King James Version
10: Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11: The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12: She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13: She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14: She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15: She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
16: She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17: She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18: She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
19: She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20: She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21: She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22: She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
23: Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
24: She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
25: Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
26: She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
27: She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
28: Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
29: Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou cellest them all.
30: Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
31: Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
English Standard Version
10: An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
11: The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
12: She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
13: She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
14: She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.
15: She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.
16: She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17: She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
18: She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
19: She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
20: She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21: She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22: She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23: Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.
24: She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25: Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
26: She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27: She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28: Her 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.”
30: Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31: Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
New International Version
10: A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11: Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12: She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
13: She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
14: She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15: She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.
16: She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17: She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
18: She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
19: In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20: She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21: When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22: She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23: Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24: She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25: She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
26: She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27: She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28: Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
30: Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31: Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Proverbs 31:10-31 – A Commentary
by Steve Howells
Much has been written about the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Entire ministries are based on her ideal. The ideal of a hard-working, self-employed industrious woman, dedicated to husband, family and God. But who is this woman? Is she real? Is she you?
Its important to understand that in Proverbs 31, in verses 10 to 31, King Lemuel speaks of a particular woman, not women in general. He is describing a person he knows, perhaps mindful of his mother whom he quotes in verses 1 through 9, recalling the wisdom he received from her. And while the woman he describes can be admired on many levels, she can’t be held up as a biblical standard to which all women are able to realistically aspire. Instead, we should consider the God-inspired words Lemuel uses to describe the desirable qualities of this woman, and think about those qualities in terms of a woman’s real-life experiences in today’s world. To that end, let’s walk through what Lemuel has to say about the virtuous woman.
Verse 10 introduces the virtuous woman and asks who can find this person, suggesting she’s a rarity. The King James Version of the Bible (KJV) renders her as a virtuous woman, the English Standard Version (ESV) calls her an excellent wife, and the New International Version (NIV) a wife of noble character. We might draw from this that a good woman is hard to find. That’s not exactly what we want to hear, and its a little insulting to womankind to say the least! But as we read on, and we learn of the qualities of this particular virtuous woman, we come to understand that while women such as her likely do exist, she would indeed be hard to come across. The ESV says she’s more precious than jewels. The KJV and NIV put that in terms of a value worth more than rubies. Clearly, in the context of a man’s quest for a wife, even today, she would be a rare and valuable find.
Verses 11 and 12 continue in that same context. The husband of such a woman can trust her, as his partner, to help bring gain such that he (they, the family) will lack nothing. Indeed, she is his life-partner, she seeks to bring him good and do him no harm. In the case of husband and wife, and as a mutual understanding, this should go without saying. But the key point here is the level of trust or confidence that can be particularly assured with the virtuous woman.
In verses 13 and 14 we learn that the virtuous woman seeks and selects “wool and flax”. She knows what she needs and she’s a discriminating buyer of the supplies she chooses to work with. In the modern world she would likely be looking for the “wool and flax” of our day; raw materials, tools, software, electronics or whatever. Perhaps even wool and flax! These are the supplies she needs to make her contribution to the household. She can bring home the bacon, and she can cook it too! She “brings her food from afar”, and in doing so she draws comparison with merchant ships which, in the days of King Lemuel, were associated with trade; imported goods from exotic lands in a mysterious, ever-expanding world. We’re not talking about a trip to the supermarket to buy groceries. Our virtuous woman goes out of her way to make life interesting for her and her family. Not satisfied with just local fare, she explores new and appealing foods in keeping with her desire to do well for her family.
Verse 15 invokes an image of the selfless woman who does what it takes to make sure everyone is eating right. Not only for her family but, in the context of Biblical times, for the servants for whom she is responsible. She’s up early. Perhaps making lunches for the kids to take to school, taking the pork chops out of the freezer to defrost. Perhaps getting ready for work, her morning commute, doing her share to feed the family. And these days she’s probably exhausted. But she’s committed.
Not only does our virtuous woman work for a living, she’s a shrewd investor too. Verse 16 tells us that she invests her earnings by planting a vineyard, i.e. she puts her money into a business. In our world that might look like an investment in stocks, bonds or mutual funds. But she considers the field before she buys it. Knowing what she’s doing, she doesn’t invest frivolously. She knows her stuff. Its in her character to know her stuff.
In verse 17 we learn that on top of everything else, the virtuous woman is dropping by the gym on her way home from work! She dresses herself with strength. She’s strong and she looks it! Well, perhaps not. But in Biblical times she would have needed a greater physical strength to get her work done than what most women would need today. If nothing else, she was fit and healthy so she could maintain her stamina to get her through her day. Knowing more about health and nutrition in our modern times, we fully understand our need for regular exercise to build strength and stay healthy.
Verse 18 brings us back to the virtuous woman’s ability to contribute to the household income. Not only is she a contributor, her efforts are profitable. We know this because her lamps don’t go out at night. Her family can afford the oil to keep them burning. These days those lamps might be represented in a two-income household by a Lexus in the driveway, designer clothing, or frequent vacations to exotic places.
In verse 19 we are again reminded of her hard work. Not only is she contributing to the big jobs, she’s taking care of the little things too. When she’s home and has a minute, she’s busy fixing and mending.
As well as focusing on her own health and well-being, and on the well-being her family, the virtuous woman is aware of the world around her and is engaged as a citizen of humanity. Verse 20 tells us that she helps the poor and needy. Perhaps she volunteers with charitable organizations, although with everything else she has on her plate she might prefer to donate food, clothing or cash according to her means. But her heart is good and she helps out where she can.
We know that the virtuous woman does all she can to nurture and provide for her family, but in case there’s any doubt, we’re assured in Verse 21 that her efforts include the provision of warm clothing for the household. And remember, in Biblical times the household of such a woman would have included servants. No need to worry about the snow because not only is everyone clothed, they’re clothed in scarlet! Her clothing is Saks Fifth Avenue quality, not K-Mart. Once again this illustrates attitude more than means. Not many of us can afford such luxuries, but we can do our very best for those that rely on us for their welfare. The virtuous woman’s pursuit of quality extends beyond the family wardrobe. Verse 22 tells us that her own bed coverings are tapestry. And she makes them! She’s dressed well and knows how to look her best in purple and fine fabric.
In verse 23 we’re reminded that the husband of the virtuous woman is a fortunate man indeed. His partner in life is sharing the yolk of responsibility such that he too can have the time needed to pursue his chosen profession. In the example given he’s a well-known elder. The equivalent of a congressman or senator who couldn’t hope to succeed without the support of his wife.
Everything we know about the virtuous woman is further confirmed in verses 24 through 27 as we again see that she’s a hard-working woman of business who possesses both dignity and a good sense of humor. She shares wisdom and kindness while operating her household with efficacy.
For a woman who is also a mother there’s no greater honor than that given by her children. They call her blessed because they observe her efforts and benefit from her loving-kindness. By both her words and actions they know they are loved. Verse 28 goes on to declare the praises of her husband. He know how good he has it. The achievements of this particular woman surpass those of others who have excelled verse 29 tells us.
And verses 30 and 31 bring the whole idea home. Who is this woman? She’s a godly woman. Where does she get her strength? She gets it from God. She knows that charm and beauty will only get her so far. She needs substance, and God is the source of that substance. She and all those around her benefit from her walk with God, and they celebrate her “at the gates”.
Can You Be the Virtuous Woman?
Maybe you can, but for most women hers is an ideal that’s difficult to imagine in the hectic, sometimes-crazy culture of the 21st century. But that’s OK, because we can draw a comparison between the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 and Jesus Christ, our Savior. We’re supposed to be like Jesus too. “What would Jesus do?” they ask. But we know from scripture that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a life of perfection that was without sin. How could we possibly be like Jesus?
We can’t. The Bible tells us that all have sinned – every one of us – so nobody is going to be like Jesus! And its fair to say that very few, if any, are going to be like the Proverbs 31 virtuous woman!
So what’s the point of learning about these lives of perfection and near-perfection if we can’t hope to emulate them ourselves? The point is that God wants us to realize that we have significant shortcomings when measured against His righteousness. That’s what the word sin means – to fall short of the mark. He wants us to understand that we just don’t measure up! And its only when we admit that fact that we come to understand our need for a Savior.
Because we fall short of God’s righteousness, we can’t be permitted into His presence. But God loves us and doesn’t want us to spend eternity without Him so he devised a plan to save us. He came to earth as Jesus Christ, a human who lived a perfect life without sin, and then he took upon Himself the penalty that must be paid for our sin.
The man without sin, Jesus Christ, paid the penalty for your sin and mine. He was crucified on the cross, died, and was buried in a tomb. On the 3rd day after His death he was raised from the dead to prove God’s dominion over death and to seal our salvation forever. We don’t know exactly what Jesus Christ experienced between the time he was crucified and the time of His resurrection, but we know He suffered a penalty sufficient to cover all our sins, past, present and future. Just imagine.
By accepting God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we become saved. We become righteous in the eyes of God. Jesus took our place and took our sin upon Himself, so we take Jesus’ perfection upon ourselves and God sees us as righteous. By accepting Him, we are accepted into God’s presence for eternity.
So once you’re saved, are you any nearer to becoming the Proverbs 31 virtuous woman? Or even like Jesus?
No you’re not. You remain your same imperfect self. But God took things one important step further and, if you ask, He’ll send you His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will help you and guide you going forward and, while you’ll never reach perfection, you’ll steadily achieve great improvements in your life as you follow His lead. And who knows? Maybe one day you’ll open your Bible to Proverbs 31 and recognize someone a little like yourself.
Commentary Copyright © 2017 Steve Howells, All Rights Reserved.