Here we finally come to the Proverb that is the most discussed in feminist circles, in my short experience. It’s the second half of Proverbs 31, but coincidentally, the first half also has to do with women. Specifically, it’s recorded on account of a king’s mother telling him all this. With advice such as this, I can’t help but think she was excellent a mother as the woman mentioned in the second half is a wife.
The Words of King Lemuel
1The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:
2What are you doing, my son?a What are you doing, son of my womb?
What are you doing, son of my vows?
3Do not give your strength to women,
your ways to those who destroy kings.
4It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to take strong drink,
5lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
6Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;b
7let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
8Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.c
9Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Don’t you just love the way it’s attributed to King Lemuel despite that these are words his mother taught him? Aside from that, my only problem is in verse 3. Why is it that women are attributed for being what destroys kings? Why not wars or anything else?
Because when it is women, it is done from inside his own home and it’s probably far more subtle. Even when considering that there have been kings who’s vices were about women, it’s still a bothersome thing to say. It would be like saying the girl a man assaults is responsible for what justice brings to him. At the same time, I can’t say that femme fatales are non-existent either. She’s also not saying to not associate with women either, just to not give up their strength. So to what strength is she referring? I can’t be sure.
What makes the most sense is the way that we’ve seen some men in the Old Testament get obsessed with their women or who let their guard down around women who want to do them harm. While there are plenty of examples of both good and bad women up to this point in the Bible, it’s reasonable that a mother delivering a warning to her son is more concerned with the him giving too much of himself to please a bad woman who will use him up and spit him out while his kingdom suffers.
As for the1 rest of that section, I thought it was glorious. I’d like to see verse 8 and 9 more often on those things people like to put Bible quotes on. Such a sentiment could stand to be the center of outreach programs, in my opinion. It’s also the point of feminism……*
The Woman Who Fears the LORD
10d An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
13She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
14She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
15She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
16She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17She dresses herselfe with strength
and makes her arms strong.
18She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
20She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.f
22She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
24She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
26She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
30Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
The destroyers of kings in the above proverb are counteracted here with women who are “far more precious than jewels”. Now, I’ve noticed that this is far longer than many places that quote it make it seem. I’ve seen plenty of memes and little cutesy quote things that say “The Proverbs 31 Woman” and that have only verse 25 or 25-31. This actually starts way back in verse 10.
When reading the entire proverb as a continuous whole rather than a series of tweet sized quotes, we see that we’re talking about a woman that most modern women could actually identify with pretty easily. While she is still given all the cooking to do and the keeping of the household, we also see that she makes a lot of stuff too and helps provide to the household income.
So basically, she’s a modern working mom who also does the second shift and is never idle. Hey, that’s most women I know, so we can stop saying that this is an unattainable standard!! It’s actually just what women do, you know, whatever it is that needs to be done.
Don’t take this as a moment of male bashing, either. Men were doing plenty during this time, as they do now, but this proverb is about the only one not talking about them so we’re going to ignore their contributions for this one proverb too and take a closer look at this woman.
The woman that is excellent and a jewel contributes. Yes, there are some things in here that non-religious women are not going to do, like fear God, but that doesn’t erase the fact that this proverb that is so often held up as an impossible ideal for women is about women and what we are willing and happy to do to keep our homes going. All work goes better when we enjoy doing it, so it makes sense that the woman who is happy or gracious while doing all the things that we do is part of the ideal. Doing all these things well will of course make anyone excellent, they are taking care of business with a smile on their face. Honestly, who doesn’t want to be around that?
The most notable thing here, for me, is that she contributes to the family income and that she is not only free to make land buying decisions on her own, but to do the actual purchasing without some proof of her husband’s permission. All of her actions are written as independent of anyone’s permission and she is capable of doing these things while trusted by her husband to be wise and make good decisions for the family. Why is the trust of her husband important? Because they’re married and that’s a big part of marriage in general. I imagine that her trust of him is not included because this specific proverb is not about him. At the same time, like so many other proverbs, I’d dare say that the message here should not remain gender specific but it is written this way because it’s about a man looking for a wife. Likewise, an “excellent” husband should be trustworthy, wise, and able to contribute to the success of the family financially and at home.
Think about it, why wouldn’t a man want a woman who can do all these things? Anything that she can responsibly do is one less thing that he has to worry about. Also, why wouldn’t you want your children to think of you as blessed? I love it when my son looks at me like I’m the most amazing mom in the world and I can do everything I want and make sure that he gets everything he needs.
I know that verses 25-31 can look problematic to some, but take another look, this time with all the rest. There is no beauty standard here, it’s a message that work, wisdom, trustworthiness, and ability are far more important in a woman than any contrived standard of beauty. Also, strength is specifically mentioned and there is an entire ongoing movement about how strong women are or should be and I want to note that the Bible totally supports that here. Women should be strong in order to carry on the work of the day, whatever work it is that a woman considers worthy of her time. Yes, contributing to the family, and therefore a certain degree to her husband’s wealth may seem problematic, but she is not cutoff from her husband’s wealth if she can buy land independent of his expressed, legal permission.
Then it all ends beautifully with verse 31: “Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.”
Let her take credit for her own work. Do not take credit for her work. She will be judged for her own work and you will not be judged for her work. Her man is not responsible for her actions because she can make responsible decisions on her own.
I’d love to pretend that this is something so basic that all women can do it, but that would be a lie. While I do believe that the vast majority of women are more than capable of all this and that men would do well to remember the whole proverb when comparing their wives to it, I do have to acknowledge that there are deceitful and unwise women out there who I totally understand their husband’s not trusting to do something as big as buy land or similar decisions. BUT, there are likewise plenty of men out there who should never have been given authority over matters of anything and that there are histories of men who were inept or incompetent and overruled by women who knew what was going on. Incompetence and untrustworthiness are not gender specific traits and should never be treated as such.
*I know that there are those out there who view feminism as something other speaking up for the rights of the poor and needy, but they either forget how much of the poor and needy are women or only associate feminism with the random misandrist, which is always a person whose views are contrary to feminism, even though they often like to hold the word up as an excuse to be horrible to men. I also fully acknowledge that feminism has mostly let down women of color, but many are striving to correct that deficiency even while others continue to cultivate it. Despite that, the sentiment is that holding down half the population makes them more likely to be the poor and needy who need their rights defended by just figures.