Proverbs 31 has to be the most detested passage of scripture for Christian women. It might be worse even than the passage that says women should be silent in church. Over and over, with the best intention, Proverbs 31 has been taught as a list of accomplishments for the most devoted women to achieve. The popular studies for women of Proverbs 31 completely diminish the idea that individual women would have individual personalities and aptitudes.
The #lifegoals laid out in Proverbs 31 are so lofty that some teachers have said the Proverbs 31 woman is actually a personification of wisdom just to alleviate the pressure. I’m just gonna say now that that is possible except that all other personifications of wisdom in Proverbs, the woman being described is named “Wisdom.” So there’s that. Let’s not invalidate the Proverbs 31 women out of jealousy over her unique abilities. I fully believe she was real, or at least was expected to be found. King Lemuel’s mother obviously expected him to dig up this rare gem. Maybe rather than being a “personification” the Proverbs 31 woman is a severe case of “nobody’s good enough for my baby boy.”
Let’s expand the description of the Proverbs 31 woman. The context of the rest of Proverbs 31 is one continuous piece of advice from a mother to her son, the young leader, a newly minted king.
The Proverbs 31 woman is actually the Proverbs 31:10-31 woman. There is a whole family described in the complete reading of the chapter, not just “a wife of noble character.” The Proverbs 31 woman is actually the Proverbs 31 queen married to the Proverbs 31 King Lemuel. He is the Proverbs 31 son, which means The Proverbs 31 woman has a Proverbs 31 mother-in-law, as well as Proverbs 31 children. This passage is about not just one stellar woman, but a stellar family that is powered by interdependent, godly relationships.
The first 9 verses of Proverbs 31 are dedicated to a faithful son heeding the advice of his very wise mother— the Queen Mother. She does not start with advice about choosing a wife, but about avoiding sexual immorality, drunkenness, distraction, lawlessness, being derelict of his duties as king, submitting to a spirit of death and depression, and falling into poverty and misery. He is instructed instead to pursue righteousness defined as truth, courage, honor, leadership, discernment, integrity, compassion, charity, and humility.
So let me just sum up the last half of the passage here, verses 10-31: the Proverbs 31 wife, that the Queen Mother instructed her son to find and cherish, possesses all of the qualities he is supposed to pursue. She is his help-meet. Her noble character enables, supports, and stokes his character. In fact, five of the verses describing the Proverbs 31 wife are about the king and the reputation he has because of her. He is able to act powerfully and purposefully as a righteous man in public because of his partner.
This passage describes a life of righteousness as being a community affair. We do not fulfill our purpose, or pursue our calling without the influence of our intimate relationships– we do not live lives of faith alone. We are placed in families, communities, and churches where our faith walk is interdependent on the relationships we are in. The Proverbs 31 Queen Mother knew this and so instructed her son to choose his wife wisely. She taught him and he listened, much like his own children would rise up and call his own wife blessed, virtuous, capable, and surpassing all other women (Prov 31:28-29.)
The honor King Lemuel gave his wife— he rewards her and praises her among his peers (v.31)— shows the purity of his character as matching the expectations of those held for the Proverbs 31 woman. There are some heavy expectations here for Christian men. Rightfully so. Why would we expect Christian women to cultivate the highest character just to marry slackers? Men of great faith require women of great faith, and women of great faith require men of great faith.
This post is the intro to a series about men and women, their relationships, and the effect the individuals in these relationships have on each others’ faith, obedience to God, and receipt of God’s promises. This is not a series about marriage. It really is more a series about gender wars. Goody, right?!
We will look at:
Elizabeth and Zechariah
Sarai, Abram, and Hagar
Isaac and Rebekah
Esther and Mordecai
Deborah, Barak, and Jael
Moses, Midwives, Mothers, and Miriam
Mary and Joseph
Job and his wife
Adam and Eve
Jezebel and Ahab