Proverbs 31:10-312017-03-22T04:46:08+00:00

Biblical Commentary

Proverbs 31:1-31

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Proverbs 31:1-31

COMMENTARY:

THE CONTEXT:

Chapters 1-9 of the book of Proverbs bears witness to the virtues of Lady Wisdom (1:20-33; 3:13-20; 7:4; 8:1-36) and the evil of the foolish “strange woman” or “adulteress” (2:16-19; 5:3-14, 19, 20; 6:24-35; 7:1-27).

Chapters 10-30 are a collection of wisdom sayings.

Chapter 31 begins by relating the advice of King Lemuel’s mother to him against the evils of bad women and too much wine (vv. 1-9).

Chapter 31 continues with this hymn of praise in honor of a capable wife (vv. 10-31).  We don’t know whether or not verses 10-31 are a continuation of the advice of Lemuel’s mother.  The subject and style change at verse 10, but it is easy to imagine Lemuel’s mother telling him what to look for in a wife.

There appears to be a relationship between chapters 1-9 and 31:10-31—the first part of the book and the last part.  As noted above, those earlier chapters contrast the virtues of Lady Wisdom with the evil of the foolish “strange woman” or “adulteress.”  While the bulk of 31:10-31 talks about the virtues of the capable wife, verse 30 reminds the reader that there are bad as well as good women and draws a contrast between the charming, beautiful temptress and the virtuous woman who fears the Lord.  This is very much in keeping with the content of chapters 1-9.

AN ACROSTIC POEM:  Verses 10-31 are an acrostic poem—meaning that each verse starts with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with aleph and ending with tau—the equivalent of our A to Z.  That constitutes a lovely bit of poetic structure. Other examples of acrostic poems include Psalm 119 and Lamentations 1-4.

A CHIASMUS:  Both Garrett and Waltke see a chiasmic structure to this poem.  It would be an especially amazing feat of poetry to layer a chiasm on top of an acrostic poem.  Either one would be difficult, but the two together would require true poetic genius.

The chiasmus is a common literary form in the Old Testament.  A chiasmus is composed of a series of parallel phrases in the following format:

A (parallels A’)
B (parallels B’)
C (the center point or focus of the chiasmus)
B’
A’

In a chiasmus, the movement proceeds in one direction until it reaches a center-point (C in the above example), and then reverses.  The chiasmus focuses our attention on the center phrase or phrases (in this example, C)—the most important part.

Think of the above structure as a series of concentric rings:

• The outer ring is composed of A and A’.
• The middle ring is composed of B and B’.
• The center ring is composed of C.

Keep in mind that C constitutes a “bulls-eye” ring that is heart of the chiasmus—the most important part of the larger piece of writing.

Garrett sees the chiasmus in verses 10-31 as follows (quoted directly):

A:  High value of a good wife (v. 10)
B: Husband benefited by wife (vv. 11-12)
C: Wife works hard (vv. 13-19)
D: Wife gives to the poor (v. 20)
E: No fear of snow (v. 21a)
F:  Children clothed in scarlet (v. 21b)
G:  Coverings for bed, wife wears linen (v. 22)
H:  Public respect for husband (v. 23)
G’:  Sells garments and sashes (v. 24)
F’:  Wife clothed in dignity (v. 25a)
E’:  No fear of the future (v. 25b)
D’:  Wife speaks wisdom (v. 26)
C’:  Wife works hard (v. 27)
B’:  Husband and children praise wife (vv. 28-29)
A’:  High value of a good wife (vv. 30-31)

Note how A (v. 10) parallels A’ (vv. 30-31).  Similar parallels continue throughout the chiasmus.

Note also that the center point—the focus—is verse 23, the public respect that the husband enjoys as a result of his capable wife’s endeavors.

Waltke also sees a chiasmus here, but in verses 20-27 (as follows, quoted directly from page 528) instead of 10-31:

A  Spreads palms to the poor (v. 20)
B No fear of snow (v. 21a)
C Household clothed in scarlet (v. 21b)
D She makes (aseta) coverlets and clothing for herself (v. 22)
X Husband respected at the gate (v. 23)
D’ She makes (aseta) garments and sashes for merchants (v. 24)
C’ Wife clothed with strength and dignity (v. 25a)
B’ Laughs at the future (v. 25b). 32)
A’  Opens mouth with wisdom, looking after her household (vv. 26-27)

Note that, while Garrett and Waltke define their chiasmi differently, the focus for both chiasmi is verse 23, where the husband enjoys public respect because of his capable wife.  In other words, that is the point of this poem, regardless of which chiasmus you adopt.  This is especially appropriate to this poem if verses 10-31 are a continuation of the advice of Lemuel’s mother to her son.

AN IMPOSSIBLY IDEAL WOMAN?  This poem describes the capable wife in such ideal terms that no one is likely to measure up to her standards.  Some scholars highlight the “potential for harm… (because) the wife is seen in terms of what good she can do for her husband and (because) the expectations are set so high” (Tucker, 414).  Newsome goes so far as to say that this text “embraces an understanding of women in society that cannot be condoned today….  Therefore, the best that a preacher may do with this lection is to avoid it” (Newsome, 515-516).  I take Newsome’s comment as an unfortunate lapse by a usually dependable commentator.

Let me make the following observations:

1.  The text does see the wife in terms of what she can do for her husband, but that is understandable given its patriarchal setting.

2.  If this is the advice of King Lemuel’s mother to her son, telling him what he should look for in a wife, she has set forth appropriately high standards for the wife of a king.  While “this lady’s standard is not implied to be within the reach of all, for it presupposes unusual gifts and material resources…. it shows the fullest flowering of domesticity, which is revealed as no petty and restricted sphere” (Kidner, 184).

3.  The text portrays an ideal woman, and does have the potential for creating unrealistic expectations on the part of men (who might be critical of their wives for failing to reach these high standards) and women (who might be critical of themselves for the same reason).  We need to be sensitive to that.

4.  While the woman portrayed by this poem might be an ideal, this ideal is not completely beyond attainment.  This capable wife is simply a strong, hard-working, wise, God-fearing woman who is devoted to her husband and her children.  She is highly capable, but not some sort of Superwoman.

I have known many women who came close to meeting the standards of this poem.  My mother was one.  My wife is another.

When I was serving churches in rural communities in the mid-1900s, many farm wives came close to meeting this standard.  At that time, farm parents advised their sons not to marry a “city girl”, because most city girls couldn’t stand the rigors of farm life—couldn’t tolerate the isolation and hard work required to survive on a farm.  Life in Biblical times would involve even more significant rigors, and would require even more discipline.

But a woman need not be a farm wife to achieve the standards of this poem.  In our small-town congregation, there are many strong, hard-working, wise, God-fearing, women who are devoted to their families. Other women might fail the test of this poem—some quite badly—but that doesn’t invalidate the standards of the poem.

5.  This poem breaks out of the traditional mold when speaking of the capable wife.  It does not limit her to the usual domestic duties, but sees her as competent person outside the home as well.  It has a high view of women.

5.  Frankly, when my wife and I advise our son and daughter what they should look for in a spouse, we advise them to aim high too.  We remind them that nobody is perfect, but we encourage them to look for someone who meets high standards—someone like the woman of this proverb.  We think that is wise counsel.

PROVERBS 31:10.  WHO CAN FIND A WORTHY WOMAN?

10 Who can find a worthy (Hebrew: hayil—strong, virtuous) woman?
For her price is far above rubies.

“Who can find a worthy (hayil—strong, virtuous) woman? (v. 10a).  The poem asks the question and leaves the rest to our imagination, as poetry often does.  Is the expected answer that no man can find a capable wife—or that capable wives are few and far between so that a man must search diligently?  It could be either.  Earlier in this book, one of the proverbs says, “Whoever who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of Yahweh” (18:22).  Perhaps the idea is that finding a capable wife is a difficult task that requires the Lord’s help if the man is to succeed.

“For her price is far above rubies” (v. 10b).  Jewels might be part of the bride-price that a man would pay for a capable wife, but the man who truly gains a capable wife like the one in this chapter will find that he has struck a good bargain.  Jewels cannot keep a man warm.  Jewels cannot take care of a family.  Jewels have no hands to do hard work.  Jewels can buy many things, but seldom buy happiness.  If the man succeeds in exchanging jewels for a capable wife, then his jewels will bring him great blessings.

PROVERBS 31:11-12.  THE HEART OF HER HUSBAND TRUSTS IN HER

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her.
He shall have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.

“The heart of her husband trusts in her. He shall have no lack of gain” (v. 11).  What is the basis of his trust?  For one thing, he can trust that his wife will do him good and not harm (v. 12a).  He can trust her to be industrious and productive (vv. 13-15).  He can trust her in business matters (vv. 16-19, 24), but he also knows that she has a heart for the needy (v. 20).  He can trust her to take good care of her family (v. 21, 27), and his confidence in her makes it possible for him to devote time to community leadership (v. 23).  She is wise (v. 26a), so he can trust her judgment.  She offers wise counsel (v. 26a), but he can trust that she will use kind and gentle words to impart her wisdom (v. 26b).  There is no mention in these verses of sexual fidelity, but that is implied in verse 12a.

“She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (v. 12).  Husbands and wives have great opportunity to do good or harm to their spouses.  They can be encouragers or discouragers.  They can be frugal or wasteful.  They can be sexually faithful or unfaithful.  They can bring ruin to the home through the abuse of alcohol or drugs—or they can bring prosperity by hard work and faithful service.  They can be physically or emotionally violent—or they can be nurturing and kind.  The husband of this virtuous wife has no need to worry that his wife will bring him harm in any way.  He knows that she will do her best to help rather than hurt him.

PROVERBS 31:13-15.  SHE WORKS EAGERLY

13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works eagerly (Hebrew: hepes—with delight or pleasure) with her hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships.
She brings her bread from afar.
15 She rises also while it is yet night,
gives food (Hebrew:  terep—prey, meat) to her household,
and portions for her servant girls.

“She seeks wool and flax, and works eagerly (hepes—with delight or pleasure) with her hands (v. 13).  Wool is a fiber produced by sheep that is used to make especially warm fabrics, and flax is a plant that produces fiber that is used to make linen fabric.  In Biblical times, wool and linen were the most common fabrics used for clothing—wool for winter and linen for summer.  However, people (usually women) had to go through a long series of steps to transform raw wool or flax into cloth.

Wool was a costly cloth, used primarily by prosperous people.  Raw wool must be graded (the wool from some parts of the sheep is more valuable than the wool from other parts).  It includes lanolin and foreign materials such as dirt, so a thorough washing is required.  The clean wool must then be carded or combed and spun into yarn.  The yarn must then be made into fabric or clothing.

The first step in preparing flax is separating the flax fibers from the rest of the flax plant, a time-consuming step that involves allowing the non-fibrous materials to rot.  Then the flax must be beaten, combed, and spun into thread on a spindle.  The thread must then be woven into fabric, and the fabric must be made into clothing (Boyd, “Flax, Linen”).

With so much time-consuming handwork involved in the making of woolen or linen clothing, it would be understandable if a woman (who, after all, has many other responsibilities) would resent the tedium of this work.  This virtuous woman, however, does not resent the work but “works eagerly”—a phrase that could be translated, “works with her hands with delight.”

“She is like the merchant ships. She brings her bread from afar” (v. 14).  The poet isn’t trying to suggest that this virtuous woman is a sailor.  The mention of merchant ships is intended only to give us a vision of faraway and exotic places and the treasures that come from those places.  This woman is like a merchant ship in that she “brings her food from far away.”  She will not be satisfied with the limitations imposed by the local market, but instead searches far and wide for the best food attainable.  Her table will never be boring or monotonous, because she works hard to make it attractive.

Later in this poem, we will learn that this is a good businesswoman (vv. 16-19, 24), so it is possible that the income from her business enterprises makes it possible for her to afford these foods from far away.

“She rises also while it is yet night, gives food (terep—prey, meat) to her household” (v. 15a).  They say, “The early bird gets the worm,” which simply means that the person who gets started early has a considerable advantage over the person who does not. This woman starts early.  She arises before sunrise to start her preparations for the day.

The word translated “food” in this verse is terep, a word that is usually translated “prey.”  It is often used of animals that are hunted by lions.  This suggests that this virtuous woman will put meat on the table, an unusual luxury for ordinary people in Biblical times.  A person could sacrifice a sheep to put meat on the table, but doing that with any frequency would quickly diminish the herd.  But a hunting party could reap a rabbit or a deer for dinner, and these would be terep—prey.  A woman who puts this kind of meat on the table makes it possible for her family to enjoy meat without diminishing the family’s livestock.

“and portions for her servant girls” (v. 15b).  This woman not only begins food preparation early in the morning, but she also outlines the day’s work for the servants.  In this way, she insures that their time and talents will be put to good use—that their work will benefit her family to the full extent possible.

The presence of servant-girls tells us that this woman is prosperous.

PROVERBS 31:16-20.  SHE CONSIDERS A FIELD, AND BUYS IT

16 She considers a field, and buys it.
With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard.
17 She arms her waist (Hebrew: motnayim—her loins) with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp doesn’t go out by night.
19 She lays her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her arms to the poor;
yes, she extends her hands to the needy.

“She considers a field, and buys it” (v. 16a).  She purchases a field, but only after careful consideration.  Her husband can trust (see v. 11a) that she will not pay too much, and that the field she buys will be a good one.

“With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard” (v. 16b).  Once she has bought the field she converts it into a vineyard “with the fruit of her hands”—which sounds as if she is using the profits from her other enterprises to plant the vineyard.

Many years ago, I served churches in rural Kansas.  Most of the farm women had some part of the farm enterprise that was theirs to manage, and they kept the profits from it.  I often heard the phrase, “egg money,” because most farm women took care of the henhouse and kept the proceeds from egg sales.  Their “egg money” was their discretionary money for a new dress—or something for their children—or whatever their hearts desired.  A thrifty woman could save her “egg money” for larger purchases too—a new piano, perhaps—or a new couch—perhaps even a new car.

In this proverb, the woman is plowing her “egg money” (or its equivalent) into a vineyard that promises future profitability—a mark of discipline and foresight.

“She arms her waist (motnayim—her loins) with strength” (v. 17a).  To gird one’s loins is to prepare for a difficult task by wrapping one’s tunic around one’s body and cinching it so that it won’t restrict one’s movement.  This woman wraps herself in strength.

“and makes her arms strong” (v. 17b).  This woman has servants (v. 15), so she could be a woman of leisure.  However, she doesn’t consider herself above manual labor, but lends her strength where it is most needed to insure that the job gets done.  She is productive with her hands (v. 16) and her arms (v. 17b).

“She perceives that her merchandise is profitable” (v. 18a).  She has self-confidence so that she can value her work appropriately.  She doesn’t hesitate to ask a fair price, which insures that she won’t work at a loss—but she is wise enough to realize that her price must be fair lest she find no buyers—she cannot make a profit without buyers.

“Her lamp doesn’t go out by night” (v. 18b).  This could mean one of two things.  It could mean that she “burns the midnight oil”—that she works late into the night by the light of her lamp.  However, we know that she “rises also while it is yet night” (v. 15a), so she could not work late into the night unless she happens to be one of those fortunate people who requires very little sleep.

The other possibility is that she has enough money to buy oil so that she can keep her lamp burning all night for the convenience of her family.  If this is the intent, she would have to perform occasional maintenance on her lamp during the night, because wicks need adjusting and oil needs replenishing.  Therefore, this verse might simply be a poetic way of saying that she runs a very well-maintained household.

“She lays her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle” (v. 19).  We are so far removed from home-production of cloth that we need a short primer to understand the language of this verse:

“Before the age of machinery, spinning was done by hand with the spindle and the distaff. The latter was a stick or staff upon which a bundle of the fiber to be spun was loosely bound, and it was either held in the left hand or stuck in the belt. The spindle was a rod or a stick, usually weighted at the end to make it spin like a top. The spinning action further drew out the fibers and wound the resulting thread around the spindle” (Encarta, “Spinning”).

But the point of this verse has to do less with the details of the manufacturing process and more with the fact that this prosperous woman has enough humility to engage in the time-consuming and tedious process of spinning thread.

“She opens her arms to the poor; yes, she extends her hands to the needy” (v. 20).  Note that Waltke sees this verse as the beginning of a chiasm that extends through verse 27.  See THE CONTEXT above for a detailed account.

This virtuous woman not only works hard to provide for herself and her family, but she also has compassion for those who cannot provide for their own needs.  Widows, orphans, aliens and people with physical infirmities were particularly vulnerable.

Torah law included provisions to provide for the needs of the poor.  Landowners were required to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that poor people could glean those fields and obtain enough food for survival (Leviticus 19:9-10).  The law also made provision for the next of kin to redeem land sold by a relative (Leviticus 25:25), and required families to support indigent kin (Leviticus 25:35).  The prophets emphasized concerned for the poor and condemned ill treatment of widows and orphans (Isaiah 1:17, 23; 10:1; Jeremiah 5:28; 7:6; 22:3; Malachi 3:5).

Therefore, we can say that this woman’s concern for the poor and her active support of the needy mark her as a virtuous woman by the standards of Jewish scripture.

PROVERBS 31:21-22.  SHE IS NOT AFRAID FOR HER HOUSEHOLD

21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household;
for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes for herself carpets of tapestry.
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

“She is not afraid of the snow for her household” (v. 21a).  While Israel has a Mediterranean climate with mild winters, its terrain is varied and winters can be uncomfortably cold in mountainous areas, such as Jerusalem.  However, this virtuous woman has prepared her family well for the cold.  She has sought out wool and flax (v. 13) and spent time at the distaff and spindle (v. 19) so that her family is warmly clothed.

“for all her household are clothed with scarlet” (v. 21b).  This portion of the verse has two possible meanings.  It could mean that the virtuous woman has clothed her family in clothing that is not only warm but is also bright and colorful—but the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) says “clothed doubly” instead of “clothed with scarlet.”  The latter makes more sense in context, because a double layer of clothing offers excellent protection against the cold.

“She makes for herself carpets of tapestry” (v. 22a).  This probably has to do with bed coverings rather than personal clothing.

“Her clothing is fine linen and purple” (v. 22b).  Fine linen is linen made of the best fibers.  The best linen would be imported from Egypt.  Linen is the cloth favored for summer wear.

Purple fabric would be wool rather than linen, because linen doesn’t accept dyes well.  Most linen comes in light, natural colors.

While not limited to royalty, purple was known as a royal color because of its expense.  Made from a liquid produced by Mediterranean snails, the dye was made by crushing the snails and going through an elaborate process to extract the dye.  It took 12,000 snails to produce two grams (.07 ounces) of dye (Boyd, “Purple”).

PROVERBS 31:23.  HER HUSBAND IS RESPECTED IN THE GATES

23 Her husband is respected in the gates,
when he sits among the elders of the land.

“Her husband is respected in the gates” (v. 23a).  City gates are especially busy.  They are the only way to enter or leave the city, so people have to go through the gates to attend to their fields during the day and return through the gates at night.  City elders administer justice at the city gates. Prophets deliver prophecies there.  Merchants conduct business there.

“when he sits among the elders of the land” (v. 23b).  The “elders of the land” were men who constituted the leadership of the community.  They would administer the civic affairs of the city and would adjudicate disputes.  Having a seat among these elders marks this man as being a respected community leader and a man of considerable influence.

This man is able to devote time and energy to community leadership, because his wife’s wisdom and work keep things steady on the home front.

PROVERBS 31:24-26.  STRENGTH AND DIGNITY ARE HER CLOTHING

24 She makes linen garments (Hebrew: sadin—tunics) and sells them,
and delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing.
She laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom.
Faithful instruction (Hebrew: he·sed) is on her tongue.

“She makes linen garments (sadin—tunics) and sells them, and delivers sashes to the merchant” (v. 24).  This woman’s work with cloth and clothing runs throughout this poem (vv. 13, 19, 21-22, 24).  But the main point in this verse is her ability to run a commercial enterprise, selling garments, either retail or wholesale, and supplying sashes on a wholesale basis to merchants.

“Strength and dignity are her clothing” (v. 25).  There are many kinds of strength.  Verse 17 talks about the strength of this woman’s arms, but her greater strength comes from her spiritual qualities—wisdom, fear of the Lord, and dignity.  She wears these like clothing. Wherever she goes, these spiritual qualities are visible to those about her—as visible as her clothing.  She never has to worry about being unfashionable, because wisdom, fear of the Lord, and dignity are always in fashion.

“She laughs at the time to come” (v. 25).  Most people are apprehensive about the future, because it is unknown.  The economy might bring future distress—or illness—or an accident—or a thousand other unknowns.  However, this woman faces the future unafraid because (1) she has worked and saved and prepared herself and her family for the unexpected and (2) she is strong and capable, so she anticipates being able to resolve problems as they arise.

“She opens her mouth with wisdom” (v. 26a).  Some people are quick to speak, but we are quick to stop listening because we have learned not to trust them.  This woman, though, is different.  When she opens her mouth, people become quiet to hear her, because they have learned that her words usually ring true.

Who is the beneficiary of her wisdom?  Her children!  Her husband!  Her servants!  Her friends!  Business associates! Even members of the community at large!  A wise woman is a blessing to everyone she touches.

“Faithful instruction (he·sed) is on her tongue” (v. 26b).  The word he·sed is has a rich variety of meanings—kindness, loving-kindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love.  Like the Greek word,agape, in the New Testament, he·sed is a word that involves action—kindness or love as expressed through kind or loving actions rather than just feelings.

This is another reason why people listen.  They know that this woman is wise, but they also know that they can trust her to be compassionate.  When she speaks the truth, she speaks it in love.  Her words shape and heal instead of wound.

PROVERBS 31:27-29.  SHE LOOKS WELL TO THE WAYS OF HER HOUSEHOLD

27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
and doesn’t eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children (Hebrew: baneyha—sons) rise up and call her blessed.
Her husband also praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you excel them all.”

“She looks well to the ways of her household” (v. 27a).  She has servants and children to supervise—a household to run.  We can be sure that she is an encourager to her husband and her children.  We can be sure that her strength and wisdom help to keep her household on track.

“and doesn’t eat the bread of idleness” (v. 27b).  Some scholars interpret this to mean that she practices a “No work, no food” policy that penalizes anyone who fails to pull his or her weight (Murphy and Hulwiler, 155; Hubbard).  But, given her loving-kindness (he·sed, v. 26b), it is difficult to imagine her denying food to a member of her household as punishment for idleness.  It seems more likely that this verse is intended to mean that she does not personally indulge in idleness.

“Her children (baneyha—sons) rise up and call her blessed” (asar—blessed) (v. 28a).  Her children stand in her presence to show respect.  They call her blessed or bless her name.  The Hebrew word asarincludes the connotation of going straight—going onward—advancing forward—and enjoying the blessedness of a straightforward, progressive life (Baker & Carpenter, 108).

“Her husband also praises her” (v. 28b).  Some people look good from a distance, but quickly become unattractive once we get closer.  The beauty of such people is only skin deep.  This woman, though, receives honor and praise from those closest to her—her children and her husband.  Her beauty and goodness are authentic.  They go to the core of her being.

“Many women do noble things, but you excel them all” (v. 29).  These are the words of her husband—his words of praise (see v. 28b).  He doesn’t compare her to ordinary women, but to excellent women.  Even when compared with the best, she is even better—she surpasses them all.

PROVERBS 31:30-31.  A WOMAN WHO FEARS YAHWEH SHALL BE PRAISED

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain;
but a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands!
Let her works praise her in the gates!

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised”(v. 30).  These are NOT the words of her husband, but the words of the poet.  He is not criticizing this woman’s beauty and charm, but is contrasting superficial charm and beauty with the spiritual beauty of this God-fearing woman.

Nor is the poet saying that there is something wrong with charm and beauty—or that the virtuous woman lacks charm and beauty.  The point here is the contrast between superficial beauty, which is vain, and spiritual beauty, which is praiseworthy.

When we consider this verse, we need to remember the sharp contrast drawn in chapters 1-9 between the virtues of Lady Wisdom (1:20-33; 3:13-20; 7:4; 8:1-36) and the evil of the foolish “strange woman” or “adulteress” (2:16-19; 5:3-14, 19, 20; 6:24-35; 7:1-27).  The contrast reflected in this verse mirrors that earlier contrast.

This verse lends weight to the suggestion that verses 10-31 are the advice of Lemuel’s mother to her son.  Young men will always be tempted to succumb to the wiles of superficial charm and beauty.  This verse reminds them that they need to look for something more.  Physical beauty is fleeting, and fades with time.  Spiritual beauty becomes lovelier day by day.

“Give her of the fruit of her hands! Let her works praise her in the gates!” (v. 31).  Now the poet speaks to the community at large, encouraging them to honor this virtuous woman for her achievements and to “praise her in the city gates”—the center of the city’s communal life.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.  The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament.  The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament(Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)

Boyd, Mary Petrina, “Flax, Linen,” Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)

Boyd, Mary Petrina, “Purple,” Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)

Deane, W.J., The Pulpit Commentary:  Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Vol. IX (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, no date)

Garrett , Duane A.,  New American Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Vol. 14 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993)

Horne, Milton P., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Proverbs-Ecclesiastes (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2003)

Hubbard, David A., The Preacher’s Commentary: Proverbs (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989)

Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Proverbs, Vol. 15 (Downers Grove, Illinois:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1964)

Murphy, R., and Huwiler, E., New International Biblical Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999)

Murphy, Roland E., Word Biblical Commentary: Proverbs, Vol. 22 (Dallas: Word Publishing, Inc., 1998)

Newsome, James D., in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)

Perdue, Leo G., The Old Testament Library: Proverbs, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2000)

Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)

Van Leeuwen, Raymond C., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, the book of Wisdom, and Sirach, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997)

Waltke, Bruce K., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005).

Willimon, William H., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

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