The mere mention of Proverbs 31 causes many women to cringe, my former self included. And understandably so, in some ways. This passage is seemingly antithetical to the types of rights and equality that women have spent decades fighting for. I mean, waking before dawn to cook for your family? Knitting wool and flax ? Riiiiight. (The cooking I could handle, but the knitting? I can barely sew on a button.) But I’ve been coming back to this chapter time and time again in the past year, reading it with new eyes. And each time I read it, I cringe less and embrace it more.
Proverbs 31 is the closing chapter of this book of wisdom, and it’s based off an oracle a king’s mother said to him. So that’s a good start – motherly advice is usually wiser than we give it credit for. And even better, listen to what his mother says in verses 8 and 9 – the verses immediately preceding the passage about “the wife of noble character.”
Advice to the king: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” (Prov. 31: 8-9)
Speak out for justice! is essentially what is being said. And that is the context within which the following counsel to women is given. That alone makes me want to listen to what comes next.
Verses 10-31 describe this so-called “wife of noble character.” Now, I’m quite obviously not a wife yet, but I probably(?) will be someday, and even if not, these words are ones that I have come to believe are standards any woman should want to strive to live by.
Consider these excerpts:
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
She senses the worth of her work.
She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she always faces tomorrow with a smile.
She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
Her children call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
…a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Show me a woman who doesn’t want to embody those characteristics, who doesn’t want to work vigorously and with a sense of purpose, who doesn’t see the importance of reaching out to the poor and needy, who doesn’t want to be optimistic about the future, who doesn’t want to speak with wisdom and kindness, who doesn’t want to be praised and blessed. If I am someday known as a woman who is called all those things, I will consider my life well-lived…purposeful…meaningful. And if after I die people look back on my life and say I embodied the characteristics described in Proverbs 31, I definitely won’t cringe as I hear it from heaven.