Summary: Getting away from the creation of an impossible woman, in this study we discover that the woman in Proverbs 31 is real and she is everywhere. She is not beyond reach for other women and she is not meant to be a threatening creature.
The Proverbs 31 woman can be a threatening and foreboding creature. Perhaps that is why so many women have attacked and denied her reality (rejection). Perhaps that is why so many men have held her up as some standard by which all women should be measured (oppression).
But the reality is that she is not threatening, she’s an image, a blueprint really. Not an unrealistic one, but an obtainable one. Proverbs 31:1 tells us that what follows are, “The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him:” So we are told in the text that this was not meant to be some obscure version of a woman that a man created, it is the advice of a mother to her son about what type of woman to seek for marriage. She is said to be “An excellent wife, … For her worth is far above jewels.” because she is not every woman, she is a specific woman. She is not a measuring stick; she is a woman who would make a king look good.
Proverbs 31 is like Paul directing Timothy and Titus about what type of man to look for to serve in leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9) It is not every man, but such men can be found and they will be good candidates for ministry. This woman found in Proverbs 31 would be the better candidate for any king seeking the woman he would marry. She is not some measurement for women to have to live up to; she is simply the woman that a young king should be seeking. Sure, like Paul’s words to Timothy and Titus about the men they should seek for leadership, they provide a good example for men to live up to. So this text in Proverbs can provide a good example for all women as well. But to impose this upon women is a whole different matter altogether.
What we see in Proverbs 31 are character traits. She would demonstrate these qualities before marriage in such a way that Lemuel would be able to notice them and anticipate them becoming a reality after marriage. To illustrate this concept we see Eliezer being sent to find a bride for his master’s son Isaac. Eliezer prayed for a woman who would fulfill a test, she would care for his needs and offer to assist with his camels. (Genesis 24) Rebekah was beautiful of form, but he knew she was of the character he needed when she passed the test. The test provided a glimpse into Rebekah’s soul that showed Eliezer what he needed for the wife of Isaac. In a similar way Proverbs 31 provides character qualities to seek out.
Portraying the list of qualities mentioned in verses 10-31 in realistic modern terms helps us avoid further confusion about this woman and it provides some clarity about how this text can apply to women today. Consider some of the character qualities.
1. She is a strong woman. In verse 10 we read “a virtuous woman” but it is also translated as “excellent” and other similar words. The Hebrew word is more like valiant or strong. This is not the same as overbearing; it is about being of strong character as a person, not weak or easily pushed. While being strong she remains graceful and poised, as well as dignified.
2. She is trustworthy. Verse 11 says her husband trusts in her. This is not just that she is not a flirt; it is also that he can speak with her about anything or be completely himself and she is someone who will be trusted with that. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams was such a woman and he trusted her not just with the home but also with issues of state and the political battles involved with forming a nation. She could be trusted with very delicate information, as well as secret matters.
3. Goodness. She, as a habit of life, is doing good for her husband and family. (v.12) The contrast to this is found in the foolish woman. Proverbs 14:1 “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands.” The foolish woman tears down her husband, tears down her children, tears down her household with her own hands instead of doing good and providing good things for them. This has a wide scope of meaning and will have different applications depending upon the marriage, culture, and nationality of the woman in consideration. What good can she do for her family?
4. She is Industrious. In verses 13-22 we see that this woman is industrious in her home and for her family. In modern America a woman may not be placing her hand to the distaff, but in other parts of the world she will still be sewing by hand. The woman in America can be found searching for the best deals for her family (merchant ship (v.14)), clipping coupons, etc. She can be going to the gym and staying in shape (v.17), as well as dressing in an attractive manner (v.22). This section of the text if applied with modern illustrations shows just how real this woman is.