The Proverbs 31 Woman...(My Wife)
To be fair, I’m sure there are many husbands out there who feel the same way about their wife (and praise God for that).
While the following will be a commentary on how thankful I am for my own wife and for all the things she’s done in the line of Proverbs 31, it’s also a sort of devotional commentary on the text of Proverbs 31 that I think others might benefit from as well - so feel free to keep reading even for that aspect.
But in all honesty, the following is truly to let you know that whatever good you see in me, there is an amazing, wonderful wife whom God has provided to me as my helper in this world who is behind it all – to His glory.
Now, the Proverbs 31 woman has baffled many over the years (including myself). For it seems she has an endless supply of energy, never sleeps, and never fails. Upon reflection on the passage though, I don’t think a fair reading of the text would render that interpretation. For instance, the introduction to this elusive woman is that she does her husband good "all the days of her life” (Prv. 31:12).
I know I could be wrong on this, but I don’t think it’s improper to read the rest of the passage in the light of the fact that it’s explaining “all the days of her life” taken together as a whole. It is her life as a whole that is being described, not “every day of her life” individually that is in view.(1) And so that’s how I’ll proceed with this commentary/devotional/tribute to my dear, lovely, amazing bride.
While mostly kept in order, to help better align the categories of the passage, there are a couple of places where I take a text out of its original order (not out of its original context). I hope you can show me some grace in that regard.(2)
So without further ado…here is my own personal study on the Proverbs 31 woman, some textual commentary on how I understand the passage, and some devotional commentary on how I have found my amazing wife to be such a godly woman….
The Introduction to Her Identity
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
This passage is setting up the identity of a good wife. If I understand the context correctly, this whole selection is the (God-breathed) advice of the mother of King Lemuel to her son.(3) She is telling him the kind of wife whom he should marry.
The text at this point is pretty self-explanatory. If he chooses wisely, he will choose a wife who will do him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. Because of the character of this wife, her husband will be able to trust in her with unwavering confidence. This kind of wife will surely be more precious than jewels or any other material wealth.
Regarding my wife Mary, today marks our 10-year anniversary. And while I most joyously look forward to many more decades together, it is so amazingly true that already she has done me such good, and not harm, all these years.
Mary, my heart does surely trust in you, my love! I have no lack of gain with a wife so wonderful as you.
But oh, there is so much more!
Her Work in the Home for Her Family
She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
There are some obvious things we need to take in context here: for instance the poetic nature of the language (“like the ships of the merchant”) and the agrarian society in which it was written (wool, flax, buying a field, planting a vineyard, etc.).
But there are certainly good principles here to be found.
A good wife works for her family. She works with willing hands; and she concerns herself with the affairs of the house. Whether it’s groceries or food preparation (“brings food from afar,” “provides food for her household”), or efficiently managing the house’s resources (“considers a field and buys it,” “plants a vineyard”), she is working for the good of her family and household. She prepares in advance for things to come so that when the winter snow might create obstacles, her family is readily taken care of in advance. And because of her home economic prowess and work ethic, her family is well clothed and covered. She is not reactionary, but preparatory – she is “not afraid” of winter (or other similar life calamities) because of the steps she has taken to secure her household beforehand.
Mary, our house would not be anything but a barren waste if it were not for you. By God’s grace in you, it is you and you alone who makes our house a home, who fills our pantry and fridge with good food for the health of your family, who runs the household so efficiently and frugally that I never need worry about where our money goes and for what purpose. My love, you are nothing short of amazing in your tireless work for your family. And I can’t tell you how much my heart is in love with your beautiful soul.
But oh, there is so much more!
Her Work outside the Home for Her Family
She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
This wife whom the man is instructed to marry is no idler. Apparently not only does she take care of the household from within, but also from without. She has a skill that is profitable for the family, and so she works at it to make it fruitful. She sells her product or service for the purpose of providing (and preparing) for her family.(4) ←[Please see this footnote if you're a stay at home mom.]
Mary, I can never convey the depth of gratitude I have for you and your amazing love and labor for our family. Not only do you somehow prepare and plan and execute so much for the normal (but never-ending) tasks of the household, but you work so tirelessly at joining with me in providing for our family, and providing so much more than I could by myself. Without you, I would not be where I am today at all – in terms of my professional life or my goal at one day being in vocational ministry.(5) By God’s grace you – you – are the greatest helpmate I could have ever known. And I’m so thankful to Christ for you!
But oh, there is so much more!
The Character Qualities She Embodies
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
The Proverbs 31 woman not only works for her family inside and outside the home, but she has such character in doing it that those traits almost have to be mentioned separately.
She is a woman of strong character and great conviction. While providing for her family is her top priority (and all that the above entails), it’s the way in which she does it that crowns the beauty of her efforts. She is generous to the poor, steadfast in soul, wise with her words, and kind with her speech. Her work ethic is more than admirable as she is constantly working to ensure the well-being of her household, which is to say the well-being of her family.(6)
Mary, your strength and dignity are the crowning jewels of your wonder. Were it not for the amazing character God has given you in His transformation of your saving faith, our family would be completely different, set down the wrong road in many regards, unprepared, ill-equipped; and, if not recovering from disaster due to all that, scrambling like crazy to endure the one we had not the wisdom to prepare for ahead of time. You are indispensable to all that we can accomplish in God's grace and for his glory.
But yes, even with all these, there is still more....
The Outcome of Her Labors
Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.
The Proverbs 31 woman is content with being the unsung hero.
If you notice it is the husband who is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land - not this amazing hard-working woman. And many might think, well why is that? Shouldn't she get some credit?
Well, she does - from her children and her husband. They are the ones who rise up and call her blessed and give her her due praise. But regarding the limelight of society, the outcome of the labors of this extraordinary Proverbs 31 woman, is that her husband is the one who is known in town, while she is content to be known by her family.(7)
Throughout the entire passage her work is dedicated toward taking care of her family. Yes, at times she'll produce a product or service for a profit in the marketplace, but even then the goal is to make more efficient and fruitful efforts for her household, not to make a name for herself.
While she focuses on the household (which is a full-time job), that frees her husband to then focus not only on his own labor of providing for the family (1 Tim. 5:8), but also the important issues of his own society. And when his house is taken care of and he has no lack of gain because of all the preparations and work his wife is doing for the home, he has the time and ability to do that very thing.
The husband is the one who has the credentials behind his name, who is making a name for himself in his vocation or in his community (or both). He is the one who is "known in the gates," while his wife who is behind him and makes it all possible is content not having the limelight in society.
Meanwhile, she does get praised, from the people most important in her life: her husband and children.
Mary, your work for the house and our family never once goes unnoticed. I know I don't say it often enough; but you are the hardest working person I know. And you must know that it truly does free me up to do what God has called me to do, to provide for us through my own career, to keep a watchful eye on the issues of our society, and to do what I can to have a visible presence in that light (and so work toward being known by the "elders of the city"). Mary, by God's grace in you, you are the reason I can be the man God has called me to be - and I can't thank you enough for being the godly woman you are!
And yes, there is one more thing....
The Lesson and Praise of Her Life
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Let me first say that the lesson here is not to not be charming or beautiful. When understood in its proper context that is not at all what the text is teaching.(8)
If understood correctly, the text is providing an emphatic contrast. While charm can be deceitful and beauty can be vain (the text uses "is" for the poetic nature of the passage and the emphasis contrast it's setting up), the fear of the LORD is something that can never be deceitful or vain. When one truly belongs to the LORD, he or she will always belong to Him.
The lesson here for men is to chase not after one who is merely charming or merely beautiful. The one whom every godly man should marry is a woman who fears the LORD and thus belongs to Him. For she is the one in whom He can trust as his wife and have no lack of gain. She is the one who will do him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
And what comes of this...?
Praise! But not from man.
While she is not the one in the limelight of society, her works will by no means go unnoticed. The works of her hands - so diligently labored by God's grace and for His glory - the works she is doing to run her household efficiently and make fruitful preparations, the works she is doing to make a profit for her household (whether materially or immaterially) by developing and using her skill or trade outside the home,(4) the works that spring from her character by giving time or money or energy to the poor, by speaking with wisdom and kindness - these works themselves have an intrinsic nature of praise. They and their outcome will praise her in the gates.
Mary, you are the most exceptional woman I know. You do have charm, and you are incredibly beautiful; but your crowning jewel and the most precious thing about your entire life is your fear of and love for our Lord and Savior! From that love comes forth a waterfall of good and great works that do most certainly praise you over and over again. And I know your children will rise up and call you blessed when they see the work that you do for our Lord and our family. As for me, there is no better way to express it than simply say with all sincerity:
Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.
I am so utterly thankful to God that you are my wife and life-long helpmate. To whatever degree I fail it's because of my own shortcomings; but to whatever degree I succeed it's because by God's grace I have you behind it all.
You are my joy and my bride, and I love you dearly.
(1) If you think about it, logically it couldn’t be that her lamp does not go out at night (Prv. 31:18) and she rises while it is yet night (Prv. 31:15). If she is rising while it is still dark, obviously her lamp at some point when out during the night. So again, I have to maintain (unless shown otherwise from a rational argument from the text) that this is a description of who she is over the entire course of her life as a whole, rather than a description of who she is every single day with every single task.
(2) I don't think that in doing this I'm adding or taking away from Scripture or otherwise altering the text. I'm thinking of it more as a systematic exposition/commentary of the text in order to best group the ideas of the text together for the purposes of each section. In other words, this is more pedagogical than anything.
(3) There is debate about whether King Lemuel is a foreign king or if the name is symbolic (it means, “belonging to God”) of King Solomon. I prefer the interpretation that it’s a symbolic name of King Solomon (for several reasons); yet I’m not at a point in that part of the study to really see that as a hill worth dying on. Regardless of who King Lemuel is, this is still God-breathed Scripture and worthy of our study, understanding, and application.
(4) For those of you who are able and willing to work strictly at home, I want to make it clear that I don’t think that’s unbiblical in the least. To be honest, it’s our goal that Mary could do the same at some point. The main thrust of the passage is that the wife is not idle. If your family is in a position where your income is not needed, that frees you up to give away your labors (in line of opening your hand to the poor and reaching out to the needy – Prv. 31:20) rather than sell them. Whether this is done by spending more time on household preparations or serving in your church, or volunteering your gifted labors elsewhere, etc., being a housewife or stay-at-home mom does not in the least imply you’re not a Proverbs 31 woman (at least not by logical necessity).
(5) For those of you who don't know, Mary has a very useful professional skill that she uses so graciously for the benefit of our family. And sometimes her lamp really does not go out at night. While taking care of our daughter during the day, she then works after I get home, “perceiving that her merchandise is profitable.” She produces such quality work and then “sells [it]…to the merchant.” Being so generous with her love for her family, she has worked so hard not just to help provide a better living for our family, but to send me not just through one, not just through two, but through three separate degree programs.* What gets me, is that she thinks nothing of herself when doing it. Even though two out of three programs promise no significant income change for me,** she works so willingly nonetheless – and it’s because of her love for our Lord and her love for our family.
*I have to disclose that while Mary played a huge part in my bachelor’s and master’s, for the current program I’m in we’ve received an amazing amount of help from another gracious source that chooses to be anonymous (but I can tell you by God’s goodness, it was not government funds or private student loans). Nonetheless, there are still many more expenses involved with this program, and she is working just as hard with her labors to take care of them.
**My bachelor’s in theology and my current pursuit of a master’s in theology don’t come with any promise of increased income. Typically people in vocational ministry are not in it for the money; and so we have no expectations of me making a higher income if/when I’m ever able to be involved in such a vocation.
(6) My wife is extraordinary in these regards as well. She is very generous with her money and her time. Not only does she give to the poor through various means, but even in normal activities (such as birthdays, Christmas, baby showers, wedding showers, just because, etc.) she has such a giving heart. She is unquestionably wise in her counsel (whether to me or to others), and thoughtfully kind in her delivering speech. Through it all though is an unmovable character, decidedly set on looking out for and taking care of her family and friends.
(7) Here is where I'm thinking I'll lose any secular audience I might had at this point. Although I really do think the Scriptures see this scenario (the husband getting recognized in the town, and the wife getting recognized by her family) as a good thing (see 1 Cor. 11:7).
(8) Otherwise it would contradict a lot of other things we know from Scripture. For example, the word translated "charm" can also be translated (and sometimes is translated, in a good connotation) "grace." Likewise, regarding beauty, it was portrayed as a great blessing in the end of Job that his daughters were the most beautiful in the whole land (Job 42:15).