Words from Mom (Proverbs 31)
Words from Mom
31:1 Nothing is known about King Lemuel (LEM yoo uhl). Speculation runs from Lemuel being a name for Solomon, Hezekiah, or an anonymous Arabian prince. Jewish legend identifies Lemuel as Solomon and the advice as from Bathsheba from a time when Solomon indulged in magic with his Egyptian wife. Of course there is not any evidence to back up such a view. If this whole section is from Lemuel’s mother, including the section on the worthy woman, then obviously she was a believer in the true God (31:30). 31:2 “The exclamations are affectionately reproachful: the king’s mother shames him by two things that he knows very well: that he matters to her (2a), and that she has vowed him to God (2b) (1 Samuel 1:11)” (Kidner pp. 182-183). In other words she is addressing him as, “My own son, the answer to my prayers”. Christian mothers need to express such terms of endearment frequently. Young boys need to grow up knowing that they are dear to their mothers and that they simply are not being raised like other children, rather, they are being raised to dedicate their lives to God! 31:3 As Kidner notes, “These verses take away the glamour of loose living” (p. 182). “Overindulgence in sex was surely Solomon’s great weakness (consider his 700 wives and 300 concubines), and one which eventually turned him away from God (Nehemiah 13:26)” (Alden p. 215). “The keeping of a harem of wives and concubines was not only a large expense but was also a distortion of the purpose of royal power. The king should use his authority for his people and not to serve himself” (Garrett p. 246). 31:4-7 “A cutting reminder that an administrator has better things to do than anaesthetize himself” (Kidner p. 182). Yet, even today many leaders are addicted to alcohol. How can we expect fair and just legislation from people who refuse to live in reality? Such beverages will only serve to cloud the mind of a ruler—something that he or his people cannot afford. Garrett notes, “The queenmother does not recommend a free beer program for the poor or justify it’s use as an opiate for the masses…The comparison to the suffering poor and to their use of alcohol is meant to awaken Lemuel to the duties that go with his class and status than to describe some king of permissible drunkenness” (p. 246). Verse 5 suggests that when rulers are “partying”, the true interests of the nation, especially the afflicted, are forgotten. What a contrast these verses are to the views of secular society, which affirms that political power should have its perks and that real men are those who can drink others under the table. 31:8-9 The word “dumb” refers to those who cannot get a fair hearing. Here is the plea to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. “It is noteworthy that this is her sole political concern; she does not say anything about building up the treasury, creating monuments to his reign, or establishing a dominant military power. For her the king’s throne is truly founded on righteousness” (Garrett p. 246). It is not enough for rulers to abstain from vices. They must also exert themselves in a positive sense. They must protect the rights of the vulnerable and deal justly with those who cannot afford legal aid. The King needs to be an advocate for the less fortunate, that is, he needs to make sure that in his realm, “all men are created equal” and that there is “liberty and justice for all”. Concerning a ruler’s responsibility to champion the rights of the poor and needy, see 2 Samuel 14:4-11; 1 Kings 3:16-28; Psalm 45:3-5; 72:4; and Isaiah 9:6-7.
An Alphabet Of Wifely Excellence
This section is an alphabetic acrostic, meaning each of its twenty-two verses begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In light of the extended warnings against unfaithful wives or prostitutes in the early chapters (2,5,6,7,9), and the numerous references about nagging wives (12:4; 19:13; 21:9; 25:24; 27:15-16), this section tends to balance the book, and destroys the claim that Solomon had a low view of women. Actually, this book has a high view of righteous individuals and a low view of sinners—regardless of their gender. I like the way that Kidner sums up this section: “The subject of this portrait is a lady of some position, who has servants to manage (15) and money to invest (16). As her husband’s trusted partner (11) she has sole responsibility in her domain, which extends beyond the house to the management of her lands (16) and to dealings in the market, where she is as shrewd a seller (11,18,24) as she is a buyer (13,14). She treats her advantages not as a means to self-indulgence, but as a widening of her responsibilities (27), for she is a tireless worker (15,18,19): there are the poor to help (20) and the vicissitudes of life to meet forearmed (21,25). Yet with all her thrift, she is not austere (22), and with her business sense she is not hard, but a friend in need (20) and the delight of her children and her husband (28,29). Her charm and her success (30,31) owe nothing to chance, because her outlook (30) and her influence (26) have the solid foundation of the fear and wisdom of the Lord” (pp. 183-184). I think that we see in this chapter what the wisdom that has been discussed in book can accomplish when applied by a housewife. “It shows the fullest flowering of domesticity, which is revealed as not petty and restricted sphere….Here is scope for formidable powers and great achievements” (Kidner p. 184). We need to remember one more thing as we enter into these verses, that is, this woman did not develop all their qualities overnight or in the first year of her marriage.
31:10 The first thing we learn is that a wife of noble character (“excellent”) is not easily found; but when she is, she is a treasure. Here is a woman who possesses the virtues, honor, and moral strength that have been praised in this book of wisdom. Like Wisdom itself, she is compared to priceless jewels (8:11), which seems to infer that after finding godly wisdom, the second most important thing in life for a young man is to find a godly wife! This chapter will prove the assertion that “her worth is far above jewels”. If her real worth was translated into monetary value, no man could afford her. Men who are tempted to say, “I do not need a godly wife, because I have all the money I need”, will find that the women with whom they get involved will solve that problem! 31:11 Trust is an essential ingredient in any marriage and this woman inspires full confidence from her husband. “He trusts in her good sense, her fidelity, and her industry” (Garrett p. 249). “Furthermore, she is a good money manager. Her husband lacks nothing because she knows what he needs and makes sure he has it” (Alden p. 220). 31:12 Doing him “good” would involve being his best critic (in the good sense of the word). She will bring out the best in him and will not sit by and make excuses for him. This woman is dedicated to the best spiritual interests of her husband. “All she says and does is meant to support, build up, encourage, and affirm him” (Alden p. 220). She is a continual source of benefits. 31:13 This verse begins the actual catalog of her activities. She spends a good part of her time in buying raw materials, spinning, weaving, and sewing. “In an age long before the industrial revolution, women had to work at spinning wool and making clothes in every spare moment”(Garrett p. 249). Note the statement, “in delight”. Every job has it’s routine and what could be viewed as a mundane activity. This woman enjoys what she does, because it is providing for the needs of those she loves. Compare with Ephesians 6:6-9.31:14 “She adds variety to the lives of her family by trading goods produced at home for food and merchandise the household cannot itself produce” (Garrett p. 249). “The simile with the merchant ships suggests that she brings a continual supply of abundance” (Gaebelein p. 1131). “She had planned meals—not just thrown-together ones” (Hunt p. 429). This woman is resourceful and prudent, but she is not so frugal that all the joy of living is gone. She likes new things and she has an adventurous spirit. 31:15 She is the first one up in the morning, in fact, she gets up to make breakfast for even the servants in the household. “We get the impression here that this is a wealthy and honorable family with riches earned not by graft or corruption but by hard work and shrewd investing” (Alden p. 220). The verse could also be suggesting that she personally supervises the preparation of the morning meal. “This implies first that she cares even for the serving girls and second that she is diligent about overseeing them” (Garrett p. 250). 31:16 She makes wise investments. “There is no foolish purchasing nor indebtedness here”(Gaebelein p. 1131). She has a good head for business as well as personal initiative. The money earned from other enterprises she re-invests in a vineyard. Note, the Old Testament did not view women as “property”. God’s desire for a godly woman is that she use her intelligence. Hunt notes, “In this she is probably not acting independent of her husband, but since he is one of the elders of the land, she acts as his agent to investigate the worth of a particular field, to purchase it, and to plant it” (p. 429). This section helps us to avoid some of the pitfalls that define what is a godly woman. This section seriously undermines the view that women should be seen but not heard, or, in any given marriage the husband always has better business sense than his wife. Secondly, this section undermines the attitude that a woman is not successful unless she has a life outside her connection with her family. Whatever this woman does, the center is still her husband and children. She is investing for the family—not merely for herself. This is not a woman who says, “The last years of my life I am going to live for myself”. Compare with 1 Timothy 5:13-14.31:17 She is a vigorous and tireless worker, for girding is an expression for preparation of serious work. Now this does not mean that the worthy woman has to look like Olga from the Ukraine. 31:18 This woman burns the midnight oil in following through a business opportunity. In addition, this woman knows the value of her merchandise and demands the right price for her goods. “What she produces is quality merchandise which others must pay for” (Alden p. 221). I think the verse might also be saying that this woman realizes that she is not wasting her time. She knows that she is on the right track. 31:19 In the process of spinning, the “distaff” is the straight rod, and the “spindle” is the round or circular part. These were the tools of the trade when it came to making cloth. This task was extremely time-consuming, and yet she does not complain. 31:20 She is not so wrapped up in her own family that she neglects other obligations. “She is not wealthy because she is selfish or stingy” (Alden p. 221). She used the fruits of her industry in charitable ways. She avoids the temptation of the typical hard worker, i.e., keeping everything for self. Probably this refers to giving her cloth she had made to the poor who have none. Profit is not the bottom line in her business ventures. 31:21 She is well prepared for the future. When faced with cold, her family has warm clothes to wear. “The word ‘scarlet’ could be read also as ‘two cloaks’, suggesting double garments for warmth” (Gaebelein p. 1132). When it comes to protecting her family, she does not skimp. She is not penny-wise and pound-foolish. If “scarlet” refers to the actual color of the garments, then her family has garments of the highest quality. 31:22 “For all her strength and business acumen, she is still elegant. Dressing well and decorating the home with pride is not here regarded as frivolous. ‘Linen’ implies imports from Egypt, and ‘purple’ describes the dyed fabric from Phoenicia” (Garrett p. 251). 31:23 Such a woman enhances her husband’s standing among those who transact legal and judicial affairs. “Though she is obviously aggressive and competent, she functions in a way that honors her husband’s leadership rather than denigrates it. She respects him and builds him up” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 973). To me this is a commentary on 12:4. 31:24 This woman not only makes clothes for her own family, she also makes some to sell. 31:25 Because her trust is in God, she is prepared for whatever may come her way. She is not a pessimist, rather she is optimistic about the future. She can face the future with confidence. This verse clearly infers that this woman is not missing out on finding happiness or finding herself. 31:26 She is a capable teacher and well acquainted with wisdom. Note, her wisdom and knowledge have not made her arrogant. She gives faithful instruction, but is also “kind” in its presentation. Like men, success can also inflate the egos of women. It truly takes a wise woman to be able to teach and correct without becoming haughty. This woman would be offended by the comment, “Whatever a man can do, a woman can do it better”. 31:27 When it comes to her household, she is alert. 31:28-29 She receives praise from those who know her best. Certaintly her husband and children have seen her flaws. Unfortunately, men and women often seek praise from outside their homes. “Her family gratefully acknowledges all the benefits they have had from her. As far as they are concerned, she is the greatest wife and mother in the world” (Garrett p. 251). 31:30 Physical appearance is not necessarily dismissed, it simply does not endure as do those qualities that the fear of the Lord produces. “Beauty is deceitful, and one who pursues beauty may very well be disappointed by the character of the ‘beautiful’ person” (Gaebelein p. 1133). “She may be charming as well as beautiful, but her real beauty rests in her total commitment to God” (Alden p. 222). “Appropriately here near the end of Proverbs, the book concludes the way it began, by referring to fearing the Lord (1:7)” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 973). 31:31 God urges the readers of this letter to recognize and reward the faithfulness of such a woman. “What she does, not what others say about her, makes her the most noble woman of all, but husbands and children may unite in praising the noble wife and mother” (Alden p. 222). “Whoever finds such a woman should make sure that her gifts and accomplishments do not go unappreciated” (Garrett p. 251).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017