I heard such a disparaging opinion of “The Proverbs 31 Woman” the other day. It really took me by surprise, since in my experience, the ideals of the virtuous wife in that passage are usually regarded in high esteem. However, there was a woman in a group I was with who shared her utter disdain for the general trend of churches to push the ideals of Proverbs 31 onto women who could never live up to such a rigorous standard. Cynicism dripped from her words as she went on about this passage, and how pastors and retreat leaders are continually pressuring Christian women to wear themselves ragged in order to live up to the standards of some ancient, and impossible precedent. After listening to this ode of contempt for the allegedly virtuous woman of the Proverbs, I was simply and honestly saddened. But I began to ask myself, “Is there any place in modern society for such an idealistic standard as Solomon presents in the disputed passage?”
Coincidently, it was only a few weeks ago that I actually taught through Proverbs 31 with our fellowship; thus the passage was fresh in my mind when I heard it ridiculed by the resentful woman I mentioned. The passage is certainly not designed to intimidate Christian women; in fact I do not think it is even intended to set a standard for women. Instead, the scripture should be viewed as a portrait, painted by Solomon to glorify what a godly woman and wife ALREADY does. This is not about what a wife should do, or should be like; it’s about what a wife does and is-- if she is a woman who fears the Lord. Solomon asked the question, “Who can find a virtuous wife?” Notice he didn’t say “Here’s how to be a virtuous wife”. This is not a laundry list of behaviors, it is a portrait of a godly woman’s love for her family.
In verse 27 of the passage, Solomon explains that the virtuous wife “watches over the ways of her household.” In our vernacular, she is a housewife. This notion is fleshed out as we are presented with a wife who “does her husband good... all the days of her life”, a mother who is blessed by the children she has raised in the Lord, and a woman who “opens her mouth with wisdom”. This is not a picture of just any woman, it is most expressly a poem about a godly woman who loves the Lord and puts Him first in her life. This is a woman who sets out to a seemingly endless task-- as a woman’s work is never done-- but she is able to do all things through Christ who gives her strength. This housewife rises up each day to a daunting load, yet finds joy in it, because she loves her husband, and she loves her children, and she is serving the Lord as she serves them.
What is a “virtuous” wife? The word translated “virtuous” is a strange Hebrew word to be employed here. Throughout the Old Testament it is typically used in a military sense, as when the Angel of the Lord greeted cowardly Gideon, and said, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor”. The word “valor” here is the same word as “virtuous in Proverbs 31. The word speaks of strength and courage: what a perfect word to describe a godly wife and mother. No doubt my own wife, Marie, must be a courageous gal to be able to put up with me, and especially our rambunctious kids! I believe this Proverbs 31 woman of courageous strength, is synonymous with the good wife Solomon mentions in Proverbs 18:22, whom if a man finds has obtained a gracious gift from the Lord. I know, because everyday God’s grace flows my way through the love of my sweet Marie.
I imagine that many woman who work full-time outside the home would find this portrait discouraging, but that’s because they are trying to fulfill too many obligations. I understand the cynicism of a working mother, who is simultaneously attempting to manage their work while trying to “watch over the ways of their household”. Something’s gotta give! Between her husband and children, a woman will find more than enough to keep her busy if she simply minds the affairs of her home. If this responsibility is embraced by a woman who fears the Lord and loves her family, she too will be praised and blessed. This ideal is not supposed to cause frustration for the Christian wife, it is only meant to remind her of how important she is, and how important her dual role of a wife and mother is. Shame on any pastor who vandalizes this beautiful portrait with the graffiti of legalism.
In : Meditations
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