Women’s magazines may set a standard for who a woman ought to be, describing the right outfit, make up, career, and advice about relationships. Some may include suggestions about cooking and child rearing, but the focus is still on you. A recent column by William Bennett describes a political campaign piece, “The Life of Julia,” a series of slides featuring a cartoon character, describing snapshots of her life at several points from age 3 to age 67. Family and relationships are almost unmentioned. At age 31 she decides to have a child (no mention of a husband). But the activity of the government is included on every slide. Many of the Christian books for women are not a great deal more helpful. There is even one with the title Duh-Votions, which I have a hard time imagining the woman of Proverbs 31 reading.
What strikes you about the noble woman described in Proverbs 31? She is busy. She cares for her family. She makes clothing and sells them. She purchases a field and plants a vineyard. Reading about her is enough to make one tired! Women who are not mothers and men can all learn from this woman. She personifies and puts into action the wisdom that has been described throughout Proverbs. Appropriately she concludes the book.
She is not the kind of woman one could pat on the hand and suggest she go back to the kitchen. But contrary to the message of our culture, it is not all about her. She is busy in service to others, particularly her husband and her children. Although she is busy in a wide range of activities, there is an emphasis on the family. As I was studying this text this past week, the President of the United States declared his support for same sex marriages. Although he referred to his roles as husband and father, the position he supports ultimately undermines the meaning of those terms. Marriage and the family in Biblical perspective, look back to the institution in the Garden of Eden. It is not simply a choice made without reference to gender.
This woman receives recognition, but it arises primarily from her family. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband praises her. Although she is the kind of person who today might win the small business person of the year award, the primary source of praise is her family. This poem is an acrostic, with each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That kind of poetic structure involves giving careful thought to the subject as it lists her characteristics.
What does this woman look like? You would have a hard time drawing a picture of her. In fact, physical attributes are mentioned negatively in v. 30: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Reverential awe of God characterizes her. Like Lois and Eunice (see 2 Timothy 1:5) this is a woman with a deep trust in God. Noble women, and those who would emulate her, need to take time to strengthen and develop that walk with the Lord. Husbands, your calling is to encourage your wife in that.
Near the beginning of Proverbs and repeated through the book is the expression, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” As the book concludes, this ideal noble woman personifies that reverential awe. Her description, therefore, is a call not only to women, but to all of us to fear, reverence, and trust in the Lord. The household of God is called to reflect the structure that God ordained in the Garden of Eden when he established the first marriage.
Reading Proverbs 31 can be discouraging for women, trying to measure up to the ideal and recognizing that they fall short. It’s also discouraging for men as they recognize that they too fail in the service to which they are called. As you read through the rest of Scripture, notice that when God finds a bride for himself, he does not pick a noble woman, or even the closest approximation he can find. Ezekiel 16 pictures God’s relationship with his Old Testament people as his finding a helpless, abandoned child, saving her life, caring and providing for her until she is grown, and then marrying her. Yet the bride is unfaithful, just as the Israelites turned against their God in idolatry and rebellion. Ultimately the Lord renews his covenant and draws his people back to himself. The picture is similar in the New Testament. We were dead in sin, Paul tells us, when God raised us up. The story that runs through the Bible ends in Revelation with God’s people, the church, dressed as a bride beautifully adorned for her husband. But it is the grace of God, seen most clearly in the death and resurrection of Christ for his people, that has made her what she is.