“Oh, her.” Eye-roll.
That might be the reaction you get if you mention the Proverbs 31 woman these days.
I had not grown up with a lot of Biblical teaching. So when I read Proverbs 31 some time after becoming a Christian, I aspired to be like the woman described there. I never felt I’d “made it.” But I thought she was a worthy role model
I hear a lot of women expressing dismay or discouragement over this ideal woman. They feel they can never live up to her, and every reading or sermon on this passage only shows up their shortcomings all the more.
Well, she is an ideal woman. In context, a mother is advising her son about a virtuous woman (according to the KJV and NKJV. Many translations describe her as “excellent”; the NIV and CSB call her “a wife of noble character.”)
But this passage is more than just a mother’s high ideals for her son. Since “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), this passage is God speaking through this mother to us through the ages. And I don’t think He meant the passage as a discouragement or a stick to beat over our heads.
If you think about it, there is someone even higher that we’re supposed to be like.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
Now, that can be discouraging! But this passage and others like it point out how far we fall short in order to alert us to our need for Christ’s righteousness and grace. We know we’re not perfect on our own and never can be. As the hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Jesus lived a perfect life, keeping all God’s law, and then died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and then rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). When we believe on Jesus as Savior and Lord, His righteousness is attributed to us (imputed is the theological term). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So when we stand before God some day, He is not going to check off all the boxes of Proverbs 31. He’s going to look for the righteousness of Christ, which can only be received by faith.
When we believe on Christ, we’re changed. As we read His Word and grow in Him, we become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). We might think of Proverbs 31 as what the righteousness of Christ would look like lived out in the home. Many of these traits are repeated for both men and women in the New Testament.
The Proverbs 31 woman didn’t do everything in this passage in a day. The picture is of her lifetime. Just like we’ll never be completely like Christ until we get to heaven, but we should be growing more like Him day by day, so we can grow more like this woman.
We have to remember, too, the context of the times in which this was written. A 21st-century virtuous woman’s activities will look different from a woman of King Solomon’s time.
There are scores (maybe hundreds) of books, messages, studies, etc. on this passage. So we won’t exhaust it here. But here are a few principles drawn from the life of this lady:
She loves and reverences God. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (verse 30). Though this aspect is mentioned last, it permeates the rest of the passage.
She is trustworthy. “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” (verses 11-12). She doesn’t hide things from him or present a false front.
She’s industrious. “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (verse 27). She “works with willing hands” (verse 13b). She’s active about the household and diligent in providing food and clothing for the family (verses 13-15, 18-19, 21-22, 24).
She’s kind. “The teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (verse 26b).
She ministers to those in need. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (verse 20).
She’s wise. “She opens her mouth with wisdom” (verse 26a).
She’s savvy. She can buy a field, she knows how to discern if merchandise is good (verses 16, 18, 24). In David Copperfield, his first wife is a sweet, pretty thing named Dora. But she couldn’t manage a household. She called herself a “child-wife.” I don’t know if I could buy a field—it’s a bit more complicated than it was in Old Testament times. We’ve bought and sold property—or rather, my husband has, and I have cosigned. I’ve been so thankful he understood all the paperwork. But whether I could buy a field or not, I don’t have to be a child-wife.
She plans ahead. “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet” (verse 21). The ESV note says “scarlet” could be translated as “in double thickness.”
She’s strong. “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. . . . Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (verses 17, 25). I wrote more on being a strong woman here.
She cares about her appearance. “Her clothing is fine linen and purple” (verse 22b). Purple was not a common clothing color in those days. In my younger years, I wondered if it was wrong to want to look attractive. This verse helped my thinking, as did the fact that God made the world beauitful when He could have made it just functional. Of course, we can go too far in this area. Peter reminds us that it’s “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious,” rather than “external adorning” (1 Peter 3:3-4). We have to be balanced. But at least the Proverbs 31 women isn’t slovenly in her home or clothing.
She’s respected. Her children call her blessed and her husband praises her (verses 28-29). OK, maybe not every day. Remember this is a summation of her whole life. Moms and children have their bad days. But over the course of life, her behavior and attitudes are such that her family should be able to see her value and respect her. Her husband sitting in the gates with the elders (verse 23) indicates a position of respect and leadership for that time as well. Her activities and demeanor help him rather than detract from his position.
Remember, this woman is a personification of the ideal. No real woman has everything together all the time. We can give ourselves grace even as we seek God’s help and strength to grow in these traits. Elisabeth Elliot said, “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.” I hope that, instead of dreading or disliking or fearing the Proverbs 31 woman, you’ll look on her as a friend, a picture of what a “different kind of woman” looks like.
(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Hearth and Soul, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)