Manage Money Diligently

| Proverbs 31:10-27

The Point:  Act responsibly with what God has given you.

An Excellent Wife:  Proverbs 31:10-27.

[10]  An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. [11]  The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. [12]  She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. [13]  She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. [14]  She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. [15]  She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. [16]  She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. [17]  She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. [18]  She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. [19]  She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. [20]  She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. [21]  She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. [22]  She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. [23]  Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. [24]  She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. [25]  Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. [26]  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. [27]  She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  [ESV]

[10]  We now come to the climactic, and concluding, section of the entire book: the well-known treatise on the excellent wife. This section serves not only as an outline of the individual qualities and cumulative worth of a fine wife, but also as a fitting literary conclusion to the whole of Proverbs. The ideals of wisdom presented throughout the Book of Proverbs are now gathered up and presented in a beautiful, breath-taking, but practical, presentation of wisdom embodied and in motion. This portrait of womanly virtue stands in stark contrast to the adulteress of the earlier chapters [2:16-19; 5:3-14,20; 6:24-35; 7:5-27; 8:13-18]. The title excellent wife appears to speak of her capability, efficiency, and character. Truly, such a wife is a gift from the Lord [19:14] and a sign of His favor [18:22]. To underscore the point, we are told she is far more precious than jewels. The word translated precious (or ‘worth’) is a commercial term that normally refers to the price of something. Probably, the point is that no dowry, no matter how large, can balance the worth of such a gift from the Lord. The term jewels has been used before to refer to the value of wisdom [3:15; 8:11; 20:15], another key bit of evidence to suggest this is an intentional picturing of the ideals of Lady Wisdom once again. [11]  This woman is completely trustworthy. It is, particularly, her husband who finds her faithful. He trusts in her with the home, his wealth, his reputation, their children, and the whole of their domestic life. This is a remarkable statement, for this verb is almost exclusively used for trust in the Lord. Only twice in the Old Testament is it used of trust in another human being: here and in Judges 20:36. The husband is seldom seen in this ode to the woman of valor, except as a man free from domestic worries, so that he can give himself to civic leadership [23], or as turning from his preoccupations to praise his wife [28]. His conspicuous absence in the poem is not a signal of an estranged relationship, but underscores his trust in her. The second line tells us that his trust is not misplaced, for he will have no lack of gain. Rather than consuming the family resources, this woman multiplies them! The word translated gain is the normal word used to describe the spoils of war – a seemingly odd application here. Perhaps the word was chosen because it refers to an increase in wealth which does not result from one’s personal labors. The husband finds his household’s net worth has increased because of his wife’s industrious ways. [12]  The trust her husband has placed in her is, at first, a gift and, then, a reward, because, time and again, she provides good for him. This good is not only psychological and relational, but tangible, as the following verses show. Note that, despite her far-flung entrepreneurial ways, her focus is upon the home and her husband. She is, first, working at home [Titus 2:5] and only secondarily a career woman. Her focus is fixed and helps to secure the marriage and home all the days of her life. [13]  The flurry of activity the excellent wife gives herself to now begins to come into view. That she looks for wool and flax is a signal that she has the clothing of her family in mind. Obviously, wool was spun into material for warm clothing. She also sought out flax, that linen might be made from it. She herself will do some of the spinning [19]. Much of the material will be used to clothe her family [21], but some of the articles will adorn herself [22], and still others will be sold for a profit [24]. She is industrious, conscientious, and unselfish in her labors., The second line reveals that such labor is a delight to her: works with willing hands. Her hands represent the whole of herself. She finds pleasure in such labors; she finds meaning and purpose in the tasks that fill her days. [14]  The shocking comparison of the excellent wife to ships of the merchant is not a reflection of her stature, but of her far-ranging business dealings. She treats her family to a wide variety of food from afar. She likely funds her exotic menu from the garments she makes [13,19,24] and trades with businessmen from afar with the proceeds from her land dealings [16]. [15]  Not only does this remarkable woman carefully, and broadly, shop for her household [14], but she takes charge personally of the meal preparation. Before the light of dawn begins to brighten the landscape, this woman is up and diligently preparing the food for the day. She thinks of her family’s needs before her own need for rest. This is the only verse in the poem that contains three lines. The word for portions can refer to either provisions of food or assigned work tasks. Its meaning is, most simply, ‘what is appointed.’ It is probably better here, given the context referring to food, to see it as a reference to the food needed for the servant girls. It seems odd to some that a woman wealthy enough to afford household servants is up early, preparing food. However, she views her resources not as license for personal ease, but as a gift demanding personal responsibility. We all would do well to learn from her! [16]  Now, we discover that the excellent wife knows not only how to spend money, but how to invest it wisely as well. She considers a field. The verb is one that can be used negatively of plotting evil, but, here, it has the positive meaning of bringing together a discerning plan or strategy for action. She weighs out not only the wisdom of investing in land, generally, but she also evaluates the worth of the particular field which she is considering. In the end, she is convinced of this financial venture and buys it. That this kind of liberty was not the norm for women of the ancient Near East only underscores that The heart of her husband trusts in her [11]. She is not contented with simply becoming a land baroness. She wants her property to become a money-making venture yearly, not simply when it is resold. For this reason, she plants a vineyard. The money, not only to purchase the land, but to cultivate the vineyard, comes from the fruit of her hands. She has been purchasing the best of materials [13], and works joyfully [13] and diligently [18,19], making garments not only for her family [21-22], but also for resale [24]. This diligence has paid off in a second-level business venture, as she takes those earnings and reinvests them in land and agriculture. [17]  She is not only a shrewd business woman, but a diligent and hard worker. She is not afraid of physical labor. The first line reads, literally, ‘She has girded her loins with strength.’ It may mean here either that she, literally and physically, ‘rolls up her sleeves’ and gets ‘dirt under her fingernails’ by helping to plant the vineyard [16], or that, more generally, she sets about her work vigorously. Though she had servant girls at her bidding, she is not above working alongside of them. The second line says she makes her arms strong. The same word for strength is used to describe the military power of the soldier to stand his ground [Nahum 2:1] and of the political might to secure the kingdom under Rehoboam [2 Chron. 11:17]. Here, it means not that she is a body builder, but that she applies herself to her work and is thereby fit and capable for it. [18]  Here we gain an understanding of that which motivates such an entrepreneurial woman. The verb translated perceives means, basically, to taste or sample food or beverage. It is used often in a literal sense, though also metaphorically, as here, to speak of testing, discerning or sensing something. She has begun to eat of the fruit of her labors in buying, selling, producing, and trading and it whets her appetite for more (her merchandise is profitable). The word profitable is from a root that is a commercial term, referring to the increase made through business ventures. Line one informs us, quite simply, that she knows how to discern when business is good. While she can enjoy the fruits of her labor, she is doing more than simply consuming them. She is, in a good sense, consumed by them and motivated to multiply them. Motivated by the profitable business, Her lamp does not go out at night. This could simply mean that she doesn’t retire at sunset, but continues to work by artificial light to make sure she doesn’t miss the wave of good business fortune that has come to her. That this woman was, in some sense, driven is beyond question. We should beware, however, of taking the wording here too woodenly. She has already risen before dawn to prepare food for her family and servants [15], worked hard throughout the day in manual labor [17], agricultural pursuits [16], commercial transactions [13,16], and the production of goods [13]. To insist that she, literally, forgoes sleep is both unrealistic and to miss the point. The expression lamp does not go out can speak metaphorically of calamity [Job 18:6; Prov. 13:9; 20:20; 24:20; Jer. 25:10], rather than sleeplessness. Here, that the lamp does not go out at night would then be a symbol of the safety, security, and prosperity of her household. [19]  Among her nocturnal activities [18] is the spinning of wool and flax [13] into useable form for the garments she makes for her family [21], herself [22], and for resale [24]. This verse must be read with the next, if its meaning is to be clear. That they are connected is seen from the repetition of the word ‘hands’. She stretches out her hands to labor and work late into the night, so that she will be in a position to make the same motion toward those who are in need [20]. Having worked hard all day, she employs her hours of rest for labor that she might be able to bless those who cannot pay her for her goods. She is a tireless, thoughtful, and unselfish woman! [20]  The hands that have labored into the night hours [19] are now opened and generous to those less fortunate. In fact, she seems to have given herself, at least in part, to her labors for the express intent of being in a position to help those in need. The Law required generosity to the poor [Deut. 15:11] and the Gospels did no less [Matt. 6:2,3; Mark 14:7; Luke 6:38]. Proverbs has said much concerning the poor. As the embodiment of wisdom, this woman understands the central place of benevolence. One’s response to the poor is expressive of one’s attitude toward God [14:21,31; 17:5]. The wise see that giving to the poor is simply lending to the Lord, who repays such faithfulness [19:17]. The one who withholds from the needy invites his own poverty [21:13], and the one who gives, ends up getting more in return [11:25; 22:9]. Her open palm and extended hands hold not only a gift, but are a signal that she gives more than her goods. She gives her time and attention – indeed, her very self. This woman is as godly and generous as she is diligent and productive. [21]  Among her many qualities is foresight – She is not afraid of the snow. She knows what the future brings, regarding weather. Because of her pre-planning and industry, she laughs at the time to come [25]. She has prepared her family well, for they are clothed in scarlet. The word for scarlet may refer to expensive, high quality fabric or clothing. Obviously, it is not the color that keeps them warm, but the quality that the color signals. [22]  This woman knows how to work hard, providing food [14-15] and clothing [13,19-21] for her household. Yet, she also knows how to take care of herself and present herself appropriately for her station in life. She is the wife of a city elder [23] and she appropriately presents herself as a leading lady of the community. The first line says, She makes bed coverings for herself. The various translations are uncertain as to just what these coverings are for: bed, floor, walls, or simply herself. Viewing the coverings for her own body instead of the bed would maintain the imagery of the second line. The second line clearly refers to her own personal apparel. The fine linen was probably made from flax, and may well have been imported. Her garments of purple were rich and expensive. Such garments were probably made of wool and imported from Phoenicia, where they extracted the dye from Mediterranean shellfish. The excellent wife wears clothing appropriate to her God-given station in life and wears it with dignity and humility. [23]  Not much has been heard of the husband, except that he trusts his wife and is duly rewarded through her [10-12]. But, he is not indolent. The freedom from domestic concerns that his wife has afforded him has allowed him to develop a wider ministry to the community. In the Hebrew culture, the gates of the city were where legal and social decisions and transactions took place. The elders sat at the gates to render rulings for the people of the city [Ruth 4:1,11; Job 29:7]. There, among the elders, he is known – that is, he is respected as a wise and contributing member of their group. It is just here that wisdom wishes to make itself known [Prov. 1:21; 24:7], and is able to do so, not just because the man is wise, but because his wife is as well. This reveals that a woman’s contribution to the world can be multiplied as she wisely, energetically, and gladly serves the interests of her home. In fact, the influence she wields in this way reaches beyond the city gates and moves out to the elders of the land. This probably refers to a wider territory, perhaps an administrative region of some kind. [24]  This woman is prolific in her production of goods! She selected the raw goods [13], transformed it into cloth [19], made clothing for her family [21] and for herself [22], and, now, she produces enough to sell to the foreign traders who pass through! The word for linen garments is not the same as the one found in verse 22. This word is of foreign origin, possibly Egyptian. It is found again in Judges 14:12-13 and Isaiah 3:23. The sashes were used to gird all the other garments together. The word merchant is literally ‘Canaanites,’ though here it is not so much an ethnic or nationalistic reference as it is to the lingering peoples of the land who did business with the Israelites. She has labored into the night to make certain that she can make good on this business opportunity [18]. [25]  Her adornment is not merely outward [22], but also the inner beauty of substance and character [1 Tim. 2:9-10]. Here, she is pictured as wearing strength and dignity as her clothing. That is to say, these are essential character qualities of her inner person that cannot help but be seen by those about her. Strength, though used of humans, is a word that essentially speaks of the power of God. As an attribute of God, it is something God gives to His people, not as a ‘thing,’ but by His own personal presence with them. This woman walks with God and He dwells with her. The word translated dignity points to being raised up above that which is low, common, or little. It speaks of a just pride or true dignity. She is not arrogant, but because of her relationship to God [30] and her industrious ways [13ff.], she is recognized as a woman who is a cut above those around her. The future is not a fearful prospect to her. Indeed, she laughs at it. The future for the mocker is a frightful thing, a time when God will laugh at him in his calamity [1:26]. But, this woman has chosen her fears well. She does not fear the future [21], but has appropriately set her fear upon the living God [30]! Thus, she is at peace with uncertainties. [26]  For the first time, we learn something of the speech of this excellent wife. Until now, we have observed her behavior and studied her character, but her speech has been unexamined. Not surprisingly, when she opens her mouth, we discover wisdom flowing from it. Who she speaks to is not designated, but it likely includes her household servants [15], her children [21,28], and her husband [11-12,25]. Not only does she speak wisdom, but the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. This brings together two of the richest Hebrew words in the Old Testament: torah (teaching or law) and hesed (kindness or covenant love). These two words might be said to embody Old Testament religion. The Law and the covenant love of God were the pillars upon which the Israelite’s relationship to God rested. Here, she has so thoroughly integrated them into her life that her very words are salted with their flavor. [27]  This woman is an amazing blend of hands-on worker and efficient manager of her staff and family. As a faithful administrator, she looks well to the ways of her household. What is obvious is that, despite her far-flung enterprises and broad-sweeping investments, this woman is absorbed in her home and family [Titus 2:4-5]. She knows well the condition of her flock [Prov. 27:23]. The second line is an understatement of her industrious ways. The bread of idleness would be a reference to eating food for which one did not labor. Or, understood more generally, it would refer to entering into the benefits of something for which one did not work. She is a woman who understands well the importance of work.”  [Kitchen, pp. 710-723]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         List all the qualities and abilities this passage gives to the excellent wife. It is difficult to see how one person could possess all these qualities and do all the things that this excellent wife performed. Perhaps it is best to see this as a composite portrait of the ideal woman. Then she can be viewed as a model and inspiration to be all a woman can be. If this is true, then what inspiration can you draw from considering the qualities and abilities of this excellent wife?

References:

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Duane Garrett, NAC, Broadman.

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.