lamentations 1-4.
AN IMPOSSIBLY IDEAL WOMAN? This poem describes the capable wife in such ideal terms that no one is likely to measure up to her standards. Some scholars highlight the "potential for harm... (because) the wife is seen in terms of what good she can do for her husband and (because) the expectations are set so high" Let me make the following observations:
1. The text does see the wife in terms of what she can do for her husband, but that is understandable given its patriarchal setting.
2. If this is the advice of King Lemuel's mother to her son, telling him what he should look for in a wife, she has set forth appropriately high standards for the wife of a king. While "this lady's standard is not implied to be within the reach of all, for it presupposes unusual gifts and material resources.... it shows the fullest flowering of domesticity, which is revealed as no petty and restricted sphere" (Kidner, 184).
3. The text portrays an ideal woman, and does have the potential for creating unrealistic expectations on the part of men (who might be critical of their wives for failing to reach these high standards) and women (who might be critical of themselves for the same reason). We need to be sensitive to that.
4. While the woman portrayed by this poem might be an ideal, this ideal is not completely beyond attainment. This capable wife is simply a strong, hard-working, wise, God-fearing woman who is devoted to her husband and her children. She is highly capable, but not some sort of Superwoman.
I have known many women who came close to meeting the standards of this poem. My mother was one. My wife is another. When I was serving churches in rural communities in the mid-1900s, many farm wives came close to meeting this standard. At that time, farm parents advised their sons not to marry a "city girl", because most city girls couldn't stand the rigors of farm life-couldn't tolerate the isolation and hard work required to survive on a farm. Life in Biblical times would involve even more significant rigors, and would require even more discipline. But a woman need not be a farm wife to achieve the standards of this poem. In our small-town congregation, there are many strong, hard-working, wise, God-fearing, women who are devoted to their families. Other women might fail the test of this poem-some quite badly-but that doesn't invalidate the standards of the poem.
5. This poem breaks out of the traditional mold when speaking of the capable wife. It does not limit her to the usual domestic duties, but sees her as competent person outside the home as well. It has a high view of women.
6. Frankly, when my wife and I advise our son and daughter what they should look for in a spouse, we advise them to aim high too. We remind them that nobody is perfect, but we encourage them to look for someone who meets high standards-someone like the woman of this proverb. We think that is wise counsel.
PROVERBS 31:10. WHO CAN FIND A WORTHY WOMAN?
10 An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.
"Who can find a excellent (hayil-strong, virtuous) wife?" (v. 10a). The poem asks the question and leaves the rest to our imagination, as poetry often does. Is the expected answer that no man can find a capable wife-or that capable wives are few and far between so that a man must search diligently? It could be either. Earlier in this book, one of the proverbs says, "Whoever who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of Yahweh" (18:22). Perhaps the idea is that finding a capable wife is a difficult task that requires the Lord's help if the man is to succeed.
"For her price is far above rubies" (v. 10b). Jewels might be part of the bride-price that a man would pay for a capable wife, but the man who truly gains a capable wife like the one in this chapter will find that he has struck a good bargain. Jewels cannot keep a man warm. Jewels cannot take care of a family. Jewels have no hands to do hard work. Jewels can buy many things, but seldom buy happiness. If the man succeeds in exchanging jewels for a capable wife, then his jewels will bring him great blessings.
PROVERBS 31:11-12.THE HEART OF HER HUSBAND TRUSTS IN HER
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.
"The heart of her husband trusts in her. He shall have no lack of gain" (v. 11). What is the basis of his trust? For one thing, he can trust that his wife will do him good and not harm (v. 12a). He can trust her to be industrious and productive (vv. 13-15). He can trust her in business matters (vv. 16-19, 24), but he also knows that she has a heart for the needy (v. 20). He can trust her to take good care of her family (v. 21, 27), and his confidence in her makes it possible for him to devote time to community leadership (v. 23). She is wise (v. 26a), so he can trust her judgment. She offers wise counsel (v. 26a), but he can trust that she will use kind and gentle words to impart her wisdom (v. 26b). There is no mention in these verses of sexual fidelity, but that is implied in verse 12a.
"She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life" (v. 12). Husbands and wives have great opportunity to do good or harm to their spouses.
• They can be encouragers or discouragers.
• They can be frugal or wasteful.
• They can be sexually faithful or unfaithful.
• They can bring ruin to the home through the abuse of alcohol or drugs-or they can bring prosperity by hard work and faithful service.
• They can be physically or emotionally violent-or they can be nurturing and kind.
The husband of this virtuous wife has no need to worry that his wife will bring him harm in any way. He knows that she will do her best to help rather than hurt him.
PROVERBS 31:13-15. SHE WORKS EAGERLY
13 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.
"She seeks wool and flax, and works eagerly (hepes-with delight or pleasure) with her hands" (v. 13). Wool is a fiber produced by sheep that is used to make especially warm fabrics, and flax is a plant that produces fiber that is used to make linen fabric. In Biblical times, wool and linen were the most common fabrics used for clothing-wool for winter and linen for summer. However, people (usually women) had to go through a long series of steps to transform raw wool or flax into cloth.
Wool was a costly cloth, used primarily by prosperous people. Raw wool must be graded (the wool from some parts of the sheep is more valuable than the wool from other parts). It includes lanolin and foreign materials such as dirt, so a thorough washing is required. The clean wool must then be carded or combed and spun into yarn. The yarn must then be made into fabric or clothing.
The first step in preparing flax is separating the flax fibers from the rest of the flax plant, a time-consuming step that involves allowing the non-fibrous materials to rot. Then the flax must be beaten, combed, and spun into thread on a spindle. The thread must then be woven into fabric, and the fabric must be made into clothing (Boyd, "Flax, Linen").
With so much time-consuming handwork involved in the making of woolen or linen clothing, it would be understandable if a woman (who, after all, has many other responsibilities) would resent the tedium of this work. This virtuous woman, however, does not resent the work but "works eagerly"-a phrase that could be translated, "works with her hands with delight."
"She is like the merchant ships. She brings her bread from afar" (v. 14). The poet isn't trying to suggest that this virtuous woman is a sailor. The mention of merchant ships is intended only to give us a vision of faraway and exotic places and the treasures that come from those places. This woman is like a merchant ship in that she "brings her food from far away." She will not be satisfied with the limitations imposed by the local market, but instead searches far and wide for the best food attainable. Her table will never be boring or monotonous, because she works hard to make it attractive.
Later in this poem, we will learn that this is a good businesswoman (vv. 16-19, 24), so it is possible that the income from her business enterprises makes it possible for her to afford these foods from far away.
"She rises also while it is yet night, gives food (terep-prey, meat) to her household" (v. 15a). They say, "The early bird gets the worm," which simply means that the person who gets started early has a considerable advantage over the person who does not. This woman starts early. She arises before sunrise to start her preparations for the day.
The word translated "food" in this verse is terep, a word that is usually translated "prey." It is often used of animals that are hunted by lions. This suggests that this virtuous woman will put meat on the table, an unusual luxury for ordinary people in Biblical times. A person could sacrifice a sheep to put meat on the table, but doing that with any frequency would quickly diminish the herd. But a hunting party could reap a rabbit or a deer for dinner, and these would be terep-prey. A woman who puts this kind of meat on the table makes it possible for her family to enjoy meat without diminishing the family's livestock.
"and portions for her servant girls" (v. 15b). This woman not only begins food preparation early in the morning, but she also outlines the day's work for the servants. In this way, she insures that their time and talents will be put to good use-that their work will benefit her family to the full extent possible.
The presence of servant-girls tells us that this woman is prosperous.
PROVERBS 31:16 SHE CONSIDERS A FIELD, AND BUYS IT
16 She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
"She considers a field, and buys it" (v. 16a). She purchases a field, but only after careful consideration. Her husband can trust (see v. 11a) that she will not pay too much, and that the field she buys will be a good one.
"With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard" (v. 16b). Once she has bought the field she converts it into a vineyard "with the fruit of her hands"-which sounds as if she is using the profits from her other enterprises to plant the vineyard.
Many years ago, I served churches in rural Kansas. Most of the farm women had some part of the farm enterprise that was theirs to manage, and they kept the profits from it. I often heard the phrase, "egg money," because most farm women took care of the hen house and kept the proceeds from egg sales. Their "egg money" was their discretionary money for a new dress-or something for their children-or whatever their hearts desired. A thrifty woman could save her "egg money" for larger purchases too-a new piano, perhaps-or a new couch-perhaps even a new car.
In this proverb, the woman is plowing her "egg money" (or its equivalent) into a vineyard that promises future profitability-a mark of discipline and foresight.
PROVERBS 31:23.HER HUSBAND IS RESPECTED IN THE GATES
23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.
"Her husband is respected in the gates" (v. 23a). City gates are especially busy. They are the only way to enter or leave the city, so people have to go through the gates to attend to their fields during the day and return through the gates at night. City elders administer justice at the city gates. Prophets deliver prophecies there. Merchants conduct business there.
"when he sits among the elders of the land" (v. 23b). The "elders of the land" were men who constituted the leadership of the community. They would administer the civic affairs of the city and would adjudicate disputes. Having a seat among these elders marks this man as being a respected community leader and a man of considerable influence. This man is able to devote time and energy to community leadership, because his wife's wisdom and work keep things steady on the home front.
PROVERBS 31:24-26. STRENGTH AND DIGNITY ARE HER CLOTHING
24 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.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
"She makes linen garments (sadin-tunics) and sells them, and delivers sashes to the merchant" (v. 24). This woman's work with cloth and clothing runs throughout this poem (vv. 13, 19, 21-22, 24). But the main point in this verse is her ability to run a commercial enterprise, selling garments, either retail or wholesale, and supplying sashes on a wholesale basis to merchants.
"Strength and dignity are her clothing" (v. 25). There are many kinds of strength. Verse 17 talks about the strength of this woman's arms, but her greater strength comes from her spiritual qualities-wisdom, fear of the Lord, and dignity. She wears these like clothing. Wherever she goes, these spiritual qualities are visible to those about her-as visible as her clothing. She never has to worry about being unfashionable, because wisdom, fear of the Lord, and dignity are always in fashion.
"She laughs at the time to come" (v. 25). Most people are apprehensive about the future, because it is unknown. The economy might bring future distress-or illness-or an accident-or a thousand other unknowns. However, this woman faces the future unafraid because (1) she has worked and saved and prepared herself and her family for the unexpected and (2) she is strong and capable, so she anticipates being able to resolve problems as they arise.
"She opens her mouth with wisdom" (v. 26a). Some people are quick to speak, but we are quick to stop listening because we have learned not to trust them. This woman, though, is different. When she opens her mouth, people become quiet to hear her, because they have learned that her words usually ring true.
Who is the beneficiary of her wisdom? Her children! Her husband! Her servants! Her friends! Business associates! Even members of the community at large! A wise woman is a blessing to everyone she touches.
"Faithful instruction (he·sed) is on her tongue" (v. 26b). The word he·sed is has a rich variety of meanings-kindness, loving-kindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love. Like the Greek word, agape, in the New Testament, he·sed is a word that involves action-kindness or love as expressed through kind or loving actions rather than just feelings. This is another reason why people listen. They know that this woman is wise, but they also know that they can trust her to be compassionate. When she speaks the truth, she speaks it in love. Her words shape and heal instead of wound.
PROVERBS 31:27-29.SHE LOOKS WELL TO THE WAYS OF HER HOUSEHOLD
27 She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 "Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all."
"She looks well to the ways of her household" (v. 27a). She has servants and children to supervise-a household to run. We can be sure that she is an encourager to her husband and her children. We can be sure that her strength and wisdom help to keep her household on track.
"and doesn't eat the bread of idleness" (v. 27b). Some scholars interpret this to mean that she practices a "No work, no food" policy that penalizes anyone who fails to pull his or her weight (Murphy and Hulwiler, 155; Hubbard). But, given her loving-kindness (he·sed, v. 26b), it is difficult to imagine her denying food to a member of her household as punishment for idleness. It seems more likely that this verse is intended to mean that she does not personally indulge in idleness.
"Her children (baneyha-sons) rise up and call her blessed" (asar-blessed) (v. 28a). Her children stand in her presence to show respect. They call her blessed or bless her name. The Hebrew word asar includes the connotation of going straight-going onward-advancing forward-and enjoying the blessedness of a straightforward, progressive life (Baker & Carpenter, 108).
"Her husband also praises her" (v. 28b). Some people look good from a distance, but quickly become unattractive once we get closer. The beauty of such people is only skin deep. This woman, though, receives honor and praise from those closest to her-her children and her husband. Her beauty and goodness are authentic. They go to the core of her being.
"Many women do noble things, but you excel them all" (v. 29). These are the words of her husband-his words of praise (see v. 28b). He doesn't compare her to ordinary women, but to excellent women. Even when compared with the best, she is even better-she surpasses them all.
PROVERBS 31:30-31.A WOMAN WHO FEARS THE LORD SHALL BE PRAISED
30 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, And let her works praise her in the gates.
"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised"(v. 30). These are NOT the words of her husband, but the words of the poet. He is not criticizing this woman's beauty and charm, but is contrasting superficial charm and beauty with the spiritual beauty of this God-fearing woman.
Nor is the poet saying that there is something wrong with charm and beauty-or that the virtuous woman lacks charm and beauty. The point here is the contrast between superficial beauty, which is vain, and spiritual beauty, which is praiseworthy.
When we consider this verse, we need to remember the sharp contrast drawn in chapters 1-9 between the virtues of Lady Wisdom (1:20-33; 3:13-20; 7:4; 8:1-36) and the evil of the foolish "strange woman" or "adulteress" (2:16-19; 5:3-14, 19, 20). The contrast reflected in this verse mirrors that earlier contrast.
This verse lends weight to the suggestion that verses 10-31 are the advice of Lemuel's mother to her son. Young men will always be tempted to succumb to the wiles of superficial charm and beauty. This verse reminds them that they need to look for something more. Physical beauty is fleeting, and fades with time. Spiritual beauty becomes lovelier day by day.
"Give her of the fruit of her hands! Let her works praise her in the gates!" (v. 31). Now the poet speaks to the community at large, encouraging them to honor this virtuous woman for her achievements and to "praise her in the city gates"-the center of the city's communal life.
Prov. 31:10-16, 23-31 - Searching for the woman of character and virtue.
The 22 verses (Proverbs 31:10-31) each begin with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This acrostic construction was used in several psalms (such as Psalms 9-10, 25, 34, 37, 11, 112, 119, and 145 and Lamentations 4). The purpose was to make the passage memorable (easier to memorize), and to express poetic skill. This is, "An Alphabet of Wifely Excellence" (Kidner) "This and the following verses are acrostic, each beginning with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Proverbs 31:10, aleph; Proverbs 31:11, beth; Proverbs 31:12, gimel; and so on to the end of the chapter, the last verse of which has the letter tau." (Clarke) "The arrangement made memorization easier and perhaps also served to organize the thoughts. We may say, then, that the poem is an organized arrangement of the virtues of the wise wife-the ABC's of wisdom." (Ross)
1. (10) Searching for and finding a virtuous woman and wife.
Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.
a. Who can find a virtuous wife? In this last section of Proverbs 31, Lemuel's mother spoke to him about the qualities of a virtuous wife. The following verses speak of her character and activity, giving Lemuel an idea of the woman to search for and to prize. This passage is traditionally understood as being addressed to women but is more accurately spoken by a woman to a man so he could know the character and potential character of a good wife before marriage, and value and praise his wife for her virtuous character once married. It is primarily a search-list for a man, and only secondarily a check-list for a woman.
· This passage describes the kind of wife the Christian man should pray for and seek after.
· This passage gives a guide, a goal for the Christian woman, showing the kind of character she can have as she fears and follows the Lord.
· This passage reminds the Christian man that he must walk in the fear and wisdom of God so that he will be worthy of and compatible with such a virtuous woman.
b. A virtuous wife: She is called a virtuous wife, not because only married women can have these qualities, but because this is marriage guidance from a mother to a son. The virtuous woman can be single or married, but each will have particular ways the virtue is expressed, either in their singleness or as family.
i. Waltke calls this woman the valiant wife, and notes that eseth hayil [virtuous wife] is translated as the excellent wife of Proverbs 12:4. The term is also applied to men and translated mighty men of valor in 1 Kings 24:14, competent men in Genesis 47:6, able men in Exodus 18:21.
ii. "She is a virtuous woman - a woman of power and strength. Esheth chayil, a strong or virtuous wife, full of mental energy." (Clarke)
iii. "The vocabulary and the expressions in general have the ring of an ode to a champion." (Ross) What this woman has did not simply fall to her; it is her victory through wisdom, her hard-won reward. The battle or military allusions are many, including:
· Virtuous wife is the same expression translated mighty man of valor in Judges (as in Judges 6:12).
· The word strength in Proverbs 31:17 is used in other places for great and heroic victories (as in
· The word gain in Proverbs 31:11 is actually the word for plunder (as in Isaiah 8:1 and 8:3).
· The expression excel them all in Proverbs 31:29 "is an expression that signifies victory." (Ross)
iv. The qualities of this virtuous wife as described in Proverbs 31:11-31 are often mentioned in previous proverbs. As a whole, the proverbs have much to say about wisdom, diligent work ethic, wise business practices, honorable speech, compassion for the poor, and integrity; here those same qualities are explained in connection to a virtuous wife. Coming at the end of the collection of proverbs, one might say that this is a strong woman - and her greatest strength is her wisdom, rooted in the fear of the LORD.
c. Her worth is far above rubies: Precious gems like rubies are both valued and rare. In a sense, the complete
profile of the "Proverbs 31 Woman" is an ideal goal, much as the listing of the character of the godly man for leadership in both 1 Timothy 2 and Titus 1. It would be rare to find a woman who excels in every aspect of the list, so it should not be used to compare or condemn, either one's self or another woman. Rather, this character should reflect the values and aspiration of the woman walks in the fear of the LORD and godly wisdom.
i. Rubies: "The precise meaning of the word translated 'rubies' is unknown; other suggested translations are 'pearls' and 'corals.' The reference is to some kind of precious stone." (Garrett)
d. Her worth is far above rubies: The woman described in the rest of the chapter is rare and valuable, but her value (worth) is greater than what she does as explained in the following verses. Her value or worth should not be reduced to the performance of these qualities; she will be virtuous before she acts in a virtuous manner.
i. Her worth is far above rubies: Wisdom itself is also described as being more valuable than rubies (as in Proverbs 3:15 and 8:11). This is one reason why some think this description of the virtuous wife in Proverbs is more a poetic description of wisdom as woman (as in Proverbs 1:20-33 and 7:4-5). "Since it is essentially about wisdom, its lessons are for both men and women to develop. The passage teaches that the fear of the Lord will inspire people to be faithful stewards of the time and talents that God has given; that wisdom is productive and beneficial for others, requiring great industry in life's endeavors; that wisdom is best taught and lived in the home." (Ross)
2. (11-12) Her relationship with her husband.
The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.
a. The heart of her husband safely trusts her: The virtuous wife not only has the trust of her husband, but it is safely given to her. Her character is trustworthy, filled with integrity. She will speak, act, and live with wisdom - and therefore God's blessing will be on their home (he will have no lack of gain). A foolish woman who can't be trusted, takes some measure of blessing away from the home, and this is often seen financially or materially.
i. "But in the whole delineation there is hardly any trait more beautiful than this-absolute trustworthiness...he seeks her confidence and advice. He has no fear of her betraying his secrets. He can safely trust her." (Meyer)
ii. "He is confident of her love, care, and fidelity. He dare trust her with his soulsecrets, &c.; he doubteth not of her chastity, secrecy, or care to keep his family." (Trapp)
iii. "Outside of this text and Judges 20:36, Scripture condemns trust in anyone or anything apart from the God/the Lord...This present exception elevates the valiant wife, who herself fears the Lord, to the highest level of spiritual and physical competence." (Waltke)
iv. "The greatest gift of God is a pious amiable spouse who fears God and loves his house, and with whom one can live in perfect confidence." (Martin Luther's description of his wife, cited in Bridges)
b. He will have no lack of gain: Some think a wife as a burden or hindrance to gain and a better life. This is not so in God's plan and with the presence and influence of a virtuous wife. She brings gain to her husband on many levels, and in great measure (no lack).
i. Gain"usually means 'plunder'; the point may be that the gain will be as rich and bountiful as the spoils of war." (Ross)
c. She does him good and not evil: Several previous proverbs explained the bad effect of a bad wife. The opposite is also true; a virtuous wife does her husband good and not evil, and she continues being a blessing all the days of her life. The sense is that her goodness and faithful character becomes deeper and greater through the passing years.
i. All the days of her life: "Her good is not capricious; it is constant and permanent, while she and her husband live." (Clarke)
ii. "Her commitment to her husband's well being is true, not false; constant, not temperamental; reliable, not fickle." (Waltke)
3. (13-16) Her work and ingenuity.
She seeks wool and flax, And willingly works with her hands.
She is like the merchant ships, She brings her food from afar.
She also rises while it is yet night, And provides food for her household, And a portion for her maidservants.
She considers a field and buys it; From her profits she plants a vineyard.
a. She seeks wool and flax: Using wonderful poetic images, King Lemuel's mother described not the resume of a godly woman, but life-like examples of the busy, hard working, and creative character of the virtuous wife. A woman who felt burdened to complete each of these tasks in a day, week, or even month would be exhausted and probably discouraged. Yet the character poetically described can be evident in a wise and godly woman's life in its own way.
i. The flurry of activity described in these verses doesn't mean that she does all these things in a day or even a week, but it does point to how much work and how many different kinds of work are involved in wisely and properly managing a home. Women today can take comfort and confidence in God's recognition here of just how big their job is.
b. She seeks wool and flax: The virtuous woman knows how to seek and find things that are necessary resources for her family and home.
c. Willingly works with her hands: The virtuous wife is not proud or haughty and does not think that working with her hands is beneath her. She works in simple and practical ways for her family and home.
i. "In an age long before the industrial revolution, women had to work at spinning wool and making clothes in every spare moment; fidelity in this labor was a mark of feminine virtue." (Garrett)
ii. Yet, what sets this virtuous wife apart is that she willingly works. "And all her labour is a cheerful service; her will, her heart, is in it." (Clarke)
d. She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar: The virtuous wife provides food for her family and home after the pattern of a merchant ship, which operates with regularity and effort. If required, she even rises while it is yet night to either get or prepare food for her household.
i. "The simile with the merchant ships suggests that she brings a continual supply of abundance." (Ross)
e. And a portion for her maidservants: It wasn't uncommon for many families in Biblical times to have servants or hired workers. The virtuous wife wisely manages and cares for such maidservants, showing her compassion and care even beyond her immediate family.
i. "This implies first that she cares even for the serving girls and second that she is diligent about overseeing them." (Garrett)
f. She considers a field and buys it: The virtuous wife is forward thinking, combining her creativity with hard work. She thoughtfully (considers) invests and uses the profits to better her family and their future, in this case by planting a vineyard.
i. Isaiah 5:2 describes all that was involved in planting a vineyard in ancient Israel and making it productive. It was a lot of work.
ii. "She does not restrict herself to the bare necessaries of life; she is able to procure some of its comforts. She plants a vineyard, that she may have wine for a beverage, for medicine, and for sacrifice. This also is procured of her own labour." (Clarke)
4. (17-20) Her strength and compassion.
She girds herself with strength, And strengthens her arms.
She perceives that her merchandise is good, And her lamp does not go out by night.
She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hand holds the spindle.
She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
a. She girds herself with strength: The virtuous wife is noted for her strength, and it is strength in action (her arms). She uses her strength for productive purpose.
i. The idea of "girding" one's self - setting a strengthening belt around the midsection - "means to get ready for some 'kind of heroic or difficult action,' such as hard running (1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 4:29), escape from Egypt (Exodus 12:11), or physical labor (Proverbs 31:17)." (Waltke)
ii. "She takes care of her own health and strength, not only by means of useful labour, but by healthy exercise. She avoids what might enervate her body, or soften her mind-she is ever active, and girt ready for every necessary exercise. Her loins are firm, and her arms strong." (Clarke)
b. She perceives that her merchandise is good: She is wise and experienced enough to get good materials and merchandise for her home. Her wisdom teaches her to buy oil for her lamp, of such quality that it burns through the night and does not go out.
i. "She takes care to manufacture the best articles of the kind, and to lay on a reasonable price that she may secure a ready sale. Her goods are in high repute, and she knows she can sell as much as she can make. And she finds that while she pleases her customers, she increases her own profits." (Clarke)
c. She stretches out her hands to the distaff: The virtuous wife knows how to use the tools and technology available to manage the home well. The distaff is a stick or spindle onto which wool or flax is wound for spinning, and she uses both hands to do the work well.
i. "The 'distaff' is the straight rod, and the 'spindle' is the round or circular part." (Ross)
ii. "The spindle and distaff are the most ancient of all the instruments used for spinning, or making thread. The spinning-wheel superseded them in these countries; but still they were in considerable use till spinning machinery superseded both them and the spinning-wheels in general." (Clarke)
iii. "Sarah (Genesis 18:6-8), Rebekah (Genesis 24:18-20) and Rachel (Genesis 29:9, 10) show that women of high social rank and wealth were not above manual, even menial, labor." (Waltke)
d. She extends her hand to the poor: The virtuous wife is much more than a skillful manager or homemaker; she is also a woman of great compassion. She cares for and helps both the poor and the needy, doing more than throwing money to them, but she actually draws near to them and extends her hand and reaches out to those in need.
i. Her hard work was not only for her own needs and the needs of her family; she also worked to help the poor and the needy. "This was the hand that was diligently at work in the previous verse with an acquired skill; it is not the hand of a lazy, wealthy woman. She uses her industry in charitable ways." (Ross)
5. (21-23) God's blessing on the virtuous wife.
She is not afraid of snow for her household, For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
She makes tapestry for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.
a. She is not afraid of snow for her household: The virtuous wife has the wisdom, diligence, and preparation to ready her household for all kinds of challenges and adversity. Her fear of the LORD and the wisdom that flows from it invites God's blessing, even being able to clothe all her household in prestigious scarlet.
i. "She hath provided enough, not only for their necessity and defence against cold and other inconveniences, which is here supposed, but also for their delight and ornament." (Poole)
b. Her household is clothed in scarlet: Some wonder why scarlet clothing would be connected to the fact that she is not afraid of snow for her household. It has been suggested that the scarlet color of the clothing makes her children easy to find in heavy snow, but given the relatively light snowfall in that part of the world, this is unlikely. It is possible that this does not describe a color, but doubly thick garments.
i. "The word has a plural ending, which is abnormal for 'scarlet'; so that both form and sense arouse suspicion. The consonants allow the reading double (AV margin), i.e. double thickness, which is supported by Vulgate and LXX." (Kidner)
ii. "But shanim, from shanah, to iterate, to double, signifies not only scarlet, so called from being twice or doubly dyed, but also double garments, not only the ordinary coat but the surtout or great-coat also, or a cloak to cover all. But most probably double garments, or twofold to what they were accustomed to wear, are here intended." (Clarke)
c. She makes a tapestry for herself: With God's blessing on her wisdom and diligence, the virtuous wife makes good things for herself, and enjoys personal marks of God's material blessing on her family (her clothing is fine linen and purple).
i. Purple: "To produce this red dye was costly because it comes from a seashell off the Phoenician coast and so connotes wealth and luxury." (Waltke)
ii. "Clothe yourselves with the silk of piety, with the satin of sanctity, with the purple of modesty, &c. See 1 Peter 3:3-4." (Trapp)
d. Her husband is known in the gates: The virtuous wife sees such a blessing on her family and household that her husband is also esteemed and honored among the elders of the land. All this is the blessing of God that often comes to the wife who walks in virtue, wisdom, and the fear of the LORD.
i. "She is a loving wife, and feels for the respectability and honour of her husband...He is respected not only on account of the neatness and cleanliness of his person and dress, but because he is the husband of a woman who is justly held in universal esteem. And her complete management of household affairs gives him full leisure to devote himself to the civil interests of the community." (Clarke)
6. (24-25) The clothing she sells and the clothing she has.
She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies sashes for the merchants.
Strength and honor are her clothing; She shall rejoice in time to come.
a. She makes linen garments and sells them: The wisdom and diligence of the virtuous wife leads her to not only provide the necessities for her family, but she makes enough and of such great quality that she sells those necessities to the sellers (the merchants). She cares deeply for her family, but her mind and vision go beyond them to the outside world where she does good for herself and her family.
i. "The poet did not think it strange or unworthy for a woman to engage in honest trade. In fact, weaving of fine linens was a common trade for women in Palestine from antiquity." (Ross)
b. Strength and honor are her clothing: The fact that she is willing to distribute and sell linen garments she makes and has shows that her first priority isn't in what is in her closet or what she wears. She cares even more about the display of her character than the outward display of her clothing. When it comes to character, she is one of the best dressed, clothed with strength and honor, so that she shall rejoice not only in the present day, but also in time to come.
i. Strength and honor: "The praise of the woman can hardly be higher: it attributes to her the advantages of both youth and old age (i.e., 'power and splendor,' Proverbs 20:29)." (Waltke)
7. (26-27) Her inner life.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.
a. She opens her mouth with wisdom: The description of her inner life continues from the previous verse. The virtuous wife has what is often described and valued in the Book of Proverbs - wise speech and words that show the law of kindness. Both her deliberate speech (she opens her mouth) and her spontaneous words (on her tongue) are marked by wisdom and kindness.
i. "She is neither sullenly silent, nor full of vain and impertinent talk, as many women are, but speaks directly and piously, as occasion offereth itself." (Poole)
ii. "Tatianus tells us that in the primitive Church every age and sex among the Christians were Christian philosophers; yea, that the very virgins and maids, as they sat at their work in wool, were wont to speak of God's word." (Trapp)
iii. In her tongue is the law of kindness: "This is the most distinguishing excellence of this woman. There are very few of those who are called managing women who are not lords over their husbands, tyrants over their servants, and insolent among their neighbours. But this woman, with all her eminence and excellence, was of a meek and quiet spirit. Blessed woman!" (Clarke)
iv. "Specifically loving teaching (torat hesed) is on her tongue (al lesonah, see Proverbs 21:23) probably signifies that her teaching is informed by her own loving kindness." (Waltke)
b. She watches over the ways of her household: As a faithful guardian, the virtuous wife is observant of her family and their ways. The choice to watch so carefully means that she does not choose to eat the bread of idleness.
i. "She hath an oar in every boat, an eye in every business; she spies and pries into her children's and servants' carriages, and exacts of them strict conversation and growth in godliness: she overlooks the whole family no otherwise than if she were in a watch tower." (Trapp)
ii. "Here the text explicitly states that she avoids laziness; eating the 'bread of idleness' is idiomatic for indulging in laziness." (Garrett)
8. (28-29) Her family's public praise.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all."
a. Her children rise up and call her blessed: A woman of such character and wisdom rightfully receives the blessings and praises of her family. Both her children and her husband not only see, but also speak of the blessedness of the woman who brings such blessing to their household. This is not only a description of the virtuous wife, but also an exhortation to children and a husband to bless and praise the mother and wife of godly character.
i. "Her children are well bred [polite]; they rise up and pay due respect." (Clarke)
b. Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all: These are the words of the husband as he praises his wife, with words that encourage, reward, and nourish her. In a completely literal sense, this could only be true of one woman in any given community at any given time. Yet, we perfectly understand the sense of this. Every home can have a wife and mother that does excel them all; every husband can legitimately feel "I've got the best wife" and children feel, "We have the best mom."
i. In his remarks on this verse, Adam Clarke thought of a woman who perhaps truly did excel them all - Susanna Wesley. "But high as the character of this Jewish matron stands in the preceding description, I can say that I have met at least her equal, in a daughter of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Annesly, the wife of Samuel Wesley, sen., rector of Epworth in Lincolnshire, and mother of the late extraordinary brothers, John and Charles Esley. I am constrained to add this testimony, after having traced her from her birth to her death, through all the relations that a woman can bear upon earth. Her Christianity gave to her virtues and excellences a heightening, which the Jewish matron could not possess. Besides, she was a woman of great learning and information, and of a depth of mind, and reach of thought, seldom to be found among the daughters of Eve, and not often among the sons of Adam."
9. (30-31) The praise and the reward of the wise woman.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands, And let her own works praise her in the gates.
a. Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing: King Lemuel's mother noted the passing nature of outer beauty and the deceitful nature of manipulative charm. In contrast, a woman who fears the LORD has beauty that does not pass and charm that does not deceive.
b. A woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised: Proverbs begins with a strong connection between wisdom and the fear of the LORD (Proverbs 1:7). Here the collection ends describing the virtuous wife as filled with the wisdom, beauty, and charm that marks a woman who fears the LORD.
c. Give her the fruit of her hands: This virtuous woman will be rewarded by the God she fears and rewarded by what she has accomplished for her family and herself, as they publicly speak of her godliness and wisdom (let her own works praise her in the gates). For the woman (and man) of wisdom, this reward is not their primary motivation, but the fitting result of their life lived in fear of the LORD.
i. The fruit of her hands: "She is no less than Woman Wisdom made real. The riches Woman Wisdom offers (Proverbs 8:18) are brought home by the hard work of the good wife (Proverbs 31:11)." (Garrett)
ii. "It is but just and fit that she should enjoy those benefits and praises which her excellent labours deserve... If men be silent, the lasting effects of her prudence and diligence will loudly trumpet forth her praises." (Poole)