News magazines are fond of lists. “100 Most Influential,” “50 Most Powerful,” “The World’s Most Beautiful Women.” How do you suppose the woman depicted in Proverbs 31:10-31 would rank in the eyes of twenty-first century critics?
One thing that is clear from this passage is that the “excellent [or virtuous] woman” had her priorities in order; making it onto a publicized list was not one of them. With her business acumen and her extraordinary work ethic (I mean, when did this woman sleep?) she certainly may have attained recognition both in and beyond her community. But her heart was committed — not to impressing man — but to fearing the Lord. She worshiped and obeyed Him. The wisdom she gained through her submission to God resulted in faithfulness to her family and fruit for her labor.
The excellent wife, though hypothetical, is portrayed so vividly we can see her in our imaginations. She is a seamstress, an import specialist, a merchant, and a vintner — the supreme Type-A multi-tasker, burning the candle at both ends to meet the needs of her family.
Her activities may differ from yours and mine, but her underlying character is what God wants to develop in you and me. She was characterized by:
- Trustworthiness (v. 11)
- Fidelity (v. 12)
- Industry (vs. 13, 15, 27)
- Discernment (v. 18)
- Generosity (v. 20)
- Charity (v. 20)
- Strength (vs. 17, 25)
- Dignity (v. 25)
- Optimism (v. 25)
- Wisdom (v. 26)
- Kindness (v. 26)
- Reliability (v. 27)
In Proverbs 31:10-31, these traits are illustrated and implied rather than spelled out in list form. We are reminded of similar lists commended for our instruction:
- The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23)
- Heavenly Wisdom (James 3:17-18)
- The New Man (Colossians 3:9-17)
- Armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-18)
Perhaps we could call the Proverbs 31 list “The Virtue Wardrobe.”
Notably, nowhere in the Bible are we given lists of:
- how to dress for success
- what to include in your age-defying skin care routine
- beauty products guaranteed to make you irresistible.
Rather, we are cautioned, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain”
(Proverbs 31:30). Charm and beauty are not necessarily bad, but pursuing them for human adulation can blind us to a greater good, the pleasure of our God. And the Proverbs 31 woman apparently was not sidetracked by hollow goals.
Have you felt overwhelmed by, maybe even a little resentful of, the recitation of her accomplishments? When we view her through the lens of character, we find an attainable, attractive model for women, as well as a template to guide a young man’s search for a wife “more precious than jewels” (v. 10). Your life and mine may look quite different from this woman’s, but her specific activities are not the point. If they were, some of us would be doomed to chronic failure.
Unlike my two sisters, and in spite of my mom’s tutorial efforts, I failed to learn to sew. And I don’t merit cooking acclaim. No matter. It isn’t about the wool and the flax, the spindle and the distaff, the linens, the exquisite imported cuisine, the successful Etsy business.
No, it’s about God-fearing character. If she’d had all those accomplishments without the fear of God leading to wisdom, she would not have been included in the Bible for our instruction in righteousness. These accomplishments could have been those of any Type-A pagan woman. But to God, they would have meant less than nothing.
After years of intimidation by the Proverbs 31 woman, I’ve come to terms with her. In fact, I’ve come to like her. This remarkable woman is not in Scripture to “show me up,” but to give me an example of what fearing God looks like in one woman’s life. Her virtues are accessible to all of us who submit to God’s completing the work He began in us.
Thank God He didn’t use a cookie cutter when He made us.