August 09, 2020 | Books of the Bible | Proverbs by Faith Cross
"Who can find her indeed! She doesn't live in this house!"
I have often thought these words to myself as I've read through the familiar verses describing the perfection of the Proverbs 31 woman. This ideal woman is busy, creative, adept at sewing, business savvy, energetic, a morning person and a night person, and does good to her husband. She never fears or worries about the future, and she is always trustworthy, wise, and kind.
My, oh my! If that list hasn't intimidated me one time, it has 100 times! There are days when I can't wait to go to bed. I'm too often tired, cranky, short-tempered, and anxious. I lack kind words, lack kind thoughts, and cry out to God for wisdom because there seems to be no right decision before me. There have been seasons of my life filled with deep sadness, anger, and questioning of God. Never mind that I don't sew our clothes or our bed linens! As I have heard the Proverbs 31 woman held up repeatedly as the ideal Christian woman, doubt and discouragement creep in. I wonder how I could ever reach this standard, or frankly, even come close!
I do not imagine I am alone amongst Christian women who have read this passage and have a few questions. Let me share a few of mine: How does this woman do it all and have a good attitude as well? Why does this passage specifically focus on married women with children? What about single women? Women who have no children? Does this passage apply to men? Do they have a similar list somewhere? Why end the book of Proverbs with this woman? You may have a few of your own to add to this list. I trust God has this passage in His precious Word for a reason – it is for our sanctification (John 17:17), so we have much to learn in asking good questions and digging in. This article will only scratch the surface of all we could study about this passage!
First of all, verses 10-31 are written by King Lemuel, an unknown possibly Israelite king. These verses are in the form of an acrostic poem. Each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The character traits and activities shared are specifically chosen to fit this structure. One of my Bibles titles this section "Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character." An epilogue is the concluding part of the story, often shared after the story is already wrapped up, showing how the pieces finally fit together. Also, of note, is the verb tense in this passage. My Bible has this section written as if this woman is continuously doing all these activities in the present, at the same time. She has ALL the balls in the air; she is an expert juggler! Upon further study, these verbs can be read as past tense, meaning she has done all these things over time. So, depending on the season of her life, she was up late. In another season, she was up early. She worked in the home during one season, out of the house during another. She was not doing all things at all times. These pieces of information (the structure, epilogue, and verb tense) give clues to this poem's purpose. It is not a checklist (or daily planner) for Christian women, but an "ode" to a faithful woman, sharing the beauty of a life well-lived. It records the activities and attitudes she developed over a lifetime of walking with the Lord.
Second, when we look at all of Proverbs, there is an overarching theme of wisdom, with the book written to attain wisdom and discipline (1:2). We know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (1:7, 9:10). Wisdom is personified as a woman in chapters 1, 3, 4, 8, and 9. When we arrive at the end of the book, we see, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting: but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." This verse echoes what we have been reading throughout the entire book: The world will focus on the external, the temporal, but those who are wise believers will fear the Lord. So we have wisdom described throughout the book, then we have wisdom enacted in this faithful woman's life. As Proverbs' context makes clear, this poem applies to all believers growing in wisdom, not just married women. It highlights the attitudes and character traits cultivated in the believer over a lifetime of walking with the Lord. We see trustworthiness, acts of service for loved ones, care and concern over the welfare of the poor, diligence and discipline in work, creativity in providing, words that edify… the list could go on. Wise living, beginning with the fear of the Lord, is something we should all strive for throughout our lives – "In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (3:6).
Finally, when we talk about wisdom as believers, we will always arrive at Jesus. Christ is our wisdom from God (1 Cor. 1:30), the embodiment of wisdom on earth (Col. 2:3). He lived the perfect life we could not. We will not live up to the ideal outlined in Proverbs 31 in this lifetime, but He has done it in our place. While it is good to have this exemplary model to grow towards, it doesn't need to be discouraging. Instead, the Gospel reframes this poem so we are filled with gratefulness for a Savior who made a way for us. We are a new creation; the old has passed away, and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). We are meant to live IN Christ, in the power the Holy Spirit provides, and never in our strength. We will become what He has called us to be, and His grace will train us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives (Titus 2:11). Praise God!
As I read through the Proverbs 31 woman now, I still think she is quite a lady. Rather than experiencing intimidation, though, I feel admiration. I am grateful to witness the outworking of wisdom through the seasons of her life. I can say of her, "Wisdom, you are my sister" (Prov. 7:4). She fought the good fight, ran the race, kept the faith, and there is in store for her a crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:7-8). And I rest in knowing the same is true for me because my Savior has gone ahead of me and is preparing a place for me (John 14:3). He has also sent a Helper, the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26), to guide me in this imperfect life. I can trust He will use every circumstance for His glory, every hurt for His honor. I can do the good works He has prepared in advance for me to do (Eph. 2:10), in the strength and hope only He provides.