Getting to Know the Proverbs 31 Woman: Her Mission, Her Message, and What it Really Means to Be Like
I can't believe I'm writing this.
Not only because almost every Christian women's blog has written about this (some of them quite superficially, might I add...) but because for a while I was convinced that the Proverbs 31 woman had it out for me.
(Ok, that's an exaggeration... but do you know what I mean? I always felt like such a loser compared to her!)
Until fairly recently, Proverbs 31 was a tough passage for me. I often felt like the woman depicted in the pages was the measuring stick for godliness, and I just didn’t measure up. No matter how hard I tried.
If you read the last post, Making Peace with the Proverbs 31 Woman, then you’ll know exactly how I felt about this particular portion of scripture and how God had to re-frame my understanding of what it means to be a "Woman of Valor".
*If you haven’t read it yet, then I recommend getting caught up real quick, because this is Part 2!
But before we go on, it’s important that we establish a few facts about this section of scripture and the Proverbs 31 woman in general:
1. She is a literary device.This piece of literature is an acrostic poem. So the proverbs 31 woman isn't a historical account of a real woman. It's possible she is a personification of wisdom (wisdom is depicted as a woman throughout the book of Proverbs). Or perhaps she’s an exaggerated hero archetype (this is poetry after all), or perhaps she’s an embodiment of the female characteristics of God. Whatever she is, let’s not forget she is a literary device - a fictional character.
2. She is a teaching tool. This portrayal of the “ideal woman" is part of a collection of advice from King Lemuel's mother. In it, the proverbs 31 woman stands as an example to all young men, and encourages them to consider important qualities they should look for in a wife. These principles can also be applied to young women searching for a husband!
(If you want to learn more about the wisdom literature in the Bible, understanding Biblical poetry, or the book of Proverbs in general, The Bible Project has some great videos. If you have the time, these will help deepen your understanding of our topic today!)
3. She is a tribute to women. This passage is pronounced over Jewish women during the Sabbath as a blessing. It’s not meant to condemn them, or measure their accomplishments, but rather to uplift, inspire, encourage, and strengthen them as they continue hammering away at the tasks of life.
Personally, I already knew 1 and 2, so it was number 3 that was the most profound discovery for me. I think God knew that I needed to reconcile my feelings of guilt and shame associated with this passage so that I would be open to hearing what this Proverbs 31 woman has to teach me.
(If you want to learn more about the wisdom literature in the Bible, understanding Biblical poetry, or the book of Proverbs in general, these videos are AMAZING resources! If you have the time, watch the first one now. These will deepen your understanding of this topic, and give some helpful context.)
Now that we’ve established this woman as our friend, our coach, our co-laborer in the trenches of wifehood and womanhood (and cleared the clouds of shame!) - it’s time to ask the question:
If she’s not here to be a measuring stick… then what is her message?
First things first, let's take a look at how her story appears in scripture:
Proverbs 31 New International Version (NIV)
Sayings of King Lemuel
1The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.
2 Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb! Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers! 3 Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.
4 It is not for kings, Lemuel— it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, 5 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. 6 Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish! 7 Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character
10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. 15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. 16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. 18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. 19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
So this is where we come back to those three key facts.
Because this passage has multiple purposes, this passage has multiple messages.
It all depends on which lens you use to understand it.
Her Message as a Teacher:
When we use the lens that her purpose is to be a teaching tool for young men, we can see that she is teaching us that godly men search for godly spouses. (I would extend this to women, too!)
When we look at the scripture through this lens, we see that the details of this woman are given as examples of what a godly spouse does, and what characteristics are present in someone who is living their life in a way that is pleasing to God.
So the main message here is:
You need to examine the qualities of your potential partner, and prioritize qualities that reflect wisdom and godliness. THESE are the qualities you should VALUE!
The scripture lists many qualities that would be good indicators that a woman would make a godly wife who would be an asset (not a drain) on a marriage.
And it’s true that many of these qualities are focused on a woman’s productivity and kind attitude.
But in this respect, it makes sense.
After all, in marriage you want someone who will come alongside you (practically and emotionally), not someone who will be a burden to you.
So I suppose you could say a title for this lesson might be …
“How to avoid marrying a deadbeat: A young man’s guide to selecting a wife”
HA! Does this sound like a lesson maybe all young people could benefit from?!
Personally, I think that this is one of the MOST IMPORTANT lessons to pass on to young people when it comes to dating, engagement, and marriage.
I mean, think about it: how many relationships have you seen that ended in disaster because someone selected a partner that just wasn’t that invested in exerting their power to affect change in their lives, their work, or their relationship?
It’s true that there are some people that live in a way that they happen to life…
For others, the reverse is true: they live as though life happens to them.
You want to marry the former.
So when we see the Proverbs 31 wife as a teacher, we see that her goal is to help us know what qualities are of the most importance in a marriage partner.
And now that we’re ready to talk details: just what might those qualities be?
(This is where the two messages overlap...so stay tuned...)
Her Message as a Mentor:
I’ve described the Proverbs 31 woman as our cheerleader, our coach, and our friend - spurring us women on toward greatness while encouraging us and holding us accountable.
And yes, as our mentor she has the right to challenge us a bit.
As our mentor, the Proverbs 31 woman describes the characteristics that we should strive for as followers of God, as women, and as wives.
Keep in mind these are the characteristics that God asks men to look for when considering you as a marriage partner. So if you’re interested in learning how to be a better wife, strengthen your marriage, or prepare for marriage… then this scripture is one of your ultimate resources!
Remember, this woman is an ideal, a figure of epic hero literature, perhaps a personification of wisdom itself.
So the goal is not to be her.
The goal is to be like her.
To resemble her. To have qualities that are similar.
So if being similar is the END GOAL, the ultimate destination of where God wants to get you in life… do you think you’re there yet?
Probably not. (I know I'm not!)
So maybe a strong resemblance of her is out of the question for right now. Maybe a better goal for where you're at is to just have a hint of this woman in your life. To be sort of like her.
Maybe you sometimes show these qualities, and other times you don't. Maybe you’re not as well rounded as she is - some areas you excel, some areas you fall flat.
THAT’S OK! That’s a reasonable expectation! Why?
Because you’re growing. You are not a finished product.
So let’s take a look at the virtues this “woman of virtue” portrays, and see what we can learn about being godly women (regardless of marital status!).
Every single verse about this woman demonstrates at least one of these seven virtues:
This girl is the opposite of lazy. As I mentioned before, she is the kind of person who happens to life, not one that life happens to. She knows she can affect change in her life, her work, and her relationships, and she invests her time and effort into making these areas of her life thrive (not just survive). This is why she is not a burden to her husband. In fact, it says “she brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”
Proverbs 31:12. A woman with motivation understands that she has something to give to this world, and that she can carry her own weight and manage her own responsibilities. She is capable, dynamic, and is not afraid of a little hard work. She persists in her daily tasks and relies on God for her strength.
The Bible says “she selects wool and flax and works with eager hands” Proverbs 31:13; “She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls” Proverbs 31:15; “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks” Proverbs 31:17; “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” Proverbs 31:27; “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night” Proverbs 31:18; and "she makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies merchants with sashes” Proverbs 31:24. This woman is motivated, passionate, dynamic, and full of unbridled potential.
There are multiple verses in this passage that show the Proverbs 31 woman is wise. In fact, even her motivation is regarded as an expression of wisdom (Proverbs 10:4-5, Proverbs 18:9, Proverbs 13:4, Proverbs 6:6). But another significant way she shows wisdom is in her discernment. She has a strong foundation of knowledge that enables her to make wise observations, and from those observations, make wise decisions. She is tuned-in to the reality of things. (In many ways!) She is a savvy business woman, an informed consumer, and has a good sense for what is profitable to her and her family. She consistently determines and does what is right.
“She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands” Proverbs 31:13; “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard” Proverbs 31:16; “She sees that her trade is profitable” Proverbs 31:18; “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes” Proverbs 31:24. She is an entrepreneur. She is discerning, and her decision making skills are trustworthy. She invests money wisely instead of spending it frivolously. Her husband is married to someone that will enhance the family’s resources and well-being, not be a drain on them. That’s why it says “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value” Proverbs 31:11.
The Proverbs 31 woman is attentive to the needs of others, and anticipates the needs of her children and family so that she can meet them. She notices people. Really notices them. And more than that, she cares about their well-being.
Her attentiveness helps her provide for others and ensure all those under her care and under her watch are receiving what they need whether emotionally, spiritually, or physically. She provides food, goods, instruction, and guidance to those around her, based on how she has assessed their needs. She is kind and generous with what she’s been given and she constantly looks for opportunities to give to others.
“She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls” Proverbs 31:15; “When it snows she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet” Proverbs 31:21; "She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household” Proverbs 31:26-27 “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy” Proverbs 31:20.
Her kind attentiveness and concern for others are defining traits.
I don’t know what it is about us women, but we like to worry. (At least that’s what it seems like to me!) This woman doesn’t. She knows she has done everything she can to protect those she loves, and the fact that she’s anticipated their needs helps her to be at peace with an uncertain future.
I don’t know about you, but I have always struggled with having a positive, peaceful orientation toward the future - especially when the dark clouds of life are looming just off in the distance. The reality is that we are all in God’s hands, and he will do as he does. We can trust in him and his goodness, his justice, his mercy, and his comfort. Even when she could be tempted to worry, this woman seems to be secure. Serene. Even joyful. Somehow, she is consistently rooted in peace.
“When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet” Proverbs 31:21; “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” Proverbs 31:25. She is not easily rattled, and has the freedom to enjoy the present without worry of the future.
There’s no avoiding it, this woman has a flair for creativity and design. Whether she is making coats for those she loves, or creating objects to enhance her home - she is involved in the process of design and production. She makes things that enrich her family’s life and the lives of others. She is a “maker”. A “creator”. (Just like her creator!) And most of the things she makes are for her home and the benefit of her family. (See where I’m going with this?)
Now, although I don’t think that all women should be 1950’s housewives, the task of producing goods for your home and family is a noble task and is seemingly one that God approves of. Being a skilled homemaker is a quality to be admired in a woman. Not looked down upon. (As is her business savvy and entrepreneurial ventures, may I remind you).
But the fact remains that each person has been given different creative gifts.
It seems to me that this particular woman described in scripture is gifted in the department of sewing. In fact, she’s even selling her designs at the market! “She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands” Proverbs 31:13 “She makes coverings for her bed, she is clothed in fine linen and purple” Proverbs 31:22; “In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers” Proverbs 31:19; “When it snows, she has no fear for her household, for all of them are clothed in scarlet” Proverbs 31:21. “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies merchants with sashes” Proverbs 31:24.
So her creative endeavors to enhance her home largely involve making garments. But what if she was a skilled painter? Musician? Cook? Writer? Interior decorator? Actress? Carpenter? Engineer?
As the image bearer of our creator - we have been created to create! Our only obligation it seems, is to ensure that we are using these gifts to benefit our family and enrich their lives.
*I personally am relieved that (although common-sense and valuable advice) nowhere in this passage did it say you have to keep your house clean to be a godly woman! Yes, having a tidy home certainly adds value to your family’s experience and helps to center you mentally and emotionally, but it seems as though the phrase “cleanliness is next to Godliness” is really just that - a phrase! *
The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaffer puts it much better than I have here, and I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s about how to bring your own “brand” of creativity into your home to enhance the lives of those you love. I believe that this is certainly part of being a Proverbs 31 woman.
*This is an affiliate link. Purchases made through this link help support and make this site possible!
This woman walks in dignity because she knows who she is, where she is going, and more than anything she understands how VALUABLE she is. Dignity is directly tied to identity. She is a part of Christ’s kingdom. Her identity cannot be shaken by rude comments, mistakes, or failures. She is composed, and she holds her head high because she honestly believes she is worthy of respect, love, and appreciation. She does not need to fit in, and is comfortable in her own skin. She knows who she is and whose she is. Like royalty, she “is clothed in fine linen and purple” Proverbs 31:22, and as a daughter of the King, she holds herself to a higher standard.“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” Proverbs 31:25.
Interestingly, because she demonstrates respect for herself, and others, her husband is also respected “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” Proverbs 31:23.
Place your value and worth in Christ and you too will walk in grace and dignity.
Lastly, the Proverbs 31 woman displays how to humbly walk a path of sacrifice. Would she rather be taking it easy? Probably. Would she rather sleep in? I know I would. As humans, we all would like to live a comfortable, self-indulgent life because thanks to our sin nature, our default setting is all about “me”. The Proverbs 31 woman shows us that one of the most important qualities a person can have is the capacity to humble yourself, and put someone else first. (And this is true humility because she knows how valuable and highly regarded she is by God…but she puts others first anyway). Despite the fact that it is actually PAINFUL at times to deny the things our selfish heart craves, she rolls up her sleeves to get to work serving others.
“She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls”; “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy” Proverbs 31:20; “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” Proverbs 31:27; “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night” Proverbs 31:18. The fact that she humbles herself to serve others and love them sacrificially, clearly makes her a woman who “fears the Lord” (Proverbs 31:30).