I have been listening in on several different conversations over the last few years regarding the Proverbs 31 woman. It seems women collectively feel quite bullied and dictated to by this chapter. This study comes from a place of protection and love for my sisters and brothers in Christ.
Scripture is never meant to make you feel bullied. Jesus is good to all people. If something in scripture makes you feel bullied you have to question your understanding of it. Stop and pray and ask the Lord to help you! If you start to feel poorly when you read a passage, take a step back and try your best to take in a panoramic view of what you are reading – read around it and know in faith that it was included in the grand story of God for a grand purpose – allow the little low-definition picture to turn into a high-definition IMAX-like experience. This will give you more insight, and grant you understanding.
Let’s jump into the book of Proverbs, chapter thirty-one, which balances reality and metaphor beautifully!
This chapter is an excerpt from the sayings of a king named Lemuel. These things were taught to him by his mother. Right away, you see him practicing the instructions of King Solomon (Proverbs 1:8). He is honoring his mother’s instructions by writing them down. What is striking to me here is that these are the words of a woman. Particularly, these are words of protection from a mother to her son, the King. Since there is no mention of a father, I like to imagine that the old king has died and Lemuel is a really young inheritor of the throne.
Mama Lemuel is very proud of her son. In all her wisdom, she knows that her son is going to be tempted by the influence and power of the throne. She knows if he doesn’t watch out he will be tempted by his weaknesses – alcohol and women. It seems he was a bit of party boy! She tells her baby to be careful not to go down the path of drunkenness. She tells him that he needs to speak up for the people in his kingdom. They needed a strong voice. They needed someone to stand for them and bring them justice. She is letting him know that, being drunk would not allow him to rule his kingdom well. She wants him to be a good king. One that will rule long and well!
In the matter of the opposite sex, she tells him not to waste his strength on the kind of women who ruin kings. Proverbs is full of imagery of the wayward, seductive woman. Allowing her into your life can lead only to death and ruin. (This brings to mind a poem by John Keats, which speaks of a similar woman, who leaves the brave knight ‘alone and palely loitering’.) Mama Lemuel is warning her son against a very real threat to him and to his Kingdom. In verses, 10-31 she quotes a Jewish acrostic poem which speaks about the qualities of a woman of good character. She wants her son to be aware of what he should be looking for in a wife. This mythical creature is industrious, restful, caring, respectful and wise! You can almost hear Mama saying, “Son, of mine. This is the kind of woman I would like for you to marry – this God-fearing woman will be good to you, and to your kingdom, and to your future.”
This is how the chapter ends. Curiously, this is also how the book ends.
Proverbs begins by encouraging us to explore the meaning of its sayings, parables, and riddles in order to become wiser. The book encourages us to search for wisdom, personified as a woman, as you would for treasure (2:2-4). When we do so it promises that we also receive understanding. Could it be then that this chapter serves as an epilogue? Could it be that Mama Lemuel speaks for all of Proverbs, when she brings our attention to this ‘wife’? Could it be that this wife is actually a personification of Wisdom?
Taking a panoramic view of all of this, here is what I gather: This chapter is not written simply as an instructional manual for men seeking good wives. Nor is it an instructional manual for women. This chapter, this parable, this riddle, is far more than that. It is a call to us all, men and women, to make Godly Wisdom our wife.
She will care for us in ways so detailed, it would seem like she had more hours in the day than we do.
If we keep her closest she will watch out not only for us, but also for our loved ones and families.
She will keep us from ruin and harm, and instead bring peace and joy, honor and riches to our doorstep.
Proverbs 31 says to me, make Wisdom your wife, and you will gain all you need for this life and the next.