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Proverbs Daily Devotionals
Larry Vold, Senior Pastor
Chapter 31 is likely the most well-known chapter within the entire book of Proverbs. More Mother’s Day sermons have been crafted from this chapter than any other text in Scripture. It’s known for perhaps the most beautiful poem ever written on “a wife of noble character” (v.10). The lesser known, but all-important opening nine verses of this chapter lay out a mother’s instructions for her son, a little-known King named, Lemuel, who lived and ruled somewhere in ancient Israel. This mother warned her son about the dangers of women who lacked character and the practice of drinking alcohol in excess—two things, according to his mother—of which any good king should stay clear. Additionally, she implored her son to be an advocate for the marginalized of society to bring justice to them by defending their rights. The need for wisdom is for everyone—including Kings.
As Solomon nears the completion of his sayings about wisdom, he’s going to make one final push. From appearances, the focus of this chapter is on a wife with attributes that are as rare and valuable as precious jewels (v.10). In Hebrew, this poem forms an acrostic. Each of its 22 verses begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This literary technique found in other portions of God’s Word, is often viewed as a means of helping the reader retain the content making it a helpful learning device. Solomon clearly intended this section of his wisdom writing to be remembered.
I have a hunch however, that any wife who has been challenged to live up to the woman being described here might feel a little intimidated. When studying this text over the years, I’ve been prone to think that men in general, and husbands, in particular, dodge the proverbial bullet with what’s being presented. It’s all about the high expectations that godly wives must live up to, with no mention of what the husband should be. That doesn’t seem fair.
And realistically, a Proverbs 31 wife is likely out of reach for most, if not all women in ancient or modern times. She is described in terms that would be synonymous with near-perfection. What woman can live up to a portrait that combines Martha Stewart, Mother Theresa and Melinda Gates? And in a category of her own, why not include Mary, the mother of Jesus! How many women feel confident living up to that kind of expectation? Not many I suspect. And many a husband has put far too much pressure on his wife for comparing her to this ideal woman found here in Proverbs 31. Not that it’s wrong to shoot for the stars, but can any woman really live up to the way a wife of noble character is being portrayed here? Maybe Solomon has something additional in mind when choosing to close his writings on wisdom with this kind of portrayal. If so, what might have been on his mind?
Some scholars believe that Solomon is simply choosing to highlight wisdom’s pervasive and powerful influence by personifying it as a wife with salient qualities. Seen this way, Solomon is using a wife of noble character as a symbol of wisdom. And like any aristocratic wife of means, wisdom makes herself known in the home, at the market, among the needy and when doing business. She shows up everywhere. And she’s good at what she does. Really good.
Looking at wisdom through the caricature of a noble wife, we learn that possessing wisdom brings with it, the kind of confidence that leads to true contentment and abundance (vv.11-12). In this sense, wisdom works for the one who lives by it—providing for others and making sound investments. Wisdom keeps the one who possesses it energetic and productive as well as benevolent and caring (vv.15-22; 24-27). It also gives those in its proximity a certain edge when in dialogue and deliberations both domestic and business in nature. In all, a life of wisdom surpasses any and all other beautiful things in this world (vv.29-30). While there are many things that seem worth pursuing in this life, none are as important and life-giving than wisdom. And that, I believe is Solomon’s closing argument. And it’s a strong one indeed!
In this way, Proverbs 31 offers lessons for both women and men. Perhaps husbands and men would do well to make Proverbs 31 less about what they hope their wives should aspire to be, and more about the way wisdom should be demonstrated in and through their daily experiences. And of course, women should look at this chapter in similar ways, including the aspiration of allowing wisdom to shape her role if she is a mom, a wife, or someone practicing business. And at the base of these lessons is one’s attention and commitment to offering appropriate reverence to God (v.30), thus ending the book in the way it began: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…” (1:7).