Proverbs 31: A Virtuous Woman
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Proverbs 31: A Virtuous Woman

Original Publication Date
August 12, 2017
Updated
Aug 19, 2023 5:38 PM
Tags
ProverbsChapter StudyPovertyDrunkennessWomen
Bible References
Proverbs 31
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Done
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on August 12, 2017 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Introduction

Proverbs 31 is the last chapter of proverbs and attributed to King Lemuel, who writes with inspiration from his mother's wisdom. Like with Agur, the identity of Lemuel is a mystery. Once again, there are scholars who believe this could be a nickname for King Solomon. This would make the woman whom inspired the wisdom Bathsheba.[1]

If King Lemuel is not Solomon, Lemuel could be a nickname for another Israelite king or even a foreigner. Israelite history does not list a king named Lemuel for either kingdom (the Northern kingdom of Israel nor the Southern kingdom of Judah). This means it could be one of the few entries in the Bible written by someone who wasn’t an Israelite.

A Few Tips

Before diving into the virtuous woman, Lemuel gives a few tips. First, he advises against a man giving his strength to women. While this could mean the man is not to give up his position as head of the house, it does not mean that the woman can never have what she wants. Since the verse references women verses one woman and goes on to talk about things that ruin kings, it seems more likely that this verse is talking about polygamy. A man who is married to multiple women, spends his energy pleasing his wives. This leaves less time and energy for other matters of importance.

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This could also be a callout to Samson who literally gave his strength away because he trusted the wrong woman.

Second, Lemuel advises kings not to drink wine or other strong drinks (i.e., liquor). Not only is excessive drinking unhealthy, the impairments caused while inebriated could cause social, political, and/or financial damage. People make poor decisions while under the influence and often say or do things they regret. To put it in modern times, how well do you think a meeting will go with a drunk Donald Trump and leaders from countries the US doesn't particularly get along with? Kings must be in proper condition at all times because the people look to them for an example and there is always the possibility of a crucial matter needing his attention spontaneously occurring at a time that interrupts his festivities.

Finally, he tells us to speak up for those who are disadvantaged by poverty or disability.

A Virtuous Woman

The latter portion of Lemuel's proverbs deal with describing a virtuous woman and is one of the most famous sections of the Bible. In the original Hebrew, this is actually an acrostic, in which the first letter of each line of the proverb constitutes the Hebrew alphabet.[2]

A Metaphor?

Is the virtuous woman real, or is she just a metaphor? If you remember, Solomon personified wisdom as a woman in his first proverbs. There are also many passages, particularly related to end time prophecies, in which a woman is used to signify the Church. Given this knowledge, it's possible that the woman spoken of in the passage is merely a metaphor for wisdom or the church and the traits are meant to be applied to more broadly instead of just to a woman. The traits given could be easily applied to the Bride of Christ or wisdom the same way we usually apply them to women.[6]

The following is a list of qualities Lemuel says belong to a virtuous woman:

Valued Above Rubies

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She is worth more than rubies (Proverbs 31:10)

Proverbs 31:10 tells us a virtuous woman is hard to come by and her value is more than rubies. Most of us would agree that people (male or female) are priceless, which definitely makes them worth more than rubies.

Nonetheless, I was curious as to what a comparison would look like. Rubies can cost as much as $100,000 per carat![3] A carat is 200mg (0.00044 lbs)[4] and according to the CDC, the average woman weighs 168.5 lbs[5] which would be equivalent to 382,151.57 carats. At the lowest price per caratβ€”$100β€”that would be $38,215,157.00 and at the highest price per caratβ€”$100,000β€”that would be $38,215,157,000.00. Based on this Lemuel is saying women are worth more than millions or even billions of dollars. Obviously this passage is speaking in figurative terms, as I mentioned before, people are priceless, but the numbers definitely drive home this fact.

Trustworthy

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Her husband can trust her (Proverbs 31:11-12)

Trustworthiness is an important trait for men and women alike. Lemuel tells us that a virtuous woman is trusted by her husband because she doesn't bring evil upon him. Considering the fact that the Ten Commandments already commands us not to bear false witness (lie), it stands to reason that a woman of God would be honest and therefore trustworthy.

Note from 2023: trustworthiness is not just about honesty. There is also a component of reliability and consistency to be considered here. He can trust her to have his back or to handle things while he is away. This could mean he trusts her to make good decisions. When I wrote this section in 2017 I didn’t elaborate on those nuances but I think they’re important to call out.

Business Woman

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She works with her hands willingly (Proverbs 31:13-16)

Verses 13-16 pretty much shatter any argument that women are not capable of managing a business. Lemuel says that a virtuous woman not only works with her hands, but "bringeth her food from afar," "considereth a field, and buyeth it," and "perceiveth that her merchandise is good." In short, the virtuous woman is about to make money and cultivate wealth. Lemuel tells us that she is able to import her food, which we know costs money, and that she is able to buy land. Not only does she buy the land, but she works the land to produce goods that she considers on par.

This is far from the sexist views of women that have developed over time. Within these verses, it does say that she rises early to bring meat (or food) to those in her household, which is closer to the definition of womanhood society has created. However, in the context of the verse, it seems to show that with her earnings from her labor she takes care of her home. She does not horde the fruit of her labor for herself. If the woman is to represent the Body of Christ, this verse could easily be a reference to tithing, where rising early signifies giving the first of our efforts.

Compassionate

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She helps the poor (Proverbs 31:20)

A virtuous woman has concern for the poor. This makes sense considering God continually reminds the men of Israel to be mindful of the poor. This is also illustrated in the fact that she provides for her maids (the poor) in addition to her family.

Fearless

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She does not fear (Proverbs 31:21)

This is an interesting verse; it says that she doesn't fear snow because all in her house are clothed in scarlet. At first glance, it doesn't seem to make any logical sense. However, to be clothed in scarlet is to be covered in the blood. At the time of authorship, this would have referred to the sacrifices at the temple, whereas today it would refer to Jesus, our ultimate sacrifice. The snow is inclement weather, a storm, or hard times in our life. She doesn't fear for her husband or her children because she knows they are covered and protected by the grace of God.

Note that this isn't necessarily saying that women have to be super heroes and are responsible for bringing every one in their house to salvation (though there are cases when a womanβ€”or manβ€”is called to bring their spouse to God). A virtuous woman is most likely to marry a God-fearing man because the Bible tells us not to yoke ourselves with non-believers. Thus, she and her husband will be an example for their children. She will aid in training them to be faithful servants of God.

Independent

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Her husband is free to carry out business because he doesn't need to oversee her (Proverbs 31:23)

No one wants a spouse they have to watch like a child. Proverbs 31:23 states that the virtuous woman's husband is known at the gates, which means he is free to carry out his business as needed. He doesn't have to be at home with her all the time for their household to function, for her to feel safe, etc. A virtuous woman can operate and carry on business as usual even when her husband is gone. Remember, at the time this was penned, there was no such thing as phones, cars or even a bicycle. When a woman's husband left to do business he had to travel on foot or by beast (donkey, horse, camel, etc.). He might be gone for days depending on where they lived in relation to where he needed to go and she would have had no way to contact him. Once again, this is the complete opposite of what society began to teach about women.

Seamstress

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She makes lavish coverings (Proverbs 31:22,24)

The virtuous woman is able to make beautiful garments to sell. They are of the highest quality. Note that purple was the most expensive color to purchase; this is why it is associated with royalty. Once again, it should be noted that purple, being associated with royalty, is ascribed to the woman. If the woman represents the Bride of Christ, she is the bride of the King and thus royal. In subsequent verses, it says she is clothed in strength and honor, which de-emphasizes fashion and physical coverings.

In today's world, it seems like a lot to expect a woman to know how to sew and make clothes, but when I think about the fashion industry, this seems more relevant than ever. Women's clothes are a disaster. Ignoring the fact that it's almost impossible to find clothes that fit properly due to the variety of shapes and sizes we come in, there's still the issue of appearance. Most of our clothes were not designed for practicality or comfort, but for sex-appeal and aesthetics. Who is designing these clothes? (Well, all of the famous designers I can think of are men.) How different would the fashion industry be if we were designing our own clothes? How much more empowered would we be if we simply made our own clothes without concern to sizes? I've never sewn an outfit, but I think Lemuel is on to something big here...

Strong

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She is strong and honorable (Proverbs 31:25)

In Proverbs 31:17, 25 both verses refer to the virtuous woman's strength. Strong is not usually a word associated with femininity, but it goes all the way back to Genesis. God created Eve as a "helpmate," but the Hebrew word translated to "help" is ezer. It occurs 21 times in the Bible and most times, it delineates God's help to mankind.[7][8] In essence the word can be thought of as meaning strength. Although this may include emotional strength and fortitude, Proverbs 31:17 makes it clear that Lemuel is also attributing physical strength to the virtuous woman.

Wise

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She is wise and kind (Proverbs 31:26)

Proverbs 31:26 reminds us to let wisdom and kindness guide our words. I know first hand that sometimes (particular at a certain time of the month), it is easy to say harmful and ridiculous things. However, I also know first hand the power of using wisdom and kindness in conversation to bring a blessing to someone. Not only do people respond more positively to wisdom and kindness, but we are made in God's image and should thus reflect His wisdom and kindness in our speech.

Hardworking

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She is not idle (Proverbs 31:27)

There is a lot to be done in a day. Whether a woman is a housewife or a career woman, the list of things to get done in a day as an adult is excruciatingly long. We don't have time for idling. A virtuous woman knows how to prioritize and manage her time. I learned this first hand in the past two years. As a notorious procrastinator, I felt like I never had enough time to do things I wanted to do, but when I looked back on my days, I couldn’t figure out where my time was going. Eventually, I realized that instead of taking out the trash, I took several stupid quizzes (such as the ones BuzzFeed publish) online. Instead of reading the Bible, I browsed Facebook and read comments under controversial articles. I couldn't believe there was so much time wasted throughout my day. Now that I focus on how I spend my time and prioritize what needs to be done, I'm much more successful at getting everything done. Plus, I still manage to squeeze in free time to relax. So I definitely understand where Lemuel is coming from here. He's not saying that the virtuous woman does everything in the house, but that she manages her time well enough to accomplish more.

Praised

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Her children and husband praise her (Proverbs 31:28)

It seems like a lot of pressure on a woman to be praised by her children and husband, and yet it seems quite normal. After all, a husband who loves his wife would praise her, would he not? Children on the other hand are a lot harder to please; we often go through rebellious phases in which we hate everything our parents do or say. If we're lucky, however, we live long enough to grow out of this phase and begin to appreciate the decisions our parents made. I do not think that Lemuel meant a virtuous woman is always praised by her husband and children, though. Most people are unable to always praise Jesus, who is perfect, so it's quite unreasonable to expect people to be able to praise a human indefinitely. Furthermore, proverbs consistently tells parents that they must punish and chastise their children to steer them in the right direction. Thus, at some point, children will bear ill feelings toward their parents. Usually, as we age, we come to realize our parents were right and resume praising them. I think Lemuel was referencing this endpoint.

Godly Woman

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She fears the Lord (Proverbs 31:29-31)

Naturally a virtuous woman is one who fears theΒ Lord. The virtuous woman knows that favor (among people) and beauty are no where near as precious as salvation. As such her actions lead her in the path God has set for her. Instead of spending her time cultivating favor among people (like a politician) or focusing on her beauty, she is out doing the work of God (as stated in the above traits). The second verse, which states that her works speak for her at the gates, can be interpreted in two ways. The most obvious is that when she appears at the gates of heaven, her work will testify to her righteousness. The second, requires knowledge of the time period. As mentioned earlier, business was often carried out at the gate in the cities. This is where Boaz approached Ruth's nearer kinsmen (Ruth 4:1). Men would gather here to discuss important matters. Therefore, the passage could be indicating that the men at the gate would recognize her dedication to God through her works.

Intimidation

One of my friends wrote a blog or Facebook post on how intimidating this passage on a virtuous woman can be (I wish I could remember who and where so I could link it). When we read through this, it seems like the virtuous woman has everything. She's an independent career woman who makes her husband proud, takes care of her house, rears her children well, manages her time, sews her own clothes, is wise and charitable, has a relationship with God and is strong. That's a lot to live up to, which explains why Lemuel says a virtuous woman is hard to find. Many of these traits are dependent upon the others. For instance, if a woman is not God-fearing, she can't remain calm in tough situations and her wisdom will be limited. If a woman does not manage her time, she won't be able to make time for business endeavors. We can't read this proverb and become a virtuous woman overnight, it takes patience, prayer, and purpose.

Examples

The Bible doesn't explicitly refer to any of the women mentioned as being virtuous as defined in Proverbs 31, but I'm sure many of them were. When we think about Eve, Miriam (Moses' sister), Sarah, Rachel and Leah, Mary and Martha, etc. we know that none of them were perfect. Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Miriam overstepped her bounds chastising her brother over his choice in a wife and was punished with leprosy. Sarah didn't trust God to give her a child. Rachel and Leah fought over Jacob's love. Mary and Martha accused Jesus of being too late to heal Lazarus. These women are not perfect, but they are given to us as examples, which should be a reminder that we will not be able to fulfill every trait all the time. We must strive to do the best that we can, learning from our mistakes and pushing forward.

Why Isn't There a Proverb on the Virtuous Man?

I've heard people ask why there isn't a mirrored passage that describes a virtuous man. The question is meant to accuse Biblical writers, and therefore God, of placing a heavier burden on women than men. However, they neglect the fact that the Bible most often addresses men. The authors refer to their audience as men most of the time. With the exception of sewing, most of these traits are commanded of the men throughout the Bible, and even though there isn't a passage that commands men to sew, men are the ones placed in charge of creating the coverings for the Temple and priestly garments (Exodus 35:30-35), implying they also knew how to sew.

References and Footnotes

  1. "Lemuel".Β Bible Study Tools; visited August 2017
  2. Michael D. Marlowe. "Acrostics in the Hebrew Bible".Β Bible Researcher; visited August 2017
  3. Dr. Barbara Smigel, Dr. Joel Arem, Donald Clark, Richard B. Drucker. "Ruby Value, Price, and Jewelry Information".Β Gem Society; visited August 2017
  4. "Carat (mass)".Β Wikipedia; visited August 2017
  5. "Body Measurements".Β Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 2017
  6. "What should we learn from the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31?".Β GotQuestions.org; visited August 2017
  7. Heather Farrell. "The Real Meaning of the Term "Help Meet"".Β Women in the Scriptures. November 9, 2010
  8. "5828. Ezer".Β Bible Hub; visited August 2017

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