Lesson Passage: Proverbs 31:10-31
Tom J. Nettles
One might well pause at the beginning of this quite remarkable, and possibly intimidating, passage, and ask, “Is this a description of one woman and all the things that she does, or is this a catalogue of a variety of things in which women in general might be gifted?” Perhaps some are characteristic of all, others point to particular gifts that one woman possesses while she might not excel in another area, and another distinct skill might be the forte of a differently gifted woman. That the summation of the creative and edifying power of wisdom finds its location in an industrious, practical, shrewd, dignified, morally upright, spiritually committed woman seems to be a necessary inclusion because of the warnings so strongly given against other sorts (2:16-19; 5:1-16; 6:20-35; 7:1-27; 11:22; 22:14). We also find “a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain” (19:13) and “It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman” (21:19). Proverbs 12:4 provides a stark contrast, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.” Another statement of contrasts we find in Proverbs 14:1, “The wise woman builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” Strictly positive is the affirmation of Proverbs 18:22, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” This chapter, thirty-one, provides a description of the different qualities that constitute excellence, the ways in which she “builds her house,” how she is the “crown of her husband,” and how her character and labor are “favor from the Lord.”. The spiritual maturity described should be the common goal of all while the investment of energy in specific tasks could be unique. Summarizing the implications of the earlier warnings as well as the blessings of the present description of true wisdom, the sections begins, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.”
I. The Woman and her husband – 11, 12, 23, 28b-29
A. Verses 11, 12 show that her excellence has brought her husband to have no misgivings about the advantages to his life arising from her character, intelligence, and wise conduct in public. People are prone to think more highly of him and his competence and judgment because of the character of his wife.
B. Verse 23 – Because of the trust he has in her and her continued demonstration of ability to administer the home and make positive contributions from her domestic domain, he is free to interact with leaders of the community in matters that affect the well-being of its various institutions. He may be active as a politician, teacher, businessman, or public servant with unfettered energy and with little worry about the home simply because of the fact that “her husband trusts in her.”
C. verses 28b, 29 – He recognizes that no other woman could meet the particular needs that he has in light of his calling and gifts. Strictly speaking, it would be impossible for every husband to say in an absolute sense, “You surpass them all.” This praise, truly and sincerely given, comes in light of the peculiar gifts and calling that he has and his recognition that God has, indeed, provided a help fit for him. As a gift from God, the woman with whom he is united is perfectly suited to his calling and his joy on this earth and he cannot conceive how any other could surpass her.
II. She might be excellent in commercial ventures – 16, 18, 19, 24
A. Verse 16 - She is discerning enough to know the value of having some self-sufficiency in providing for the family. Note that she “considers” this field and determines a specific way in which it could benefit either the immediate well-being of the family or as a long-term investment for the sake of a business enterprise. She is able also to purchase this field on her own judgment because she has gained the confidence of her husband as a wise investor of money.
B. Verses 18, 19 – In providing for her family, she realizes that some of the things that she does for them could also be desirable for others who might not have her talent for the production of this particular item. She surmises, therefore, that if she would labor with more intensity and invest some more time, the entire family could be the beneficiary of a profitable business. When she is not fulfilling necessary task with her children and husband, she gives herself to the new-found enterprise, using the tools at her disposal and sacrificing some personal time in order to fulfill her own entrepreneurial propensity in getting ready for market and, at the same time, increase the well-being of her family.
C. verse 24 - She locates the merchants that are willing to deal with her products. Perhaps she sells some from the home and for the distribution of others she negotiates with merchants, who, if they find sufficient interest in the item, will doubtless be eager for her to be ready with a steady supply.
III. She pours herself into domestic duties – 13-15, 21, 27, 28a
A. verses 13-15 - Her domestic duties are the most important aspect of her life in making provision for those who are immediately entrusted to her by God in her ordered life. “She looks well to the way of her household” (27a) From the way in which she provides for her family, she expands skills which may result in the business enterprises noted in the last section.
¨ Note that she seeks for the raw material by which she will provide for necessary items for her family. “Seeks wool and flax.”
¨ She becomes aware of the variety of places from which she might procure a diversity of foods for the enjoyment of her family (“She is like the ships of the merchant”), and perhaps in this process notes how the availability and attractiveness of any number of items can draw people to want them.
¨ She knows that it takes diligence and hard work (15a) to provide for all of those that are dependent on her. She “does not eat the bread of idleness” (27b). She fosters habits of useful labor and knows the economy of time. None of those under her care suffers from want or from delay in having their needs met. This sense of useful labor and stringent stewardship of time serves as a foundation for the possible business venture for which some women might discover a gift.
B. Verse 21, 28a – Not only does she provide what is necessary in all kinds of situations, even the extreme, but she pays attention to the aesthetic dimension. Her family does not feel conspicuous by its plainness nor ostentatious by any extravagance. The idea of “scarlet” could indicate the clothing was of wool particularly appropriate for cold weather. Such care both for health and for appearance makes for hale and happy children and “Her children rise up and call her blessed.”
IV. She has a gift of mercy and is active in benevolence – verse 20. In providing for her family and in her labor for business, she makes sure that she sets aside items that she can contribute to the well-being of the needy. One of the qualification for being enrolled on a list for aid to widows in church is a history of caring for the needs of others: “has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” (1 timothy 5:10) One of the advantages of laboring with one’s hands is that the products may be shared with “anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28).
V. She maintains herself in dignity and fosters spiritual maturity -17, 22, 25-26
A. verses 17, 25 - She is careful to note first of all that the quality of her character will determine the acceptability and usefulness of all other things she is called upon to do. She cultivates the godly virtues of strength of character and dignity of carriage.
B. She does not give in to the tendency to be fretful about the future and see every challenge as an occasion for worry, but as an occasion for the demonstration for trust in God’s providence (“She laughs at the time to come.”)
C. She is careful to maintain an attractive private appearance (either bed-coverings or bed-clothes) as well as public impression. Fine linen and purple represented both tastefulness and elegance, becoming to one that was in a position of respect and leadership in a community. Peter wrote, (1 Peter 3:3, 4) “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves.” He did not exclude tasteful style or admirable elegance in clothing and modest adornment, but wanted to emphasize exactly what Proverbs emphasizes, that character and confidence in God was the essential dress and adornment and that without which everything else is superficial and ephemeral.
D. From a deep life experience of serious stewardship of her demanding role as wife, mother, careful home manager, shrewd entrepreneur combined with her attention to the teachings of divine wisdom, she speaks with sage observation and counsel. Because of her the world is more kind, caring, prosperous, and responsible and less harsh, sluggardly, and erratic.
VI. Her value – 10, 30, 31 – This final section of Proverbs began with the overall summation that an excellent wife is “far more precious than jewels.” Given the native tendency of all fallen humans toward folly and sensuality, to find a woman with a mature understanding of divine wisdom and a life proven by longevity of devotion to the ways of God evidenced by her sincere embracing of the position and relation for which she was created is truly more rare and more beautiful than diamonds and rubies.
A. Verse 30a - Charm in personality and beauty in appearance, though not evil and to be desired in their appropriate place, can be deceitful and empty. If placed on a pedestal above all other values, focus on those things can be positively destructive and damning.
B. Verse 30b – A woman, however, who has been rescued from such vanity by the grace of God, and, consequently has been infused with a desire for knowing God in his holiness should stand apart as a rare treasure, and those whom God so treasures, we should treasure and praise. No words of praise and encouragement to those that are the little ones of God, to speed them on in their quest to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, are wasted. Nor should they be seen as flattery when set in the context of commendation for a stewardship faithfully pursued. Even if earthly relations do not commend this kind of faithfulness, God himself will do so. If we, therefore, want to be godly in our relation to others, especially those of so near relations, we should also commend and praise them (See 1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
C. Verse 31 – What she has done should be recognized, the very things she has produced, the care she has given to executing her God-given task all stand as a testimony to her praiseworthiness. “Let her works praise her in the gates.”