When I was a young adult – a teenager really – I read the thirteenth chapter in the first book of Corinthians, and I approached this well-known passage on love as if it were a checklist for what to look for in a guy: Is he patient? Is he kind? Does he envy? Does he boast?
Instead of applying the truth of Scripture to my own life, I used it to see how others measured up.
Clearly, I had some growing up to do.
A couple of decades have passed since that time. Now when I come to the Word, I pray that God will reveal His truth to my life.
Proverbs 31 is another famous passage. It portrays a wife of noble character. My deepest heart’s desire is to be a wife of noble character, but to be honest, there are days when the woman described in this passage seems almost too perfect to be able to relate to. I don’t weave cloth to make clothes for my kids. I don’t get up while it’s still dark if I don’t have to. And I don’t plant vineyards or gardens or anything else that hopes to grow from dirt (I have never been blessed with a green thumb).
So how should we read this ancient text? What truths does it hold for us today?
It is notable that this section is structured as an acrostic poem, where “the initial consonant of each verse follows the order of the Hebrew alphabet” (Waltke 514). It’s almost as if the writer of this proverb is implying that such a wife can do “everything from A to Z”. Again, totally deflating.
On the other hand, the writer is careful to observe in his rhetorical question:
In other words, a wife of valor is difficult to find, yes, but not impossible (Whybray 184). One commentary suggests that the mention of her value, being worth far more than rubies, is possibly a criticism of Near Eastern practices where brides were purchased at a price based on their physical beauty (Waltke 517). Whereas in Hebrew culture, a woman is to be praised based on her character and contribution.
When studying the final words in the Book of Proverbs, it is important to remember that some may read these verses with a literal interpretation in mind while others may read them with a symbolic interpretation in mind. If you read the first chapter of Proverbs, you will see that wisdom is personified as a woman.
It would be further prudent to remember that “the church from the beginning is the bride of Christ” (Wright 184).
Within the scope of these possible interpretations, the majority of the posts on this “Proverbs 31 Series” will take the traditional approach – considering this passage to mean a real wife.
For the month of March, each section of Proverbs 31:10-31 will be examined every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Other writers will join me in this endeavor to share their thoughts on this passage as well. Thus, I invite you to join us in our discussion of what it means to become a wife of noble character.
Or have you ever felt discouraged with a sense of “not measuring up”?
Waltke, Bruce K. The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31. Grand Rapids: Em. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005.
Whybray, R. N. The Book of Proverbs. Cambridge: University Press, 1972.
Wright, Robert J., ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2005.