Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 28. Proverbs
Prov 31:10 A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
If we had a problem choosing a highlight from the Psalms, it is even worse when you come to the book of Proverbs. I’m afraid I always find it a very bland book, full of truth but nevertheless, bland. It is strange in its makeup. The first nine chapters are a general writing about the superiority of wisdom. Chapters 10 to 22 are Solomon’s proverbs and then chapters 23 to 31 are several series of sayings and proverbs from other sources. The last chapter, chapter 31:10-31 is all about the ideal wife and it is there we will alight and ponder what is there. Why? Because the first nine chapters, although containing much good stuff, tends towards being heavy. Well …. Let’s not go through the rest, let’s just say there are things here in this last chapter that scream great things to the world in which we live.
We live in a day when the world around us has struggled with the whole concept of a lifetime, committed relationship and the devastated shards and fragments of broken homes litter the landscape. We have come through a period where women have sought to break free from the image of a slave or a servant or, at the very least, an inferior of man. Child-birth, monthly cycles, and usually being physically weaker than the men who went out to do physical work or wage wars, all conspired to sustain that image through the centuries. The argument can rage in church circles about God’s order for leadership and our inabilities or failures to overcome our confusion about equality with diversity. While the world has demeaned women, the records of the Gospels show that Jesus never did. And now, as we go back through the centuries and come to Solomon, a king of great power and authority we might expect to see the world’s mould there also, but instead find something very different. Let’s pick up on elements of what he says.
“A wife of noble character who can find?” (v.10a) This isn’t to say, I would suggest, that they are hard to find, just that you need to look and here are the things HE has observed and now records with words that are, without doubt, covered with an atmosphere of praise. He extols this woman. He appreciates her – and there is much to appreciate. But she does exist. The concept of a ‘noble character’ would provide a good basis for discussion of many a house group or study group. ‘Noble’ suggest first, something that is visible, seen, able to be appreciated. But in itself it is, as a dictionary says, “having or showing high moral qualities or ideals, or greatness of character; lofty, having excellent qualities; superior, grand; stately; splendid; magnificent.” In a world that has demeaned both men and women, what a goal to aspire to. Oh that people might say I had ‘a noble character’. Still something that is a work in progress!
“She is worth far more than rubies.” (v.10b) How we take for granted our partners. Would you say your partner is worth more than riches, more than affluence? If not, it is because we have not blessed, encouraged and built them up. Our partners are, in a measure at least, what we make them. If we nag or demean them they will be defensive, brow-beaten and fighting against low self-esteem. I am as ‘rich’ as I am because I have a wife who for over forty years has loved me, supported me, encouraged me and blessed me (and I’ve done the same for her) and we are today the fruit of all that. When the good partner does all this, the fruit is a life changed for the better.
“Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.” (v.11) There it is, the end product of her life – he is blessed! He continues, “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” (v.12) Can any one of us in whatever relationship say this has been true of us. A goal to go for! Paul’s teaching in the New Testament was, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) Do I sacrifice myself for my wife? “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (Eph 5:22) Does my wife elevate me, esteem me, build me up? Yes, she does.
But then he moves into serious activity mode: “She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.” (v.13-15) In an agriculturally based society she goes all out to provide for her family. The husband would be off with a business or a trade but she provides all the basics that bless the family.
But she’s not content with the mere basics, she becomes a business woman: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” (v.16-18) Now I suspect you react to this according to your background and your outlook. Some may say, “She sounds like a slave!” I suggest she sounds more like a woman in control of her destiny, a woman who is fulfilled and has a sense of achievement. How many of us today truly feel that?
But there is more: “In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.” (v.19-22) What words sum up these descriptions: industrious, a carer, a provider. What fruits will come from it? Her children will feel secure, those in the community know she is one they can turn to. “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.” (v.23) There it is again, he is blessed, not only at home but in the wider community because of what she has made him! And so it goes on.
“She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” (v.26-28) Now is this creating a sense of failure and diminishing self-esteem as you read these sort of things? Well for all of us, male or female, may they be sources of challenge: can I get the grace of God to be this sort of person? Will people – especially my family – be blessed because of me? Do they see in me someone who is self-concerned and out for what gives me pleasure or do they see these verses being outworked in me putting content to Jesus’ command to ‘love one another as I have loved you’?
Yes, this calls for self-sacrifice and for drawing on the grace of God but consider the fruit it brings: a secure family, a blessed partner, blessed and secure children, a building block for a better society, an example to reveal the Lord. Yes, we have to think a bit to find modern parallels to the things of this chapter but as a chapter it is a highlight that shouts, with God there are possibilities that seem far from the life of much Western modern society. Dare we reach for it?