Many of us have had a love/hate relationship with the Proverbs 31 woman. Yes, we admire her energy and success. But frankly, the woman set the bar far too high for the rest of us. We read the 31st chapter of the book of Proverbs and think, “That’s just impossible.” We feel defeated before we ever begin. But, perhaps we’ve misunderstood this woman all along.
The woman described in the last chapter of the book of Proverbs, also known as the “wife of noble character” is more than just a description of a godly woman. Throughout Proverbs, the wisdom writer often personifies wisdom. Since the Hebrew word for wisdom is feminine, wisdom is naturally portrayed as a woman. Sometimes the teacher depicts wisdom as an immoral, foolish woman and sometimes as a wise, godly woman.
The wife of noble character then is the personification of wisdom, a collection of all the characteristics of wisdom we see in the collection of proverbs. This wise woman of virtue stands in contrast to all the adulterous and foolish women set forth throughout the book. She is an idealized wife, in an idealized home. And of course, she is set in the time and culture of an ancient Jewish household.
On commentator said it reads more like an ancient hymn, a musical poem to lady wisdom. Husbands and children even recited it in ancient Jewish homes at Sabbath dinner by. Structurally, it’s an acrostic. The first word of each line begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence.
The Key to Understanding the Proverbs 31 Woman
This woman is not smarter or more energetic than today’s average Christian woman. She does not possess some secret super power or run for days with no sleep. The “secret” is the source of her wisdom:
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30 ESV
“The fear of the LORD” is a running theme in the book of Proverbs. God is the Source of true wisdom (Proverbs 8:22). If we want to live wisely and not work against the One who designed the universe we must submit to Him and His ways. We must acknowledge His authority and yield to His Lordship in our lives. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10).
I think the reason the Proverbs 31 woman often intimidates us is because we are looking at what all she does rather than Who she serves. She isn’t following a long to-do list, but instead is following her Lord one step at a time. And as she does she walks in His wisdom with His power. (You may also find this post helpful: “3 Tips to Help You Understand Proverbs.“)
The Fruit of Wisdom in the Proverbs 31 Woman
First of all – the Proverbs 31 woman is a composite, an overview of a lifetime of a wise woman. God doesn’t expect us to do it all every day!
If you have time, I encourage you to stop and read Proverbs 31:10-31. Don’t get bogged down in the specific tasks. Many of them – like planting a vineyard and spinning her own cloth (Proverbs 31:16, 19) – are closely tied to her time and culture. I just recently read and studied this passage in my own personal quiet time and with the Facebook group I lead “Reading the Bible Together.” (By the way, today we begin a week-long study in Revelation 1-4. All women are welcome!) As I read, I made lists of the following:
- Characteristics of her character
- How she relates to her husband, children, employees, and others
- The quality of her work in all areas of her life like home life, business, finances, and personal appearance
I discovered things like a wise woman is hardworking, generous, a good steward of her resources, watches her words, and plans for the future. I learned that her character impacts how others see her husband and that because she helps him and is trustworthy, her husband praises her to others. I noticed that since this woman yields to the God of wisdom in every area of her life the benefit of His wisdom shows up in every area.
So, here’s the key to being like the Proverbs 31 woman. We don’t have to be and do all the things. We just really need one thing. To fear the Lord. When we do that, His wisdom touches everything we say and do.
In what way have you previously misunderstood the Proverbs 31 woman?