Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain. (Proverbs 31:10-11, NKJV)
As a new Christian, I devoured the Bible. Day after day, I dove into its pages, reading the Word from cover to cover with a focused gaze to discover this God who had invaded my life with love.
The Bible is full of passion and detail, complexities and tough stories. I was aghast when I read of the bloody conquest as Israel advanced through Canaan. I was bored out of my mind with the list of genealogies until I understood it represented the mighty hand of God protecting His people through the generations. I was deeply disturbed by the imagery of end times in Revelations, left with a ton of questions. Yet there was one passage I avoided all together, that I would either skip or read with despair, with each journey through the bible. You guessed it: Proverbs 31.
Solomon wrote this passage extolling the perfect woman:
Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil All the days of her life. (11-12)
He describes her incredible work ethic:
She seeks wool and flax, And willingly works with her hands.
She is like the merchant ships, She brings her food from afar.
She also rises while it is yet night, And provides food for her household, And a portion for her maidservants.(13-15)
He delights in her business grace and innovation and constant work ethic:
She considers a field and buys it; From her profits she plants a vineyard.She girds herself with strength, And strengthens her arms.She perceives that her merchandise is good, And her lamp does not go out by night.She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hand holds the spindle. (16-19)
She is always ahead of any disaster, the consummate Girl Guide, always prepared and always generous hearted:
She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household, For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
She makes tapestry for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. (20-22)
She is so amazing, her husband gets established in public office:
Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. (23)
Business fails have never touched her. Every one wants what she can fashion:
She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies sashes for the merchants. (24)
She is the one who never speaks foolishly, doesn’t stumble over her mouth, drips kindness and wisdom:
Strength and honor are her clothing; She shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the law of kindness. (25-26)
Her first priority is her home and she never stops:
She watches over the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.(27)
Her children and husband praise her and honour her
Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all.” (28-29)
Above all, she fears God and lives the fulfilled life:
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.Give her of the fruit of her hands, And let her own works praise her in the gates. (30-31)
Perhaps you read this passage and find yourself there.
I never do.
I give myself away to the wrong needs and miss priorities. My kids have eaten nuggets and fries more than once. I have tasted the shame of business fails, choked on marriage strife, suffered the scorn of my children. I have uttered foolish words, muttered criticisms and complaints when grace should have spoken and blown it many times. Winter has often arrived without the kids’ snow pants readied in the front closet. My husband has yet to be established in government office nor would he desire such a tough gig. This Proverbs 31 woman has been my nemesis.
If you read the ancient commentaries, staunch scholars have delighted to promote this selfless model of virtue as the poster child of their Ultimate Christian Woman, as seen in Matthew Henry’s summation:
The description of a virtuous woman, especially in the relation of a wife and the mistress of a family, which Lemuel’s mother drew up, not as an encomium of herself, though, no doubt, it was her own true picture, but either as an instruction to her daughters, as the foregoing verses were to her son, or as a direction to her son in the choice of a wife; she must be chaste and modest, diligent and frugal, dutiful to her husband, careful of her family, discreet in her discourse, and in the education of her children, and, above all, conscientious in her duty to God: such a one as this, if he can find her, will make him happy (http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/proverbs/31.html
I have stumbled over the Proverbs 31 woman, avoided her and resented her, knowing I could never meet her standard, sensing my legitimacy as a Christian woman would never measure up to her 24/7 always giving, always succeeding example. I confess, my past few reads of the Bible, I ignored her all together.
Until this week. When I finally translated that first line in Hebrew, I discovered the missing ingredient to the Proverbs 31 passage: A chayil (virtuous) woman, who can be found?
Dr. Pat Francis speaks internationally on the concept of chayil. To describe this word, she states:
CHAYIL is a Hebrew word that is rich, powerful and glorious. Its many meanings are found in 243 references in the Bible such as: strength, active, activated, courage, power, force, dominion, elite army, wealth, efficiency, praiseworthy, excellence, wisdom, virtue, moral worth, honor, ability, capable, special forces, great, mighty, troops, host, valiant, valor, warriors, company, trained, noble, preference, favor, full, goods, retinue, riches, substance, territory, influence. According to Strong’s concordance its three key meanings are power, wealth, and army and its strongest meaning is army.(http://patfrancis.org/index.php/chayil-centre/chayil-teachings
A woman of power, wealth and ready to war, who can one find? An army of favor, where can we find this?
The Bride! It’s the Bride!
Proverbs 31 is the cumulative effect of the Bride of Christ, the Church, sold out and given over to the purpose of God. When wisdom kisses humanity, when Israel and now, the Bride, moves into her fullness, she affects all areas of life!
Proverbs 31 is not a yardstick to measure our failings. It’s God’s dream for Zion, that bedazzling tribe of sold out empowered God-fearers who live in such intimacy with the Almighty, that they change the world forever with His good.
Finally, I see Proverbs 31 as God’s dream for us all. In Christ, I can war against my flesh for peace in my home. Through God, I will fight to advance His kingdom in my city. Together as a community of believers, we will release the power of God to impact light into darkness, to bring fresh life where stale decay has dominated and no area is safe from our divergent effect. No part of society is immune from the impact of grace by the Bride of Christ, His Church.
Women and men, on International Women’s Day, remember who we are and whose we are. We are co-heirs of our King, wealthy beyond any earthly understanding. The Bride long dreamed of, impacting trade and domestics, justice and government, bringing kindness through our hearts of mercy and never ceasing in the desire to affect this world through Christ is us.
WE, together with all who have gone before us and all who stand ahead of us are the Proverbs 31 woman.
When Proverbs 31 is seen through the grid of the Bride of Christ, all pressure eases. Together, as we each take our place of influence, we will change the world. Chayill is the grace of God to move in favor, strategic and powerful, to bring life wherever we are placed. Let us answer the cry of God’s heart, a chayill woman, can be found!
Today, on International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the spectacular grace of being part of the Proverbs 31 story. Do not measure yourself in myopic fascination against this passage, as I have so foolishly done. Instead, embrace the vision of this Bride who changes the world and celebrate that you are a huge part of this ongoing story.
Let’s pray: Thank you Lord for the grace of revelation, for the gift to shift in understanding. Thank you Father for your longsuffering patience with us all, when we miss truth through our woundedness. Thank you Holy Spirit that your grace empowers us all to be chayill, a forceful favored army to impact the world for good. O God, may we, the Bride, rise up and be the Proverbs 31 Woman You are dreaming for. Amen.
This Week’s Reading: Proverbs 26 – Ecclesiastes 3
Next Week’s Reading: Ecclesiastes 4 – 12
1. Think of a woman or man you really respect? What part of Proverbs 31 does she or he represent to you?
2. Can you live out Proverbs 31 without feeling measured? Where does teamwork come into your understanding of this passage?
3. What do you do when you are judged by this passage? Are you judging yourself? What could be a next step to move forward in grace with Proverbs 31?
4. Do something spectacular to celebrate International Women’s Day. Write a letter, give a donation, share a meal, or do something completely extravagant. Join the movement Solomon started and impact your world with Christ in you, the hope of Glory today.
5. Why not post what you did to celebrate this day? Or post which part of Proverbs 31 you are currently living?