I don’t know about you but when I first read Proverbs 31:10-31 I thought, “Wow, that’s some woman!” Then, when I was told I had to live up to those standards I was completely overwhelmed. “There’s no way!” I thought. First of all I don’t know how to sew and when I had to work full time I knew I could never be that woman. I mean even though verse 24 indicates she is a working mother, I just did not believe that I could accomplish all she had accomplished in a day and keep my strength and sanity. For years as a young mom and wife I felt a tremendous sense of guilt that I could never live up to the attributes set forth in Proverbs 31. I saw myself as a failure and thought my husband deserved better. My children never did “arise and call me blessed”. It wasn’t until I actually began studying the Bible, instead of just reading it, that I saw this passage very differently.
If your New Year’s resolution for 2014 is to become the Proverbs 31 woman by following the passage verbatim then you are setting yourself up to fail from the get-go. So allow me give you some advice before you decide to “give-up” because you do not believe you can “live-up” to those standards.
Before reading Proverbs 31 you need to understand the history of the book of Proverbs. If you have a Study Bible, and I hope you do, be sure to read the introduction to the book of Proverbs which answers the Who? What? Where? Why? and When? questions that help the reader more completely grasp and understand what the text is saying. I will be quoting from the New International Version.
Proverbs 31:1 states the following is “The sayings of King Lemuel – an oracle his mother taught him”. In verse 2 King Lemuel’s mother begins with “O my son”, so we know she is speaking and giving direction to her son, King Lemuel. In verses 2-9 she begins by speaking about beer and wine, helping those in need and judging fairly. It is in verse 10 that she begins describing to her son, King Lemuel, virtues and characteristics of the perfect wife.
First understand this…the entire book of Proverbs was written by Kings and other wise men. These Kings and wise men were typically men of great wealth and royal positions. In fact, there are keywords in Proverbs 31 that hint to this fact:
15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.
Okay, so how many moms, young or old, do you know who have servant girls? I’m not talking about one housekeeper. I’m talking about more than one…plural. I imagine if I had several servant girls helping me, I too would be able to accomplish that which is mentioned of the woman in Proverbs 31.
22 She is clothed in fine linen and purple
Definitely two keywords that indicate her husband’s status as royal or wealthy or a very high position. Only wealthy people in those days had fine linen and purple was definitely the color of royalty.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
The city gate is where men in high standing were to be found. In fact, most of the men found at the city gate worked for the King in some capacity or had very high-standing positions.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that because we have no servants and aren’t of royal decent we should ignore the attributes listed in Proverbs 31. I’m simply saying that we need a more updated look at what this passage is telling us today. Here’s a commentary I found that definitely helps bring this piece of scripture in line with what it’s really saying if you can look past the fact that these folks were wealthy and royal and had several servants. Here is a good commentary by Matthew Henry on Proverbs 31:10-31:
(Read Proverbs 31:10-31)
“This is the description of a virtuous woman of those days, but the general outlines equally suit every age and nation. She is very careful to recommend herself to her husband’s esteem and affection, to know his mind, and is willing that he rule over her. 1. She can be trusted, and he will leave such a wife to manage for him. He is happy in her. And she makes it her constant business to do him good. 2. She is one that takes pains in her duties, and takes pleasure in them. She is careful to fill up time, that none be lost. She rises early. She applies herself to the business proper for her, to women’s business. She does what she does, with all her power, and trifles not. 3. She makes what she does turn to good account by prudent management. Many undo themselves by buying, without considering whether they can afford it. She provides well for her house. She lays up for hereafter. 4. She looks well to the ways of her household, that she may oblige all to do their duty to God and one another, as well as to her. 5. She is intent upon giving as upon getting, and does it freely and cheerfully. 6. She is discreet and obliging; every word she says, shows she governs herself by the rules of wisdom. She not only takes prudent measures herself, but gives prudent advice to others. The law of love and kindness is written in the heart, and shows itself in the tongue. Her heart is full of another world, even when her hands are most busy about this world. 7. Above all, she fears the Lord. Beauty recommends none to God, nor is it any proof of wisdom and goodness, but it has deceived many a man who made his choice of a wife by it. But the fear of God reigning in the heart, is the beauty of the soul; it lasts for ever. 8. She has firmness to bear up under crosses and disappointments. She shall reflect with comfort when she comes to be old, that she was not idle or useless when young. She shall rejoice in a world to come. She is a great blessing to her relations. If the fruit be good, the tree must have our good word. But she leaves it to her own works to praise her. Every one ought to desire this honour that cometh from God; and according to this standard we all ought to regulate our judgments. This description let all women daily study, who desire to be truly beloved and respected, useful and honourable. This passage is to be applied to individuals, but may it not also be applied to the church of God, which is described as a virtuous spouse? God by his grace has formed from among sinful men a church of true believers, to possess all the excellences here described.”
So if your resolution is still to become the Proverbs 31 Woman here is another article I found that may be very helpful and very easy to understand. If you don’t feel like you can set goals based on Matthew Henry’s Commentary then try these. They are not so overwhelming and you won’t be setting yourself up to fail by trying to follow Proverbs 31:10-31 verbatim.
Need help getting started. Take each of these suggestions from either Matthew Henry’s Commentary or the other article and write them on strips of paper. Fold them and place them into a jar labeled Proverbs 31. Each morning when you go to prayer time, reach into the jar and read one strip of paper. Ask God to help you focus on that one suggestion for the day. Want to make it more manageable, try focusing on one suggestion per week. Practice ways of demonstrating that suggestion for the week.
I look forward to hearing how you are doing. Please share your experiences with us here.