Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. [Proverbs 31:10-12 (NLT)]
Proverbs 31 is said to have been written by King Lemuel. We only know that Lemuel was “the king of Massa,” possibly an Arab king, his name means “devoted to God,” and his words were written somewhere between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. Attributing his words to counsel from his mother, the first nine verses sound like the sort of thing a queen-mother would tell son about government and the dangers of wine and bad women. Verses 10 through 31, however, are an acrostic poem outlining the qualities of the ideal wife.
Lemuel’s mama would have been a hard mother-in-law to please because the woman described in Proverbs 31 could be called Wonder Wife. She seems to be a cross between Shark Tank’s Barbara Cocoran, Martha Stewart, Little Women’s Mrs. March (Marmee), and Leave it to Beaver’s June Cleaver. Rising before dawn and burning her lamp late into the night, the Proverbs 31 woman juggles family, home, business, and charitable activities effortlessly and without benefit of carry-out, Amazon, Instant Pot, car pools, complaint, spa days, naps, or any help from her husband.
Because I don’t spin wool, sew clothing to sell, plant vineyards, or make our bedspreads, I used to feel a twinge of guilt whenever I read Proverbs 31. There are weeds in the garden, fingerprints on the walls, stains on the carpet, and my kids often outgrew clothes before I got around to sewing on a missing button! These words, however, aren’t about specific activities, they are about values. In these twenty-two verses, rather than a to-do list, we find the qualities every woman (and man) should want to emulate. She is virtuous, trustworthy, strong, supportive, enterprising, resourceful, compassionate, industrious, energetic, considerate, generous, honorable, and wise and we don’t have to gather flax, weave our own cloth, dress in fine linen, or get up before dawn and prepare breakfast to be any of those things! In actuality, the Proverbs 31 woman is the epitome of the ideals found throughout the book of Proverbs. She is what true wisdom looks like in real life (or real life more than 2,000 years ago)!
Some women find this chapter objectionable with its somewhat dated sentiments. Let us remember that these verses are from a time when the highest compliment a man could give a woman was that she was a perfect homemaker! Although mothers have been advising their sons about the kind of woman they should marry for centuries, some scholars think these verses actually may be King Lemuel’s tribute to his mother: a woman of “noble character.” In fact, in many traditional Jewish homes, these verses (known as the Eshet Hayil) are sung or recited at the Sabbath meal Friday nights as a way for the husband to honor his wife and show the family’s appreciation for all she’s done for them. Rather than a list of wifely duties, these words are a song of praise!