When we look to God’s word to find guidance about how to be the best wife and mother we can be, we simply cannot escape Proverbs 31. Who wouldn’t want to be as talented, productive, strong, caring, and fearless as this woman?
But as normal human beings, many of us are more likely to cringe when this seemingly perfect woman is set before us as the example. Who can find her, indeed! Not everyone has good business sense or opportunities. Many do not have the gifts and creativity to make clothes for the family and household. I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who is both a morning person and a night person like this woman.
If the Proverbs 31 woman only stirs in us guilt that even on our best day we lack the ability to meet the standard for our calling, what help is she to women striving to honor God?
What Did She Do?
God never urges us to feel guilty for not having gifts we’ve not been given, or for not doing good we’re physically unable to do. So, if the Proverbs 31 woman only makes us feel guilty or inadequate, we’re likely not understanding her in the way God designed.
Part of the confusion might be the present-tense verbs in our translations. One Old Testament scholar notes that the verbs in Proverbs 31 are past tense. Present tense might suggest that one woman does all of these things in one season of life, but the reading Jason DeRouchie offers indicates that these verses are summarizing a fruitful life of a woman over many productive years, highlighting faithful things she did at various times throughout her life.
If he’s right, it causes me to breathe a huge sigh of relief as I reflect over my past efforts, and as I strive to be a godly woman today.
The Woman Behind the Woman
But however we translate the verbs, we miss what the Proverbs 31 woman says to women today if we only look at what she does. She will only inspire guilt and shame if we study the passage for a laundry list of to-dos, rather than for the spirit and motivation that drives her.
We find several clues to what guides her heart of wisdom in this passage, but the most important motivation — the one that guides everything she does — is mentioned at the end. We should read the whole chapter — every verb — in light of one verb in verse 30, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
This woman fears the Lord. In fact, the verse says this is the reason she is to be praised. The Proverbs 31 woman fears the Lord — in other words, she sees the wisdom in wanting to obey what God tells her to do and to honor the Lord with her whole life. And what is “the fear of the Lord” in Proverbs? The beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 29; 2:5; 9:10; 15:33).
It is her heart for honoring the Lord with her life, and thus living with true wisdom, that God wants women to imitate and follow. When you go back and read through all of what she does in light of verse 30, you begin to feel the spirit of this woman.
A woman who fears the Lord wants to love and honor her husband. Clearly, the Proverbs 31 woman’s husband affirms her efforts, because it says his heart trusts in her (Proverbs 31:11). He trusts her not just generally, but in the deepest places of himself.
And his trust is well-placed because verse 12 says, “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” She doesn’t just do him good on occasion, but every day — implying even and especially when she may feel she has reason to be angry or upset with him. It is important to her that her husband trusts her. She wants him to be able to confide in her and know she will keep his counsel. She wants to guard his honor, and not speak unfavorably of him before others. Clearly, he can depend on her to keep commitments she makes to him. She consistently manages the home in a way that he feels secure entrusting it to her.
Does your husband trust you? Do you try to conduct your life privately and publically to give him every reason to trust you? Do you speak well of him — always? We do not need to have special gifts to be trustworthy; we simply need to value our husbands in a way that honors them and the Lord.
There is no arguing that the Proverbs 31 woman works hard. This woman has many gifts and does many things, but the point of this passage is not to admonish every woman to do everything she does. The point is that we need to be willing to work hard at what God is calling us to do, and that it pleases God when we desire to do our labor as excellently as we can.
This woman does not have time to compare herself to others. She is clearly not obsessed with “me time.” She “does not eat the bread of idleness” (Proverbs 31:27). She is not a chronic time-waster. Rather, she fills her time with productive, helpful activity. There is no indication she complains or murmurs about her responsibilities. She is concerned with serving her family and others, and she brings a spirit of openhanded willingness to this work.
With God’s help, we are all able to work hard, resist wasting time, and bring a willing and gracious spirit to the things we do, too.
Verse 17 says, “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.” Physical strength — taking care of the temple of her body — is a priority. Her “workout” never involved a gym, but she was up and moving, eating right, and tackling physically demanding tasks.
And physical strength isn’t the only kind of strength mentioned. She’s not afraid of the weather (Proverbs 31:21), or apparently much else. “Strength and dignity are her clothing” (Proverbs 31:25). She is strong in wisdom (Proverbs 31:26). She is not a worrier — in fact, she laughs at the future (Proverbs 31:25)! You do not get the impression she gives much thought to what others think about her at all.
A woman who trusts in the Lord is finally free to be truly strong. She isn’t worrying about things over which she has no control. She trusts God to help and care for her and her family in all the ways that she cannot, then she works to do the things she can. It is a loving God who is sovereign over her family’s future. Her part is to live, work, and love in a way that honors God. He is responsible for the rest — and his Son has covered her many shortcomings with his own blood.
Kind and Caring
Verse 26 says, “The teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” We see evidence of the ways she lives this truth when she daily does her husband good (Proverbs 31:12), her children rise up and call her blessed (Proverbs 31:28), and she opens her hand to the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:20). Do those around us delight in our kind and caring spirit? We can all, with God’s help, work to have kind dealings with the people God places in our lives, and we can all make it a point to devote some of our time, talent, and gifts to helping those less fortunate.
Fear Her Lord
The woman extolled in Proverbs 31 does not present an impossible standard; she presents a godly standard — what we would call “Christlike” today. These verses should inspire us to desire her fear of the Lord, her dedication to earning the trust of her husband, her work ethic, and her strength and kindness.
Her heart, mind, and body are strengthened by her devotion to the Lord for the family and work he has entrusted to her care. As we follow her example, and the kind of life that flows from her faith, we will be blessed — and be a blessing to others.