The Proverbs 31 Woman. Love her or hate her, she’s pretty amazing. She’s a hard worker, staying up late and rising early. She’s a business woman who deals in the marketplace purchasing fields and vineyards. She sells handmade items. If Etsy was around during biblical times she’s probably have her own Etsy store. She’s generous to the poor. She’s not afraid as to what the future holds and dresses well to boot. She’s wise, her kids all speak well of her and so does her husband. Above all, she fears the Lord.
No wonder so many women cringe when they hear “Proverbs 31.” Who can measure up to that?
One thing to keep in mind is that Proverbs 31 is an acrostic poem (in the original) that describes the characteristics a godly woman should strive for. Not in a legalistic check-off-the-list sort of way. Maybe more like a “when I grow up I want to be like her” kind of way. She wasn’t “real.” At least not like Sarah, Rebekah, or Mary were. Those women all had flaws and we love them for them.
I’ve been doing a study of Proverbs 31 by Elizabeth George called Discovering the Treasures of a Godly Woman. Taking a verse a day, I’ve been delving into the Proverbs 31 Woman’s various attributes and why they’re important for me today.
I thought I knew the Proverbs 31 Woman pretty well. But I did make a discovery that surprised me.
And I love it when that happens.
Proverbs 31:10 says, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.”
Excellent is sometimes also translated as “noble” (NIV), “virtuous” (NKJV), or “worthy” (ASV). Seems pretty straight forward, right?
These terms may bring to the mind demure ladies from another era. Such language may even seem strange and outdated in its description of women to our 21st-Century ears. Despite the descriptions of the Proverbs 31 woman in the marketplace and working hard, “noble” and “virtuous” may conjure up Victorian women at tea. Or perhaps princesses in fairy tales?
But perhaps a better image might be one of Éowyn, from The Lord of the Rings brandishing her sword. Remember her?
That’s because the root word for “excellent” in verse 10 is the Hebrew expression ‘eshet khayil. It’s used only four times in the Bible to describe women (Ruth 3:11; Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 31:10, 29). Usually, khayil is used to describe an army of men. Men of war. It’s used over 200 times in this way. As George explains, “This Old Testament word refers to a force and is used to mean ‘able, capable, might, strong, valiant, powerful, efficient, wealth’ and ‘worthy.’ Its primary meaning involves military strength. . . . Just as the two forces of mental toughness and physical energy are primary traits of an army, they also mark God’s Proverbs 31 woman” (George, Discovering the Treasures of a Godly Woman).
Perhaps this makes you moan, “Great, now I have to be a warrior too?”
But I find this discovery exciting. (I love delving into the original words of the Bible!) The Proverbs 31 Woman’s virtues come from a heart that fears the Lord. And this fear of the Lord is exhibited outwardly by the things she does. She is a force to be reckoned with. She manages her family and household staff. She’s involved in the business world. Her husband is prominent in the city and she supports him. She is skillful in her creations that she uses not just to supply her home with clothing but sells items too. All of this flows from her love of God and culminates in the overarching quality of what George calls “mental toughness and physical energy.”
Perhaps you’ve never thought of a godly woman as being tough before. Or valiant. But she is.
I don’t have to look far for godly examples in the Bible of female toughness and valiant behavior. Esther faced her fear of death to see the king on behalf of her people. Ruth didn’t let the fear of poverty and the unknown stop her from following her mother-in-law into a new country when she could have gone back to the comfort of her family. Ruth proved to be strong and capable as she worked hard to provide for the aging Naomi. What about Deborah, who was a leader when there were no men willing to lead? Or Abigail–married to a fool of a husband–who exhibited wisdom when she saved the lives of her household from David’s wrath brought about by the arrogance of her husband?
I’ve been thinking of ways I can apply this in my life. How about you? Know any ways to be valiant?
Not just allow but encourage my hubby to start his own business. ack. you can hold me to this! :)I have a friend I’m especially inspired by her “toughness” to give her husband freedom to make a decision that is coming at quite a cost. But once she stopped fighting him on the issue and let go, even though he decided in a way that she didn’t prefer, she has tremendous peace and joy and her vision of who GOD is has grown from it. She’s holding more tightly to God rather than her own preferences and I see it on her face; it’s radiant, just like the scriptures say of those who look to the Lord.
I hope it’ll be said of me one day as I aim for that same strength in the Lord.
Great comment, Briana. One thing that came to mind for me was last week Josh had an unexpected overnight trip he had to go on for work. Since it was unplanned and right on the heels of an exhausting weekend, I would have been tempted to complain. But I’d just been studying this and it caused me to check my words and instead encourage him in his job, instead of making him feel torn between work and home. I’m definitely seeing various areas in my life to become more “mentally tough.” And not in the stoic sense, of course, but in reliance in the Lord instead.
I love the etymology of Biblical words! There is so much depth and richness that unfolds when you discover what the original authors and audience understood regarding familiar scriptures. Thanks for breaking this down, Danielle. 🙂
Right now I feel like I’m being valiant in moving forward in what God’s asking my husband and I to do…the move from CA to WA, trusting Him with our futures and provision, following Him even when it makes no sense to us. It’s been trying, but I know we’ll see growth through it.
Your example of really digging into one verse and all the aspects of it is great. Great lesson!
Thanks for the helpful academic approach you’ve brought. I’ve heard that the Prov 31 woman is not “real” but a poetic compilation of all virtues. Wasn’t God kind to give us a picture of someone to aspire to as women–not an actual, in the flesh, named, superhero? I used to dread reading Poverbs 31 because I thought “I’m not her and never will be, but I feel condemned.” That is so not the heart of God. That’s the Enemy using what God intended to help us, to actually hurt us OR, make proud the woman who comes pretty darn close, or to sinfully compare ourselves to a real woman of the Bible. Thanks for the literary study; knowing this is an acrostic helps a lot, because acrostics still only describe in part!
Anyway, to answer your last question: I am trying to become more valiant in prayer–for my husband, for my children, for my church, for myself. The spiritual forces against us are real and can’t be fought with worry and stress or anything physical.
This dovetails really well with the life-message of my college mentor. She has studied the Hebrew for “helpmeet” and become convinced that it calls women to battle, specifically in prayer—that we are to help our husbands (and children) by fighting for them, and the best way we can fight spiritual battles is on our knees. So it’s interesting to see threads of that here, too. When I think “warrior” I immediately go to “prayer warrior.” Maybe because of my mentor.
…and then I just saw the comment above mine. great minds, right, Zo? 😉
Prayer warrior, honestly hadn’t thought of that, but good point Amy and Zo!
Right, Amy! 🙂
I had heard some of this before, but I really loved the reminder, and how you fleshed it out, especially in the context of the study you shared about the women of the Bible. I loved reading this post, Danielle!
Thanks Kelly, love the new profile pic!
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I have been saved for a little over two years and last night God spoke to my heart that I was going to be a valiant woman and I did not even know that was a word. Then my ridiculous logics tryed to reason and wonder was that me thinking thoughts or was that really God who spoke this world into existence. I jumped out of bed and seen that valiant was a very real word and that God wants to make me into a strong warrior for his kingdom………………….Love this page, God brought me here…God bless