What Does “Chiasm” Tell Us About the Proverbs 31 Woman?

Chiasm is a poetic device that is often used in the composition of Hebrew poetry, such as Proverbs 31.   A poem with a chiastic structure uses parallel lines that have corresponding themes.  These parallels are not one after the other; instead, the top line and the bottom line are parallel, then the second line and the next to last line are parallel, and so on.  The very middle line is the emphasis — the main focus of the poem.

So, considering this in Proverbs 31, we see that the first verse, verse 10 reads:

“An excellent wife, who can find?

For her worth is far above jewels.”

Now let’s see the last two verses, verses 30 and 31:

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,

But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

Give her the product of her hands,

And let her works praise her in the gates.”

You can see a similar theme of the woman and her worth.

One of the more obvious parallels is towards the middle, verses 22 and 24,

Verse 22:

“She makes coverings for herself;

Her clothing is fine linen and purple”

Verse 24:

“She makes linen garments and sells them,

And supplies belts to the tradesmen.”

You can see she’s sewing, using cloth construction to make items of linen in both passages.

The emphasis — the focus of the poem — is ,then, verse 23:

“Her husband is known in the gates,

When he sits among the elders of the land.”

The gates of the city were used for trade, for selling, for the hiring of workers, for public deliberation, for reading the law, and such.  Here, he sits with the elders of the land, and you get the picture that he is a respected member of his community.

Here, at the heart of this poem about the excellent wife, is the husband!

Though this poem goes on and on about the wife, the structure of the poem points to the husband and his esteem in the community.

John MacArthur says of the husband in verse 23, “…he is esteemed and respected by his peers, in part because she created a world for him in which he could be everything God wanted him to be” (Different By Design, page 77).

So, as I read through Proverbs 31, I ask myself questions like:

  • Can my husband trust me to be a good steward of the home?
  • Does the way I dress make him look good?
  • Is my speech an asset to him?

A wife who is excellent is a wife whose activities are centered around and for the benefit of her husband.

She points to him in who she is and what she does.  She is his crown
(Proverbs 12:4), and she is his glory (I Corinthians 11:7).

May God give us the grace to be excellent wives, helping our husbands to be what God would have them to be, that God would be glorified through His perfect plan for our marriages.


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