By Betsy St. Amant Haddox, Crosswalk.com
Ah, yes. The Proverbs 31 woman. You know her. That creature found roughly in the middle of the Bible, the one that singlehandedly creates more guilt trips than Ben & Jerry’s. The one more legendary than Lady Godiva and Helen of Troy. The one we Christian women tend to pit ourselves against and come up short every single time.
Proverbs 31:10-12 (NIV) "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life."
If you’re like me, you might be thinking “Confidence? My husband can’t even have confidence in me to get my oil changed without paying for that extra air filter they push, so I’m already out!” You might equate yourself more to a leftover nub of chalk than a sparkling ruby. And not bringing your husband harm? You’ve certainly contributed to those gray whiskers popping up in his goatee and subjected him to more than one PMS mood swing, so why bother?
Yep. The Proverbs 31 woman—you know her, so therefore, you most likely avoid her, hate her, or nearly kill yourself trying to imitate her.
Deep breath, ladies. Here are four reasons why all those approaches are wrong—and how to accurately interpret this biblical figure:
1. Don’t Be Naïve
The Proverbs 31 woman isn’t a real person. You might read those passages in Proverbs 31 and think “Good gravy, no one can do all these things.” And you’d be right. Because they don’t, and they haven’t. The Proverbs 31 woman isn’t a singular woman at all, but a model. A template. A list of upstanding character traits passed from a wise mother to her son, addressing concepts like work ethic, responsibility, wisdom, generosity, discernment, reputation… When you read through this list, it’s easy to dismiss it as impossible and only see the ways you’re already failing. But this list isn’t meant to shame. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Don’t Write Her Off
The Proverbs 31 woman has much to teach us. I’ll be real honest here—it can be difficult for a woman, especially in today’s culture, to take advice from a man. Social media practically explodes the moment a man, even a godly, trustworthy pastor, shares biblical truth about a woman and her dress, behavior, or attitude. It’s hard to listen to a man tell a woman how to act when so many women have experienced various forms of abuse and trauma at the hands of men. That’s an article for another day, but the good news is that this particular list of traits came from a mother to her son. So drop the defense, let your guard down, and hear the lady out, okay? This isn’t a list of ways to set you up for failure—it’s simply a list of things men should look for in a future wife. Honestly, this list is aimed less at you and more at the men seeking to marry you.
But the list does provide us with a solid template of inspiration. Will you nail all these qualities? Of course not! I won’t either. The King’s mother didn’t. If you hit the snooze button one day instead of “getting up while it is still night to provide food for your family,” you’re not a failure. If you buy your sheets from the department store instead of “making coverings for your bed” yourself, you’re not a failure. If you take a sick day and watch four episodes of Gilmore Girls in a row instead of “watching over the affairs of your household” and folding that giant pile of laundry, you’re not a failure.
3. Don’t Get Defensive
The Proverbs 31 woman is not your enemy. Did you know that chapters in the Bible were not added until the 13th century? Headers came even later! Because of that, it’s wise to go back and read the verses before and after the passage you’re actually studying, in order to better grasp the full context. Seeing that chapter break or header can mess with your head and cause you to assume changes of subject that aren’t necessarily there.
I think this is easily done in Proverbs 31. The targeted verses of this chapter are typically verses 10-31, which can make women feel defensive. (The way we normally get when we think we’re going to fail, am I right?)
But do me a favor, and go back and read verses 1-9. Then you’ll see that King Lemuel is getting plenty of instruction from his mama first on his own behavior. He’s told to avoid women who are after him for his money, he’s told not to get drunk and mistreat his people depending on him, and he’s told to speak up for those who are marginalized. He’s instructed to judge fairly and defend the poor and not to crave beer. Then she simply transitions into the type of woman he should look for, as opposed to the loose women on the prowl for his influence and wealth.
See how context can make such a big difference in our interpretation and assumptions? When we read with a defensive lens, we miss the true meaning of the text. She’s not so intimidating now, is she?
4. Don’t Sell Yourself Short
You’re more Proverbs 31-y than you realize. Let’s break down some of these verses and I’ll prove it:
13 "She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands." – Have you worked with your hands lately? Have you done anything productive or creative? Have you changed a diaper or helped make a school project or written a note to tuck in a lunchbox or filled out a spreadsheet at work? I bet you have.
14 "She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar." – You can make a pickup order at the grocery store, unload your car, and stock your fridge, and you’re golden, sister. The point isn’t the cultural details and differences of how hard the gathering is, but rather, the work you do in providing for your family. You cook dinner. You microwave leftovers. You make Target runs. You’re doing the thing!
16 "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard." – This is money management. Do you clip coupons? Google for a discount code before placing an online order? Shop Amazon Prime Day for deals? Hit up the resale shops? Manage the money you, your husband, or the both of you make, with good stewardship? Do you look for good deals and sound investments? Are you responsible for your finances?
17 "She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks." – Are you maintaining your home and keeping up with everyone’s calendars? Are you running a vacuum cleaner, weeding the flowerbeds, picking up after messy toddlers? Are you lifting babies from highchairs and painting the nursery wall? Throwing the ball with your kids? Driving to carpool and taxi-ing your teenagers to all their practices and dances and friends’ houses? Meal prepping, cleaning up after the dog, making sure that special outfit gets bought in time for school dress-up day? Trust me—you’re working vigorously for your family.
20 "She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy." – Do you pray for the homeless person on the corner or offer to buy them lunch? Do you volunteer at your church? Donate online to various charities? Sponsor a World Vision kid? Send encouraging notes to people on social media going through a divorce or unemployment? Do you hug big at church and invite new people to sit with you? You’re probably nailing this one better than you think.
26 "She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her." – Are you the woman that people come to for advice or prayer when they’re going through a hard season? Do your friends trust you to tell them the truth? Do your kids or teenagers tell you about their bad day and ask for your help with friend drama? Does your husband seek your opinion on issues at work? Does your family unit respect you, love you, and value you? Maybe they don’t vocalize it as much as they could, but I bet they notice and appreciate you more than you realize. I bet you’re an anchor in your home, just the way it was meant to be.
30 "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." – Here’s the clincher. The above lists might be hit or miss on any given day, but this is a crucial heart posture of a Christian woman—fearing the Lord. If you do this, you’ve got the other stuff in the bag, friend. The other character traits we discussed, the ones that you’re so eager to have and demonstrate, will all naturally flow out of a heart for God.
The Proverbs 31 woman is at once none of us and all of us. The next time you read through these verses, ask the Holy Spirit to convict you in any area you need a little help with. Then ask him to show you the areas where you’re excelling. Trust me, both of those lists will vary and fluctuate over time, based on moods, seasons, and circumstances.
Being a godly woman is not a race to perfection. That just doesn’t exist on this side of heaven. No one gets it right all the time and we’re not expected to. There are no legalistic requirements in this famous passage, nothing meant to discourage or set us up for failure. Proverbs 31 simply contains traits meant to inspire us in our walk with the Lord—making us more like Christ day by day.
The Proverbs 31 woman isn’t your enemy—so feel free to grab an extra spoon and share the Ben & Jerry’s. ::wink::
Photo Credit: ©pexels
Betsy St. Amant Haddox is the author of over twenty romance novels and novellas. She resides in north Louisiana with her hubby, two daughters, an impressive stash of coffee mugs, and one furry Schnauzer-toddler. Betsy has a B.A. in Communications and a deep-rooted passion for seeing women restored to truth. When she’s not composing her next book or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can be found somewhere in the vicinity of an iced coffee. She is a regular contributor to iBelieve.com and offers author coaching and editorial services via Storyside LLC.