The following is an excerpt from the Advanced Bible Studies Series “PROVERBS,” which is available from Way of Life Literature.
THE VIRTUOUS WOMAN (Proverbs 31:10-31)
This book, which has warned frequently of the danger of the strange woman and the foolish wife (e.g. Prov. 2:16-19; 5:3-14; 6:24-35; 7:5-27; 9:13-18; 11:22; 14:1; 21:9; 23:27-28; 25:24), concludes with the glory of the virtuous wife.
It is a wonderful token of grace that this description of the virtuous woman was written by Bathsheba (assuming, as we do, that it was). She writes that the husband of the virtuous woman can safely trust in her, yet she betrayed the trust of her first husband by responding to David’s sinful invitation. Of course she might have put herself and her husband in jeopardy by refusing David’s lust, but she would have kept God’s Law and maintained her honor. Yet God forgave her sin and she became a prophetess of truth and righteousness and a spokeswoman for virtue!
Bathsheba exhorts her son to find a virtuous woman. This was probably taught to him as he was growing up. That he disobeyed his mother’s counsel resulted in his terrible backsliding and the loss of most of the kingdom (1 Kings 11:1-13).
This lengthy description of the virtuous woman teaches us the immense importance of the godly wife. She is mentioned in many passages of the New Testament as well (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:9-15; 3:11; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Peter 3:1-6). “And with good reason is so much stress laid upon it, since it contributes as much as any one thing to the keeping up of religion in families, and the entail of it upon posterity, that the mothers be wise and good; and of what consequence it is to the wealth and outward prosperity of a house every one is sensible. He that will thrive must ask his wife leave” (Matthew Henry). “In choosing a wife, fools will follow their fancy, and the wise will act according to reason and the word of God” (George Lawson).
In the Hebrew language Proverbs 31:10-31 is an acrostic. Each verse begins with a different character in the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with Aleph and ending with Tau. This facilitated memorization by Jewish children.
1. The virtuous woman’s value (Prov. 31:10)
a. She is worth more than precious jewels because she cannot be purchased with money. Beauty can be bought, but virtue cannot. She is worth more than precious jewels because of how valuable her faithful labor is. It is possible to buy a house keeper, but it is not possible to buy a woman who is dedicated to a man and his children from her heart and who is committed to do them good all the days of her life in every way possible, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth. The wise man will seek after such a woman.
b. Such a woman only comes from the Lord (Prov. 19:14). The man who wants such a woman must walk with God and please God and patiently seek her from His loving hand.
2. The virtuous woman’s dependability (Prov. 31:11-12)
a. She can be trusted by her husband because her first love is God. The reason that she is in subjection to her husband is because she trusts in God (1 Pet. 3:5). She is faithful to her husband because she fears God and thus takes her marriage vows seriously.
b. She makes do with whatever her husband provides (Prov. 31:11). A virtuous and wise woman can make a little go a long way, whereas the foolish woman can waste even a large income. “Her management is so skilful, industrious, and economic that her husband has no temptation to go out of his way to do aught that is dishonest in order to increase his resources. Many a husband has been prompted to deeds of dishonesty through the indolence and extravagance of the partner of his life” (Thomas).
c. She does good for her husband. She is not one who cares more about her mother or a friend or some co-worker than her husband. Her heart is set on him and on his welfare and pleasure. She takes her job as an “help meet” seriously (Gen. 2:18).
d. She does him good all the days of her life. She takes her marital vows of “in sickness and in health, till death do us part” seriously. She does not allow her heart to become devoted to someone or something else other than her husband, neither when she is young nor when she is old. She does not do him good only once in awhile when she is in the mood. Her heart is committed to doing him good and being a proper help meet for him at all times and all of their lives. “There is a wifely love that is fitful, capricious, passionate in its endearments today, tomorrow cold, sulky, and sometimes splenetic; this is not the love of a true wife, it is the love of a selfish woman that seeks only her own gratification. Genuine wifely love seeks the good of her husband, is constant as nature” (David Thomas).
e. The husband of the sensual and worldly woman, on the other hand, cannot trust her. He cannot trust her not to give her heart to another man. He cannot trust her to spend his money wisely. He cannot trust her to keep his secrets. He cannot trust her to put him before her friends and relatives. He cannot trust her to be doing what she should be doing when he is not looking.
3. The virtuous woman’s labor (Prov. 31:13, 24-27)
a. Her labor is willing (“and worketh willingly with her hands,” Prov. 31:13). She works because she wants to work. No one is standing over her forcing her to work. It is a labor of love from her heart, because she is committed to her God and to her family.
b. Her labor is diligent. Thirteen of the 22 verses describe her labor. She is the opposite of the sluggard described in Proverbs. Her “candle goeth not out by night” (Prov. 31:18) and she “eateth not the bread of idleness” (Prov. 31:27). She is not like the young widows described in 1 Timothy 5:13, who are “idle, wandering about from house to house ... tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.”
c. Her labor is varied; she has many skills. Modern radical feminists have looked down on the “lowly housewife,” but this is a foolish perspective. A virtuous and successful housewife and mother is a woman of great ability and initiative, and her talents are certainly not wasted in the home. “It was customary among the Jews to bring up all the youth to useful and handicraft occupation. An excellent custom this, but sadly neglected in these modern times” (David Thomas).
(1) She knows how to do good to her husband (Prov. 31:12), which involves many wifely duties. The virtuous wife considers it her chief duty to know her husband and to learn how to please him and help him. God made Eve to be a “help meet” for Adam, to be his suitable companion and co-laborer, and the virtuous wife takes this responsibility seriously. She knows how to listen when he talks and to cheer him when he is sad and to encourage him when he is downcast. She knows when to be silent and when to speak. She knows how to counsel him from a woman’s perspective. She knows how to pray for him. She knows how to keep herself as attractive as possible to please him and not defraud him when he is passionate (1 Cor. 7:3-5).
(2) She knows how to work with wool and make her own cloth (Prov. 31:13, 19, 24) and to sew (Prov. 31:22). While there is no need to make cloth today, sewing remains an important skill. Many Christian women sew clothes for themselves and their daughters because it is so difficult to find ready-made clothes that fit the biblical standard of modesty.
(a) Her clothing is feminine as befitting a woman. She knows that she is different from the man, and her clothing reflects this difference (Deut. 22:5).
(b) Her clothing is modest, as befitting a virtuous woman and as a reflection of her virtuous heart. Compare 1 Peter 3:2-4. Immodest clothing, too, is a reflection of the heart (Prov. 7:10).
(c) Her clothing is attractive, as befitting a woman who is the glory of her husband (Prov. 31:22; 1 Cor. 11:7).
(d) Her clothing is honorable (“strength and honour are her clothing,” Prov. 31:25). The virtuous woman does not wear anything that would bring dishonor to her. Even in these wicked end times men tend to honor women who dress honorably.
(3) She knows how to bring her food from afar (Prov. 31:14). In those days there were no grocery stores, and vegetables and meat and spices had to be brought from many different places. There is little need for this in our day in developed nations, but the virtuous woman today is knowledgeable about food and is careful and thrifty in shopping. Even today in undeveloped countries the virtuous woman often has to shop in many places to obtain her food, because there are no grocery stores. During the early years of our missionary work in South Asia we couldn’t afford a refrigerator and there were no grocery stores, and my wife had to bring our food from many places in the markets and had to purchase some items daily because they would not keep and some items she brought from America.
(4) She knows how to manage her household (Prov. 31:15). She keeps her house clean and the meals prepared and the children’s schedule organized and looks after a hundred other things that require her attention.
(5) She knows how to buy fields and plant them (Prov. 31:16). Observe that her spending is purposeful and cautious. She does not buy impulsively but carefully plans her purchases. Her spending is wise. She does not buy to satisfy a worldly lust for fashion and trinkets, but she spends her money carefully and makes good investments.
(6) She also knows how to sell things to make a profit (Prov. 31:24). She makes things of fine quality and markets them. “When other women impoverish their husbands by buying, she enriches her husband by selling those valuable commodities for which there is a constant demand” (Lawson).
4. The virtuous woman’s distribution to the poor (Prov. 31:20).
a. She stretches out her hands to them. This refers to her zeal in meeting their needs. Her alms-giving is not a mere ritual. She gives from a heart of compassion and personal concern. “When material acquisitions are great, and benevolent efforts small, the moral health cannot be maintained; when much flows in, and none is permitted to flow out, wealth becomes a stagnant pool, endangering the life of those who reside on its brim. The sluice which love opens to pour a stream upon the needy sweetens all the store” (Arnot).
b. At the same time, a wise woman is discriminate in her giving. She does not give to professional beggars or to the lazy or the profligate but to the truly needy. Many beggars beg because they are too lazy to work or because they have wasted their substance on liquor and drugs and gambling, and the Bible says he who does not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10).
5. The virtuous woman’s wisdom (Prov. 31:26-27)
a. The fountain of her wisdom is her fear of God and her love for His Word (Prov. 31:30; 1:7). It is impossible for a woman to be truly wise and virtuous without a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ and without an intimate relationship with the Bible. In the midst of her busy household schedule the wise woman finds a way to spend time in the Scripture and is careful to walk in fellowship with Christ.
b. Her wisdom is evident in her speech. Proverbs says the lips give expression to what is in the heart (Prov. 15:2). When the virtuous woman opens her mouth it is not to backbite someone or to tell an off color joke or to tear down the pastor or to enthuse over some sensual vanity like American Idol or to discuss the latest Hollywood scandal or to gush at the latest vain fashion. She opens her mouth with wisdom.
c. Her wisdom is evident in her kindness. Everything she does is subject to this wonderful law. She is kind to her husband, her children, her servants, to the poor and to strangers. This brings to mind my maternal grandmother, Julia Pollock. I stayed with her a lot when I was little, and I knew her when she was old, and she lived by the law of kindness. The chief guiding principle in her life was to reflect her faith in Christ by being kind to people; and if she wasn’t perfectly kind in a particular situation it was the exception and not the rule. This also brings to mind my own wife of over 30 years. She, too, lives by the law of kindness, and that law is in her tongue.
d. Her wisdom is evident in that she looks well to the ways of her household (Prov. 31:27). She is not content that her household be fed properly and clothed nicely; she is concerned about their “ways” or how they live. She makes sure that her children are trained in God’s Word and are taught to walk in the fear of God. Like Timothy’s mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 2:5; 3:15) the virtuous woman instructs her children in the Scriptures and gives them good laws to obey (“the law of thy mother,” Prov. 1:8). She also instructs other women (Titus 2:3-5).
6. The virtuous woman’s praise (Prov. 31:28, 31)
The virtuous woman will doubtless not win a Hollywood Oscar or be chosen as one of the world’s “most desirable” women, but she has her share of praise even in this world.
a. She is praised by her children (Prov. 31:28-29).
(1) Thankfulness doesn’t come natural to the self-centered fallen nature. It is foolishness that is bound in the heart of the child, not overflowing thankfulness (Prov. 22:15)! Children must be taught to be thankful, and as they grow up and assume their own place in society and learn how difficult it is to be a parent they usually come to appreciate their mothers more and more, especially if the mothers were virtuous and self-sacrificing. Observe that the “children arise up, and call her blessed.” This probably refers to the fact that they bless the mother after they are older.
(2) Parents need to be patient with their children in this respect. They can go through stages in which they aren’t as close to and thankful for their parents as they should be. It’s not right, but it’s often part of life in this sin-cursed world. The parent needs to trust in the Lord and remember his own youth to put things into proper perspective.
(3) Observe that children should be thankful for their parents and should call them blessed. It is impossible for children to pay parents back for all that they do for them, but at the very least they should show thankfulness. How selfish and sinful are children who grow up and ignore their parents and do not communicate with them and do not express thankfulness to them! Thanksgiving should characterize the child of God (Colossians 2:7).
b. She is praised by her husband (Prov. 31:28-29). No one knows the value of a virtuous woman better than her own husband, as he is the tender object of her sweet devotion and the chief benefactor of her labor. Such a woman even has the power to win an unsaved husband to Christ by her chaste conversation (1 Pet. 3:1-2). It appears that the statement in verse 29 is made by the husband. “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” She is spoken of directly (thou) rather than indirectly as in the rest of the passage (she, her). “He cannot refrain from bestowing praise on one whom he finds the sweetener of all his cares, his faithful adviser in perplexities, his comforter in every distress, the instrument of a great part of his earthly felicity; his best friend, his unceasing joy, and his brightest crown. ... He prefers her to every other wife that ever lived upon earth; and he is sincere in doing it, for she ravished his heart by the beauties of her mind and conversation. Piety will dispose a man to think meanly of himself, in comparison with other men, but highly of his wife, when he compares her with other women” (Lawson).
c. She is praised by her works (Prov. 31:31).
(1) The believer is saved by grace without works but he is saved unto good works (Eph. 2:8-10), and the grace of God teaches us to “live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12). Dorcas, too, was praised by her works (Acts 9:39). Our works will be examined by fire at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:11-15).
(2) It is in the gates that the virtuous woman’s works praise her. This refers to the place of ruling and judging in ancient times (Deut. 16:18; 21:19; 25:7; Josh. 20:4; 2 Kings 7:1). Thus the virtuous woman will not be praised only in private by her own family. Obviously in this present wicked world the virtuous woman is rarely if ever praised in high places, but there is a City that has gates where she will definitely be praised (Revelation 21:9-27)!
7. The virtuous woman’s superiority (Prov. 31:30)
a. Virtue is better than favor, because favor is deceitful. Favor refers to a favored position in life, to position and privilege and fame and fortune in this world. Many men seek after a woman who has such favor but such things are deceitful in that they are so fleeting and undependable and because there is no eternal value in them.
b. Virtue is better than beauty, because beauty is vain. It is vain because it is fleeting. It is vain because it tends to pride and self-centeredness. It is vain because it tends to cause one to be consumed with the physical and the temporal and to neglect the spiritual and eternal. Beauty is vain because it is of no value before God and if not accompanied by godliness it is as foolish as a pig with a gold ring in its nose (Prov. 11:22). It is vain because it does not satisfy in any lasting sense. Consider how many men married to the world’s most beautiful women have committed adultery. Beauty is never perfect in this world and if beauty is the chief object of the heart’s desire the individual will never be satisfied. Multitudes seek after beauty in a spouse but if it is not accompanied by virtue the beauty will be a curse and not a blessing. “Beauty is but a flower that fades in a day; and the love produced by it is but a transient passion” (Lawson).
8. The virtuous woman’s future (“... she shall rejoice in time to come,” Prov. 31:25).
Her future is very bright! She will be rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ and rejoice in the New Jerusalem for ever more!
“We who have the light of New Testament revelation can see in Proverbs 31:31 more than a hint of the coming manifestation at the judgment-seat of Christ. When the mists of earth have gone forever, when its pride and folly and iniquity are eternally past, such a one as the mother of Lemuel has been describing, shall appear in her Lord’s own presence with rejoicing, bearing her sheaves with her. At His feet she will caste down the fruit of her hands and the works His grace has wrought in and through her, to have all surveyed by Himself. How sweet to hear His words of approbation in the gate, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.’ Who then will regret days of toil and nights of watching? Who then would exchange the saint’s path and portion, with all its responsibilities as well as privileges, for a place of ease and careless enjoyment of a few fleeting hours on earth? Not one” (Ironside).
’Tis woman’s to nourish affection’s tree,
And its fruit domestic bliss shall be;
‘Tis hers to cultivate with patient toil
Each heaven-born plant in the heart’s deep soil;
And fruits and flowers her toil shall greet,
Richest flavours and odours on earth that meet.
‘Tis woman’s to fashion the infant mind,
To kindle its thoughts, and its hopes unbind:
To guide its young mind in the earliest flight,
And lure it to worlds of unsullied light:
To teach him to sing, in his gladsome hours,
Of a Saviour’s love, with an angel’s powers.
‘Tis woman’s to bind up the broken heart,
And soften the bleeding spirit’s smart,
With the balm that in Gilead’s garden grows,
With the stream that from Calvary’s fountain flows;
And to light, in this world of pain and sin,
The lamp of love and joy again.
-- author unknown
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