Proverbs 31 – The Wisdom of King Lemuel
A. Wisdom from King Lemuel.
1. (1) The wisdom of King Lemuel – and his mother.
The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him:
a. The words of King Lemuel: As with Agur in Proverbs 39, we don’t know anything about King Lemuel. He is not in any recorded list of the kings of Judah or Israel, so he was probably a pagan king who put his trust in Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, and through the fear of the LORD learned wisdom.
i. The name Lemuel means, belonging to God. There was no king of Israel (or Judah) with this name, so either he was a foreign king, or it is a pen name for the author. Several older commentators and Jewish legends often say Lemuel, the one belonging to God, was Solomon himself and his mother was Bathsheba.
ii. “Jewish legend identifies Lemuel as Solomon and the advice as from Bathsheba from a time when Solomon indulged in magic with his Egyptian wife and delayed the morning sacrifices…But there is no evidence for this.” (Ross)
iii. “There have been many conjectures as to who King Lemuel was, but nothing certainly can be said.” (Morgan)
iv. “There is no evidence whatever that Muel or Lemuel means Solomon; the chapter seems, to be much later than his time, and the several Chaldaisms which occur in the very opening of it are no mean proof of this. If Agur was not the author of it, it may be considered as another supplement to the book of Proverbs. Most certainly Solomon did not write it.” (Clarke)
v. “With a minor punctuation change, however, one may translate v. 1a as, ‘The sayings of Lemuel, king of Massa,’ instead of ‘The sayings of King Lemuel—an oracle.’ McKane notes that Massa may have been a north Arabian tribe (Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30) and that several Aramaisms appear in the text.” (Garrett)
b. The utterance: Like Solomon (Proverbs 2:6) and Agur (Proverbs 30:1), Lemuel understood that his words were an utterance, a prophecy or revelation, form God.
c. Which his mother taught him: Perhaps like Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5) Lemuel had a Jewish mother who taught him the fear of the LORD and God’s wisdom.
2. (2-3) Warning a son of the danger of sexual immorality.
What, my son?
And what, son of my womb?
And what, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
Nor your ways to that which destroys kings.
a. My son… son of my womb… son of my vows: King Lemuel’s mother spoke to him with great tenderness, describing her connection with him in three ways. He was simply her son; but then also the son of her womb, having given birth to him, and finally he was the son of her vows, her promises and commitments.
i. “There is an ocean of love in a parent’s heart, a fathomless depth of desire after the child’s welfare, in the mother especially.” (Trapp)
ii. Son of my vows: “A child born after vows made for offsprings is called the child of a person’s vows.” (Clarke)
iii. “She traces his close connection to her backward from the present, to his gestation in her womb and to her vows before pregnancy. The latter epithet probably refers to a vow she made that, that if God gave her son she would dedicate him to live according to God’s wisdom (cf. 1 Samuel 1:11).” (Waltke)
b. Do not give your strength to women: The sense is that an excessive sexual interest in women wastes a man’s strength. This speaks of an unhealthy obsession with romance or sex, which have a proper place in life, but should not be made into a reason for living. The practice of sexual immorality and sex obsession gives away a man’s strength, in the sense of his spiritual strength, his self-respect, his self-control, his example and standing in the community.
i. Of course, it could also be rightly said that in sexual immorality and sex obsession a woman gives away her strength as well, but King Lemuel’s mother spoke this to her son, not directly to her daughter. Both men and women need to remain faithful to God in regard to sex and romance, or they will give away their strength.
ii. “The point of the verse is that while it would be easy for a king to spend his time and energy enjoying women, that would be unwise.” (Ross)
c. Nor your ways to that which destroys kings: Connected with the previous line, it seems that Lemuel’s mother warned him and us all against sexual and romantic obsession, something so powerful it destroys kings – even the greatest kings. King Solomon himself was destroyed as he gave his strength to women (1 Kings 11:1-10). Solomon’s father, King David, suffered tragically when he gave his strength to women (2 Samuel 11-12).
i. “Obsession with such women corrupts the king’s sovereign power…David’s lust for Bathsheba made him callous toward justice and cost Uriah his life, and Solomon’s many sexual partners made him callous toward pure and undefiled religion and incapable of real love. In other words, obsession with women has the effect as obsession with liquor.” (Waltke)
3. (4-7) Warning a son of the danger of alcohol.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine,
Nor for princes intoxicating drink;
Lest they drink and forget the law,
And pervert the justice of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to those who are bitter of heart.
Let him drink and forget his poverty,
And remember his misery no more.
a. It is not for kings to drink wine: Kings and those who lead should avoid alcohol (intoxicating drink). This idea is repeated three times for emphasis. Though the Bible does see a potential blessing in wine (Psalm 104:15, Proverbs 3:10), it is a dangerous blessing that must be carefully regarded and for many (such as kings and leaders), voluntarily set aside.
i. “The Carthagenians made a law that no magistrate of theirs should drink wine. The Persians permitted their kings to be drunk one day in a year only. Solon made a law at Athens that drunkenness in a prince should be punished with death. See Ecclesiastes 10:16-17.” (Trapp)
b. Lest they drink and forget the law: The responsibilities of a king are so great that it is essential that he not be impaired in his judgment or abilities in any way. This principle is true not only for kings, but for leaders of many types, including and especially those who consider themselves leaders among God’s people today.
i. Pervert the justice of all the afflicted: “Which may easily be done by a drunken judge, because drunkenness deprives a man of the use of reason; by which alone men can distinguish between right and wrong.” (Poole)
c. Give strong drink to him who is perishing: King Lemuel’s mother thought of two more appropriate drinkers rather than the king. First, she thought of the condemned criminal who needs to be numbed by strong drink on his way to execution. Second, she thought of those who are bitter of heart, who could drink and forget his poverty and remember his misery no more. It isn’t that there are son consequences for drinking in these two cases, but that the consequences have little impact in comparison to the king or leader.
i. “We have already seen, that inebriating drinks were mercifully given to condemned criminals, to render them less sensible of the torture they endured in dying. This is what was offered to our Lord; but he refused it.” (Clarke)
ii. “The queen-mother does not recommend a free beer program for the poor or justify its use as an opiate for the masses; her point is simply that the king must avoid drunkenness in order to reign properly.” (Garrett)
d. And remember his misery no more: King Lemuel’s mother understood that strong drink, wine, and other intoxicants take away from a person’s performance and excellence. For this and other reasons, many people – especially those in leadership – should avoid alcohol altogether.
i. “If any man should be wicked enough to draw from it the inference that he would be able to forget his misery and poverty by drinking, he would soon find himself woefully mistaken; for if he had one misery before, he would have ten miseries afterwards; and if he was previously poor, he would be in still greater poverty afterwards. Those who fly to the bottle for consolation might as soon fly to hell to find a heaven; and, instead of helping them to forget their poverty, drunkenness would only sink them still more deeply in the mire.” (Spurgeon)
4. (8-9) Defending the defenseless.
Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy.
a. Open your mouth for the speechless: The idea is that there are those who can’t speak for themselves, to defend themselves in a court of law or in less formal circumstances. The wise and godly man or woman will speak for the speechless, and take up the cause of the defenseless (those appointed to die).
i. As a unit, Proverbs 31:1-9 raises an important question. Being a leader means some level of position and power. Will you use it indulge yourself (here the indulgence is women and wine, Proverbs 31:3-7), or will you use your position and power to protect and benefit those you lead (as in Proverbs 31:8-9)?
b. Open your mouth, judge righteously: This was especially important for a king like Lemuel, but applies to everyone. If we have the opportunity to right a wrong or see that a wrong is punished, we should speak up (open your mouth) and judge righteously. We should plead the cause of the poor and needy who have trouble properly defending themselves.
i. “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)
B. Searching for the woman of character and virtue.
The 22 verses (Proverbs 31:10-31) each begin with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This acrostic construction was used in several psalms (such as Psalms 9-10, 25, 34, 37, 11, 112, 119, and 145 and Lamentations 4). The purpose was to make the passage memorable (easier to memorize), and to express poetic skill. This is, “An Alphabet of Wifely Excellence” (Kidner)
“This and the following verses are acrostic, each beginning with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Proverbs 31:10, aleph; Proverbs 31:11, beth; Proverbs 31:12, gimel; and so on to the end of the chapter, the last verse of which has the letter tau.” (Clarke)
“The arrangement made memorization easier and perhaps also served to organize the thoughts. We may say, then, that the poem is an organized arrangement of the virtues of the wise wife—the ABC’s of wisdom.” (Ross)
The author of the commentary wishes to thank his wife Inga-Lill for her valuable collaboration on this portion of the commentary.
1. (10) Searching for and finding a virtuous woman and wife.
Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
a. Who can find a virtuous wife? In this last section of Proverbs 31, Lemuel’s mother spoke to him about the qualities of a virtuous wife. The following verses speak of her character and activity, giving Lemuel an idea of the woman to search for and to prize. This passage is traditionally understood as being addressed to women but is more accurately spoken by a woman to a man so he could know the character and potential character of a good wife before marriage, and value and praise his wife for her virtuous character once married. It is primarily a search-list for a man, and only secondarily a check-list for a woman.
· This passage describes the kind of wife the Christian man should pray for and seek after.
· This passage gives a guide, a goal for the Christian woman, showing the kind of character she can have as she fears and follows the Lord.
· This passage reminds the Christian man that he must walk in the fear and wisdom of God so that he will be worthy of and compatible with such a virtuous woman.
b. A virtuous wife: She is called a virtuous wife, not because only married women can have these qualities, but because this is marriage guidance from a mother to a son. The virtuous woman can be single or married, but each will have particular ways the virtue is expressed, either in their singleness or as family.
i. Waltke calls this woman the valiant wife, and notes that eseth hayil [virtuous wife] is translated as the excellent wife of Proverbs 12:4. The term is also applied to men and translated mighty men of valor in 1 Kings 24:14, competent men in Genesis 47:6, able men in Exodus 18:21.
ii. “She is a virtuous woman – a woman of power and strength. Esheth chayil, a strong or virtuous wife, full of mental energy.” (Clarke)
iii. “The vocabulary and the expressions in general have the ring of an ode to a champion.” (Ross) What this woman has did not simply fall to her; it is her victory through wisdom, her hard-won reward. The battle or military allusions are many, including:
· Virtuous wife is the same expression translated mighty man of valor in Judges (as in Judges 6:12).
· The word strength in Proverbs 31:17 is used in other places for great and heroic victories (as in Exodus 15:2 and 1 Samuel 2:10).
· The word gain in Proverbs 31:11 is actually the word for plunder (as in Isaiah 8:1 and 8:3).
· The expression excel them all in Proverbs 31:29 “is an expression that signifies victory.” (Ross)
iv. The qualities of this virtuous wife as described in Proverbs 31:11-31 are often mentioned in previous proverbs. As a whole, the proverbs have much to say about wisdom, diligent work ethic, wise business practices, honorable speech, compassion for the poor, and integrity; here those same qualities are explained in connection to a virtuous wife. Coming at the end of the collection of proverbs, one might say that this is a strong woman – and her greatest strength is her wisdom, rooted in the fear of the LORD.
c. Her worth is far above rubies: Precious gems like rubies are both valued and rare. In a sense, the complete profile of the “Proverbs 31 Woman” is an ideal goal, much as the listing of the character of the godly man for leadership in both 1 Timothy 2 and Titus 1. It would be rare to find a woman who excels in every aspect of the list, so it should not be used to compare or condemn, either one’s self or another woman. Rather, this character should reflect the values and aspiration of the woman walks in the fear of the LORD and godly wisdom.
i. Rubies: “The precise meaning of the word translated ‘rubies’ is unknown; other suggested translations are ‘pearls’ and ‘corals.’ The reference is to some kind of precious stone.” (Garrett)
d. Her worth is far above rubies: The woman described in the rest of the chapter is rare and valuable, but her value (worth) is greater than what she does as explained in the following verses. Her value or worth should not be reduced to the performance of these qualities; she will be virtuous before she acts in a virtuous manner.
i. Her worth is far above rubies: Wisdom itself is also described as being more valuable than rubies (as in Proverbs 3:15 and 8:11). This is one reason why some think this description of the virtuous wife in Proverbs is more a poetic description of wisdom as woman (as in Proverbs 1:20-33 and 7:4-5). “Since it is essentially about wisdom, its lessons are for both men and women to develop. The passage teaches that the fear of the Lord will inspire people to be faithful stewards of the time and talents that God has given; that wisdom is productive and beneficial for others, requiring great industry in life’s endeavors; that wisdom is best taught and lived in the home.” (Ross)
2. (11-12) Her relationship with her husband.
The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
a. The heart of her husband safely trusts her: The virtuous wife not only has the trust of her husband, but it is safely given to her. Her character is trustworthy, filled with integrity. She will speak, act, and live with wisdom – and therefore God’s blessing will be on their home (he will have no lack of gain). A foolish woman who can’t be trusted, takes some measure of blessing away from the home, and this is often seen financially or materially.
i. “But in the whole delineation there is hardly any trait more beautiful than this—absolute trustworthiness…he seeks her confidence and advice. He has no fear of her betraying his secrets. He can safely trust her.” (Meyer)
ii. “He is confident of her love, care, and fidelity. He dare trust her with his soulsecrets, &c.; he doubteth not of her chastity, secrecy, or care to keep his family.” (Trapp)
iii. “Outside of this text and Judges 20:36, Scripture condemns trust in anyone or anything apart from the God/the Lord…This present exception elevates the valiant wife, who herself fears the Lord, to the highest level of spiritual and physical competence.” (Waltke)
iv. “The greatest gift of God is a pious amiable spouse who fears God and loves his house, and with whom one can live in perfect confidence.” (Martin Luther’s description of his wife, cited in Bridges)
b. He will have no lack of gain: Some think a wife as a burden or hindrance to gain and a better life. This is not so in God’s plan and with the presence and influence of a virtuous wife. She brings gain to her husband on many levels, and in great measure (no lack).
i. Gain“usually means ‘plunder’; the point may be that the gain will be as rich and bountiful as the spoils of war.” (Ross)
c. She does him good and not evil: Several previous proverbs explained the bad effect of a bad wife. The opposite is also true; a virtuous wife does her husband good and not evil, and she continues being a blessing all the days of her life. The sense is that her goodness and faithful character becomes deeper and greater through the passing years.
i. All the days of her life: “Her good is not capricious; it is constant and permanent, while she and her husband live.” (Clarke)
ii. “Her commitment to her husband’s well being is true, not false; constant, not temperamental; reliable, not fickle.” (Waltke)
3. (13-16) Her work and ingenuity.
She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants.
She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
a. She seeks wool and flax: Using wonderful poetic images, King Lemuel’s mother described not the resume of a godly woman, but life-like examples of the busy, hard working, and creative character of the virtuous wife. A woman who felt burdened to complete each of these tasks in a day, week, or even month would be exhausted and probably discouraged. Yet the character poetically described can be evident in a wise and godly woman’s life in its own way.
i. The flurry of activity described in these verses doesn’t mean that she does all these things in a day or even a week, but it does point to how much work and how many different kinds of work are involved in wisely and properly managing a home. Women today can take comfort and confidence in God’s recognition here of just how big their job is.
b. She seeks wool and flax: The virtuous woman knows how to seek and find things that are necessary resources for her family and home.
c. Willingly works with her hands: The virtuous wife is not proud or haughty and does not think that working with her hands is beneath her. She works in simple and practical ways for her family and home.
i. “In an age long before the industrial revolution, women had to work at spinning wool and making clothes in every spare moment; fidelity in this labor was a mark of feminine virtue.” (Garrett)
ii. Yet, what sets this virtuous wife apart is that she willingly works. “And all her labour is a cheerful service; her will, her heart, is in it.” (Clarke)
d. She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar: The virtuous wife provides food for her family and home after the pattern of a merchant ship, which operates with regularity and effort. If required, she even rises while it is yet night to either get or prepare food for her household.
i. “The simile with the merchant ships suggests that she brings a continual supply of abundance.” (Ross)
e. And a portion for her maidservants: It wasn’t uncommon for many families in Biblical times to have servants or hired workers. The virtuous wife wisely manages and cares for such maidservants, showing her compassion and care even beyond her immediate family.
i. “This implies first that she cares even for the serving girls and second that she is diligent about overseeing them.” (Garrett)
f. She considers a field and buys it: The virtuous wife is forward thinking, combining her creativity with hard work. She thoughtfully (considers) invests and uses the profits to better her family and their future, in this case by planting a vineyard.
i. Isaiah 5:2 describes all that was involved in planting a vineyard in ancient Israel and making it productive. It was a lot of work.
ii. “She does not restrict herself to the bare necessaries of life; she is able to procure some of its comforts. She plants a vineyard, that she may have wine for a beverage, for medicine, and for sacrifice. This also is procured of her own labour.” (Clarke)
4. (17-20) Her strength and compassion.
She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.
She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
a. She girds herself with strength: The virtuous wife is noted for her strength, and it is strength in action (her arms). She uses her strength for productive purpose.
i. The idea of “girding” one’s self – setting a strengthening belt around the midsection – “means to get ready for some ‘kind of heroic or difficult action,’ such as hard running (1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 4:29), escape from Egypt (Exodus 12:11), or physical labor (Proverbs 31:17).” (Waltke)
ii. “She takes care of her own health and strength, not only by means of useful labour, but by healthy exercise. She avoids what might enervate her body, or soften her mind-she is ever active, and girt ready for every necessary exercise. Her loins are firm, and her arms strong.” (Clarke)
b. She perceives that her merchandise is good: She is wise and experienced enough to get good materials and merchandise for her home. Her wisdom teaches her to buy oil for her lamp, of such quality that it burns through the night and does not go out.
i. “She takes care to manufacture the best articles of the kind, and to lay on a reasonable price that she may secure a ready sale. Her goods are in high repute, and she knows she can sell as much as she can make. And she finds that while she pleases her customers, she increases her own profits.” (Clarke)
c. She stretches out her hands to the distaff: The virtuous wife knows how to use the tools and technology available to manage the home well. The distaff is a stick or spindle onto which wool or flax is wound for spinning, and she uses both hands to do the work well.
i. “The ‘distaff’ is the straight rod, and the ‘spindle’ is the round or circular part.” (Ross)
ii. “The spindle and distaff are the most ancient of all the instruments used for spinning, or making thread. The spinning-wheel superseded them in these countries; but still they were in considerable use till spinning machinery superseded both them and the spinning-wheels in general.” (Clarke)
iii. “Sarah (Genesis 18:6–8), Rebekah (Genesis 24:18–20) and Rachel (Genesis 29:9, 10) show that women of high social rank and wealth were not above manual, even menial, labor.” (Waltke)
d. She extends her hand to the poor: The virtuous wife is much more than a skillful manager or homemaker; she is also a woman of great compassion. She cares for and helps both the poor and the needy, doing more than throwing money to them, but she actually draws near to them and extends her hand and reaches out to those in need.
i. Her hard work was not only for her own needs and the needs of her family; she also worked to help the poor and the needy. “This was the hand that was diligently at work in the previous verse with an acquired skill; it is not the hand of a lazy, wealthy woman. She uses her industry in charitable ways.” (Ross)
5. (21-23) God’s blessing on the virtuous wife.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
a. She is not afraid of snow for her household: The virtuous wife has the wisdom, diligence, and preparation to ready her household for all kinds of challenges and adversity. Her fear of the LORD and the wisdom that flows from it invites God’s blessing, even being able to clothe all her household in prestigious scarlet.
i. “She hath provided enough, not only for their necessity and defence against cold and other inconveniences, which is here supposed, but also for their delight and ornament.” (Poole)
b. Her household is clothed in scarlet: Some wonder why scarlet clothing would be connected to the fact that she is not afraid of snow for her household. It has been suggested that the scarlet color of the clothing makes her children easy to find in heavy snow, but given the relatively light snowfall in that part of the world, this is unlikely. It is possible that this does not describe a color, but doubly thick garments.
i. “The word has a plural ending, which is abnormal for ‘scarlet’; so that both form and sense arouse suspicion. The consonants allow the reading double (AV margin), i.e. double thickness, which is supported by Vulgate and LXX.” (Kidner)
ii. “But shanim, from shanah, to iterate, to double, signifies not only scarlet, so called from being twice or doubly dyed, but also double garments, not only the ordinary coat but the surtout or great-coat also, or a cloak to cover all. But most probably double garments, or twofold to what they were accustomed to wear, are here intended.” (Clarke)
c. She makes a tapestry for herself: With God’s blessing on her wisdom and diligence, the virtuous wife makes good things for herself, and enjoys personal marks of God’s material blessing on her family (her clothing is fine linen and purple).
i. Purple: “To produce this red dye was costly because it comes from a seashell off the Phoenician coast and so connotes wealth and luxury.” (Waltke)
ii. “Clothe yourselves with the silk of piety, with the satin of sanctity, with the purple of modesty, &c. See 1 Peter 3:3-4.” (Trapp)
d. Her husband is known in the gates: The virtuous wife sees such a blessing on her family and household that her husband is also esteemed and honored among the elders of the land. All this is the blessing of God that often comes to the wife who walks in virtue, wisdom, and the fear of the LORD.
i. “She is a loving wife, and feels for the respectability and honour of her husband…He is respected not only on account of the neatness and cleanliness of his person and dress, but because he is the husband of a woman who is justly held in universal esteem. And her complete management of household affairs gives him full leisure to devote himself to the civil interests of the community.” (Clarke)
6. (24-25) The clothing she sells and the clothing she has.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
a. She makes linen garments and sells them: The wisdom and diligence of the virtuous wife leads her to not only provide the necessities for her family, but she makes enough and of such great quality that she sells those necessities to the sellers (the merchants). She cares deeply for her family, but her mind and vision go beyond them to the outside world where she does good for herself and her family.
i. “The poet did not think it strange or unworthy for a woman to engage in honest trade. In fact, weaving of fine linens was a common trade for women in Palestine from antiquity.” (Ross)
b. Strength and honor are her clothing: The fact that she is willing to distribute and sell linen garments she makes and has shows that her first priority isn’t in what is in her closet or what she wears. She cares even more about the display of her character than the outward display of her clothing. When it comes to character, she is one of the best dressed, clothed with strength and honor, so that she shall rejoice not only in the present day, but also in time to come.
i. Strength and honor: “The praise of the woman can hardly be higher: it attributes to her the advantages of both youth and old age (i.e., ‘power and splendor,’ Proverbs 20:29).” (Waltke)
7. (26-27) Her inner life.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
a. She opens her mouth with wisdom: The description of her inner life continues from the previous verse. The virtuous wife has what is often described and valued in the Book of Proverbs – wise speech and words that show the law of kindness. Both her deliberate speech (she opens her mouth) and her spontaneous words (on her tongue) are marked by wisdom and kindness.
i. “She is neither sullenly silent, nor full of vain and impertinent talk, as many women are, but speaks directly and piously, as occasion offereth itself.” (Poole)
ii. “Tatianus tells us that in the primitive Church every age and sex among the Christians were Christian philosophers; yea, that the very virgins and maids, as they sat at their work in wool, were wont to speak of God’s word.” (Trapp)
iii. In her tongue is the law of kindness: “This is the most distinguishing excellence of this woman. There are very few of those who are called managing women who are not lords over their husbands, tyrants over their servants, and insolent among their neighbours. But this woman, with all her eminence and excellence, was of a meek and quiet spirit. Blessed woman!” (Clarke)
iv. “Specifically loving teaching (torat hesed) is on her tongue (al lesonah, see Proverbs 21:23) probably signifies that her teaching is informed by her own loving kindness.” (Waltke)
b. She watches over the ways of her household: As a faithful guardian, the virtuous wife is observant of her family and their ways. The choice to watch so carefully means that she does not choose to eat the bread of idleness.
i. “She hath an oar in every boat, an eye in every business; she spies and pries into her children’s and servants’ carriages, and exacts of them strict conversation and growth in godliness: she overlooks the whole family no otherwise than if she were in a watch tower.” (Trapp)
ii. “Here the text explicitly states that she avoids laziness; eating the ‘bread of idleness’ is idiomatic for indulging in laziness.” (Garrett)
8. (28-29) Her family’s public praise.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
a. Her children rise up and call her blessed: A woman of such character and wisdom rightfully receives the blessings and praises of her family. Both her children and her husband not only see, but also speak of the blessedness of the woman who brings such blessing to their household. This is not only a description of the virtuous wife, but also an exhortation to children and a husband to bless and praise the mother and wife of godly character.
i. “Her children are well bred [polite]; they rise up and pay due respect.” (Clarke)
b. Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all: These are the words of the husband as he praises his wife, with words that encourage, reward, and nourish her. In a completely literal sense, this could only be true of one woman in any given community at any given time. Yet, we perfectly understand the sense of this. Every home can have a wife and mother that does excel them all; every husband can legitimately feel “I’ve got the best wife” and children feel, “We have the best mom.”
i. In his remarks on this verse, Adam Clarke thought of a woman who perhaps truly did excel them all – Susanna Wesley. “But high as the character of this Jewish matron stands in the preceding description, I can say that I have met at least her equal, in a daughter of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Annesly, the wife of Samuel Wesley, sen., rector of Epworth in Lincolnshire, and mother of the late extraordinary brothers, John and Charles Wesley. I am constrained to add this testimony, after having traced her from her birth to her death, through all the relations that a woman can bear upon earth. Her Christianity gave to her virtues and excellences a heightening, which the Jewish matron could not possess. Besides, she was a woman of great learning and information, and of a depth of mind, and reach of thought, seldom to be found among the daughters of Eve, and not often among the sons of Adam.”
9. (30-31) The praise and the reward of the wise woman.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.
a. Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing: King Lemuel’s mother noted the passing nature of outer beauty and the deceitful nature of manipulative charm. In contrast, a woman who fears the LORD has beauty that does not pass and charm that does not deceive.
i. Charm is deceitful: “Because it gives a false representation of the person, being ofttimes a cover to a most deformed soul, and to many evil and hateful qualities.” (Poole)
ii. “Physical appearance is not necessarily dismissed—it simply does not endure as do those qualities that the fear of the Lord produces…one who pursues beauty may very well be disappointed by the character of the ‘beautiful’ person.” (Ross)
iii. “Charm and beauty are not bad; they simply are inadequate reasons to marry a girl. The young man should first seek a woman who fears the Lord. And whoever finds such a woman should make sure that her gifts and accomplishments do not go unappreciated.” (Garrett)
b. A woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised: Proverbs begins with a strong connection between wisdom and the fear of the LORD (Proverbs 1:7). Here the collection ends describing the virtuous wife as filled with the wisdom, beauty, and charm that marks a woman who fears the LORD.
i. The fact that she truly fears the LORD shows that she had a real relationship with Him. She was not only a Martha, busy with service; she was also Mary, walking in fear and reverence toward the LORD.
ii. She – the woman who fears the LORD – has the character of the virtuous wife. The way the character is expressed will differ according to time and culture, but the character itself is universal. God honors the virtuous wife, the woman of wisdom and diligence, and makes her one of the greatest blessings given to humanity.
iii. “By definition, the fear of the Lord means in part living according to the wisdom revealed in this book. This woman’s itemized, self-sacrificing activities for others exemplify the fear of the Lord.” (Waltke)
iv. “Coming at the end of the poem, and of the book, this pinpoints the organizing factor in this brilliant woman’s universe. It is her fear of Yahweh that enables her to see that real greatness will come to her, not through self-centered aggressiveness, and not through merely external beauty, but through godly devotion and the wholehearted commitment to God’s creational intention for her.” (Philips)
c. Give her the fruit of her hands: This virtuous woman will be rewarded by the God she fears and rewarded by what she has accomplished for her family and herself, as they publicly speak of her godliness and wisdom (let her own works praise her in the gates). For the woman (and man) of wisdom, this reward is not their primary motivation, but the fitting result of their life lived in fear of the LORD.
i. The fruit of her hands: “She is no less than Woman Wisdom made real. The riches Woman Wisdom offers (Proverbs 8:18) are brought home by the hard work of the good wife (Proverbs 31:11).” (Garrett)
ii. “It is but just and fit that she should enjoy those benefits and praises which her excellent labours deserve… If men be silent, the lasting effects of her prudence and diligence will loudly trumpet forth her praises.” (Poole)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission